Guitar Virtuoso Michael Schenker never quite reached the same level of acclaim stateside as he did in Europe (and other parts of the world), despite possessing exceptional, and quite influential, six-string skills. Born on January 10, 1955, in Savstedt, Germany, it was Schenker’s older brother, Rudolf, who sparked the youngster’s interest in guitar at an early age. Entirely self-taught, Michael picked up a thing or two from such hard-rocking acts as Wishbone Ash and Mountain, as well as his older brother, who would offer the youngster money if he would transcribe certain songs for him while he was at work.
As a result of constant playing, it wasn’t long before Schenker showed immense talent with the instrument, and by the early ‘70s, joined Rudolf’s group, the Scorpions. Michael appeared on the group’s 1972 full-length debut, Lonesome Crow, and toured with the outfit (all at the age of 17). But it was during the album’s supporting tour that another up-and-coming outfit, UFO, took a keen interest in the young Schenker and managed to pry the guitarist away from the Scorpions.
Although a language barrier existed between Schenker and his new bandmates (he barely knew any English at the time), the guitarist let his playing do the talking, especially on his first recording with the group, 1974’s Phenomenon, which spawned such metal classics/Schenker showcases as “Doctor Doctor” and “Rock Bottom” (also of note was the instrumental “Lipstick Traces,” a tune which Schenker played entirely with his feet!). It was also around this time that Schenker began playing an instrument that he would become synonymous with for the rest of his career, a Gibson Flying V (which would eventually be decorated with a half-white/half-black paint job). Heavy-duty touring and a pair of further releases, 1975’s Force It and 1976’s No Heavy Petting, set the stage perfectly for what UFO hoped would be a global commercial breakthrough.
The late ‘70s saw UFO issue a trio of classic hard rock albums - 1977’s Lights Out, 1978’s Obsession, and especially 1979’s outstanding live set, Strangers in the Night - all of which made strong showings on the U.S. charts. But UFO’s time in the limelight would be fleeting, as alcohol/substance overindulgence and erratic behavior drew a wedge between Schenker and the rest of UFO (the guitarist also became famous for disappearing from the group without any notice, leaving them high and dry mid-tour). 1979 saw Schenker’s exit from UFO (who were never the same after his exit) and re-entry into the Scorpions. But Schenker’s tenure was a fleeting one, only lasting a single album, 1979’s Lovedrive, before exiting once more.
The same year, Schenker was invited to take the place of the just-departed Joe Perry in Aerosmith. Despite a few jam sessions between Schenker and the others, nothing ever materialized of the Schenker-Aerosmith union (the interesting meeting was discussed by the group in their 1999 autobiography, Walk This Way). Now free of any other obligations, Schenker set his sights on a solo career, forming the Michael Schenker Group(MSG) immediately thereafter. While the group got off to a promising start with such strong releases as 1980’s Michael Schenker Group, 1981’s MSG, plus 1982’s Assault Attack and One Night at Budokan, interest eventually evaporated, as it became obvious with each subsequent release that Schenker had set his sights at the top of the charts rather than sticking to good old-fashioned hard rock/heavy metal. Constant lineup fluctuation didn’t help, either.
In 1982 Schenker get an invite from Ozzy Osbourne to join his group immediately after Randy Rhoads’ tragic death, but like the Aerosmith bid several years earlier, it failed to pan out. Despite failing to issue a big commercial breakthrough on his own (although 1989’s pop-metal outing, Save Yourself, credited to the McAuley-Schenker Group, came close), the guitarists in such renowned groups as Metallica and Def Leppard were quick to voice Schenker’s influence. The early ‘90s saw Schenker appear with Ratt on a best-forgotten episode of MTV’s popular Unplugged series, in addition to participating in a one-off pop-metal “supergroup,” Contraband (which included members of such groups as Shark Island, Vixen, Ratt, and L.A. Guns), who issued a lone self-titled debut in 1991.
Throughout the ‘90s, Schenker continued to issue solo albums, including 1993’s acoustic-based Thank You and 1999’s more rock-based Unforgiven, but the real story of the ‘90s for Schenker was his re-enlistment into UFO in 1993. Predictably, Schenker’s second go-around with UFO was short-lived, yet it did spawn a world tour as well as an all-new studio effort, 1995’s Walk on Water. Schenker’s pace of issuing solo albums only increased during the early 21st century, as such titles as 2000’s all-instrumental Adventures of the Imagination, plus a staggering three albums in 2001 alone (MS 2000: Dreams and Expressions, Odd Trio, and Be Aware of Scorpions) saw the light of day. 2002 saw Schenker sign on with UFO once more for a new album, Sharks.
In 2005, Schenker celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Michael Schenker Group with the release of a new album of songs called Tales of Rock ‘n’ Roll, enlisting singers - from each iteration of the band - to sing on the album.