Chicago Daily Herald
23rd November 2001
By Joel Reese
Tempestuous guitar wizard Michael Schenker broke a lot of hearts in 1978 when he left the English hard-rock band UFO.
Stolen from The Scorpions while still a teenager years earlier, Schenker's melodic guitar virtuosity provided the perfect counterbalance to UFO's throaty lead singer, Phil Mogg.
The band put out several albums that earned them a devout cult follow-ing, including 1974's "Phenomenon," 1977's "Lights Out," and 1978's widely praised live "Strangers in the Night."
While Schenker and Mogg's music clicked, their personalities didn't. The two were often at odds, and after a mo-mentous punch was thrown, Schenker bailed on the band just when UFO seemed poised for stardom.
Neither UFO nor Schenker's solo work has reached the same heights again.
The Teutonic guitar wŁnderkind has gone on to release several solo albums since then, and even re-formed with UFO a few times.
He's also playing at Chicago's House of Blues Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. We spoke with the reclusive guitarist about his current band, his turbulent days with UFO, and the chances for a UFO reunion.
Q: I've seen many adjectives used to define your guitar playing: epic, orchestral, melodic - words like that. How would you define it?
A: I would call it original - as original as it gets. I copied other people - Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Leslie West, Johnny Winter - when I started, but I also knew early I wanted to take it my own way, which I did. It involves a lot of melody. I'm not very good at describing it, because music for me is a bunch of colors. So it becomes, how do you put these colors together? What kind of colors do you like to see? How would you like to mix them? Do you like curves? How many sharp corners? It's all of these different aspects.
Q: When you look back on your career, what songs make you proudest?
A: It's hard to say, but they're usually slow things, like "Lipstick Traces" on UFO's "Phenomenon." And what was that song? Oh yeah, "Try Me" from UFO's "Lights Out." I like the work on my own "Thank You" album, and I like oh, there's just so much stuff. I never look back that much - I just keep on moving.
Q: If you had stayed with UFO, how far do you think the band would have gone? Do you think the band would've become huge?
A: Oh, definitely. Extremely big. The thing is, that's not the point. That's not what I'm living for. The point is, we are going to live and die, and I want to find out about something more than making it to the top and becoming rich and famous.
But with UFO - you can always use "if" and "could've" and all of that, but the fact is, we didn't. I left the band when we just started to play arenas. And usually, when you start playing arenas and you've made it that far, it takes another 10 years before you drop. At least.
Q: I've read that you weren't around for the studio touch-ups on "Strangers in the Night," so your play-ing is essentially the live tracks. Is that true?
A: Well, I did some work on it, but it wasn't a lot. I don't remember what I did because it was a long time ago. There might've been some songs that weren't retouched at all. You know, I never really understood why "Strangers in the Night" was liked so much by everybody. Maybe it was the fact that the band broke up before they reached their highest potential, so peo-ple made the highest, because it was basically the end of the band.
Q: So I take it from what you're saying that you have no regrets about leaving UFO.
A: Oh, no way. No way. I don't have any regrets about starting again in 1994, either (Schenker also left in the middle of that tour). Everything has got its place and its reason, and there is no mistake. Life is not about how famous and rich you are, or how great you are - life is more about how you deal with your situation.
Q: I came across a quote of yours from a long time ago - let me read it back to you: "I didn't feel comfortable with Phil Mogg. It was a horror for me. The first time you meet him, he seems like a nice guy. After a while, though, I changed my mind. He was always hitting people."
A: He was a fighter. I guess he isn't anymore - he knows you don't get anywhere with it, or you get arrested. But in those days, he got away with a lot. He would walk around and fight people. I told him, "If you ever punch me, I will leave the band." I guess he wanted to try to find out and he punched me, so I left. And I have no idea what was in his head - but he didn't really get very far afterwards.
Q: So you left UFO because Phil was difficult, but was there also?
A: He punched me.
Q: OK, but did you also have a desire for artistic freedom, or was it just that one fateful punch?
A: I think it goes without saying - the moment someone punches you, you don't have any freedom. You don't have nothing. Why would you want to be in a band where someone punches you? You don't have freedom artistically, or in general.
Q: So if he hadn't hit you, would have stayed with the band for a long time?
A: Maybe. But the fact is, I already didn't like him.
Q: Are you going to be doing any UFO songs on your tour?
A: No, I only do strictly Michael Schenker Group songs.
Q: Will you be doing any work with UFO ever again?
A: Yes, we'll be doing an album early next year, and following it up with a world tour.
(Thanks to David for sending this to me)