Sunday Old School: Michael Schenker Group
The great thing about a lot of legendary metal bands is that you can usually find a connection between several groups. In today’s case, the connection sees a member of not one but two all time great rock acts who went on to release more great music under his own terms. I’m talking, of course, about the former Scorpions and UFO guitarist, Michael Schenker. Schenker, along with his brother, Rudolf, were founding members of the Scorpions and performed their first gig when Michael was only eleven years old. Four years later the band recorded and released their debut album, "Lonesome Crow," which saw them hit the road with UFO, who offered the now eighteen year old guitarist the position of their new lead guitar player, which he accepted, despite the handicap of not being able to speak English. His contribution to the band was immediate and successful, writing the bulk of the music for their major label debut, "Phenomenon," which featured such classic UFO songs as "Doctor Doctor" and "Rock Bottom." Despite his excellent song writing, his attitude and performances left something to be desired and his time with the band has been well documented as rocky and uneasy, thanks to his drinking and habit of walking off the stage, which would sometimes cause the cancellation of concerts. After recording the live album, "Strangers in the Night," Schenker finally parted company with UFO and rejoined with his brother in the Scorpions.
His return to the fold was not as joyous as it perhaps could have been. He teamed up with the band while they were recording their album, "Lovedrive" and performed on three of the album’s songs before the band began touring in support of the album. However, after only three months, he was out of the band once more, this time as a result of alcohol abuse, fatigue and an inability to perform live anymore. Now without either of these big name heavy hitters, he attempted to join even larger names and auditioned for such bands as Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones. After the death of his guitarist Randy Rhoads, former Black Sabbath singer, Ozzy Osbourne thought Schenker would be the ideal replacement, as he was a big influence on the fallen guitar player. Schenker did not join up with Ozzy, though reasons for this differ. Osbourne claims that Schenker made too many demands which bordered on the extravagant, which Schenker maintains that he was the one who made the call after he had a feeling that he would be making a serious mistake.
Whatever the reason for him not joining forces with Ozzy may be, by then Michael Schenker was starting to make waves in the hard rock world with his own band, the Michael Schenker Group, which he had formed in 1979 and released an album with a year after. The self-titled debut was well received and featured the excellent opening track, “Armed and Ready.” Initially, the band consisted only of Schenker and singer, Gary Barden, with studio musicians filling in on the other instruments, but by 1981’s, "MSG," a full lineup was in place, former Rainbow drummer, Cozy Powell and bassist, Chris Glen, who had previously been a member of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. This sophomore release is considered by fans to be perhaps the best album the Michael Schenker Group ever did, although its high production costs saw the band having to deal with a serious debt for years to come. Barden was sacked from the band in 1982 and replaced with another former Rainbow member, Graham Bonnet, who recorded his first and last album with the band, "Assault Attack" the same year. Upon its release, the album garnered a mixed reception, although nowadays fans have taken it to their hearts. Touring for the record was also turbulent, with Bonnet being fired only three shows into the tour and Barden returning behind the microphone to perform for the rest of the tour, as well as recording vocals for their next album, "Built to Destroy" and the live effort, "Rock Will Never Die."
Barden soon parted company with Schenker once again and the guitarist recruited vocalist Robin McAuley as the bands new singer. He decided it would make the vocalist feel more included if he changed the name of the group and thus the Michael Schenker Group became the McAuley Schenker Group and released their first album under this moniker, "Perfect Timing" in 1987. Although the critics were less enthusiastic about this new direction MSG had gone in, the album cracked the top 100 on the Billboard charts and spawned a top 40 single in the form of, "Gimme Your Love." This pattern was repeated in 1989 when the band released, "Save Yourself," which earned the band a top five spot on the Billboard Rock Charts with the song, "Anytime." Schenker then took part in the short lived supergroup, Contraband, which also featured Ratt drummer, Bobby Blotzer and Tracii Guns, before releasing a third and final McAuley Schenker Group album, confusingly entitled, "M.S.G." They released an acoustic album, "Unplugged Live" before deciding to go their separate ways.
Following the dissolution of the McAuley Schenker Group, Michael got back together with another of his old bands, UFO, recording the 1995 album, "Walk On Water" and touring with the band briefly, before he left the band mid-tour and reformed the Michael Schenker Group with brand new members. The first album upon reforming, "Written in the Sand" received some very positive reviews and even hit the top five in Japan, a feat which was bettered by the next album, "The Unforgiven," which hit the number two spot before joining UFO for a third time in 2000. That same year, the band released the double album, "Covenant," which was comprised of new material and a disc of live recordings, though Schenker proved he was still dedicated to his own solo output with another MSG album, "Be Aware of Scorpions," which was released in 2001. He recorded one more album with UFO in 2002 entitled, "Sharks," before leaving the group for the third and to date, final time.
Once again, Schenker’s focus was on his own group and in 2003, he released the album, "Arachnophobiac," for which he toured almost constantly for two years. He returned to the studio to record a covers album with many other big names in heavy metal, which was released as a Michael Schenker Group album, even though it was not recorded as such, meaning he only received a single payment for the record. He did record a proper new MSG album however called, "Tales of Rock ‘n’ Roll," which featured every vocalist that had taken part in the Michael Schenker Group thus far and embarked on tours of Europe and North America in support of the record, although these shows were met with abysmal reviews as a result of the guitarists drinking.
He managed to clean himself up in time for another British tour and then recorded another album, "In the Midst of Beauty" in 2008. The album was received quite well but the supporting tour saw him receive some of the best live reviews of his career, with many remarking how he had been performing better than he had for years and seemed to be taking care of himself. Since then, he has continued to record and release music both under his own name and the Michael Schenker Group moniker, most recently 2013’s, “Bridge the Gap,” and still puts on live displays that shows why he truly is one of the greatest guitar players in the history of heavy metal.
Michael Schenker Group - "Armed and Ready"
Michael Schenker Group - "Rock Will Never Die"
McAuley Schenker Group - "Anytime"
Michael Schenker Group - "Rock Bottom"
Michael Schenker Group - "Assault Attack"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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