With his backing band Temple of Rock, German guitarist Michael Schenker pays tribute to an "era of rock" that he says someday might be gone.
"[I'm] celebrating my era of rock that started with Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, you know, [the bands] that I fell in love with," he says. "[I'm afraid] it will be just a memory, that particular era. So that's what I'm here for now. I'm celebrating that particular era of rock for the rest of my life."
Schenker certainly made his own mark in that same era as a member of both UFO and the Scorpions in the '70s. His guitar work and songwriting were key parts of a number of albums that are now essentials in the music collection of any self-respecting heavy metal and hard rock fan. For Schenker, he looks back at that time as an important period of growth and learning.
"I made my first record with the Scorpions [1972's Lonesome Crow] when I was 15 and then basically two years later, I joined UFO," he says. "I stopped copying people when I was 17 years old, so when I was doing UFO, I was completely in pure self-expression mode. It was all about development. It was [about] developing into a great guitar player, all the way up to Strangers in the Night and Lovedrive. It was amazing. Album after album, it was like [another] level of development and in that stage of my life it was all about developing as a guitar player and a songwriter."
Schenker's current tour, which stops by the Cleveland Agora this week, will cover nearly all aspects of his career, focusing heavily on his work with UFO, Scorpions and the Michael Schenker Group. The tour stop is part of a short run of dates to celebrate the recent release of Bridge the Gap, his latest album, which features two former Scorpions bandmates, bassist Francis Buchholz and drummer Herman Rarebell. Rarebell collaborated with Schenker on his previous solo album, 2011's Temple of Rock, but this is the first time that Schenker, Rarebell and Buchholz have done a full album together since Lovedrive was released in 1979.
The Temple of Rock album was a bit of an all-star affair featuring a bevy of names from Schenker's celebrated past, including his occasional MSG collaborator Robin McAuley, former UFO bassist Pete Way and even a curveball in the form of William Shatner. The experience would ultimately lead to the proper birth of the band that has become Michael Schenker's Temple of Rock. Schenker chose Doogie White, who had made a guest appearance on the Temple of Rock album, to be his touring vocalist when it came time to schedule a European run of dates. Pete Way was unavailable for the tour due to health issues, so Schenker suggested that Rarebell should reach out to Buchholz to find out if he would be interested in going out on the road and the bassist quickly accepted.
What began as an impromptu reunion of the former Scorpions associates grew into a successful touring run.
White, a journeyman vocalist who had done previous work with Ritchie Blackmore and Yngwie Malmsteen, among others, proved to be a good match with the group, both vocally and collaboratively. When Schenker realized that they had a six-month break coming up in October 2012, he decided that it might be a good time to do an album with the new foursome.
"I asked everybody if they were up to making a record and everybody was excited," he says. "So I started getting my stuff out and I started writing. By the end of 2012, I was ready to present Doogie with material and I told him to think melodic and that was it and he went off and did his part. Then I put on my guitars and we hired a special recording studio for the drums and then we put the bass down. Then Doogie was ready, so [producer] Mike [Voss], Doogie and myself, we sat together in the studio and collected the best ideas that he came up with until everything was done."
Even though Bridge the Gap was finished relatively early last year, there would be a delay in releasing it, which ended up being a benefit.
"Everybody wanted to hear [the album], but I couldn't play it for anybody because the album was going to be released in a few months. There were seven months of waiting for the release of the album and we were just doing our second leg of the tour, so I put it out of the way. Toward the end of the second leg of the European tour, I got the album out and we listened to it and actually it was a great thing that it happened that way, [because] our ideas were completely fresh. We listened to the album and we knew immediately what we needed to do in order to improve the album."
Schenker will preview material from Bridge the Gap at the Agora show, with a touring line-up that will initially feature White, plus bassist Rev Jones and drummer Pete Holmes. The dates are a warm-up for a larger tour featuring Rarebell and Buchholz; it will begin in March in Japan. He says that he plans to bring that same line-up back to the U.S. later this year.
But what about the prospects of a reunion with UFO someday? While he's focused on the present tense with Temple of Rock and already looking towards recording another album with his current line-up, he remains open to the idea of revisiting his past.
"You know, it's family," he says. "So why close any doors to those things? I've had great line-ups, including Robin McAuley, etc. I'm just doing my part — the universe is the driver and when the time is right and the conditions are right for it to rain, it will happen."