There can be no arguing with the fact that Michael Schenker is one of heavy metal’s most influential guitarists. Starting with brother Rudolf’s band The Scorpions, through Brit hard rock stalwarts UFO to his own Michael Schenker Group, Michael’s guitar sound shaped the metal of the seventies and eighties and still has a massive bearing on the playing of modern guitar heroes such as Arch Enemy’s Michael Amott. After a fair while in the wilderness, Schenker is back on top of things in 2018 with extensive tour plans in place and a new album set to be released under the Michael Schenker Fest Banner, featuring all of the vocalists who’ve added their talents to the man’s solo albums over the years; Brits Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Doogie White, and affable Irishman Robin McAuley, who has graciously afforded Sentinel Daily a wedge of time out of his busy Las Vegas-based day to chat about the new project and a host of other important matters…
If we could go back for a bit of context on your relationship with Michael first, how did you get together initially? “I was in a band called Grand Prix at the time. And Michael and (drummer) Cozy Powell came to see us. They asked me if I’d be interested in joining MSG but I was busy at the time and really didn’t want to leave Grand Prix. Then a few years later after that band ended Michael’s people contacted me again and asked me if I’d like to audition. Again, I was busy with a project called The Far Corporation promoting their version of Stairway to Heaven, which sold over two million copies in the UK alone, so I declined again, but they tracked me down in England and said ‘look, we know what your schedule is this weekend, come over to Hannover and we’ll get something done quickly’. I said I don’t want to do it quickly, I want to do it right… Anyway I flew over to Rudolf Schenker’s studio in Hannover, and I was the last to go of seventeen singers… The first shall be last and the last shall be first! The McAuley Schenker Group came out of that audition. I’ll tell you before you ask me that the ‘McAuley’ in the MSG was entirely Michael’s idea!”
The McAuley Schenker Group recorded three studio albums (1987’s Perfect Timing, Save Yourself (1989) and M.S.G. from 1992), wound up in the early nineties, and then in 2012 you started touring with Michael again – was there any talk then of doing an album?
“Well there was always speculation every time we would do something together. At press level it was like ‘is this it? Is this the reunion?’ I sang tracks on things that Michael did – Tales of Rock for example… Michael would always send me a track to sing on, and I remember he played three NAMM conventions when he would have special guests on stage like Leslie West of Mountain, Warren DeMartini of Ratt (former Whitesnake man) Brian Tichy on drums, and he’d ask me to sing the whole show with him… so with that, and Christmas and birthdays we were always in touch! But the 2012 tour, despite the speculation really wasn’t about a reunion. Logistically it would have made sense, I live in the States and when Michael came to the States to tour he’d call me and ask me to sing, but we never talked about potentially doing another record”.
We’d better talk about the new Michael Schenker Fest album, pleasant thought this reminiscence is. How did it come about, and what part do you play on the new record? You’re part of a group of singers, aren’t you? “Yes. About eighteen months ago I had a call from Michael’s lawyers telling me the idea, that there was a chance of playing Sweden Rock festival with all three MSG singers… I thought that was the best idea I’d ever heard, because in all of my years singing with Michael I had had the honour of singing Gary’s songs, and Graham’s songs, and now, to have the opportunity to play together some thirty years later I thought was a great idea. Who’d have thought it! So we did Sweden Rock, which was great, the promoters loved it, we ended up doing a week in Japan- we recorded a live DVD in Tokyo – we did some shows in Germany, France, Spain and the UK, then we went back to Japan and headlined the Loud Park festival in front of 37,000 people… then Michael sent us some songs and asked us to pick the ones we wanted to sing. For this part of the adventure he enlisted Doogie White from the Temple of Rock period to sing as well. We’d record in hotel rooms, his producer (Mad Max man Michael Voss) would come out with us on the road, and whenever we had a spare moment – which wasn’t often- he’d come into our room with his protools and a microphone and we’d start singing. I recorded Heart and Soul in Michael Voss’s hotel room in Los Angeles”.
So quite an unconventional way of doing things. “You could say that, yes!”
But it seems like everyone had fun doing it. “Well you know when we shot the video (for the track Warrior from the new album) Michael always wanted it to be non-scripted, come as you are… we were actually rehearsing in Germany for the Bang Your Head festival, he brought Doogie in and we did the photo shoot for the album cover, did the festival, did some other shots for the promo video – unconventional, yes, but we had an absolute blast!”
There’s a fairly extensive tour schedule building up behind the album… you’re a seasoned professional – how do you keep the voice fit for purpose these days? Does it get easier as you get older and learn more tricks to keep in shape? “I work five nights a week at a show here in Vegas called Raiding the Rock Vault. We perform at the Hard Rock Cafe Saturday til Wednesday, and I think we’ve done somewhere like twelve hundred shows. The show was voted Vegas’ best for the past four years. So I get plenty of exercise! I walk a couple of hours every day. I could walk for hours, I love walking, It’s really important for the purpose of entertainment – we have a fresh new audience in every night who haven’t probably seen us before, even though we play five nights a week, and people expect to see one hundred per cent every night. Is it always a hundred per cent? It’s close, but it’s my job to stay in shape to reach those levels. I still love what I do, and I’m blessed to have this kind of job… it’s just amazing, really. And I get to work with an amazing list of A-grade musicians! We have Howard Leese from Heart, who’s a rock and roll hall of famer, Hugh McDonald from Bon Jovi who has been nominated to become a hall of famer, Doug Aldrich (Dio, Whitesnake) on guitar, Dave Amato from REO Speedwagon comes in and guests, Jay Schellen on drums who’s just joined a tour with Yes, Paul Shortino (Rough Cutt, Quiet Riot), Andrew Freeman (Last in Line)and Marc Boals (Yngwie) on vocals… we all have a standard to uphold five nights a week but it’s been a blast”.
The tour will obviously feature songs from the new album. Did you have any input on the rest of the set? Could you pick the songs featured from your era? “No, Michael has picked everything. He’s picked songs to suit the market, songs that people will expect to hear”.
But there’ll be a fair bit of McAuley Schenker material in there. “”Yes, my set will be all McAuley Schenker and we’ll perform Heart and Soul from the new album. Every singer will sing songs from their period in MSG and a song from Resurrection”.
Any chance of any Australian dates? “I would absolutely love to play Australia! I’ve never been to Australia, so shame on me! We have a huge amount of people coming to the Vegas show from Australia, and they all say the same thing – ‘why don’t you come to Australia?’ And I’m going ‘why doesn’t somebody just bring me to Australia!’
It’s getting easier for bands to get down here these days – far more bands are managing it. “Well, I was hoping to sing for AC/DC but that didn’t happen, so…”
We’re starting a series called Metal Imperatives where we ask all our interviewees to select one album from their own canon that they wish was in the collection of every hard rock fan – what would you pick from yours? “That’s a nasty question! If I give you an answer today it would probably be different to the answer I give you tomorrow, because there’s a lot of different stuff there”.
Neatly sidestepped! What about influences growing up? What moved you back then to become who you are today? “Growing up I listened a lot to Motown Music. I still listen to Motown Music. My kids listen to Motown. It stands the test of time – great songs, great lyrics, great melodies. Growing up I listened to a lot of that because it was available. On Irish radio there was almost no rock music – especially hard rock music – and the first time I fell in love with any sort of rock music was when I heard Paul Rodgers’ voice from Free. Then Led Zeppelin, and of course the great Thin Lizzy. I thought Lou Gramm (Foreigner) was one of the greatest singers I’d heard in my whole life, and I got to work with his producer and sing into the microphone he used – it doesn’t get much better than that! And then – and this is true – at one point in my singing career I got to sing a song that Pope John-Paul II had written as a prayer! It was done for a benefit album for the Red Cross, the song also included Gino Vanelli… As my sisters would say – where do you go from here?”
Well, we know the answer to that one – good luck with the album and hopefully we’ll see you down under quite soon!
Michael Schenker Fest’s Resurrection will be released through Nuclear Blast on March 2nd.