Michael Schenker: Brick By Brick
Originally printed in Guitar World Magazine, November 2008
After years of grappling with alcoholism and itinerant living, Michael Schenker is fighting to rebuild his life and career. With a new Michael Schenker Group album, In the Midst of Beauty, the battle rages on.
The liner notes to the new Michael Schenker Group CD, In the Midst of Beauty, feature the following cryptic message written by Schenker himself: “In the midst of beauty, the beast is always waiting and ready to attack.” It’s an odd statement, yet it makes sense coming from someone who has waged numerous battles against both personal and external demons that have threatened to destroy his career since almost day one. In addition to battling alcoholism for more than 30 years, the guitarist has been plagued by management problems and complicated family issues. It’s a wonder that he didn’t decide to pack it in many years ago, yet he continues to tour and make records at a pace that even trouble-free musicians have difficulty keeping up with.
When Guitar World last caught up with Schenker, in October 2003, the guitarist was rebuilding his life one piece at a time, attending rehab and living in a modest hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. During the previous year, Schenker’s wife, Linda, had sold off most of his personal possessions before disappearing to Thailand with the couple’s son. Schenker’s manager Bella Piper had allegedly cleaned out most of the money he had earned since the Nineties from selling exclusive recordings over the internet and playing with UFO. To survive, he was forced to sell his few remaining personal possessions, including three Gibson Flying V guitars—his trademark instrument—that he had used extensively with UFO and MSG. Schenker got his musical career back on track in 2004. He toured throughout Europe and the U.S., released the Schenker-Pattison Summit album The Endless Jam and MSG’s World Wide Live 2004 DVD and hired a new personal manager, Nancy Lewis. But only three months after she was hired, Lewis was dismissed in an acrimonious split. In the latter half of the year Schenker arranged a tour with former Scorpions guitarist Uli Jon Roth, signed a new endorsement deal with Dean Guitars and announced plans to record a 25th anniversary MSG album featuring a variety of guest vocalists from throughout MSG’s history.
But in 2005, just as things were starting to look up again for Schenker, his forward momentum began to slow down. A planned tour with Yngwie Malmsteen was cancelled, and an album of cover songs called Heavy Hitters, produced by Bob Kulick and featuring Schenker on lead guitar with a revolving all-star cast of guest musicians, was marketed as a Michael Schenker Group release, complete with unauthorized use of the MSG logo. Schenker received only a flat fee to participate in the recording.
Meanwhile, his ongoing problems with Bella Piper (with whom he fathered two daughters, Chinua and Essenz), his ex-wife Linda and Nancy Lewis came to a boil. Linda Schenker and Piper claimed that the guitarist was a deadbeat dad, and Lewis publicly accused him of not paying his income taxes and other debts. Schenker reacted by airing his dirty laundry via a lengthy letter posted on his web site, michaelschenkerhimself. com. “I don’t feel safe coming back to the States,” Schenker announced. “I am being threatened with [having] my passport suspended, my assets frozen and jail time.”
Although Schenker was living in Los Angeles at the time, he was unable to come home due to his legal hassles, so he temporarily moved to Germany. Schenker explained the situation to his fans with the following message posted on his site: “I am announcing the cancellation of the MSG USA tour since I did not receive the official letters from Bella Piper and Linda Schenker that I have requested. Unfortunately, I must sacrifice this USA tour to protect myself to be able to keep playing music. I will not come back to America unless Bella and Linda stop threatening me in unfair ways for the sake of money.”
MSG’s Tales of Rock ’n’ Roll featuring guest appearances by several of the band’s former vocalists, including Gary Barden and Graham Bonnet, was finally released in March 2006, a few months late for MSG’s true 25th anniversary. Fans and critics praised Schenker’s playing on the album, which many said was his best effort since MSG’s early Eighties classics. The band toured Europe, but just as MSG were preparing to visit the U.S., the situation became grim again. Schenker announced that the tour was postponed until 2007, and a few days later his web site posted an upside-down MSG logo with the message “MSG is done.” Apparently, members of Schenker’s touring band members were complaining about pay, but they worked out their differences in time to tour Asia.