If someone were to publish a book on the "what would have happened ifs" of rock 'n' roll, Michael Schenker would deserve a chapter. Showing as much potential at the time but less well-known now than Jimi Hendrix or Pink Floyd's Sid Barrett, the German guitar prodigy disappeared in the late 1970s, right when his group UFO was about to hit it big.
The British hard rock band had just started playing arena-sized venues and was about to release the commercially successful Strangers in the Night, now regarded as one of the most influential live rock albums of the late 1970s. But tensions were brewing between Schenker and UFO front man Phil Mogg. These erupted in June of 1979 before a concert in Leeds, England. Schenker vanished and was feared to be dead or gone into hiding like Barrett. He resurfaced in Germany half a year later, explaining he quit the band but didn't speak English well enough to announce why. Though he would return several times for reunion concerts, UFO was never the same.
"He would walk around and fight people," Schenker said of Mogg in a 2001 interview with the Chicago Daily Herald. "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."
It wasn't the only time Schenker — whose band plays Neihu's Liberty Square Convention Center (自由廣場大樓國際演藝聽) next Saturday — passed on that kind of opportunity. He left the Scorpions while still a teenager to join UFO and later rejected offers from Ozzy Osbourne and Aerosmith.
"Michael to me has always [gone] wherever he feels directed or he feels guided to go," Wayne Findlay, backup guitarist and keyboardist for the Michael Schenker Group, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "He definitely has a vision … but his means of getting there are open to interpretation."
What: The Michael Schenker Group performs with opening acts Marty Youong and Electric Eyes (電眼)
When: Next Saturday at 6pm
Where: Liberty Square's Convention Center (自由廣場大樓國際演藝聽), 2F, 399, Ruiguang Rd, Taipei (台北市瑞光路399號2樓)
Tickets: NT$1,200 upper deck to NT$2200; “VIP meet and great” tickets are available on the Web through ERA ticketing. Visit www.ticket.com.tw
What's not open to interpretation is that critics regard Schenker as one of the most influential rock guitarists of all time — No. 22, according to a recent Guitar World ranking.
His band's music, which has been described as "melodic hard rock with progressive undertones," is more accessible than that of other hard rock legends who have visited Taipei in recent years, sounding a lot like something that would have made the charts if grunge had never happened.
Schenker is master of tone and vibrato, with a blues-based sound that demonstrates classical influences. He's known for using the "wah" pedal in the back position as a filter to create what can be described as an almost nasal tone. Even if you don't know what a "wah" pedal is, you'll probably recognize his signature black-and-white V-shaped guitar.
His band has just released a new CD, Tales of Rock 'n' Roll, and, at age 51, Schenker shows no sign of slowing down.
"He's pushing for more," Findlay said. "He's got many, many more ideas and many, many things that he wishes to accomplish. He'll be doing albums for many, many years to come."