RUDOLF SCHENKER ON THE AESTHETICS OF HEAVY METAL GUITAR
By Bruce Nixon
The below article in italics appeared in the Guitar World March 1986 issue. I have re-typed here and added my bits and pieces to it.
The aesthetics of heavy metal guitar? Well, think about it. Rudolf Schenker was intrigued. He was sitting in a backstage dressing room, a litter of soda cans, ashtrays and half filled beer bottles on the low table in front of him, quietly noodling on his trusty black-and-gold Flying V. He balanced the guitar on his knees and spread his arms out wide, smiling broadly, his eyes sparkling. Already, conversation had drifted over Vs and V players, and the Scorpions’ well-known axeman had displayed a deep and interested passion for the guitar life.
That is the iconic look, Rudolf Schenker with a trusted flying V. This issue is from March 1986. Rudolf had been in the game for over 26 years by now. Rock You Like A Hurricane from 1984’s Love At First Sting album was a monster hit for the Scorpions. Winners never quit. They persist. They persevere. Sure, the Scorpions had an audience in Europe and Asia, but it wasn’t until 1984 that they broke through in the US.
“The aesthetics of heavy metal guitar…” His accent was middling thick with a slightly skewered command of idiom, but it didn’t set in the way of his enthusiasm. The idea had captured his attention, in any case.
“I know of several different kinds of players,” he said. “There is Van Halen, very technical and very creative. Him I like very much, because he has put new things into guitar playing. He is very good rhythm-wise. And the other I like very much is my brother Michael.”
This, of course, referring to Michael Schenker, the Scorpions’ original lead guitarist, now fronting his own band.
“He can play melodically—but he puts the three parts of the guitar together, the melodic, the technique and the feel. Some have more technical skill, but in my brother, all three parts are equal. He has feel, but he keeps the melody inside and the exact rhythm inside.”
The impact of Edward Van Halen to rock music is immense. Back in 1986, it was still at a level of what he brought to the guitar playing circles and how an expectation was made that any band with desires to make it, had to have a guitar hero. Of course afterwards, EVH would branch out into guitars, amps and gear.
I am the youngest of three boys, so to hear Rudolf talk about his younger brother in such high regard, is cool. His words ring true. Michael Schenker was a monster player. UFO couldn’t contain him. Their best works happened when Michael Schenker was in the band. (We will forget about the crappy 90’s reunion album and the bad Vinnie Moore reincarnation, even though i am a fan of Vinnie Moore as well). His solo work in the eighties as part of MSG and McAuley Schenker Group was a stand out as well.
Going back to March 1986, Rudolf’s summation of his brothers ability made me curious to find out more about Michael Schenker. This is artists promoting other artists. I don’t believe that form of promotion happens these days anymore? Growing up in Australia, the nineties brought a certain elitism ideal to certain local scenes, where each band only looked out for themselves as they where worried that another band might take their fans. What artists failed to realise is that fans of music always like more than one band. That is how fan bases are made, a common love of music across different bands.
“You see, metal is a new style. Heavy rock is based on guitar and drums together. If you want aesthetics, when you go looking for a good guitar player, you will find them in heavy rock. This is a place where the guitar player has the most openings. Look at Rick Springfield—his guitar player is good, but the music is based on the singer. In heavy rock, the guitar player has more parts than the singer has. In heavy metal, the players are young and fresh, too, open to new styles and new sounds, new everything! Whole roads are open to them. We all used to copy Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, but bands don’t do that anymore.”
Bands started to copy their peers.
Motley Crue hit the LA scene in 1980 with a mix of Seventies Punk, Americana Rock / Pop and British Classic Rock. Bands like Poison, Warrant, Bullet Boys and Tuff came out influenced by bands like Motley Crue and Ratt.
Bon Jovi came out influenced by Seventies Classic Rock, Bruce Springsteen and the New Jersey keyboard driven pop scene. Then you had every band writing songs in a pop metal vein.
Van Halen came out influenced by the English Blues Rock and Americana Rock/Pop. Name me one band in the eighties that didn’t try to sound like them.
Def Leppard wanted to record an album that mixed Queen style pop harmonies with the NWOBM sound they were involved in. They achieved that with Pyromania and perfected it on Hysteria, spawning thousands of imitators.
Guitar players became the ones that got the attention as well. The band dynamic had evolved. It started in the Seventies and continued with the Hard Rock / Glam Rock movement in the Eighties.
“I like to listen to heavy rock very much,” he added. “Jimmy Page, in his good days, was so good. Now, Jeff Beck has always been good, and I like his solo album very much. I hear Malmsteen—he s very fast, very technical, much into classical. Take Ritchie Blackmore—of course, he is from the older generation of players, but he doesn’t get older in his sound. Beck is more for older people these days. Ritchie is one of those guys who has old and young kids in his audience. He has that fresh energy.”
Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple and Rainbow is one guitarist that appealed to both old and young guitarist. The older crowd that is into the blues rock style loved what Blackmore did with it, the middle-aged got the best of both worlds and the younger crowds maybe didn’t appreciate the blues rock vibe of Blackmore however they related to his classical technicality that fit perfectly with the rise of the Eighties shred. That is where Michael Schenker also comes into the picture. He also accommodated both audiences.
He suggested that the greatest heavy rock players were European-except for Jimi Hendrix and Leslie West. America has not been highly nourishing soil for metal guitarists. In metal, at least. Europeans maintain more of a purists approach to the genre.
“I think European guitarists have been more original.” he remarked matter-of-factly. Page—Beck—Clapton- Ritchie—my brother. In heavy rock. English players, especially, have had a more original feel. In coming from Germany, when I watch television over here, I see everything is made for posing—the advertisements and stuff. In Europe, people are more natural, they are relaxed. They don’t pay as much attention to those things. Maybe the guitar players are like that, too.”
There is that name again Jimi Hendrix and who the hell is Leslie West. It was years later that i heard Mississippi Queen, if you know what I mean.
By 1986, America had a decent amount of heavy rock players. Going back to the Seventies, you had players like Ted Nugent, Ace Frehley, Steve Lukather, Neal Schon and Eddie Van Halen. By the Eighties you had players like Randy Rhoads, Warren DeMartini and George Lynch join the ranks.
It was hard to come up with any more American guitarists who fit the bill. At the mention of Randy Rhoads, Schenker nodded enthusiastically, and then shook his head sadly.
If it wasn’t for Randy Rhoads, I wouldn’t have been able to play the way I play. His dedication and precision on the two Ozzy albums will be forever remembered.
“Blues is the basis of all good guitar playing in this style of music,” Schenker concluded. The Americans are not as bluesy as the English are. Clapton, Beck, Page—they’re all influenced by the blues. English players found the right combination for bringing blues and modern rock together.”
Artists speaking their minds. If you agree with Rudolf’s point of view or not, one thing is clear, he is not afraid to get it out there. Maybe it is that famed German arrogance, or maybe it is truth.
I honestly believe that music captured in its purest form is magical. The purest form is when music is written without the thoughts of profits in minds. In the late sixties and early seventies, this is what music was. It was pure. It wasn’t tainted by Wall Street, by profit margins and balance sheets.
According to his guitar technician, Vince Flaxington, Rudolf Schenker keeps it simple. The Scorpions’ veteran rhythm player carries six Flying Vs on the road, his favorite of the bunch being a black and white 1964 model that his brother gave him about a year or so ago; he also likes the black and gold model, an ’82 reissue, while the remaining four are strictly backups.
Schenker is a Flying V fanatic, having forty-odd variations of the instrument at home, about a third of which are original issue models. Indeed, he doesn’t own anything else. He saw his first V in the hands of Johnny Winter and became an instant convert to its sleek good looks. The best one he ever had, he said, went with his brother when Michael Schenker left the Scorps. His guitar tech says every one is stock, Rudolf uses only Gibson pickups and refuses to let anyone alter his beloved Vs. Not even with Strap-Loks.
Onstage, the guitarist uses three 50-watt Marshall heads that drive six 4 x 12 cabinets. The Marshalls are “quite old”—a ’67, a 1970, and a 1980, all stock. The volume is set at 9; the EQ knobs are all full-tilt. His sole effect is a Vox wah-wah, one of the first made, although Schenker only uses it for about five numbers in the current set. The cabinets also are stock. He uses a Nady wireless system.
“His tone is like broken glass,” Flaxington grinned. “That’s the way he wants it—sharp, clear and raunchy.”
Simply and effective set up. He is a purest. He didn’t go searching for that sound the way others did. He just plugged in and let it rip.