A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Rudolf Schenker – Guitar World – March 1986

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.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Persistence and the meaning of Making It

I just came back from a shopping experience with the wife and the kids.  You leave in the morning, happy, all together and as a family.  You come home, angry with each other, yelling at each other and wondering where did it all go wrong.

Does the above sound familiar to any bands out there?  How many rock stars have called the band they are in FAMILY?  Let me tell you.  That is complete B.S.  Bands are not families and never will be.

90% of the bands have one or two people working hard to get the band running.  In most cases, the songwriting is even done by the same one to two people.  All the organising comes from the same people.  For a while, this is cool, however it then comes to a point where it all explodes or implode’s (depending on which side of the line you are on).  Bands are dysfunctional.  Anyone that tells you differently is a liar.

The difference between a band/artist making it or not making it is persistence.  It could be the love of the music that keeps them going or it could be something else.

Now making it, to me has a different meaning to what others have it.  Making it is being able to live off your music/art.  It doesn’t mean that you are rich.  It doesn’t mean that you sell out arena’s.  It doesn’t mean that you are the mainstreams darling.  It means that you have found a niche, and that niche has found you, and you are in this ride together supporting each other.  You deliver music that the niche desires and the niche rewards you with the support that they desire.  You can make payments on loans and keep the lights on.

So if you are in a band (which to me, is a ridiculous idea if you are the main songwriter) and you expect to be famous like Bon Jovi.  Guess what, it aint going to happen.  The entry-level into music these days is zero.  The gatekeeper model of the past has lost its war with the internet.  Distribution was controlled by the Record Labels.  Not anymore.  Marketing before, was to over saturate the mainstream media outlets like radio, TV, magazines and newspapers with the hope that people will buy blind.  The majors still do this.  The Justin Timberlake 20/20 promotion is living proof, where I even saw his posters in a heavy metal section of a record shop.  Yeah, his album moved a million units in its first four weeks, however, will it have longevity, like Def Leppard’s Hysteria, Adele’s 21.

So what does this mean for you.  How do you get from Point A – starting out to Point Z – making it.

Persistence.  You can never reach Point Z if you quit.  You need to be on this road forever.  Once you are clear on that, you can start the journey.  The first part of the journey is building connections.  These connections are not built by promoting a song you have just released, or telling people you are writing this great song and you can’t wait for them to hear it.

Connections are built by life experiences.  Talk about a concert you went too and how did it make you feel.  Others that went to that concert could latch on.   Talk about your life experiences and pretty soon, hundreds of others will connect that have similar experiences.  That is the start.  Build on it.  Leave the music/art promoting out of it to begin with.

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Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Music

Periphery – Ragnarok – Classic Song Waiting to Be Discovered

Djent.  Who comes up with these terms for music?  Do people really need music to be labelled and categorised to like it.  Why can’t music just be music? It’s not like we are walking through super market isles with a list of what to get.

Seriously I grew up on 80’s hard rock / metal bands.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t like glam rock, thrash metal, pop rock, pop, death metal, technical metal, progressive metal (yawn as more labels come to mind)etc…   See how ridiculous it is.  The problem is when a niche explodes, it becomes mainstream and like it or not its part of the mainstream music machine.  Does anyone refer to Pearl Jam or Alice In Chains as grunge bands or Limp Bizkit as NuMetal anymore?  No they are just bands releasing music and playing shows.   

Coming back to Djent and Periphery.  I saw these guys live at the Annandale Hotel in Feb 2013, as a sideshow they did from the Soundwave tour.  They were good.  Very good.  Technical and melodic.  Technical and aggressive.  Technical and progressive.  Technical and rocking.  Technical and serene.  Technical and mechanical.  It was a pleasure to be there.  To me it is music.  I don’t see it as a Djent movement.  I don’t see it as a niche where only an elite group of fans can participate because they all like Djent style bands and everything else out there is crap.  Its music, that encompasses all the terms I mentioned. 

Periphery was formed in 2005 by guitarist Misha Mansoor.  It wasn’t until 2010 they released their debut album.  Are people prepared to put in 5 years of service these days without making a dime from music and working a full time job to support the dream of being a musician?  

Misha got traction by connecting.  He had a Soundclick account that he regularly updated with riffs and songs.  He went on to forums that mattered.  He didn’t spam everyone.  He went after the people that had a similar interest in the style of music he was into.  In this case, it was the Meshuggah, Dream Theater, John Petrucci and Seven String forums.  He met other musicians like this?  Those other musicians would end up as members in Periphery.  So from just Misha and his computer originally, now it is a band of six musicians.  Vocals are provided by the gifted Spencer Sotelo.  Where did he come from?  In the first two minutes you think he’s singing from the depths of hell and then the angelic melodic voice carries the outro of the song. 

Ragnarok.  The end of the world in Norse mythology by submersion of the world in water.  Afterward, the world will resurface anew and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors.  Does this sound familiar to all the Christian’s out there?  I will be clear from the outset, I am not a fan of screaming guttural vocals.  I appreciate what they bring to a song and what they try to add to the message/context of a song however I don’t really like them.  However, I like how the music is technically aggressive from the outset but to me this song explodes from the 2.20 minute mark to about 4.30.  I remember playing this song to people that like more of a commercial sound.  They were looking at the ceiling and then from the 2.20 minute mark they are paying attention.  Is this the same band they ask me.  I answer yes it is. 

Somewhere in time…
Off in the distance we can see, shining, clear, our demise to be.
We’re not listening to ourselves.

The end of the world.  We can see it, but we failed to stop it.  Allowing Corporations to influence legislation so that it protects their bottom lines and takes away from our liberties.  We need to stop it.  Allowing politicians to serve the lobby groups instead of the people that voted them in.  We need to stop it.  Allowing our privacy to be stored and traded on hearsay evidence.  We need to stop it.  Experience the end of the world with Periphery.  Be amazed.  For the ones that don’t like the death metal vocals, hang in there until the two minute mark.  

You Tube

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