by John Kindred
– Publisher —
Legendary hard rock guitarist Michael Schenker’s notoriety begins with the Scorpions before taking over as the axeslinger for UFO. In 1972, at the age of 16, Schenker recorded the studio album Lonesome Crow, alongside his brother, Rudolph, with the Scorpions. Schenker then took flight with the Rock band UFO, recording five studio albums and the live album Strangers in the Night, which was released in 1979. Schenker’s storied past is a part of his enigma; leaving UFO in 1978, as the band was positioned to make a huge splash in U.S., he rejoined the Scorpions, touring and recording with them on 1979’s Love Drive studio album. This was just a brief pause, as Schenker contemplated starting his own band.
At some point in ’79 Schenker, while in London, he gathered into the MSG ranks Denny Carmassi (ex-Montrose), Billy Sheehan (ex-Talas) and then-unknown vocalist Gary Barden. Call it MSG “Mark I,” if you will, as a group the band produced a five-song demo, preparing the way for the first studio album; however, plans soon were derailed when Schenker checked himself into a hospital. At some point Schenker, cut his hair to be less recognized and drastically changed his outward persona before resuming the quest to complete his band.
The Michael Schenker Group’s self-titled release was recorded in Wessex Studios in London from May through July of 1980. Released in August 1980, the album was produced by Roger Glover (Deep Purple). The recording lineup included Simon Phillips, bassist Mo Foster, keyboardist Don Airey and vocalist Gary Barden.
The original album contains nine studio tracks. The 2009 re-master adds eight additional bonus tracks. A highlight of those songs is the release of the original five demos that featured the lineup of Schenker, Carmassi, Sheehan and Barden. The final three bonus tracks are a radio-edit of the song “Cry for the Nations,” and two live B-Side tracks, “Armed and Ready” and “Into the Arena.”
There is no doubt that Schenker’s time with the Scorpions and UFO solidified his status as a bonafide guitar hero. The release of the debut MSG self-titled album was his way to declare to the Rock community that he could stand on his own two feet. Schenker surrounded himself with musicians who, each, exemplified the best attributes with their own chosen instruments. Barden, who at the time was an unknown element, proved he had the “metal” to craft music with Schenker.
The original nine songs are a compilation of hits, all of which have been staples of MSG’s live set list at one time or another. While the song “Into the Arena” is Schenker’s signature guitar instrumental performance, the album also is graced by a second instrumental song the elegant, “Bijou Pleasurette.” Plenty of mid-tempo rockers await the listener from the opener “Armed and Ready” to the closing epic “Lost Horizons.” Plenty of great song titles feature Barden’s written lyrical prose, such as “Cry for the Nations,” which is an ode to Nostradamus. And the mood set by the music and lyrics harkens back on several songs to another time, such as “Cry for the Nations,” “Lost Horizons” and “Tales of Mystery.” The entire album features amazing performances from Schenker, as he lets his voice be heard through the notes that pour out of his guitar.
The demos that, again, feature Schenker, Carmassi, Sheehan and Barden are, well, demos. The performances of the musicians are pretty good, but it is apparent that MSG was working out the kinks with new material, and some of the songs just aren’t completely developed quite yet. “Looking Out From Nowhere” has a slower tempo and a longer running time. “After Midnight” seems to be the building block for “Feels Like a Good Time;” a different title, different lyrics but same rhythmic groove and guitar riff. Sheehan’s bass is prominent and fits in well with Schenker’s guitar. Oh, what could have been?
The re-mastered CD wraps with the radio-edit of the song “Cry for the Nations.” And live B-Side tracks “Armed and Ready,” which was recorded at the Manchester Apollo, and “Into the Arena,” which was recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon.
To his credit, Schenker’s virtuoso skills have been a much sought after commodity over the course of his career. He auditioned for Aerosmith after Joe Perry left in the late ‘70s, and Ozzy Osbourne came calling after the death of Randy Rhoads. In the early ‘80s, he had conversations with David Coverdale, as Coverdale contemplated lineup changes of his own.
With the release of his latest studio album Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock Spirit On A Mission, his 43-year-plus music career continues on. His status as an innovator and virtuoso firmly is planted, alongside other well-known and significant names in the industry, including Gary Moore, Ritchie Blackmore, Jimi Hendrix, Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen, among others.
Genre: Hard rock, Heavy Metal
Michael Schenker – guitar
Gary Barden – vocals
Don Airey – keyboards
Mo Foster – bass
Simon Phillips – drums
1979 demos on 2009 reissue
Gary Barden – vocals
Michael Schenker – guitar
Billy Sheehan – bass
Denny Carmassi – drums
1. “Armed and Ready” – 4:05
2. “Cry for the Nations” – 5:08
3. “Victim of Illusion” – 4:41
4. “Bijou Pleasurette” (Schenker) – 2:16
5. “Feels Like a Good Thing” – 3:44
6. “Into the Arena” (Schenker) – 4:10
7. “Looking Out from Nowhere” – 4:28
8. “Tales of Mystery” – 3:16
9. “Lost Horizons” – 7:04
2009 Reissue bonus tracks
10. “Just a Lover” (demo) – 4:34
11. “Looking Out from Nowhere” (demo) – 5:13
12. “Get Up and Get Down” (demo) – 3:59
13. “After Midnight” (demo) – 4:31
14. “Breakout” (demo) – 4:42
15. “Cry for the Nations” (radio edit) – 3:35
16. “Armed and Ready” (live at the Manchester Apollo) – 4:40
17. “Into the Arena” (live at the Hammersmith Odeon, London)
Label: Chrysalis Records