Michael Schenker picks 10 essential guitar albums
“I am simply fascinated by single notes," says Michael Schenker. The German rock hero and former guitarist for UFO and the Scorpions is pondering what makes a great guitar album. According to Schenker, "it's like a combination lock: if you come up with the right single notes, then you put then in a beautiful, catchy pattern, and they work in that order. It's the same as discovering a series of numbers that unlocks the lock."
Schenker, who was already gigging by age 11, can't recall the first time an album made a huge impression on him from a guitar standpoint. As he puts it, "It all came in one wave. Suddenly, there was Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. All at once I got hit by these albums and this incredible guitar playing. I got swamped by them, and I loved it."
The guitarist admits that he might not be up on current players – he quit buying albums years ago, reasoning that his creativity flowed more freely when he concentrated on his own music. "I don’t want to be influenced by what other people are doing," he says. "The value is in ourselves to show our own true colors, and that’s a very individual pursuit. So, after a while, I had to shut everything out and hear my own voice."
Nonetheless, Schenker arrived at 10 selections (listed alphabetically by artist) that he considers essential from a guitar playing standpoint, stressing that "how things impact us depends on the moment and so many other variables. I don’t know if what I was affected by will matter to anybody else, but I would recommend these albums to other guitarists."
Michael Schenker: Temple of Rock - Live in Europe is currently out on CD, DVD, Blu-ray and Ltd Deluxe Edition by inakustik. Schenker’s Temple of Rock UK tour starts 9 April 2013. Book online here.
The Jeff Beck Group – Truth (1968)
[Sings] “’Rock me baby, rock me all night long!’ [Laughs] That’s absolutely fantastic. Two people who know exactly what to do together in music is very special. The combination of Rod Stewart’s vocals and Jeff Beck’s guitar playing is magical.
“There’s something about Jeff’s way with a guitar, how he pulls the notes out. He gets a lot out of everything he does. Truth is a brilliant record – the songs, Rod’s singing, and especially what Jeff does on guitar. Everything is quality.”
Jeff Beck – Blow By Blow (1975)
“Rod Stewart isn't singing anymore, but you have Jeff, and his guitar playing is even better than before. The sound is sweeter, it’s not as dirty as it was on Truth, but you can tell in a second that it’s Jeff Beck.
Overall, I’d say he’s more melodic here, not as rock ‘n’ roll. There’s a lot of different moods and sides to the songs – they’re kind of cheeky.”
Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)
“I liked their first one, Black Sabbath, but this one was even better. It’s got all the great songs that everybody knows. Tony Iommi’s guitar sound is so huge and dirty and spooky – it’s like a monster coming at you. It really fits the whole picture of what the band is and what the songs are about.
“Tony isn’t a tremendous lead player, but that’s not important. He has a spirit, a special quality, and that’s worth a million notes.”
Cream – Wheels Of Fire (1968)
“Cream were sensational. Eric Clapton’s guitar playing is always tasteful, but I really like hearing him working with two other fascinating musicians. Cream were a perfect combination of talents.
“The music is bluesy and dark, but it gets into other places like psychedelia and pop. It was all kind of weird, with each guy doing what they wanted, real free-form, but it was very commercial too. White Room is my favorite. Every phrase that Eric plays is right on the money.”
Deep Purple – In Rock (1970)
“First, I have to talk about the singing. Up till this time, I had never heard a bloke sing that high before. But it's great - I love it!
“And, of course, you’ve got Ritchie Blackmore. This is the record that made me and so many other people take notice of him. Great touch, great note choices and tremendous style. He’s his own guy on In Rock. Also, there’s the way in which he blended the guitar with the organ – the two sounded very right together. Excellent group musicianship.”
Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III (1970)
“There’s so many tones and moods to absorb on Zeppelin III. The band explores dynamics completely, going from short outbursts of extremely loud playing to very soft, acoustic passages.
“Of the rock songs, Immigrant Song is utterly fantastic. It energizes me! [Laughs] There’s no guitar solo on the song, but you don’t need one when you have such heaviness. It might be one of the most powerful rock tracks I’ve ever heard.”
Mountain – Climbing! (1970)
"It's a good, solid record, but Theme For An Imagination Western really knocked me out. It’s like spending two days hearing the most beautiful, creative soloing ever.
“The compositions are very well thought-out. Fantastic songwriting. But it’s Leslie West’s playing jumps out at me. His vibrato, his choice of notes, his overall sound – he’s a total master on the guitar.”
Taste – On The Boards (1970)
“This band had Rory Gallagher in it, and I think he was a brilliant guitarist. He played tough and hard. There was almost an arrogance there in the way he attacked the guitar. He was quite good.
“What’s Going On is a song I particularly love. Rory's style was very different from what I do, and of course, he played a Stratocaster, and I don’t. His tone was thin, but it had a lot of bite and character.”
Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)
“I’m not a big consumer of music – or I wasn’t after a certain point in my life – but I couldn’t ignore this one. Eddie Van Halen is unbelievable. You can't deny it.
"Now, I don’t use gimmicks when I play, so I wasn’t aware of tapping, but it seemed as if after this record that everybody was doing it. But forget about that, because what he does with rhythm and melody and vibrato is fantastic. He proved on the first album that he was a marvelous overall guitarist.”
Johnny Winter – Johnny Winter And (1970)
“I like this record because it has Rock And Roll, Hoochie Koo on it. Such dirty, aggressive blues-rock. You hear the grit under his fingers, and the way he rolls around his notes is awesome!
“Johnny Winter is a quality guitarist. He has wonderful taste, feel, and the way he attacks the notes is special. He always keeps you involved and entertained.”