MICHAEL SCHENKER Says K.K. DOWNING Copied His Look In JUDAS PRIEST's Early Days: 'It Was Unbelievable'
April 6, 2022
Michael Schenker, the German guitar virtuoso who made his recorded debut at age 16 on the SCORPIONS' "Lonesome Crow" album and rose to fame as the guitarist of the English hard rock band UFO, spoke to Canada's The Metal Voice about how he was able to influence an entire generation of guitar players that would define 1980s heavy metal. When interviewer Jimmy Kay brought up the fact that several members of IRON MAIDEN have publicly acknowledged the inspiration they drew from his early recordings, Schenker replied (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Yeah, it's all true. [MAIDEN bassist] Steve Harris is a complete Pete Way [late UFO bassist] fan. He even dresses like him. So does K.K. Downing from JUDAS PRIEST; [he] dresses like me. I went to the Whisky [A Go Go in West Hollywood, California] when I was 18 years old, when I was on my first American tour, and there was JUDAS PRIEST playing. And my girlfriend and I, we wanted to see, because we heard about that. And there was K.K. Downing, the guitarist from JUDAS PRIEST, having my perm and playing a Flying V [guitar] in almost an identical outfit. I mean, I looked at my girlfriend; she looked at me. It was like déjà [vu]; it was, like, 'What is this?' It was me again. I couldn't believe it; it was unbelievable."
After Kay noted that it's "amazing" how "everybody [was] copying" Schenker's look and his guitar playing, Michael said: "Yeah, at least that was in the '80s. That's what happens. They either copied me or Eddie Van Halen, or they copied each other on the '80s scene, just to be part of a trend."
In recent years, Schenker has repeatedly accused his brother, SCORPIONS guitarist Rudolf Schenker, of "completely distorting" Michael's "personality as an icon by using the Flying V himself. "Sometimes Rudolf would come up to me and proudly report who'd tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'Hey, Michael, how are you doing?' Slash and Joe Perry, for example," Michael told Guitar World in a 2020 interview. "While I wasn't looking, he managed for years to distort the hell out of the image of the Schenker brothers. People don't have a clue anymore who is who. It's incredible how he managed to distort the whole thing. Rudolf made a deal with Gibson for black-and-white guitars. He asked me if I minded if he played a black-and-white Flying V. I asked myself why he wants to be me, but I just said, 'Go ahead.' Then he pushed it so far in trying to make the black-and-white image his. He doesn't know who he is. Then he had the cheek to make a deal with Gibson for a signature Flying V."
Last year, Downing told Sonic Perspectives that he was inspired to play a Flying V guitar at an early age. "It stemmed from when I was a kid," he said. "I saw the Flying V in the shop and I couldn't afford it. And I used to look at it. I was that Oliver Twist type of kid — [I] didn't have the money, but somehow I knew it was the guitar for what I wanted to do. And now, obviously, the Flying V is synonymous with metal and heavy rock. To me, there was never a question."
A few years ago, Schenker told Classic Rock magazine that he doesn't listen to other people's music. "I just do what I love," he said. "I could never have a conversation about guitars, because I don't know the technical terms. I can't even have a conversation about music, because I don't communicate on that level. I just play.
"I know that every person is unique, so there's a lot inside each person that nobody knows," he continued. "If you decide to share some of that, you're adding something into the world that hasn't been there before. That's what I did with music. Right from the very beginning, when I was 17. I stopped listening to music, I stopped copying people. I just put out new colors. No music. No radio. Nothing. It's pure self-expression."
"Universal", the new studio album from Schenker's MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP, will be released on May 27 via Atomic Fire Records.