Ritchie runs the famous and much-respected fansite dedicated to Michael Schenker. He updates his News page regularly in both English and Japanese for Schenker fans across the world. On my SITN expense account (thanks, fellas!) I flew out to Tokyo to meet up with Ritchie for a weekend of sushi, saki and karaoke. And while I was there we talked about his website, his tribute bands, and about whether my bum really does look big in this kimono. No, tell me, honestly - does it?
Kon'nichiwa, Ritchie! Tell us first (in English, please!) when did you start your website? I don't remember the exact date but according to the What's New page, I seemingly started a personal website in the spring of 1996. I think I started my Michael Schenker site several months later and one of my earliest posts was a concert review of MSG Story Live in Japan on March 19th, 1997 which was a superb show. In those early days, I had only English pages. When the UFO 1998 Japan tour was announced, I started a Japanese-language Schenker site. Recently I have only updated the MS news pages, and as for my personal site, I have just noticed it has not been updated since May 2001! I have thought I should shut down the personal site since I no longer have time to update it. I haven't done this so far just because it is bothersome to do it.
What made you start a website dedicated to Michael Schenker? Unlike the other webmasters, I started my website without any unshakable determination. I got my first computer in December 1995 and one day I took a whim to study how to create websites. I found it fun and easy. Since then up to now, I have been editing all of my webpages with Microsoft Notepad. After a while, I decided to get my site up and running publicly, so I had to find content for it. The only thing I could think of was music, especially Michael Schenker. That was the start. No special motive or mission. It's incredible that I am still doing it. I am sure there are many die-hard Schenker fans in Japan these days. I am just a normal fan of his. The difference is just that I happen to host a fan site. Hardly normal, darlin... if this photo on the right is anything to go by! But yes, I know what you mean!
Throughout the life of your site, do you feel you've had the support and encouragement from Michael that you would have liked? I haven't had direct support or encouragement from Michael or UFO members. Sometimes I am asked to remove a news item for various reasons, though. Honestly I didn't expect to receive support from them. At least they haven't told me to stop doing the website - that's good enough! With regard to other related musicians, they have given me great and warm support for my site. These include Chris Logan, Rev Jones, Kelly Keeling, Gary Barden, Amy Schugar, etc. They all are very supportive and nice to me. I really appreciate their support.
What about from the fans? Support from the fans? That's what my website is all about! You can say my site is based on their support. I don't do anything special. They provide me with the information and I just post it. It cannot exist without their help. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your encouragement.
As you know, here in SITN, we're well into the 'community' aspect of the fansite. Do you have a similar thing going on with the Japanese fans who come to your site? Or is it much more about the music? Do you think your site would ever go the way of SITN, with competitions, interviews, readers' pets etc. If I had more time, I would try to expand my site with some interesting additions. I have no time to spare to start anything new though. As you can see, I have updated only my news pages for a long time. That's the best I can do in the current situation. But, via my site, I have come to know many Schenker fans both from Japan and abroad. I sometimes go out for drinking and karaoke with these people off-line. It's really fun!
What percentage of the people who visit your website are Japanese-speaking, compared to English-speaking? Recently I introduced an access analysis service to my site. According to its report, the ratio between access to my English page and to my Japanese page is approximately 2:1. So I guess only about 30-40% of the visitors are Japanese.
Tell us about the 'Ritchie' part of your name. How did all that come about? When I was a university student back in 1987 I attended an English conversation school where they made it a rule to call the students by western nicknames. So I had to pick up one for mine. At the time, Michael Schenker was already my favorite guitarist and of course I thought I should call myself Michael at the school. However, I felt other people might think I was a fan of Michael Jackson. That's why I picked up Ritchie instead, because Blackmore used to be one of my favorite guitarists along with Brian May before I got totally into Michael. Then, when I started my website, I called it "Ritchie Blackmore Araki's Website for Music Lovers". But since then, lots of people got confused because they came to visit my site hoping it was a Blackmore fansite but only to find Schenker-related information. Also, I got tired of explaining to Schenker fans why I am Ritchie Blackmore every time I was asked. That's why I OFFICIALLY abolished my handle and renamed it just "R.B. Araki" a couple of years ago. So I am no longer Ritchie Blackmore Araki. Of course, you can still call me Ritchie. But, please don't omit the "t" - it's not 'Richie'. I'm with ya all the way on the 'T' thing. I get so angry if people spell Batttttty wrong!
Did you ever run an equivalent website for Ritchie Blackmore? No - I sometimes listen to Rainbow and Deep Purple stuff but I don't even own any Blackmore's Night CDs which Ritchie has made with Candice. Me neither. Give me Smoke On The Water any time!
Which era of MS do you prefer - Scorpions, UFO, MSG, his solo work, or what? What do you think is his best work from each era? That's a tough question. I can only rate it based on how many times I have listened to each album. I think I listened to Assault Attack most except for two great live albums (i.e., SITN and Budokan). It was too short to be called an era, though. I am also a huge Bonnet fan. Probably Barden Era No.2 (Built to Destroy) follows. On the other hand, the lowest is the Scorpions era. And the McAuley era is relatively low-rated although Unplugged Live is an amazing album.
How did you feel when you first heard Walk On Water, after all the time Michael had been out of the band? First I felt amazed by how Michael's guitar work had evolved. His fast but smooth playing with hammering-on and pulling-off which can be heard in songs like Venus and A Self Made Man sounded quite new to me. I have a story about this album. When it came out, I participated in a prize competition held by the Young Guitar magazine to celebrate the comeback of Michael. The winner was supposed to get a Flying V guitar signed by Michael. A condition of the competition was to send to the magazine the message showing how each applicant loves Michael's music. This message must be written on a single post card. It was impossible for me. I wrote my message including the analysis of his new playing style etc. using more than ten postcards with each card being one Chapter. Maybe for that reason I lost the competition. I should have kept that report!
How do you see the future of UFO with Vinnie Moore? Do you think Michael will come back to UFO one day? Do you want that to happen? Regarding UFO with Vinnie Moore, I am sure it will work out great. However, as I am basically a Schenker fan, I personally don't have so much interest in UFO without Michael. And yes, I want Michael to come back to UFO some day. The chemistry created by Phil, Pete and Michael is one and only.
Which of Michael's tunes holds the most depth of meaning for you, and why? Well, I guess Rock Bottom does. This tune is one of my first encounters with his music. Without that, I would not be here doing this. This is the song I have played at the gigs most since I was a high school kid. Before I came across this song, I had thought Brian May was the best guitarist.
Which of his tunes do you most like to play on your own guitar? Probably Broken Promises from the Assault Attack album. I think the lead on this is one of the best in the entire history of Michael. Perfectly constructed with an amazing tone!
Tell us about your guitar (amps'n'valves!) Don't ask me about amps and valves. I am totally ignorant of music gear. All I can say is I don't like Marshall amps very much, especially the big stack-type ones. About guitars, I have eight guitars and one bass guitar. My first guitar was a Yamaha Les Paul model which my parents bought me when I was twelve. I have four Flying Vs, three of which are Gibson. Other guitars include an Ovation acoustic guitar, a Greco Brian May model and a guitar for MIDI. My main guitar is a white Gibson Custom Shop Flying V. I don't know when it was manufactured - I got it in 1989 at the second-hand shop. I changed the pick-up to a Seymour Duncan one, but I forgot which model it is. I really don't care about the equipment. If it sounds good, that's enough.
How many times have you seen Michael play Live - with UFO, MSG etc? And have you seen him outside Japan? I think I have seen him play live seven times. One and a half times with UFO (he walked off the stage in the middle of the show once), and the others with MSG and McAuley Schenker Group. All the concerts were in Japan. I have some friends who went to see him play live outside Japan, but I am not such a die-hard fan.
What was the first Schenker gig you ever saw? Before I went to university in 1985 I lived far away from the big cities like Tokyo and Osaka and could not go to his concerts. So, the first gig was McAuley Schenker Group live at Budokan in 1988. Mitch Perry was on stage too.
What was the best gig, and why? The best gig I ever saw was the Story Live in 1997 which was later released as the double CD. The performance was superb. They played 30 songs for three hours. Who could ask for more? I was lucky enough to share that special moment.
Have you ever felt let down by him? If so, what helped you to keep going with the site, when so many other people, even devoted fans like yourself, might have given up working on the site? And if he did ever let you down, what was the thing that made you 'forgive' him? (As you know, I can listen to Rock Bottom and forgive him for everything!) He dashed down Leon Lawson's Flying V and left the stage in 1998. Of course that show, as well as the remaining dates, were cancelled. His acoustic live tour was cancelled after tickets were sold. And, most recently, the last MSG Japan tour was cancelled just before tickets started to be sold because he broke down in Palo Alto. These happenings didn't let me down. I felt worried about him. I just hoped he would overcome the hardships and continue to play music. And he did continue. I am so happy about that. However, in his recent interview with the Burrn magazine, I felt he mistakenly blamed other people for the misfortunes which had happened to him. That was a kind of let-down. I think he should be more responsible for what he is doing. As he stated in his message to the fans that "This time I make sure to do the administration myself and to keep my eyes on things", I am sure he can be more responsible now. Anyway, nothing could change my love of his music. These things have never made me feel like giving up working on the site.
OK Ritchie, tell us about the bands you have worked with - and about the cds you've made - especially about the ones with MY name in the credits (yeeee-haaaaahhh!). I have four Schenker tribute bands, namely Yamaguchi Schenker, Assault Attack, Dr. Bottom and Queen of The Deep. As every bandmember has a job, we play live only at odd intervals. Like Michael, I plan a gig with those who are available on each occasion. We made live CDs from time to time just for ourselves and not for commercial purposes. We also distribute the CDs to those who are interested. You can check these CDs at my music clip page. Yes, your name is in the credits of Acoustic Assault Attack, Strangers In Tokyo, and Nightmare Half Live. And Strangers in Tokyo includes the review you kindly wrote for us!
Do you write any songs yourself? No I don't write - I am a mere copycat. If I ever wrote music, I would definitely feel how miserable my phrases are compared to Michael's material. I don't write music but I do arrangements. I am also a member of the animation theme song parody band called "Luemetal". Their tunes are basically arranged by myself. The song called Orphan's Ballad uses phrases from Bijou Pleasurette and On with the Action.
Do you play tributes to other guitarists? Actually I have just formed a new band which has yet to be named. This band will basically play MSG but probably we will do some Blackmore and Malmsteen stuff at the first gig planned on January 31, 2004. This band will be a kind of combination of Bonnet-type singer, Cozy-type drummer, Tony Franklin-type bassist and myself. I think it could be promising. I am now persuading other members to play Broken Promises, my favorite as I mentioned earlier.
What other interests do you have? I like to play and watch tennis. You're lucky in England, you have Wimbledon. But we are also lucky because we can watch it live on TV after coming back home from work - no need to take a day off! I also like watching American TV drama series such as The Practice, Chicago Hope, X-Files, Ally McBeal, etc. Plus I have to practice guitar. I want 36 hours in a day. 48 would be better!
What is happening on the music scene in Japan at the moment? I have no idea. I've never listened to Japanese music for the past twenty years. During the '70s, I listened to both Japanese and foreign music. During the '80s, I listened to only foreign music (mainly UK and American). During the '90s, I listened to '70s and '80s music plus a limited number of new music from bands like Metallica and Queensryche. Now I listen to '70s and '80s plus the new releases of Celine Dion only. And of course, I still listen to MSG and UFO all the time!
You've recently been over to America. Tell us about the trip. Not so recent, but yes, I went to America for vacation in September 2002. I stayed there for two weeks. I drove about 2,000 miles by a rental car. Los Angeles and Las Vegas were a bit boring to me, but I was moved by the marvels of nature such as Grand Canyon, Yosemite Park, etc. What's good about America is the land is huge. People live in big houses. We Japanese live in dog-kennel-size houses with a pocket-handkerchief garden. It seems at least superficially that they are much wealthier than us.
One of the highlights of my trip was a visit to Michael's studio in Scottsdale with Linda and little Mikey. At that time, there was only a huge console left in the studio. Unfortunately it was auctioned by the bank a couple of months later.
What do you hope R B Araki will be doing in five years time? In five years time we will have organized the first Michael Schenker/UFO Convention either in Japan, U.K. or U.S. where most of the SITN members get together. If Michael cannot attend, I will play live instead. I believe you will accept a position as co-organizer!
How about in ten years time? In ten years time, I hope I will be still playing in a band - and so will Michael. And I will have won 300 million yen in a public lottery and live quietly and happily ever after. Sounds good to me! I'm dreaming of THAT summer too! Arigatou Ritchie, for taking part in the interview. In fact... arigatou with orchestra, bagpipes and harmonica!
This interview © Batttttty
- 19th November 2003