Talent and tenacity
has kept Scorpions' sting primed
By Naughty Mickie
Photos courtesy of The Scorpions
The German hard rock band Scorpions has managed to stay alive for more than 30 years. Formed in 1969, they debuted in 1972 with "Lonesome Crow" and followed up with several more recordings prior to getting the attention of the United States. But they didn't stand idle during this time, the Scorpions toured and garnered fans throughout Europe and Japan. It was with the 1980 release of "Animal Magnetism" that they finally woke up the States and they haven't let up since.
In May, the Scorpions issued "Bad for Good: The Very Best of Scorpions" (Hip-O Records), a collection of their best tunes, as well as two new songs. They are currently on the road touring with Dio and Deep Purple with the lineup of vocalist Klaus Meine, guitarists Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs, bassist Ralph Riekermann and drummer James Kottak. Schenker was kind enough to share some of his time to speak with me, offering some insight into why the Scorpions have been so successful.
"We can't wait to come over there because we have always played live stage. it's pure rock and roll," Schenker greets me, explaining that the band is excited to be back touring in the United States.
Schenker grew up in Hanover, Germany and his parents were very supportive of him during his pursuit of a career in music.
"I was involved my whole life in music because music was, when I start thinking, music was something special for me, but somehow something came in between, it was playing soccer," relates Schenker. "And then somehow, especially when the Beatles and the Stones came out, I could see a few friends sitting together, playing together music, I said to myself, 'I want to do the same thing.' I start playing guitar and then my brother (guitarist Michael Schenker), who is younger than me, because I didn't want to play by myself, I said to my brother, I said, 'Look, I go now to work and when I come back maybe I can rehearse this song, a song from 'Out of the Shadows,' you'll play the melody and I'll play the rhythm. When I came back home from my work, he actually made it and we played the song together. That was the first time, but my brother was too young, so I couldn't make a band together with him.
"My brother was seven years younger than me, I was 15 and he was eight years old." Schenker continues, "In this case, I tried to make a band. Then later on, we became the Scorpions and since 1972, after we released the album, 'Lonesome Crow,' and now we have 30 years of the Scorpions and we are releasing the album, 'Best of the Scorpions,' our gift is our tour, where we do a flip-flopping headline with Deep Purple, through the United States, where we can give the fans something special because we also have two new songs on it which are produced by our old friend, Dieter Dierks, 'Bad for Good' and also 'Because I Love You.' We thought it would be great to give it for this tour and for the fans.''
I ask Schenker about working while going to school.
"First of all, I was in a school band and the school band was the Scorpions already. In '66, the name Scorpions was already there, it was a school band. And then I had to go to work of course because my parents wanted, they loved that I played music, but they wanted also that I learn a real job because they couldn't believe that I could make my living playing music. In this case, I had to work another job, but then when I was finished and I had the job and everything, the first thing I tried was to be a professional musician. It didn't work out in the first year, but in the second year it worked out, I found Klaus (Meine), my brother was involved and (Karl) Heinz Follmer and then two other guys (bassist Lothar Heimberg and drummer Wolfgang Dziony) and we started to play music and make a living out of it.''
The Scorpions concentrated their early tours in Europe.
"The first time we played in the United States was 1979," says Schenker. "We started at a big festival in Cleveland opening up for Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Thin Lizzy and Journey. There was about 60-70 thousand people there.''
After that, the band, led by Schenker, became world travelers.
"I'll tell you one thing about our biggest wish, I'd say the one thing for me, Germany is my birth country, but I was always roving kind of guy. I told the other guys, 'Hey, let's play around the world.' They said, 'Great, great. But can you tell me more?' I said, 'Yes, I'll tell you more, I'll show you more.' And then we were traveling around the world and everybody liked it. I love it very much because I'm a gypsy. My brother lives in Phoenix and my sister lives in London and somehow we have this kind of gypsy blood and we love it. We love it to play around, we have so many friends around the world. in Asia, in America, it's great to come back to those places and see your friends again. It's great.
"It's fun," Schenker goes on. "Especially when you have the good chemistry which we have with Klaus, which he has with me, great chemistry and we enjoy to travel around the world.''
The Scorpions have been very savvy on how to get their music out, not only by globe trotting, but also by writing their lyrics in English, rather than their native German. I tell Schenker that I read that they have always written in English.
"That's right," affirms Schenker. "Because when we start playing music, even when I was in the school band, with the Scorpions school band, we was playing songs from the Rolling Stones, covers of the Beatles, the Yardbirds and stuff and when we started writing our songs it was clearly in our minds, we would only write in English because it's very important, it's a ticket to play around the world.
"You can't play around the world," Schenker continues. "You can maybe, Rammstein did it, but that's the exception. Normally you can't play music, well, maybe in 1997 was the exception too, but mostly you have to sing in English and people around the world will accept you. And that's what we did in this case. It was important, when we started writing by ourselves, to write in English.''
I ask how they write.
"Mostly as a team," responds Schenker. "But Klaus is more the guy who writes the lyrics, but he also writes music, a few songs, and I'm mostly writing the music, but sometimes also lyrics.''
"Do you write as a group?" I query.
"We tried that," says Schenker. "We started in '72, we was writing in a group and then when other people come into the band, they were more into writing by themselves. In this case, we changed our structure and now Klaus and me, we became sole writers. Some bands prefer to write in a band way and some people prefer to write by themselves or a as a team.''
The name Scorpions is a terrific choice for a rock band, it has so many connotations, I ask Schenker to tell me how it came about.
"Because when we start, coming from Germany, you have to find a way, somehow people understand you in your own country and then later on, when you make it worldwide success and travel around the world, people also understand your name somewhere else," Schenker explains. "In this case, Scorpions was a great thing to do because scorpion is, in Germany, written with a 'k,' but if you write it with a 'c,' people understand it and internationally it is written with a 'c.' In this case, it was a perfect name for a rock band because also a scorpion is an animal, it's a very dangerous animal, its stinger is very dangerous too. It reminds you a little bit of a needle which was playing in the early days, the vinyl album.''
"What do you think of today's music scene?" I ask.
"I'll tell you one thing, I'm not a person who says the music scene 20 years or 30 years ago was better," says Schenker. "I think good bands come around like Linkin Park; Nickelback. Nickelback reminds me a little bit of Scorpions with a new great guitar and a deeper voice. There's also a band, POD is great, I like, also System of a Down are great. There's some good bands today. The music scene, of course the music in the '80s and the '70s was more kind of more deep, the albums were mostly really an album. Today it's more important for the people to have a singer which makes the album.''
"I think rock is coming back in a big way," I comment.
"Of course, you can see that," agrees Schenker. "This music will never die. It's the same, my philosophy, it's the same as blues and jazz, it's its own music. So in this case, our music will never go away, it will always come back again with different phases and different twists.''
Being from an Internet publication, I have to get Schenker's view on the Web.
"I think the Internet is a new toy which gives you the possibility," Schenker says. "Like you want to have information about Scorpions, the old days you had to go directly to the record company, these days you go into the Internet and you see, 'Ahh, there it is, ahh yes.' And in this case we have good possibilities, young bands have possibilities to show people the new songs they're doing, whatever. You have so much new possibilities. Especially in countries like Russia, where the country is very big and you have much more information now than they had 20 years ago. Also America's a big country and people can communicate over the Internet. We are very close to our fans because they can write us what they like or don't like and get in touch with us. It's fantastic."
When he's not busy with the band, Schenker has several hobbies to keep himself busy.
"I take my Mercedes SL and drive at 250 kilometers on the motorway," bubbles Schenker. "That's great. I do it at night because at daytime there's too much traffic. We have a few motorways which are very, they're not so busy. It's great to go in the car and drive. Because when we're on tour, we don't have the possibility to drive because we're going from place to place by plane or by bus and in this case, we enjoy very much driving fast because in Germany it's the only country in the world where you can drive as fast as you want.''
"What color is your car?" I ask.
"My car is silver. All my cars are silver," Schenker replies.
Wow! I think. ALL his cars-- such is the life of a rock star. So what else is there then?
"I do meditation and I read Eastern philosophy, kind of Indian philosophy, which I like very much, it brings me down on earth," confides Schenker. "And actually I work in my studio, I work on new material, I work on new ideas and try to get my guitars in line.''
Dare I ask? I go for it, "How many guitars do you have?"
"I have around 90 Flying Vs and another 60 other guitars, like Les Pauls, acoustic guitars and all that other stuff. I didn't want to have so many guitars," Schenker says apologetically. "But what happens when you go on tour, so many people are coming to you saying, 'Look here. Oh, you like this one. Oh you this one.' And they're mostly very good. And also sponsoring Gibson guitars. And also they're coming with models and new stuff. In this case I'm happy to try them out.''
I realize that the clock has been ticking away during our very pleasant chat and that I need to let Schenker go to fulfill his other obligations. I ask him if he has anything else to tell me.
"Everything so far is good," Schenker chirps. "Only thing which I can say is that we're happy to be back in the United States and rockin' the crowds."
Find out where the Scorpions are rockin' next at www.the-scorpions.com
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