Scor­pi­ons

As farewells go, the one the Scor­pi­ons con­tinue to take since they an­nounced their retirement is a long one. But why park the car when the ride is still thrilling and the bod­ies still will­ing?

Classic Rock - - Contents - The Scor­pi­ons are cur­rently on tour. See www.the-scor­pi­ons.com/tour for full dates.

They thought it was all over. Then the ‘farewell tour’ turned out to be rather fun, so they’ve car­ried on a bit...

In 2007, Scor­pi­ons front­man Klaus Meine told Clas­sic Rock: “We want to end on a high, to keep go­ing and find a mo­ment to have a nice way out of this mad­ness.” The band’s 2012 doc­u­men­tary film For­ever And A Day charted their as­cent from the back streets of Hanover to the main stages of Europe, Amer­ica and be­yond, and was planned to cul­mi­nate with their retirement. Five years later they’re still go­ing strong, and about to em­bark on a tour of the US with Me­gadeth. What went right? “We al­ways say as long as the Rolling Stones can do it, we can do it,” gui­tarist Matthias

Jabs says, laugh­ing.

Jabs still has some­thing of the ‘new boy’ about him, even though he joined the band be­fore the record­ing of 1979’s Lovedrive al­bum. “They don’t seem to stop! I’m go­ing to see them in Ham­burg in Septem­ber so let’s see what shape they’re in. But as long as they keep do­ing it, we have to keep our prom­ise alive.”

Jabs turns 62 this Oc­to­ber, band­leader

Ru­dolf Schenker has just had his 68th birth­day and Meine is 70 next May. Schenker doesn’t bother cel­e­brat­ing, his ra­tio­nale be­ing that

“in this rock’n’roll world, where I’m still alive, ev­ery day is a happy birth­day”.

“We’ve got Mikkey Dee now,” he says, the for­mer Motör­head drum­mer hav­ing re­placed James Kot­tak, who al­lowed his pen­chant for al­co­hol to get the bet­ter of him. “He fits per­fectly in the band. We fly to­gether, we sit to­gether af­ter con­certs, we have din­ner to­gether. We’re en­joy­ing it so much. The mu­sic is still work­ing for us, and the fans are still there. That’s the best birth­day I can think of.”

“It’s more re­laxed than it ever was,” Jabs says in agree­ment. “Paweł [Mci­woda, bass] and Mikkey get on so well, which is very im­por­tant. There is a fan­tas­tic at­mos­phere be­tween the five of us, and mu­si­cally we’re on top form.”

Age­ing might seem a gloomy topic, but the Scor­pi­ons man­age to in­vest it with the en­ergy and good hu­mour they bring to their mu­sic.

“I just turned sixty-nine, Meine says. “On my next birth­day there will be a num­ber seven, and un­for­tu­nately around that age so many great artists left us. It’s re­ally sad to see that gen­er­a­tion come to an end.”

With so many re­cent rock deaths, in­clud­ing Lemmy, Bowie and Prince, have they started to worry about their own mor­tal­ity?

“Of course – when you’re over sixty, the chances [of dy­ing] are greater than when you’re forty,” Schenker rea­sons, “but I don’t think about it at all.”

He is, how­ever, con­cerned about the con­se­quent fu­ture of rock. “It’s sad to see so many great mu­si­cians die in re­cent years, and it will hap­pen even more be­cause peo­ple only live so long.

One day it will hit the Stones, and the next day the Scor­pi­ons. And when we’re all gone there’ll be noth­ing au­then­tic left re­gard­ing rock mu­sic. When all the great artists and great bands are dead, au­to­mat­i­cally this [rock’n’roll] is all over. Then you’ll have either copy­cats or just the new stuff.”

Schenker might not lose much sleep about death, but you can’t help won­der­ing if he wor­ries about how long his rift with his younger brother Michael will con­tinue. It was in 2016 that sto­ries started to ap­pear about Michael’s “mistrust” of the Scor­pi­ons, for whom he played lead gui­tar in the early days, ac­cus­ing them of “fool­ing peo­ple” by car­ry­ing on tour­ing af­ter their farewell con­certs and ac­cus­ing his elder brother of not giv­ing him the credit he’s due for his con­tri­bu­tion to Scor­pi­ons’ 70s al­bums.

Are Meine and Jabs aware of the broth­erly spat? “No, not at all,” the singer fibs.

Ditto Jabs. “Um, ac­tu­ally, I don’t re­ally know what was go­ing on there,” he says. “I read a few things and thought it was as stupid as it could

get, then I for­got about it. I don’t know if any­thing has changed. No­body talks abut it here.”

“I saw some of [the ar­gu­ing] on the in­ter­net,” Meine adds. “I don’t know what Michael is up to.”

He pauses, then draws par­al­lels with no­to­ri­ous rock sib­ling ri­val­ries past. “I re­mem­ber when we saw The Kinks in the six­ties, the Davies broth­ers were fight­ing all the time,” he says with a chuckle. “That’s just the way it is some­times with broth­ers. But what’s go­ing on be­tween Ru­dolf and Michael I can’t say, be­cause I don’t un­der­stand it. But it doesn’t have any ef­fect on Scor­pi­ons at all.”

Has Meine ever had a fight with one of the other band mem­bers?

“We have our lit­tle fights about set-lists or pro­duc­tion, and some­times, yeah, it can be a lit­tle rough. But that’s the way it is with Scor­pi­ons: they put out this stinger and this lit­tle fight, then it’s re­spect and a big hug.”

Be­sides, don’t most bands worth their salt thrive on cre­ative ten­sion and the odd spot of argy-bargy. “You’re right, it’s not sun­shine ev­ery day,” says Jabs. He doesn’t make it ex­plicit, but he seems to con­sider Michael Schenker’s de­ci­sion to air his dirty laun­dry in pub­lic in­ap­pro­pri­ate. “Ev­ery­body should be aware of that,” he says point­edly, “but un­for­tu­nately it’s not al­ways the case.”

It’s down to Ru­dolf to set the mat­ter straight.

“I think be­cause my brother is so good a gui­tar player, he never took care about busi­ness,” he muses of Michael’s some­what less con­sis­tent tra­jec­tory from Scor­pi­ons to UFO to the Michael Schenker Group and be­yond. “He is such a fan­tas­tic gui­tar player, but he changed horses so of­ten and had a lit­tle less light in the Scor­pi­ons, who al­ways went through every­thing to­gether, like with Klaus and me.

“His mis­take was that he didn’t talk to me first be­fore do­ing in­ter­views,” he says of Michael’s at­tacks on him in the press. “I would never say a bad word about him, and what­ever he says is fine with me.

“I think he has the idea that I have a much bet­ter life than him. Of course that’s de­press­ing for him. But that’s how it is. What can I say?

I love my brother, he’s an amaz­ing gui­tar player. But it’s like my fa­ther said: ‘Where there is much light, there are big shad­ows.’

“He wanted it his way,” Schenker says, the fi­nal word on the sub­ject. “He wanted to be one of the big­gest gui­tar play­ers in the world, and I wanted to be part of one of the big­gest rock groups. So ev­ery­body got what they asked for.”

Scor­pi­ons haven’t just had to ne­go­ti­ate per­sonal dif­fi­cul­ties. As one of the world’s big­gest rock bands, they’re also right at the coal face dur­ing global up­heaval and change. They were there dur­ing the Wind Of Change era as the Ber­lin Wall came down, play­ing Rus­sia and be­friend­ing for­mer Soviet Union leader Mikael Gor­bachev (who, im­pres­sively, was a talk­ing head in the For­ever And A Day rock doc). Now they’re tour­ing and per­form­ing dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly tur­bu­lent time for the planet, which must prove chal­leng­ing.

“I would say so,” Jabs says, speaking a cou­ple of weeks be­fore the nuclear stand­off be­tween the US and North Korea. “We’ve al­ways had wars, but with ter­ror­ism on top of every­thing it seems the world is cra­zier and darker than ever.”

He brings a much-needed sense of per­spec­tive to pro­ceed­ings: “If you turned off your tele­vi­sion and com­puter and didn’t buy a daily pa­per, you wouldn’t think about it. The me­dia helps to pro­mote the wars and ter­ror­ism. If ev­ery­body shut up and stopped writ­ing about it ev­ery time, it wouldn’t be so bad.”

“We had our crazy road years when we

threw TVs out of the win­dow, but we didn’t call the press.”

Klaus Meine

Nev­er­the­less, the Scor­pi­ons have had very real brushes with dan­ger. They were in Turkey just be­fore the at­tempted coup d’état in 2016. “We just got out of there in time,” Jabs says with an au­di­ble shud­der. “It was close.” They were also the first band to play in Beirut af­ter 15 years of civil war, a de­cid­edly un­set­tling ex­pe­ri­ence. “There were bul­let holes and ru­ins ev­ery­where, and in my ho­tel room there was this sticker on my win­dow show­ing a guy with a gun and a red line across it. It said: ‘Be­ware of snipers, close the cur­tains first, then turn on the light.’” He laughs ner­vously. “It’s one way to wel­come you, I guess.”

On the night of this in­ter­view, the Scor­pi­ons play a se­cret gig in Munich, to make up for a can­celled show last year fol­low­ing what was ini­tially thought to be a ter­ror­ist at­tack but turned out to be a lone gun­man shoot­ing at a McDon­ald’s.

“We promised we’d do the show when­ever we were in Munich again,” Meine ex­plains. “We played Paris ten days af­ter the ter­ri­ble at­tacks at the Bat­a­clan, at the Bercy Arena,” he re­calls, seem­ing not un­duly pre­oc­cu­pied by threats of terror. “It was amaz­ing. It was com­pletely packed, and it was very mov­ing when the whole arena sang the Mar­seil­laise [French na­tional an­them]. It was a state­ment: ‘We’re here and we stand strong to­gether through this.’

“As a mu­si­cian you go for it,” he con­tin­ues, un­bowed. “They [terror at­tacks] are at the back of ev­ery­one’s mind these days, whether in a soc­cer sta­dium or at a con­cert like the [Ari­ana Grande] one in Manch­ester. It’s hor­ri­fy­ing. Ev­ery night we play Wind Of Change, I in­tro­duce it by say­ing: ‘Take a look at the world to­day. We need an­other wind of change.’ The crowd goes nuts. Years af­ter writ­ing that song it’s like, wow, look what’s hap­pen­ing: Brexit, Trump, Europe… It feels like every­thing’s fall­ing apart. But I would never give up hop­ing that things will turn out for the bet­ter.”

Ar­guably more than any other Ger­man band apart from Kraftwerk, the Scor­pi­ons be­came un­of­fi­cial am­bas­sadors for their coun­try, help­ing to im­prove its rep­u­ta­tion in the eyes of the world.

“Ab­so­lutely right,” Meine af­firms. “We al­ways went out there feel­ing like our par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion was at war with the rest of the world. So yes, in a way we feel like we go out and make a state­ment for a more peace­ful world.”

“We wanted to show the Rus­sian peo­ple that Ger­many was not com­ing with tanks and war but with mu­sic and love,” Schenker says of the Scor­pi­ons’ his­toric 1988 shows in the for­mer USSR.

Talk­ing of love… Pre­sum­ably the Scor­pi­ons’ days of amorous (and, for that mat­ter, nar­cotic) mis­ad­ven­tures on the road are long gone?

“That is his­tory, and has been for decades,” Jabs says. “That all ended with the eight­ies. We’ve seen and done it all, but we’re good now. We like to keep healthy, al­though we don’t need to go to the gym – be­ing on stage is ex­er­cise enough.”

Meine agrees that their days of bac­cha­na­lian ex­cess are in the past, al­though even then they tended not to pub­li­cise their mis­de­meanours.

“We had our crazy road years when we threw TVs out of the win­dow, but we didn’t call the press,” he says. “There was a lot of booze and hav­ing fun. Of course, for who­ever was tour­ing in the eight­ies, drugs were around ev­ery­where, and Scor­pi­ons were no ex­cep­tion. It was a ques­tion of: do you want to go down this road and be part of this drugs thing, or do you stay away from it? I can only say for my­self, but when I lost my voice in the early eight­ies around the time of the Blackout al­bum, and then got cured and could sing again, for me to fuck it all up again with drugs was no op­tion at all.”

Clearly, the days of the band do­ing their fa­mous pyra­mid are also no more. “No way,” Meine says, laugh­ing, ap­palled at the thought of hav­ing to recre­ate their trade­mark on-stage con­fig­u­ra­tion one more time for pos­ter­ity.

As for Schenker (“Mis­ter Fit­ness”, as the singer calls him), he has yoga and med­i­ta­tion these days to keep him on the straight and nar­row.

“When we were do­ing Lovedrive, Blackout and

Love At First Sting, it was like surf­ing on a big wave,” he says of Scor­pi­ons’ early-80s hey­day and their propen­sity at the time for car­nal in­dul­gence. He cites the lyrics to their hugely pop­u­lar 1984 an­them Rock You Like A Hurricane, all too aware of the sex­ist, de­mean­ing pe­riod ver­nac­u­lar. “That was part of our think­ing, of how we saw rock’n’roll: ‘What is wrong with an­other sin?/The bitch is hun­gry, she needs to tell/So give her inches and feed her well.’ It was be­fore Aids, the per­fect rock’n’roll world.

“There are still drugs and groupies [avail­able],” he says (like Meine and Jabs he’s a hap­pily married man), “but we don’t need it any more, be­cause we know it de­stroys your en­ergy and cre­ativ­ity.”

The Scor­pi­ons are clever enough to know by now how to adapt and sur­vive. That’s why they’re still here, al­beit quite dif­fer­ent from the ex­per­i­men­tal creatures whose 1972 de­but al­bum Lone­some Crow was pro­duced by Krautrock al­chemist Conny Plank. It’s quite some dis­tance from early-years gui­tarist Uli Roth, Speedy’s Com­ing and The Sails Of Charon to the party starters of Lovedrive and Blackout, and the epic bal­ladeers of Wind Of Change. But the point with the Scor­pi­ons is to em­brace the changes.

“We’ve had pe­ri­ods where ev­ery­body is telling us: ‘Oh, what you’re do­ing is shit,’” Jabs says with a laugh, “or when the record com­pany doesn’t want to know and ra­dio doesn’t play you. Then you try some­thing dif­fer­ent, and ten years later they tell you the eight­ies were the great­est. We are more like an eight­ies band than we are a seven­ties band; the Uli pe­riod is too dif­fer­ent. Since I joined, the band found their style, the one that made them in­ter­na­tion­ally suc­cess­ful, be­cause it was more com­mer­cial. The nineties were dif­fi­cult, and then we found our­selves again in the two-thou­sands. And now we are back to what we de­vel­oped in the eight­ies.” There are ad­vo­cates of early-70s Scor­pi­ons, while oth­ers pre­fer their 80s in­car­na­tion. Most, though, would agree that they lost their way a bit dur­ing the grunge era, then found them­selves again in the new cen­tury. But how about the Scor­pi­ons them­selves? Do they have a favourite phase?

“The best one is the eight­ies, no ques­tion about it,” Schenker says. “The time and the mu­sic were right. Now the time is great again. Why? Be­cause af­ter we turned round three hun­dred and sixty de­grees, we’ve come back out, and we’re still here. So I’d say the eight­ies and now.”

Meine is sim­i­larly am­biva­lent: “A lot of peo­ple would think it would be the eight­ies, but life is still so good. I’m very happy in the here and now.”

“What’s go­ing on be­tween Ru­dolf and Michael I can’t say, be­cause I don’t

un­der­stand it.”

Klause Meine

The Scor­pi­ons build their fa­mous on­stage pyra­mid in 1988: (l to r) Fran­cis Buch­holz, Matthias Jabs, Ru­dolf Schenker, Klaus Meine, Herman Rare­bell. New Scor­pi­ons drum­mer Mikkey Dee, for­merly of Motör­head, with the band in Texas in 2016.

Good hair days: Ru­dolph Schenker, Klaus Meine and

Matthias Jabs in 1979. Band of broth­ers: Michael (right) and Ru­dolph Schenker with the Scor­pi­ons at Ham­mer­smith

Odeon, Lon­don, in 2008.

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