RUDOLPH SCHENKER’S TOP OF THE BILL
Threatening to retire in 2010, German rock Gods, Scorpions are still running wild, with even guitarist and founder Rudolph Schenker promising that while they’re heading Down Under and to Asia later in the year “this won’t be our last tour ever, ever.” Now back in the UK, the band, who formed in 1965, are heading for the Top Of The Bill slot at Stone Free Festival this weekend.
It’s hard to believe our Saturday night headliners started out playing covers in the clubs of Hanover in the ‘60s, but we caught up with the band’s mastermind, guitarist, Flying-V collector, formidable storyteller and keeper of five decades of rock ‘n roll memories to let us know who inspired them in those early days… and who he feels they were fortunate enough to inspire in return.
I remember, I was in my car, in those days I had a Mercedes 300SEL and I always tried to take the best new albums, and have the most up-to-date stereo equipment, because I would always do the driving. But this was not an album I had, we were in England in 1976, driving from one gig to the other, and I switched on the radio, and there was the end of ‘Hotel California’. I didn’t know what it was, the only thing we were wondering was about that solo.
We hadn’t heard anything like it before. When the when the song ended the guy said, “That was the Eagles, and ‘Hotel California’”. It was Joe Walsh, who I’d been following when he was in the James Gang. He’d become part of The Eagles as their new guitar player and this was one excellent album.
Believe it or not, the twelve-string guitar you can hear on the album, it’s the same twelve-string guitar I played on ‘Wind Of Change’ in 1991. We recorded it in Los Angeles, and Joe Walsh was making his solo album with our producer, Keith Olson. Joe said “look, Keith, here is the guitar I played on ‘Hotel California’, it’s yours.” Can you imagine? And Keith came to me, and asked “Rudolph, what do you think about this guitar?” It was perfect’. I had no clue it belonged to Joe, I couldn’t believe it. It’s funny, I had a Flying-V ’58, which was owned by REO Speedwagon, which was sold to Keith Olson and went from Keith to Pete Townshend, which is on the cover of ‘Chinese Eyes’. Pete Townshend sold it to me. I played with one guitar, which was played on ‘Hotel California’, and also I have this Flying-V ’58, and it’s fantastic to share history with those kind of people. These people that inspired me.
I went to a concert from the band Spooky Tooth in 1969 and this was the song was playing [Rudolph starts singing the intro of ‘Whole Lotta Love’]. I said to my friend, ‘Hey, can you go to the DJ and ask him who this is?’ The guy came back and said it was Led Zeppelin. Who? He said it was a new band. So this new band became my favourite band. Their first album wasn’t bad, but of course it was done in seven days, but the second one, it was fantastic. This was during the days, back when we were playing cover versions and I was singing lots of Zeppelin. Our drummer was more into Top 40 hits, because when you played back then you had to make it a mix between Top 40 and stuff you liked. Also because Jimmy Page was the producer, composer and this incredible guitar player, it made me realise the potential of Scorpions. And the whole band was unbelievable. Four individuals, so special. John Bonham, so heavy, nobody could play heavier than him. So this is the moment, for me, where I thought ‘Yes, this is rock music!” Once Jimmy Page actually came to my dressing room, when we played at the Hammersmith Odeon. It was a really special meeting for me. He became my favourite guitar player from the first moment I heard them. When I heard ‘Stairway To Heaven’ for the first time, I wanted to write a song like that, and I came up with ‘Still Loving You’, so it’s incredible to meet people who have given you the power to make things happen.
I mean ‘A Night At The Opera’ was so unbelievable, it’s a masterpiece. It’s a masterpiece from singing, to playing, everything, it’s so completely outstanding. And ‘We Are The Champions’ too, wow. I met Brian May at an exhibition after Freddy Mercury died and I asked him how it was that possible that those guys could be bold enough to sing that. I would never think to sing something like that and he laughed and said to me, “You know Rudolph, it was the same thing I said to Freddy, but he said ‘We can sing everything’. Freddy was a person without any borders, so this for me is the reason why he went as far as he could and why they inspire me.
The Pretty Things
Listen to ‘Midnight to Six Man’ and ‘L.S.D’. In those early days I didn’t buy many albums and then when I did, somehow I lost them, so I had so many different versions of Pretty Things albums but I’ve played ‘Get The Picture?’ 150 or 200 times, even more. The Pretty Things were more dirty than The Rolling Stones. It was all about Dick Taylor, he was part of The Rolling Stones when they were starting out but somehow the chemistry wasn’t right, too many egos or whatever, so he made his own band. They were so good in those days.
‘Rainin’ In My Heart’, ‘Midnight To Six Man’, this was my music. I thought I had a voice like Phil May, and I would sing these songs when we were starting out. I remember, when I was around 25, I was at a festival and some crew guys said, “hey you, I have a t-shirt for you.” And it was a Pretty Things t-shirt. They said it was because I did so much promotion for them [laughs].
When ‘Argus’ came out in 1972, it was like “bang”. Okay, so in America there was Mountain, they were similar but Wishbone Ash was more folky, Mountain were more on the rock side. But I remember first hearing that album. We were in Luxembourg to do some promotion, my brother was in the car, and we heard ‘The King Will Come’ and from there we went and bought the album. Actually I brought three Flying-Vs from their guitarist Andy Powell. This is a good story actually. He called me and said he wanted to sell some guitars and he knew I played Flying-Vs. He said, “I don’t have time to fly over to Germany” and I said “no problem, I will come over and pick them up in London”. So now, I flew to London, got to security and somehow I got caught with this spoon, it was a spoon with a scorpion on it, but it was small, like a coke spoon. I put it in my pocket but they found it. Then you hear “one moment, please step inside here”, to their office, to be searched. And they found the money. I said “Sorry guys, I’m from the Scorpions and I have an appointment with Andy Powell from Wishbone Ash to buy some guitars”. So then this security guy came with me. We met Andy Powell, we made our deal and they let me go. So now I have three guitars from Andy Powell, which is nice, especially when I enjoyed very much listening to their music.
We played three nights in Berlin around 1970 and somehow on our day off we heard Deep Purple had a concert and decided to watch them, because we didn’t know anything about them. Now, they played loud! So loud. It was really something, in those days bands went louder and louder and this was as loud as I’d ever heard, for that time and of course, they became one of my favourites, after Led Zeppelin.
We did a tour in America together in 2002, the opener was Ronnie James Dio and we were equal headliners, it was a great tour, especially because Ronnie was on the tour and the Deep Purple guys always were nice guys. I mean, I still like the days of Richie Blackmore, we had our time with Richie in the Rainbow days too, they were also great. Too bad about him and Deep Purple, but sometimes egos get too big. It’s amazing how good Ian Gillan still can sing but Deep Purple for me was a quantum leap, another kick. Especially if you’re into music, you notice every band to really go out into new dimensions and Deep Purple was one of them.
We met them around the time we did the Monsters Of Rock tour in America in 1988 with Van Halen, Don Dokken, Metallica and Kingdom Come. They told me they had a new producer, Bob Rock and this was the very important change, music-wise, as to why Metallica is now so big. People say, oh it’s the one where they sold out, but of course, the first album is like a virgin; a virgin for you as a band, and a virgin for the fans. On our first album we had my phone number, and there would be people calling from America, four or five in the morning saying ‘Hey man, you fucking rule, come to America’. These people are so overwhelmed by finding your band and getting involved so early, so they don’t know that the band are only just finding their direction. This was not about Metallica finding their direction but coming together and finding that perfect chemistry. Being in a band is like a fruit, if you bite too early into an apple then it won’t taste so good. If you wait a little bit the apple is ripe, and you can eat it. Now it is perfect.
Of course we had a good producer, Connie Plank but this guy was more known for working with Kraftwerk etc, and he gave us the possibility to search around a little bit. He tried to get the energy and magic moments. We were like a little child. The old fans want the old sound, of course, they don’t want to share their taste with so many people, they like it more when they found the band and they’re hiding them in the corner. I think it’s good the way Metallica went, no question about it, and they’re great guys and we’re happy that we inspired them.
For me there was one guy. Jimmy Page, that middle solo in ‘Whole Lotta Love’, so amazing. But then this guy comes along, Eddie Van Halen, and you listen to that first album and it really got my attention. Klaus [Meine, Scorpions singer] and me, we liked the band so much we had a chance to go see them in 1978 because they were supporting Black Sabbath. In those days Black Sabbath wasn’t so hip, but Van Halen were very hip. It was a fantastic concert, but Eddie Van Halen, he played like crazy.
They found out we were in the crowd and after they played you could see Eddie Van Halen running across the stage, jumping over the stalls and came to Klaus and me saying “I can’t believe it, you have to come backstage”. It was crazy. There was David Lee Roth singing ‘Speedy’s Coming’ at us. They invited us to a restaurant for David’s birthday and of course the two Van Halen brothers were smashing cake into his face. My brother had already called me from America, where he was living in Los Angeles because by then we was already with UFO and he said, “Rudolph you have to come play in America, there is a band in LA and they are covering your songs”. I didn’t believe him, but then I found out it was Van Halen. You’re from Europe and you want to go to America, but in America there are already bands playing your stuff! That’s an amazing feeling.
Guns N Roses
I didn’t know Guns N Roses but when we got our platinum record for ‘Savage Amusement’ we had this party in LA and there was this one guy sitting there. I don’t know who invited him, how he came to be there, but you know how these things are, you see people but you don’t have time to talk to them. So many people were coming up to me that night that I was losing him from my focus and then he was gone. Later on I found out it was Slash, these were the MTV days and ‘Sweet Child Of Mine’ was on repeat, by the way an amazing video, an amazing song, an amazing hook, everything was perfect. I think it was the whole construction, the voice of Axl, it was the top of the ’80s, young kids showing the old guys how dirty it can go. This was the Hollywood way. Top-on-top. Fantastic songs, fantastic performances and the image was perfect. We kept running into Axl and he told me a story, he was in his car down on Melrose and was stuck at traffic lights. He said there were four or five other cars playing Scorpions songs from different albums and he wanted to do the same. I told Slash many years before, you have to come back together again. Slash said “Rudolph, say this please to Axl”. It’s great to inspire people like that.