Rudolf Schenker - Rocking in a Different Way

This interview first appeared in Goldmine Magazine in 2014.
The interview was conducted by Classic Rock Revisited’s Jeb Wright.
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By Jeb Wright

Rudolf Schenker founded German hard rockers, the Scorpions, in 1965.  Now, nearly 50 years since their formation, the Scorpions are back with an exciting new project, the CD/DVD/Blu-Ray Live in Athens, MTV Unplugged.  Recorded atop a mountain in Greece, the Scorpions, along with help from a virtual acoustic guitar army, string section, percussionist and guest vocalists, perform songs from every era of the Scorpions long and celebrated career. 

The event is breathtaking and beautiful, and Scorpions founder Rudolf Schenker sat down with Goldmine Magazine to talk about how the show came to be, why the band never did MTV Unplugged during their 1980’s heyday, and how he wanted other musicians to arrange the songs for the special event since he was ‘too close’ to them, as their creator. 

During the interview, Rudolf admits the band is still on the ‘Farewell Tour’, and they are indeed beginning their descent into retirement.  However, he also tells of a documentary and a new album that are in the works, assuring the Scorpions will continue to sting us with new releases, at least for a few more years to come. 

Jeb: It is about time the  Scorpions did an MTV Unplugged.  I would have thought this would have come about back in the day, instead of in 2014.

Rudolf: The thing came in the right moment.  I know that in the late ‘80s we had few options to do MTV Unplugged.  We had already booked the Savage Amusement world tour when they came to us and we told them that we couldn’t do it because of that.  I think it is good that we didn’t do it then.  Now, we have much more experience to do it in the right way. 

When we started to do MTV Unplugged we decided that we didn’t want to do things the same way we do it with electric guitars.  We wanted to change the arrangements upside down.  I think now, when you listen to the songs, you will have a completely different feeling.  I think we use acoustic guitars to make an acoustic guitar orchestra, and that gives the songs new energy.  I think “Hit Between the Eyes” is as good an example of this, as well as “Blackout.” 

Jeb: Being outdoors on a mountain top gave this CD/DVD release a wonderful atmosphere.

Rudolf: We are very happy to have done this concert under the open sky.  It was fantastic.  The theater is a fantastic place.  It was built into a rock back in 1965, which happens to be the year that Scorpions were born.  It was a great thing to do it in front of the Greek people.

MTV Unplugged is already released in 78 countries and now you guys in the USA have it.  I think it is going to be something like 80 countries by the time it is all done.  This makes this a monumental success. 

Jeb:  When you were recording albums like Lonesome Crow and Fly to the Rainbow did you ever in your wildest dreams think something like this would ever happen?

Rudolf: Actually, my reason was in this direction, but I wasn’t sure if it could be possible.  By building a band, and not only looking for good musicians, but also looking for people you could build a friendship with, made us have a team that was ready, to be ready, for adventure, and to be ready to build bridges, and to be ready to do something outstanding. 

I remember in the ‘70s our record company guy, the boss of RCA, who we were on at that time, I told him, “I know we can make it in the United States.  You need to put our records out in the United States.”  He would say, “Yeah, yeah, but you know the American market is not like you.” 

Our boss in America was Bob Summers.  One summer Bob Summers came to Germany, to Hamburg, where our main office of RCA Germany was.  The guy called me and said, “Rudolf, the RCA boss from Worldwide Division, Bob Summers is here.”  I said, “I am coming directly.”  I spoke to the guy and I said, “I know we can make it in the United States.  It would be great if you can arrange that.”  He said, “First of all, you sell records and then you can play live over here.” 

In this case, we had to change our record company from RCA to EMI in Europe.  In America, we went with Mercury.  The guy who signed us to Mercury was Cliff Burnstein.  The guy who signed us for management for Leber-Krebs was Peter Mensch.  They were the two guys from Q Prime.  They saw us playing in Hamburg in the music hall and it was a great concert.  Cliff and Peter were so touched by the concert they wanted to sign us immediately.  It was the beginning of our world career. 

America was our country and it still is.  We have some very good memories from the American tours.  I know we mostly, on each tour, toured between four and eight months in America.  It was great to go on the bus through the countryside.  It was fantastic to see how beautiful the American countryside is. 

Jeb:  The video you released for the MTV Unplugged is for the song “Holiday.”  You wrote that song, and a lot of the other music.  Your music is so adaptable to classical, to rock, to acoustic instruments.  Why do you think that is?

Rudolf: In the ‘70s, and then especially in the ‘80s, my whole day was creating.  I would make breakfast and then compose and then eat lunch and go back to composing.  I wrote a lot of songs that had to wait for years to really become a record song.  This happened with “No One Like You.”  I wrote that years before it was recorded on Blackout.  Klaus was not so sure of that song.  The rest of the band said, “Rudolf, we have to do this song.”  “No One Like You” became the most played radio song in 1982. 

“Still Loving You” had to wait seven years before it got on the album Love at First Sting.  I never forced the band to play one of my songs, but I noticed that when the time is right, then the song will appear.  I never pushed and said that we had to do a song because I believed it would be very good.  I had to wait. In these cases, the songs came at the right time. 

We are big on the three measurements…we have the love piece with songs like “Still Loving You” and we have songs like “Wind of Change” and then we have the rock side with “Rock You Like a Hurricane.”  We have a great foundation. 

Jeb: You did an album of acoustic songs titled Acoustica in 2001.  How is MTV Unplugged different than that release?

Rudolf: When we did Acoustica in Lisbon, Portugal, in a monastery, we played the hits on that one.  For MTV Unplugged we really thought about not playing the hits like “Wind of Change,” “Still Loving You” and “Rock You Like a Hurricane” but MTV said, “No, these are very important songs and you have to put them on the album.” 

Our producers, Mikael Nord Anderson and Martin Hansen for NordHansen Productions, did a fantastic job by arranging this stuff.  It is very, very good. Matthias went to Stockholm very often to work with these guys that we call The Swedish Rock Mafia.  The producers did it the right way and in the Scorpions way. 

I said in the beginning that I didn’t want to stop the other guys from getting crazy with the arrangements because I was so involved with the songs when I composed them.  I was very close to them in the beginning.  In this case it was a good mixture of songs and also the idea of what became the heart of this MTV Unplugged where everybody, Matthias, Klaus and me, performing a song each without the other two guys.  It was very interesting and we got very much applause from the people who liked it very much.  Klaus played guitar.  We worked very hard to give the people something special.  We wanted to make this the icing on the cake. 

Jeb: You played some deep album cuts like “Born to Touch Your Feelings.”

Rudolf: I immediately mentioned this to the producer: “You can pick whatever you want from the catalog.  If you were to ask me then I would tell you that I would love to do ‘Born to Touch Your Feelings’ because I know this song has so much soul and so much heart that it has to be on MTV Unplugged.”  I think the version we did is very good.  It gave me goose bumps.  I tell you one thing…it was unbelievable when the video producer was showing us this performance and our background singer cried. When she cried, then we cried too.  When the girl performed the song she was so touched, and the song was “Born to Touch Your Feelings.”  It really touched her in the right way. 

Jeb: Even after the band became huge in America the Scorpions never forgot their past.  You play some great early song here like “In Trance” and “Speedy’s Coming.” 

Rudolf: “Speedy’s Coming” was great.  Klaus was not so sure.  I always mention “Speedy’s Coming” because it is an interesting song.  I remember when Alice Cooper was supporting us in America in 1999 we told him about the song “Speedy’s Coming” because his name appears in the song. 

It is a naïve kind of lyric.  Klaus changed it a little bit and it came out great.  We did a great version of “Pictured Life” and also of “In Trance” on MTV Unplugged.  The guest singer with Klaus, a German female singer named Cäthe on “In Trance” was great.  She really has a great voice and a great personality. 

The other German guy, Johannes Strate from Revolverheld, was great.  Many people ask how this came about.  It was very easy we played in Russia one half year ago and we got a phone call from his management that said he was in town and that he would love to come to our concert.  We had passes and tickets for him and he came over and we met him backstage.  I think he got very much touched when we performed the concert.  When MTV was looking for guests he was the first one to say that he wanted to sing with Scorpions. 

MTV was very much into getting some new guys into the game.  We thought about maybe Steven Tyler, Jon Bon Jovi, or David Coverdale of Whitesnake but  MTV said, “No, no, no, we want to have young kids.”  We said, “Okay, let’s see what we have.”  We ended up with the guests that are on the album. 

Jeb: The diversity of the musician’s backgrounds is impressive. 

Rudolf: We had three days on this high mountain making the album.  It is interesting that the essence of democracy was born in Greece.  We had around nine different nationalities on stage from American, to Polish, to Russian, to Greek, to Norwegian, to Swedish, to Finnish and beyond.  We were showing people that when politicians have problems with different countries and different systems that music does not have those problems.  We were a great family and we had a great time.  We were literally crying when we had to leave in different directions and go back to where everybody came from. 

Jeb:  There are a few new songs on MTV Unplugged.  Will there be another Scorpions studio album?

Rudolf: I will tell you one thing: We will stick to our situation.  The Farewell Tour is very clear.  We are still into The Farewell Tour because we have not done Spain, England, Asia and we haven’t played in Japan.  We want to also include those countries.  I know in Spain the Spanish promoter said that he could not do the concert because the people were unemployed and that no one had enough money.  Somehow in 2013 he took a risk and he put Scorpions tickets on sale and believe it or not, in two hours the first day was completely sold out and he had to put on another day and it is completely sold out. 

It is amazing to see that in places like Spain where people do not have money, and where unemployment is very high, people are wanting to see the Scorpions. 

Jeb: I noticed your Facebook page has gone insane. People want you to not go away.

Rudolf: Before we did the Farewell Tour we noticed that Sting in the Tail put us in the direction that we have around four and a half million Facebook fans.  The majority of those fans are between 16 and 28 years old.  We have a new following. 

When we play – it is different in the United States because you have a different type of radio station where Classic Rock stations are always talking to the same people.  In Europe, South America and Asia we have young kids who hear us on the radio and they come to the concerts and come up front and they are singing songs like “Blackout” and other songs that were composed before they were born. 

We were kicked in the ass by this new situation.  That is the reason we are enjoying every day.  One thing is important…it is like a sportsman…if you are doing sports in the highest league then every doctor will tell you that you should not stop immediately.  You have to train even after you are not competing anymore.  You have to train because it is important for the whole body. 

It is the same in music.  You can’t take the car and go 300 to zero immediately.  It means we are going away slowly but surely from the scene, but we are always open for new challenges.  When somebody comes up like MTV, we will do it. 

We have a cinema for next year that is fifty years of the Scorpions.  This film will be presented in Berlin on the history of the Scorpions.  In this case there are a lot of things happening. 

We also want to give to the fans a bonus track album.  In the ‘70s and the ‘80s, when we recorded on vinyl, there was only a possibility of nine, or ten, songs on the album.  We always recorded 14, or 15 songs.  In this case, we have a lot of songs from this time that are still in our library, but never found their way on the record. 

Two of them are on MTV Unplugged.  Before we did MTV Unplugged we were supposed to do this bonus track album.  They came along and we put the album behind and we did the Unplugged first.  There are two songs which we took from the bonus track project and performed on MTV Unplugged.  One is called “Rock and Roll Band” and the other one is “Dancing in the Moonlight.” 

Most people think a bonus track is the last shit a band has and that they are trying to make money with.  No, no, not this time.  These are good quality songs and I will tell you one thing, that when we do this bonus track album, which should come out at the end of this year, or early next year when we do the fifty year anniversary, then people will think it is unbelievable.  They will say, “They are not going to stop.  They have to stay.” 

When people come to us like they do on Facebook and say, “Please don’t leave! Don’t leave and don’t go away” that really kicks your ass. 

We announced the Farewell Tour because we didn’t want to end up in two years announcing another tour and a new album and have the album not be good.  We don’t want to end up in a situation where we can’t deliver to the audience how we like to deliver.  If you do that then the audience goes, “Oh shit, the Scorpions used to be so good. Why are they doing this?”  We want to say, “Yes, we want to leave” or “Yes, we want to go on stage.”  At the moment we have everything in our hand.  Klaus says to us, “I have to sing so high in range.  I can maybe play three or four concerts a year.”  We would do that.  At this moment, however, everyone is fit and we are having a great time. 

Jeb: I don’t want you to go away. 

Rudolf: I don’t want to go until the Rolling Stones leave.  I saw them one year ago when they toured in London.  It was fantastic.  I tell you one thing Jagger was running like crazy and he was singing fantastic and the whole band was playing fantastic.  Keith is playing his rhythm and it is always fantastic. 

When I saw the Eagles, Joe Walsh was just fantastic.  This generation, and this music, will go away when these people go away.  You will have the CD you can put in your CD player, but to see them live, people like Joe Walsh and the Rolling Stones, is something special. 

Jeb: You still kick ass.  I just got a copy of the US Festival to review and you were amazing on that. 

Rudolf: I saw it lately, one week ago, us on TV playing the Us Festival and it was fantastic.  I saw it by accident.  I was flipping through the channels and there it was.  That was an amazing kind of festival…unbelievable.  It was one of my favorite concerts ever. 

Jeb: You take the stage by force, both then and now.  You own the stage.

Rudolf: We learned from the first day on that you have to prove yourself onstage playing live.  If you can win the people over there, then people will go to the record store and buy the record.  When you do that, then you know you’re good. 

We went from France, to Belgium, and then to England.  We went to England, as a German band, and it was something like the biggest risk.  People told us that we were crazy to go to England, as they would kick us in the butts like crazy. They said we would be back in Germany faster than you think. 

These magazines came and saw us and said things like Scorpions are the Blitzkrieg, as they have a special kind of humor.  It was fantastic.  We proved it to ourselves.  I think that brings up an important point.  You have to prove it to the people when you’re onstage and that is why we have so many young fans. 

When we put out Sting in the Tail the young people went to YouTube and saw videos and they wanted to see us live so they came to the concert.  That is the new way of getting new fans.  You always have to prove yourself.  If you are good onstage, then you can make it. 

Jeb: I saw you in Oklahoma City and Michael Schenker was there and Herman Rarebell was there.  You told me then you and Michael were going to make an album.

Rudolf: Yes, we all played there and it was fantastic.  When we were doing interviews about what we would do after The Farewell Tour and I always mentioned that my brother and I wanted to do a Schenker Brothers album.  Everything went in a different direction because of the demand of the tour and then the MTV Unplugged.  As soon as I have time, and I have more time left, I will do this with brother.  He was here in my studio a few weeks ago and now he is in the United States playing live. 

Jeb:  Last one: Did you take some time in Greece to experience the history?

Rudolf: My father was a philosopher.  He was also an architect.  He was always talking about Socrates and the other great philosophers.  When we were in Greece for the first time in 1982, and from then on, we always went through the city from the Acropolis  and  to all of these magic places.  We went to the tree where Socrates was talking to the people and things like that.  We went to these magic places and we had many magic moments.  We played in the big stadium and 50,000 crazy Greek people came to see us. 

You can feel the atmosphere when you see the MTV Unplugged.  I can tell all of the people who read this magazine called Goldmine, thank you very much for supporting Scorpions all of these years.  We worked very hard to give you MTV Unplugged.  You have to see it because you will see that this band is still rocking even if it is a different way.