It is amazing to think of any band lasting 50 years, especially one that is still making new music and influencing new fans and musicians worldwide, while playing large arena and stadium venues. And no, I am not talking about the Rolling Stones or The Who.
The Scorpions, Germany’s hard rocking legends, charged through the Bay Area in 2015 doing all of the aforementioned; bringing their 50th Anniversary party to the SAP Center in San Jose.
I had the opportunity to visit with Matthias Jabs, the longtime guitarist of the Scorpions to ask him about the evolution of the band, and their ability to endure the test of time. Here is the perspective of Matthias as he gives us a ‘backstage’ pass to the history of the Scorpions.
SF Sonic: Though this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Scorpions, you have been with the Scorpions for about 35 plus years (37)…tell us a little bit about how you came into the band back in the late 70s right after Michael Schenker.
Matthias: I heard the rumor that Scorpions were looking for a new guitar player. I knew Rudolf anyway as we are from the same town (Hannover, Germany), and he asked if we could jam together. About 10 days later I heard the news and he asked if I would like to join the Scorpions. It was good, I had already passed the audition and I didn’t even know it was an audition. It turns out they had been to London to audition guitar players…it had been 130 or 140 no one really knows…but I didn’t know that so when I jammed with them I wasn’t nervous at all, or else I probably would have been. That’s how it went…it was an audition that really wasn’t one for me.
SF Sonic: You recorded on Lovedrive after Michael Schenker left. He then came back to the Scorpions and left again due to some alcohol problems. That must have been a tough start of your experience with the band…. did you ever think of leaving at that point?
Matthias: Well they went on tour with Michael as a member after we recorded Lovedrive, and I could understand as they are brothers that they wanted to play together, so that was alright with me, but about two weeks later I got a call from Michael asking if I wanted to play a show…I believe it was in Cologne, Germany….and I said “No.” The next day the band called and had me flown in because he (Michael) had disappeared without letting anybody know. So I said I would finish the German tour with them, but after that they would need to see how it would go.
After the German leg of the tour they were going to France and other places, and I said I won’t be doing that. So Michael came back and I think played two shows in France, and then they called me again because he had disappeared once again. At that point I said there is only one way. We either do it for good or we don’t do it at all. So they said OK, and I was flown to Leon, France and since then I have been in the lineup.
SF Sonic: I understand that Dieter Dierks (longtime Scorpions producer in the late 70s/80s) had a role in you getting the audition. What was the benefit of working with Dieter on all of those signature albums and how did that stabilize the band and help you to define what would be an influential signature sound of the Scorpions?
Matthias: Well working with Dieter Dierks as the producer, he wanted the band to find the right guitar player. I had been to Dieter’s studio with another band prior to joining the Scorpions, so he must have remembered me and recommended me.
Dieter was a fantastic producer and helped to design the signature sound of the Scorpions which we basically found when I joined and recorded Lovedrive and Animal Magnetism. Then we intensified it with Blackout and Love at First Sting.
But it was difficult to spend about a year and a half on the road then return to Dieter Dierks’ tiny studio in the basement of a building in Cologne, Germany, thinking about another six months in there to record. So we decided to get out, and we did that with Blackout for the first time and rented a mobile recording studio. We went to the south of France to start recording but unfortunately Klaus’ voice was not in the best shape to record and he needed surgery. So we went back to Dieter’s studio.
SF Sonic: Was it scary when Klaus had the vocal surgery?
Matthias: Well there are always two sides to the coin. Because he had the surgery he could barely talk, much less sing. After the surgery he needed therapy to build up the muscles again, so it gave us the time to really work on the arrangements, and we kept recording in the studio. Previously when we would record, like on Animal Magnetism, we were rushed. We would come back straight from touring in the States and we would have to record immediately to prepare to go back out again.
Blackout was the first time we could really think about everything in detail which is why I think that Blackout was such a big step forward.
SF Sonic: Did you have any idea when you recorded Blackout that it was going to be such a big hit and break the band internationally?
Matthias: Well you can never predict things, but I had a good feeling. Especially when we recorded ‘No One Like You,’ which is one of my favorites in our catalog. We were recording and I came up with these guitar melodies, and I had a very good feeling because to me it sounded like a hit, and it turned out to be a hit.
SF Sonic: MTV was a big part of expanding your audience worldwide and especially in the US, at the time did you realize that MTV would play such a big part in spreading your music?
Matthias: We didn’t know how big an impact it would be when it started but we did our first video for MTV for ‘No One Like You’ on Alcatraz. We filmed overnight, and it was a very fun experience. At the time everyone listened to music but to watch a video and be on TV it was brand new and kind of a first. Videos …especially if played nationwide could have a bigger impact than any radio station.
SF Sonic: Your appearance at the US Festival was also a big spring board…How important was it to you and the band to get to play such a monumental event?
Matthias: We got the invitation to play the US Festival while we were recording in Stockholm, and we interrupted our recording to do the show. We knew it was very important to play this festival….no one expected that there would be over 300,000 people attending the show on the ‘rock’ day with Van Halen, but it was a fantastic show and it really helped us boost our career in the States.
SF Sonic: Speaking of important shows, what was it like for you to play the Berlin Wall show?
Matthias: That was also one of the milestones in our career. We were asked by Roger Waters if we could play a few songs. We were at a studio in Holland and he came over and we rehearsed some songs together. It turned out that we would perform the first song (‘In The Flesh’), and I remember we were sitting in a stretch limo with a female driver, and escorted by like the Hell’s Angels type of people on motorbikes. The show was timed to clicks and we could hear the countdown begin in our earpieces, but the car did not want to start. So there she was panicking, but it finally started, and we pulled up on this ramp and the moment we got out of the car the song started, and we just barely made it.
SF Sonic: Continuity and stability were a big element to the Scorpions through the 80s and into the 90s. What was the impact when you stopped working with Dieter and having Francis (Bucholz – bass) and Herman (Rarebell – drums) leave?
Matthias: I don’t think the changes had too big of an impact. Francis left in ’91 and Herman left in ’95. At the beginning of the 90s we produced with Keith Olson (Crazy World) and it was great experience for us and the album was very successful. And the next one Face the Heat we did in Vancouver in a mountain studio with Bruce Fairbank…also a great producer.
But the 90s had a different vibe. People were saying that the 80’s sound was old and that we had to do something else…especially with the alternative grunge sound and all that. We were starting to hear people say that 80s music was crap….and it’s funny that now people are saying it was the best decade in music. But as a musician if you are continuously hearing that you start to feel a bit insecure. So we were a bit disoriented and our sound changed a bit in the second half of the 90s as we were influenced by the circumstances, but we were able to find our old DNA again in in 2003 when we started recording Unbreakable. We realized, and our fans let us know this, not to change…do what we do best.
SF Sonic: Along with the evolution of the sound, your audience has evolved….you are now getting new generations of fans. Talk about that and what it is like to see your longtime fans now bringing their kids to your shows, and seeing that new breed of Scorpions fans at the shows.
Matthias: It is fantastic to see that we are gaining new fans from around the world. And we still play for our fans from day one, but I have a feeling that we are now playing to three generations of fans.
SF Sonic: Do the new fans seem to resonate with the older material or do they know more of the newer material.
Matthias: I think they probably found out about us from the older material…probably starting back from the Blackout album, I see them singing every word. You think about it and the songs are probably older than many of the fans.
With the new material, you know how hard it is to spread the new songs because on the radio they want to play ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane,’ so it’s difficult to spread new music these days. But we have a song on the new album (Return To Forever – released in February of 2015) called ‘We Built This House’ that is finding good airplay.
SF Sonic: Thanks Matthias for your time and we look very forward to seeing the Scorpions at SAP Center in San Jose.
Matthias: Thank you.