Over 50 years since he formed Scorpions in Hanover, guitarist Rudolf Schenker is still waving the flag proudly for hard rock and heavy metal. His band have released 19 studio albums, played to millions of fans around the world (including iconic events like Rock In Rio) and written some of rock's most iconic anthems in the form of Winds Of Change, Rock You Like A Hurricane and The Zoo.
Hammer caught up with the legendary guitarist to talk hard rock history, new album Rock Believer and how a night out with Def Leppard and Judas Priest inspired the title of their 1982 platinum-selling album Blackout.
Editor's Note: This interview was originally completed prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Scorpions have since vocally supported Ukraine and even changed the lyrics to Winds Of Change to remove mention of Moscow.
Rock Believer has some serious classic Scorpions vibes – be honest, how much do you miss the 80s?
“Ha ha ha! When you look back to the musical history from the 60s right up to now, it was just the best. The 60s and 70s were very inspiring for all the bands that came out – that’s what made me want to be in a band in the first place – but the 80s were where anything could happen.”
So was it important to capture that on the album?
“Of course – just look at what’s happening right now! We are talking about a time where there wasn’t sound design or anything in the studio – you really had to play.
So we wanted that to come across with Rock Believer; this is a band in the studio, really playing these songs. You can feel it in the music, like the opening song Gas In The Tank says, [starts singing loudly] ‘LET’S PLAY IT LOOOUDER!’”
Are you tired of people asking if the CIA wrote Winds Of Change?
“I’ll never get tired of talking about that song – it’s a case where you can really see the impact music has. The coin always has two sides so go see what’s behind, that’s why we booked shows in Leningrad in 1988 and did the [Moscow] Peace festival the following year. We felt we were a part of the most peaceful revolution on Earth and the soundtrack to that was Winds Of Change.”
The world’s pretty divided again right now – is it time for Winds Of Change 2?
“We live in a completely different world right now and I think people have to work it out – they can’t just sit around doing nothing. Do sports, make the most of God’s instrument! Force yourself to get stronger and you’ll find inner-balance.”
In your five decades of touring, is there anywhere you’ve played with Scorpions where you’ve thought things got too dicey?
“Not at all! When grunge and alternative blew up we were playing over in Asia, places like Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia where we still played in huge stadiums. We had no fear and it paid off – we sold more albums in Thailand than Michael Jackson. Why fight grunge in Europe and America when we could play huge shows in Taiwan and so on?”
Who is the most famous fan of Scorpions that you have met?
“Having lived through the 70s, Led Zeppelin were one of the most inspirational groups to me, along with Black Sabbath and The Beatles. Jimmy Page once came to my dressing room at the Hammersmith Odeon and we had a really nice time.
I was surprised he wanted to come see us, but I told him – Stairway To Heaven inspired Still Loving You, because it’s such an unbelievable song and so creative.
I’ve met most of my idols and they’ve been great. The only one I never met was John Lennon; I met George Harrison in Tokyo, Ringo Starr when we were at an event with Michael Jackson in Munich at the Olympic stadium, Paul McCartney twice… So many nice people.”
What about the wildest band you ever partied with?
“There are so many! Blackout’s title was inspired by a blackout – the first I’d ever had – partying with Def Leppard and Judas Priest. I’d never heard of that before and I loved the idea of using it as an album title. But Judas Priest, Def Leppard, Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne… all those bands were our friends and we’d have some insane parties.”
You’re still very much a ‘Rock Believer’ even in your 70s, then?
“Of course! I’m from the 50s, so I saw the Beatles and the Rolling Stones when they first started changing things. I was there and said, ‘Yes, I want to do this – I believe in rock!’ People would say ‘Why do you do these things? Music?! Wake up! What will you do when you’re 30 or 40?’ but I’m still here making music and they’re all not living or looking like they’re 90!”
Rock Believer is out now via Universal Music