"On every stage, we played for our lives": The Scorpions look back on 50 years of rock'n'roll

Scorpions group portrait
(Image credit: Marc Theis)

Throughout their extraordinary career, Scorpions guitarists Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs and singer Klaus Meine have enjoyed the highs and suffered the lows of the music business. 

Having sold more than 100 million albums, with platinum and gold titles including Lovedrive, Blackout and Savage Amusement, played more than 5,000 gigs in 80 countries, and received more prestigious awards than you can shake a Flying V at, the German band are deservedly up among the elite in rock history. 

The release in June of Scorpions: Colours Of Rock Limited Edition – 12 albums including Fly To The Rainbow, In Trance, Virgin Killer, Tokyo Tapes , Blackout, and Love At First Sting, all on 180g coloured vinyl – was the latest significant milestone on the long and winding road that has taken them from playing clubs in and around Hanover in the 60s to performing on some of the world’s biggest stages.


Rudolf, Klaus and Matthias: December 2022 marked the tenth anniversary of the announcement of Scorpions’ retirement, but you still haven’t stopped. Indeed the past decade has been hugely successful for the band. 

Matthias Jabs: To be honest, it is still a mystery to me how the idea of retirement could have created such a stir in the first place. 

Rudolf Schenker: At the same time as our Get Your Sting And Blackout farewell world tour, YouTube has become a growing platform. Many of the kids who found us first through this medium understandably wanted to see the Scorpions live at least once. This was really cool for us because a new generation of fans really rocked the shows. Such touching experiences make you think: “Is the decision to draw a line under the band the right one?” I think there is only one right answer to that. Besides, the band is quite simply our life. Sitting at home and doing nothing is not us at all.

Klaus Meine: The last ten years have been simply fantastic, and feel like an encore after the regular set-list of a gig that our rock’n’roll life has handed us. The energy during the shows and the enormous buzz within the group shows us that we’ve still got enough gas in the tank. In retrospect, the decision not to quit was exactly right. 

You are also on track for 2025 and sixty years of the Scorpions. 

Meine: The Rolling Stones have always been a few years ahead of us with anniversaries. That’s why we take a leaf from Mick, Keith and Ronnie’s books. We’ll just see where the road takes us. 

Schenker: What I like about these events are the memories of the Scorpions’ early days. When I was twenty-three or twenty-four, a lot of people laughed at me: “What? You’re still a musician? Don’t you want to do something sensible with your life?” The bottom line is that the term ‘sensible’ is always in the eye of the beholder. Why should you live your life according to a philosophy that you are not a hundred per cent convinced of? 

Jabs: Our fiftieth anniversary as a group was a cool affair, and I am confident that we will celebrate the sixtieth in the same way. 

Schenker: Sixty years of rock’n’roll is quite a big deal. In all that time, we have consistently proven that our ambition of playing with the Scorpions all over the world was not just a pipe dream.

Klaus joining the Scorpions in the winter of 1969 was an immensely important event for the band’s later career

Meine: When I came to this point in my life, I had no idea of the impact that the change from Copernicus to the Scorpions would have. Rudolf and I have known each other since the mid-sixties. He introduced me to his brother Michael, with whom I founded Copernicus a while later. Cover songs by Led Zeppelin, Taste or Rory Gallagher were our thing. The studio where we rocked out was right next to the Scorpions’ rehearsal room, and Rudolf often listened in – he wanted to hear what his little brother was up to. 

At that time the Scorpions didn’t have a regular singer. At the end of 1969 we played with Copernicus as support for the Scorpions in a club in Hanover. Since their lead guitarist at the time, Ulrich Worobiec, wanted to leave the group, Rudolf immediately made Michael an offer to join the Scorpions. He thought it would be cool to get a singer on board at the same time. 

Schenker: That [the joint gig] happened at the Deutsches Haus in Sarstedt. When Klaus performed there with The Mushrooms, I had of course already watched them perform before this joint gig. The guys played well and there was a crazy atmosphere in the place. People danced on the tables and got into the band… At some point I found out why: they cunningly invited their own fans to bring a crowd along to every gig.

Didn’t you two know each other before? 

Schenker: Sure! I was fascinated by Klaus since our first meeting. Actually, I wanted him to join the Scorpions a few years earlier, because our drummer at the time, Wolfgang Dziony, and I shared the vocals. Unfortunately Klaus had to go to the army for eighteen months, and sold all his vocal equipment at the same time. After his military service he wanted to join us. 

Unfortunately I had already negotiated contracts with other musicians, so it didn’t work out at the time. That’s why I introduced him to my brother without hesitation. Michael was living the rock’n’roll life a bit too much with the latest beat group in Germany, called Cry. 

Besides the music, the boys liked to get drunk. Understandably, our father had had enough of that. So for Michael it was over for the time being. I had to convince Klaus to talk to our father. The plan was for him to take Michael under his wing and keep an eye on his antics. On New Year’s Eve 1969 there was a joint gig with Copernicus in Hanover. A kind of second big bang for the Scorpions, we really took off after that.

Klaus, your voice has been one of the trademarks of the Scorpions’ sound since your first album with the band, 1972’s Lonesome Crow

Meine: Before Copernicus and the Scorpions, I played covers of popular hits with The Mushrooms. My voice sounded clear as a bell. That’s why I made a huge effort to make my voice more gritty, to be more like John Lennon or Roger Daltrey. Over the years, thanks to this approach, my vocal cords have developed to become more and more hard rock. 

Speaking of gritty, about ten years later, because of this, you temporarily lost your voice while recording 1982’s Blackout. 

Meine: In the decade between these two albums, regardless of losing my voice, my vocal cords were challenged. It was not uncommon for us to play five to six shows in a row. There was no time at all for recuperation. I also didn’t waste time on the important things like vocal technique or warmups. The pedal was always pushed to the metal until my body showed me the red card. 

At that time we were recording in a villa in France with our producer Dieter Dierks. Right at the beginning of the session, it was obvious that something was not right. Dieter also realised that something was going badly wrong. As a result, I went to the doctor immediately. After the first diagnosis, the doctor asked me what I did for a living. His reaction to my answer was: “What? You’re a rock singer? If I were you I would look for another job.” I then consulted other doctors, who thankfully were a bit more sensitive about the subject.

What treatment did you have to get your voice back on track? 

Meine: Surgery was the only way forward. Nodes had formed on my vocal cords, and had to be removed by laser. While I was in the hospital and could only express myself in writing, the band continued to work on Blackout at the Dierks Studios in Stommeln. Despite the difficult situation, we were in constant communication, and Rudolf, Matthias and co. stood by me completely. 

My wife Gabi was also an enormously important rock during this time. She was the first to hear my pitiful attempts to sing a few Beatles numbers after the operation. Her feedback and my self-reflection clearly showed me that I was not yet fit for my comeback in the studio. To make matters worse, a polyp was discovered on the surgical site during a check-up. So I had to go under the knife a second time. 

What made you keep going in this seemingly hopeless situation? 

Meine: Encouragement from Rudolf and the whole group. It got so bad that I suggested the guys find another singer. However, they had my back and I was able to keep going. I tried everything within the bounds of possibility, and in the process came across a Viennese specialist who worked with opera singers. He was the right doctor at the right time, and slowly but steadily helped me to rebuild my voice. 

When I returned to the Dierks Studios afterwards, everyone was listening intently, of course. They were very excited to hear how my vocals sounded. Fortunately, during the following recordings everything went not only well but very well. Of course, luck also played a role. Normally after several operations on the vocal cords, speaking – not to mention singing – improves hugely.

Rudolf, without an extremely important clause that you have included in every one of your record contracts right from the deal with the band’s first album, the Scorpions’ career would most likely have been somewhat less global. 

Schenker: At that time I was not only a guitarist and composer, but also the manager of the Scorpions. Because in Germany in the mid-to-late sixties, for some strange reason band management was forbidden. So you had to take your fate into your own hands. To get gigs it was common to work with the job centre – in short, a very different state of affairs than we have today. 

For me, music always came first – even before the Scorpions. Many guys only want to play in bands to get girls. That has never been the priority for me. I’ve always been enormously ambitious and show maximum commitment and dedication. Thanks to this attitude, I was able to gather the right people around me who also had their sights on an international career.

How did the rock music scene in the Federal Republic look at the end of the sixties/beginning of the seventies? 

Schenker: Krautrock fever was raging in Germany at the time, and we couldn’t do anything about that. It was an absolute no-go for the Scorpions to appeal to this scene, for example to magazines like The Musikexpress. So we had no choice but to go abroad. First to Belgium, Holland and France. The French magazine Rock & Folk, among others, showered us with positive praise after our initial shows there. 

It was the same with our debut in England in Melody Maker. As you can imagine, these gushing reviews caused quite a few puzzled faces in the German press. From that point on it was clear to me that we had to include a release clause in our contract negotiations so that our LPs would be in the shops in all the countries where we performed. Thanks to the positive feedback from the print media, our records were sold in huge numbers in record shops.

It all sounds pretty easy. 

Schenker: Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple. For example, when we toured England for the first time, the promoter cleverly put the big gigs – at the Marquee club in London or the Cavern in Liverpool – at the end of the tour. We stayed in digs where you had to put coins into a meter for heating and hot water. Hardly glamorous or rock’n’roll. 

After Europe, you took Japan by storm in the seventies with Virgin Killer and Taken By Force

Schenker: Virgin Killer fully captured the Japanese zeitgeist at the end of the seventies. The kamikaze-like sound was predestined for the Land Of The Rising Sun, and promptly earned us a gold record. Funnily enough, it sounded quite unusual to German ears. After three Virgin Killer songs, one of Klaus’s former Mushrooms colleagues pulled off his headphones and said: “I’m sorry… I can’t listen to that any longer.” That’s how opinions differ. 

At that time, my old phone number was still on every record, but under the pseudonym Toms & Gorny. The name was used so that the management didn’t look like a do-it-yourself operation. Because of the contact address, the Americans suddenly got in touch and wanted to book us. We didn’t know at the time that our songs were already really popular there. Almost at the same time, my brother told me euphorically on the phone that a group called Van Halen was covering our songs like Speedy’s Coming. We had no choice but to fly across the pond.

An important factor in the Scorpions’ breakthrough in the United States was the songwriting on Lovedrive, which was geared towards arenas and stadiums

Meine: With Rudolf by your side you are constantly challenged. He knows exactly what he wants and how to keep the creative energy within the Scorpions at a constant high. From In Trance [1975] onwards, [producer] Dieter Dierks pushed even harder to bring out the best in us. You can imagine the songwriting of Rudolf and me like this: he brings or sends me his demos, and I pick out my favourites. 

It is important to me that at least one number has the potential to be a live hit. Once the pre-selection is made, I start working on the lyrics. First, I think about how I can put Rudolf’s intentions on the guitar into words. Rock songs like The Zoo and Rock You Like A Hurricane or ballads like Holiday are good examples. Take the lyrics and story of The Zoo: Imagine you’re in New York City, on 42nd Street, and you suddenly think of these lines: ‘We eat the night, we drink the time, make our dreams come true/And hungry eyes are passing by, on streets we call the zoo.’ In short, our tracks are always reflections of real experiences.

For a German band, completely new opportunities were on the cards

Meine: Yes. Experiencing the USA in the eighties through the tour bus window was a unique thing. I will never forget the positive enthusiasm for hard rock and the wildly loyal fans. The hard ’n’ heavy sound of our scene was incredibly popular in America. This vibe – how could it be otherwise – really got Rudolf and me going. 

We mustn’t forget [former Scorpions’ drummer] Herman Rarebell. In terms of lyrics, Herman was a fantastic creative partner. He always had tricks from the rather dirty rock department ready. Rock You Like A Hurricane or He’s A Woman – She’s A Man are inconceivable without Rarebell. I’m more of a romantic, with lyrics like those on Holiday or When The Smoke Is Going Down.

Schenker: Klaus is absolutely right. Dieter Dierks always kicked our asses – to say the least – in addition to our drive to get even more out of the tracks. In the studio, we spent twenty-four-seven working to make the songs better and better. We then brought this dynamism to the stage to do justice to the powerful material. 

This symbiosis led to music greats like Metallica, Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen and even alternative rock stars like Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins, who later contributed guest vocals to The Cross, becoming Scorpions fans. 

Are there other factors behind the musical balancing act between the Taken By Force and Lovedrive albums? 

Schenker: Before Lovedrive, we always had two-handed compositions. On the one hand, [Scorpions guitarist in the 70s] Uli Jon Roth is firmly rooted in the blues with his outstanding guitar playing. On the other, Klaus and I are the classic rockers. The audience was quite challenged in this era of the Scorpions because there was always a clash of two styles. 

During the songwriting sessions for Lovedrive, there was just our rock, and I was able to let off plenty of steam. Performances in the USA were naturally floating around in the back of my mind. Dierks recognised this potential and promoted it massively.

Matthias, before you were invited to join the Scorpions and made your debut recording with them with Lovedrive, you competed against more than 140 other guitarists. 

Matthias Jabs: Rudolf invited me to a jam session. I showed up without any expectation of becoming the new lead guitarist of the Scorpions. In retrospect, that’s just as well, because I wandered in absolutely relaxed. Once there, we played a few familiar songs, but also some very fresh ones from the later Lovedrive. Everything worked great between us, and we scheduled a test recording at Dierks Studios. Apart from me, only Peter Tolson from The Pretty Things was still in the running. Fortunately, in the end I beat him.

For the edgy tracks on Lovedrive, your fresh style of playing provided a huge boost

Jabs: Without enough distance from yourself, that’s hard to judge. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that the Scorpions found their unmistakable sound during the creative phase when I joined the band. During the time with Uli, two completely different styles collided, even for me as an onlooker. Rudolf, Klaus and I formed a tight musical unit right from the start. However, my start with the Scorpions was anything but easy. Given the line-up carousel with Michael Schenker and the huge gap left by Uli Jon Roth, I needed a thick skin. 

What’s the story behind you being taken by helicopter to join a Scorpions’ tour? 

Jabs: After all the hassle, I went to the North Sea island of Spiekeroog to clear my head. The day before my departure, Michael called me. He asked me to stand in for him on the German tour, starting with the planned gig in Cologne. I replied curtly: “Absolutely not!” That was the end of the matter for me. On the night I arrived [in Spiekeroog], however, the village bobby, dressed only in a bathrobe despite the icy February temperatures, rang my doorbell with a telegram. On it was a number I was supposed to call the next day. 

Since there were no mobile phones in 1979, I had to scrape together all my change for the local pay phone. At the other end of the line, Gerd Luetticke from EMI answered the phone. Michael hadn’t turned up for the show in Cologne, as announced, and a quick solution was needed. After I said that I’d do it, Gerd sent a helicopter to Spiekeroog. From there I went to Bremen, then by train to Hanover, from the station by taxi to the airport and straight to Frankfurt. The band picked me up from there. 

That sounds like quite a ride

Jabs: Overnight I was ‘allowed’ to learn the complete set-list for the upcoming gig in Böblingen. The songs from Lovedrive were of course no problem. The rest of the songs were made up of tracks from Tokyo Tapes. Of course, I had to listen to the songs again in the hotel room and accompany them on the guitar. Fortunately that worked out well. 

Immediately afterwards, I had a meeting with [legendary German promoter] Fritz Rau, Dieter Dierks and some other high-profile people from the biz. Understandably, they wanted to continue the Scorpions’ tour in Germany. The deal was that I would play the remaining gigs and then leave. That’s what happened, and Michael returned for the upcoming shows in France. After one or two shows, however, he disappeared from the scene as quickly as he had arrived, and my phone rang again. During the conversation, I made it more than clear that I would only think about coming back if the thing was permanent this time. Since then I have been the Scorpions’ lead guitarist.

After Lovedrive, the trio of eighties albums Animal Magnetism, Blackout and Love At First Sting made Scorpions mania irrepressible in the USA, Europe, the UK and Asia.

Meine: I still see this era as the single greatest challenge. For me, especially the time after Blackout, it gave me a second chance to pursue my passion. It was just amazing to experience how we took off, especially in the USA. An enormous number of highlights sweetened our lives during those years: the 1983 US festival as co-headliner with Van Halen, the three sell-out shows in New York’s Madison Square Garden with Bon Jovi as special guests, and Rock In Rio 1985 all spontaneously come to mind. 

The dream of being one of the best rock groups in the world and being mentioned in the same breath as Aerosmith, AC/DC and Van Halen had come true. We had achieved Rudolf’s great goal. At home in Germany, during the New German Wave, people took little or no notice of the fact that we were becoming world-famous platinum recording artists in the States. 

Jabs: In the USA there has been a lot of interest in the Scorpions since our first performance at the World Series Of Rock in Cleveland in July 1979. Normally, a support act doesn’t get a lot of attention from the audience. But when we entered the stadium at about ten-thirty, Neal Schon from Journey was standing at the edge of the stage and there were about thirty thousand people in the auditorium – with a capacity of seventy thousand. 

In a moment like that you have no choice but to deliver an energetic performance and make a statement. The same thing happened on tour with Ted Nugent, who suggested backstage that we cut back on our highenergy show – it was simply too exhausting for him to go the extra mile afterwards. We nodded kindly to his request – and stepped on the gas even more the following day.

Schenker: On every stage, we played for our lives. Every gig was special for us and a new opportunity to prove ourselves. The 1983 US festival is a great example of this. On the tour bus, we always had time to let our minds wander. Suddenly we had the brilliant idea of opening our set in San Bernardino with five jets above and a wall of fire in front of the stage. After that amazing impact, we put so much energy into our performance… no one could keep up after that. Jon Bon Jovi told me, six years later, at the Moscow Music Peace Festival, that he would never make the mistake of performing after us a second time.

Klaus, the Moscow Music Peace Festival also inspired you to write Wind Of Change. 

Meine: The festival presented a colourful mix of different nations, and we, as Germans, were right in the middle of it. What happened in Russia in the almost twelve months between Moscow and our ten gigs in Leningrad is more than amazing. Without the rapid changes, this ‘Soviet Woodstock’ could never have taken place. 

Fans travelled from every conceivable Eastern European country – from Siberia to East Germany – to experience this historic moment together. From the stage, we watched the soldiers throwing their caps into the air as we performed. The Iron Curtain was transformed into a window of freedom on two summer evenings in August 1989. When I arrived home after this historic event, the experiences were still so vivid that I wrote Wind Of Change. For me, Wind Of Change is a promise of peace, that was abruptly shattered in February 2022 with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Because of that harrowing Russian war of aggression, you changed the lyrics to Wind Of Change

Meine: It’s no longer appropriate to romanticise Russia with lines like ‘I follow the Moskva down to Gorky Park’ or ‘Let your balalaika sing’. With the new lyrics we express our solidarity with Ukraine. 

Wind Of Change, the 1990 album Crazy World and the accompanying world tour were hugely successful. Then suddenly grunge came knocking on the door and nothing was the same any more

Jabs: In retrospect, it’s more than amazing. When we recorded Face The Heat in Vancouver in 1993, almost a stone’s throw away from Seattle, the trend was already apparent. For us, things were going very well until the mid-nineties. From then on, especially in the USA, the fans turning from classic rock could no longer be explained away. Fortunately we had great success in Asia with PureInstinct [1996], among other things, so the declining interest in the United States was a little less painful. 

Schenker: Since we were already on the road all over the world before this whole development, we could relax to a certain extent and think: “Do your thing.” We then played more in Asia or Russia in arenas and stadiums and continued to collect platinum discs. We never got involved in this weird battle between the genres, we preferred to go where we could concentrate on our core work – the music. I think that’s what all hard rockers would have done back then, if that had been an option for them.

Listening to your stories, the question inevitably arises: why hasn’t there been a Scorpions biopic yet? There is more than enough material for one. 

Schenker: Making a feature film about the Scorpions is not a priority for us. In the past we have had a lot of offers to do so. A project like this has to be executed with a lot of attention to detail and must not be a compromise. We are currently in talks with Netflix, who have presented us with a really good draft script that does justice to the band’s history. With biopics, by the way, you have to be meticulously careful that the facts aren’t distorted for drama. In the worst case, internal disagreements can happen. 

After selling more than a hundred million records, playing more than five thousand gigs in eighty countries and having a remarkable career for a German group, are there goals you’d still like to achieve? 

Meine: At the moment, we enjoy every gig. Of course, the road ahead is not as long as the one behind us. Jabs: I would love to play with the Scorpions in South Africa. That’s one of the countries where we’ve actually never performed, although it’s been in the conversation for a long time. 

Schenker: Of course, I want to make music with my friends for many more years. There may be another killer album that comes from that. That’s the cherry on top of the cake for me.

Colours Of Rock Limited Editions are available from Art Of The Album

Chris Franzkowiak

Chris Franzkowiak is a writer for Classic Rock and Guitar Magazine in Germany.