Last January, with the release of their 17th album, Sting in the Tail, German rockers Scorpions decided to retire as a band. They are currently on a worldwide farewell tour that stops at the Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion on Wednesday, June 23. The final run of shows will likely stretch into 2012, the 40th anniversary of the band’s first record, Lonesome Crow.
With MTV-era hits like “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and “Wind of Change,” the Scorpions are the largest-selling German band in history. Lead guitarist Matthias Jabs talked to The Hippo as he prepared for a final show in Greece.
How do you think the new album stacks up against other Scorpions records?
I would say with Sting in the Tail we are coming closest to my two favorite albums [and fan favorites] of the early ’80s, Blackout and Love at First Sting. It somehow reminds me, even though it came out more than 20 years later — it has that Scorpion sound … we lost it a little bit in the ’90s. The recent releases were not what I’d call the essence of the Scorpions sound, but we found it luckily with Sting in the Tail.
Why did you decide that this would be your last album and tour as a band?
The album was already done and no one in the band ever had that thought; [management and the record label heard the final mix and] said, you know what? The album is great and everybody loves it so much, you should think about calling this the last one in connection with a final tour. And we were like, “oops, what a strange thought.” But in thinking about it … Klaus [Meine] is turning 62 this year [and] the way we perform, we still run around on stage like mad men like 30 years ago. Everything is great, the songs are excellent and we are very fit [but] at the end of 60, you never know. We want to be remembered as a band that is physically fit and plays a powerful show and not “look at them, now they’re growing old,” and all that crap. We want to save ourselves, and the fans, from that embarrassing sight.
Who inspired you when you were coming up as a guitarist?
I listened to Johnny Winter, early Deep Purple stuff, Eric Clapton with Cream. I was most inspired by Jimi Hendrix, though I never sat down and tried to play like Hendrix. I learned from those great guitar players [and then] I stopped listening with a guitar in my hand so I don’t run the risk of sounding like somebody else. Then I just played what I like to play, I think I developed very early a melodic style within the solos so it’s actually recognizable.
You own a guitar store — how has being a shopkeeper been for you?
You know, honestly — I just did it because I was developing my own instruments [and people asked to buy them]. I couldn’t bring people to my house, to my studio and I needed a place … in the beginning, I was nervous. It’s not easy to run a business when you’re not around. I had to learn it. Just before the Munich show, I announced I would be in the store and there was more than a thousand people in the streets. They’re all on their way to the show that night, in town but it turned out to be a meeting point for Scorpions fans [from surrounding countries]. They come from all over the place and they meet in the store — that’s quite nice.
“Wind of Change” was named Song of the Century in Germany. How did it feel to contribute to history?
It feels amazing! The song wasn’t really written about the coming down of the Berlin Wall. It was written earlier in Moscow. In the late ’80s [we performed at] the Moscow Music and Peace Festival … it was a free concert and it was amazing. In Russia the first time, they were like the typical old image — old, gray, it was March, it was cold, it was terrible. But in the summer of ’89, it was a nice, warm, beautiful city and [the sudden influx of Westerners created] a whole different vibe. The fans were great. The soldiers that formed a human barricade threw their uniforms on stage and watched the show and there were no riots. They even lit up the Olympic torch … the whole atmosphere changed. That’s when the song came up.
That song is kind of a legacy of that moment in history.
Yeah, it’s like we have the soundtrack to what we call the most peaceful revolution in the history of mankind. Because not one shot was fired and 17.5 million people were freed. That never happened before.
How have the crowds been for you on this European swing, knowing that this is your last run?
Amazing. We haven’t played in our own country for a long time [and the shows are] all sold out and that’s great and sometimes it’s getting a bit emotional … I know towards the end, it will be very emotional for us — all the ones involved. [During the current shows] you can feel there’s a certain “bye-bye” in their emotions … for a lot of them it will be the last time they see us [so] that makes it very emotional. I don’t really want to know what we are all feeling until we come to the last show. Don’t ask me what it is, we don’t know.
What happens for you after the final show? Have you thought about that?
You know, I’m much younger than the others, and therefore I’m definitely not ready to sit somewhere on the terrace and watch the waves of the ocean. I will definitely go on musically, that’s for sure — but in what way? I don’t know, sometimes we talk about it. I’m thinking about it once in a while but I trying to not think about it because I want to use the next two and half years to feel what is right for me and also be very sensitive about how the time has changed. It wouldn’t make any sense to just say I’m making a guitar player’s album. It may be, but you know only if the stuff is crazy great enough. I will have to see. I don’t really know. I think when this is over, we will all look around and see what we’ve done and then make the final decision. It’s really too early and I don’t want to trap myself with a thought I have now [that] I have to fulfill one day. I’m not ready for that. I want to concentrate on the tour first and then be sensitive about what will come.
What would you consider some of the high points of the journey?
We had many. The first high point was when we, a rock band from Germany, are welcomed in Japan in 1979 as if we were the Beatles. After that tour, we came for the very first time to the United States. Our first show was in Cleveland at the Municipal Stadium at 11 in the morning with the greatest lineup. Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Journey and then us opening, and we didn’t even know that we only had half an hour time. It was our very first show ever in the States and we kept playing and they didn’t know what to do with us — “shall we pull the plug?” Our English was so bad, we couldn’t even understand what they were screaming, and we kept playing. Ted Nugent was watching, he got up early, and a couple of other musicians were also there. It was the Scorpions, they had heard about us.
There were so many great memories. I could mention the U.S. Festival in 1983 [with] more than 300,000 people, and the great photo of that view from the stage in that old double vinyl album.
Obviously, we were invited in the Kremlin 10 days before Gorbachev resigned. We were the first and only rock band ever in the Kremlin, and we jammed, we played acoustically in his office. He’s the President of the Soviet Union — you know, that’s unheard of. And so many great shows in the ’80s. Musically, we felt what was in the air and we made the right music, which made us very successful. We really do have a great career.