This is an excerpt from the April 2014 issue of Guitar World. For the rest of this story, plus interviews with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons of Kiss (not to mention the three kings of acoustic shred, the hottest gear from the 2014 NAMM Show and more), check out the April 2014 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.
Sting Dynasty: The Scorpions wrap up their nearly 50-year run with a new Unplugged release and a farewell album of songs from their Eighties heyday.
On a bright, frigid afternoon in early December, Guitar World is standing in front of the Romexpo arena in Bucharest, Romania, hoping the Scorpions will arrive soon.
We’ve traveled nearly 5,000 miles to meet the German band on its Farewell World Tour, and we’re eager to catch up with guitarists Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs and chat before they hang up their guitars for good. But for the time being, it’s just us and the local Romanian crew, who are huddled together, chain-smoking cigarettes and flashing us suspicious looks.
The Scorpions are not only one of the world’s best-selling hard rock acts, but since their formation in 1965 they have exemplifed the unifying and transformative power of rock and roll, especially for fans in places like Romania, which was under strict communist rule in the not-too-distant past. In that spirit, we sidle up to the crew and introduce ourselves. The guys instantly warm up and start flashing peace signs and devil horns for our photographer.
Tonight’s concert marks the 20th anniversary of the Scorpions’ first show in Bucharest, and back then the vibe was considerably different. The country was early into the process of rebuilding itself after decades of communist oppression under which the media and arts were stringently controlled. As we learn when we eventually sit down with Schenker and Jabs, simply listening to rock music back then was a very risky endevour.
What follows in an excerpt from Guitar World's exclusive interview with Schenker and Jabs. In the new April 2014 issue of GW, they walk us through how they pulled off their ambitious MTV Unplugged performance and explain why, nearly 50 years into their career, their audiences are younger than ever.
You guys have been going full tilt on your Farewell Tour for the past few years. Why did you decide to tape an MTV Unpluggedin the middle of all that?
MATTHIAS JABS We were asked by MTV and Sony in January of 2013 if we could do an MTV Unplugged. We had just played our last show on December 17 in Munich. You know what it’s like in life: just when you think you’re safe, they come around the corner! [laughs] Well, we knew we couldn’t say no.
It might not be as popular as it was in the Eighties and early Nineties, but we wanted to do it anyway, because we were asked at some point in the Eighties but we were too busy to do it then. But I knew right away that we had to do something different from what we did on our 2001 [live] record, Acoustica.
What did you want to do differently?
JABS First of all, we wanted to not do “Wind of Change,” “Rock You Like a Hurricane”…the typical ones. We have so many arrangements of those. But the fans love those, and the record company wanted it, so in the end we included those as well. I got together with our producers, Mikael [Nord Andersson] and Martin [Hansen] in Sweden, with whom we worked on our last two records, and we picked songs from every decade. We had the more well-known ones and then put the focus on ones we’ve never played live, as well as five new songs. We ended up having 25 songs. It was a lot of work.
What did the process of reworking the songs entail?
JABS First, I went to Stockholm for a week at the end of February and we arranged eight songs. Klaus and Rudolf weren’t part of the arrangements, but they both listened to the arrangements and said, This is the way to go; this is the way not to go.
RUDOLF SCHENKER Because I composed most of the songs, I said, “You know, I’m too close to them.” Because the Swedish Rock Mafia, as we call our producers, have an understanding of what Scorpions are all about, I thought I’d let them work on it. I trust Mikael very much, and he’s also a very good acoustic guitarist.
He knows the Scorpions’ history and has a good feeling to not make it too poppy and always work with a little edge. And he introduced us to open tunings, like Jimmy Page used. When we talked about MTV Unplugged, we knew we wanted to do something outstanding to make five guitars sound like a cluster. We used different tunings to make the sound bigger.
Twenty-five songs is a pretty long set. Were there specific choices you made with the arrangements to keep things musically interesting?
JABS To keep it interesting as acoustic songs we had to have more than just two guitars. I planned on four. In the end, it turned out we had five guitars for most of the songs, six on some, plus mandolin, harp and accordion. We also had a string arranger. We were thinking of having an octet for just a few songs, being inspired by the Beatles, who always used octets because it sounds more rocking than a quartet. But it turned out we ended up with 18 string arrangements! [laughs] The arranger, Hans [Gardemar], is also a great piano player. He also plays accordion and brought it in the first week.
I wasn’t sure if it was the right idea until we jammed “Still Loving You” as a tango with two guitars and accordion. It sounded amazing! We were overwhelmed by our own performance. So we started out not knowing exactly what we were going to do, but as it went on it got more interesting and I felt freer to give the full monty, so to speak.
For the rest of this story, plus interviews with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons of Kiss (not to mention the three kings of acoustic shred, the hottest gear from the 2014 NAMM Show and more), check out the April 2014 issue at the Guitar World Online Store.
Photo: Jimmy Hubbard