Scorpions Biography

This German hard rock band was formed at school in 1965 by guitarist Rudolf Schenker (31 August 1948, Savstedt, Germany). With younger brother Michael Schenker (b. 10 January 1955, Savstedt, Germany; guitar), Klaus Meine (b. 25 May 1948, Hannover, Germany; vocals), Lothar Heimberg (bass) and Wolfgang Dziony (drums), they exploded onto the international heavy rock scene with Lonesome Crow in 1972. This tough and exciting record was characterized by Schenker’s distinctive, fiery guitar work on his Gibson ‘Flying V’ and Klaus Meine’s dramatic vocals. Prior to recording their major label debut for RCA Records, Heimberg, Dziony and Michael Schenker left, the latter joining UFO. Uli Jon Roth, Francis Buchholz and Jürgen Rosenthal stepped in on guitar, bass and drums respectively, for the recording of 1974’s Fly To The Rainbow. Rudy Lenners took over as drummer from Rosenthal the following year. The following releases, In Trance and Virgin Killer, epitomized Scorpions’ new-found confidence and unique style - a fusion of intimidating power-riffs, wailing guitar solos and melodic vocal lines. Produced by Dieter Dierks, the improvements musically were now matched technically. The band’s reputation began to grow throughout Europe and the Far East, backed up by exhaustive touring. 1977’s Taken By Force saw Herman Rarebell (b. 18 November 1949) replace Lenners, with the band branching out into power ballads, bolstered by emotive production, for the first time. Although commercially successful, Roth was not happy with this move, and he quit to form Electric Sun following a major tour to support the album. Tokyo Tapes was recorded on this tour and marked the end of the first phase of the band’s career. This was a live set featuring renditions of their strongest numbers.

Matthias Jabs (b. 25 October 1956, Hannover, Germany; ex-Fargo) was recruited as Roth’s replacement, but had to step down temporarily in favour of Michael Schenker, who had just left UFO under acrimonious circumstances. Schenker contributed guitar on three tracks of Lovedrive, an album which saw the band’s cover design (always dubious at the best of times) scrape a new low. Michael Schenker toured with Scorpions afterwards but was replaced by Jabs permanently after collapsing on stage during their European tour in 1979. The band had now achieved a stable line-up, and shared the mutual goal of breaking through in the USA. Relentless touring schedules ensued and their albums leaned more and more towards sophisticated, hard-edged melodic rock. 1980’s Animal Magnetism went gold and 1982’s Blackout made the US Top 10, as did the following Love At First Sting which featured the MTV hit ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’ and ‘Still Loving You’, an enduring hard rock ballad. World Wide Live was released in 1985, another double live set, but this time only featuring material from the second phase of the band’s career. It captured the band at their melodic best, peaking at number 14 in a four-month stay on the US chart.

The Scorpions took a well-earned break before releasing Savage Amusement in 1988, their first studio album for almost four years. This marked a slight change in emphasis again, adopting a more restrained approach. Nevertheless, it proved a huge success, reaching number 5 in the USA and number 1 throughout Europe. The band ended their 20-year association with producer Dieter Dierks in 1989. Crazy World followed and became their most successful album to date. The politically poignant ‘Wind Of Change’, lifted as a single, became their first million-seller as it reached the number 1 position in country after country around the world, and shot into the US and UK Top 5. Produced by Keith Olsen, Crazy World transformed Scorpions’ sound, ensuring enormous crossover potential without radically compromising their identity or alienating their original fanbase.

Buchholz was sacked in 1992, at which time investigators began to look into the band’s accounts for alleged tax evasion. His replacement was classically trained musician Ralph Rieckermann (b. 8 August 1962, Lübeck, Germany), who had previously provided computer programming for Kingdom Come, as well as varied soundtrack work. Rieckermann made his debut on 1993’s lacklustre Face The Heat. A perfunctory 1995 live album, their third such venture, only served to heighten suspicions about the long-term viability and vitality of the band. Rarebell subsequently left, and was replaced by studio drummer Curt Cress on the new studio album, Pure Instinct. Cress was in turn replaced by James Kottak (b. 26 December 1962, Louisville, Kentucky, USA; ex-Kingdom Come). Kottak appeared on the band’s next studio recording, Eye II Eye, a failed experiment with electronica released shortly before the start of the new millennium.

Rieckermann was replaced by Ken Taylor on the band’s ambitious live collaboration with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Moment Of Glory. Fans of the band’s harder-rocking moments were thrown another curveball on the following year’s ‘unplugged’ set, Acoustica. Bass player Pawel Maciwoda (b. 20 February 1967, Krakow, Poland) joined Ralph Schenker, Meine, Jabs and Kottak to help record 2004’s Unbreakable, the band’s first all-out rock record in over a decade.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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