By Jeb Wright, February 2014
Matthias Jabs joined the Scorpions in 1979, just in time to record their classic album Lovedrive. He was then asked to leave so Michael Schenker, brother of guitarist Rudolf Schenker, could take his place. Then, Michael left and Jabs was brought back.
What looked like Jabs biggest break turned into a merry-go-round of in again, out again, until Jabs put his foot down and said, ‘No more. I’m in or I am out. Make up your mind.” While Michael Schenker is an amazing guitarist in his own right, the Scorpions made the correct choice with Jabs.
The band went on to achieve great commercial success, as Jabs gave the band a cool image as a lead guitarist. His playing style was melodic, yet he could play with bursts of amazing speed when called upon to do so. Unlike Michael Schenker, Jabs was able to become a band member.
Now, in 2014, he is still a Scorpion and the band has just released MTV Unplugged, recorded on top of a mountain in Greece, the first ever MTV Unplugged show to be filmed outdoors.
The show is a sight to behold as the band go deep into their back catalog and, while still supplying the hits. They play many numbers from the era before Jabs was even a member of the band, making this show a delight for hardcore Scorpions fans.
Classic Rock Revisited sat down with Jabs to discuss his role as the arranger of the tunes for the MTV Unplugged show, as well as what his plans are now that the band has retired from worldwide touring.
Jeb: I have been a fan of the way you play lead guitar since I heard Animal Magnetism when I was 14 years old.
Matthias: I like that. Let me ask you where you are calling from.
Jeb: I live in Wichita, Kansas.
Matthias: I remember we played there a few times in the ‘80s and we recorded the video for “Passion Rules the Game” there.
Jeb: I was in the crowd when that video was filmed.
Jeb: I was there a few years before on Love at First Sting tour when they had a cattle show the day before and it smelled like cow poop.
Matthias: I know. I remember our tour manager, who was a British guy, went up to the guys who ran the hall and said, “The Scorpions are allergic to bullshit.” [laughter]
Jeb: You are putting out MTV Unplugged which has great arrangements of Scorpions songs and was filmed on a mountain.
Matthias: We decided to do a lot of songs that we had not done before and we decided to do more up-tempo songs. For example, we rearranged “Blackout” and “Hit Between the Eyes” which are not so obvious when you think of acoustic guitars. I think it came out great. The visual is also quite interesting as it was filmed in an outdoor theater. The Greeks have these great outdoor theaters. This one was not an ancient one. We tried to play at one in the Acropolis, but it was a bit too small and there were too many regulations and limitations from the government side. It is old and no one can drink anything in there. There are also sound limitations because otherwise it would fall apart. It looks pretty fallen apart already, maybe they should renovate it. This is the first outdoor MTV Unplugged location ever.
Jeb: I just talked to Klaus and he said the show went great other than you were terrible…
Matthias: Yeah…that keeps us going. We keep trying to do it better next time [laughter].
Jeb: You play several songs that pre-date your time in the Scorpions like “Speedy’s Coming” and “Pictured Life.”
Matthias: It was like we were doing a new set. We didn’t even want to do “Rock You Like a Hurricane” on Unplugged. We wanted to do completely new music that we had not done. We had done the other songs with different shapes and forms and with orchestras and we have done them electric and we have live versions that are different. We didn’t want to do this, but the fans love them and the record company wants them and then MTV said, “No, you must do them.” The new arrangements make the songs have new sounds to them and, of course, you know, we’ve done them enough times but, overall, it feels like a new project and it is the most complicated one that we’ve ever done. It was more complimented that the classical things we have done. That was easy compared to this.
Jeb: Are you are just going to kick back and hang at your guitar store now the band is done doing huge tours?
Matthias: I have a guitar store in Munich. It is nice and I like guitars and it is a good place. It is a wonderful store. I have vintage guitars, but I also have new ones. In the States, you have more stores like this. In Europe, you either have tiny stores that have nothing interesting, or you have stores that are like Wal-Mart. They are superstores. They have no atmosphere. You go in my store and it is almost cozy. It is a very special.
It has turned out to be a meeting point for Scorpions fans. I will do events, once in a while, and I will play a few songs with a band on a small stage and people love it. It is worth keeping it. I don’t do this for business. It is just a hobby and it actually costs me something, but I love it. Sometimes, I will have an exhibition. In a week from now, or so, I am going to go down and bring my pre-CBS Fender candy apple red guitar collection and make a Christmas display. I will add a few evergreens and a few decorations and I will have a nice Christmas card for next year.
I show people guitars that they can never get close too. I show them some Scorpions touring guitars and then I take them away again. I will bring out the guitar that played on “Wind of Change” and I will let them see that. People can talk to me and they don’t have to stand in line backstage trying to get an autograph. I am a regular guy and I just talk to the people. I love it and it is fun to have the store.
I will tell you a story. One woman who is a fan, was probably about age 60, showed up with her son and they flew over from San Diego just in order to come over and meet me and buy a guitar. They spent two days there and then they visited castles and made a trip out of it. It was really great. If you ever come over here then you need to come see me at the guitar store.
Jeb: Any solo album plans?
Matthias: People ask me so so many times, “When is your solo album coming out?” If we are not so busy anymore then maybe, but I am the busiest now because I did all of the arrangements and I am getting ready, believe it or not, tomorrow evening I am going to record “Temple of the King” from Rainbow because they are releasing a tribute album for Ronnie James Dio. We are taking two days out of our tough schedule and recording that song. You’re the first to know.
I have the ’57 Strat ready. I have the ’59 Les Paul and we use that in the studio as well. I have one that is so clean and so mint it is unbelievable. I will play these fantastic guitars on it. I checked the song yesterday and it is easy to do, so we will do that.
I would love to do a solo album one day, but I would need to be able to focus on it. The Scorpions has always been, and will always be, my priority. As long as we are so busy, then I wouldn’t find the peace of mind that is worth releasing. My goal would be that it has to be at least as good as the bands album where I have a lot of impact. Otherwise there is no point. Lots of musician’s solo albums are not even half as good as the band effort. I am not stupid. I would not release anything that is not as convincing.
Jeb: Last one: You recorded “No One Like You” for the video at MTV. That had to be cool.
Matthias: It was cool. “No One Like You” was really low budget and we shot it on Alcatraz. It was great and I am glad I went there. We were there overnight and we locked in our bass player. Maybe we should have never let him out. He fell asleep. With one bar you could close all of the gates in the hallway for all of the cells. Nobody knew he was sleeping in one of those cells. We found him eventually. That was a very good experience. “Rock You Like a Hurricane” was also interesting as we had real black panthers and real leopards.
Later on, I remember being in Los Angeles and we were ready to shoot “Tease Me Please Me” and I said, “We have to organize this as nobody wants to be waiting around.” Everyone shows up early in the morning and then they do your makeup and by the time you do your first scene it is eight hours later and the makeup is dry and you’re drunk.
I remember “Rhythm of Love” we shot the scenes that people would be watching in their homes at like four in the morning. I said, “What’s the fucking point? We look tired. We are tired. We are drunk and we are tired and this is what you want the people to see?” You get organized. The difference between “Tease Me Please Me” was that we were organized. I didn’t want to sit around and eat a bagel and drink a beer in the morning because I am waiting around.
The first day they shoot all of the shit that we don’t even need to be there for. Why should we be there watching them working? It is a natural process where you learn while you going through it. At first you do everything they tell you and then, as you continue to make videos, you realize things can be improved and you organize it yourselves.
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