Scorpions Lo-Res-by-Ian-Laidlaw big

RUDOLF SCHENKER [guitarist Scorpions]

Rock ’n Roll Star Whisky-The Interview

Upon release of their first whisky through Brands For Fans, we reached out to Sari Wilholm and her team and dropped a note to Scorpions’ attorney Jens Schneider handling their business. Diving deeper into the collaborations between bands and distillers or brewers, Sari was the first to respond and shed a light on this exciting new market. Merchandise and lifestyle going hand in hand with band branded personalized liquors or craftbeers is appealing and adds up to the devoted lifestyle of fans.

Photo by Edwin van Hoof

As time past, I received a mail from Jens, who was happy to announce an interview slot. Though it was out in my timeline and the band was still touring, it would eventually take place just before Christmas. In a short mail exchange Mr. Schneider was happy to add up how much he liked this new Rock ‘n Roll Star whisky himself, something topped by an enthusiastic and energetic Rudolf Schenker:
,,Hello! Yeah! Let’s do this… shoot!’’

,,We really had gotten into Chivas Regal back in the days.’’-Rudolf Schenker

A little flabbergasted by Rudolf’s energy, I grab my notes and start my interview. With the Rock ‘n Roll Star Whisky released only weeks before I want to find out more about the story behind it and how this all swung into motion.
,,The point is…  what got it all started is a saying we have [in German] “Ich drinke sonnst niemals, nür bei Scorpions trinke ich Chivas…”. [Translated: I never drink, only with Scorpions I drink Chivas.] We were very much into Chivas & Coke, the Chivas Regal with Coca cola mix… We loved Chivas Regal and Whisky in general. We really had gotten into Chivas Regal back in the days. But as the tours gotten longer and longer, we had to save our energy. Not drinking Chivas that much anymore. Our love for good whiskey remained, in our veins. For instance; take our song ,,Catch Your Train”… there’s a line in the lyrics A different life and whiskey Cola”, it reflects on this. We have always had a connection in a way. You know, whisky is something very special. Whisky more or less became a special drink for us. In between there was vodka as well, especially when we toured Russia extensively in the past. But we all enjoy a good whisky every once in a while. As you’re getting older, you know how to handle alcohol, learn how to really enjoy good liquor…’’

Of course the connection with Vodka is obvious. Scorpions was one of the bands that toured Russia during the Communistic days and it is said their music had an immense impact, eventually also leading to the revolution. ,,Wind Of Change” becoming a hymn for freedom… But it is the story about the band’s love for whisky that made them decide to launch their own, in cooperation with Brand For Fans’ team and Swedish distillers Mackmyra exclusively.
,,Then Brands For Fans from Sweden approached us to ask what we thought of blending our own unique whisky, the Scorpions whisky, which sounded really interesting… And the wait started. We were waiting and waiting, but nothing happened. Then suddenly they came back to us and asked why we weren’t answering if we were to blend this Scorpions whisky. [Laughs] Well, we weren’t in a hurry. We first wanted to see how the idea evolved in our mind. Soon after they sent us a few samples with blends they would like to do, as well as possible blends they could do. Those samples were very interesting and appealing to us. We really chose a variety of blends we liked, and soon after more samples arrived, which were even better. So we found ourselves in the situation of having selected our style and taste, when they opted the idea to mature our whisky in German cherry caskets. “Now that was a good idea!!!”  We all really liked that. Make it more personal. That’s when it gotten to the point that we agreed: “Yes, that’s the right taste!” (Enthused) Look, we have a tour manager whose father was a whisky blender in Scotland, and we had some samples delivered to him that he distributed amongst fellow whisky distillers and friends he all knew very well. They found it to be a fantastic tasting whisky. That to us was the sign to go for it. That’s when we had to get examples for the name of our whisky. And of course, we are rock ‘n roll musicians, rock ‘n rolls stars, so we said: “Hey, that would be a great name!” You know we have a star on the rock and roll walk of fame in Los Angeles, next to Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones, which we are extremely proud of. So why not use the star and title and name it Rock ‘n Roll Star Whisky, that’s fantastic?! That’s basically the story…  we just went for it. Look, since we launched it, we have already sold over 4.000 – 5.000 bottles already. That’s just fantastic!’’

,,We want to deliver the highest quality, much like our music.’’-Rudolf Schenker

This last remark was confirmed by Brands For Fans, adding they sold out the entire first batch already, and distribution to Japan was about to start soon, increasing the numbers significantly. Japan loves Scorpions and it is one of the biggest retail markets for whisky. This combination will prove the future potential likely.
It is a fantastic whisky, by all means. It is not too harsh and very light, with a lot of depth. With the cherry cask aging and the notes of vanilla, this Rock ‘n Roll Star Whisky is simply excellent and displays a genuine smooth taste and balance. It’s also a perfect introduction to the wide array of Single Malts in the world.
,,Exactly! And that is what gave us a kick! We don’t want to put something on the market that’s just a whisky by Scorpions. No way! We want to deliver the highest quality, much like our music. We were never playing just rock music; we always played our rock music with a special note. That’s also what the guys in Metallica always say, who are also influenced by Scorpions; “Scorpions really gave us this kick”. Not only inspired their music by blues, but also added some classical themes into it.” As we come from Germany we’re very inspired by classical music and composers, which is also why we frequently work with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra… it’s this mixture we brought together hitting the right notes for many.’’

Is this mixing of notes musically also why you chose to put in the different notes to make your whisky stand out?
,,Exactly that! We said to the Swedish distillers that we wanted to have not just a whisky, but really OUR whisky that has the same different notes our music has.’’

Photo by Jovan Nenadic

Who was the driving force behind this creation? As I hear your enthusiasm throughout the story, I really would have guessed Mr. Schenker to be the driving force. 
Static noise on our landline causes some distraction leading to a host of funny moments… “Can you repeat the question again please? Today we have better quality on our cell phones that we have on the regular landlines I am using here…. Hahahaha!”
Rudolf is spot on with this remark. Cell phones have the better of connections and on the side we also get a little lost in translation due to noise.
,,Yes, I founded the Scorpions in ’65. I’m the main composer of the band except for one song that was composed by Klaus, called ,,Wind Of Change”.’’

A little misunderstanding we use to our advantage. Mentioning their biggest hit, which was also the soundtrack of change in Russia and throughout the world, I actually thought this star was the connection made to the Rock ‘n Roll Star whisky artwork. The red star, with the enhanced and modern Scorpions logo of the last decade would align with the Russian connection.
,,Yeah, Yeah! I forced it into the logo. You’re in a situation that people have to notice and immediately notice your label and trademark with our music behind it. The combination of the star and our rock star on the walk of fame was so perfect that we really forced it to take this artwork direction. It’s very effective and recognizable. It all comes together perfectly with us as rock ’n roll stars, and this whisky being a rock ‘n roll star itself. It is like 1 + 1 makes two and 3 + 3 = 6. LOL!
The connection with Russia is also there. The first idea from our publishing company and Brands For Fans actually was the name ,,Wind Of Change”. But ,,Wind Of Change” doesn’t work with it because to me it has a different power. ,,Wind Of Change” is very sensitive, meant something else, but not whisky. I convinced them we needed a more suitable name for our whisky.’’

I understand his vision and the reason for choosing this name for whisky instead of ,,Wind Of Change”. With the undeniable connection and past tied to the former Soviet Union, it would also be likely to fuse the name of their hit single with Vodka. It would make both coincide perfectly. Thus I suggest and Rudolf immediately bursts into laughter.
,,HAHA! That’s a very good point! That brings together the situation with Russia and the song indeed. I one hundred per cent agree. Thank you very much for the idea! [Rudolf bursts into laughter] We send you a bottle, okay?!

,,Mikkey just fits perfectly into the chemistry of Scorpions.’’-Rudolf Schenker

Having landed them an idea for a next Scorpions branded liquor I’ve sold myself a little short I suppose, but with Rudolf enjoying himself, I have the best interview partner one can find in the industry. Schenker is a personality and always happy to reflect upon life, and the music scene. With the band returning home from their latest running world tour, taking them all over the globe for 2 years straight, I check on where the band is at currently. Residing in Singapore, right after finishing the Asian leg of the tour, an enthused Schenker continues…
,,Yes… after the European shows we went to tour the USA until September. We went back on the road after a short break and started in Beirut, Lebanon… and from there we went to Australia, New Zealand, Australia and finished it in China, yes.’’

Photo by Edwin van Hoof

An extensive tour that took you across the globe once again. You’re in time to travel home for the Holidays…
,,No, actually not. I’m now in my creative process writing new songs. We decided to start working on a new album.’’

During the last gig in Cologne, I also spoke with drummer Mikkey Dee and he was thrilled to do a record with the current line-up. He mentioned the band has a family attitude and he feels very much at home, which he thought would be a perfect circumstance to record new material.
,,You know. The point is, why we have this idea of recording a new album, is because Mikkey became… let’s say… a great force for Scorpions. When we were fighting for a change and get us back on track with the band, and it didn’t work, we found Mikkey. Mikkey just fits perfectly into the chemistry of Scorpions. Plus, he is a very creative person! That means we have now the chance to make an album that is special and fresh. A bit like with the Scorpions whisky. Everybody in the band is now on leave and at home to celebrate the Holidays with his family, until the New Year. We will meet again in the New Year and everybody will come and bring in ideas in the studio. We already found a producer to record with. A famous and well-known personality…. No, I’m not gonna say who he is… really not! But we are all very excited to produce a new historic rock ‘n roll album.’’

That’s really great news for all rock fans out there. I have witnessed a lot of shows over the past decades, and it surprised me how vital and driven the current line up is. With Mikkey Dee behind the drum kit the band does sound revitalized and eager. His drive reflects off on the band and it awakens new energy onstage. I’m amazed by the drive of the band and the energy, especially Schenker. After over 50 years in the business Schenker, nor his band mates, seem to grow older.
,,It’s simple: first of all, HA! The situation why people get old in this business; When bands get to reach a certain status and when they don’t have the right chemistry anymore, they seem to start fighting each other. Ego’s oppose, and… and, and, and and… What Scorpions… I personally always tried to do, from the very first days back in ’65, is to have the right people around me. They’re great musicians but also people I can be work with. This is the red line through our career. It’s what we’ve been following from ’65 until now, and that’s a very important point for Scorpions. We don’t fight each other but try to use our energy to create music to inspire people and build bridges between different countries, different religions, and different philosophies. Music is the best thing to build these bridges. Music is a universal language… you know. It connects people… You know… to see all these different people from various cultural backgrounds, and with different religions, all singing together… is just amazing. It’s what drives us.
When the slaves came from Africa to America, and were forced work on the cotton fields, they started singing together. Working as a slave, singing to keep their spirits up. Singing to become a unit and stand as one. Share their feelings and emotions through music. The blues united them… music united them. United they were able to survive the long days, survive the months and years. Survive slavery… Survive until they were free.’’

,,In the beginning, when we played in clubs, people reacted with disinterest, you know.’’-Rudolf Schenker

Is that the key to the band, being a unit… being so close and connected… throughout the years…
Rudolf interrupts and sounds vibrant and charged to explain:
,,Of course! Yes! Scorpions do not come from a country known to produce rock music. When we started and were introduced to the world of rock, we didn’t have to give 100%… we had to give 180% or more to convince everyone. Like I said: In the beginning, when we played in clubs, people reacted with disinterest, you know. “Ow… the Scorpions… from Germany… pff… what is that all about.”  They were introduced to Kraftwerk in 1970, but nobody was interested in rock from Germany. But then, when we took the stage… we made sure we rocked like a hurricane. So when the audience returned home, they started mentioning Scorpions. “You have to see Scorpions…” Next gigs we played 150 – 500 instead of 50. And then it went up from 500 to 2000 and eventually 20.000 and more. You know when you are on stage; you have to be strong as a unit. So many things can go wrong. When for instance your truck breaks down, and you have to walk to a train station to get forward, you have to be a strong unit depending on one another. If you’re not: FORGET IT! We went through hard times. But we came through. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You know the saying. And it’s true. But you grow. For us the big breaking point was the first gold album in Japan. Then you know, you’re on the right track. With the power you saved up over the years will bring you even further. Then you rule the world.’’

Rudolf laughs in a moment of self-reflection, most likely because the band actually have been ruling the airwaves for many years after this first golden award. He never comes across bragging. Schenker is an enthusiastic musician that radiates his drive. A drive he explained in his book ‘Rock Your Life’, 10 years ago. It captures his vision on how to not cave in and realize your dreams. You find your goal and rock it… you deserve it, more or less. Never be dull mirroring yourself to expectation of others, but be there and be a force to be reckoned with. Be yourself…
,,I wrote the book with Lars Amend and wanted to inspire people. I don’t want someone to think, because they come from a poor background or dull town, that you don’t have a chance. You always have a chance to rock your life. You have to find that inspiration. Every human being in the world has a gift. Everyone, all over the world received a unique and special talent from God. But you don’t have to be like other people. Be different and stand out… rock your life! Don’t lose your focus… If you meditate you find the road back to yourself. And when you find out what gift you’ve been granted, it is easier to follow your life’s path. Then you will find your way and you make it… everybody has that gift. If you lose your focus, you might get lost. So Rock YOUR life!’’

On stage and off stage, you are always an energetic personality. You inspire and try to inspire. When you hear others talking about rock being dead, and you say the opposite and rock your life, I can imagine you have a different opinion about rock as well…
,,Look, it’s a question of what you see on the horizon. If you see nothing on your horizon and the road looks short to it…. Of course it is dead! But if you have a long road set out to your horizon, it will never be dead. Look at rock music. Rock music is rebellion. It has always been rebellious. When people get all comfortable with how life and their surroundings are, there will always be a new generation coming. They will oppose, not being happy with what other take for granted. There will be a new revolution again… a revolution in music, in dressing, in behaviour and in thinking. Remember the punk era? Punk was another step forward in rock. Nobody thought it would survive, but it did. It had a new fashion and trashy lifestyle. So, somebody will come up with new music. New music with new instruments perhaps, or whatever. The creativity of people with their own unique vision…. You never know what comes out eventually. Sometimes even classical music can be part of the new force in rock. Wagner was rock as well… in his days. He was also renewing things. It’s always coming and going… always. Gene Simmons is a very good businessman and I think, he thinks of it like a businessman….
I’m a musician. I think rock music will always be alive. It will be on top. Rock has an energy that people need. Especially youngsters from 16 to 25 need this energy. It is why I am so happy to see our Facebook following. 8 or 9 millions followers and fans, with the majority of them… I believe 80%… in the age of 16 – 28. That’s fantastic!’’

,,We’re very happy as a band that Klaus is a real fighter.’’-Rudolf Schenker

When I mention a lot of my generation not using Facebook or social media as much as youngsters, Rudolf immediately responds:
,,But it is the same situation when we are touring! All over the world we attract a young audience. The only exception is America, where radio stations are more diverted into rock, country, etc. We don’t appeal to a broader audience when a younger generation is not introduced to us. That simple! But all over the world you see the younger fans in the front and the older fans in the back, enjoying the show. But it’s fantastic: that’s rock! You know why we still play live this much? Because we noticed that! We want to inspire young people to start a band, play music. Start a band and play… Get out there and inspire others.’’

Photo by Edwin van Hoof

It brings me to the question how long Scorpions will be performing and making new music. The band has frequently hinted their careers to be coming to an end. Mainly with the titles of their tours: “Last Sting of the Tail” and “Final Sting” [2012]. Titles that have vaporized from history on their touring pages, but are still vividly engraved in my memory. It’s a long stream of dates leading to a sudden press statement of the band likely to stop, about 4 years ago. Rudolf rushed to it immediately…
,,As long as Klaus can sing! We’re very happy as a band that Klaus is a real fighter. He went through some bad times, but is okay. If a virus strikes him, you can’t help it. But Klaus is really forcing himself and loves the way of life… to be a rock singer. He loves to sing. He loves to entertain. I hope he can sing as long as he wants to perform. With the band working with this excellent new chemistry and energy, and Klaus able to perform, we will be around for a long time to come. Perhaps if he drinks a couple of glasses of our Scorpions Rock ‘n Roll Star Whisky every now and then, he can ensure his voice to be in top shape.’’

As Rudolf bursts into laughter I thank him in Dutch for his time to answer our questions. But not before Mr. Schenker digs up memories from the band’s elusive history…
,,I remember when we started and played Paradiso [Amsterdam, NL]. Such an amazing place… The energy… it always was there, every time we returned to “Die Niederlande”. It’s always a pleasure to play there, and we will come back… Maybe soon.’’

It concludes an interview with one of rock’s most compelling personalities. Rudolf Schenker is one of those people who always manages to overcome. He’s inspiring, outgoing and beyond driven. He rocks his life and rocks the stages, as much as he rocks the world of rock ‘n roll…. And Rock ‘n Roll Star Whisky is excellent fuel to keep that engine running.

Header Photo by Ian Laidlaw

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