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Issue #558.5

Mini-Issue #558.5
July 30, 2010

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-Happy Friday! Here is my interview with Scorpions drum legend Herman “Ze German” Rarebell. – Tim

by Tim Wadzinski (tsw512@yahoo.com)

-Interview w/ Herman Rarebell (Scorpions)
July 15, 2010

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down to chat with legendary ex-Scorpions drummer Herman Rarebell. This guy has been on countless tour treks around the globe, co-written some of the most classic melodic hard rock songs of all time, and met and befriended world leaders. Musically he’s been lying low for a few years but now he’s back with a new solo album called TAKE IT AS IT COMES and a full-length interview disc/audio book called MY LIFE AS A SCORPION, on Dark Star Records. We met in his Chicago hotel room during his recent multi-city promotional trip to the U.S., which included stops at / appearances on Eddie Trunk’s show, “House Of Hair,” Modern Drummer, and Chicago’s seminal hard rock station 97.9 FM WLUP.

DETRITUS: You are promoting two releases right now. I didn’t realize that this album, TAKE IT AS IT COMES, was actually released a couple years ago under a different title [I’M BACK]. Now that was your first full-on rock album in a number of years, right?

HERMAN RAREBELL: Absolutely. What happened was we released this album in 2007 through Mausoleum and I tried to get it a deal in the States, but as you know the times were very hard to get a record deal. So finally in March 2010 I found a record company, Dark Star Records, and they said to me “We think the best song on the album is ‘Take It As It Comes.’ Why don’t you call the album TAKE IT AS IT COMES, and we’ll be willing to release it.” The album was out two years ago in Europe, and it was not possible to sell it here in America for $38 because it would become an export and I think that is really stealing from the fans, and I wasn’t happy about that. I said no, I would like to find a record company in America to release it in America. So for the American people this is a new album.

D: I noticed the cover art on this version is a little different from I’M BACK, and I have your first solo album…

HR: HERMAN ZE GERMAN AND FRIENDS, from 1984 with Don Dokken and all my friends on there.

D: So I thought that must your thing — to release an album and then re-release it with a different title a couple years later. Didn’t you also do that with your first album, NIP IN THE BUD?

HR: Yeah. I did the same thing and it became very successful. What we did on the second release [when NIP IN THE BUD was re-recorded as HERMAN ZE GERMAN AND FRIENDS] for the States was we invited all those American singers to sing on it, like Don Dokken, Charlie Huhn from Ted Nugent, then I had Jack Russell from Great White on there, I had the bass player from Ratt, Juan Croucier, on there. So that made it more interesting, you know? Until this day a lot of Dokken fans write to me and say “Oh, that song you did there with Don is fantastic. ‘I’ll Say Goodbye,” we all like ‘Destiny,” ‘Hard Sensation.'” So basically, this album [TAKE IT AS IT COMES] is also being re-released from a European album — but check it out, for you guys it is a brand new album.

D: I saw on your Web site there recently was a release called HERMAN’S COLLECTION which seemed very similar to I’M BACK and TAKE IT AS IT COMES, but with a few differences.

HR: Yeah, the difference was HERMAN’S COLLECTION was a limited edition of 1,000 copies only. Sorry — they’re gone. This I made my complete collection of everything I’ve ever done musically. So I put songs on there from the first album, HERMAN ZE GERMAN AND FRIENDS — there’s Don Dokken there with “I’ll Say Goodbye,” there’s “Junk Funk” on there from Jack Russell. Then I put everything on there I did with Monaco Records, a company I had with Prince Albert. I put a song on there with the Drum Legends, which was a band I did in Germany with Charly Antolini and Pete York from the Spencer Davis Group. And on the collection there’s a collaboration I did with the Monte Carlo Pop Orchestra, which was a band we signed to Monaco Records. But this one is a real hard rock album. There is no orchestra or anything, it’s just one song after the other of hard rock hard rock hard rock hard rock. And those songs are the up to date songs. They don’t go in the past — none of those songs are older than, say, two or three years.

D: That’s why I wanted to clarify all these releases. I didn’t know if some of the TAKE IT AS IT COMES songs were older, from your association with Monaco Records.

HR: Sure. There are none from Monaco Records. All those songs are brand new. The only song on there I had in my “treasure box” is “Wipe Out,” and even that is brand new because the original version from ’84 had no drum solo in there. The record company didn’t want that drum solo in there, they thought it was more commercial without it. But I put a little drum solo in there, and then we have also a really wild guitar solo in there, and that version is now on this album, TAKE IT AS IT COMES. But all the other songs are all new. As I said, they came out in 2007 only in Germany, so this is now from Dark Star Records a worldwide release. So literally now you can also buy it worldwide, you know. You can buy both products — I also released an audio book MY LIFE AS A SCORPION — and the record company made a nice little package that has both products for $20. And I also put in an autographed card, signed by me.

D: Ah, that’s what the two-CD set is. I was wondering if the second CD had more songs recorded during the TAKE IT AS IT COMES sessions, but I see it’s actually the audio book and the CD together.

HR: Yeah, and then you’re in the car and you have both products I think for 20 bucks, with the autographed card. It’s also a limited edition — only 1,000. The next thousand to come, I think they won’t do the box anymore; they’re starting to sell those two products separately.

D: You formed Monaco Records after you left the Scorpions?

HR: Yeah, after I left the Scorpions we opened up Monaco Records on the 6th of May, 1996. This all came together when Prince Albert said to me, “Let’s make Monaco Records.” I think it was a good move, you know? At the time it was after 20 years, it was time to do something new. In the early ’90s grunge came in, heavy metal/hard rock went more and more away, so I said to myself it was definitely time to do something new. And when [the Scorpions] wanted to make that new direction which you can hear on PURE INSTINCT, that was definitely not the direction I wanted to go. So both of those things together made me leave.

D: What happened with the label?

HR: The label was done after five years because all the big labels — like Sony, Universal, Warner Brothers — they ran all out of money. They could not sign any more artists, or anything we produced they couldn’t give us the money for. They couldn’t sign the bands which they had told us before to produce — suddenly they said, “Sorry Herman, we don’t have the budget anymore to support it.” So we simply ran out of money and closed the company.

D: How did you meet the prince? Was he a rock ‘n’ roll fan?

HR: Total fan. What happened was I moved to Monte Carlo in 1985, in September, and by ’87 I was married to a girl there who gave me a really beautiful daughter who’s now 21, and in ’87 she introduced me to Prince Albert. Albert then said to me, “Oh I’m a big fan. I grew up with your music, with BLACKOUT. I was in college in America and listened to your music all the time.” So then we became friends, and I found out he was a drummer also. He loves playing drums, so he came a few times to my house and we played drums together, you know, hanging out together. So one day in the mid-’90s, around ’95, I said “Well there’s no record company? Why don’t we do one?” That’s how it came together, as simple as this.

D: Let’s talk about MY LIFE AS A SCORPION, since you brought it up. When I heard this I thought it was really cool — it reminded me of the old days when bands would put out picture discs on vinyl with long interviews.

HR: Yes!

D: What prompted you to do something like this?

HR: Well first of all I said to myself there’s no point to make an audio book and just read it, you know, and then speak it and then you hear it in audio, because it would probably be boring. So that’s Pete York, an old friend of mine; I said to him, “Why don’t you interview me and ask me the questions, and then I answer.” And then to make it more entertaining we worked also with my voice imitator in there, because he really made a great imitation of Arnold Schwarzeneggar, and on the German version we took the piss out of about five or six big stars and all the politicians. So you have the feeling of sitting in one room and talking, just like you and me now, and suddenly Arnold sits next to you and starts eating his schnitzel with sauerkraut. (laughs) This was the idea, to make it more funny, so you had something to laugh to, so it becomes not so sterile. Because I hate just sterile, normal audio books. I think this one’s a funny one. It gives you good inside information about the Scorpions; I spent 20 years with that band so you get an idea of what happened. Also, I’m a Scorpio by zodiac — I was born in November so for me I also talk about my whole life as a “scorpion,” what I did before the Scorpions and what I wanna do after the Scorpions have done their farewell tour.

D: This is really cool. It’s pretty unique to me. I hadn’t seen anything like that in a while.

HR: Good, yeah. It is unique.

D: I was listening to it while commuting home on the train one day, and I have to admit the Arnold Schwarzeneggar stuff made me laugh out loud. I think people were looking at me like I was crazy.

HR: Yeah, that is exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted to make people laugh and say, “Hey, this is not a normal audio book!” This is something for you when you go in the car or on the train, to be entertained with, and to laugh.

D: And then you threw a few songs on there, too, including one that was from another artist.

HR: From the sessions for Monaco Records. I talk about that period. We signed an artist at the time, his name was Thomas Perry, and this song “The Time,” the ballad, I love it very much. By the way, the guitar player on there is none other than Dominic Miller from Sting. He plays the acoustic guitar on there. Also, it has the Vatican Orchestra on there, on the album. I think Thomas is a fantastic singer, and I’ve worked with Thomas until this day. And “Heya Heya,” I just stuck on there again because I think, you know, “Heya Heya” is for me my favorite song — besides “Take It As It Comes” on the album — because it makes a strong statement. What we do right now to nature, I think it’s horrible. And if we don’t watch ourselves then really the saying from the Hopi Indians will become true: “White man will realize very soon that he cannot eat money.” (laughs) And what we’re doing right now to the planet, we’re heading very fast to this. Imagine, you want to go to the beach nowadays and swim in America and some of those beaches you cannot go into the water anymore because they’re filled with oil. “What’s coming next?” — that’s what I’m saying.

D: That statement from the Hopi Indians is very funny but also very profound.

HR: It is very profound. I put it on there again because Pete asked me in the interview what I wanted to do, and I said also we made “Heya Heya” for a charity organization called World Vision. I think it is amazing what you can do for $25 a month — you can support a child in Africa, for example, or South America. That child can eat from that money, get clothes from that money, can go to school from that money. And two of my children — I support this for over 30 years now — two of them now, after 25 years, are doctors in Germany working in a hospital. That shows you they’re educated normally and I could follow them up when they went to university. You can see their whole life. With this organization you can literally see what your money does. It doesn’t go to some guy’s pocket. They build schools and they really educate those children. What I like about it is if you give somebody money every week he just waits for you to bring him that money, and he does nothing; he becomes lazy. But if you educate somebody he can make his own money in the future, then I think that’s the best form of help. So that’s what I’m saying. We did this song to make people aware of WorldVision.com, so if somebody wants to support a child — $25 a month is less than a dollar a day — everybody can spare that.

D: It’s interesting to hear you say all this. It’s very socially conscious and admirable, yet you’re also the guy who wrote a song called “Another Piece Of Meat.”

HR: Well don’t forget one thing, I’m 60 years old now. “Another Piece Of Meat” was also a very true story. I was sitting with this girl in Japan, and she was watching with me a kickboxing fight, where they really hit you and kick you with their feet. And every time the blood was spurting more and more she got more and more excited. So by the end of this horrible experience she said to me, “Hey let’s go, don’t put on a show. You’re just another piece of meat.” And that line, you know, I thought, “That’s the song.” (laughs) So with this song I had the first line and then I wrote the rest. (sings the riff) I said “It must be really hard, a hard riff.” It came immediately. But that goes to show you, I think when you are in your twenties it is great to sing about sex, and f*ck as many girls as you can and all this stuff — you know, it’s all okay. But when you are 60 then I think you have to sing about something else because people simply don’t believe you, if you continue to do the same thing like 40 years ago. (laughs) So I think, you know, that was a good statement. And the other thing, as I said, my philosophy is “take it as it comes.” Because there is not much you can do if you walk out of this hotel now and they are doing a bank robbery across the street here, and you are in the shooting line, well then f*ck, you will be gone in a second. And as I said in the lyrics, by the blink of a second. And you can’t really plan it this much, for me also the security is only in your mind. The reality isn’t up to you and me. If tomorrow someone decides to jump in this tower over here (points out the window) it’s very possible as we all know.

D: Getting back to the new album, the version of “Rock You Like A Hurricane” is quite different from the original. Why did you choose to remake that song from your catalog, and why did you remake it in that style?

HR: Number one, as you know, I’m one of the co-writers of that song. We wrote this song — Rudolf [Schenker], myself, and also Klaus [Meine]. I chose it and said to Rudolf, “We want to make something modern,” and he said “Go ahead, I have no problem with it.” So what I did, I had to write a complete other verse because I am rapping in that, I’m speaking, you know what I mean, and it’s double as many words. So I wrote a complete other verse and I said to Claudia [Raab], my wife, “Don’t play a wild saxophone solo like the guitar solo. Go really down in the middle, make it really quiet just like before a storm breaks loose — a hurricane comes.” That’s what we did. I think the version is very deep and very crunchy and very dirty, you know, that’s what I like about it. You *cannot* touch the original. The original is fantastic; it is great and I don’t even want to compare it with this. This is just Herman wanting to do his own version and having fun with it. And I have a lot of great opinions about it. A lot of people come up to me and say “Oh fantastic, your version,” then I have also hardcore people who come up: “You should have never touched this. You should have never done this.” So it’s all a matter of taste, like anything in life.

D: It threw me for sure. When you start singing so quickly I thought, “Wow, the song is going to be over in about 90 seconds.”

HR: Here you go — that’s what I mean. That’s why I had to write an extra verse in there. In the verse, obviously, I had to make all the words which were needed to fill the gaps.

D: For touring, your Web site said you did one show with the Michael Schenker Group, and another is coming up, and then after a break there’s a full tour coming. Is that right?

HR: Yes. Planning a full tour in October/November, to introduce my new band to the public. There are two possibilities, either I will do a House Of Blues tour, that kind of thing, or we’ll do a package tour where I play maybe with Great White or with Dokken, or any of those guys can go out together. These are the next possibilities I have to talk over with my agent in Los Angeles, in the last week of July.

D: What would you prefer to do?

HR: Knowing me, I would prefer to do a package tour because I could then only concentrate on really one hour and nail it down, and then the next time come back and headline. But at the beginning you need to introduce yourself to the public, and I think with a package tour you reach more people. If there are two bands you draw more people in, you know?

D: That would be fun — as you mentioned some of those guys played with you a number of years ago on the first solo album.

HR: Yeah, I will see them all again [at a July 24 festival] in Oklahoma. I’m sure, you know, when I talk to them directly we can do something. I’ll see what they’re up to; we can make plans and say, “Yeah, let’s go out together.” But it depends who it will be. My agent has the advantage that he has Dokken and he has Great White, for example. He suggested to me that we make a package tour. But with Michael I will be playing only two songs with him, like I did in London.

D: Oh, so you’re sitting in with his band?

HR: Yeah, yeah. What happened was, Michael played a show the second of June — a month ago — in London at the Empire. He invited me, he invited Pete Way, and Paul Raymond from UFO, and he invited Neil Murray from Whitesnake. So we all came down and we each played a song. I played “Lights Out,” and Pete Way played with Paul Raymond “Doctor Doctor,” and Neil also played on each one of those. So I said then to Michael, “I’m in America doing a promotional tour” and he said, “Oh great, when I play in Oklahoma let’s go on stage together again and do one.” So that’s what we’re gonna do.

D: I didn’t realize that. I thought your whole band played.

HR: No, not this time. I think I need to introduce my band first. Ultimately what I want to try first is to get as much radio airplay as possible, so people are aware that I exist again. (laughs) “Okay, Herman is back.” And then it makes sense to come out on tour. Because if I go out now on tour it makes no sense; it’s too early.

D: When you go out live, is the band the same players as on the album?

HR: The same, what you hear on the record, except that I’m probably going to add an American guitar player under the name of James Jackson, who plays guitar in Strikeforce. Otherwise it will be exactly the same band; it’s gonna be my wife Claudia on saxophone, Stefan Erz the singer — a great singer, I think. He’s really, really good.

D: Yeah, he’s got a great voice. What’s his background?

HR: He’s from Munich, you know. He was in a show in Munich called “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He was amazing in there. One night I saw him in a small club in Munich and I knew this guy is made to perform. He looks a mixture between Steven Tyler and Jon Bon Jovi so he’s very good for the girls. And then I have Thomas Perry, who I’ve written now with for over 20 years as you know, he plays guitar and keyboards on there, and then James Jackson would be the lead guitar player. And Jens Peter Abele, the bass player on “Heya Heya,” he will be the bass player.

D: I have to ask this one. You played a little joke on your fans in the TAKE IT AS IT COMES liner notes, where you said there’s a “Mystery Man” playing guitar on “Wipe Out.”

HR: Yeah, on this version, I have a guy whose name is Chris Thompson. He was one of the most requested studio musicians in L.A., and at the time he said to me “Please don’t mention my name because I am gonna have legal problems.” So I said, “Okay, I’ll put you down as ‘Mystery Guitar Player.'” He’s a great player.

D: Thanks for explaining all that. I didn’t understand. I thought maybe the version of “Wipe Out” that’s on TAKE IT AS IT COMES is the version that originally appeared on NIP IN THE BUD.

HR: No, no, the one on NIP IN THE BUD is the original version — the version without the drum solo; there’s a little drum solo in the middle. Then I went through all the mixes I had from that time and I found this one mix, and I said “Wow this sounds much better than the original.” I remember the record company telling me, “No we can’t do a drum solo, this is our single,” and I said okay. But I have the version and mastered it again to make it the same sound to fit on this album, so it sounds like the 2010 version. And I think all the drummers that heard it so far, they all said to me “It is much better than the other one you did in ’84.”

D: Of course. Now how hard was that to take, as a drummer releasing a solo album, to be told that you can’t have a drum solo on there?

HR: Well, it was very hard — I told them to f*ck off at the time, you know, Capitol Records, “You guys have no idea.” But on the other side, you know, the same record company who told me this, the other record company at the time, PolyGram, when they heard the first time “Wind Of Change” they said, “You must take the whistling out.” So that goes to show you. Sometimes you should not listen to them.

D: Yes, that was an interesting story on MY LIFE AS A SCORPION, where you talk about the origins of “Wind Of Change.” I’d never heard that story before.

HR: Yeah, yeah, that is how it came together.

D: You urged Klaus to leave in the whistling?

HR: Well, the thing is when Klaus played me the song the first time he said to me, “What are you thinking?” I said, “Oh, this is the hit.” He looked at me like I’m from the moon. (laughs) I said, “Yeah, why do you want me to find some words there? Leave the whistling. The rest of what you’re saying there is great. I think this song needs nothing. Just leave it like it is.” Then he played it to Matthias [Jabs] and to Rudolf, and they said, “Ah, this song is too lame. We don’t want to play this.” (laughs) This was a one-off shot which became our biggest hit. And don’t forget at the time the wall was falling down, we had in the video President Gorbachev and President Reagan shaking hands. This was the time when the Cold War ended, when Communism ended, when they became capitalists like us, and they had enough of their old system. And a year later, 1990, I played [Pink Floyd’s] THE WALL with Roger Waters, and we were the opening band playing “In The Flesh.” There was 380,000 people sitting there, in No Man’s Land where they killed [people] before — where the [Berlin] Wall was before. This was now a festival. Fantastic experience.

D: That had to be amazing, to live through it and to now be able to share those stories with younger people who are discovering you now.

HR: I had so far very good reaction on the album because they like the rock songs, and there are no albums like this. Each song has something. As I said earlier those songs are all brand new, and for me I love this album and I was really pissed off that it took so long to find a record company. All the record companies, especially the big ones said “Oh Herman, we’ve got no more money, we’re broke, we cannot promote it. Sorry, it’s a great album but we cannot take it. If we take it we’ll only take a single, and if the single fails we’ll drop you.” I said no. I wanted to wait until I have somebody who was excited, and then release it. And it was worth the wait. We made a new cover. On the new cover — me and my wife are very much into vampires — we had the designer make our hair silver and grey. The real color for Claudia, as you can see inside [the booklet] is blond. The artwork is all new; it is completely different. I like it much more. It is much more up to date.

D: It looks like a real solid production. I know you’ve had a few projects over the years but…

HR: But this is *Herman* coming back here now. This is also shows Herman as a producer for the first time — of course I produced for Monaco Records, but this is the first time producing my own stuff. Having this opportunity I could really choose from a lot of songs. I also had the opportunity — Claudia was writing, Thomas was writing, Stefan was writing. Stefan for example, played me all of his songs and I said “That song ‘Freak Show,’ that’s it.” I like the lyrics in there because when you put the TV on in Germany the whole day you see those stupid talk shows where they are sitting, maybe a woman and a guy shouting at each other, “You f*cked me, and this girlfriend, how could you do this? And you f*cked my mother and my brother!” (laughs) And they’re shouting “You owe me this! I’m gonna kill you, bitch!” I mean, what level have we sunk to, you know? Those talk shows have in Germany millions of viewers — that’s how popular they are.

D: That’s terrible. (laughs) Well now, if everyone is writing and you’re going out on tour, are you thinking yet about the next album? Or are you just going to “take it as it comes?”

HR: I’m gonna take it as it comes. Also, you know, if I have the feeling after this promotional tour that I have no reaction on the album in America, then what is the point of coming and touring? That makes no sense to me. This is to me a good opportunity to see the reaction, how people to react to it — so far I’m very happy with it — and I think if they now start playing it on the radio then it makes sense to come and play live to people, because then they know the songs and so on.

D: Well then let’s assume you *are* going to come back to America later this year for a tour. What would you be playing? Would you basically play this whole album, or would you mix in some of your older stuff?

HR: No, I was asked by all the promoters who so far wanted to book me, they said “Herman we want you to play all those Scorpions songs.” So I said “Okay, I’ll play *my* Scorpions songs.” So I will play in my set “Another Piece Of Meat.” I will play in my set for the first time “Passion Rules The Game,” which was *never* played live before by the Scorpions.

D: Wow, I don’t understand that — that’s a great song.

HR: Yeah, it’s a great song. I will of course play my classic song “Blackout.” I will of course play “Rock You Like A Hurricane,” and I was thinking to also make my band do “You Give Me All I Need” from the BLACKOUT album. And of course some classics like “Arizona,” which I wrote, or “Make It Real.” So I have my songs I’m gonna perform live from the Scorpions’ past. Then at the same time I’m gonna play from my new album “Take It As It Comes,” “Let Me Rock You,” “Don’t Lose Your Trust,” “Rough Job,” and “Your Love Is Hurting,” and “Freak Show.” I think also “Wipe Out” and probably “Drum Dance” live. “Drum Dance” will be my live drum solo — the record gives you a little taste of what can be done — but live I will play at great lengths a drum solo.

D: That’s almost the whole album, isn’t it?

HR: I’m gonna play 6-8 songs from the new album and 6-8 songs from the Scorpions’ past. So I have a really good mixture. We’ll hear the Scorpions classics so nobody can say “Why didn’t you play any Scorpions?” Of course I’m gonna play my Scorpions songs, especially the ones that have not been played before, like “Passion Rules The Game” or “You Give Me All I Need.”

-We talked for a while after the tape recorder was shut off, and then headed down to the hotel lobby together; Herman was in search of lunch and I had to get back to work. We had a little Spinal Tap “Hello Cleveland!” moment trying to summon an elevator, though. It never came so we had to take the stairwell, and for a brief instant we thought we got locked in there. Luckily, that wasn’t the case.

Take a look at Herman’s cool interview with WLUP’s Byrd at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDSXmP6YhlY .

Thanks to Chipster PR and Dark Star Records for help with fact-checking.

Relevant links:

Dark Star Records

Herman Rarebell


World Vision

*** OUT ***

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