INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJALA AND JARNO HUOVILA
PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA AND ARCHIVES
Francis Buchholz played with the Scorpions for almost twenty years, appearing on the “Fly to the Rainbow” (1974), “In Trance” (1975), “Virgin Killer” (1976), “Taken by Force” (1977), “Tokyo Tapes” (1978), “Lovedrive” (1979), “Animal Magnetism” (1980), “Blackout” (1982), “Love at First Sting (1984), “World Wide Live” (1985), “Savage Amusement” (1988) and “Crazy World” (1990) albums. By the early ’90s, Francis felt it was time to take a step away from the constant touring and the music business as a whole. Francis has finally returned to stages with his old friend and fellow ex-Scorpions member Uli Jon Roth. We managed to sit down with Francis as he, among other things, recounted the confusing happenings surrounding the very successful “Love at First Sting” (1984) album as well as his activities for the past fifteen years away from the public eye and much more.
ULI JON ROTH BAND
You’ve just finished the first show of tour, how was it?
I feel great because we haven’t played for some time, the last show that we did was in August in Italy, and we then took September and October off, so this was the first show of this European tour. Sometimes you have to think about how a certain song goes, but everything worked out fine. I was quite happy.
You played quite a long show, well over two hours. Are you going to play this long every night of the tour?
We always play too long. It’s fun. We play for two hours, two and a half hours sometimes.
How did you get back into playing live with Uli?
Uli called me last year, he had moved from England back to Germany, and he was putting together a new band and called me up and asked if I would play bass, and I said yes. That’s the whole story. You may know that Uli and I played together before the Scorpions, so we know each other very well, but Uli left the Scorpions. I continued to play with them. We didn’t see each other because he was pursuing his solo career and the different things he wanted to do, and I was busy touring all the time or being in the studio. So we lost contact, but when we met again, it was like meeting someone you met just yesterday, you know?
You and Uli also played some shows with former Scorpions drummer Jurgen Rosenthal a little while ago?
Yes, we played two shows. Uli, Jurgen Rosenthal, and I had a band, and we basically joined Scorpions or what remained of the Scorpions at that time, which was Rudolf Schenker and Klaus Meine.
How familiar were you with Uli’s older solo stuff, Electric Sun, for example, before you joined his band?
I have all the albums. Uli gave me the albums in the ’80s, so I know the songs, but I had to learn them.
Did you have to relearn the old Scorpions stuff when you joined Uli’s band?
Basically, I didn’t have to relearn anything. I just had to get my fingers going again. But the memory was still there. I remembered everything. Except, of course, some of the new stuff we’re doing, like the first song that we play, “Sky Overture” I have some notes on the floor to see what the next chord is if I need to. We also did a very new song for the first time, one that we only rehearsed for the first time five days ago, last Friday.
The new Uli Jon Roth Band album will probably be out by next summer?
We’ve just started doing some songs, but we’re not very fast. We originally wanted to have the album finished by now, but we’re slow, and I can’t make any promises. I hope we will have it out soon.
About this year’s Wacken Festival, Uli’s band was originally supposed to play there also, but he didn’t play in the end. What happened?
I don’t know. I think it was some political thing. This question should be answered by the people who were organizing this; I personally don’t know. We were told that we were going to play. I was looking forward to playing there with Uli before the Scorpions, and all of a sudden, we heard that we were not playing and that Uli would only be playing a couple of songs with the Scorpions. I would have loved to play. I think I know why we didn’t.
Can you briefly tell the best and worst things about being in the Scorpions?
We had so many great moments that I can not say that this was the greatest or that it was the greatest. Of course, the Peace Music Festival in Moscow was a great day, a great moment, but so were all the other shows. We did so many great shows, thousands of shows. Sometimes, you play great shows in tiny cities, and then again, you play in a big place, which is very important, and you have all these people and press, and then you play not that well, you know. I’d rather play great and not worry about the business stuff, so I can not really say which is the best or the worst show.
Do you have a favorite Scorpions tour?
I’ll tell you this: when I play well, I’m very happy and feel great. When I play shitty, this happens sometimes, or if I play 5% under what I can play, then I think it was not such a great gig even if everybody else is telling, “You played a great show!”
When you did the “World Wide Live” live album, you didn’t play any of the old ’70s stuff. Why was that?
Because when Uli left the band, nobody could play the stuff he had played, so we didn’t play the songs.
Speaking of Uli leaving the band, after he was gone, the band’s sound changed. Was it a conscious decision to go into a new, I guess, heavier direction, or would it have happened anyway?
I don’t know. Uli left because he wanted to do his own thing. He didn’t feel comfortable in the band anymore because he was too limited and wanted to go in a different direction. So he felt that he should do his own thing and leave the band. I was very unhappy about that because I always respected him as a great musician, and we lost a great guitar player and a wonderful human being. I put an ad in a London music magazine, “A German heavy rock band looking for a lead guitar player.” and we looked through over a hundred guitar players, auditions, you know. Sometimes the person opens the door, comes in, and knows right away that this is not the guy we want even before he plays. So we ended up not finding anybody, and I knew that there was a great guitar player in Hannover, Matthias Jabs, who I had helped with mathematics in school, making some money on the side. We didn’t make so much money at the time, so I thought of children and youngsters’ mathematics. So I told them that I knew this guy who played great guitar and tried him. The others thought we should get someone from America or England, but he came to a rehearsal. He fit in and could play everything, so that’s how Matthias came in. And because you have different chemistry, different people, and then the sound of these different people, you hear on the album that you have groups. The same happened when I left the group. I listened to the next album, “Face the Heat,” and it’s totally different. It sounds different.
But that was not the first time that you had left the band, was it?
I left for the first time. In every band, you sometimes have problems, good times, and bad times.
I am referring to the “Love at First Sting” album when Bobby Rondinelli and Jimmy Bain briefly replaced you and Herman. Would you tell me what really happened back then?
By that time, we were recording the album in Stockholm, and before we went to Stockholm, I had disagreements with Herman, our drummer. He’d say “Aw, Francis dadadaa….” and our producer at that time I had made a new contract but also had some problems with and it was on my shoulders, so he didn’t like me, I think, I’m not sure, we never talked about it. I found out that I wasn’t playing bass for some reason that happened behind my back. So I went with Scorpions to the studio in Stockholm, and there this guy comes in, Jimmy Bain [ex-Rainbow, ex-Dio], and I say “Great, a new bass player!”. I was sitting at the mixing desk all the time with the engineer, and the producer and Jimmy played bass, but Herman couldn’t get along with his drums, and then everyone went, “You must get a new drummer!” so the next guy [Bobby Rondinelli] comes in. We listened to the recordings and called up our producer, Dieter Dierks, when we returned to Germany. I called Herman and said, “Listen, guys, we should try to work together again. It doesn’t make sense to let the Scorpions go a different way. This is not, in my opinion, the Scorpions anymore.” The fact of that matter is that Herman and I became friends again and worked with just the bass and drums in a studio in Hannover for the whole album, we played all the songs, just bass, and drums. Then we called our producer and said, “Listen, we should rerecord everything, we know every note, everything we wanna play. We want to start from scratch.” and because the guitars and the singing from Stockholm were not usable anyway, they wanted to redo everything. The only things recorded halfway properly in Stockholm were the bass and drums, but the other guys were not us. So Herman and I went back into Dieter Dierks’ studio, and we re-recorded everything, and then they put the guitars and vocals on top.
That was a good decision as the album went on to be very successful.
Yeah, I think that one is one of my favorite albums because I put so much fight into it.
It took a long time to make the next album, “Savage Amusement.” Was there a lot of pressure concerning the album after “Love at First Sting”?
It took some time, with “Savage Amusement,” other problems in the background, some other business discussions, which is why we couldn’t record. We didn’t do anything for one year, but it was good, sometimes you need to get a break. Sometimes as an artist, you cannot work like touring, studio, touring, studio, etc… This is very hard. Sometimes you come to a point where you can’t do it anymore. This business is full of contracts and stuff, so it’s sometimes better to have a break.
With the “Savage Amusement” album, you did one of your biggest tours?
Actually, on the first headlining tour, I’m talking about America, a very important market. And market-wise, I’m not talking about Europe now, in America our first headlining tour was on “Love at First Sting,” and after that, we did the “Savage Amusement” tour, which was a huge tour as well and possibly the biggest and then the “Crazy World” tour.
“Crazy World” included maybe the biggest Scorpions hit song, “Wind of Change.” Do you have any memories from the making of that particular album?
We recorded this album in Los Angeles, but we only kept the bass and drums from the LA recordings after returning to Europe.
Keith Olsen was the producer, wasn’t he?
Yes, Keith Olsen was the producer, Dieter Dierks didn’t produce that album, he producer all the other albums before, but Keith Olsen produced this album in his studio in Los Angeles. We didn’t keep the guitars and the vocals, but we kept the bass and drums and re-recorded the guitars and vocals in Holland in a studio with Keith Olsen, but possibly should have kept some of the recordings from LA, I don’t know.
After the tour, something went wrong between you and the guys, or was it during the tour?
After eighteen years of touring, I was quite fed up with touring, I liked playing live and traveling, but there’s a downside to all that, you live out of a suitcase. We always stayed at great hotels and traveled in limousines so that I couldn’t complain. My last concert was in Japan in December, and then in the spring in March, my twin girls were born, so I had to make up my mind about what I wanted to do. At the same time, we were having some business problems. We had new people coming in, management people that I personally didn’t like and couldn’t get along with. So from my point of view, they created problems, and I said I didn’t want that, and then all of a sudden I found out that the band was on one side and I was on another side. That was in 1992.
How much input did the band have into the great music videos you did, especially in the ’80s?
We always picked a great video director because there wasn’t enough time to work on concepts and stuff when we were on tour. I should play bass and not be a video director, so it’s smart to get a good director who takes care of all these things. You can talk about ideas, but in the end, it’s down to the video director how the video will look.
How about album covers? There were some weird ones. How much did the band have input into those?
Some were controversial. Which one do you mean?
Virgin Killer mainly.
Nowadays, I wouldn’t want something like that. At that time, times were different.
So was it the record company that decided the covers?
This was the record company, the guy who did the cover design, it was his daughter or his niece, and they did this photo and said they had this great idea.
If you did that today, you probably get in jail, “laughs.”
It’s possible. Times have changed. We felt it would go with the lyrics and the title, but I don’t want it printed anymore. Now we can do a different design.
How about the album “Animal Magnetism”? That cover is also kind of “different”?
Yeah, we had the title. I think Herman came up with it, “Animal Magnetism,” and we all liked it because it’s an interesting title. So we had this guy Strom (?) who was doing album covers for Pink Floyd. I think he did the one with the guy with the flames. So Strom came up with the “Animal Magnetism” cover idea, I personally didn’t like it, but the rest of the band loved it. I liked the dog, though.
Do you see any chance of you working with the Scorpions ever again in the future?
If there is a chance, I don’t know.
We spoke with Herman Rarebell last year, and he said that he might do some songwriting with the Scorpions, and Uli said that he would probably do something with them. Do you think you may ever work with them again?
Everything is possible. If somebody can walk on the moon, you never know what might happen in the future.
But wouldn’t it be great to have that classic lineup do something together again?
Absolutely, because this lineup was, as you said, the classic lineup, it would be great. We could do great shows. But you know, as long as we have business people in the background who don’t get along with me, I will not be in the band.
LIFE AFTER SCORPIONS…
You’ve been out of the music scene for a long time. A lot of fans must have wondered what you’ve been doing these past fifteen years?
I had time off from playing onstage because with the Scorpions, I went on the road for almost twenty years living out of suitcases, and for me, it was time to step back from being on the road because I also have my family and children that I wanted to look after. I worked as a music publisher, I did management for bands and things like that, I had my PA company, so I was quite busy doing different things than what I had been doing before.
Did you touch your bass at all during those fifteen years, or did you totally quit playing?
No, no, I still played, but I didn’t play in public. I needed some time to step back and refresh my relationship with music again.
Do you have any contact with the current Scorpions guys, Rudolf Schenker and Klaus Meine, at this point?
No, I don’t have any contact, they are doing their thing, and I’m doing mine.
How about Herman Rarebell?
I spoke with him the last time, I think, one year ago on the phone. I visited him when he still lived in southern France, and we did some recordings together.
Speaking of Herman, he mentioned that there’s a lot of video material of the Scorpions from the ’80s that hasn’t been released?
There’s a lot of stuff that has still not been released.
Do you think that it will get released someday?
I hope so, but it’s not in my hands, you know. The band has it in their control, and they have to get it done to look through all the reels and all the cassettes and all the film.
Ok. This is the very last question… Did you ever get offered to play in any other bands after you left the Scorpions?
I got asked by some people, but at that time, I was not ready to go and do it anymore. I had the possibility to do things, but I didn’t want to, not for musical reasons or personal reasons, but I just needed the time off. To do it for the money? No, I play for fun.
Ok Francis, thanks for your time and see you later.
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