FRANCIS BUCHHOLZ was the bassplayer in the Scorpions for nearly twenty years,
featuring on all their classic albums from
Fly To The Rainbow right up to Crazy World.
Now he's back playing bass with
DREAMTIDE on the album
DREAM AND DELIVER. GET READY TO ROLL! spoke to Francis about his role in the recording and production
of the new album, and also about his break-up from the band
which had been such a major part of his life since 1973.
• • • • •
Hi Francis - first of all, tell us what led to you joining Dreamtide, and for how long now have you been in the band?
The first time ever I heard about Dreamtide was during the European and USA Tour 2006, which I did together with Uli Jon Roth. Our singer Olaf Senkbeil gave me his iPod and said: "Listen to this, that is my band Dreamtide!" I listened to Olaf's little band and was impressed by great songs, extraordinary guitar work and singing. Then, after coming home from touring with Uli, I met Dreamtide's guitar player Helge Engelke at a party of a friend of mine. I had known Helge as the lead guitarist in "Fair Warning" for a couple of years already. I've been friends with their bassplayer Ule Ritgen and his brother Klaus, who is Fair Warning's manager, since the seventies. At this party Helge and I discussed Dreamtide's music for the first time and he invited me to his studio in the summer of 2007 to listen to some of their new stuff. I went there and I was - again - impressed. I told Helge that I liked the songs very much and that I was interested in becoming involved in the production of the new Dreamtide album. We started off and had a great time working together on ideas and sounds. After a couple of weeks it turned out that Dreamtide's former bassplayer was not available for the recordings. Helge asked me whether I would take over and do the bass parts, and because I liked everything with this band I started working on the bass lines. That's the whole story.
By the time you joined Dreamtide, the songs for this album were pretty much all written. There are obvious comparisons with Fair Warning but in what ways have you put your own mark on the songs (in the recording, production etc)?
All the songs were already written and recorded in advanced demo versions. The final versions have come a long way from a couple of chords and some vocal idea to a finished hit record. I like contributing with arrangement ideas and fine tuning of the compositions. I like getting the best performance out of an artist. This can only be achieved in a positive and creative working atmosphere without any pressure. And of course no drugs! I want the recordings to touch my feelings and I like working in a team. To me it is important to work with songs I really like. So I helped select the "right" songs for "Dream And Deliver". I liked these songs in their rough demo versions already. But to me it is very important that their final recordings and mixes come across even better. Regarding my own mark, I believe that my mark on the songs is my bass playing and my influence in the producion and mixing of "Dream And Deliver".
The album's been out a while already in Japan - what has been the response there?
I am happy with the response. The album started in the international album charts at position 14, which - in my judgement - is very good for a German rock band. Of course we could not outsell Madonna or other famous international pop artists!
What are your personal favourite songs from Dream And Deliver, and why?
I am a father of three children. Whom do I like most? The answer is simple: I love every child for its own personality. The same applies to the songs on "Dream And Deliver". When we started working on the material, I was impressed by the lyrics and the guitars in the song "Tell Me How It Feels". I thought "How can we lift everything to that emotional level?" But soon all the other songs emerged. Every song got recorded with emotion and technical skills. I am proud to say that we have been able to record 14 songs, each with its own identity and its own musical and emotional highlights. If - by the end of the recording process - I had liked one song less, I would have insisted in working on that particular song in order to move it to the same level with the others.
Who first inspired you to become a bassplayer? And what bassplayers do you think have contributed most to the world of music over the last forty years?
I started out playing guitar in my high school band. Because I wanted to upgrade my instrument, I took a job distributing the Hannover daily newspaper to households. I had to get up at four thirty in the morning before school started. Originally I wanted to buy a solid body guitar with a red sparkle design. In the musical instruments shop, which I passed every morning on my bike, I then saw a great looking Framus Star Bass, solid body sunburst, similar looking to the Fender Precision Bass, but affordable to a fifteen year old boy making little money. I fell in love with that Framus Bass and bought it with the money earned from that newspaper job. The bass came in a grey hard shell case with dark red plush interior.
From then on I played bass. And because everybody wanted to play guitar those days there was a lack of bass players. So all of a sudden I was a very sought after musician! Even though I was a beginner with no experience at all, I got offers from many bands. I did not mind about styles: Rock, Top Forty Songs, Jazz, Blues. I learned and played all styles and loved it. Inspiration? I got my inspiration from listening to black music, rock, top forty songs and even jazz. In every record, in every radio broadcast I heard bassplaying I could learn from. Playing is fun - and I was lucky to get paid for having fun! Soon I was able to afford my first real Fender Precision Bass and even a huge Ampeg SVT stack. All this inspired me to keep on playing. But most important to me was always that music should be fun, not a money machine.
Your question about contribution of bass players to the world of music: Of course, there are bassplayers who have contributed more than others. But I could not name them, because I do not know their backgrounds. Some bassplayers are not recognized for being great instrumentalists, but they contribute in other ways to the music. Did Paul McCartney contribute more with great playing or with his compositions? More with his singing or with his abilities in getting everything together? I do not know the answer to these questions. But he for sure belongs into that list. If you want a list, into that list also belong those great Motown style bassplayers from the sixties, who made you dance with their playing. What I mean is, that it is most important to contribute to the song. Styles and fashions come and go. And you get to have your own sound which depends on the way you hit the strings, your instrument, your amplifier, the way everything gets recorded in the studio, and your imagination.
As you mentioned earlier, you played bass for Uli Jon Roth on his American and European tours in 2006. What was it like being back at work with your ex-colleague and would you do it again?
Yes, it was great being back on stage, playing in front of an audience again! We had a wonderful working relationship and Uli is a real friend of mine. I would always work with him again! But right now he has a different band called "Sky Of Avalon", playing a different style from what my direction is. I've known Uli since he was fifteen. At that time I already played in quite a well-known band in our hometown Hannover and Uli used to show up at our concerts asking: "May I join you for a session?" He was excellent in playing Johnny Winter's version of "Johnny B Goode" and Ten Years After's "Going Home". Uli was able to reproduce those ultra fast guitar solos absolutely perfect. And he still can do it today, when you ask him! The shows we did together in 2006 went great musically and personally. We gave lots of encores and the atmosphere within the band was just wonderful.
How come you left The Scorpions? Was it your own decision or a band decision?
The decision was half mine, half the band's. We could not go on like that any more. Why did I leave? Four years before I left, Scorpions were booked into a fantastic stadium tour in the USA. Van Halen was headlining and we played directly before them at about eight o'clock in the evening, which was a very good spot to have. Metallica played before us. We had about 30 shows with an average attendence of about 30,000 fans per show. That was absolutely great. But directly after the beginning of this tour it was decided that we would fire our New York based management CCC. And while everybody was having a great time at the hotel pools during times off, I spent my time on the phone talking to Dick Asher, who was president of PolyGram Records (which is Universal Records today) in New York. Our album "Savage Amusement" had just been released and thousands of promotional activities had to be coordinated between the New York record company and us.
I realized that we were in a desperate need of professional American management again. Asher suggested that Doc McGhee - being the Bon Jovi manager at that time - would take over the worldwide management of the Scorpions. Asher gave me a phone number and I talked to Doc explaining the situation. I invited him to fly in from his golf training in Canada. The other guys in the band liked him, we all shook hands and everything worked out smoothely in the following time. But just a few years later the rest of the band suddenly decided to fire our lawers and tax advisers, even though nobody - except me - had really cared about all these day to day business affairs. In other words, nobody really seemed to understand how important a working business structure is for an international touring band. I was not willing to change everything around again.
I was also not willing to have chaos in the middle of an examination done by our German tax-authorities, which took place at that time. I preferred to spend my time being musically creative and I needed time for my family. It did not make sense to fire people who had done their best. But new people were brought in: An additional manager to McGhee, a new lawyer and a new tax consulting company. I am a team player and I like to stick with people who are delivering high quality work. Consequently I was confronted with the question either to accept these new and as yet quite unexperienced people in the music industry, whom the band wanted, or to leave. On top of it, I felt that some of these new people were definitely not on my wavelengh, they did not seem to fit my ambitious expectations. The decision was not easy. But - being a father to a little boy already - I became father of twin girls at that time. A life out of a suitcase is not really compatible with my understanding of a healthy family life. Sometimes you've got to follow your heart.
Can you remember the very last show you did with The Scorpions? Was it clear for you that it was indeed the last show, and if so, what feelings did you have about that, during and after the set?
My very last Scorpions show took place in the sold out Festival Hall in Osaka, Japan. That is an acoustically very well designed concert hall, so we had a great sound on stage. It was the last show of the our successful "Crazy World Tour", which went through Europe, North America and Japan. Our Album "Crazy World" received gold and platinums status in many countries, I still have all these awards at my house. The band played well in Osaka that evening and our promoter for Japan, the one and only Mr. Udo, invited us to a dinner in some exquisite restaurant after the show. He sat right next to me and we were having an interesting conversation. I should have left more room for my colleagues to talk with him. It was definitely not clear to me that Osaka was my last show. To me it was just the last show of our world tour. Last shows give me a feeling of sadness that it is all over, everybody goes back home and you do not know if you'll see the crew members again at the next tour. It is a bye-bye to all these professionals, some of them becoming real friends with you. At the same time last shows also give me a feeling of happiness, because from that moment on I will have time to see my family and friends at home again.
Hopefully Dreamtide will soon get a chance to tour. Is it likely there will be any Scorpions songs in the set, and if so, which ones?
On the tour I did with Uli Jon Roth, we played a couple of Scorpions' songs we had recorded together in the past, which was fun. But Dreamtide is no platform for me the revive the past. Dreamtide will perform just Dreamtide songs.
Dreamtide is based in Hannover, Germany. Numerous rock bands have come from that city (or at least lived there), such as Fair Warning, Eloy, Victory, Michael Schenker, Jane, Fargo, Terry Hoax, Fury In The Slaughterhouse, Harlis, Thunderhead, and of course Uli Jon Roth and the Scorpions. Most of these had deals with major record companies. Hannover is also the home of SPV, one of the biggest independent record companies in the world, and also had one of the first big-time PA companies (Rock Sound). And it was the first German city to have professional rehearsal rooms that bands could rent out for hours or days only, such as Beatbox. What do you think it is about Hannover that has made it become such a musically creative and innovative city?
People might not know that I founded Rock Sound in 1978 together with a friend of mine who was also a bassplayer. Before joining the Scorpions I studied machine and electric engineering at Hannover University. So, by my nature I was always very interested in the technical side of the band and took care of their PA equipment, just for fun. But then the band decided to sell all their PA because it was not state of the art any more. My playthings were gone! But with Rock Sound we got credited by my bank to buy new sophisticated equipment. Soon Rock Sound became bigger and bigger. And when the Scorpions did not have enough money to pay for their crews during times off, they were jobless. With Rock Sound I was able to provide jobs for the crew when Scorpions was not touring.
Later Rock Sound co-ordinated logistics for Scorpions, which helped a lot to get the band to the next level. In the middle of the eighties a sub division of Rock Sound became Scorpions' European manager and Michael Schenker's manager also. At that time it was also arranged that Peter Knorn's band Victory supported Scorpions on shows in the USA. You'll see, here in Hannover we all stick together! And because Rock Sound provided PA Equipment - and later lights as well - for many different famous artists it was a service from Rock Sound to provide rehearsal space for these artists. That surely gave an initial push to rehearsal room suppliers like Beatbox and others.
Also, Hannover is a city with 500,000 inhabitants. It is not too small and also not too large. Bands have always competed against each other here in Hannover. There was a club downtown named "Maulwurf" (translated into English: "Mole") where all the musicians met. When Jane, Eloy (with former Scorpions drummer Jürgen Rosenthal) and Scorpions became quite big in Germany in the 70s many other Hannover bands thought by themselves: "We can do the same!"
Tell us about 'Bass Magic'. Is it still available? Any plans to write anymore instructional books or make an instructional video?
I was very proud when it came out because I felt I had put so much knowledge into "Bass Magic". Right now I have no plans for writing another book. I am collecting ideas though. Possibly in a couple of years from now. Do you remember "The Shadows", a guitar-band from the sixties? They had a song which I always liked entitled "The Rise And Fall Of Flingelbunt". That would make a great book title. Just joking...!
What have been the proudest moments and personal highlights in your career so far?
First of all I must say that I am a lucky man. I have such a long list of moments and highlights, that it is impossible to put them in order. Of course, highlights are the more than fifty gold and platinum record awards received for extraordinary Scorpions' record sales. Getting such an award made me very proud every time. But these highlights are just a sign for the acceptance of our audience buying our records. To me every single concert was a highlight - exept for a few when things did not work out as usual. Also, it is very special to play in so many different countries.
And it is a very special experience working hard on a project like The Scorpions and moving this initially unknown band from the middle of nowhere to the top internationally and to play all these impressive shows in large arenas and stadiums.
Last week I visited friends in Frankfurt and their children showed me a live performance of the Scorpions at the US Festival at Los Angeles in 1984, which they had taken from YouTube. I listened to my bass lines and discovered, yes, I had played the bass lines exactly the way they should have been played. Watching this live recording, I felt the positive power which came across those days, the unity we were able to create live on stage. Seeing that on TV was a proud moment for me after all these years.
But career highlights do not need to be on that extraordinary level only. A new personal highlight to me was the recording of Dreamtide's album "Dream And Deliver" because of the great relationship within the band and the great result we were able to achieve.
And after being in one of the most successful bands ever, with a huge collection of gold discs and awards, what is the best advice you can give to anyone who wants to reach the same levels?
Believe in what you are doing, do it for fun, work hard and stay away from drugs. But it also requires a good team, creativity, people believing in you and your work, taking care of business, reliability, and last but not least, luck!
© Get Ready To Roll - 5th September 2008