Last year I watched an episode of That Metal Show, where they do this “throw down” thing of comparing two bands, people, or whatever. That night, they asked who was the best Scorpions guitarist. The choices were Michael Schenker or Uli Roth. And I thought in surprise, “What? How about Matthias Jabs?”
Who is Matthias? He’s the only lead guitarist that most people have heard of among the three, and if you haven’t heard his name or recognize him from photos, you’ve certainly heard his lead guitar performances, including songs with classic opening solos, like “No One Like You” and “Rock You Like A Hurricane”. Just about every single song you’ve heard of from this band has him playing the extremely memorable lead parts.
He’s been in the band since the late 70s, over 30 years. Michael Schenker was in it for one album few care about (their first) and just three songs on another album before quitting. Uli Roth was in the band about 5 years during a period in the 70s when, arguably, if they’d quit after that, few of us would’ve ever heard of them. Ever since, it’s been Matthias, on countless hit songs that are household names, on guitar magazine covers far more often, and with the Scorpions selling out stadiums. His approach helped transform the band’s sound into a powerhouse.
So how is it that the guys (who are hardly experts) on That Metal Show would overlook Matthias like that? It’s bizarre but not without explanation.
My first exposure to Uli Roth and the 70s version of the Scorpions came after hearing the 80s version and several albums of killer stuff, and naively assuming all their albums were like that, so I stupidly bought their earlier discs and was in for a surprise. I never made that mistake again, for the band was basically a different band altogether.
Uli has a huge reputation as a guitarist partly for helping pioneer the neoclassical movement of guitarists adding classical phrases, scales, and other ideas to rock music. His physical technique was arguably ahead of his time and later players like Yngwie Malmsteen.
But what about the music? Tastes and opinions differ, but personally I find the work he did with the Scorpions to be something I want to hear far less often than their later commercial period. I don’t particularly want to hear it. The band as a whole had spottier output. In fact, at times it sounds like two different bands as Uli wrote some songs, and the duo of Rudolph Schenker and Klaus Meine wrote the rest. The difference help prompt Uli’s departure, which paved the wave for the band’s explosion into popularity.
That alone should tell you something. No one can argue that Matthias is responsible for that explosion, because he virtually never writes songs, but Uli’s approach to music, however interesting, would never be popular. He’s had decades to “explode” and never did any more than Michael Schenker.
Is popularity a measure of respect? The general consensus is “no”. If anything, not being popular is considered a sign of authenticity, greatness, and integrity. As a side note, I must conclude that this makes me one of the greatest guitarists ever. 😉
These combine to give Uli high standing, but does it make him their greatest lead guitarist while in the band?
Michael is the younger brother of the Scorpions’ other guitarist and primary songwriter Rudolph Schenker (who seldom does solos and therefore doesn’t figure in the discussion). He earned his reputation as an amazing lead player in the band UFO. And his lead playing is genuinely amazing, but it wasn’t during the Scorpions debut album, and he only did three solos on Lovedrive. I don’t care how good your solos are, no three solos are collectively better than the hundreds by Matthias, who is also great.
Like Uli Roth, he fits a stereotype – the very gifted guitarist who can’t make it big in the United States. His reputation is fearsome, but a reputation earned in other bands doesn’t warrant elevating him over anyone in the Scorpions. Even Rudolph has done more great solos in the band.
I suspect that the esteem causes people to not be objective about his actual contributions and overestimate his work while in the band. He’s done great things since leaving, but that’s irrelevant. I love Michael as much as the next guy, but there’s almost nothing to discuss here.
So why doesn’t Matthias get more respect? He almost never writes songs, and the ones he does are forgettable, costing him esteem. But the question was “who is the best lead player?” Matthias doesn’t use neoclassical stuff or play overly technical leads as some guys do, but that’s a snobby reason to not give him credit. Is it because the band’s output since then has been cheesy? That probably doesn’t help, which is odd, for what do the lyrics have to do with how good the musicians are?
But Matthias’ playing is some of the most melodic, singable, memorable, emotional, and incendiary out there, with some of the greatest guitar solos ever recorded. He sounds effortless and fluid. His tone is great and immediately recognizable. He’s even got a cool image with classic guitars associated with him.
I can’t find a defensible reason he isn’t considered one of the greatest and given more respect. I found his exclusion by That Metal Show to be outrageous and insulting.
Why do I care what the guys on That Metal Show think? I don’t. By their own admission, they’re just three guys from Jersey. But they repeated a lack of respect visited upon Matthias for decades, and I just don’t get it. To me it is without merit. I know this blog won’t change a thing, but I had to say something.
No conversation about “who is the greatest lead guitarist in Scorpions history” can be serious when it excludes Matthias Jabs, the clear frontrunner, the guy whose “victory” in that discussion is his to lose.
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