These days, you can’t blink without a musical biopic being released. Everyone from the iconic – like Freddie Mercury and David Bowie – to the infamous – we’re looking at you MAYHEM and MÖTLEY CRÜE – has got one. But there’s some icons who’ve stood the test of time and haven’t hit the silver screen. We’ve got a pitch that’s perfect for a biopic, a true heavy metal history lesson with all the drama Hollywood could ask for – and a killer soundtrack to boot. With so many legends lost over the years, there’s few left who have led not one, but two, revolutionary German bands and lived to tell the tale. Yet as he turns seventy, UDO DIRKSCHNEIDER is one of them.
“I didn’t imagine that I would stay that long in this business,” he reflects from his home in Germany, having forged a 50-year career fronting ACCEPT, U.D.O, and DIRKSCHNEIDER. Does he have any secrets to his success? “I think it was a lot of luck, finding the right musicians, finding the right people in the business, and releasing the right music at the right time.”
Having played a part in pioneering European heavy metal in the late seventies and early eighties, you’d forgive Udo for being a bit of a brag. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, he’s a humble human who’s been through the thick of it, but he’s not stopping anytime soon – not unless the higher powers have grander plans.
“A lot of people ask me, when I think I’ll retire and I say no, I don’t want to retire. As long as I’m healthy, my voice is working, and I have fun doing this and I can tour worldwide, there is no way to stop, I don’t want to sit at home and drink coffee watching the weather or whatever.”
Of course, the last two years have been spent at home, drinking coffee, and watching the weather thanks to COVID-19 cancelling every band’s calendar from here to Timbuktu. But Udo doesn’t sit idly staring at the sun, so to pass the time and celebrate his seventieth in true rockstar fashion, he got himself in the studio – and not just once, either.
“This is not normal for U.D.O, we did only four shows in two years – unbelievable,” he exclaims, blowing raspberries at the ridiculousness of such a statement. “I’m also lucky in a way, I had a lot of work in the studio doing a couple of albums, and now we have the cover album My Way.”
That’s right. Seventeen tracks representing seventy years of musical education. Covering everything from sixties psychedelics (THE CRAZY WORLD OF ARTHUR BROWN), seventies glam rock (ALEX HARVEY), and noughties synthpop (WOLFHEIM), this is an album of indulgence. For Udo, My Way is a waltz down memory lane. “I can look back on these songs, I remember with a couple of these songs some really good times seeing these bands – I saw early SCORPIONS live, and I saw Alex Harvey live. It’s really more of a personal thing, and it’s a solo album.”
Stripping away the democracy of a U.D.O. outing, Udo could fill up his bag with all the pick-and-mix he wanted. At the sum of its parts, My Way is a soundtrack to growing up in Germany in the sixties, seventies and eighties. And ALEX HARVEY’s Faith Healer is where it starts. “This song, when I was young and still dancing, a long, long time ago” he chortles, before carrying on, “this song was played everywhere, in every rock disco, rock club, and rock café.”
Whilst ALEX HARVEY and ARTHUR BROWN are arguably icons in their own rights, they’re often lost to the annals of musical obscurity. And it’s for that reason that much of My Way strays from the beaten track that cover albums often follow.
“Normally when people doing cover albums, they’re doing the most famous songs ever – like Smoke On The Water, Highway To Hell, and Paranoid, but I didn’t want that. And sure, Man On A Silver Mountain is quite famous, and a lot of people will know Hell Bent For Leather and No Class by MOTÖRHEAD, blah blah blah, but I also have songs on there from FRANKIE MILLER. It was not important to me to have famous songs on this album, for me it was wanting to do the songs that I like to listen to.”
And that’s why the album’s called My Way. For over fifty years, UDO DIRKSCHNEIDER has done everything his way without compromise, and this album is no different. Whether it’s sharing his secret love for TINA TURNER or singing in his mother tongue for the very first time, no stone is left unturned here. After fifty years, he’s still reinventing his own wheel.
“Another very important song for me is the German song [Kein Zurick by WOLFSHEIM] that I did which is the first time I’ve ever sung in my mother language. That was too easy to do, it’s completely different to English – that was the most heavy stuff I’ve had to do in the studio.”
But Kein Zurick’s importance to UDO DIRKSCHNEIDER goes beyond braving his mother tongue. It’s lyrical themes struck a chord that’s resonated deep in his soul since the first time he heard it, he explains. “It talks about good times, bad times, don’t look back, look always forward, you know, you cannot change the past, it’s just the future that’s important.”
Whilst looking to the future lies at the core of Udo’s career, it’s hard not to look back at the past. Not only is he turning 70 this year, but ACCEPT’s Restless and Wild turns 40. Arguably the album, alongside 1983’s Balls To The Wall, that broke the band into heavy metal’s upper echelons. But other than continuing to throw a few cuts in to U.D.O.’s live set, he’s planning on keeping history in the past.
“Still, I have good memories about my old band. I was creating ACCEPT with [engineer and original guitarist] Michael Wagener together a really long time ago, and now I’ve been doing U.D.O since 87, longer than I did ACCEPT yet people still compare me. Everyone says I’m the world of ACCEPT, and yeah, of course I am, it’s history, but this is over, I’m always looking forward. Sure, it was a great time, everything was perfect, but you can’t compare the 80s to what we have in the business now, it’s completely different worlds.”
For someone hitting their seventies, having spent fifty of them firing on all cylinders in the music industry, UDO DIRKSCHNEIDER has truly stood the test of time. But not only that, as My Way proves, he continues to pave the way and tread new ground to inspire a new generation of heavy metal heroes.
My Way is out now via Atomic Fire Records.
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