Udo Dirkschneider will be seventy this year. He’s fronted two world-class Metal bands, Accept and U.D.O., with a voice as unique as it is recognisable. With his new album My Way set for release on 22 April, Udo told MetalTalk’s Mark Rotherham how he progressed from the city of steel to the point in his career where a covers album was considered.
Udo has always done things his way. And while the concept of a covers album is nothing new, like everything Udo has done and does, it is built with his own slant. So he really couldn’t call the album anything other than My Way.
“I didn’t plan to do this [My Way] album,” Udo says. “I started off just doing one or two covers, then my producers came up and said, make a list of songs you like, from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. So I made a list and just thought, here we go.
“It was very interesting because on all the songs I played new territory, they were a bit different, and of course, I took my own character to the song. Everybody seems to like it—all these songs I like personally. I was inspired in my career to sing these songs. If I’m connected, it shows on My Way the kind of songs I like. I think it’s a good collection of songs.”
The My Way tracklist includes a Rolling Stones song but no Beatles. When Udo first heard The Stones, he said that The Beatles were wimps from then on. Udo says The Beatles have grown on him over the years.
“We did a Beatles song called I’m Down,” Udo says, “which was the B side to the Help single, but we didn’t get the rights from publishing to put the song on the album. It’s a shame, but what can you do? For me, it’s a real shame it’s not on the album because it was one of the first singles I heard.”
The first single from My Way was We Will Rock You. A great version of the song, the video’s main character, the janitor, shows the aspirational nature of music. The music helps the janitor through his day, he never loses his dream of being a musician, and the music unites everyone around him. Or maybe, this is over-thinking, and We Will Rock You is just a great slice of entertainment.
“I wasn’t sure about the video,” Udo says, “but the producer had the idea that I play every role alone. The barman, DJ, cleaner. So I said, let’s try and see what comes out. What can I say? It’s entertainment. Don’t take everything too serious, you know. No one was expecting a video like this, and the people like it, you know. I think it’s a lot like the fast version of We Will Rock You.”
The other tracks on My Way are close to the original, but with a dash of Udo Heavy Metal style thrown in. The stand out exception is My Way itself. There are some songs that you just don’t mess with.
“Yes, exactly like the Frank Sinatra song, My Way,” Udo says. “We didn’t tour for three years, and that song was our goodbye song onstage. We also had this song on the CD and DVD. The publishers said no, but then they said okay. I think it’s a good ending on the covers album, and I like the song very much.”
Like most music, Udo’s songs are sung around the world in English, even to audiences that don’t speak the language. The Wolfsheim track Kein Zurück is the second single from My Way and finds Udo singing in his native language for the first time. “Let’s just say the language of rock ‘n roll is English,” Udo says, “and for me, it works.”
Kein Zurück, a famous song in Germany, was the exception. “The lyrics for me cover my whole career: good times, don’t look back, look forward,” Uso says. “The plan was to change the lyrics to English, but it didn’t work. So I tried to sing in German, and it was the hardest thing I did. It’s not so easy to do the timing, to spread out the words. It was quite difficult, but in the end, we made it.”
Accept first came together in Solingen, Germany. “I was born in Wuppertal,” Udo says, “Wolf was born in Wuppertal, but the rest of Accept were from Solingen, so that’s where we rehearsed. It’s known as a city of steel. I haven’t played there since we rehearsed with Accept.”
Udo has always been associated with a military-type look, short hair, camouflage outfits, and this is about the look. “In ’82,” Udo says, “we were looking for something different, and it was the idea of the management, based on my movements on stage. Gaby Hoffmann suggested camo. Unfortunately, I also had to cut my long hair, but yeah, here we go, and the look was born.”
A few years ago, Udo suffered burnout and was in hospital. “I was overworked,” Udo says. “I spent three weeks in hospital, then everything was fine. But I had to change a lot of things. I used to do everything on my own, management, promotions, everything. But after that, it all changed, and I stopped doing everything.”
In the middle of the pandemic, U.D.O. played a one-off show for two and a half thousand fans at Plovdiv’s Roman Amphitheatre in Bulgaria. The resulting Bulgaria Pandemic Survival Show album was a great piece.
Full of energy, it was clearly a special, one-off moment in time. “A promoter from Bulgaria asked us to do a show,” Udo says. “There was a pandemic going on, but the show happened. The location was beautiful and perfect, and I said, okay, we’ll do the show.”
The show was two hours of live Metal from one of the hardest working bands out there, and U.D.O. gave their audience a night of caustic entertainment. “When we saw the amphitheatre,” Udo says, “we said come on, we wanna record this, film this. And yeah, when you hear the CD, when you watch the DVD, you can just hear the power.”
As a big fan of Saxon, I was at the London show where Udo’s son Sven helped them out when their drummer was in hospital. What did Sven think of being in Saxon for a while? “I mean, it was interesting,” Udo says. “Sven is normally drummer for me, and then he was in Saxon for a while. But Sven and Saxon did a soundcheck, and Biff asked, can Sven do the shows.”
An U.D.O promotional tour had the potential to sour things. “I was looking for a new drummer as I was on promo tour,” Udo says. “I said to Biff I’m looking for a new drummer, and Biff said, don’t look so far away, he’s right here. If Sven can play Saxon, he can play U.D.O. That was good.”
It is unlikely we will see any songs from My Way played live in the future. “There are no plans for this with U.D.O.,” the singer says, “but maybe we’ll play one or two at the encore. We will see.”
An extensive European tour has been announced, but there are no confirmed plans for the UK. “We are still working on some European shows,” Udo says. “I should be on tour right now, but we have to start again in September. Also, we planned to tour Russia, but now with Ukraine, we cancelled all the shows in Russia. Definitely, there is space for some more shows, so definitely maybe we’ll do some shows in the UK.”
A picture of health, Udo would be considered a pensioner in some countries. He does not look like one, and he does not act like one, so are there any retirement plans? “No. I carry on, that’s me,” Udo says. “I’m healthy, my voice is working, I can tour, so it makes no sense to sit home and drink coffee and watch the weather.”
The energy is still there, and the desire is certainly still there. “I’m looking forward to the future,” Udo says. “We’ve had two years of the pandemic, and it’s been a nightmare. Sure, I’ve had a lot of work in the studio, but also a lot of time doing nothing. I’m looking forward to touring again.”
My Way, by Udo Dirkschneider, is available on 22 April and can be pre-ordered from udo.afr.link/mywayPR. Kein Zurück is available as a 700 copy limited edition vinyl 7-inch, backed with We Will Rock You.
1. Faith Healer (Alex Harvey)
2. Fire (Crazy World Of Arthur Brown)
3. Sympathy (Uriah Heep)
4. They Call It Nutbush (Tina Turner)
5. Man On The Silver Mountain (Rainbow)
6. Hell Raiser (The Sweet)
7. No Class (Motörhead)
8. Rock And Roll (Led Zeppelin)
9. The Stroke (Billy Squier)
10. Paint It Black (Rolling Stones)
11. He’s A Woman, She’s A Man (The Scorpions)
12. T.N.T. (AC/DC)
13. Jealousy (Frankie Miller)
14. Hell Bent For Leather (Judas Priest)
15. We Will Rock You (Queen)
16. Kein Zurück (Wolfsheim)
17. My Way (Frank Sinatra)