“Sure, why the hell not?”: The time Scorpions upstaged Van Halen… with the help of the US Air Force

“Five fighter jets flying above the stage and over the mountains just as we started. You could not do that today.”

[L-R] Scorpions' Rudolf Schenker and Eddie Van Halen

Credit: Getty Images

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There’s nothing like the feeling of upstaging Van Halen in their heyday, even more so if you’ve got the US Air Force on your side.

In a new interview, Scorpions guitarist Rudolf Schenker looks back on the time the band managed to steal the show from right under the noses of the reigning godfathers of rock.

The moment took place during the Heavy Metal Day at the US Festival of 1983, which featured Van Halen as headliners and Scorpions second on the bill. Organised by promoter Bill Graham and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, the festival included the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest and a relatively-unknown Mötley Crüe.

According to Schenker, the members weren’t allowed to use their full stage set – as demanded by David Lee Roth and co, beyond a bit of pyro for the show’s opening. The restriction had Scorpions’ tour manager at the time, Bob Adcock, putting a call in to a nearby US Air Force base requesting some fighter jet reinforcements over the festival site at the exact moment the band began their set.

“Sure,” they replied. ‘Why the hell not?’”

“The planes were outstanding,” Schenker tells Classic Rock. “Five fighter jets flying above the stage and over the mountains just as we started. You could not do that today.”

“Van Halen heard about it and weren’t happy.”

Band shenanigans aside, the US Festival appearance also marked a turning point in Scorpion’s career. Love At First Sting, the album they released the following year would go on to produce some of the band’s biggest hits, propelling them to international rockstardom.

“We always wanted to make a better album each time,” Schenker says. “We pushed ourselves: ‘Let’s do it better, let’s do it better.’ With Love At First Sting we did it.”

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