With whiskey and cigarettes, the Hamburg musician legend Achim Reichel (“Aloha heja he”) was the only passenger on a container ship to complete his autobiography, which also documents a piece of music history. In “Ich hab ‘das Paradies” the 76-year-old takes the reader to St. Pauli in the post-war years, tells of his rise with the Rattles to the center of local beat music, of friendships and enmities with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and his never boring solo career. Reichel looks back on his life with a mischievous smile. In a conversation with ntv.de it seems a bit as if he himself could not believe how many happy coincidences life had in store for him – and keeps.
ntv.de: Mr. Reichel, your life started turbulent. It all began in the hail of bombs during World War II.
Achim Reichel: Of course I have no recollection of it myself, but there was this basket in my parents’ house that was scorched all around. When I asked my mother about it, she told me that I was always carried into the bunker in it. I felt very different, and it ran down my spine.
Was it a happy childhood in St. Pauli?
Nice. I had no means of comparison. The long chimneys and mast tips of the sunken ships peeked out of the water in the harbor basin, there were gaps in houses and ruins everywhere. It was an adventure for us children. My father was a seaman and died early. But he bequeathed me the tendency to distant worlds and the realm of fantasy. At school my head was always somewhere else, but at some point it was good for something.
Her early passion was soccer.
I was a goalkeeper at FC St. Pauli, second boys team. I could have become a good footballer too, I was pretty good. My big sister was with Hans Wehrmann, he was a real number in the club.
What was the initial spark rock’n’roll?
When I heard Little Richard’s “Lucille” and “Tutti Frutti” it was the first time I got goosebumps from music. I thought: what kind of person is that? I found the rhythm and the singing, which wasn’t for adults, irresistible. Back in the 50s Germany was still completely hit country.
You met your idol too …
Yes. When the Rattles toured England with Little Richard in 1963, the first thing he asked when he got on the tour bus was: “Am I beautiful?” And I just thought: is he serious? Who is he doing this for? He was a quirky guy, but he was a big guy too. In any case, that broadened my horizons when it came to megastars.
Weren’t you disappointed?
A little. It wasn’t until much later that I was able to realize for myself what it meant with the racism background in the USA to be a star, but then still have to use the back entrance of the hotels. Chuck Berry, my other idol, was also a colored man. What must that have done to these people! When they came to Europe, as Miles Davis once said about his visit to Paris, suddenly everyone was normal and nice to them. In this respect, the blacks felt comfortable here because they noticed: They are not constantly being humiliated.
Was your later reunion with Little Richard more enjoyable?
That was really decades later in Munich. He stayed a little more on the carpet, was downright private, and he kept the assembled press waiting for our conversation. What impressed me deeply was that he could remember every detail from before. I guess I had misjudged him.
“The Rolling Stones feared us,” says your book.
(laughs) The Stones thought they were the only band on the tour in England besides the solo stars. And then there are guys from the Hamburg “Star Club” – they felt disturbed. The fact that we then played the same pieces by Chuck Berry caused real trouble. It needed an arbitrator. It was already evident then that Mick Jagger was more of a businessman than a musician. The Stones were definitely afraid for themselves.
At the end of your book, thank John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The Rattles opened for the Beatles on the Bravo Blitz tour. What memories do you have of it?
I still remember looking from the stage in Munich and thinking: What’s going on here? There were old stars like Abi Ofarim and Lou van Burg at the front, and behind them it was all about going crazy. Beatles manager Brian Epstein was pissed off because he liked us too well. The next day in Dortmund it was said: The Rattles have to start, they are not allowed to play directly in front of the Beatles. They were now at a point in their career where every minute was scheduled. It was no longer like in the “Star Club” times, when we sat together in the Kiez pub “Gretel & Alfons” and talked nonsense.
You have played with the Rattles several times at the legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool.
Liverpool was a torn city back then. In some pictures it looks as if we have parked our belt bus on a field of rubble. The fact that the girls in front of the stage were screaming and going crazy in England was of course a sublime feeling for us. But on the tour with Little Richard, the Everly Brothers and the Stones, we often had to sleep in four-bed rooms. There was nothing with an after show party and great, we are the stars! Our bass player Herbert called it the bone mill.
Why didn’t the Rattles pursue an international career?
We had the offer to move to England several times, the label Decca wanted to provide us with a villa, we should then be produced and managed there. But we felt obliged Manfred Weiss leather from “Star-Club”. And who are the Searchers or the Tremolos today? The Beatles and Stones are the only really big ones. The rest are nostalgic acts. I never wanted to belong there.
It was all 60 years ago.
For me it was a golden decade. That can never happen a second time. That was the first real youth culture. It was music that the parents found impossible and the kids awesome. And the record, whether single or LP, was simply a working medium. It was electrifying when you pulled the vinyl off the cover. It was all brand new and it spread all over the world in no time. And then to have the feeling that somehow I also belong a bit is great.
The FAZ described you as the first superstar in Germany. What is it like to go down as a legend in the German music history books?
It just happened that way. (laughs)
After leaving the Rattles, you tried a lot: everything from krautrock to poetry and shanties to bluesy songs in German was there – and often crowned with success.
It was clear to me early on that there wasn’t a lot here that existed anywhere else in the world. And then I did it in Germany. At some point I said to myself: One hit a decade is actually enough. Then the record companies always give you a chance. There is no album of mine that was not in the charts. But I’ve always been a midfield artist – and I thought that was a good thing. Then not so many people want something from you. I’m a Nordic stubborn man.
If you will, you even invented Santiano with your German-speaking shanties.
Peter David Sage from Santiano, who played in my band for a long time, would certainly say yes (laughs). At that time it was wonderful to talk to Peter about the discouragement and alienation from one’s own culture in Germany. He is British and always said: “You have to get this back.” And I said: “I’ve been trying that all the time.” Of course, not everyone liked that. Some asked me: “Aren’t you afraid of being classified on the right?”
You have never had scandals. What has preserved it to go off the rails?
It was always the women! I’ve been a pretty rowless guy for a long time, just having talent, instinct, and luck. But that was by no means consolidated or sovereign. Just when the “Star Club” started and the light ladies began to be interested in us, you could easily have slipped into the milieu. When you’re young, you feel so invulnerable – it’s dangerous. I’ve seen some crashes. But somehow you got the curve to become a character with a solid personality.
You call your wife the greatest inspiration. Is there a song that wouldn’t have come about without her?
Quite a lot! “The night has many stars” is one of them. It’s a cliché that behind every great guy there is an even better woman, but that’s the way it is. My wife Heidi is extremely public shy. But it made pages vibrate in me that I didn’t even know were there. And that goes hand in hand with the fact that I got the feeling that I was myself and not like anyone. It has saved me from so many embarrassments.
Their wedding took place in the legendary Hamburg music club “Logo”, which is threatened with closure due to Corona.
Unfortunately, it is the same for many at the moment. I can empathize, because I was in a similar situation once and had to pay a lot of money. I went broke with the “Star Club”. There were evenings when the shop was booming, but in the end there were only colas in the receipt book because the waitress had brought their own whiskey from the supermarket and ran it into their own pockets. I was too stupid and naive! When I was tenants of the “Star Club” with Frank Dostal and Kuno Dreysse, the discotheque boom began. They came to see us to see Black Sabbath, which was then still called Earth. And as soon as they left the stage, people left the club. Concerts were cheap back then: Whether it was Ray Charles or Fats Domino, it cost a maximum of 10 marks entry.
But it had something good: You were invited to America as a guest of honor at the “Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame” ceremony because of the “Star Club”.
Oh yeah! And there everyone was back: Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, plus Muhammad Ali, Bob Dylan, Elton John. Wherever you looked – only famous people.
Do you get sad sometimes?
When I visited the exhibition “Play It Loud: Instruments Of Rock’n’Roll” in New York with my wife. On a canvas I saw Keith Richards as a wrinkled dog talking about the tour from that time. Well I was there! At that moment I just thought: What made me burn back then and what made me who I am today takes place in the museum today. That gave me a good slap between the horns.
You also write of dark thoughts in old age.
In most of the moments I know that I have absolutely no reason to quarrel with anything. But because the music is still a lot of fun for me, sometimes thoughts arise like: At some point I can’t get my butt up either. Then it’s over. I have every right to let go, but when creativity has been a part of you for a lifetime, it’s hard to stop. So I do prefer to have a second farewell tour. (laughs)
Katja Schwemmers spoke to Achim Reichel