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Virus interview with Werner Vogt

Virus formed in late '60 and by 1971 released two albums. They were quite known in Germany and shared stage with many well known acts of the days. Werner Vogt took his time to tell us history of the band. We talked about recording their second LP, which he was part of. Enjoy reading story of one of the best German Progressive Rock bands.

Were you in any bands before Virus? Let's discuss the beginning of the band.

Yes, since I joined Virus in springtime 1970 I played in a lot of other groups. I started in September 1964 at the age of 17 in a band we called The Loadstones. I played the rhythm guitar, my friend and later even member of Virus, the one who was singing King Heroin, Jürgen Schäfer, was on lead. Then there was a bass and drums. At first we did some numbers of The Shadows like many other bands at that time. At the beginning of 1965, I think it was the 5th of January,  we took a part at a band battle and made the 4th rang. After that we started to play our first gigs round Herford and Bielefeld now with a program from Chuck Berry over to The Hollies, The Kinks, Bob Dylan to The Rolling Stones and the Beatles. So we got to know a lot of other musicians and styles. This lasted till the summer of 1966 when I had to change school and went from Herford  to a High School in Bielefeld. There I met Bernd Rösner and joined his group called Percy and the Goalbirds. Their manager was a journalist of a big German paper called WAZ. He had lots of connections in the scene and so we did not only play the normal gigs in bars, but even in theatres. In the band played Wolfgang Rieke too who later was drummer with Virus. But I didn't like the stuff they did, though we recorded a single and had lots of gigs to play. It was kind of easy listening music and at that time I was a great fan of Van Morrison and Them. So when the drummer of The Loadstones asked me in March 1967 to join his new group The People I said yes and started to play bass. It was a Rhythm and Blues band and I loved to do this kind of music
This went to the beginning of 1968 and then I started to play not in a fix band but with different musicians only for one or two gigs till I had join the army in July 1968. 

I believe Virus was formed in Bielefeld, Nordrhein. What was the scene there?

Sorry, I'm not able to write something about the foundation Virus cos I joined the band in the early days of 1970. So I don't know anything about the musical process which led to revelation. But I know a lot about the scene round Herford and Bielefeld because I myself was part of the scene there since 1964.  The cell of Virus was not directly Bielefeld but a small spot near Spenge called Bardüttingdorf. There far from other houses in the pure country Virus owned a cottage where we could practice and make noise as loud as we wanted it. It was country life as you'ld like it. We made music, we played football, we lie in the sun or played with our animals, dogs and cats. At that time there was a very famous club in Herford which started in 1966 The Jaguar Club where we got to see all the name groups of that time. I saw Jimi Hendrix and Cream with only one week between the gigs, entrance money 8 DM. But most impressed I was by a group what was later The Arts and then Spooky Tooth. They had a small hit at that time called "I Wanna Be Free". I loved the guitar player Luther Grosvenor, cos it was the first time I heard this singing bluesy guitar. I think all of the later Virus members had been there and got their influences. It was kind of big theatre in a small country town. In Bielefeld was a Star Club where a lot of bands of the second british row had their gigs. Í learned to know Chris Stainton who played bass with The Knives and Forks from Sheffield. Later he was the man behind Joe Cocker. We had 14 days of intense speaking and learning from each other. There was every style you know represented. In the last month before I had to leave for the army I played in different bands and we did the charts, soul, Motown, blues, rock'n'roll, Stones, Beatles and nearly everything you know from that time. But we didn't compose own stuff. That started a year later when I came back from the army. A friend of mine wrote lyrics in english and asked me if I could make songs of it. That was in December 1969. I started to compose on my old guitar and suddenly Bernd Ròsner stood in the door of my room in Herford and asked me if I'd like to join Virus. Monka, Spiegelfeld and Govinda had left the group because of problems with drugs and they wanted to start a new beginning. They had a contract for a second LP but they did not have any songs. At once I said yes and asked Jürgen Schäfer if he would like too. He would and some days later we drove with my old VW to Bardùttingdorf.

Your second, which appeared also as your last album was Thoughts, which had quite a significant change in your sound compared to your debut. It was released on legendary Pilz label founded by Jürgen Schmeisser.

I think it was February 1970 when I got into contact with Virus. I just had started to study Jura in Bielefeld but lived in Herford in a small flat with a friend who later became the main roadie of Virus called Rainer Pampel. Some day, I don't know exactly when Bernd Rösner I knew from Percy stood in my front door and asked me if I would like to join Virus. I was very happy and said yes at once because I had no band after army time. But I asked if I could bring my friend Jürgen Schäfer, the fantastic singer of "King Heroin" and even a super bass player. Bernd agreed  and some days later Jürgen and me drove to the cottage of Virus in Bardüttingdorf. I brought a lot of song material with and an old western guitar. The guys who didn't left Krahe, Rieke and the new Rösner and Nieling listened to my songs and I think everybody liked them. There was "King Heroin" too, but the way I performed was a bit like Bob Dylan. I composed only with my old guitar when I got the lyrics from Gerd Rübenstrunk. I wrote some words to it on youtube. We decided to do it more rocky and when Jürgen started to sing it was clear that he was the singer of this song. He also found the bass line. I sang the last verse at the end. On stage I was always singing the whole song and it had a hypnotic influence. People were headbanging during the whole performance. But it took some time till we found the record version and I think in the star studio where we recorded one week with the famous and really fantastic Conny Plank we worked on it.

You noticed that on Thoughts real change happened in our music style. But I think that's not a big surprise because the line up changed so much. Three very important musicians for the compositions left the group, only Wolfgang Rieke and Jörg Dieter Krahe stayed with 4 new ones. It's natural that this change brings difference  And then there was me with a lot of new material which based on normal song structures with nearly no improvisation parts.

We had to work hard to get together. Krahe was the most important part in the game to held the connection to what was before. His psychedelic organ was the link between Revalation and Thoughts. But it was just themes we tried to put in the songs in wrote. I like very much "Mankind Where Do You Go To" because for me it's a unit but has got these psychedelic moments we wanted to create. I think in may '71 Schmeisser said he wanted to come to our cottage to hear what we have done until then. But we didn't have much to play with the whole band. So confessed this to him and asked if I can play the numbers for him on my old western guitar. He didn't mind and so I played nearly the whole LP in this way for him. It's really true, he was pleased and gave his OK. Then we rented a small fire brigade house and practised there for about 4 weeks before we went to Hamburg. There in summer 1971 we recorded one week in the Star Studio with the well known Conny Plank. He did a great job and everybody was pleased with output.

What was "King Heroin" about?

"King Heroin" is a song against drugs. Everybody can notice this if they read the lyrics. I got the chords from my friend Gerd Rübenstrunk in 1969. He had spent some months in New York and there he found the whole words on a flyer against drugs. I loved the text and so it didn't last long and I had the melody. But it took some time till it was "King Heroin" from Thoughts. Mine version sounded like Bob Dylan. In the studio Jürgen Schäfer sang it. On stage I took the singer position. On the LP I only did the last verse at the end. It was the best song on stage and nearly everybody started headbanging.

Where all did you tour?

After the release of Thoughts end of 1971 we had a lot of gigs on the big places in Germany. We worked mainly together with promoter Werner Kuhls from Hannover. He arranged a long tour with the Nederlansk classic rock band Ekseption all through Germany for us. We played in Hamburg in the Musikhalle, in Düsseldorf in the Philippshalle...
U.A. first planned tour with Ekseption was cancelled cos they had been before in Israel and were stopped at the airport Tel Aviv. So we've been told and had to play all the gigs by ourselves. I know in Lüneburg there was big trouble. First we played and then Yogi the right hand of Kuhls said that Ekseption can't come. Therefore should play The Scorpions, but the people didn't want to hear them and called loud: "Virus, Virus". We were sitting in the back of the hall when some of the people entered the stage to destroy the equipment of The Scorpions. The singer yelled: " Peace, peace keine Bambule" while just in that moment Kuhls was passing along with the money cassette and suddenly everybody was running after him and The Scorpions were saved. But they didn't play anymore. At that time we often played with The Scorpions and we were good friends because they were another hard rocking band which was engaged for less money as a foreband from Kuhls. We only got round about 300 DM for a gig but we did it to become well known. We played with Stud, Beggars Opera, Nazareth, Alexis Corner, Jeff Beck, Roger Chapman, Livin blues, Atlantis, Birth Control, the early Udo Lindenberg when he wasn't famous, Amon Düül II, a fantastic concert with Manfred Mann's Earth Band and a lots of other. I think we had a very good stage performance with two drummers and the double power which comes from behind. Especially "King Heroin" was the top scorer. Everybody was headbangig on the big festivals we played too. We were no evening act but in the afternoon it is much more difficult to get the people banging and we made nearly every time. It was a really fantastic time for us.

How long after the second LP was out were you together and when did you departure the band?

The band existed but in different line ups until the early 1975. I think it was January when we split cos an amp was stolen and nobody knew who it was. Somebody was drunk and at once started a bad discussion. So George Kochbek handled and I think did what he wanted to do and formed his own band. He called the band Skyline, took Micki from Virus, another bass player two lead guitarist Udo Lummer and Reinhard Glowazke and the new group was ready. Now they only played Kochbek stuff. I joined this band a half year later a played the bass on the LP louise for one night.

Are you still in contact with any band members?

No I have no steady contact with members of the Thoughts Virus. Only Wolfgang Rieke is a contact person by phone, cos we are the persons who answer questions which come in from all over the world and regulate rereleases. Next time - maybe half a year - the French record company Malesh wants to bring out a vinyl version of Thoughts and there we have much discussions on the telephone. Than Garden Of Delights plans a CD release of Thoughts. And then there are many questions from fans and friends all over the world. I am astonished that there is so much interest from everywhere. "King Heroin" on youtube has got nearly 220 000 clicks over 2 years and I think that is a good result. People compare us with Deep Purple, Golden Earring, Arthur Brown and some other well known bands of the time.

What equipment did you guys use?

I don't know much about the equipment because I never was an electronic freak. I only know I had 2 London City 200 Watt speakers and a London City 200 Watt amplifier. Same was the guitarist Bernd Rösner. What the others used I don't know.

What about psychedelic drugs? Did they have any impact on the band?

It's true, but we didn't use no drugs. No grass and no heroin. We smoked normal cigarettes and drank beer. 

What were some interesting bands you liked from Germany?

I was a great fan of Missus Beastly and Aera, cos they came like me from Herford and made a very very progressive kind of music. And then I knew the musicians very well and saw that they were fantastic artists. Embryo was another group I liked. I'm really not interested what is happening today because I only listen to my own music. I record very simple but authentic songs only with my guitar and my voice. I have 2 records only digital on Bellaphon under my name Werner Vogt out now.

What happened next? I know you were part of Skyline, which were more jazz fusion oriented and you also had a project called Ente Vogts. Tell us about this endeavors.

I forgot to mention Klangmix, a project with the fantastic guitarist Udo Lummer who played during the German Star Club Aera - the 60s - as a professional lead guitarist in a lot of bands and even with Skyline. Skyline was much fun but it was not me. It was a band under the government of George Kochbek. Then I played about 26 years in a band called Kakadu Combo and that was party music. I didn't like that very much but it was bringing us a little money. After that started Klangmix with a double CD "Mach mal Licht" and 28 songs on Bellaphon. Then under my name "Rock 'n' Roll Denkmal" and "Ein Mann"... At the moment I work with Peter Weihe guitar and Achim Meier keyboard on my next album.

I wrote the songs and the lyrics are like little poems in German.  I'm a little bit proud of. I developed my song ideas first with Achim Meier who is a fantastic keyboarder and plays for a lot of German superstars and the Sardic band I Muvrini. He contacted Peter Weihe and the session was at the 30. April this year. What comes after I don't know but I'm full of hope. Besides I promote the old Virus and I am the father of six children. The youngest is two and a half. Now I am a judge pensionist but I work a little bit as an advocate.

I have no real contact to the other Virus members but I've got their numbers. I don't know if there are any unreleased recordings. But there were some old Virus numbers we recorded in our cottage studio, but I think the Shamrock tapes are now no more useable. 

Thank you for your interest and here's the message: "Please only do what you like and not what others tell you."

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2013
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