Remembering rebel rocker Jiří Schelinger

Jiří Schelinger, photo: archive of Milan Schelinger, CC BY-SA 3.0

Jiří Schelinger was among the most popular Czech performers of the 1970s. A talented singer-songwriter, he looked and sounded every bit the hard rocker. His raspy voice was unmistakable. Thanks to his flowing mane and full lips, he was often likened to Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.

Jiří Schelinger,  photo: archive of Milan Schelinger,  CC BY-SA 3.0

Jiří Schelinger grew up playing the piano and guitar and formed his first band already in elementary school, called Nothing But Nothing. But he was studying to become a plumber when Warsaw Pact troops invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968 to crush the Prague Spring reform movement. Schelinger, who was seventeen years old at the time, was arrested along with some friends for denouncing the Soviet occupation.

Jiří Schelinger - Holubí dům (1972)

He never finished high school and began devoting more of his time to music. He was still in his early twenties when he scored his first big hit came. That was in 1972, when he was singing for a band called Faraon, led by Karel Šíp. Their song “Holubí dům” (or Pigeon House, in English) is still popular today.

Jiří Schelinger,  photo: archive of Milan Schelinger,  CC BY-SA 3.0

In the early 1970s, he joined a band led by the drummer František ‘Ringo’ Čech, with which Schelinger went on to record six studio albums. His songs “René, já a Rudolf”, “Dráty pletací”, “Švihák lázeňský”, “Léto s tebou” and “Jsem prý blázen” still get regular radio airplay.

At the height of his fame, still in his late twenties, Jiří Schelinger and his band toured the Soviet Union and Poland, where were the warm-up act for the Western group Smokie. He wanted to play harder rock – heavy metal, in fact – but the Communist regime did not care for such music. Still, Schelinger kept writing heavy metal despite enormous pressure to conform. He became a rebel, a rioter, a drunkard and started smoking marijuana.

Jiří Schelinger/F.R.Čech - dobové záběry (8mm film)

In the spring of 1981, the singer left for Bratislava and never returned.

The tomb of Jiří Schelinger,  Olšany Cemetery in Prague,  photo: David Sedlecký,  CC BY-SA 3.0

According to the official version of events, after a night of heavy drinking in the Slovak capital on April 13, Jiří Schelinger jumped from a bridge into the Danube and drowned. The police pulled a body from the Danube weeks later, but family and friends did not identity it as being him.

At the time of his death, Jiří Schelinger had been working on a record Zemětřesení (or Earthquake, in English). It was not released until 1993, as part of a tribute to the artist whose life was cut short. A couple years ago, the album Zemětřesení 2 was released, featuring unreleased songs that Schelinger composed and played at concerts.

Jiři Schelinger - Jahody mraženy