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Die Zillertaler Schürzenjäger, also known as simply Die Schürzenjäger, were one of the most popular German-language volksmusik bands of the late 20th century, especially during their early-'90s prime, when they modernized their musical approach to much success. The band's name partly refers to their place of origin -- Zillertal, an eastern Alpine valley region in the state of Tirol in western Austria, south of Bavaria (Ziller referring to the name of a river there; tal being the German word for "valley") -- and partly to a non-musical occupation presumably uniting the bandmembers at one time or another (schürzenjäger translating to "apron hunters" in English). Led over the course of several decades by Peter Steinlechner (born January 9, 1953, in Mayrhofen, Austria), Die Schürzenjäger's style of music began as straightforward volksmusik, fully incorporating accordion and yodeling, for instance, as well as key elements of traditional Austrian folk songs. Once the band's popularity rose to an international level, Die Schürzenjäger modernized their sound in hopes of broadening their appeal further throughout Central Europe. The addition of drummer Patrick Cox in 1989 was a key development in the band's evolution, and so was the addition of electric guitarist Günter Haag in 1992. Heretofore Die Schürzenjäger were a trio comprised of Steinlechner (vocals, guitar), Alfred Eberharter (bass, accordion), and Willi Kröll (guitar, vocals), so the addition of a drummer and electric guitarist did much to liven up the band's sound. Furthermore, the bandmembers began drawing from influences besides strictly volksmusik -- primarily rock, pop, schlager, country, and blues -- and in 1996 they even dropped the regionally specific "Zillertaler" from their name, billing themselves henceforth simply as Schürzenjäger. Such changes in approach indeed brought Die Schürzenjäger greater international appeal, especially in Germany, where they regularly charted in the Top 100 with each album release; a couple albums, Räume Sind Stärker (1996) and Homo Erectus (1997), even broke the Top Ten.
Die Schürzenjäger began their recording career in 1977 in conjunction with Tyrolis Music, a label specializing in regional German-language music including volksmusik. The band released albums on a fairly regular basis until the point of Sierra Madre (1987), an especially commercially successful release that established Die Schürzenjäger as a popular act on the touring circuit (hence the practical addition of Cox on drums in 1989). Consequently, after the two-volume Live Folge: Finkenberg Mitschnitt and its accompanying video release, as well as one final studio album, Zillertaler Hochzeitsblues (1990), the band left Tyrolis Music and signed a promising new contract with Ariola Records, a large German label in the BMG family. The label change brought with it new resources, including bigger recording budgets, better distribution, and stronger promotion. Die Schürzenjäger responded with a more modernized style of music that would appeal to the larger, more international audience within the reach of Ariola. Schürzenjäger '92 (1991) was the band's label debut, followed by Teure Heimat (1992), Typisch Schürzenjäger (1993), A Weihnacht Wie's Früher War (1993), Glory-Hallelujah! (1994), and 20 Jahre Zillertaler Schürzenjäger Live: Rebellion in den Alpen (1994). These albums remain fan favorites to this day, and they set the stage for the band's first release to break into the German Top Ten, Träume Sind Stärker (1996), the first billed to simply Schürzenjäger and the first of the Ariola releases to not picture the bandmembers in lederhosen.
By 1996 Die Schürzenjäger were so popular among their target market, Ariola was able to justify issuing Karaoke (1996), clearly one of the most dubious releases in the band's catalog. Moreover, Tyrolis was leveraging the Schürzenjäger back catalog for all it was worth by this point; in December 1994, the label had reissued a bounty of old albums on CD for the first time, and various compilations of repackaged Tyrolis-era favorites would surface every now and then. The next all-new studio album, Homo Erectus (1997), was another German Top Ten hit, preceding the release of 25 Jahre Schürzenjäger (1998), a double-CD compilation commemorating the band's 25-year anniversary. Not to be left out, Tyrolis followed belatedly with an anniversary-themed compilation of its own, 25 Jahre: Ihre Grössten Erfolge (1999). Die Schürzenjäger recorded and released three studio albums -- Es Hört Nie Auf (1999), Treff' Ma Uns in der Mitt'n (2001), Tu's Jetzt! (2002) -- in the five years leading up to the 30th anniversary of the band, commemorated by the live album 30 Wilde Jahre (2003). Seemingly tireless, Die Schürzenjäger refused to rest, returning to the studio to record Hinter dem Horizont (2004), which was accompanied by a large tour, a live concert DVD, and a "premium edition" re-release. Yet another studio album, Lust auf Mehr (2006), followed, though not before Weihnachten Miteinander (2005), a Christmas album. ~ Jason Birchmeier