ULI JON ROTH – “We Are Celebrating The 50th On-Stage Anniversary Of Myself”
April 10, 2019, 9 months ago
Uli Jon Roth’s influence on modern day rock guitar is massive - heck, the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen, Dave Mustaine, and Kirk Hammett have all cited the German guitarist as an early stepping stone in their six-string development. First grabbing the attention of headbangers way back in the ‘70s with his groundbreaking work with the Scorpions, he was one of the first guitarists to merge Hendrix-y psychedelia with perplexing classical bits - many years before Mr. Malmsteen popularized it with the metal masses. And it’s hard to believe that it has been half a century since Uli first performed on a concert stage - which the guitarist is celebrating this year by launching his 50th Anniversary Tour, which setlist-wise, touches upon all eras of his long-and-winding career. Uli spoke to BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato shortly after the launch of the tour.
BraveWords: Let’s discuss the 50th Anniversary Tour - how has the tour been thus far, and what can fans expect who have not attended yet?
Uli Jon Roth: “So far, definitely my best American tour. We just started in Canada, but Vancouver went great yesterday. It’s quite an ambitious program, because we are celebrating the 50th on-stage anniversary of myself. And the music that we’re playing is a journey through those years - in some respects. Apart from the usual stalwarts, of course we’re playing the best of the early Scorpions, but we are also playing quite a bit of Electric Sun - which has not seen the light of day for 40 years, pretty much...or 35 years. It was in the dormant stage. Now, it’s part of looking back to the places I’ve been musically. Electric Sun has reared its head again, and it’s great. It works well. We’re playing quite a few of these pieces, and the audience seems to really like them. So, that’s part of this tour. Then, we’re playing all sorts of other things, from various stages of my life - including some stuff that I wrote for G3, Transcendental Sky Guitar, Sky of Avalon, and also a little acoustic set, where I am playing solo on my nylon 8-string guitar. It’s an integrated 3-hour show, which has a little intermission in the middle, and we’ve got a backdrop screen to augment everything with moving images. And if that is not enough, we are offering a VIP-only concert, which is in the late afternoon, and that features my Metamorphosis Concerto - which is my own one-hour piece, based on Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. And I particularly enjoy that part of the evening, because I normally don’t get to play that piece. All in all, it’s a long evening, but so far, we haven’t had any complaints. It seems to be working very well, because the music is quite diverse.”
BraveWords: Which songs do you enjoy playing most?
Uli Jon Roth: “There aren’t any favorites, because every night it’s different. Sometimes a song becomes a highlight, and then the next night, it might be another song - depending on how we approach them, because we tend to play them slightly differently every night. I can’t really pick favorites here. As I said, I do enjoy playing this Metamorphosis Concerto, because it’s extra special, and it’s rare that I get to do this - other than in orchestra environments.”
BraveWords: This past January, you played a few shows in Japan with your former Scorpions bandmates, Rudolph Schenker and Rudy Lenners.
Uli Jon Roth: “That was a really nice experience, because I asked Rudolph to be a part of my 50th anniversary show in Japan, and he immediately said yes, and there were some conflicting time schedules, which took time to iron out. So, because of the complexity of the flights, it was only confirmed literally the week before we actually did the gigs. But then he showed up, and we had a big blast. It was a party on stage, and it was really nice to have him there. Because after that, we played in the same hall - Sun Plaza Hall - that we had my last Scorpions show in, 40 years earlier. The Tokyo Tapes shows. And having Rudy Lenners there was also a very gratifying experience. He is a good friend of mine, but I don’t get to see him very often - other than at events like this. It went very well.”
BraveWords: I also noticed that you were playing a Strat-shaped guitar once more in Japan.
Uli Jon Roth: “Yeah, I played some songs...it’s a Sky Strat. It’s basically a Stratocaster with the interior of a Sky guitar. It’s got the powerful Mega-Wing pickup system, and all the lights of a Sky guitar - but the wood and the body shape of a Strat. It’s a bit of a hybrid, and it sounds great and plays very well. I thought it would be nice - for old time’s sake - to integrate that, because many people want to see me with a Strat, because of the early Scorpions. It was my trademark a little bit back then. But I wouldn’t go and play a normal Strat, because I am so spoiled by the pickup system that I’m using now, that I don’t want to go back. But it’s close enough, and it looks like the real deal.”
BraveWords: Would you agree that the popularity of the Scorpions’ 70s work is at an all-time high now?
Uli Jon Roth: “It is growing. Absolutely. I just spoke about this with Eddie Trunk, who brought up this very point that it seems to be growing - exponentially. I’ve noticed that, too. It’s almost like people went back in time, and they discovered that, which wasn’t so popular at the time - because the Scorpions only really made it very big in the early ‘80s. And by then, I was gone. It was all the following stage beforehand - with Virgin Killer and all these albums. But the simple fact was that the Scorpions never made it to America until after I left - and that was due to the fact that our record company, RCA, was a global company, and the head of RCA America wasn’t really a fan of the Scorpions. He didn’t support that. But once the top bands went with EMI, everything changed - EMI/Capitol. And then, America...it just really exploded for the band.”
BraveWords: Although I interviewed you extensively for the book German Metal Machine: Scorpions In The 70s, we did not discuss the lyrical meaning behind one of the era’s great tracks, “The Sails Of Charon.”
Uli Jon Roth: “It is a mythological connotation, and the lyrics were triggered by a Michelangelo painting in the Sistine Chapel. At the far end of the Sistine Chapel, which is all painted single-handedly by Michelangelo in the early 1500’s, in Rome, there is a huge painting - the Resurrection. It’s basically about a heaven and hell kind of scenario - on the days of justice. And at the bottom, you see a demon-like creature in a boat, and he is the ferryman. His name is Charon, and he is from Ancient Greek mythology, and according to this and the Greek underworld, there are three rivers - Oblivion, Styx, and Acheron. Anyway, the ferryman is a person - or creature - that brings the souls of the departed from one side of the river to the other, from which there is no return. Somehow, that painting triggered lyrics to that song. Now, the lyrics are all about the story of good and evil. It’s basically about a person who makes all the wrong choices. A Darth Vader character, falling for the entrapments of the doctrine of evil. He gets ensnared in black magic...and that’s not a healthy thing to do for anyone. [Laughs] And that’s what that song is all about. It was written in the same year that Star Wars came out, and I had no idea. We saw Star Wars in the summer of ’77. But it’s a similar kind of thing.”
BraveWords: Future plans?
Uli Jon Roth: “There are almost too many for me to handle, because at the moment, there are a couple of things on the horizon that are hard to decide between...and I can’t really mention them, because they seem like big projects, but they’re not yet signed, sealed, and delivered. I am going to try this summer to really seriously start recording a new album. I’ve written so much material over the last few years, it’s unreal. And I really want to get some of that down onto vinyl, digital, whatever have you. The main problem is there is very little time usually for me to do these things, because I am on tour so much these days. And while touring, I can’t really record. And the next problem is I am notoriously slow in the studio, because I am rarely ever happy with the sound we are getting. So, that is my catch-22 - but that is my own personal problem, and I will try my best to make sure it does not get in the way of recording soon.”