Episode 32: Uli John Roth
Uli Jon Roth is widely regarded as one of the greatest guitar players ever. He is one of the last greats who is still around to present his magical style of playing which he already forged in the late Sixties when he was still in his teens. Uli played his first ever show in December 1968 - at the age of 13 - and to celebrate his upcoming 50th Stage Anniversary, he will perform concerts across North America this spring. He had some time to chat with us recently during an extended visit to a truckstop in Canada....
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The musical career of Uli Jon Roth spans an amazing five decades. As an artist, Uli is a phenomenon and his unique set of talents has gained him an international reputation as a musical visionary and innovator early on in his career. Having explored the world of rock music and written symphonies for orchestras, Uli has recently come full circle to re-connect with his roots.
Uli Jon Roth made his mark on the world of music already as a teenager.
Born in Düsseldorf, Germany, on Dec 18, 1954, he discovered his love for the electric guitar in 1968 and played his first concert later that year at the age of 13 as a member of the band BLUE INFINITY. In the following years, while still in high school, Uli played in several bands in Hanover, including DAWN ROAD, while also studying classical guitar as well as the piano and violin.
In the year 1973, the four members of Uli’s band DAWN ROAD joined forces with RUDOLF SCHENKER and KLAUS MEINE and formed a new incarnation of Rudolf’s Band THE SCORPIONS. The first show of the “new” SCORPIONS was a live TV appearance, which lead to a 5-year recording deal with one of the major international record companies at the time, RCA.
During his five-year tenure as a member of Germany’s number one band, in the early Seventies, ULI JON ROTH built the foundation for his status of rock guitar legend the world over. ULI quickly established himself as one of the main song-writers in the band and gained an international reputation as one of the most important innovators of the electric guitar.
He recorded five albums with the band, each one of which was to achieve iconic status in the history of rock music:
FLY TO THE RAINBOW (1974), IN TRANCE (1975), VIRGIN KILLER (1976) and TAKEN BY FORCE (1977). His farewell album from that period, a live album recorded in Japan in 1978 - TOKYO TAPES - is generally recognised as one of the great live-albums in the history of rock music and has influenced scores of younger musicians.
During his final year with the SCORPIONS, ULI felt increasingly stifled by the confinements of mainstream rock music and decided to leave the group to form a band of his own, ELECTRIC SUN. With this band Uli created a unique and unmistakeable style, which progressed and matured during three studio albums. These were EARTHQUAKE (1978), FIRE WIND (1980) and BEYOND THE ASTRAL SKIES (1984). Tours through Europe and the US established Electric Sun internationally as an important precursor of later musical trends.
Classical music has always played a fundamental role in Uli’s musical view of the world. Even during his time with the Scorpions, it was his classical leanings – combined with a strong influence of JIMI HENDRIX – which set his playing apart and which brought him international recognition. Yet despite his love for classical music, U.J.R. has nevertheless still felt drawn to Rock.
In 1991, he acted as musical director for a German television show entitled “A DIFFERENT SIDE OF JIMI HENDRIX” which featured JACK BRUCE, SIMON PHILLIPS, RANDY HANSEN, JOHN WETTON, ZENO, JULE NEIGEL, PETER BURSCH and others. This show later became the most frequently broadcast Rock Palast special in its long history and has been transmitted more than twenty times since then.
During the years after ELECTRIC SUN, Uli Jon Roth’s classical leanings took the front seat: He wrote no less than four symphonies, one concerto as well as a piano solo composition AQUILA SUITE. His first symphony, EUROPA EX FAVILLA, received its premiere in Belgium in 1993 within the framework of a concert televised by German TV. The music was performed by the BRUSSELS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA under the title SYMPHONIC ROCK FOR EUROPE. The three-hour long show was a resounding success with the audience and presented a novel, though organic mixture of classical and rock music. The line-up on stage consisted of nearly one hundred participants including rock singers, band, classical choir, and the symphony orchestra.
U.J.R.’s follow-up project PROLOGUE TO THE SYMPHONIC LEGENDS (SKY OF AVALON) sold 60 000 copies on the first day of its release in Japan. At the same time U.J.R. took part in a TV charity event hosted by JOSÉ CARRERAS, which featured the THREE TENORS, SARAH BRIGHTMAN, MONSERRAT CABALLE, UDO JÜRGENS and BONNIE TYLER among others. Together with his one-time colleague, SCORPIONS singer KLAUS MEINE and the PRAGUE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, he performed one of the SKY OF AVALON pieces, BRIDGE TO HEAVEN.
After a touring hiatus of 13 years, in 1998, ULI accepted an invitation by JOE SATRIANI to participate in a European tour of the G3, an almost annual meeting of guitar greatness, featuring three great guitarists. This was followed by the release of a double album TRANSCENDENTAL SKY GUITAR.
A further milestone in Uli’s career was his headlining appearance at the ROCK & BLUES FESTIVAL at CASTLE DONINGTON in the UK in 2001. His special guests on stage included rock legends JACK BRUCE (CREAM), UFO with MICHAEL SCHENKER, DON AIREY and CLIVE BUNKER (JETHRO TULL, ELECTRIC SUN). This concert was later released as a DVD under the title LEGENDS OF ROCK by SPV. A large-scale UK tour under the same title followed one year later, which also featured GLENN HUGHES (ex-DEEP PURPLE) and Uli’s friend FRANK MARINO (MAHOGANY RUSH).
In 2003 Uli recorded his critically acclaimed METAMORPHOSIS OF THE SEASONS in his studio in Wales. The album contains an ingenious version of the complete FOUR SEASONS by ANTONIO VIVALDI as well as an original new concerto by Roth which is entitled METAMORPHOSIS CONCERTO. Together with his own creation, SKY ORCHESTRA, Roth produced a truly monumental album.
U.J.R.’s precise rendition of Vivaldi’s timeless masterpiece on the guitar is only feasible because of his unique trade mark instrument, the SKY GUITAR. ULI invented this now legendary instrument to obtain nearly twice the tonal range of a conventional guitar. This means that it enables him to play in the highest registers of the violin range as well as those of the Cello. After a successful collaboration with Florida-based DEAN GUITARS, which distributed a limited edition of 50 SKY GUITARS, Uli decided to form his own UJR SKY GUITARS company to produce new editions of these remarkable instruments.
In 2005, Uli Jon Roth shared the stage again with the SCORPIONS for the first time since his departure. This was followed by many others in England, Germany, and Greece. In 2006, the SCORPIONS performed a reunion concert at the world’s biggest Heavy Metal festival, the Wacken Open Air in Germany, in front of more than 80 000 people featuring Uli and Michael Schenker. The concert resulted in a DVD release, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER. In 2016 Uli was guesting with SCORPIONS at the LOUD PARK FESTIVAL in SAITAMA SUPER DOME, TOKYO.
In 2006, ULI JON ROTH founded a teaching facility in Los Angeles, SKY ACADEMY, with the purpose of sharing his musical philosophy which transcends purely technical wizardry to find profound artistic depth and to awake ones’ musical potential. The first five-day seminar was held at the UCLA and included three epic SKY ACADEMY CONCERTS with a plethora of 25 guest artists, including ROBBIE KRIEGER of the DOORS, DON DOKKEN, MICHELANGELO BATIO, DAVID PAICH. Since then Uli has held over seventy SKY ACADEMY SEMINARS in many different countries. With their wide-reaching range of teachings, these seminars have proved very popular not only with musicians, but also non-musicians and fans. Uli loves teaching and is currently preparing his first Sky Academy book.
The following year, 2007 Uli played at two big German festivals as guest of the SMASHING PUMPKINS. At one of them, Rock Am Ring, Uli played some unforgettable guitar solos together with the Pumpkins‘ BILLY CORGAN in front of an audience of 90000 people, which was televised on German mainstream TV Channel ZDF. This was followed by a joint starring appearance which featured BILLY CORGAN and ULI JON ROTH in a TV show “DURCH DIE NACHT”, on European ARTE Television.
Due to his widely reputed skills of improvisation on the guitar, Uli has often been invited to spontaneous guest appearances with other artists. Over the years, Uli appeared and jammed with DEEP PURPLE, SLASH, SMASHING PUMPKINS, PAUL GILBERT, DORO, AVANTASIA, MICHAEL SCHENKER, BRUCE DICKINSON, GAMMA RAY, RICHIE KOTZEN, UFO, JACK BRUCE and many others.
In 2008 Uli Jon Roth released a new studio album, UNDER A DARK SKY, which featured a full orchestra as well as rock musicians. LIZ VANDALL and MARK BOALS were sharing lead vocals. The album was first premiered live at the GITARANAKI GUITAR FESTIVAL in New Zealand, where Uli taught several Sky Academy seminars in auditoriums to school children in three high schools. This was followed by large tours on several continents in recent years. In 2012, Uli debuted at the ROYAL ALBERT HALL in London, performing for the SUNFLOWER CHARITY, which is dedicated to alternative cancer research. On this memorable evening, Uli shared the stage with BRUCE DICKINSON, BRIAN MAY, JOHN PAUL JONES, BRIAN AUGER, ALFIE BOE, ALICE COOPER and IAN PAICE.
In 2013 Uli embarked on an epic tour and played over 100 concerts and over twenty SKY ACADEMY SEMINARS, including a tour of South America. He guested with SMASHING PUMPKINS at the iconic GLASTONBURY FESTIVAL in England, as well as with DEEP PURPLE and DORO at the WACKEN OPEN AIR FESTIVAL in August. He also guested in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with Brazil’s foremost band, ANGRA and TARJA TURUNEN later that same month.
One of the highlights for Uli of the year 2014 was his participation as musical director in a special event at the celebrated GUITARE-EN-SCENE Festival in France. Uli shared the stage with his illustrious guitar player friends STEVE VAI and STEVE MORSE, performing music of JIMI HENDRIX together. ERIC SARDINAS also joined not the jam for a couple of songs.
2015 began with a long US Tour EXTREME GUITAR with VINNIE MOORE, CRAIG GOLDIE, VINNIE APPICE and KOFI BAKER. February saw the release of Uli’s long-awaited double CD “SCORPIONS REVISITED”, which featured exclusively songs from Uli’s early Scorpions era. The album became an instant success with fans and critics alike and sold extremely well.
Later that month, in February 2015, Uli Jon Roth played a three-day tour of Japan to virtually sold-out venues, which included the legendary SUN PLAZA HALL in Tokyo, which had been the concert hall SCORPIONS had originally played with Uli back in 1978 and where they recorded one of the strongest live-albums of all time – TOKYO TAPES. Uli’s return to Sun Plaza Hall was an emotional occasion for the fans and the memorable concert was recorded for Blu-Ray and DVD release by a Japanese Television station, which were released under the title TOKYO TAPES REVISITED in 2017.
Directly following this tour Uli held his first ever SKY ACADEMY in Tokyo and Singapore.
In May of 2015, Uli performed at an outdoor guitar festival in Wroclaw, Poland, jamming on stage with violin virtuoso NIGEL KENNEDY. That year also saw Uli’s first concerts in the United Arab Emirates.
In the spring of 1916 Uli presented THE ULTIMATE GUITAR EXPERIENCE tour to audiences all over North America. The program featured guest artists JENNIFER BATTEN and Andy TIMMONS.
A further highlight of 2016 was Uli’s appearance at the SAITAMA SUPER DOME in Tokyo, Japan, at the LOUD PARK FESTIVAL, where he played a set of his own, but also made a surprise guest appearance with his old friends SCORPIONS, who now featured a new drummer, MICKEY DEE.
2017 was another whirlwind of successful touring for Uli with over 100 concerts, including an extensive tour of the US, appearances on various Cruise liners, including 70000 TONS OF METAL, and a European tour.
Back in 1982, Uli had designed a revolutionary new kind of guitar, which was to become his trademark instrument - the iconic SKY GUITAR. The original idea was to build a guitar which would greatly enhance the range and sonic spectrum of traditional electric guitars. After an initial five prototypes had been built in the Eighties, Uli played Sky Guitars exclusively from then on. Thirty years later, Uli was persuaded to make the guitars available to the public. A limited edition of 50 Sky Guitars was marketed successfully by DEAN GUITARS, one of the world’s leading guitar companies. In 2017, the CEO of DEAN, ELLIOTT RUBINSON, who was one of Uli’s best friends - and also his bass player on various tours - died prematurely. After this, Uli decided to part ways with the company. He then decided to found his own company - UJR SKY-GUITARS – with the aim to build new Sky Guitars and to further push the envelope of revolutionary new guitar designs (see the website below).
In the Spring of 2018, Uli Jon Roth took part in a long European Tour with JOE SATRIANI and JOHN PETRUCCI under the umbrella of the celebrated G3 concept. The tour was a complete success and Uli and his brilliant young band - which featured the talented NIKLAS TURMANN on vocals and guitar and DAVID KLOSINSKI on guitar - gained a lot of new fans due to their exhilarating performances on European stages.
During this tour, Uli also showcased the latest models of his UJR SKY-GUITARS brand.
In May 2018, Uli and his band performed a stunning show at the ROCK HARD FESTIVAL in Germany, which was televised by ROCK PALAST TV.
Uli’s first ever concert took place in 1968 - at the age of 13! At the end of 2018 ULI JON ROTH celebrated his 50th ON STASSGE ANNIVERSARY with a series of spectacular concerts in Europe and Japan. For this special occasion he was joined by his former band member RUDOLF SCHENKER, and together they performed at Sun Plaza Hall in Tokyo for the first time since their iconic Tokyo Tapes Album.
Uli Jon Roth is currently working on a new acoustic album and there is new material on the horizon...
As it seems, the journey of one of the worlds’ greatest guitarists is far from over.