“In Germany when we started out it wasn’t like a bar scene that we played. We played in a lot of youth places; where people congregated in art centers and stuff like that or at school events. It was only when the Scorpions came that I started playing bars and places like that.”
Uli Jon Roth began playing the guitar in earnest at the age of 13 which also happens to be the age that he played his first professional gig. This year Roth celebrates 50 years of performing with a lengthy tour which makes multiple stops in the New Jersey area; the first being April 23 in NYC at the Gramercy Theater followed by April 24 at Asbury Park NJ’s Wonder Bar, in PA on April 25 at the Sellersville Theater and then back in NJ again on May 3 at the Newton Theatre.
Widely known as one of the world’s most innovative guitarists, Uli has seen and done much over his decades in music. From the Scorpions to Electric Sun and more, he has graced stages all over the globe. With such a vast amount of music in his rear view mirror; does it ever feel like a dream come true and does it hold the same appeal these many years later?
“No it doesn’t feel surreal, it could if I wanted it to but then again I don’t think that way. It’s been a very natural progression for me; my first show was in 1968 when I was 13 and I’ve been on stage ever since. It’s one part of my life that’s like an ongoing kind of story in itself, how we all have different strands in life; how things develop and for me the live thing was one of these journeys. It’s ongoing and for some strange reason I’m still enjoying it (laughs). I still enjoy playing; I still enjoy touring and meeting the audience.”
“I’ve always been good interacting with the audience. I like meeting people, I like to hear what they think and sometimes you hear interesting comments; I’ve always done it. Nowadays we do meet and greets, which is a really good chance to meet everybody. In the old days sometimes they were not paid meet and greets and sometimes they got very chaotic so our tour manager talked me into doing the paid meet and greets against my better judgement. I resisted it at first and then I saw that it actually works much better, they’re more organized; controlled chaos (laughs).”
Meet and greets are great ways to connect with one’s fan base but a fiftieth anniversary only comes around once in a lifetime and fans clamor for their favorite songs at every stop along the way. So how does Roth manage to satiate the appetite of the fans?
“We’re doing a three hour stage show, it’s our biggest ever because it’s the fiftieth celebration; it’s three hours with a 15 minute intermission,” he said proudly. “I picked a lot of songs from my entire career, it’s a lot of music and it wasn’t easy to pick. Some of them were no-brainers because certain songs had to be there but there were a lot of songs where I could’ve chosen other songs and I was really agonizing about that because I wanted to get it right. Playing a show like this is a little bit like creating a menu; you have to get it right. Certain songs don’t work well back to back, they cancel each other out; you have to find the curve to the show that really works. I think we’ve managed to do that, we just toured Europe and Japan and the program really works.”
Roth says that not only does this tour encapsulate his career but it also serves another purpose; capturing him live from era to era and project to project.
“A few years back I realized that I didn’t really have a proper live album to my name and some things weren’t represented and I thought OK maybe I should do a live album and then I started to think; what would that look like with all of the different kind of genres that I’ve been involved in? I’ve got the Scorpions, the Electric Sun and then after that the whole Sky of Avalon and Transcendental Sky Guitar stuff and most of that wouldn’t really fit very well on one album and it would explode at the seams. So I thought the best would be if I do one dedicated album for each of my main time periods and that’s what that was. We’ve done the Scorpions kind of stuff and now we’re revisiting the Electric Sun era of my journey which is very interesting for me because I’ve not played most of these songs in 40 years. It’s been a very interesting journey of rediscovery where I’m looking literally at my own past and how much of it holds up to scrutiny nowadays and how much is still relevant; it’s been an exciting kind of challenge.”
A true six string virtuoso, Uli is a master of his instrument in every sense of the word. A dedicated fan of classical music, a composer of symphonies and a well-rounded performer with a penchant for Jimi Hendrix; Roth is constantly looking for ways to up his game or create new sounds. So what happens when you can’t purchase a guitar you need? If you’re Roth you customize and manufacture your own and just like the heavens above; the “Sky” is the limit.
“It’s called the Sky Guitar and it’s a guitar that I invented back in the early 80’s out of necessity because on the Fender Strat I used to run out of frets quite regularly (laughs). Around that time I became more fascinated by the violin repertoire like classical violin concertos; all of these demanded a higher range than I could get on a normal guitar. So that’s how the Sky Guitar came into being and for many, many years I used those by myself, they were basically my personal trademark artistically. Then some years ago a friend of mine who sadly is no longer with us named Elliott Rubinson literally talked me into putting them on the market as a limited edition because he was the owner of Dean Guitars. So we did a limited edition run of 50 plus I think it was and they all got sold mainly to Japan and America. When he died a couple of years ago I had no more reason to be with that company so I decided to go it alone. I founded a little company called UJR Sky Guitars and we’re now producing these guitars to order. They’re very expensive, they’re all hand built so they’re like a collectors item but each one of them is really quite something and I’m very of proud of that and it’s a very exciting project for me because we get to build new guitars and constantly try new prototypes; pushing the envelope farther. On this tour of America I’m going to be playing two of my latest prototypes which are in some respects quite an advancement regarding the technology of it.”
Soif you plan on attending a show, be prepared for a night of history, time travel and classic material with perhaps a surprise or two thrown in but Uli promises that there’s something for everybody.
“As I said, we are playing quite a repertoire. In the first hour we are playing some of my Sky of Avalon music but mainly it’s devoted to a cross section of the Electric Sun material because Electric Sun had quite a large cult following in The States in the 80’s and the last ever tour I did with Electric Sun was all across the states; so for the first time we’re going to bring that music back to life in America. Then after the intermission I’m going to do a 15 minute acoustic set where I’m playing solo on my eight string Flamingo Sky Guitar; finger style. Then we’re doing a whole Scorpions set based on “Tokyo Tapes” and early Scorpions material including “We’ll Burn The Sky” and “In Trance” and then a little bit of Hendrix at the end. So that’s basically the main show; there’s going to be a screen behind us to augment the stories visually and that’s not all because we’re also doing a pre-show for VIP pass holders which is one of my favorite parts because I get to play my “Metamorphosis” concerto which is normally played with an orchestra and I haven’t played that in a long time and we’re going to play the whole thing in this pre-show event. The orchestra will be back on the screen with me and I’ll be sharing the stage with a couple of my musicians; it’s a very demanding piece but I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s one of the best things that I’ve ever come up with but it’s also probably the least known in America.”
To discover more about Uli Jon Roth, the tour or how to purchase tickets; please visit www.ulijonroth.com.