ULI JON ROTH
The legendary guitar virtuoso Uli Jon Roth played on the Scorpions’ albums “Fly to the Rainbow” (1974), “In Trance” (1975), “Virgin Killer” (1976), “Taken by Force” (1977) and finally on the classic live album “Tokyo Tapes”. Now he’s once again back on the touring circuit with his new band and also preparing to record a new studio album. Joining Uli on tour and in the studio is another ex-Scorpions member Francis Buchholz on bass with the rest of the band comprising of singer Olaf Senkbeil, Ferdy Doernberg (Alex Rudi Pell, Rough Silk) on keyboards and drummer Michael Ehré.
Although extreme wheather conditions had caused unexpected delays and cancellations in the plane and train department, with the situation on the roads not being much better, all is well that ends well. After much difficulty we finally arrived safely at the Rockland club in time enough to have a word with Uli Jon Roth, who had many interesting things to tell about his past with the Scorpions as well as his plans for the future and all the things in between (such as past and future collaborations with Ian Gillan of Deep Purple…)
Interview and questions by Marko Syrjälä and Jarno Huovinen
Live and offstage pictures by Marko Syrjälä
Metal-Rules: What was your opinion of the first Scorpions album with Michael Schenker, “Lonesome Crow” when you first heard it?
Uli Jon Roth: I really liked it, I thought it was special and unique. I also loved the bass playing on it by Lothar Heimberg, extremely talented player, unfortunately he doesn’t play a lot anymore. It was always really good to see him onstage and hear what he did, on the title track “Lonesome Crow” I remember him playing really impressively.
Metal-Rules: Was it difficult stepping in to replace Michael Schenker?
Uli Jon Roth: It was different, I really did my own thing from the beginning. There were a few songs that Michael had written that we played and since Michael and I were coming very much from a similar direction it was for me a natural kind of thing, I didn’t experience any difficulties in Scorpions musically, everything seemed easy.
Metal-Rules: In recent years you’ve also occasionally worked with some of the ex-drummers of the Scorpions?
Uli Jon Roth: Yeah, Jürgen Rosenthal and… Jürgen is an old friend as well, I’ve known him just as long as I’ve known Francis because we were in a band together called Dawn Road. We’ve always kept contact since, he went on to play with Eloy and then did a solo thing and recently we got to meet several times and I though it might be a nice touch to invite him onstage, particularly to do “Fly to the Rainbow” because he did some great drumming on that track. We played with him in Greece and did a really good version there with on the drums. And the other guy was, of course, Rudi Lenners, another good friend of mine from the mid ’70s. We had lost contact for many years, but when ever we meet we’re still like old buddies, you know. It was good seeing him in Colmar where he joined us onstage.
Scorpions in 1973
Metal-Rules: In the ’70s after four albums and the “Tokyo Tapes” live album you left the band. You had already decided to leave the band before the live album?
Uli Jon Roth: Oh yeah, I had already decided before the “Taken by Force” album in the beginning of 1977. I had already told at least some of the member of the band before the album that it would be time for me to move on but then it kind of just dragged on, there was just a tour after tour. I told them to look for another guitar player but they never did and somehow I just kept coasting along until they said they’d booked an American tour when I said I couldn’t do it and that I really wanted to do my album now. I wanted to move on to something else, that was it, but it dragged on for about a year, more than a year.
Metal-Rules: The “Tokyo Tapes” album is still great and there’s no sign of any trouble?
Uli Jon Roth: No no, we didn’t have any clashed in the band, there were some disagreements on lyrics and stuff, I wasn’t happy with some of the songs at that time, but we still got on and it was still good comradeship. “Tokyo Tapes” was a peak time, we had played together for all these years and it all came together at that time. Particularly on the first show, which unfortunately wasn’t recorded, there were three shows in Tokyo, the first one was by far the best, but the second one was good too. Those are the ones on the album the second and the third that were used. The first one I though was a lot better and I was disappointed that it wasn’t recorded.
Metal-Rules: Did you have any say in who was going to replace you in the band, did you suggest anybody in particular?
Uli Jon Roth: We were completely seperate at that time, I was looking after my own things and they were looking after theirs. We were on friendly terms but didn’t have much communcation at that time.
Metal-Rules: If you had to choose a favourite album of the ones you did with the Scorpions, which would it be?
Uli Jon Roth: “Virgin Killer” and “In Trance”, these two. Of the “Fly to the Rainbow” I like the title track and of “Taken by Force” I like “We’ll Burn the Sky” and “Your Light”, these two songs and “Sails of Charon”, but some of the other songs I was not too keen on. I had kind of already finished with the band, so I was not 100% there in the studio in my mind on that album. On “Virgin Killer” I gave 100% to the album and on “Taken by Force” I was distracted in my mind, I was not happy with the music. When I listen to the album I think it shows, but some people prefer this one, but I was never really happy about this one.
Metal-Rules: The “Virgin Killer” album among other is actually pretty hard to find these days.
Uli Jon Roth: These early albums were on RCA, so it was a different company and the EMI albums which came afterwards were distributed much better and you can still get them. So all these early ones were kind of lost children, you know.
Metal-Rules: How would you comment on the cover art of the old Scorpions albums?
Uli Jon Roth: Those were usually done by other people. The first one (“Fly to the Rainbow”) was done by some kind of designed studio. As for the others, all of the ideas I remember came mainly from the record company and Klaus was usually very active in this department. I think it was my idea to do the thing with the guitar for the cover of “In Trance”, although I maybe wrong, it was such a long time ago.
Metal-Rules: There are two different versions of the “Virgin Killer” album cover?
Uli Jon Roth: The original, which was designed by a guy called Stefan Bohle who was the product manager for RCA, was too obscene for a lot of countries, so another cover was found.
Metal-Rules: There are two different covers for “Taken by Force” also?
Uli Jon Roth: “Taken by Force” was not obscene, but I think the original idea was children playing with guns at a military cemetary in France and some people found that offensive. I don’t think it’s offensive because I think it was actually a quite a good image because it puts war totally into perspective, very often it is young people, eighteen, ninenteen, going to war that don’t fully understand life. When you’re fifty you don’t fully understand life, but these guys then have to shoot other people simply because someone tells them to do it for their country. Politicians are sometimes also children with guns, in all periods of time a lot of politicians are far too trigger happy and war too easily becomes an “easy solution”, where as for me it should never a solution, there should be no war in the first place. Maybe every once in a while a country may need to defend itself, I understand that, but in general if you consider that there are over a hundred wars raging in the present day on this planet alone then it’s just sheer lunacy and always the tool of the Dark Side. Usually bad things come from war, very few good things, but sometimes good things come from bad things, that’s true, nothing’s that black and white. It’s always the wrong solution to kill people. In fact the new track that we’re doing tonight is called “The Magic Word” and the main vocal line in it is “Stop Killing.”, it’s about exactly this, but there’s more behind that song, it’s not just an antiwar song, it’s against the notion of people killing other people fullstop. I don’t even believe in killing animals, I don’t believe in killing at all. It’s easy to find a lot excuses for killing, of either animals or people, in the name of justice or in the name of hunger or convinience or fashion or decadence or whatever. I personally think that the easiest solution is not always the best and I think that we’re damaging ourselves, our own souls if we go around damaging other people, other beings. A lot of my music and lyrics reflect this kind of thinking.
Metal-Rules: Did you and the other guys in the Scorpions ever get into trouble back in the ’70s while on tour?
Uli Jon Roth: Not that I remember. Well there are some anecdotes, fun on the road, but we were always actually very lucky and well protected, nothing bad ever happened to us. There was a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll thing going on in the early days definitely, but we were certainly not a band who’d throw televisions out of the window, because we were all kind of together in our heads, we were all pretty organized and knew what we wanted, we didn’t fool around a lot, we didn’t waste time.
Metal-Rules: After you left the Scorpions, their style changed quite a lot…
Uli Jon Roth: It became more metal I would say.
Metal-Rules: …was that as a result of you leaving or would that have been the direction anyway had you stayed?
Uli Jon Roth: That’s the direction that evolved, it was a learning curve for them and they were happy to go into that direction, but at that time that was definitely not my direction, I knew it and they knew it. For me, I had no choice, I wanted to be free in the music and in the Scorpions there was a certain style and within that style I couldn’t be free anymore. In the beginning I didn’t feel the urge for freedom so much, so it was fine to be in this environment, but later I wanted to expand and experiment and do things in a very different way, not necessarily in a commercial way, but really things that facinated me musically and that’s what I did. For me it was just a one big journey into discovery and it still is.
ULI JON ROTH BAND AND FRANCIS BUCHHOLZ
Metal-Rules: In your new band you now have your old friend Francis Buchholz on bass. He’s been out of the music scene for some fifteen years, right?
Uli Jon Roth: Yeah, he has not played in public as far as I know. Last years tour with us was the first time he’s been on tour since he was in the Scorpions. It’s really good having him in the band because first of all we’ve been friends since 1970 and we played together quite a few years before the Scorpions already. He’s giving a very special vibe to the whole thing, particularly when you play the old classics like “We’ll Burn the Sky” or so, it’s very good to have him there because no other bass player play it quite the same way, you know, it’s extremely reliable and powerfull sounding. We have a very good feeling in the band and a very good relationship between the band members and that’s very important. So it’s actually a real band and not just a pickup band.
Metal-Rules: Have you got plans to release new material with this lineup?
Uli Jon Roth: I’m just starting a new album, I’ve just signed some record deals for it, it’s called “Under A Dark Sky” and it’s a studio album with entirely new songs in my own style. I would say it’s got a lot of classic rock, it’s also got some classical, some crossover symphonic stuff. It’s got a lot of vocals, a lot of guitar and a real band. As for the material, I’ve finished writing the songs and am really happy with them. We’re going to do one song of the new album tonight which we’ve just learned, it’s only two weeks old. I wrote it two weeks ago one evening and though that would be nice to show it to the guys and we had a couple of rehearsal days in Hannover just before we came here and that’s when we learned it. Tonight’s going to be the world premier for that song. As I said, I’m just starting the recording, so if everything goes well I should be finished sometime in the spring.
Metal-Rules: Which company is going to release it?
Uli Jon Roth: The same company that I’ve had for many years in Europe, SPV and in Japan it’s Marquee. SPV also handles America.
Metal-Rules: Are there going to be any other special guests on the new album?
Uli Jon Roth: Not special guests as such, we have enough vocals already, we have Olaf singing and we have Liz von Dowle singing quite a bit on the album as well, but I wouldn’t rule out anything because during the recording a lot of things can happen, so we’ll see. Usually the singer who’s the most suitable for a song should sing it, not everybody can sing every song and my stuff is quite diverse, so some people might be excellent on one track and maybe not so suitable for the next.
Metal-Rules: Which one is your favourite of the Electric Sun albums?
Uli Jon Roth: I like them all, but “Beyond the Astral Skies” is absolutely my favourite.
Metal-Rules: In the past yoyu did tour with the ex-Samson singer Nicky Moore. Tell some more about that?
Uli Jon Roth: Yeah, that was in 1985. Nicky came into the picture through my friend Paul Samson. Nicky had a great voice and at that time Electric Sun were a quite big band, there was eight people on stage and lots on singing, lots of vocal harmonies and he was one of the main lead singer there. I think we played together for maybe half a year, something like that and afterwards I stopped playing live anyway after that tour for many years, so I’ve not seen him since.
Metal-Rules: How is your brother Zeno Roth doing these days?
Uli Jon Roth: He’s just finished a new album, a ZENO album, it’s called “Runway to the Gods” and it’s come out in Japan, but I don’t know if it has been released in Europe yet, but it should be. It really good and he actually recorded at the studio in my house in Wales. It took him quite a while to finish it, but it was worth it.
Metal-Rules: We just recently met Mr. Rod Morgenstein…
Uli Jon Roth: Oh yeah, he was the old ZENO drummer. He’s on tour with Winger, right?
Metal-Rules: Yeah, they actually played in this same place like two week ago or so.
Uli Jon Roth: I was there when ZENO was auditioning drummer in New York in January or February of 1986 and he was the drummer that was picked, so I remember him very well.
BEING ON TOUR…
Metal-Rules: This show you’re playing tonight here in Sala if the first show of the tour?
Uli Jon Roth: It is the first show of this tour, yes.
Metal-Rules: Have your ever toured in Scandinavia before?
Uli Jon Roth: I did one Swedish tour in 1983 and we also played in Stockholm in 1985, but that was a long time ago with Electric Sun, and then the only other gig was Sweden Rock Festival.
Metal-Rules: Yes, in 2001, you had Don Airey and Barry Sparks in the band then.
Uli Jon Roth: True. It’s good that we’re back in Scandinavia. I’m really starting to do more touring now, you know, so I hope that we’ll also make it to Helsinki. It always depends on the promoters, if they intive us or whatever.
Metal-Rules: You also recently did your first US tour in years?
Uli Jon Roth: Well, second actually, I did one with Michael Schenker in 2004 and this year we did one with the band.
Metal-Rules: The reviews of that tour were really great!
Uli Jon Roth: It was a really good tour. I was really happy, I like playing in America. We played some good places and the best thing was the Sky Academy when we did three shows in Los Angeles and that was really something special, for me it was one of the biggest highlights of my life. Next year we want to do that again, we’ll do another Sky Academy in Los Angeles and one in New York and there are also some other countries where this might happen.
Metal-Rules: We actually met Graham Bonnet a little while ago and he told that it was an amazing experience.
Uli Jon Roth: He was great, he just came on to the stage and we hadn’t even rehearsed, just went straight in and he was excellent. I like Graham.
Metal-Rules: Another great thing that happened recently was the show you did with the Scorpions at the Wacken Open Air festival.
Uli Jon Roth: That was already the second Scorpions show we did, we did one last year in Colmar [France, September 10]. So this year was the second reunion show and I’m sure there will be more next year, we’ve been talking about it. We had a really good time together, so it looks like we’re going to do something artistic together, maybe a project or something, we’ll see.
Metal-Rules: So there is a chance that you might do some writing with the band in the future?
Uli Jon Roth: Absolutely, we’ve been talking about that, because we still have a very good rapport. It feels good to be with the guys after all these years and it’s quite inspirational, so I’m sure we can do something nice together.
Metal-Rules: Is there any band member in particular that you’re the closest with in the Scorpions?
Uli Jon Roth: Difficult to say, I get on really well with all of the band. Of course because I’ve known him the longest as a friend, it’s probably Rudolf, we’re really on the same wavelength on many things. I also get along great with Matthias and then of course Klaus, and the other guys too, you know, James and Pavel.
Metal-Rules: At the Wacken show there were also some other ex-members present like Michael Schenker and Herman Rarebell. Have you been in touch with those guys?
Uli Jon Roth: Yeah, sure. I’ve spoken with Herman a couple of times and we still have a good relationship. He’s also starting out to do some things.
Metal-Rules: Not long ago Herman actually told us about some interesting video material that exist of the Scorpions performing which has not been released.
Uli Jon Roth: It’s possible, but not with me, the stuff with me is very rare, so it must be from after I had left the band when they started shooting more.
Metal-Rules: Well at least you’ll be on the DVD that’s probably going to be realeased of the Wacken show?
Uli Jon Roth: I don’t know if they’re releasing a DVD.
Metal-Rules: I heard that there was some trouble with the mechanical Scorpion that the band had on stage?
Uli Jon Roth: It was working okay, just very slow, I think that was the way it was designed, it taking a long time to come out. I think it was supposed to be a bit of a joke, so one shouldn’t take it too seriously, everybody was just smiling, you know. Let’s put it this way, it’s not what Scorpions is all about.
Metal-Rules: Weren’t you actually also supposed to play with your own band at the Wacken festival?
Uli Jon Roth: Yeah, there was some political things going on and it was just too complicated, so in the end we just decided to just do the Scorpions thing. Probably next time we’ll do the thing with my band as well.
WORKING WITH IAN GILLAN
Metal-Rules: Well because our time is running out and you have to your soundcheck soon I’m now going to aske the very last question. How did you end up on playing on the Gillan’s Inn album?
Uli Jon Roth: I think Deep Purple played in Cardiff and Don Airey rung me in the afternoon and asked if I wanted to come down to the Cardiff Arena, so I said sure. I hopped into my car and went there and when I arrived we got along great and I had never met Ian and the other guys, except for Steve Morse. So Steve asked me if I wanted to play and I said that I didn’t as I didn’t have my guitar or amps. At the end of the show during the encore I suddenly changed my mind and agreed to do it and played on his guitar with his amp and we had a great time. After the show I got to talk with Ian Gillan, who I really revere as a singer, I mean he’s really the guy that started that kind of sound back then. So I have a lot of respect for him and he was complementary to my playing and told me about the Gillan’s Inn record and a few days later I got a phone call and was honoured to play on the album. Recently one of my guys talked to Ian’s manager, Michael Leel Jackson, who said it would be nice if Ian would sing one song on my new album. So they offered to do this and I wrote a song for Ian, but we haven’t recorded it yet, I’m going to send it to them and hopefully he likes it and records it. It would be great to have him on the album. It’s actually the song that we’re doing tonight.
Metal-Rules: Thanks a lot Uli!
Uli Jon Roth: No problem guys. Enjoy the show !!
The Uli Jon Roth Band played a blistering set of well over two hours:
01. Sky Overture
02. Land of Dawn
03. Fire Wind
05. We’ll Burn the Sky
06. I’ve Got to Be Free
07. Virgin Killer
08. Solos (Keys/Drums/Bass)
09. Sails of Charon
10. The Magic Word
11. Polar Nights
12. Dark Lady
13. Pictured Life
14. Catch Your Train
15. All Along the Watchtower
16. Little Wing
17. Star Spangled Banner
19. Electric Sun
SOME MORE PICS FROM THE SALA SHOW: