Interview and pictures by Marko Syrjälä
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 again back on the touring circuit with his new band and 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 singer Olaf Senkbeil, Ferdy Doernberg (Alex Rudi Pell, Rough Silk) on keyboards, and drummer Michael Ehré. Although extreme weather conditions had caused unexpected delays and cancellations in the plane and train department, I finally made it safely to the Rockland club in time to have a chat with Uli Jon Roth. A man had many exciting things to tell about his past with the Scorpions, his plans for the future, and everything in between (such as past and future collaborations with Ian Gillan of Deep Purple.)
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, an extremely talented player. Unfortunately, he doesn’t play a lot anymore. It was always really good to see him on stage and hear what he did. On the title track “Lonesome Crow,” I remember him playing impressively.
Metal-Rules: Was it difficult stepping in to replace Michael Schenker?
Uli Jon Roth: It was different. I 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 a natural kind of thing for me. 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 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 in contact since he went on to play with Eloy and then did a solo thing, and recently we got to meet several times. I thought it might be a nice touch to invite him onstage, mainly 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 in addition to that on the drums. And the other guy was Rudi Lennert, another good friend of mine from the mid-’70s. We had lost contact for many years, but we’re still like old buddies, you know, whenever we meet. It was good seeing him in Colmar, where he joined us onstage.
Metal-Rules: In the ’70s, you left the band after four albums, and the TOKYO TAPES live album. Have you 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 at the beginning of 1977. I had already told at least some band members 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 TAPESalbum is still great, and there’s no sign of any trouble?
Uli Jon Roth: No, no, we didn’t have any clashes 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. Those are the ones on the album, the second and the third that was used. I thought the first one was a lot better, and I was disappointed that it wasn’t recorded.
Metal-Rules: Once you had decided to leave the band, did you suggest anybody in particular to replace you?
Uli Jon Roth: We were completely separate at that time, I was looking after my own things, and they looked after theirs. We were on friendly terms but didn’t have much communication at that time.
Metal-Rules: If you had to choose a favorite album of the ones you did with the Scorpions, which would 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 it, but I was never pleased about it.
Metal-Rules: The VIRGIN KILLER album and the other early Scorpions albums are sometimes 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 afterward 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: Other people usually did those. 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 may be 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 cemetery in France, and some people found that offensive. I don’t think it’s offensive. After all, it was quite a good image because it puts war totally into perspective; very often, it is young people, eighteen, nineteen, 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. Many politicians are far too trigger happy in all periods, and war too easily becomes an “easy solution,” whereas, for me, it should never be 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.
Still, in general, if you consider that over a hundred wars are 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. The new track that we’re doing tonight is called “The Magic Word,” The main vocal line 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 full-stop. I don’t even believe in killing animals. I don’t believe in killing at all. It’s easy to find many excuses for killing animals or people in the name of justice or hunger, convenience, fashion, decadence, or whatever. The easiest solution is not always the best, and I believe that we’re damaging ourselves, our 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. There are some anecdotes and fun on the road, but we were always very lucky and well protected; nothing bad 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 due to 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. Still, later on, I wanted to expand and experiment and do things in a very different way, not necessarily in a commercial way. Still, real things fascinated me musically, and that’s what I did. For me, it was just 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.
Uli Jon Roth: Yeah, he has not played in public as far as I know. Last year’s 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 plays it quite the same way; you know, it’s extremely reliable and powerful sounding. We have a very good feeling in the band, and a very good relationship between the band members, which is very important. So it’s 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 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,s and a real band. As for the material, I’ve finished writing the songs and am happy with them. We’re going to do one song from the new album tonight, which we’ve just learned. It’s only two weeks old. I wrote it two weeks ago one evening and thought it 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 premiere 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 that some people might be excellent on one track and maybe not so suitable for the next.
Metal-Rules: Which one is your favorite of the Electric Sun albums?
Uli Jon Roth: I like them all, but “Beyond the Astral Skies” is my favorite.
Metal-Rules: In the past, you did a tour with the ex-Samson singer Nicky Moore. Tell me something 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 was a quite big band, there were eight people on stage and lots of singing, lots of vocal harmonies, and he was one of the main lead singers there. I think we played together for maybe half a year, something like that, and afterward, 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 ZENO album 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 it should be. It was good, and he 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.
Metal-Rules: Yeah, they played in this same place like two weeks ago or so.
Uli Jon Roth: I was there when Zeno was auditioning for a 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 is the first show of the tour?
Uli Jon Roth: It is the first show of this tour, yes.
Metal-Rules: Have you 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 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 invite us.
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 great!
Uli Jon Roth: It was a really good tour. I was pleased. 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, which was 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 met Graham Bonnet a little while ago, and he said that it was a fantastic 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 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 to within the Scorpions?
Uli Jon Roth: Difficult to say. I get on 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, some other ex-members were 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 to do some things.
Metal-Rules: Not long ago, Herman told us about some exciting video material 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 after I 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 released 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 takes 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 smiling, you know. Let’s put it this way; it’s not what Scorpions are all about.
Metal-Rules: Weren’t you also supposed to play with your band at the Wacken festival?
Uli Jon Roth: Yeah, some political things were going on, and it was just too complicated, so in the end, we just decided to 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 do your soundcheck soon, I’m now going to ask the very last question. How did you end up playing on the Gillan’s Inn album?
Uli Jon Roth: I think Deep Purple played in Cardiff, and Don Airey rang 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, I suddenly changed my mind during the encore 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 revere as a singer. I mean, he’s the guy that started that kind of sound back then. So I have a lot of respect for him, and he was complimentary to my playing and told me about the GILLAN’S INN record; a few days later, I got a phone call and was honored to play on the album. Recently one of my guys talked to Ian’s manager, Michael Lee 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 the song that we’re doing tonight.
Metal-Rules: Thanks a lot, Uli!
Uli Jon Roth: No problem, guys. Enjoy the show !!
FOR MORE INFO, GO TO WWW.ULIJONROTH.COM
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: