April 30, 2019
Guitarist Uli Roth took us on a trip back in time this past week. In a career that has spanned six decades, Roth has played a number of different styles; from blues to progressive rock to flamenco and 70s hard rock. Playing professionally since the age of thirteen, he was initially inspired by The Shadows and Jimi Hendrix. He went on to join Scorpions as lead guitarist. Uli stayed with them for four years and four albums before leaving to form his own band – Electric Sun in 1979. Electric Sun released three albums before Roth formed another group known as The Uli Roth Band. Not one to let his playing stagnate, he has continually adopted newer techniques as they emerged and pioneered the use of seven and eight stringed guitars. His Sky Guitars, which he designed, incorporate up to thirty six frets and various built-in controls and effects that allow him to create music in his own unique way.
He is currently touring with two additional guitarists (as well as a bassist and drummer) that enable him to play songs from his catalog, recreating two and three part harmonies live without the need for electronic effects. On this tour he seems to have taken a page from fellow German guitarist Michael Schenker. Schenker’s “Michael Schenker Fest” tours have covered the guitarist’s storied career as a member of UFO, Scorpions and his own bands, MSG and Temple of Rock. Roth’s and Schenker’s paths have crossed before. As original guitarist for Scorpions, Schenker left after one album to join UFO and was replaced by Roth. At the time of Roth’s departure, Michael had left UFO and briefly returned to Scorpions, bringing things full circle. They have also played together on a European G3 tour with Joe Satriani. On this night Roth displayed his versatility, playing both electric and acoustic guitars and also switching between six, seven and eight string guitars. He played two sets on this night; the first showcasing his career as a solo artist and the second, primarily displaying his work with Scorpions.
Opening with “Sky Overture”, a nine-minute etude showing he was one of the earliest guitarists to play in the neo-classical style. Sweep-picking arpeggios were abundant as Roth displayed his prowess. Most people associate this style with Yngwie Malmsteen but it was apparent the Roth was a pioneer of it and you could hear the influence he had on Yngwie.
The Electric Sun portion of the show:
He followed “Sky Overture” with several Electric Sun compositions; “Indian Dawn” and “Electric Sun” which showed Hendrix’ influence on him at the time as well as the Cream-y vocal harmonies. Dipping briefly into the Scorpions catalog, he followed those with “Sun in my Hand” – a blues tune in the Hendrix vein in which he originally sang lead on as well as having played lead guitar. The Queen-esqe “Why” was next followed by a cover of his brother Zeno’s “Don’t Tell the Wind.” “Just Another Rainbow” – with its “Dolly Dagger” tinged rhythms showed just how much Hendrix’ influence was felt by the guitarists of his generation. Roth sang lead on this song. Often sounding like Bob Dylan with his “up, over and down” method of singing notes, it’s a bit of a challenge to listen to but you get used to it. He followed with “I’ll Be There” with Uli doing some neo-classical shredding, as shown in the video below.
My favorites of the Electric Sun portion were the up-tempo “Icebreaker” and the stunning “Hiroshima” – an eleven minute excursion into the bombing of that city in World War II in which took us on a sonic adventure. Dive bombs and squealing feedback were the highlight of this song and Roth showed why he was one of the best at re-creating the sounds of war.
The Scorpions portion of the show:
After a short break, Uli continued his performance. The second set was nearly all Scorpions tunes, with a few exceptions. First, was the acoustic “Passage to India.” Here, Roth played an 8-string acoustic guitar in a middle-eastern style which was both amazing to hear and a nice change from his all-electric first set. Surprisingly, his next song was a cover of The Shadows “Apache” – one of the first songs he learned on the guitar. Four Scorpions numbers followed –“We’ll Burn the Sky”, “In Trance”, “Pictured Life” and “Catch Your Train.” Hendrix’ stylized version of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” followed which is always a fan favorite, no matter who covers it. He closed the set with the Scorpions’ “Yellow Raven” and the finale’ – Scorpions seventies classic: “The Sails of Charon.”
Roth definitely ranks as one of the top guitarists of his generation. While he has been a guitar hero in Europe for years, he has always been somewhat overshadowed by other guitarists here in the states and had limited commercial success. Robin Trower was a much more popular Hendrix disciple here in the 70s and by the time Eddie Van Halen hit the scene in 1978, a lot less people were feeling Hendrix’ influence. Scorpions, while signed to the American label RCA in the mid-seventies had not reached a high level of success here. That period of time was more of a progressive, experimental time for the band. While they were certainly harder rocking than other bands at the time they were still seeking an identity much like Thin Lizzy until they found their niche’. When Scorpions shot to fame in the late seventies and early eighties with their Metal leanings sans Roth, it was clear that Scorpions guitarist Mattias Jabs had studied Uli’s playing well. His use of single notes in his rhythm playing instead of chords and harmonized solos was right out of Roth’s playbook. Still, Roth is an accomplished guitarist and continues to tour, demonstrating his mastery of the guitar and putting on memorable shows. We are fortunate Uli is still with us; giving his musical gifts to the world for listeners and players young and old.
What’s your favorite Uli Roth song/era?