Interview: Uli Jon Roth talks touring, Sky guitars, Scorpions

Posted by on March 10, 2016

ulijonrothEx-Scorpions guitarist Uli Jon Roth left the band just before the band exploded and became an active rock hit machine. While the band quickly escalated up the Billboard charts, Roth found himself with legions of fans who still love his early output yet, thankfully, want to hear his newer solo stuff. Although not touring to support any new record, Roth needs little reason to tour since his catalog (both solo and Scorpions fare) is so immense.  Metal Insider caught up Uli in Phoenix, Arizona while on his current U.S. tour to see what the future holds and then some.

How’s the tour going thus far?

The shows have been great. We’ve done around nine and have a lot more to go. I’ve got Andy Timmons and Jennifer Batten on this tour. There was very good reason I picked them: It’s very hard to match your style musically and also have a great personality. These two do so on both counts and we’re having a great time playing together. My most important songs are staying the same on the set list but we try different things night after night. During the finale where we all play together, we keep trying different things to keep the show lively. It really varies from show to show since it’s so easy to get bored.


Will you be including Sky Academy (Uli’s guitar classes) on this tour?

Sadly, I am not doing a Sky Academy on this tour. While that was fine and a successful concept, it took a huge toll on me. Playing a full show, doing Sky Academy, and then doing a meet and greet afterward was hard on my body and mind. After a tour like that, I needed ten days to rest because it took so much out of me. Being on the road is hard enough as it is with lack of sleep and our live shows being so long. These days. I need to be more careful with myself and my own resources.


Any classical pieces you’d like to tackle for a new album?

I did that with Metamorphosis of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (2003) but, at the moment, I have nothing in mind. It is certainly something that would be nice to do. In the past, I was enamored with the idea of tackling the Brahms violin concerto and translating it to the Sky guitar but it never happened. It really takes everything you got and I do not have the time right now. Also, transcribing that piece to guitar from violin would seem twice as hard.


How much does it cost to make one of your signature Sky guitars?

I’m not a business man but I know it’s very expensive. They go for $12-14,000 for standard models and some people have even bought several. We’re going to eventually put out a new limited edition model. At first I didn’t want to manufacture these guitars, but now a lot of good has come of it.


Your songwriting has always been unconventional even during your short-lived run with The Scorpions. Was that on purpose?

You know, I have used repeating refrains before but only as long as they don’t get on my nerves. I’ve always known how to do that sort of thing when needed but I like melodies that take you on a journey of your own. I totally understand and respect great songwriting since, just like Klaus Meine, I grew up and worshiped the Beatles. I always thought repeating a chorus several times was not my ballgame. I came to The Scorpions with a different type of thinking and that is why I left the band.


Were you ever jealous of The Scorpions’ mainstream success?

First of all, I am not a jealous person. I am proud of every bit of their success and they deserve everything they have. To me, though, it was clear the band was gonna be massive. When we were putting out albums in the 70’s, it seemed like every year we were going up a couple of notches on the ladder. They took it to the next level and their timing was perfect.


But you took a serious left turn from what they were doing, correct?

After I left the band I ignored all of it and did my own thing. Sure, what I was doing was off the beaten track but it was also very successful. To me, it wasn’t a big letdown since I was never interested in writing commercial songs. The Scorpions are great at doing that. I consider myself a composer of music. I always think in terms of symphonic and large structure pieces and was interested in classical and experimenting.


How’s your relationship today with the band since leaving after the Taken By Force record?

It’s always fun to play with the guys from time to time and we really have a great ongoing relationship. They do their thing and I do mine. My part is so different from theirs and, as much as people would like us to play together again writing new material, right now I thing it would rock the boat to bring in a totally new approach. The Scorpions are very content with what they have going on and so am I. I do think the ideas would be very interesting if it ever happened. We did talk about me playing on an album a few years ago, though.


Which Scorpions’ recording sessions were you most proud of? Least?

In the past, I was most proud of Virgin Killer. During the Virgin Killer record, I has so much to do with the production and the songwriting of the album. My least favorite would have been Taken By Force since I had virtually left the band in my head and was not giving my everything. Today, I recognize the albums for what they are. Do remember, I had only 3 songs on that record where I had written half of Virgin Killer. I will say Taken By Force‘had some of my best stuff but is not a total guitar record like In Trance and Virgin Killer. It still has “Sails Of Charon” and “We’ll Burn The Sky” (written by Rudolf Schenker and Monika Dannemann) and many other strong pieces.


The back of Tokyo Tapes makes it look like the band partied hard during the run of shows. Was that the case?

We did that picture at 6am and I was half asleep as you can see in the picture. We had to do it before all the craziness started on the streets in Japan. I wasn’t in a kimono but the others were. The funny thing is that the band were actually wearing kimonos that were made in Hong Kong not Japan. To Japanese folks, that was a big deal. Sure, there was always 20 or more girls waiting to meet the band after the show, but I wasn’t partying since I had other things on my mind. I can’t speak for the other guys.

For tour dates and more info, visit

[photo: UDR Music]

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