Scorpions guitarist Uli Jon Roth continues his journey of musical innovation
by Michael Aushenker
Uli Jon Roth is back! Those anticipating, however, that the longtime Scorpions’ guitarist will rock Ventura like a hurricane may not exactly get what they’re expecting. Which is good. “I like to play stuff that is new and that’s exciting and exploratory,” Roth said, “but it’s also nice to play something that is familiar to the audience and make them happy.”
See, Roth’s history with the German metal-meisters is messy. He bailed from the group long before the Scorpions peaked following the 1984 release of Love at First Sting, which spawned international hits “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and “Still Loving You.” But he had applied his powerhouse riffage to a slew of studio albums, including In Trance and Taken by Force — as well as his killer swan, um, scorpion song, 1978’s legendary live album, The Tokyo Tapes.
While the Scorpions became big MTV staples alongside a parade of dumb-fun metal acts, Roth journeyed down a more high-minded path with Electric Sun, the group’s three albums packed with politicized rockers addressing the atomic bombing of Japan and slain peace-seekers Martin Luther King Jr. and Anwar Sadat. By the 1990s, Roth went solo, playing festival gigs alongside fellow accomplished guitarists Joe Satriani, Queen’s Brian May and original Scorpions lead guitarist Michael Schenker.
At the Ventura Theater, Roth’s repertoire will include something unexpected by head-bangers. Playing the double-necked Sky Guitar that he invented himself back in the early 1970s, Roth devotes a half-hour of his set to Spanish guitar. “I grew up not just playing electric guitar. Before the Scorpions, I performed much more classical,” he said. Of course, he does it with a twist. “I’m not playing pure flamenco,” Roth continued. “I play my own kind of strange brew.”
The Sky Guitar’s shape came to him while asleep. “I kind of literally dreamt it up,” he said. “While I was in the Scorpions, I quite frequently wanted to play higher. I studied violin concertos and I loved those musical avenues.” Hence, the range-expanding Sky Guitar, the first seven-string rock instrument capable of “vastly extending the upper range to play as high as the violin.”
A decade ago, Roth continued his mission to elevate the sanctity of the electric guitar by launching Sky Academy in Los Angeles, a globe-traveling guitar master class on “the metaphysics of music” featuring rock guitar gods Gilby Clarke of Guns N’ Roses fame, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid and The Doors’ Robby Krieger.
“Innovation and musical exploration” is why Roth continues creating new stuff, both future-facing and rear-view gazing. He’s currently preparing a DVD recorded last year called Tokyo Tapes Revisited, culling 2.5 hours of live concert footage. The plan is to release it by year’s end. He’s also workshopping new material during preconcert sound checks that diehard fans with VIP tickets can witness.
A bevy of accomplished ax-wielders — Jennifer Batten (Michael Jackson, Jeff Beck), Darren Block and Train River, and Andy Timmons (Danger, Danger) — joins Roth for what he deems “purely an evening of intense music-making.” Expect Roth to unleash classic Scorpions stingers like “Backstage Queen,” “We’ll Burn the Sky,” “All Night Long.”
“I’ve got a deeper appreciation for it,” Roth said. “It’s great to play. When you see their faces, it does something.”
Uli Jon Roth plays Thursday, March 10, at the Ventura Theater, 26 S. Chesnut St., Ventura. For more information, visit www.venturatheater.net.