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Legendary guitarist Uli Jon Roth celebrates a half-century of performance

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Legendary guitarist Uli Jon Roth, formerly of the Scorpions, is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first live performance with an extensive US and Canadian tour that will bring the trail blazing musician to Tupelo Music Hall in Derry, New Hampshire, on April 20. "We're playing music from all through my career, including quite a bit of Electric Sun and early Scorpions material," Roth says of the tour. Legendary guitarist Uli Jon Roth, formerly of the Scorpions, is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first live performance with an extensive US and Canadian tour that will bring the trail blazing musician to Tupelo Music Hall in Derry, New Hampshire, on April 20. "We're playing music from all through my career, including quite a bit of Electric Sun and early Scorpions material," Roth says of the tour. (Photo courtesy of Uli Jon Roth)

This is how you commemorate 50 years of visionary groundbreaking music. Trail blazing guitarist, composer and bandleader Uli Jon Roth is doing just that right now on extensive tour of the U.S. and Canada that will bring the former Scorpions guitarist to Tupelo Music Hall in Derry, New Hampshire, on April 20.

Uli Jon Roth is a guitarist’s guitarist. Globally recognized as one of the instrument’s great innovators, Roth forged a singular style that honors his influences (from Handel to Hendrix) while pioneering new techniques that bridge multiple musical genres and configurations.

By the time Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen began spinning heads with their fiery fret work, Roth had lain the ground work by blending technical mastery with melody and emotion.

Roth built his reputation in the 1970s with the Scorpions through hundreds of concerts, four studio records and a live double set recorded in Tokyo that marked his final appearances as a full-time member.

Eager to reinvent himself and move beyond the restrictions of mainstream rock, Roth left the Scorpions in 1978 to create “Electric Sun” – a new band and project that combined his love of classical music with the style of Jimi Hendrix.

Initially launched as a power trio, Electric Sun ultimately released three albums before Roth moved into a new era of composition for symphonies and concertos. For the first time in many years, Roth is revisiting his Electric Sun period on his current tour.

In 2003, Roth teamed with Sky Orchestra to record and tour “Metamorphosis of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons,” a breathtaking interpretation fusing classical and rock that he has rearranged for his current tour as a VIP pre-show event.

For his 50th anniversary tour, Roth has decided to spotlight what he feels are the touchstones of his career to date while also paying tribute to his rock and classical heroes.

One day before departing his home in Wales for tour rehearsals in Germany, Roth checked in with The Maine Edge to discuss his life and career.

The Maine Edge: This tour looks to be a dream-come-true for fans who’ve longed to hear you perform some beloved works that haven’t been played for years. You’ve recorded so much music, it couldn’t have been easy to craft a set that honors each era of your career.

Uli Jon Roth: It has been quite a journey with lots of concerts and lots of albums and some of that will be reflected on the stage with this tour. It’s quite a trip every day. As much as I’m looking forward to it, I’m a little daunted by the sheer amount of workload involved.

It’s going to be a long program. We play for almost three hours with an intermission. We’re playing lots of different things on this tour and I think fans will appreciate the fact that the set-list is so varied. We’re playing music from all through my career, including quite a bit of “Electric Sun” and early Scorpions material.

The Maine Edge: 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the first ‘Electric Sun’ album. Is that music close to your heart?

Uli Jon Roth: Now that I’ve reacquainted myself with that music, I would say that some of it is very close to my heart. I’ve found a way to bond with it in a new way. It’s taken on a new lease on life within myself and I find it to be enjoyable and inspirational but it’s not without its pitfalls. Every song is a bit of a challenge because they’re all so different.

The Maine Edge: Many Scorpions fans love those early albums. It sounds like you’ll be giving them a good dose of music from those years.

Uli Jon Roth: In the second half of the program, we’re playing sort of a “best of” – my favorites of the early Scorpions, including “We’ll Burn the Sky,” “The Sails of Charon,” “In Trance,” and “Sun in My Hand.”

Playing the Scorpions stuff is relaxing for me because I literally know how to do that in my sleep. The second half of the program is more like a party thing. You can really let the music flow freely without any preconditions.

The Maine Edge: How recently have you been in touch with (lead vocalist) Klaus Meine or other members of the Scorpions?

Uli Jon Roth: Very recently. On my birthday (December 18) we played in Hanover, Germany and Klaus visited and saw that show. A month later, Rudolph (Schenker – guitarist and founding member of the band) joined me for two shows in Japan. We celebrated the 50th anniversary in Tokyo and Nagoya. He flew out just to be there. That was a real treat. We’re still really good friends.

The Maine Edge: When you get together, do you reminisce about some of the fun times from the early years?

Uli Jon Roth: We do but we spend most of our time talking about music. Rudolph and I are not so backward looking although we’re both really fond of the early days. It was a great time but they weren’t crazy times like some people might expect. We weren’t ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’ people, as such. There was a little bit more of a serious side to our band, but we had a great time nevertheless.

The Maine Edge: If you had gone through the stereotypical craziness associated with many touring rock bands, it seems to me that you wouldn’t have been able to play so well.

Uli Jon Roth: That’s not actually true. Even though I was never really a person who took drugs, I tried a few things once or twice just to see what it was like. Thankfully, I don’t have an addictive personality.

In the early Scorpions days - although I was always sober at home – I remember I used to drink quite a bit of whisky onstage. Being 19 or 20 years old, it didn’t seem to matter. My reflexes were fully intact. When I was 21, I stopped stone-cold and have never touched a drop since onstage. If I had a glass of whisky onstage now at my age (laughs), I would probably notice the difference.

The Maine Edge: It seems that your English has always been impressively strong. Klaus also speaks fluent English. Were the Scorpions always a multilingual band?

Uli Jon Roth: Klaus and Rudolph picked it up later during the tours. I was lucky that my father was multi-lingual. He was a journalist and an author of books. (Uli’s father, Carl Joseph-Roth, was a reporter and photographer for the Rheinische Post in Dusseldorf).

As such, my father was very language-oriented and had the ability to fluently speak multiple languages. I soaked that up very early on. He helped me develop a love of language. I remember him starting to teach me English when I was five years old. By the time we started learning English in school, I’d had a head start.

At age 11 or 12, I had learned English well enough that I could do English to German translations for them at the newspaper.

I’m lucky that I had that I had been acquainted with the English language very early on which gave me a very large vocabulary, although once a German, always a German (laughs). As you can hear, I still have a German accent - or Scandinavian, as some people tell me.

It’s funny. When I’m in England, they sometimes think I’m American because after an extensive American tour, I develop an American accent. I say things like (with American accent) tomato (tuh-may-doe) or forty and water (with a hard emphasis on the letter ‘r’). When I’m in England, I say tuh-ma-toe or wah-tah (laughing). It’s because I didn’t grow up in a country where English is the dominant language. I tend to adopt whatever accent is around me after some time.

The Maine Edge: Fans around the world cite you as a hugely influential guitarist. You’ve brought many people to the guitar and encouraged them to learn how to play it. At this point, does the instrument still hold any secrets for you?

Uli Jon Roth: There are secrets to be found but they’re not huge revelations. When you first start playing, you have revelations all the time because you’re constantly learning. When you learn to play an instrument without a teacher, as I did, it starts to reveal itself gradually. Suddenly, you find something new and it makes a big difference.

It’s different now. You’re communicating with an old friend. When I pick up the guitar today, I still have the feeling that it’s fresh and new. I always find a new way of doing things and new ideas are just forthcoming but in a different way. It’s more perfecting certain things than it is reinventing the wheel.

The Maine Edge: Your interpretation of Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” gives me goose-bumps. Your epic arrangement of that music is hauntingly beautiful. What is it about that piece that still resonates with you?

Uli Jon Roth: It’s just an incredible piece of music. It was written several hundred years ago, in either 1720 or 1721 – long before Mozart or Beethoven were born. When I first heard it, I was just fascinated by it, and still am.

I think it’s the most-recorded or most-played piece of music of all time - for good reason. I wanted to explore it, and one day I had the idea of playing it on the guitar. It’s a series of four violin concertos.

It was pretty unplayable at first. When I looked at the score, it was daunting. The technique just didn’t exist. I certainly didn’t know how to do that. After spending a few hours with the score, I began to discover ways to do it that might work. Gradually, I found the answers I was looking for.

For me, the version we recorded with an orchestra in 2003 is probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s also probably one of the least well known because it’s not rock and is not normally played on the rock tours. It’s more of an orchestral kind of thing for theatre audiences.

I was very pleased that you played it at the beginning of this interview because nobody else does. It was so intuitive and knowledgeable of you to choose this piece of music. I’m working on it at the moment - and I need to rework it because I haven’t played it live since – I think – 2004.

Now on this tour, it gives me a chance to play it every evening during our VIP events. Before the show, we have this event that is closed except for people with VIP passes. I’ll perform the whole thing but not with a live orchestra. Some members of my band will perform with me on the second guitar, keyboards and bass. The orchestra is actually on the screen behind us, playing in sync. It presents a bit of a challenge but I very much look forward to it.

The Maine Edge: Uli, if you hadn’t discovered your calling in music, what do you think you might have done?

Uli Jon Roth: If it hadn’t been music, it would have been philosophy. That’s really my favorite – just thinking and coming up with different ideas and ways to view the world.

My father turned me onto photography and films when I was very young. I thought I was going to be a film director. That possibility would have been in the cards.

The Maine Edge: Your health and stamina must be very good or you wouldn’t consider a schedule like the one you have.

Uli Jon Roth: I’ve never missed a single show for health reasons even though I’ve had the flu or whatnot onstage.

The Maine Edge: Are you still a vegetarian?

Uli Jon Roth: Oh yes. I became a vegetarian about 40 years ago, not for health reasons but because I really love animals.

I don’t want to pontificate about vegetarianism because it’s a very personal choice. Some people try it and then go back to eating meat. At this point, I’ll never start eating meat again but I would never try to dictate to other people what they should do with their diet. I eat reasonably healthily and stay away from junk food.

The Maine Edge: Is it difficult to unwind after a show when you need to sleep so you’ll be fresh the next day?

Uli Jon Roth: I wouldn’t say it’s difficult but when you’re on the stage, you’re on a double-high. First of all, it’s a long show and that takes a lot out of you – or at least out of me, because I give it all.

At the end, we have a ‘meet and greet’ event. I like that because it gives me a chance to meet the audience and talk to them and get their input. I like to find out what they think and feel.

After that, we’re on the tour bus where I tend to fade quickly. I’ll have a glass of red wine and then it’s off to la-la land and then we wake up in the next city.

It’s physically demanding to do a tour like this where we’re doing the “Metamorphosis” concerto first followed by a three hour concert. I’m onstage for about four hours. Then I meet with fans and we even have an after-show event for the real diehards.

I enjoy all of it. I see it like a little bit of a communion. We don’t come around all the time. The last time we were around was two years ago. Some people come back year after year which is very nice for me to see and reconnect with them. It’s always good to see old friends and old acquaintances.

The Maine Edge: Is “Metamorphosis” the most challenging part of the show for you and the band?

Uli Jon Roth: “Metamorphosis” is – pardon my French – a bitch to play. It is a real challenge. You can’t put a foot wrong and you really have to be at your best concentration for a full hour to be able to play it. If you even miss a beat, you’re out. It’s that quick. The rock material is a lot easier to play - believe me (laughs).

Tickets for Uli Jon Roth’s performance at Tupelo Music Hall in Derry, NH, on April 20, are available at .


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