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Interview: Guitarist Sean Baker Discusses His Latest Record and The Sean Baker Orchestra

By Andrew Catania

Shred is not dead.  When you look at ShredGuy Records, you can see it’s alive and well.  When I first saw Sean Baker, I asked him if he was related to Kerry King as they look a lot alike.   What I soon learned was the Sean Baker Orchestra kicks some serious ass.  I listened to Sean’s latest record on autoplay 3 times while sitting in Orlando traffic recently.  I recently spoke with Sean and asked him how did the SBO start among other things.

Sean, how did you start playing guitar? At what age?

Always been a huge fan of music. My parents always listened to music when I was growing up, so I think that had a huge impact on me. As corny as it sounds when I heard Van Halen’sEruption” I knew I had to play guitar! Eddie had it all: Badass songs and jaw-dropping guitar solos. Hearing him as a youngster really made want to play an instrument (guitar), where I never really had an interest in playing music up to that point. Thank you, Eddie Van Halen!

Were you self-taught or had traditional lessons?

Tried traditional lessons first, but quickly got bored with the Mel Bay method. Here I was wanting to play Van Halen and the like, and I’m painfully learning ” Shoo Fly, Don’t bother Me”! Gave up traditional lessons, and went for it on my own for awhile until I took about two months worth of lessons from a dude that graduated from G.I.T in Hollywood. After about six or seven lessons with him, I realized I was showing him more then he was teaching me and decided to start my own lifelong journey into the world of music!

Were you in any bands during your younger years?

Yes! I’ve been in bands since high school really. The majority of them being vocal bands with local area musicians (Detroit area). Played with some great bands through the years and had a great time growing up and playing music with my friends! After one of my vocal projects fell apart in 2002, I took some of the vocal songs we had recorded and turned them into instrumental guitar songs, which became my first CD with The Sean Baker Orchestra. Which was re-released on ShredGuy Records

Explain how you came up with the concept the Sean Baker Orchestra?

Basically, the concept for SBO was to write instrumental music and have as many of my friends and heroes as I could come in and play on the songs! Whether it be live or record in the studio. I could get all these different players to come in and be a part of my “Orchestra” and I would basically be the conductor. It’s been great too! Rusty Cooley, Marc Rizzo, Joe Stump, Toby Knapp, and Bruce Bouillet have all contributed badass solos on my CDs! Even RacerX singer Jeff Martin and TSO/ Metal Church vocalist Ronny Munroe sang tunes on our CD” Game On!!!”. So it’s been kickass in every sense.

What other instruments do you play?

I play bass, guitar, and have just taken a likening to Ukulele!

Do you improvise when you’re playing live?

Hell yea! I love improvising and I think it’s the most fun thing about playing guitar! Constructing solos is totally fun, but there is nothing like just going for it! There is an art to playing stuff off the top of your head that sounds like you worked on it for ten years! Guthrie Govan makes all of us look bad with his skills of improvisation! Something about falling down the stairs and landing on your feet just gives me goose bumps!

Who are your influences?

Mr. Van Halen of course, YngPaul Gilbert, Jason Becker, George Lynch, Yngwie, and a bunch of the Mike Varney style shredders! I also love Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Steely Dan, and a ton of seventies songwriters which I believe is the strongest era for songwriting.

What’s your rig setup?

My rig is really simple: I play and endorse Schecter Guitars. I have six, seven, and eight string guitars from Schecter and love them dearly! Great company too! My amp is a Randall RM 100 which is an MTS modular amp. Great sounding amp with great versatility. My pedal board consists of Boss delay and noise suppressor, MXR phaser, Ibanez screaming demon wah pedal, and I use a Jason Becker Perpetual Burn overdrive to wet the distorted tones so they aren’t so dry.

How long did it take you to record this record?

Game On!! Was by far the easiest cd I have ever made! I demoed each song on my phone and sent it to the bassist Dave Donigian, and drummer Clint Sabon. I think we rehearsed three times and went in the studio. Drums and bass were done in two days, and it took awhile to get guitars done. I had the most fun making that CD and I’m very proud of the results! It was my first release on the Shredguy label, so I wanted to come up with something special and I believe we did just that! My finest hour so far…..The ClownHammer CD was easy to record, but we spent a TON of time in pre-production which actually helped us in the recording process. We worked really hard writing the songs, down to paying attention to every syllable vocally. We all wrote vocal melodies and lyrics which was a first for me. I think the ClownHammer CD is great and will always be proud of that particular project! Shredguy did a great job promoting the CD and actually getting the CD made! Mike McDowell has been great to me since day one and I adore the dude for what he has done for me and the shred community! Thanks, Mike! You can pick up ClownHammer and The Sean Baker Orchestra CDs online at Shredguy’s website!

Do you have any plans for any nationwide touring?

No plans really, but if a great offer came about I would jump on it! I played a lot of shows out here opening for various guitarist and did a tour with Bruce Bouillet in 2013, so I’ve done a fair amount of live shows. Opening for Jennifer Batten, Chris Poland, Nevermore, Gary Hoey, Uli Jon Roth, Marc Rizzo, Joe Stump, Mike Orlando, and much more was a total blast. I just love creating and playing music so I try not to close any doors where I get to do that!

Follow Sean @ https://www.facebook.com/The-Sean-Baker-Orchestra-114567625240995/

To order Sean Baker Orchestra CD @ http://www.shredguyrecords.bigcartel.com/

The Icon That is Uli Jon Roth

By Andrew Catania

Uli Jon Roth has had an amazing musical career which comprised over 40+ years of dominance in the rock guitarist’s music industry. He had been an icon for all the metal guitarists and the younger generation. What a magic he has in his fingers which bends the strings in such a way that it emanates breathtaking tunes from his finger tip. Don’t you believe?

Trust me, listen to this The sails of Charon – from the album and feel how master this man is in playing the intricate nuances of the guitar.

Being a German guitarist, at a very early age, he became famous after taking the charge of Scorpions as lead guitarist. It was a very sudden decision when two lead guitarists of Scorpions band (at that time) left the band for joining UFO. Then the remaining band members merge with them to in order to sustain the band. Uli Jon Roth had a band with the name of Dawn Road at that time which he had to end the existence of Scorpions. In reality, Scorpions gave him more space and chance to explore himself as a lead guitarist, songwriter, and occasional singer. ‘Tokyo Tapes’ was there major hit, which was recorded in Japan and sold nearly 1 million copies all around the world.

By 1978, he left Scorpions and formed his own band by the name of ‘Electric Sun’. He released three albums through this band and all of them were dedicated to renowned public and social personalities. Then, later on, he started a new phase of his music journey as a solo career in which performed at various concerts such as at London Wembley Arena in 1998, Castle Donington in 2001, Wacken Open Air festival in 2006, Rock am Ring Festival Germany in 2007 and 2008. All of these concerts were mega hits and were leased on DVDs as well. In the meanwhile, he also worked on his exclusive full-length studio album as well named as ‘Under a Dark Sky’ and released it in 2007. Recently in 2015, he released a studio album by the name of ‘Scorpions Revisited’ which was recorded in Germany. The special thing about this album is that he added all his personal favorites from old Scorpions songs. This album was a huge success which led to a world musical tour as well for the electrical rock band music. After seeing this success and getting a too much positive response from the audience Uli Jon Roth initiated a second tour named as ‘The Ultimate Guitar Experience’ with his previous fellow guitarists. This tour again had a much positive feedback and response from the critics as well.

Apart from being a lead guitarist and songwriter, in the 1980’s Uli Jon Roth initiated towards the construction of custom guitars named as ‘Sky Guitars’. It had some additional frets in its construction for emulating the high notes of violin from the bass of the guitar. The first Sky Guitar, they used had almost 30 frets. They were quite popular and made in different shapes, sizes and with a number of frets according to the desired need

Interview: Uli Jon Roth Discusses Future Plans, Sky Guitars, Lack of Tone and Too Much Shredding in Today’s Guitarists

 By Andrew Catania

Uli Jon Roth is a legend.  When he speaks, many people listen.  Uli is from the old school.  I talked to him right after his tour ended and he visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  We covered many topics.  Enjoy!

How was your latest tour?

The tour had just officially ended yesterday, and it was fantastic. It was my best American tour.  We had a great time, the band had a great time, I had a great time, and it seems the audience also had a very good time.  I mean it was just one of these tours where everything went kind of smoothly, and we didn’t have any major problems not even with the weather although we actually escaped the blizzards very narrowly a couple of times you know, and even in New York, in upstate New York, we were lucky because at that time of the year anything can happen you know

 

Absolutely!  How did your trip to the Hall Of Fame go on Friday?  

 

It was great!  I just had an invitation to it to just to check it all out and the curator, Meredith, she was so kind she took me around she took me to all the exhibits.  It was just a very good museum the way they displayed everything up close so nicely.  It was extremely well displayed, and it told a story.  So it was very good, I enjoyed it.  And that was our one day off you know, we had one off day in 17 days, and it was fantastic it was cool

(laughter)

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I’m glad you enjoyed it.  Do you think you’ll have a Sky Guitar on display there?

 

You know they’ve asked me to get them a guitar, and I will do something you know.  I was thinking maybe about the white Strat in the Tokyo Tapes In Trance, it’s an Electric Sun Strat because that guitar is just sitting around and it was in a museum for years I got it back, but yes we are going to talk about that you know
Okay, that’s good.  So the tour has ended, what are some of the highlights of the trip that just come to your mind?

Well, I tell you there was really so many shows that I was really very happy with that I cannot even pick the very best one but we had so many.  The outcome in Florida and St Charles was great.  You know BB King’s was a great show and a lot of people came despite the blizzard.  That amazed me because I knew that a lot of tickets had been sold and quite a few couldn’t come but it was still good and quite full and we had a great show there.  Then Reggie’s in Chicago was great.  I mean so many I think so many, San Francisco was great, Seattle, Vancouver.  Yes, I mean there wasn’t a single show that I wasn’t happy with.   Sometimes you play a little bit better than on certain days but we had a very consistent run and I think we were able to transmit a lot of inspiration night after night by which is the most important thing and it’s not so easy to do that night after night you know when you don’t have any off days.  But I have a fantastic band and everyone just pulled through and it was just so good

 

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How do you pick the musicians that work with you?

They’re basically musicians who have been with me for a long time and they’ve been handpicked and kind of almost handpicked I guess of a lot of them because some of them have been with me for 10 years and are also pupils of mine in many respect so I’m now at the point where they’ve become so good as a backing band night after night that I’m just so lucky to have these guys there.  Very quiet unit and the beautiful thing is they all have very sweet personalities so we don’t have any people with ego problems you know like you have in many bands you have like the odd one out you know high maintenance people who only don’t fit in and with us, it’s a very sweet environment.  On this tour we have my favorite English drummer who also played on both releases, both current releases The Scorpions Revisited and the Tokyo Tapes Revisited DVD so that’s Jamie Little on drums.  I love that guy’s groove and rhythm it’s second to none and he always sounds like a million dollars when he’s up there on stage very very comfortable to just play with such a top class drummer.  On vocals and bass, we have Niklas Turmann, who’s been with me also for a long time since the Under The Dark Sky Tour in 2008. He is now officially our lead singer.  He’s come a long way because originally he was not really a lead singer but I figured he had such a vocal talent I actually encouraged him more and more and more and more and gave him more and more to sing and he’s just outstanding I mean the amount of people that come to me every night commenting on the beautiful performance and what he delivers is really astounding and also he played bass on this tour.  He’s usually actually not our guitar player we used to go out with three guitars but my dear friend Elliot Dean Rubinson just passed away and Elliot was supposed to play bass on this tour

Elliot was a terrific person.

But he had terminal brain cancer unfortunately and simply I saw it coming and by the time in November, I kind of knew that Elliot would not be on this tour or the cruise and so I said to Niklas, “okay, you’re basically now officially a bass player” and he managed wonderfully.  He didn’t put a foot wrong he sounds like a real bass player, which most guitar players don’t when you hand them a bass they sound like guitar players

(laughter)

It’s an entirely different instrument and he understands that so it’s just great.  On second guitar we have David Klosinski, a young prodigy from Germany who was also handpicked.  I found this guy in a national guitar competition in Germany.  I was one of the judges and when I heard him play I immediately knew he had tons of talent and I took him under my wings and he’s been with me now for quite a number of years on almost every tour and he also has his own project going.  Yes, a very promising young future talent. On keyboards, we have Corvin Bahn, who’s been with me since 2007.  So that’s all I can tell you about the backing band you know,  in fact, I could tell you a lot more.

 I know you’ve been playing extended range guitar for many years, what first led you to go beyond what was offered by mainstream guitars?

Well you know I was a strat guy pretty much from the beginning although I did on the first Scorpions album I also played the Gibson Firebird but the strat as you know has traditionally 21 frets now it so happens that even for the first or second album Onwards that we did which  was In Trance, I kind of ran out of frets quite literally because the logic of my guitar leads always seem to be moving upwards more into the violin range and I remember really having to over bend the strings the top E string which was an E flat string for us in order to shift from the C to the E flat or the C sharp to the E natural.  So the more I explored the instrument with the later albums the more there appeared to be a significant limitation because I always thought why can I not play a few notes higher.  That was during the Electric Sun days in 1982 I had the idea to extend the fretboard off the strat.  So I found an excellent guitar builder in Brighton in England, Andy Demetriou and I asked him if he could put two extra frets onto my white Strat just basically extending it right up to the pickup and he said sure no problem.  He did it and he did a beautiful job.  The guitar came back and it played perfectly and that gave me like an F sharp, even a G on some notes you know when I was bending it up so I was in heaven and I use these notes. After he saw how pleased I was he said, “you know I can build you any guitar you like” and for me, that was a very defining moment. Because I had never really questioned the strat as my primary instrument you know I wouldn’t have dreamt of having a guitar of my own.  At that moment it was a crucial juncture.  I thought, oh wow maybe I should think about that and I did.  I thought about what I really wanted from it from the guitar, I wanted something that would ultimately extend the range and finally do away with this major limitation, what I saw as a major flaw you know.   And so I came up with the shape of the Sky Guitar.  I drew this guitar on a piece of paper which was born out of necessity but also I wanted a guitar that was beautiful but the symmetry could not be symmetrical because it had to have a different kind of balance. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to play that high.  So I had to take away the lower horn.  And then from that idea, the entire guitar emerged.  It was primarily based on the strat the first one was based on another guitar so I wanted to have like a super strat you know and that’s what it became.  Later on, Sky Guitar’s Metamorphosis falls into something different.  I also then wanted to integrate the sonic abilities of the Les Paul which was quite a stretch but somehow we managed.  But the first Sky Guitars were very much strat based on a concept the way the neck flows and all that.  Yes, we built the first Sky Guitar in ‘83. And initially the pickups we had were not good, didn’t sound that good but then Seymour Duncan made me some pickups.  He came to my first show in Santa Barbara and he said, “look what I’ve got for you”  He brought these pickups and we put them on and immediately the guitar sounded so much better.  From then on I played nothing but Sky Guitars virtually on stage

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Who is making the Sky Guitars?  Is Dean making them or is another builder? 

Andy Demetriou stopped building a long time ago because he had some back problems and he moved away from England.  So for 20 years there were no official new Sky Guitars it was Elliot Dean Rubinson, that’s the person we spoke about earlier who played bass for me.  He was also the CEO of Dean and we met during the Frankfurt Trade Shows and we hung out, and he somehow managed to convince me that it would be a good idea to put the Sky Guitar on the market so other people could enjoy it too, and he gave me card blanks to build it anyway I wanted to make it and that was the most important thing because I didn’t want any tampering from any guitar companies to put their stamp on it.  I wanted them to be as good as it possibly could and he gave me complete free hand.  So we built one the CNC way because we basically took a photocopy, a digital copy of my Mighty Wing, my favorite.  That guitar played well but it was not the same as a hand built guitar.  So I found this amazing guitar builder in Germany, Boris Dommenget, who also builds the guitars for The Scorpions and for a lot of other people and he built me a Sky Guitar prototype back in 2010 and I was so blown away by his craftsmanship because he is not only a craftsman who has superior abilities with wood he’s also an artist and I knew I needed somebody who could do both. Andy Demetriou was of that stature.  I had quite a few people try to make Sky Guitars and they all failed miserably even some famous builders.  Stuff never worked, they’re so difficult to build.  And then the Japanese copied them and whenever I saw a copy they basically didn’t play well and it was quite ridiculous actually but Boris was the only one who managed to do that. And he managed to supply us the originals to some degree so basically, Dean was the distributor and they put it on the market and they did the right thing, but Boris in Germany was the one who built it. We made a limited edition of 50 and they were all sold and we’re going to start a new limited edition with new features, very soon

Are there any plans for the future?    I know you were talking about the CNC machine using them at the USA shop.  Are you going to go back and do a USA guitar shop for a budget model or do you want to keep it as is?

I’m thinking about it.  That was one of the things that Elliot and I were planning for the future to do a US Custom model which would not be all hand built.  It would be way more affordable because then this guy who as you may know does cost an arm and a leg and some of them are much more in Japan. So this is not for the fainthearted this is basically for the collector and for people who have got the money but I knew I wanted to start at the high end because I wanted the best guitar as possible and rather than quantity I wanted ultimate quality.  Also,  I wanted that each guitar was slightly different.  They all have names, I gave them names and they all have a slightly different finish and to me, they’re all gorgeous, I love these guitars. And the great thing is I can play them just right out of the box and be on stage with these guitars.  The things I did last week in BB Kings because one guy Aaron Leone bought a white strat guitar some years back and he brought it that night and I played it.  I played Little Wing and Watchtower on it and it worked perfectly.  It wasn’t even set up in my way but yes there was no problem. And I’ve done that before you know people bring their Sky Guitar and I play it on stage.  So that’s kind of cool because it is identical to what I have. I thought that I had better guitars than they do in fact, some of the props are probably better than what I have.  But yes the US custom thing will be more affordable.  It’s still not going to be a cheap guitar.  Eventually we can maybe bring it down to $2,000 or $3,000 but initially, that’s not going to happen because the guitars are just very very complex to make and the pickup system alone is substantial and it just costs a lot of money.  So to bring it to a custom shop level we will have to cut some corners but we’ll make sure that they’re still Sky Guitars.  They’ll look like Sky Guitars, they’ll sound like Sky Guitars, they’ll play like Sky Guitars.  They will not quite be able to have the same power that the top model has, that’s just not doable at that price range

On this past tour, what was your rig like?  Were you doing anything different from your past set ups?

No, it was a very mild version of my standard rig you know I didn’t want to be too loud in these clubs.  So I just used one 300-watt Marshall cab and one Blackstar head which is enough for a club, in fact, it’s more than sufficient.  And with the Sky Guitars I can dial in the beautiful tone because these amps have so much headroom I only need to turn them up to 1 or 2 on the clean channel,  in fact,  I only have a clean channel and then the rest I can key from the guitar, the Sky Guitar has 100 GP output. If I want to, not that I ever use those I may go up to 70 or 80 GP’s sometimes output and that way this makes any amp sing like there is no tomorrow without a gadget in between.

Wow! 

My new Sky Guitars have those delay, analog delay built in. 

 Are you using the DigiTech Whammy still? 

Yes I do, and it’s probably my favorite gadget other than delays, but I only use it very sparingly only a few times during the gig and each time in a different way.  I don’t use it as a gimmick I use it musically.

 Who are you endorsed by?  Do you take any endorsements? 

Well, I am basically an artisan a Blackstar Artisan endorser yes. I mean Marshall has always been very good to me.  I also have with me a DV Mark 40w Amp which is basically a guitar amp but I’m using it to great effect with my acoustic nylon 8 string guitar and that just sounds so amazing.  That amp is just right for this guitar so that’s what I have to have on stage

How did it feel playing the Tokyo Tapes on stage? 

It feels very very organic, very natural.  We’ve now got a little bit of history with that because we’ve been doing it for a couple of years and yes I mean I think we are breathing a lot of new life into the songs and together with my band I believe that we are doing these songs a lot of justice.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it you know with treating them with the right amount of respect at the same time you know so I’m not offering the main melodies everything is there but there are certain things I think we’ve improved upon over the years particularly from the live versions. It flows very nicely

Do you have a good relationship with the guys from The Scorpions?  Do you guys talk?


Absolutely!  Good yes.  Klaus was kind to ring me for my birthday in December.  We had a real good chat, and in October we were in Japan, and we played at the same festival, and then we also played We’ll Burn The Sky together which was a lot of fun.  I have a perfect relationship with them something like that doesn’t go away because we never had a personality clash we’re such good buddies and friends.  On tour,  we understood one another.  You know the only differences were artistic towards the end.  We never had any personality conflict whatsoever.  It’s a lot of mutual respect and to this day. That’s really nice because most bands don’t have that.

No, a lot of them don’t.  I was going to get your opinion, what do you think about the state of the music today mainly guitar oriented music?

Well, I’m not really an expert because I’m not so clued in.  I hear younger players now and then or you know you support bands.  I am aware that there is a lot of talent out there. Well in general maybe I am missing the melodic players.  I think there are too many notes, too much shredding going on.  I prefer the slower, the more touchy kind of feely kind of things you know players with a little bit of a message and uniqueness.  I think a trend has developed in the last 20 years which is not really to my liking and that trend it went away from having a great tone. You know most of the modern amps are metal amps and there is such high gain that every guitar player kind of sounds the same to me you know because the kids don’t learn how to lower the tone anymore like we used to do.  Because when we started there were no high gain amps.  You know you would walk into a club or a pub and there was a guy playing where he is sounding great and even if they couldn’t play so well you would hear people with a right tone in the 60’s and 70’s and those days are kind of gone.  Most of the time when I hear something the sound leaves me feeling very cold and I get bored it seems one dimensional.

So you don’t approve of the development of today’s guitarists? 

So that’s what I can say.  I don’t approve of this development, and there’s very little I can do you know and I am a really old school with my approach and tone is the first thing.  You know music if it doesn’t have tone it doesn’t sound good to me it’s annoying it doesn’t touch me.

With your international competitions that you’re in as a judge as I think with your Sky Academy I didn’t know if you got to meet some of these up and coming guitarists. 

Yes, I do, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s out there in Germany and Germany is a big country 80 million people you know and there’s a lot of young talent there, a lot of players.  So I know what’s out there and there are occasionally I get a kid with a feeling for sound but most of them don’t seem to have that and they don’t appear to have that because it’s become this way.  They don’t even know how it could be otherwise they don’t seem to have a desire to do it otherwise because like you said everybody is blinded by the flashiness of their amps you know and of course it’s so easy to play on a high gain amp.  It kind of needs to do all sorts of things like people develop and breathe bad habits.  As soon as you take away the high gain they sound like amateurs you know, a lot of them and that’s not so cool either.
No, it’s not

At Sky Academy,  I try to preach that kind of gospel off of tone and promoting the tone and finding your tone that’s just very very important

You’ve toured with a lot of people on your Ultimate Guitar Experience.  Do you have any modern day players that are your favorites?

There are quite a few great players out there you know.  Yesterday somebody sent me a lovely message from Eric Johnson which I appreciated and he certainly one of these people.  You know he’s a player with a great feeling for tone an excellent player, very musical.  And then there are quite a few others out there you know.  I don’t want to mention names like that because all the others will say why didn’t you mention me

(laughter)

Oh yes! 

You know what I mean?  I know most of them and so I don’t really want to do that.  Of course the old school old time greats there are certainly some that I could mention. You know I love the way David Gilmore plays.  You know Jeff Beck,  of course, that’s a no-brainer.   There are several but the one’s with the really great tone and great touch is a rare breed. You know most of them you find them from way back in the 60’s or 70’s.  You know the degradation of tone started in the 80’s I felt.  It crept in like a slow disease and there was nothing anybody could do you know and I didn’t want to be part of that.  I kept away from all that.  You know that’s why when I listen to any of these albums the tone gets on my nerves most of the time.

You’ve been in bands and you’ve been a solo performer, what do you see as the benefits from one over the other?

Doing the band thing is a lot of fun and is very low maintenance you have to do so little.  All you do is your little part you know you play a solo, play some rhythm, you accompany so there is that and I certainly enjoyed being in The Scorpions very much. Other than that, yes I guess I became a solo performer very early on and it’s more my cup of tea because I actually like being at home being an all arounder and I like to be in charge of the music that I play, not that I don’t like collaborating with people.  I do if it’s the right kind of individuals.  You know and if it stimulates me and challenges me on an artistic level then I really like that.  Then I have no problem taking a back seat you know.  Like several times I jammed with the Smashing Pumpkins and with Billy Corgan on his own and he’s not known as a virtuoso flashy player but that guy is so musical, when onstage and I take a back seat because I enjoy what he does and we gel you know. So that’s the kind of collaboration that I really like. Other than that I feel very comfortable as a solo artist you know and it gives me the freedom to really do what I want to do.

What has the rest of 2017 got in store for you?


Well, there’s more touring to come in Europe.  I’ve also written a new album which I want to start recording.  Then I am also working on new music for my 8-string Sky Guitar, my Flamingo nylon guitar.  That is a real nice challenge for me.  I really like playing that guitar and writing for it because you know having two new 8-strings opens up so many opportunities in terms of harmonies it can play and also all sorts of keys that wouldn’t sound all that good on a standard guitar.  So I will probably record an album of just that of me playing the swinger style on the 8-string, we’ll see.  We’re also preparing for a big Sky Academy in California near San Francisco for the spring of 2018, we’re going to do a five-day seminar and I’m looking forward to that. I’ll be busy busy busy, very busy!

You have so many people that look up to you, including myself, do you have anything you can tell the up and comers?  I know we talked about a lot of tone and a lot of feel with the aspiring guitarists, do you have any advice for them?


Yes!  Of course, each person is very different.  The guitar brings out so many sides to so many different people.  No two guitar players ever sound alike and no two guitar players are approaching it the same way.  So whatever advice I can give is more like more global.  I think I’ve narrowed it down to a few things that paramount for me in the approach is if I want to help younger players improve or find their own way tone is certainly extremely important.  To find your own tone and style, your own approach to music and the way to do that is you have to get way down deep into the heart of the music and connect deeply.  A lot of players don’t do that, they stay on the surface and the real stuff is way below the surface.  You know you need to be willing to make that journey.  So that’s one thing.  A lot of young guitar players are not so interested in rhythmical playing and the rhythmical side of it.  I think that is very often underdeveloped.  It seems to be a standard approach, it seems to be prevalent.  But I would advise people to kind of check their weak points and then work on it and expand.  Also get out of the narrow box mentality you know, don’t think this is metal, this is this and this is that.  All these so limited and real great players of the past have always avoided that like the plague.  They’ve always had so many colors and they’ve  brought something new to the table always.  Try to bring something new to the table without forcing it you know it’s out there.  I mean the guitar is still a vast field to be explored.  I don’t want to say that just at the beginning we’re not but there is still a lot to be found there.  Each time I pick up a guitar I find something new and that’s nice, it’s like anything else then I’m hardly ever playing because it’s just so fresh.  You know I guess if I was playing all day long like some people do maybe that wouldn’t be the case I find it doesn’t get stale that way

 

My final question for you Uli is you’re seeing the growing YouTube players as I call them.  You’re seeing these young kids 5,6,7 years old that they’re coming on Youtube and they’re playing music that we or at least my generation and older would never even think of. Do you think that YouTube, a lot of the younger generation are using Youtube for in terms of guitar lessons?  Do you think that Youtube has kind of harmed the instrument in terms of traditional guitar lessons?


Yes and no.  That’s an excellent question.  YouTube is a great tool if one knows how to utilize it.  I think for a lot of the kids it also can spoil them an awful lot because they don’t work hard enough on finding their own they’re just copying things blindly and it’s like everything is out there the information doesn’t mean anything anymore.  Like all the great players from the early days had to find everything by themselves.  There were no guitar teachers when I or Schenker or Gilmore grew up or Beck or Brian May.  There were no guitar teachers. You had some classical guitar teachers maybe but nobody playing electric guitar.  There were no books telling you how to play electrical guitar. There were no YouTube videos telling you where to place your fingers.  It was all very root of memory.  You had to find it yourself using your ears and investigating the possibilities of the instrument.  Now anything you find yourself means a lot more because then you really understand it you know rather than being spoon fed.  So this mentality of being spoon fed everything is deceptive.  It’s also a trap.  Surely it helps for people to get quickly from A to B you know because they just simply follow a road map you are aware that somebody else created.  There is nothing wrong with that per say.  The thing is when you only do it that way that’s when it becomes very questionable because you’re then not developing your own powers of imagination and your own powers of discernment.  I’m not knocking these great teaching things online because I have seen some I was interested in and thought maybe I could do some online teaching at some point then I decided against it because I saw, first of all, there are great teachers out there and they’re doing it very well so there’s no need for anybody else to do that.  But also at the same time, the trap is there that maybe people will get too fast from A to B and they may undermine their own powers of imagination and in the end also their own individual kind of take on it.  You know that danger is definitely there.  So everything nowadays as we are aware you know with the internet, which I love the internet but there are pitfalls.   And it’s the same with the entire social media kind of stuff.  It’s all about instant gratification.  You know the kids don’t bond anymore with particular kind of artists, have you seen this one, or have you seen this guy play that and how fast can he do it you know?  It’s like a trap.

 

I agree with you, Uli!  It’s not like what it was when I was growing up with you and the other guys.  It’s nothing like it anymore

Yes and you know that’s why it’s so rare that you actually hear off of these young talents and talents they are, there is a lot of talent out there but that’s why it’s so rare truly with anybody coming up with anything new and meaningful.  Most of the time when you listen to the lead or I’ve heard that before or it’s just like… something from there you know or there’s that Arpeggio and very often it’s just a meaningless meandering kind of collection of riffs and clicks are on display and very poor understanding of the possibilities of what the guitar lead can actually do

 

Can’t wait for your new record!  I hope to see you back here!

Yes, we’ll be back.  What we’re going to do in 2017 the plan is to do Electric Sun Revisited. I want to do the same process that I did with The Scorpions stuff, I want to do the same with the Electric Sun albums.  We did 3 albums.  I want to basically take the most valuable information from those, find the best songs and condense them into a live set and take it on tour in the states because there’s a lot of fans out there waiting for that.  I see that every night, they come in with their Electric Sun albums and we’re not playing that stuff you know.  So I want to do it and also I want to get an Electric Sun Live album out of it. I’m mainly just visiting my own muse at the moment but that’s fine and it’s interesting for me because I’m learning a lot by that and it can put a new spin on things.

The Passionate Playing of Symphony X’s Michael Romeo

By Andrew Catania

Michael Romeo is an American guitarist, who was born in New York City on the 6th of March, 1968. He is a musician and songwriter who is known as one of the founding members of the progressive metal group Symphony X. He has been composing and writing music ever since 1994 until now. His music genres include power metal, progressive metal, neoclassical metal and symphonic metal. He was ranked as the 91st out of 100 best heavy metal guitarists of all time.

Michael Romeo fell in love with music as a child. This is why he was encouraged to take piano lessons at the age of 10. He began to play the clarinet as well. It was when he listened to a music album by the band “Kiss” that he decided to take matters into a different turn. He decided to buy a guitar and ended up buying a cheap guitar at a garage sale.

As a young aspiring musician, Michael Romeo was heavily influenced by the musical style of bands like Kiss and Rush. He liked their style and they had a great effect on the music he made later on. He also got influenced by Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Deep Purple and progressive rock groups like Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.

His love for the guitar became a real passion for listening to  Ozzy Osbourne’s Diary of a Madman and Blizzard of Ozz. He was also deeply touched by the unique and neoclassical style of Ritchie Blackmore, Randy Rhoads, and Uli Jon Roth.

His work was also influenced by many famous classical composers including Ludwig Van Beethoven, Igor Stravinsky, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach. Their music style and technique is quite obvious in the progressive music he composed later on.

In 1992 Michael Romeo recorded a demo tape that he sent around to various production companies but he didn’t face any luck until a Japanese record label expressed their interest in the tape and asked for further material. Zero, the Japanese label decided to produce Romeo’s album in 1994. Romeo teamed up with a keyboardist called Michael Pinnella to work on the album and together they decided to form the band Symphony X. This album was called the “The Dark Chapter”, an entirely instrumental album. The track titles referred to works by the American poet Edgar Allan Poe, like the “The Masque of The Red Death” and “The Premature Burial”. The album cover even featured a raven in reference to a poem by the famous poet of the same title. 9 of the 10 tracks included were composed by Michael Romeo himself.

The band was originally founded by Michael Romeo and Michael Pinnella in 1994. Today it includes drummer Jason Rullo, bassist Michael Lepond, and lead vocalist Russell Allen. After “The Dark Chapter” became quite popular especially in Japan, Romeo recruited bassist Thomas Miller and vocalist Rod Tyler along with drummer Jason Rullo. They recorded an album to bear the name of the band which was again produced by the Japanese label “Zero”. It was released at the end of the same year. After that album, the lead vocalist left the band and was replaced by the current vocalist Allen. The band produced their third album “The Damnation Game” 6 months later.

Symphony X became popular in metal circles after producing their album “The Divine Wings of Tragedy”. The album took some extra time in preparation with recording beginning in 1996 until it was finally produced in 1997. This album allowed Symphony X to become a success in Europe and at the same time their popularity in Japan kept on growing.

The band recorded “Twilight in the Olympus” in 1998 with a replacement drummer when Rullo had to step away for a while and this gave the band the opportunity to have their first live show in the same year which took place in Japan. It was soon followed by a world tour and the bassist left to be replaced by Michael Lepond.

The band released its fifth album in 2000 with the major progressive music label InsideOut Music, which was their first concept album dealing with the myth of Atlantis. The band then recorded their first live album after a tour in Europe and South America. 2 years later the band released an album called “The Odyssey” and was followed by “Paradise Lost”. The last album had darker musical themes and included a special DVD footage of the band throughout their history. In 2007 the band also released their first music video. Paradise lost was followed by another album called “Iconoclast” that describes the way machines are taking over everything in our lives. It was produced in 2011.

Michael Romeo appeared as a guest guitarist for other bands like Ayreon and Flaud Logic. He still managed to work on a new album with Symphony X in 2014. The album was titled “Underworld” and was finally released in 2015. The first single was released in May 2015 while the second followed in June 2015 and was made available for digital download.

Top Neoclassical Guitarists

By Andrew Catania

Neoclassical metal is influenced by classical music and heavily dependent upon mastering complex techniques and forms. Over the past few decades, there are a limited number of neoclassical guitarists that have influenced the music industry. Here is a list of the ten best neoclassical guitarists of the modern era.

Yngwie J. Malmsteen

Yngwie J. Malmsteen gained popularity as a neoclassical metal guitarist in 1980. A new force in heavy metal, he released his first solo album called Rising Force in 1984. This was the catalyst to his success as musicians because despite being only the first song published by Malmsteen, Rising Force went on to win the best rock album for Guitar Player Magazine and was nominated for a Grammy. The success was not short – lived but only the beginning of an incredible career. In 2009, Time Magazine rated Yngwie Malmsteen as amongst the ten greatest electric guitar players of all time.

Uli Jon Roth 

Uli Jon Roth is a German musician who was one of the early adopters of the neoclassical style of music in the metal genre. He gained momentum and influence as the lead guitarist for the iconic band Scorpions. He also had a stint at a solo career before joining the Scorpions during which he composed four symphonies and two concertos. This creative time in his career is said to be the defining moment of his legacy as a neoclassical metal guitarist since his work was heavily inspired by advanced compositional elements from European classical music.

Joe Stump 

Joe Stump is an American musician and composer. Apart from having a solo career, he also plays with Exorcism, Raven Lord and the world-famous metal band HolyHell. His musical style is predominantly inspired by Yngwie J. Malmsteen. 

Chris Impellitteri 

Chris Impellitteri is the founder and lead guitarist of his namesake band – Impellitteri. Although his music is not commercially popular, he has a large following amongst innate metal lovers. His neoclassical style of music takes the form of fast shredding guitar techniques, traditional metal screaming vocals and speedy rhythm. This affinity towards shredding has led Guitar World Magazine to name Chris Impellitteri as one of the fastest guitarists of all times, one rank ahead of Yngwie Malmsteen. 

Michael Romeo
Michael Romeo started the progressive metal band Symphony X. His music as a guitarist is neoclassical in style because as a child, he began formal music lessons at the tender age of 10. Guitar World ranked Michael Romeo #91 in their ‘100 Greatest Heavy Metal Guitarists of all Time’ list.

 George Lynch

George Lynch has a series of successful platinum albums featuring his excellent skills as a lead guitarist. The albums by the band Dokken resulted in Lynch gaining a reputation for being the closest thing as a guitar hero. He was named the ‘Top 10 Metal Guitarists of all Time’ by Gibson.

Marty Friedman

The band Megadeth requires no introduction to the heavy metal fan. The fact that Marty Friedman was the lead guitarist for Megadeth for almost a full decade is nothing short of a reflection of his extraordinary abilities. Marty came from humble beginnings where he was mostly self-taught, and as news of his music spread through his small town, people would come in flocks to hear him play from neighboring villages. Western and eastern music influences his neoclassical style of music.

Ritchie Blackmore

Ritchie Blackmore is an English guitarist and songwriter who was also a founding member of the iconic band Deep Purple. The legendary track ‘Smoke on the Water’ is till date considered being a classic and a reflection of Blackmore’s fondness for illuminating classical elements of music into modern rock and metal. His work with Deep Purple led to Blackmore being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2016.


Randy Rhoads

Randy Rhoads had a wildly successful, yet short-lived career due to his untimely death in a plane crash that also resulted in the passing of the legendary Ozzy Osbourne. During his short time as a heavy metal guitarist, Randy was a significant influence on the neoclassical scene of music and was placed on numerous “Greatest Guitarist” list. His skills were valued so highly that Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot brought him on board to play with them. Today, one can’t help but invoke a sense of “what- if’s” while referring to Randy Rhoads due to the tragic end to his unbelievably talented career. 

 

Tony MacAlpine 

Tony MacAlpine began playing the guitar at the age of 12 and studied classical music as a child. Years of classical influence as a child led to him being recognized as a role model in the neoclassical guitar scene due to his highly advanced shred techniques. He has been described to have the outstanding technical ability when Jason Ankeny from All Music asserted MacAlpine to be a ‘virtuoso.’

Uli Jon Roth: Master of the Sky Guitar

By Andrew Catania

Master guitarist, and an excellent keyboardist, a refined vocalist, and a virtuosic composer: Ulrich Roth aka Uli Jon Roth is an acclaimed German musician, whose name emerged and gained prominence in the early 1970s. Having tested his mettle on a variety of instruments, Roth finally landed on playing the guitar, which turned out to be just the right decision on his part. After that, it didn’t take him much to reach the stature of global fame and repute.

Uli Roth was brought up by his father, who instilled in him a love for aesthetic arts since a very young age. Uli grew up reading classic literature, writing poetry, painting, and learning about visual arts. It wasn’t until 1968 that he realized, his true potential lay in music. Electric guitars, in particular, caught his attention, and having realized what he was going to do in his life, he embarked in pursuit of his passion. Uli staged his first concert later that same year, with Blue Infinity, his first band. Progressing with his high school studies, and after-school music lessons in tandem, Uli partnered with a number of bands during that time, and also cofounded Dawn Road in the early 1970s.

While Dawn Road was still in its incubation phase, Michael Schenker of the famous ‘Scorpions’, was offered a permanent position in UFO. This might have been the end of the Scorpions, but, before leaving for England, Michael invited Uli to join the Scorpions in his place. The end of the year marked the merger of the Scorpions, and Dawn Road, and naming the joint feat after the Scorpions since they held a sounder name in the music sphere.

Uli Roth continued to play as the lead guitarist for the Scorpions. Along with the other members including Achim Kirsching, Jurgen Rosenthal, Francis Buchholz, Klaus Meine, and Rudolf Schenker. The Scorpions released four studio albums until 1977, and a live record titled ‘Tokyo Tapes’, which was recorded during their Taken by Force Tour to Japan. Tokyo Tapes was an ultimate hit and bagged an overwhelming response from across the globe. However, Uli decided to take the high road, and bid farewell to the Scorpions in 1978, before the Tokyo Tapes release.

Electric Sun turned out to be the next milestone in Uli’s career. Cofounded by Uli Roth, Ule Rigen and Clive Edwards, the band’s original lineup was changed after the departure of Clive Edwards. The band released 3 full albums titled ‘Earthquake’ in 1979 which was dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, ‘Fire Wind’ (dedicated to Anwar Sadat) in 1981, ‘Beyond the Astral Skies’ in 1985 and a tribute number titled ‘Enola Gay’ dedicated to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki incidents.

Aside from his band associations, Uli has also established an impressive solo profile over time, in multiple genres including the hard rock, neoclassical, progressive rock, heavy metal, and psychedelic. Some of his highly acclaimed solo feats include two Volumes of Transcendental Sky Guitar (2000), Sky of Avalon in 2008, A Metamorphosis of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (2003), Scorpions Revisited in 2015, and Aquilla Suite – 12 Arpeggio Concert Etudes for Solo Piano (1991).