Uli Jon Roth: Master of the Sky Guitar

Uli Jon Roth: “I Hear Talented Players, But Most Of Them Sound Pretty Awful”

By Andrew Catania

The maestro Uli Jon Roth is currently on the European leg of the G3 Tour with Joe Satriani and John Petrucci. Uli is celebrating 50 years of performing live.  I spoke with on day two of the tour in Poland.  In Uli fashion, he offers his opinion on some of today’s guitarists.

How is the G3 tour going so far?

UJR:  My Amplifier blew up in Moscow which was rented gear.  I sounded like a Mickey Mouse on steroids with my usual appetite.  I was reduced to two speakers.   We’re having a great time on this tour, and it was delightful playing with the two such guys, Joe Satriani and John Petrucci.

You’re celebrating 50 years of live shows.  Does it feel like time has gone by fast?

UJR:  I guess it does, you know, I can still very well remember what it was like back in 68 when I started playing on stages. I remember what it felt like and remember what it sounded like.  In some respects, it seems like it was just yesterday.

The band you’re touring with, are the former or present students of your Sky Academy?

UJR:  Some of them were Sky Academy students.  Not all of them.  I enjoy teaching, and I appreciate seeing people progress and go beyond their usual stages and to become much better. So it’s a great thing to watch to happen

Tell me about your new Sky Guitar line.

UJR:  I used to be with Dean Guitars. We created a limited edition of 50 Sky Guitars all of them were hand built.  They were all sold in a months time.  My dear friend Elliot Rubinson, who was the CEO of Dean Guitars passed away tragically, and it was a significant loss because he was one of my best friends and a good bass player. Elliott used to play for me in America and fact even Japan and Europe very often.   After Elliott’s passing, I felt it was time for me to move on.  It’s a good company that Elliot built, but their guitar clientele wasn’t the class who would go for Sky Guitars. I decided to, form my own Sky Guitar Company.

We’ve already taken orders for about 10-12 guitars,  and they’re costly. They’re like collector items.  People who own Sky Guitars already are ordering more. Having my own guitar company gives me the opportunity to keep on experimenting and pushing the envelope because two instruments are never the same.  We’re always new adjustments and little changes here and there to perfect them.  The ones that are being built now are like real dream machines.

Uli Jon Roth: "I Hear Talented Players, But Most Of Them Sound Pretty Awful"

How are you choosing your setlist for this tour?

UJR: We’re currently experimenting, and it’s just the second gig.  There are three sets, and none of us get a full set.  We have to pace it.   We each only play 40-45 minutes and Joe plays a little longer.  We have to keep it short and snappy. And for me, that’s difficult because I’m used to playing long sets with the uncertain lesson being very free flow.  Yesterday and the day before we made it to the last song.  The 40-minute limit is a learning curve, but I’ll adjust. It’s interesting to create such a short show.

Last time we spoke, you were talking about how some present guitarists lack tone.  Do you still feel that way?

UJR:  It’s a little bleak out there.  I hear talented players, but most of them tend to sound pretty awful. It seems to be a complete lack of awareness regarding a tone production.  I find that deplorable.  You can only teach so much.  Doing a lesson here and there can maybe open the ears and eyes of occasionally off of certain people who are ready for it.  With some people, you need a lot more and a lot longer to awaken that kind of ability to listen to the tone.  I think a lot of people have the potential ability. It tends to be sleeping, you know, and it’s a convenient time to sleep because it’s effortless to play, um, with this two dimensional kind of tone, which is dead and pseudo-musical, um, it is much harder to shape every note and to um, and to produce something that’s organic and hasn’t stood.

A lot of players tend to prefer the easy way.  It’s certain quality control that’s needed, but that has to start inside of each person.  People need to want it, and they don’t want it. Then they’re not going to get it. Most people’s tones are gray or brown.

Do you think YouTube has hallowed the guitar?

UJR:  It certainly helps people increase there proficiency.  They can see how people do it and they can rewind it, and people talk about it. They show them how to do it as so much teaching going on YouTube. So in that sense, it probably accelerates the progress.  It depends on the teacher also because YouTube isn’t going to go away.  I guess it has benefits and some detriments.

Your US tour starts in May.  Are you bringing a support act?

UJR:  We will have support acts in some venues, but we’re not bringing a support act.  We’re doing whats called the Triple Anniversary Show.  Why it’s called the Triple Anniversary Show because in 1978, the year I let the Scorpions, I formed Electric Sun.  That was 40 years ago.  We’ve looked at my periods with the Scorpions. Now I thought I’m going to do the same with the Electric Sun period which started in 1978 and we’re going to go with a whole tour. I’m going to do the best of that material.  It’s going to be called Electric Sun Reborn.  We had a lot of fans in America at that time, but we only ever did one tour in America in 1985.  Then in 1986.  I started long hibernation process for 13 years where I went more into just the classical music.

Uli Jon Roth: "I Hear Talented Players, But Most Of Them Sound Pretty Awful"

I felt it would be a good idea to do the Electric Sun songs. A lot of people have asked about these songs; We’re going to bring them back to life and see what we can do with them and maybe how to better them,  Then the second anniversary is the end 40 years anniversary of Tokyo Tapes, which was also important. What we’re going to do at the end of the show is we’re going to close with a few songs from Tokyo Days.  The third anniversary is maybe the biggest of all of them because that’s my 50th anniversary playing live.  It started in 1968. So I’m one of these dinosaurs with the guitar who have already been on stage in the sixties.

At this point in your career, are you going to record new music?

UJR:  Absolutely. There’s still a lot to be said. It’s become a lot harder to do albums nowadays because they need to be financed differently because back then albums tended to fund themselves.  Now records tend to cost as much or more then what it cost to make the record.

So mainly you’re working for free, which is fine. And should be fine in music, We all have to make a living, and it’s difficult.  I love and hate making an album at the same time.  I’m not one of these people that can walk into a studio today and tomorrow have an album ready.  I take my time to make a record. It’s a serious process for me.

Aside your US tour starting in May, what are your plans for the rest of 2018?

After North America, we’ll do some festivals in Europe, and we will do more touring of Europe with the Triple Anniversary tour. In September I think we will be in South America.  In November we possibly will be in Japan and likely end up in Siberia on the way back.

For more information on Uli Jon Roth please visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Uli-Jon-Roth-26843841074/

Uli’s website is at http://ulijonroth.com/ 

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