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Jeff Moehlis: Uli Jon Roth’s Majestic Guitar

Guitarist to revisit Tokyo Tapes album in Ventura

Electric guitar virtuoso Uli Jon Roth got his start with The Scorpions, playing on the band's early studio albums, including Fly to the Rainbow, In Trance and Virgin Killer, and the live album, Tokyo Tapes.

Eager to explore a more expansive direction, Roth left The Scorpions in 1978 to form Electric Sun, which released a trio of albums. His musical journey then took him in a more classical music direction, which continued until he returned to the rock format for the G3 guitar tour in 1998.

More recently, Roth has gone back to his hard rock beginnings with the release of Scorpions Revisited in 2015 and Tokyo Tapes Revisited: Live in Japan in 2016. The latter forms the basis of his upcoming concert at the Majestic Ventura Theater on Feb. 19. Tickets are available online by clicking here.

Roth talked to Noozhawk about the upcoming show and his career in music.

                                                                        •        •

Jeff Moehlis: Can you tell us a bit about the upcoming show, what we can look forward to?

Uli Jon Roth: Recently I played some shows in Japan, basically dedicated to my early Scorpions material. I was in the band for five years and wrote a lot of stuff at that time, and our most successful Scorpions album at that time was called Tokyo Tapes, which was recorded in Japan. So we went back there to the same hall and we recorded Tokyo Tapes Revisited. So this is what this is all about, where our show is mainly devoted to playing this early music of mine, and playing it as it should be — no holds barred. It's just very enjoyable for all of us, and for the audience, too, when we do that.

So that's the main thrust of the program, but I'm also playing some new music, and some other songs that I wrote. Actually, before the concert there's a preshow concert for people with VIP passes where I'm going to play an acoustic concert before the show. I'll play some acoustic pieces that I wrote, including an electric guitar piece by my friend Jason Becker, which I'm recording at the same time. So that's pretty much what's going on.

I enjoy playing the Ventura Theater, let me say that. America is a huge country, and I play there almost every year. Now this tour is almost two months long, so I get to see a lot of places. I always have a fondness for old theaters, and that is like a classic storybook old theater, and one of the special ones. So I'm glad that Ventura Theater — the Majestic Ventura Theater as it's called — I'm glad it's there and that it keeps going. I just love coming back to that place. It's one of the more special venues on our circuit, and I love coming back to it. We've played there quite a few times. The first time with Michael Schenker in 2004, and also last year. As far as I can tell, we always have a great show there. It somehow brings out something good in me.  I really hope that we can do the same this year.

Guitar master Uli Jon Roth will perform at the Majestic Ventura Theater on Feb. 19.
Guitar master Uli Jon Roth will perform at the Majestic Ventura Theater on Feb. 19. 

JM: The original concerts for the Tokyo Tapes were almost 40 years ago. What do you remember about those concerts?

UJR: It came at the very tail end of my involvement with The Scorpions back then. I had tendered my resignation, so to speak, because I wanted to do something different for my own band, which was then to become Electric Sun. So Tokyo Tapes was actually the very last time we played together, and we decided to make a live album from it.

What I remember is it was a special time, because it was our first time in Asia, and we had a great reception over there. Back then it was very rare for international bands to go to Japan, particularly a German band — we were the first German band to go there. And we struck a chord with them. We were also playing live pretty much at the top of our game at that point, and luckily it was captured on vinyl. So that's what I remember. It was a special moment in my life.

JM: After you left The Scorpions, you released the Earthquake album as Electric Sun. How did your approach to that music and that album differ from what you had been doing with The Scorpions? Obviously it sounds different.

UJR: It was very different, in more respects than just one. With The Scorpions, we had a self-imposed framework that was geared toward being successful, and more and more toward the end being very successful and very commercial, whatever that means. With Electric Sun, I wasn't interested in any of those things. I felt like I'm a musical pathfinder. I wanted to explore music more deeply than I was able to within the framework of a "commercially oriented" rock band.

So I did everything differently with Electric Sun. My guitars were not as distorted, it wasn't even as rock-oriented. It was much more free-flow, free-form, a strange mix of all sorts of things. A little like (Jimi) Hendrix meets (Ludwig van) Beethoven, in terms of influences.

Initially, reaction to my first album was mixed, because a lot of people were expecting me to do something like Virgin Killer times 10 after leaving The Scorpions, and I gave them exactly the opposite. But from the second Electric Sun album onwards, which was called Fire Wind, the reputation of the band grew and it became quite successful in its own right. We did a really big American tour in '85.

So I did three albums, but eventually I felt that even that framework was too stifling for me. I started to write more classically oriented symphonic music. I effectively quit the whole music business in '85 for something like 13 years, where I just concentrated on finding new music. I only got back into touring and rock music in general through an offer to tour with G3, with Joe Satriani, in 1998. That's when I started touring again.

Click here for the full interview with Uli Jon Roth.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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