Uli Jon Roth (born Ulrich Roth, 18 December 1954) is a German guitarist, who became famous as the Scorpions lead guitarist, and is one of the earliest contributors to the neoclassical metal genre.
He is also the founder of Sky Academy and inventor of the Sky Guitar. He is the older brother of fellow guitarist and artist Zeno Roth.
Dawn Road and Scorpions
In the early 1970s, Uli Roth formed a band called Dawn Road. In 1973, guitarist Michael Schenker left the Scorpions to join UFO. The two remaining Scorpions members, Rudolf Schenker and Klaus Meine merged with the four members of Dawn Road, (Uli Jon Roth, Achim Kirschning, Francis Buchholz, Jürgen Rosenthal) using the name Scorpions as they were more well known than Dawn Road.
During his tenure as lead guitarist, main songwriter and occasional lead singer for the Scorpions, the band released four studio albums between 1974 and 1977. In 1978, the Scorpions released the live album Tokyo Tapes, which was recorded in Japan and sold nearly one million copies and went gold in several countries. However, Uli had left the band in 1978 following the end of the Taken by Force tour and before the Tokyo Tapes release.
Uli Roth formed his own band named Electric Sun, which released three albums. The first, Earthquake (1979), was dedicated to the spirit of Jimi Hendrix. A second album released two years later, Fire Wind (1981), was dedicated to Anwar Sadat (the assassinated President of Egypt who had tried to make peace in the Middle East), and featured a song called "Enola Gay (Hiroshima Today?)" about the atomic bombing of Japan by an airplane of that name.
In 1985, Uli Roth released his third and final Electric Sun album, Beyond the Astral Skies, dedicated to Martin Luther King and to Uli Roth's fans.
After Electric Sun, Uli entered a new phase of creative work, composing four symphonies and two concertos, and sometimes performing with symphony orchestras throughout Europe. He used the name ‘Uli Jon Roth’ for all subsequent album releases and concert appearances.
The G3 European tour of 1998 featured Uli Roth playing with Joe Satriani and Michael Schenker. The tour show at London Wembley Arena also featured a jam with Brian May.
Uli played at the outdoor rock festival at Castle Donington in 2001 (also featuring original Scorpions lead guitarist Michael Schenker on the bill), and this was filmed and subsequently released on DVD.
Uli Roth appeared in concert with the Scorpions onstage at the Wacken Open Air Festival in 2006 along with two other former members of the band. Billed as "A Night To Remember, A Journey Through Time", the Scorpions played four songs from the Roth era, most of which they hadn’t played live since Uli had left in 1978. The concert was filmed and released on DVD.
Although this was meant to be a ‘one night only’ special event, its success meant that the format was repeated on several tours afterwards.
On 2 June 2007 at the Rock am Ring festival in Germany, Uli joined The Smashing Pumpkins on stage for their epic closing song "Gossamer". He made another appearance with the Pumpkins upon their return to Germany on 26 February 2008.
In 2007, Roth had begun working on a new full-length studio album, which was to be released the following year. The title of the album would be "Under A Dark Sky" and was going to be the first official release in the long-awaited series of Symphonic Legends - a cycle of music written by Uli for his all-encompassing Sky of Avalon project.
Uli Roth debuted songs from "Under A Dark Sky" on 18 July 2008 in his headline set at the G-TARanaki Guitar Festival in New Zealand, Roth's debut concert in the country. In the previous week Uli had taken his "Sky Academy" tuition classes to regional Taranaki towns in Waitara, Inglewood and Opunakewith guests Vernon Reid and Gilby Clarke.
"Under A Dark Sky" was released in Japan on 20 August 2008 via Marquee records. The European and USA releases followed a month later on 20 September 2008 on the SPV record label.
In early 2015, Uli Jon Roth released a 2-CD studio album entitled Scorpions Revisited recorded in 2014 in Hannover, Germany, in which he revisited his personal favourites from the early Scorpions period. This CD was highly successful and led to a world tour by Uli with a full electric rock band. Following the success of this tour, Uli then led a tour called, "The Ultimate Guitar Experience," with fellow guitarists Jennifer Batten and Andy Timmons. This tour was met by critical acclaim. Seemingly without much rest, Uli soon thereafter embarked on another world tour, this time playing "The Tokyo Tapes," songs from the Scorpions 1978 tour of Japan and ensuing live album. In December 2016, a double CD and Blu-ray/DVD were released of a concert Uli and his band played in Japan in 2015 commemorating the anniversary of "The Tokyo Tapes." In March, 2017, Mr. Roth concluded a short, but very successful North American tour, highlighting songs from both "Scorpions Revisted" and "Tokyo Tapes."
Uli contributed an afterword to the 2017 book, Shredders!: The Oral History Of Speed Guitar (And More), by Greg Prato.
In 2018, he participated a second time at the G3 European tour with Joe Satriani and John Petrucci.
In the 1980s, Uli Jon Roth commissioned construction of custom guitars with additional frets from luthier Andreas Demetriou. He has had five of these "Sky" guitars made. To be able to emulate the high notes of a violin, all of the Sky Guitars contain extra frets. The first Sky Guitar (used on the album Beyond the Astral Skies) has 30 frets. Later versions of the Sky Guitar overcame the problem of the higher register frets becoming too narrow by widening the frets by whole steps for the highest notes. In an April 2001 Guitar Player magazine interview, Uli reports that the guitars are either fretless above the 30th fret or have whole step fret spacing above the 27th fret, with 35 effective (half step) frets. All of the Sky guitars with frets have scalloped fretboards. The Sky guitar's pickups are custom 4-coil humbuckers made by John Oram, with one guitar having an Oram pickup hidden under the 24th fret. For a time, Uli used a Framus Dragon amplifier, although currently he promotes Blackstar Artisan 100 & Series One 200 Watt heads. He has also used a stalk mounted Vibesware guitar resonator (sustainer) to introduce infinite sustain as on the instrumental Benediction on his Under A Dark Sky album. In 2011, Dean Guitars produced 25 Custom Sky Guitars based on Uli Roth's custom models, with six and seven strings.
In Roth's early days with Scorpions, his soloing style was based primarily on the blues scale, occasionally incorporating notes from other modes. However, by the time the band recorded the Virgin Killer album, he began incorporating more advanced compositional elements from European classical music, such as pedal tone sequences and intricate arpeggios. Beginning with Electric Sun, the classical influence began to dominate his playing style, notable in songs like "Cast Away Your Chains" and "Still So Many Lives Away". His style eventually became a fusion of blues-based rock with European classical sensibilities. Uli Roth employs major and minor pentatonic, the blues scale, phrygian, harmonic minor, diminished, and the whole tone scale, notably in his famous "Sails Of Charon" solo.
Uli Roth has been on the covers of many guitar magazines and has influenced many notable guitar players, including Kirk Hammett, Marty Friedman, Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Stump, Gus G, Andy DiGelsomina, Michael Romeo, James Byrd, Wolf Hoffman, and Hank Shermann of Mercyful Fate.
Fly to the Rainbow (1974) - Guitar, vocals
In Trance (1975) - Guitar, vocals
Virgin Killer (1976) - Guitar, vocals
Taken by Force (1977) - Guitar, vocals
Tokyo Tapes (1978) live - Guitar, vocals
With Electric Sun
Earthquake (1979) - Guitar, vocals
Fire Wind (1981) - Guitar, vocals
Beyond the Astral Skies (1985) - Lead/harmony vocals, guitar, keyboard, bass
The Electric Sun Years Vol. I & II (2000) (DVD, part of the Historical Performances series)
Solo and classical works
Aquila Suite - 12 Arpeggio Concert Etudes for Solo Piano (1991)
Sky of Avalon - Prologue to the Symphonic Legends (1996) (with Sky Orchestra)
From Here To Eternity (1998) compilation
Transcendental Sky Guitar Vol. I & II (2000) live
Legends Of Rock: Live At Castle Donington (2002, DVD & CD) live
Metamorphosis of Vivaldi's Four Seasons (2003) (with Sky Orchestra)
The Best Of Uli Jon Roth (2006) compilation
Under A Dark Sky (Sky of Avalon) (2008)
Scorpions Revisited (2015) live
Tokyo Tapes Revisited - Live in Japan (2016), DVD & CD) live