Uli Jon Roth (born 18 December 1954 as Ulrich Roth) is a German guitarist, who became famous as Scorpions lead guitarist, and is one of the earliest contributors to the neo-classical 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, 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, Roth had left the band before the album’s release.
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" about the atomic bombing of Japan.
In 1985, Roth released his third and final Electric Sun album, Beyond the Astral Skies, dedicated to Martin Luther King and to Roth's fans.
After Electric Sun, Roth entered a new phase of creative work, composing four symphonies and two concertos, and sometimes performing with symphony orchestras throughout Europe. Roth used the name ‘Uli Jon Roth’ for all subsequent album releases and concert appearances.
The G3 European tour of 1998 featured Roth playing with Joe Satriani and Michael Schenker. The tour show at London Wembley Arena also featured a jam with Brian May.
Roth 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.
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 Roth 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, Roth 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.
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 week previous Roth had taken his "Sky Academy" tuition classes to regional Taranaki towns in Waitara, Inglewood and Opunake with 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 the 1980s, Roth commissioned construction of custom guitars with additional frets from luthier Andreas Demetriou. Roth 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, Roth 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. Roth's preferred amplifier is currently the Framus Dragon, and he uses a stalk mounted Vibesware guitar resonator (sustainer) to introduce infinite sustain during solos.
In 2011, Dean Guitars produced 25 Custom Sky Guitars based on 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. 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.
Roth was romantically involved with artist Monika Dannemann who was with Jimi Hendrix when he died. Roth and Danneman collaborated on various songs including "We'll Burn the Sky" from the Scorpions’ Taken by Force album in 1977.
Danneman also painted the album sleeves for all three of the releases by Electric Sun.
In 1996 Monika Dannemann was convicted of breaking a British High Court order not to repeat allegations that Kathy Etchingham was an "inveterate liar" for accusing her of playing a role in Jimi Hendrix's death. Etchingham asked the judge to jail Dannemann but she was released. Two days later Monika Dannemann was found dead in a fume-filled Mercedes-Benz near her cottage in Seaford, East Sussex, aged 50. Her death was ruled a suicide, but Roth publicly stated his opinion that her death had been the result of foul play. Roth dedicated later works to the memory of Dannemann.
Roth has been on the covers of many guitar magazines and has influenced many notable guitar players, including Kirk Hammett, Joe Stump, Gus G, Andy DiGelsomina, Michael Romeo, James Byrd, Wolf Hoffman, 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 (live recording, 1978) - 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
Solo and classical works (progressive Rock) (released)
- 1991 - Aquila Suite - 12 Arpeggio Concert Etudes for Solo Piano
- 1996 - Sky of Avalon - Prologue to the Symphonic Legends (with Sky Orchestra)
- 2000 - Transcendental Sky Guitar Vol. I & II
- 2003 - Metamorphosis of Vivaldi's Four Seasons (with Sky Orchestra)
- 2008 - Under A Dark Sky (Sky of Avalon)
Solo and classical works (unreleased)
- 1987 - Sky Concerto
- 1992 - Europa ex Favilla (symphony)
- 1994 - Hiroshima de Profundis (symphony)
- 1996/97/98 - Requiem for an Angel (dedicated to the memory of Monika Dannemann)
- 2000 - The Electric Sun Years Vol. I & II (in the Historical Performances series)
- 2002 - Legends Of Rock: Live At Castle Donington
- 2006 - Scorpions Reunion at Wacken Festival in Germany