Ask any group of serious guitar shredders who their influences were, and you’re likely to hear Uli Jon Roth mentioned at least once. His tenure with Germany’s Scorpions from 1974 to 1978 was brief relative to the longevity of the band, but his legacy among musicians who’ve crossed the line between rock and classical music continues to endure.
Likewise, his reputation as an unconventional teacher and sage to students in his Sky Academy seminars is global.
This March brings the release of Scorpions Revisited (UDR Music), a double disc of '70s-era Scorpions songs re-envisioned to cosmic proportions by Uli and his own band. You can listen to an exclusive track from the album, “Catch Your Train,” below.
Roth will appear this Friday night at the House of Blues in Hollywood. He spoke to us by phone from his home in England before heading off to pack for the tour.
Do you feel a sense of ownership toward these Scorpions songs, since you contributed so much to the writing of them?
Yes, when you’re a songwriter, composer, your songs are a little bit like your children, and these are basically very, very old children of mine. They’ve grown up. They’ve gone through a lot of changes. They’ve seen a lot, and I still feel connected. Some more so than others, but particularly when we were recording them and playing them on tour, I felt very much connected. It was as if we’ve never been apart. But we have been apart because there was a very long stretch of time where I did not listen to them or play them live.
You’ve become an influential musician to a lot of guitarists. Was there ever a point when it hit you, and you realized, “Oh! People are recognizing me as significant.”
[Laughs] That’s a strange question. I have not really thought about it. I’m sure there was a point when I realized that there was an influence being exerted on other guitar players, and I think that was in the '80s, first of all, when others started to pick up on and emulate certain things that I had come up with. And then afterwards I kind of got used to it. I don’t really think a lot about it. It’s a very, very natural thing that people get inspired or influenced by those who come before them. Certainly very true of myself. I’ve learned so much from other musicians that were before me, so I’m glad I’m just part of that chain.
Today, a lot of kids are learning to play instruments by watching YouTube videos or using digital apps. It’s different from how people of your generation learned, and it seems like these young kids are able to attain an accelerated rate of learning. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?
It’s a very, very natural thing that the younger generations always learn much quicker than generations before. It’s like the hundredth monkey syndrome. I believe that once a person has attained a certain level or ability in any field, it kind of seems to go into the stream of consciousness of the whole planet, of all of mankind, because we’re all connected. It’s then easier for others to pick it up and to actually do the same — maybe not with the same level of excitement because it’s always more special when it happens for the first time, but they can replicate it and then take it to yet another level.
This process is normal. It’s been going on since the dawn of time. There are certain pitfalls, particularly now, because the kids are almost inundated, overwhelmed with these things like YouTube. There is a lot of spoon-feeding going on, and that doesn’t really help a personal level of creativity, and it may be a bit of a hinderance. It may lead to a superficial kind of learning without really a deep understanding. But then again, that totally depends on the individual. You may have a really young talent who bypasses all that and doesn’t get affected negatively by it and just benefits from all that’s out there.
On your Sky Academy website, there’s a place where it refers to “music herself.” Is that because Musik is feminine in German, or do you literally think of music as being female?
I sometimes refer to music as a huge force of nature, and for me, music — don’t ask me why — is a predominantly feminine quality. So that’s why I say “music herself.” I see it as a feminine force of nature. And it’s everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. It’s like the life force that makes everything, everything — makes the world go ‘round. Every atom, every electron, every proton sings a song. It’s all frequencies that are produced by these super fast movements. If we could hear the atoms, we would be, I think, very, very surprised. A lot of it is, I’m sure, very beautiful in terms of harmonic content and overtones that are produced.
But it’s everywhere. It’s all around us. You can see music absolutely everywhere, on every level.