Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What Uli Jon Roth Means To Me

When I was 12, a friend of mine from school let me borrow Scorpions' Tokyo Tapes on cassette. It was my first time having heard anything by or about the band, and I was blown away by it. It amazed me that songs like Pictured Life, Backstage Queen, and We'll Burn the Sky weren't played on the radio; they sounded to me easily better than the Zeppelin and Boston being forcefed to the music listeners of that time. I grudgingly gave the tape back, then had to look hard to find the album here in the States, finally settling on a cut out vinyl at a second hand shop.

As impressed as I was by Klaus Meine's voice, it was the lead guitar playing of Ulrich Roth that especially captivated me. The song We'll Burn the Sky became an anthem to me, to this day I rank it with Stargazer, Eyes of the World, Child in Time, and War Pigs as one of the best tracks in Rock/Metal history. Uli's solo is absolutely enthralling: in turns heartbreaking and hopeful, weeping and strident. Over the years I've owned all of the Scorpions' 70's albums, and a few of the early 80's. The albums Virgin Killer and Tokyo Tapes have remained my favorites; I have actually worn out vinyls and cassettes of those albums, I loved them so much. Taken By Force's best tracks have remained on my short list of favorites as well.

I recall buying Scorpions' Lovedrive album and being shocked when I didn't see Ulrich Roth in the credits. I mean it was nice to see Michael Schenker back in Scorpions, but I had to investigate at length (keep in mind, no Internet back then) to discover that Uli had left Scorpions to form his own band, Electric Sun. I couldn't believe it. It would be an understatement for me to say that I was disappointed with the output of  Electric Sun. Though the guitar playing was spectacular, and the songs often quite good, Uli's singing was tolerable at best and the Jimi Hendrix influence seemed at times excessive. It further disillusioned me when a young upstart named Yngwie Malmsteen took what Uli was doing lead guitar wise and made it more popular by doing what I felt Uli should have done; that is, paying talented singers to handle the vocal lines and transferring the Hendrix influence from the music to where it belonged: performance. Uli's music faded into the backround for me from 1980 on.

In 2007 I was immersed in the writing and recording for Lyraka Volume 1 when Uli's latter era albums, "Transcendental Sky Guitar "and "Metamorphosis", were reccomended to me by Joe Stump. I was delighted to hear how the neo-Baroque rush of the '80's had influenced Uli's technique. I also noted that although Uli was now fully able to shred with the best, he stood apart from the average Shrapnel robot by making his solos memorable and always fitting within the context of the song. That is, in addition to Uli's enhanced technical ability, Uli's solos were just as effecting, apt, and tuneful as ever. I bought his album "Under a Dark Sky" shortly after its release, and was completely awed. Here was Uli doing something that wasn't particularly far from my own work. Only he did it first. Even more pertinent: Uli had become something that I was aiming for from the beginning: an authentic Composer-Guitarist. I saw that I had not only a precedent, but someone who was spanking me from many musical perspectives (not "just" guitar playing).

Before my rediscovery of Uli Jon Roth, I was a Richard Wagner fanatic, completely immersed in his last four operas and their scores. With Uli's music I learned just how far a major heavy rock guitarist had gone in terms of composition and orchestration in the genre. I could see, through his music, that heavy rock had truly made significant inroads into erudition; this shattered my previously held impression that the genre had musically gone the way of the long-cliched, compositionally deficient, ultimately unmusical "neo-classical" shred trend. That there was great music still being made, the kind that actually transcended the genre in terms of musicality, vision, and scope.

During the ensuing months I became obsessed with learning more about music and orchestration, studying harder and giving everything I could to the composition of Lyraka Volume 1. This was in profound part because of the delimiting influence Uli's work had inspired within. I had my first listen to Prologue to the Symphonic Legends, and once again felt Uli beat me to the punch, as the album had elements of what I was aiming for in Lyraka. I even obsessed over the singer, Tommy Heart, so much that I asked him to sing my music. The influence of Uli's work was once again a great motivator for me. After the release of Lyraka Volume 1,  I went and relistened to Earthquake and the rest of the Electric Sun material and was floored. I saw how I had let the poor vocals influence my original listening to these brilliant, landmark albums. I was massively inspired by Uli again.

I then realized one more thing.

Uli left Scorpions because he had a vision. He left behind a mountain of cash in doing so, and was reviled over and over for that decision. Yet, he harbored no ill will toward anyone, in fact he was always a class act in the face of negative criticism. He did his own thing, and he has kept on doing his own thing for over 32 years now. That is the revelation which affected me most deeply. Here was a man that I could truly admire, a man who didn't listen to anyone, he only listened to his heart; he knew that his happiness lie in his heart music. And the message he's been giving all these years has been a profoundly positive one, full of respect for human life and a message of universal brotherhood. His magnum opus, Under a Dark Sky, is all about the sanctity of life, looking inside yourself and clearing out the charred flowers of despair and bitterness. "Stop killing" is the powerful mantra encapsulating the album; he forthrightly denounces the entire culture of death trend in favor of making better what we have for future generations. This message of positivity is a refreshing blast of sunshine, especially when viewed in light of the seemingly constant dismality and comic book morbidity of most modern heavy rock/metal bands.

Uli Jon Roth means, for me, independence, astounding dedication to personal vision, innovation, guitar mastery and most importantly, perseverance in the message to Love.