Patrick Prince of Powerline recently conducted an interview with legendary guitarist Uli Jon Roth (ex-SCORPIONS). A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Powerline: Will the SCORPIONS set [during the upcoming tour commemorating his 40th anniversary of joining the SCORPIONS] be mostly the stuff you had written?
Roth: It is mostly the stuff that I’ve written or my favorites from then. I was involved in virtually every track back then, even if there’s not a writer’s credit. Very often I would contribute quite a lot of things to it — the guitar leads or whatever. We’re playing a track like “In Trance”, for instance, which was written by Rudolf (Schenker) and Klaus (Meine), but then again, the way I wrote the guitar parts for many of Rudolf‘s songs they somehow feel like a composition within a composition and those parts came from me. These songs wouldn’t have the same feel without them. Back then I could have had co-writer’s credits for these, but it didn’t seem important. I’m playing long sets anyway. We’re doing other stuff as well but in every show we’ll include several pieces from every SCORPIONS album that I’ve played on. And that’s quite a few, so … yes, it will amount to an entire SCORPIONS set. You’ll definitely get at least an hours worth, maybe even more, of just that old stuff.
Powerline: Will you be playing “Sails Of Charon”?
Roth: Oh, absolutely. We’re playing it every day and in a very extended version with a middle section. To me, that’s always one of the highlights of the show. And it’s strange, during the time of the SCORPIONS, we never played it live. It was a little bit too complex for us to do live back then, and then afterwards hardly ever played it live and I really only found the key to doing that piece much later. Now it’s taken on a new lease on life, I would have to say.
Powerline: Sometimes that’s how creativity works, right? You revisit something and you find certain treasures in it later on.
Roth: That’s exactly what I’m doing with all the tracks. I take this tour very seriously — also because we’re recording it and we’re going to be doing a live double album. So I want to come up with something that’s at least kind of, like, from my point of view, the definitive version of these tracks for what I can do now. And that means, yes, we have rewritten certain sections and I’ve even rewritten certain pieces of lyrics a little bit. Expand certain songs, edited down others, to get the best out of them in the live environment. And some of them have really revealed a lot of new life that I never knew existed. And so I started looking at them in a different way. I enjoy playing them live and I have to say that wasn’t always the case. I found a new way into that.
Powerline: I look at it this way. If I go to a SCORPIONS show, I’m not going to hear any of these songs, probably.
Roth: No. They sometimes play “We’ll Burn the Sky” when I’m not there but that’s pretty much as far as it goes.
Powerline: But with SCORPIONS fans, there is a dichotomy. You have fans who like just that early period and then you have fans who like the new period.
Roth: It is a split. That’s very true.
Powerline: And in some respects it’s like an entirely different band.
Roth: Very much so. The vocal sound is the same. Rudolf is the same. Francis (Buchholz, bass) is the same. But everything else pretty much was different and the choice of material was different. I guess it was a lot more free flow back then and in some ways more experimental. We took all sorts of liberties and we didn’t necessarily just look at it from a commercial point of view. At least I didn’t. It was mainly from an artistic angle.
Powerline: And you could say philosophically and intellectually things really changed. I just couldn’t picture you playing on “Rock You Like A Hurricane”.
Roth: I’ll tell you one thing. I think it’s an amazing rock song. The thing that’s not for me is the lyrics. I mean, the title is okay, but then it’s all this pseudo-sexual stuff and that is one of the reasons why I did leave the SCORPIONS. I just didn’t want to have to fit into this cliché of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. It was never that for me in the first place and it still isn’t to this day. I was never interested in any of that stuff. It wasn’t my motivation. Lyrics for me always played a very important role. If you have to say something meaningful, then say it. And if you don’t, then just hold your tongue. As successful as “Rock You Like A Hurricane” is — and apart from “Wind Of Change”, it’s easily the most successful one that they’ve done — it has a great riff, it has a great hook, but as I said, those kind of lyrics mean nothing to me. I don’t want to be associated with it on an artistic level. I could maybe play it on stage and jam with the band but on an album, I probably would have fought tooth and nail against its lyrics.
Powerline: You’re right about the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll cliche.
Roth: And you know, particularly the SCORPIONS. They’re not even that kind of band. They’re all like nice, family-loving guys. [laughs] It’s not even something I can buy it of them, that kind of angle. Having said that, most of the audience don’t seem to mind those kind of lyrics as long as there’s a catchy hook and the SCORPIONS have tons of that and they are great songwriters. And the stuff is all musically somehow interesting whatever they’re doing because they always have a melodic angle or some idea that makes sense musically.
Read the entire interview at Powerline.