After Uli Jon Roth exited the Scorpions in 1978, slowly but surely, the songs that featured his fiery and unmistakable guitar playing began being phased out of the German band’s setlists. This, for fans of the band’s heavier ’70s era, has been a big disappointment. But with the arrival this year of the double-disc set from Roth, Scorpions Revisited [Warner/UDR], fans can finally get the ’70s Scorpions fix they crave. Recorded live (but not in front of an audience), the 19-track album shows that Roth has no problem rekindling the magic of these tracks from yesteryear, while at the same time expanding on a few of the compositions.
Backed by a strong lineup of musicians, most of whom have previously played with Roth (singer Nathan James, guitarists Niklas Turmann and David Klosinski, keyboardist Corvin Bahn, bassist Ule W. Ritgen, and drummer Jamie Little), it’s an absolute hoot to hear inspired and rocking renditions of “The Sails of Charon,” “Virgin Killer,” “We’ll Burn the Sky,” and “Fly to the Rainbow,” among others. To satisfy your eyeballs, a performance of Scorpions material at Japan’s Sun Plaza Hall has been filmed, and will be issued on DVD.
Let’s start by talking about the recording of Scorpions Revisited.
Before we toured, I already knew that I wanted to do this album. I figured a live album was long overdue, because I don’t really have an official live album, other than the Legends of Rock DVD from 2002. I’ve got so much material, and I couldn’t figure out what to do first, so I thought, “I’ll stick with the Scorpions period.” I recorded in the same theater that we used to rehearse in back in the ’70s with the Scorpions. It has a great sound and a great vibe, and I thought that would be the perfect place to do it. We tracked without an audience, except for a few friends. We also recorded a long tour, and although the tour was very good, I wasn’t totally happy with the material. I thought we could do better, and that’s why we approached it this way. It’s kind of like a semi-live album: It’s played live, but under pseudo-studio conditions.
What are some of your memories of writing the riff to “The Sails of Charon”?
I wrote it in my flat in Hanover, not during a Scorpions rehearsal or anything like that. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember coming up with the main riff. The song has two riffs and an intro. I do remember writing the guitar lead, and I remember writing the lyrics and the vocals, but not the actual intro riff. It just happened [laughs].
Did you have any idea at the time that the song was a potential classic?
I guess not. At that time I was writing many pieces, including a track called “Earthquake,” which I thought was more impressive at the time. Actually, I was taken aback by the response. That album, Taken By Force, was the fourth Scorpions album that I was involved with, and the Japanese record company picked “Sails” as the single. I didn’t really think it was a single, but for some reason they thought it was the outstanding track. Over the years, so many people have referred to it—particularly guitar players. Then I got it. But at first I didn’t fully realize that it was groundbreaking, although I did realize that I had never really heard anything like it before. It was kind of new. But then again, I try to come up with new ideas all the time. Back then this was really just one of several for me.
HEAR “THE SAILS OF CHARON” FROM SCORPIONS REVISITED
For anyone who doesn’t know, why exactly did you leave the Scorpions?
Because I felt that my time was up. I wanted to branch out. I wanted to explore music in a different way. In the Scorpions, we had a kind of self-imposed framework. And the stuff that I was writing at the time—like “The Sails of Charon”—didn’t really fit the band. It was the same with all the Electric Sun material I had already written: I couldn’t really see it in the context of that band. So for me, it was an artistic decision, and I didn’t really have much choice in it, because I was driven by my musical vision. The commercial aspects came secondary. It was very obvious after we did Tokyo Tapes where the band was heading. The Scorpions were unstoppable at that point, and every year the success kind of doubled. I still made the decision, because I wasn’t happy in the band anymore, for artistic reasons. The first four years were great, but then I felt I needed to go my own way.
Let’s discuss your guitars.
The Sky Guitar is my guitar that I invented back in 1982, and I’ve played it ever since. It’s undergone a few changes over the years, and in recent years has become commercially available for the first time through Dean. They cost an arm and a leg, but they’re worth it. We did a limited edition of 50 units, all hand-built, and they’re pretty much all gone. The idea is to build a U.S. custom shop model of the Sky Guitar in the future, which will be less expensive and won’t have all the features that the limited edition models have. But they’ll play the same and have a similar pickup system. I’ve got fairly high action because I feel it improves my tone. I have relatively deep scallops on the neck. For the Scorpions Revisited record I’m using mainly the 6-string version, although some of it was played on the 7-string. I’m also using a Godin 7-string nylon-string guitar for the intro of “Fly to the Rainbow.” It’s pretty amazing.
What do you like for strings?
I’m not so choosy. I don’t use “sets” as such; I always use single strings. I hardly ever change my strings, other than the top strings before they break. Usually I’m quite happy with Ernie Balls. I use light top strings—like .008, .011, .015—and heavier bass strings, like a .050 for the low E.
Are you still playing Blackstar amps?
Yes. I’m using the 100-watt Blackstar Artisan, the red hand-wired one. On the recording, I used that in conjunction with my old 100-watt Marshall Super Lead Tremolo, which I used for all the Scorpions and Electric Sun albums. The Blackstar is kind of modeled on that, although it sounds a little bit more modern, and it’s much more durable. The old Marshalls used to break a lot, whereas the Blackstars hardly ever give me any trouble. They do sound slightly different—the Marshall maybe sounds a little sweeter, but the Blackstar has much clearer low end. I’m using them together, and it’s a great combination.
Do you use many effects?
I use the Dunlop Carbon Copy analog delay. I actually have several, for different settings. I have a Dunlop wah pedal, and a DigiTech Whammy that I use in a couple of places. I have a fuzz that was given to me by an effects designer in Greece. I don’t even know the name, but I call it the Communist because it’s red and has a yellow communist symbol on it. I really like that one. It sounds similar to the old Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, and I only use it on “Fly to the Rainbow.” I have an Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress and a Blackstar HT-Modulation valve chorus device. I also have a sustaining device called Resonator, by Vibesware, and I used it on my last album, Under a Dark Sky. It’s a magnetic device that gives you infinite string sustain. That’s pretty much it as far as devices go. People give me things and sometimes I’ll like something for a little while and then I get tired of it. I keep my pedalboard relatively flexible. I like to change it around a little.
From a guitar-playing standpoint, which Scorpions album is your favorite?
It would have to be either Virgin Killer or In Trance. I can’t really say that I would fully endorse a complete album nowadays, with the benefit of hindsight, but yeah—there were definitely a lot of tracks on Virgin Killer and In Trance that I like.