Uli Jon Roth

Celebrating 50 Years of Playing, Roth Gives Lesson From His Life
by Ethan Duran
May 2019

Uli Jon Roth and band in Milwaukee 2019 - photo by Ethan Duran

Uli Jon Roth and band in Milwaukee 2019
photo by Ethan Duran

On April 10 Uli Jon Roth was greeted with open arms and pumping fists at Milwaukee’s Shank Hall during his North America Spring 2019 tour. The legendary guitar player, known for his work in the German hard rock band Scorpions and his neoclassical metal band Electric Sun, put on a three hour show to celebrate 40 years of Tokyo Tapes and Electric Sun. The show also celebrated Roth’s 50 years of playing on stage. The last time Roth had played in Milwaukee was at Summerfest on July 4, 1985.

Roth’s bandmates have toured with him for years and helped record Scorpions Revisited. On guitar and vocals was Niklas Turmann, with David Klosinski also on guitar, Corvin Bahn on keyboard, Nico Deppisch on bass and Richard Kirk on drums. Roth lead the group and wooed the crowd with melodic, classical-influenced scales on his prototype Excalibur Sky guitar. He would play at least three different guitars that night, including an old Framus that he used the first time he played on stage in 1968.

Roth said his favorite country to tour in was the United States. “The audience is more childlike in a strange way because they are so enthusiastic. I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense, but in a complimentary sense,” he said. “Because in order to understand or really live music, you have to be a little like that. And we are like that.”

An electric fan blew Roth’s hair back as he played, giving him a majestic, powerful look as he did sweeps and licks over the strings of his Excalibur. The first hour of the night was spent visiting Roth’s favorite Electric Sun songs, including “Enola Gay (Hiroshima Today?)” and “Why?” Political topics often turned up in Electric Sun songs and albums during the band’s time.

In 1961, Roth saw the Berlin Wall raised between East Germany and West Germany. “I was a little child. We were playing and one other child said, ‘Oh, they built a wall’ and I did not know what that meant. It was only in later years that I started to be more interested in political ongoings.” Roth described the split between East and West Germany as traumatic for Germans during the Cold War. “I remember seeing the wall almost as permanent - it was unbelievable. When you flew into Berlin which was surrounded by wall, it was kind of depressing.”

Roth said that he was always history-minded, because history is a part of human experience. He took required history classes in high school, but continued his studies when he got out of school. “History is fascinating if it’s living history,” Roth said. “If it’s just from a textbook and you just stay on the surface of things, it’s a nice fact to know, but real history isn’t just the dates. These were real human beings and our lives are direct result of that.”

In between songs, someone called out to Roth and handed him an envelope of polaroid photos taken at Electric Sun’s last performance at Summerfest in 1985. When Roth looked at the photos, he shouted, “That’s my brother!” There were photos of Uli and his younger brother Zeno Roth backstage together.  Zeno Roth had passed away last year, apparently after battling sickness for years. In Zeno’s honor, the band played a song he wrote in 1986, “Don’t Tell The Wind.”

The man with the photographs, who went by the name of KC, said that he had taken the photos in a backstage interview with Electric Sun for the Shepherd Express. “[Roth]’s the best,” KC said. “The best since Hendrix died.”
After a brief intermission, Roth and his crew played songs from Tokyo Tapes, including “Catch Your Train” and “We’ll Burn the Sky.” As a bonus, Roth played a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower.” Heads bobbed and fists pumped to Roth’s melodic playing, and all of his band got lost in the music in their own ways. Richard Kirk convulsed and shook in his seat like an over-excited baby. Turmann and Klosinski were both headbanging at the height of the song, their faces being covered by their long hair.

When the show came to an end, Roth and his band stood up in front of everyone and took a bow. The applause they got while leaving was harder than the one they got coming in, and people continued to cheer and whistle even after they left the stage. After the Milwaukee show, Uli Jon Roth would play in Illinois, parts of Canada and along the East Coast before returning to California. The last day Roth will play in the United States this year will be on May 14 in Huntington Beach, California.

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