Uli, and thanks for coming to Get Ready To Roll
to tell us about the 3 Guitar Heroes tour. So,
first of all, why Uli, Michael and Leslie? How
did this line-up come about?
The general idea had been at the back of our minds
for some time, but was always postponed for some
reason or other. Then we had a couple of joint
autograph signing sessions at the NAMM show in
January at the Dean booth, and somehow it began
to feel like this whole thing would be a very
A little later Bob Ringe, Leslie’s manager,
approached me and asked whether I would be interested
in making this happen. And I said “yes”
immediately, because the chemistry and the timing
the planning well underway and dates coming in
thick and fast, suddenly comes the shock news
that Leslie had to have an emergency operation
to amputate his leg. How did this bombshell affect
the tour plans?
was a big shock, indeed, for all of us. Several
of the shows were already in place. It must have
been inconceivably devastating for Leslie to go
through with this, but we were all taken aback.
This happened very suddenly when he was about
to perform in Mississippi. How does one deal with
a situation like that?
had no previous experiences of that sort.
initial response was something like “of
course, he won’t do the tour/ can’t
do the tour - whatever”… We would
need to find a “replacement” if that
were possible… But who can replace
Leslie West? The guy is unique!
spoke to Leslie and he came back with: “Guys,
I want to do this tour!” And
he will do this tour. Whether it’ll be standing
up or sitting down, like B.B. King, it doesn’t
matter, but he will play, and we’re all
looking forward to it.
who've seen Michael Schenker on his recent tour
have said he's at the peak of his game right now.
And with Leslie so determined not to let his leg
problems stop his gallop (sorry!) this must feel
like a really invigorating and inspiring collaboration.
indeed - Michael and I have toured extensively
together before, and we met lots of times going
back to even before the Scorpions’ days
in the very early Seventies... We were both an
influence on each others playing. And our careers
have always had a strange kind of synchronicity,
a kind of dove-tailing, which was eerie at times
and which defies explanation. And yet it feels
natural - it is just one of these things which
I can’t explain. I don’t have that
with any other musician, but it is a chapter in
Leslie - unfortunately I have never played with
him before, but like Michael and myself - the
common ground is the totally melodic approach
we all share, each in his own way. Very few guitarists
are as intensely melodic as these two - and that’s
what I love. I love melody, full stop!
guitarists for my ears are not melodic enough…
don’t care for fast runs and the ten-notes-per-second
kind of approach. Those things leave me stone
cold. I’m not interested in musical gimmicks
and pyro-techniques. I want something that is
essentially moving and that is fundamentally musical
- not amusical, or even anti-musical, like so
much one gets assaulted with these days.
Instead, I want to be able to know that someone’s
guitar is actually telling me a story, which captures
my imagination and which touches my heart. This
is quite rare in nowadays’ world of guitar
But I am not knocking the younger generation;
far from it. I am encouraging the younger generation!
There is a lot of talent out there and some do
play with a lot of feeling. For example, I just
came across Derek Trucks, and he’s got all
that! But he is one in a billion.
was a time when feeling and depth were the main
thing. And this was a long time ago… We
certainly could do with a kind of renaissance
of melody and harmony right now. Most of which
I see out there is a musical and emotional waste
land. Barren emptiness - much anger, many questions,
many demands, but few or no answers. At least
not good answers, if that makes sense…
Both Leslie and Michael have their roots and beginnings
in that time, and their playing still carries
that authentic ring of excitement, that urgent
freshness which it always had. That in itself
is something precious and increasingly rare, because
a lot of the great players from those days are
no longer with us, or have gone stale or have
long since retired. I
wasn’t so happy with the name “3 Guitar
Heroes” to start with, but at least in the
case of Leslie it is now totally true. He will
do this tour like a phoenix from the ashes right
after a devastating personal and very physical
change in his life which affects so much of what
he used to be able do. That is what I call a true
hero! Leslie is one of the few guys left - not
standing yet, but momentarily sitting - who actually
started it all and so is Michael.
next, after the USA?
If everything goes according to plan, we should
come to Europe in the Spring. There are already
lots of requests from several countries. There
is also talk of South-America and Asia.
Any plans to record the shows for a DVD?
We were thinking about a DVD, but because of the
thing with Leslie’s leg, it might be better
to wait until we are a bit more experienced with
this matter. The last word on this subject hasn’t
been spoken though, and we shouldn’t rule
it out categorically at this point. But sound-wise
we are definitely recording every show and will
put out a live double-album in the Spring.
you give us some hints to the setlist?
We will do our “best of” material
initially - primarily celebrating the past, because
we want to embrace the authentic musical approach
and sound that we became known for. This was Bob’s
idea - and it is probably a good one. Later on
we may well write some new material together.
And don’t forget: we are also celebrating
the instrument we all love and which gives us
a voice: the electric guitar - in, hopefully,
all its glory. There is going to be lots of it
and we will try to make every note, every moment
count, as we are wont to do. Having said that,
Michael has a new album, Leslie has a new album
- and I have also written new material. Some of
that will be reflected in the choice of our songs.
It is not just going to be the retro stuff, but
also new material.
the moment we are planning an evening with an
intermission. The first half will be devoted to
each of us playing with the band. I have offered
to go on first, because I like to play slightly
longer, which gives me some room to improvise,
since my stuff is maybe a little more eclectic,
some might say “more weird”. I also
dislike the confinements of strict set-lists,
because spontaneity is the name of my game. That’s
where I have always drawn my inspiration from.
I hate clocks on stage, and I like the music to
breathe freely. My aim is to take the audience
on a journey, and I need a little more time to
do that, because I tend to juggle songs freely
often without a setlist or a safety-net. I guess
I learned that from Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan.
is the opposite - he hates surprises of that kind,
because he is probably more of a perfectionist
than I am. But on this tour, like always in the
past, I’m sure we will find a good compromise.
The truth is that I feed off the unexpected. I
simply don’t want to know what’s next…
And that tends to bring out the best in me (not
always, though - but that’s a risk I gladly
take). Whereas Michael “hates” the
unexpected, or at least he is very wary of such
an approach. His way totally works for him and
he gets great results, and my way works for me.
“Horses for courses” as we say in
I’ll probably get all my outlandish excursions
out of the way first - and by the time it comes
to play with Michael and Leslie, I’ll hopefully
be as good as gold and remember how many bars
a solo spot was discussed in the sound check…
(Usually I’m atrocious with that sort of
thing, because I tend to forget…) In fact,
it’s good for me to have to be that disciplined.
In a setting like that it works fine. Strangely
in classical music and with orchestras I do it
easily as well, but I guess rock music brings
out the rebel in me, and I do tend to thrive on
the thrill of the unexpected moment... But hopefully
our joint playing will bring out the full German
in me, hehe. A good German is always on time and
never late. He doesn’t take chances either
- at least he is conditioned not to… Problem
is - most of the time I am not a good German -
not even a good Brit, but just a free-flow artist
who is searching for the Sky - which is supposed
to be the limit, haha…
my set, either Michael or Leslie will go on next.
Michael’s set will probably be slightly
longer than Leslie’s, I guess… We
will have to see how it all pans out, as long
as things are organic and inspirational. That
is the most important thing. We want every evening
to be special in its own right. As for myself,
I like to play several different songs from evening
to evening, but certain signature ones like “Sails
of Charon” will probably always be included.
second half will most likely be devoted to the
three of us sharing the stage and performing some
of the classics like Rock Bottom, Theme from an
Imaginary Western and so forth. We have lots of
material to choose from and will hopefully also
rotate several of the songs to keep things fresh.
But we have not yet decided about these for sure.
we will also do pairings - where just two of us
are on stage for certain tracks… We shall
see - as I said, this is as yet undecided.
aim is to create an exciting evening with a special
and positive atmosphere, where things flow organically
and naturally, where the music can breathe and
the audience is happy and hopefully uplifted.
There are enough horrible things going on in the
world right now. Music can be way more than just
entertainment or an escape! It also has the power
to bring like-minded people together and it can
be like a much-needed haven for our sometimes
weary souls. Everyday reality is always around
us - and often it isn’t all that great:
music can give us a different perspective - it
can uplift and even sometimes heal us. That is
what it’s all about for me - and at the
same time it can still be entertaining…
Yes, we should all have a great time together
- on stage and you guys in the audience.
original spirit of guitar playing - which was
created in the late sixties and early seventies
- is one of freedom and excitement and that is
what we have to aim for.
see that there is a high-profile Dean presence
on this tour.
bass is handled primarily by Elliott (Mr.Dean)
Rubinson, who is actually the CEO of Dean Guitars.
It so happens that all three of us are currently
playing Dean signature guitars. Elliott is a good
friend and very capable bass player. He played
with us many times in the past and I really enjoy
having him on stage. He is great company, too.
Click on the photo above for some more models
in the Dean Guitars range of Sky Guitars
Tell us about the new Sky Guitar which Dean Guitars
is a very exciting project for me. The greatest
thing is that as a very pleasant side-result I
have now brand new Sky Guitars at my disposal
with all our latest technology and innovations
in place. The last real Sky Guitars had been built
20 years ago in England by Andy Demetriou. After
that many have tried, but there were no more guitars
that came even close.
also took a lot of persuading, because for a long
time I was far from convinced whether I even wanted
them on the market place as a commercial “product”…
But many people had copied them - and copied them
badly - and illegally… Eventually I came
to a point of reasoning where the pros outweighed
the cons - and boy am I glad I did! But if it
hadn’t been for my good friend Elliott (Mr
Dean) - who encouraged me all the way and gave
me carte blanche (little did he know what he was
in for… nor did I, for that matter) there
would have been no new Sky Guitars.
cut a long story short - it was quite a long and
even somewhat painful process to get the guitars
to the final level that I was happy with. Now
I’m over the moon! Elliott has been very
encouraging and extremely patient with the whole
thing, because it seemed to take forever and I
am grateful for that. None of us, including even
Elliott, who has been masterly successful running
one of the world’s foremost guitar manufacturers
- Dean - has ever produced any guitar that complex
and ambitious. We experimented with CNC machines,
tried this and that, and the results were encouraging,
but it wasn’t the real deal yet. I realized
in order to get to the highest level a guitar
needed a certain magic and only a master craftsman
could find that in his fingers. You simply don’t
find it in a machine, as good as the result might
be. A handmade guitar - if it is built to perfection
- speaks to you in a different way. It is alive.
were lucky enough to find a master luthier in
- of all places - Germany. Boris Dommenget, who
had a similar kind of magic that Andreas has had,
before he unfortunately stopped building a long
time ago because of problems with his back.
guitar is marketed and licensed by Dean, but each
one is handbuilt to the finest specifications.
They are therefore very complex and expensive
to make, and - talking of a brilliant commercial
enterprise - we spared no expense to make them
the very best they could be, as a result of which
they cost nearly as much to make as what we’re
selling them for! But they are worth every penny
and I love them.
the tour I will play both the new six-string as
well as the seven-string models. They both come
with our Mega-Wing M3 pick-up system, which in
my mind beats anything out there right now. This
was a co-production by John Oram, Boris and myself.
far we have only delivered the first seven out
of the batch of 50 which will be made, and there
is a quite a queue and a waiting list, but several
more will be finished this year.
recently brought out an app for the iPhone and
iPad, called String Bend'a - which is made by
AppStar Games Inc. and is available from iTunes.
Will there be a 3 Guitar Heroes app? Or... maybe
a Guitar Hero 3 Guitar Heroes Playstation Xbox
idea! But I don’t know. I’m not too
clued in into the games scene. I hear that nowadays
some people are actually learning the guitar that
just performed a phenomenal 90 minute set in front
of more than 150,000 people at the "Belgrade
Beer Fest" in Serbia. How did that feel?
felt just great! Everything went right for us
that evening, and the people gave us a tremendous
lift. It was an honour to headline the festival
that evening. I think we were the only band on
the bill that played rock.
Belgrade Beer Fest is an annual free festival,
and over the few days they have nigh on a million
was told that on our day there were about 300,000
people there, but the place in front of the stage
doesn't allow them all to be there at the same
time. It holds about half that amount. There were
mainly Eastern European bands there, but from
the little that I got to hear, some of them were
The audience was totally into the music - very
uplifting. They seemed to listen and dance at
the same time, hehe. It was our first time to
Serbia and I can't wait to play that festival
again, because it was special.
whole thing was total fun and we have been invited
back for next year.
What else is happening on Planet Uli at the moment?
Academy is one of the most important things in
my life. We are now doing more and more seminars
in more and more countries. There is even talk
of China and India now regarding this.
supposed to teach at Sky Academy, but it is probably
I who has benefited the most through this teaching,
hehe. After doing most things instinctively for
all these years, Sky Academy has forced me to
look at the stuff that I’m teaching in a
very different way, because I suddenly had to
explain those things in words as well as demonstrate
them, whereas before it was all on a more personal,
subjective and subconscious level. Through that
process I was forced to delve into those matters,
which include the metaphysics of music, at a much
deeper level - and that way, lots of things became
much clearer to me than they had been otherwise.
The initial ideas started to crystallize and take
shape. Sky Academy has, in fact, changed the way
I hear music, make music, and it has even changed
my life in more ways than one.
whole thing has been very positive for me. And
it seems that it had a similarly positive effect
on many of the students and participants. It is
very gratifying to see the improvements that a
lot of them have made in their general musicianship
and as guitar players. The concept definitely
at the same time Sky Academy is not for
everyone. I can only teach those who come to me
with an open mind and who genuinely want to learn
something and who are ready for a different point
of view. I am talking of those who are ready and
want to find their next plateau, their next level,
and who aspire to reach it and make it their own.
Every now and then someone will participate, who
really just wants to be told that they are already
great and who want my endorsement. I’ll
give that gladly when it seems appropriate, but
when I try to point out certain potential areas
of improvement, a certain type of person might
shy away from the work and walk away empty handed.
But that is actually very rare. Most participants
arrive with a great attitude, and it always is
a pleasure to hold the seminars, each one of which
is different, by the way.
thanks Uli, for such an interesting and frank
interview. Before you go, please give us a message
for the fans.
are all really looking forward to this tour and
to seeing you in the audience! It is an honor
for me to team up and play with Michael and Leslie
and I am sure sparks will fly! At any rate we
we will try to do our very best every evening!
luck to all of you! Stay inspired!