Hello 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 good idea.
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 felt right.

3 GUITAR HEROES - SCHENKER * ROTH * WESTWith 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?
It 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?

I had no previous experiences of that sort. Our 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! We 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.

3 GUITAR HEROES - SCHENKER * ROTH * WESTFans 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.
Yes 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 itself.

Regarding 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!

Most guitarists for my ears are not melodic enough… I 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 playing.
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.

3 GUITAR HEROES - SCHENKER * ROTH * WESTThere 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.

Where 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.

Can 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.

At 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.

Michael 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 England…

Therefore 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…

After 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.

The 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.

Maybe 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.

The 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.

The 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.

I see that there is a high-profile Dean presence on this tour.
Yes, 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 are licencing.
This 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.

It 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.

To 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.

We 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.

The 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.

3 GUITAR HEROES - SCHENKER * ROTH * WESTOn 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.

So 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.

Leslie 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 Wii game?
Good 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 way…

You 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?
It 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.

3 GUITAR HEROES - SCHENKER * ROTH * WESTThe Belgrade Beer Fest is an annual free festival, and over the few days they have nigh on a million visitors. I 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 really good.

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.

The whole thing was total fun and we have been invited back for next year.

What else is happening on Planet Uli at the moment?
Sky 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.

I’m 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.

The 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 works!

But 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.

Many thanks Uli, for such an interesting and frank interview. Before you go, please give us a message for the fans.
We 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! Good luck to all of you! Stay inspired!


Get Ready To Roll - 26th August 2011


hidden hit

Uli Jon Roth