The Scorpions, a German heavy metal band, date back to the ’60s. Around that time, the trend for hard rock guitarists was to break from the blues-rock tradition by playing fast, long, clean solos that raced up and down a fretboard. Tone was sacrificed for technique, but at arena volume, who cared? The early Scorpions were a showcase for a gifted, if troubled, teenage guitarist named Michael Schenker, brother of founder Rudy Schenker. At 18, Michael was turning heads, and when he split with the Scorpions to join British head-knockers UFO, he left a large gap. But it turned out to be a fortuitous move for the Scorpions, for Schenker’s replacement, Uli Jon Roth, would propel the band to the top of the heavy metal pile over the next five years.
Roth’s was the guitar style that would inspire younger shredders like Yngwie Malmsteen, and his songwriting on albums like In Trance, Virgin Killer, and Taken by Force created the Scorpions brand — driving, melodic hard rock decorated with monumental guitar solos. In addition, the Scorpions wrapped their albums in cover art in bad enough taste that one of them is still banned in the U.K.
Guitar heroes from that generation of rockers usually do not go quietly. Many of them are still out there, touring and getting loud whenever possible. Count Roth among them. He is playing better than he ever has, partially due to his own invention that he calls the “sky guitar,” an instrument jammed with electronics — it’s ugly, but it suits his purpose. Looking over Roth’s past set lists, one sees some old Scorpions hits, some of his own stuff, and a spate of Hendrix covers. Roth is still playing on fire, like it’s 1973, like he’s gotta fill Michael Schenker’s shoes.
ULI JOHN ROTH: Brick by Brick, Thursday, June 25, 8 p.m. 619-275-5483. $20 advance; $25 day of show.