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Roland Grapow - Biography

Roland was born on 1959, at the city of Hamburg, Germany, and already started playing guitar at the age of 12. His father bought him a guitar and had him to take guitar lessons, but Roland couldn't stand the theory part and his teacher told his father that Roland didn't have any talent for guitar playing. Lately, he started to search for inspiration on great German guitarists, like Michael Schenker and Uli Roth. When he turned 15, he did a few gigs on the school, just him and his guitar, and people seemed to like it pretty much.

Soon he found a drummer and another guitarist, and together they decided to form a three-piece band, with Roland doing all the singing. However, they couldn't find neither a decent bass player, because everyone who could play bass wanted to play guitar, or a good keyboardist, because there was only one decent keyboardist on Hamburg, and every new band wanted him. So, after about one and a half years, the band split.

After this first band work, Roland joined several bands, almost one per year. But his first professional experience started on 1978, at the band Rampage, which he joined at the age of 19, playing with Karsten Heyer (guitars), Jörg Schädlich (bass) and Rainer Müller (drums). With Roland on the guitars, this band released two vinyl albums, "Victims Of Rock" (1980) and "Love Lights Up The Night" (1982). The sound was a somewhat strange mixture between Judas Priest's melody, Saxon's heaviness and Journey's hard rock. Roland, Karsten and Jörg did lead vocals. Roland himself says that "the records weren't too good, but they were a good experience". He's not exactly proud of that time, but he doesn't regret it either, since it was his first professional experience.

Both records sold about 3000 copies each, and the band did a few gigs on Germany. At one of the concerts, Rampage caught the attention of the well-known guitarist of the power metal band Helloween, Michael Weikath, who was quite impressed with Roland's songs and performance. Still on 1982, Roland left the band and was replaced by guitarist Henjo Richter, who later also left the band and joined the band Gamma Ray. The line-up right after Roland left also had Andre Martelli on bass and Rolf Krogmann on drums. Jörg Schädlich and Karsten Heyer unfortunately passed away some time after and the band split, and the original tapes were destroyed by a member of the band, making impossible for the albums to be reissued. Meanwhile, to earn some money, Roland found himself a job as a car mechanic, since cars is one of his greatest passions until today.

About six years later, Helloween had some internal problems and guitarist Kai Hansen was thinking about leaving the band, saying that he was too stressed with the long tours and because of other reasons. Weikath remembered the impressive guitar player he saw on Rampage years before and gave Roland a call. Roland was also impressed with Helloween and Weikath after he saw a performance of the song "I Want Out" years before. Kai decided to leave the band after all, and on Christmas 1988, Roland Grapow left his job and became an official member of Helloween, helping them to finish the "Pumpkin Fly Free" tour without Kai Hansen, who later formed Gamma Ray in 1989. Roland was already playing live with Helloween before even releasing an album.

In 1990, with Roland already on the band, Helloween broke their contract with Noise Records and signed up with EMI Records and the Sanctuary group. However, Noise got mad with Helloween breaking the deal and estabilished that none of their albums could be released outside Germany, UK and Japan, which was very bad and unfair to the band. Even Kai, who was already out of the band at that time, agreed that Noise never payed Helloween properly after the very sucessful releases of the previous records, "Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 1" and "Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 2". These albums sold many copies, but the band never saw the money.

Already signed with EMI, Helloween released in 1991 the album "Pink Bubbles Go Ape", Roland's debut on the band, playing with Michael Kiske (vocals), Michael Weikath (guitars), Markus Grosskopf (bass), Ingo Schwichtenberg (drums) and Jörn Ellerbrock (keyboards). The new guitarist wrote four songs: "Back On The Streets", "Someone's Crying", "Mankind" and "The Chance", with singer Michael Kiske doing the lyrics for "Back On The Streets" and "Mankind". "The Chance" is considered a classic by the fans. Singles released from this album were "Number One" and "Kids Of The Century" and a promo video was filmed for the second one. Roland's compositions were pretty good and the whole album was a good release, but since it was slightly different from their previous releases, it was slated by critics everywhere. Rumours about the band breaking up began to rise and the internal situation was actually not that good, with Roland and Weikath against Kiske and Ingo, and Markus in between.

Also in 91, Roland and Weiki made a guest appearance on the "German Rock Project" single "Let Love Conquer The World", which featured 18 different guitar solos, with both Helloween's guitarists playing some of them. Gamma Ray's guitarists, Kai Hansen and Dirk Schlächter also played solos on that project, which was a special song dedicated to the fight against racism.

Helloween's next album, "Chameleon", was released in 1993, and although it was very good, it didn't have the power metal songs that the fans were used to. Instead, there were more jazzy and poppy songs. This time, Roland wrote alone four songs: "I Don't Wanna Cry No More", "Crazy Cat", "Music" and "Step Out Of Hell". The first one was dedicated to his brother Rainer, who had passed away, the third was an original Rampage composition and the last one was actually a new version of Rampage's "Victims Of Rock" with different lyrics, dedicated to Ingo, who had problems with drugs. Four singles were released: "When The Sinner", "I Don't Wanna Cry No More", "Windmill" and "Step Out Of Hell". Roland also wrote the b-sides "Oriental Journey", for the "When The Sinner" single, and "Red Socks And The Smell Of Trees", for the "I Don't Wanna Cry No More" single. A promo video was also released for "When The Sinner". The album sales were really bad and the band end up quitting from EMI Records, although there were rumours that they were fired. By that time, the situation of the band members was getting more and more complicated. Ingo not only had drug problems, but also mental illness, like schizophrenia, causing the band to interrupt tours and gigs due to his inability to play drums at that time. Meanwhile, Kiske and Weiki couldn't stand at each other anymore, due to ego conflicts and songwriting problems. Finally Ingo was fired and Kiske left the band. With the departure of three original members, lot of fans were convinced that Helloween was over.

Finally, in 1994, Helloween signed with Castle Communications and got new members. The new singer was Andi Deris, former vocalist of the german hard rock band Pink Cream 69, that Weikath loved, and the new drummer was Uli Kusch, who left Gamma Ray. Actually, the band tried before a drummer called Ritchie Abdel Nabi during the "Chameleon" tour, but that didn't work out because Richie couldn't play double bass, so Uli was called. In that same year, a new album was released, "Master Of The Rings", and although it had a more hard rock direction and didn't had exactly the style of their best albums, it bring back the heaviness the fans used to love and it sold about 300.000 copies worldwide. The readers of the japanese magazine "Burnn!" considered it the best album of the year, and also considered "Where The Rain Grows" the song of the year, and Helloween, the band of the year. For this album, Roland wrote three songs: "Mr. Ego (Take Me Down)", "Take Me Home" and "Still We Go". The first one became a single, along with "Where The Rain Grows", "Sole Survivor" and "Perfect Gentleman", and it was a sample of what Roland would write a lot on the next years: darker songs. Roland also wrote a very good b-side for the "Perfect Gentleman" single, called "Grapowski's Malmsuite 1001 (In-D-Doll)". This song was actually a neo-classical guitar performance dedicated to Yngwie Malmsteen, who was one of Roland's greatest influences by that time. Roland also did the lead vocals on a cover that Helloween made for "Closer To Home", from Grand Funk Railroad, Roland's favorite band. This cover ended up as a b-side for the "Sole Survivor" single.

Three promo videos were released to promote this album: "Mr. Ego (Take Me Down)", "Where The Rain Grows" and "Perfect Gentleman". Right after, a video compilation of six Helloween's promo videos, called "The Pumpkin Video", was released. It included the promos for "Halloween", "I Want Out", "Kids Of The Century", "When The Sinner", "Mr. Ego (Take Me Down)" and "Where The Rain Grows". Helloween began to rise again but in this year a tragic incident also happened: Ingo Schwichtenberg, after years of harsh depression, commited suicide by jumping in front of a train. The tragedy hurt deeply all of his former bandmates.

In the next year, 1995, Roland made a guest appearance on Rough Silk's keyboardist, Ferdy Doernberg, first solo album, "Just A Piano And A Handful Of Dreams", where he played several guitar solos and got impressed with Ferdy's talent.

A message to Ingo was written by Helloween on the booklet of their next album, "The Time Of The Oath", released in 1996. This album, although it had a bad production, mostly because the equipment of Helloween's first album, "Walls Of Jericho", was used on the recordings, is considered one of Helloween's best albums and, for many, the best album of the Andi Deris era. This album sold about a million copies worldwide and the tour was very sucessful, including the Monsters Of Rock festival. Roland only wrote one song this time, the title track "The Time Of The Oath", with Andi Deris writing the lyrics, considered by many fans as the best track on the album. Along with "Power" and "Forever And One (Neverland)", this track was released as a single and video.

Still in 1996, the very sucessful tour of the last album was turned into a live album and video, both called "High Live". This live performance, recorded at Italy and Spain, shows Roland doing terrific guitar playing and backing vocals during the songs. On the setlist, there was three of Roland's songs: "The Chance", "The Time Of The Oath", "Mr. Ego (Take Me Down)" and Roland did lead vocals on some small parts of "Where The Rain Grows" and "Steel Tormentor". He also played a neo-classical guitar solo before "Future World" and screamed along with the audience before "Mr. Ego (Take Me Down)", showing his versatility. To promote this album, a new version of the "Forever And One (Neverland)" single was released, as well as a special box-set, which included the album, the video, pictures and a sticker. The video also included the promo for "Forever And One (Neverland)".

Finally, in 1997, Roland released his first solo album, "The Four Seasons Of Life", along with a single for the song "I Remember". The style was a mixture of Helloween's traditional power metal and a lot of Malmsteen's neo-classical shredding style. On this album, Roland played with his Helloween bandmates Markus Grosskopf (bass) and Uli Kusch (drums), and the Rough Silk keyboardist, Ferdy Doernberg. He played guitar, sitar and also did the vocals. Almost all of the songs were written by him alone. His wife, Silvia, helped with some of the lyrics of the title track and some melodies were also written by Uli Kusch ("Searching For Solutions"), Ferdy Doernberg ("Prelude No. 1 / Presto" and "Finale De Souvenir") and Raimund Burke ("Dedicated To...?"). Plus, there were some good guest musicians on this album: famous guitarist Axel Rudi Pell did some guitar solos on the song "The Winner", and former Gamma Ray singer Ralf Scheppers did a duet with Roland on the song "Searching For Solutions". The "I Remember" single also included a cover for Kansas' "Hold On" and a b-side called "Memories". Although all the songs were very good, the critics slaughtered the album on a totally unfair way, mostly because of the production and Roland's vocals. The sales of this first album didn't go very well, but it was a great solo debut for Roland. He once said that he wanted to release it again, with different vocals and production.

Roland also did a guest appearance in 1997 on Helloween's singer Andi Deris solo debut, "Come In From The Rain". Along with Michael Weikath, he did some solos for the song "The King Of 7 Eyes". He also appeared on Axel Rudi Pell's album "Magic", where he played a solo on the japanese bonus track "Total Eclipse (Opus #2 Allegro E Andante)", as a retribution for Axel.

A beautiful Helloween boxed set called "The Pumpkin Box" was released on 1998, and included a nice booklet, stickers and a poster, three CDs with material from 1985 to 1993, and also a fourth CD with interviews with all the members and former members, including Roland. The third CD had songs with Roland on guitars, from "Pink Bubbles Go Ape" and "Chameleon".

When the fans were already asking for a new album, "Better Than Raw" was released in the same year by Raw Power. Although it was not considered so good as "The Time Of The Oath", the album was preety sucessful, quickly hitting the charts, and most fans liked it. Roland didn't wrote tracks for the band this time, but helped on the riff composition of some songs, like "Push" and "Revelation". Helloween did a small tour for this album, opening for Iron Maiden's "Virtual XI" tour. An interesting fact was that since Blaze Bayley was the singer of Maiden, some places were expecting Helloween even more than Maiden. Singles and videos for the songs "I Can" and "Hey Lord!" were also released, and the line-up with Andi Deris played for the first time in the USA.

Helloween's japanese label, still in 1998, released two more Helloween albums, "Karaoke Remix Vol. 1" and "Karaoke Remix Vol. 2", which featured the instrumental parts of several Helloween songs, from "Walls Of Jericho" to "Better Than Raw".

A lot of fans complained about the fact that Roland didn't wrote any song for "Better Than Raw", and only wrote on song on "The Time Of The Oath", writing less songs on each new album. However, for their joy, this was mostly because he was busy with his next solo project. This project was released in the beginning of 1999 and it was called "Kaleidoscope". Roland only kept Ferdy Doernberg from his old line-up and called Michael Vescera (vocals), Barry Sparks (bass) and Mike Terrana (drums) to join the band. The three musicians were former Malmsteen members, and obviously a Malmsteenish sound was very expected. However, although the Yngwie influences were still there, Roland's second project had much more his own style, even not sounding too much like Helloween. With a better production and a nice cover with artwork by Henjo Richter, this album was taken much more seriously than the first one, and it was very sucessful. All the songs were written by Grapow himself, with Vescera helping with the lyrics of "The Hunger", "Hidden Answer" and "Lord I'm Dying". This time, the guest musicians were Stratovarius' keyboardist Jens Johansson, who did some solos on "Listen To The Lyrics" and "Reaching Higher", and Roland's dog, Tammy, who howled in the beginning of "Reaching Higher". This song and "Hidden Answer" were actually compositions that he did originally for Helloween. The japanese version of the album also had a cover of Journey's "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)". This album was praised by the critics and the sales went much better. No single was released this time, though, due to recession on the musical market.

Meanwhile, a tribute to Helloween called "The Eastern Tribute To Helloween" was released. It featured european bands doing Helloween songs from "Walls Of Jericho" to "Better Than Raw". This tribute was not released worldwide, and it's really hard to find nowadays. Not a great loss, though, considering that the versions are too different, some even trashy, and most fans hated it.

Still in 1999, Roland Grapow Band went on tour, with Jens Becker replacing Barry Sparks on bass, opening for bands like Gamma Ray and Stratovarius. The band had a very good response on every place they played and included on the setlist some famous Helloween songs, like "The Chance" and "Dr. Stein", but only played solo songs from the "Kaleidoscope" album. Also, Roland did a jam with Gamma Ray at the end of the headliners' concert to play Helloween classics, like "I Want Out" and "Future World" along with Kai Hansen and Henjo Richter. The tour was very sucessful and showed the fans that there were no problems between Gamma Ray and Helloween anymore. The highest point of it was the performance on the famous Wacken Open Air festival.

That was probably the best year on Roland's career, because he also did a lot of guest appearances here and there. On Markus Grosskopf project's, called Shockmachine, debut album, he did some rhythm guitars, backing vocals and also played an accoustic solo on the song "When Dreams Decay". He also did a guitar solo for the song "Metalium", of the band Metalium, from the album "Milennium Metal: Chapter One". He played on two other projects: MVP's "Animation", doing solos for the songs "Prophecy", "One In A Million" and "Another Way", and on Uli Kusch's tribute to the legendary band Rainbow, called "Catch The Rainbow", where he did a solo for the song "Stargazer". He then had a respectful number of guest appearances, and is always called for more.

Finally, Roland recorded in 99 with Helloween the covers album "Metal Jukebox", which had power metal versions for songs from the early 70's / 60's bands, such as Scorpions, Jethro Tull, ABBA, David Bowie, Faith No More, The Beatles, Focus, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Frank Marino, Cream, Babe Ruth and Deep Purple. The single "Lay All Your Love On Me" also included an extra b-side cover. This covers album was supposed to be a compilation, because it was the last record on Raw Power. But since Helloween had already released two compilations before, they decided to do something different to celebrate 15 years on the metal scene. It was a very good record, but gave reasons for the fans to ask for a new studio album, since the last one was released two years before.

The band's response only came in the end of 2000, with the release of the singles "If I Could Fly" and "Mr. Torture", and the brand new album, "The Dark Ride". This time, with the help with Roy Z and under the european label Nuclear Blast, Helloween released the best produced album in their history. The band inovated and slightly changed their traditional power metal to a more darker and heavier sound, but without losing their identity. Some fans loved it, some of them hated it, most of them liked it. Roland wrote a darker song called "Escalation 666" and also the title track "The Dark Ride", an almost-nine-minutes terrific power metal song. Roland also did almost all the solos on this last album, leaving a few parts to Weikath. There was also a limited edition of this album, called "The Dark Box", containing the album, a mousepad, a zippo lighter, photocards, a heyholder and a sticker.

To promote this last album, a video for the song "If I Could Fly" was released and, right after, a new version of "The Pumpkin Video" was recorded. The new version was a DVD compilation with 12 videos, all videos recorded on Helloween's history, except for "Hey Lord!". However, it was a japanese-only release. Meanwhile, the video "If I Could Fly" reached the third position on the Swedish list "Voxpop", the album reached the German charts very close to its release and reviewers everywhere praised it as a terrific album.

Still in 2000, a pleasant surprise was released: a tribute to Helloween called "The Keepers Of Jericho", which featured the bands Rhapsody, Sonata Arctica, Heaven's Gate, Metalium, Luca Turilli, Morifade, Vision Divine, Brainstorm, Lab˙rinth, Cydonia, Squealer, Dark Moor and Secret Sphere doing versions for songs of the albums "Walls Of Jericho", "Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 1" and "Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 2" of Helloween. Opinions of the fans differ, but this tribute was better than the previous one.

More guest appearances by Roland occurred on 2000: He made a solo for the song "People Are People" of Squealer's "Made For Eternity" album and also played guitar, along with Weiki, and sitar on Ferdy Doernberg's second album, "Storyteller's Rain". Plus, Roland also did some solos and vocals for the band Drakkar, on the song "The Voice Of The Wind", played a beautiful solo on the song "Time After Time" from the album "Dr. Sin II" of the brazilian band Dr. Sin, and did guitar work and impressive lead vocals for the bonus track "You Are (The Magic)", of the band Imperio, from the album "Paz En La Tormenta". In 2001, Roland also made a solo for the album "Steelbound" from the band Paragon, on the song "Tears Of The Damned" and his solo duet with Axel Rudi Pell, called "Total Eclipse (Opus #2 Allegro E Andante)" reappeared on the compilation "The Wizards Chosen Few". He also started planning a project with his bandmate Uli Kusch and the progressive band Symphony X singer Russell Allen to be released in a near future.

After just being an opening act for Iron Maiden on the "Better Than Raw" tour a couple of years before, Helloween finally did an worldwide headlining tour called "The Dark Ride" tour on 2001, with Blaze, former Iron Maiden singer, as the opening act at Asia and Europe. The tour was very sucessful and well received everywhere. The band played several old hits along with the new material, and satisfied the fans everywhere, although there were some rumours about sound quality, lack of interest and internal fights. These rumours showed themselves to be apparently untrue, and the great tour also included huge european festivals, like Sweden Rock Festival and Menorrock in Spain. However, a somewhat strange performance on Wacken Open Air in Germany, with cold behavior and bad mood, made some fans and the press really worried about the internal situation of the band.

And then, in August 2001, everyone was shocked to hear that Roland Grapow and Uli Kusch were leaving Helloween. Although Roland said that his relationship with his band was fine, and announced plans for Helloween to release a b-sides compilation, a new studio album and a new live album in a near future, he and Uli left the german band, right after the tour, for mutual decision according to the press release, leaving a lot of fans astonished with the sad news. According to the remaining members, Roland and Uli were prioritizing their upcoming project with Russell Allen instead of Helloween, and Weikath, Markus and Andi wanted a line-up with 100% of band feeling, among other reasons, such as musical differences. Rumours were spread about how Roland wanted to leave the band since the recordings of "The Dark Ride", due to discussions about songwriting, and Roland himself said that he wasn't even warned before his wife called him giving the surprising news from his former band. He got very disappointed with his former bandmates. He has nothing bad to say about them, to avoid any useless press war like what happened between Helloween and Michael Kiske, but they're not friends anymore. Uli Kusch was replaced on Helloween by Metalium's Mark Cross and Roland was replaced with former Freedom Call guitarist Sascha Gerstner. During the long hiatus in 2002, Helloween announced a compilation called "Treasure Chest", a double album which would feature the greatest hits from "Walls Of Jericho" to "The Dark Ride" remastered, and five of them remixed, a nice booklet and artwork. And a limited edition with a family tree and a third CD with b-sides and bonus tracks, called "Buried Treasures", would be released in Europe and Japan. Roland considered this release a rushed job.

However, leaving the band didn't forbid Roland to keep doing guest appearances on other albums still in 2002. He played on the song "Knowledge And Wisdom" of Stratovarius' singer, Timo Kotipelto, first solo album, "Waiting For The Dawn", did one solo for the instrumental track "The Adventures Of Zaphod Beeblebrox", of Locomotive Breath's "Heavy Machinery" album and played on Mob Rules' "Hollowed Be Thy Name" album, doing the intro riff for "All Above The Atmosphere" and the solo for "Way Of The World".

Currently, Roland is still with Uli Kusch on their former project and now full-time band called Masterplan, with Ark singer Jorn Lande replacing Russell Allen on vocals and also featuring Jan-S. Eckert from Iron Savior on bass and Axel Mackenrott on keyboards, replacing original member Janne Wirman who was too busy with Children Of Bodom. Former Helloween singer Michael Kiske did a guest appearance on their debut, called "Masterplan", which reached the first position in japanese charts and was followed by a very successful tour with Hammerfall. Their cover for "Black Dog" was also recently released on "The Metal Zeppelin - The Music Remains The Same" tribute album. In the next years, Grapow would also like to work as a producer for younger bands and already produced his first album, the debut of the Hamburg band Arctic Fields. For his next solo album, he'll probably keep the same line-up of "Kaleidoscope" and the neo-classical guitar style. He's already done guest appearances on the new MVP album, "The Altar", on the new Insania Stockholm album, "Fantasy: A New Dimenstion", on the tracks "Face The King" and "Reflections Of Mine", and plans to appear on two projects: Edge OF Time, of italian singer Chris Heaven, and Execution, of brazilian singer Renato Tribuzy. Not to mention that Kai Hansen said that he might work something with Roland in the future. So, let's expect for all those great works, guest appearances and productions, since it's obviously sure that Roland Grapow won't disappoint us with his amazing guitar playing!

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