Veteran guitar monster Richie Kotzen has done it all from opening for The Rolling Stones, recording with Stanley Clarke, to coming to the rescue for Poison and Mr. Big. Having recorded a stack of solo albums, he now joins former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy and Mr. Big bassist Billy Sheehan, to form The Winery Dogs, who have released a heavy rockin’ effort packed with gargantuan musicianship and vocals, big hooks, and blue-eyed soul. VG caught up with Mr. Kotzen to get the story.
How did you come together with Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy to form The Winery Dogs?
From my perspective it really came through radio personality Eddie Trunk. I was thinking out loud to my buddies that it would be cool to do a band project again. Suddenly out of the blue I got a phone call from Eddie Trunk. He was talking about how Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheehan were looking to do a power trio. They needed someone that could sing and play guitar. Eddie suggested me.
It was Mike Portnoy who actually called me and opened the door. We decided to get together at my house and come up with some ideas, jam, and see what happens. In that initial meeting we spent the day together and recorded three or four instrumental ideas that would eventually have vocals.
Those guys went off on tour and I marinated on what we had done. I remember writing two of the songs and finishing the lyrics. The guys liked it so we decided to get together again. Over the course of a couple of meetings we realized we had some inspired work. We decided to move forward and ended up making a record.
It sounds like everything fell into place quite naturally, including the songs you started.
It was a two-fold process in making the record. We got together a couple of times and threw around a bunch of ideas and constructed verses, choruses, bridges, and solo sections. We recorded rough demos of those and I developed them into songs. I sent those back to the guys and I got their feedback, then tweaked that accordingly.
I would say that process made up for at least half of the record. The other half were ideas that were lurking on my hard drive. I remember playing some stuff for the guys that I had in progress. A couple of things they liked. One of them was “I’m No Angel.” That was a song I pretty much had in the can.
In the process of working we put some things together. There were two songs that I finished that I brought in. One was “Regret” and the other was “Damaged.” They were pretty much ready to go and the guys liked those, so we put them on the record. Then there was one that Mike took from the original sessions and wrote lyrics to. That was interesting for me because it was the first time I ever recorded a song that was coming from me, where I didn’t write the lyrics. On “You Saved Me” Mike wrote the words and the melody.
Despite having strong individual styles, the record has a unified sound.
All of us have our sounds and what’s interesting about this record is that element has not been lost. When you hear the record you know it’s me singing and playing guitar, but when you hear the drums and the bass, you know it’s Billy and Mike.
Sometimes in situations where you’re thrown into a room with guys who have strong personalities, it’s easy for somebody to get lost. That didn’t happen. The thing that I love most about the record is that everyone’s personality is still there. None of our personalities compromised the other person’s personality. I think that’s important and what makes the record special.
Did you do anything different in terms of your guitar sound?
I had my Fender Vibro-King, a Custom Vibrolux, my Bassman, and my Marshall 2×12 cab with the little head. It’s like the 1974 combo but it’s the 20-watt head version. Then I had a 100-watt Marshall plexi through a 4×12 in the isolation booth, and an amp I built from a kit that’s basically a tweed Deluxe. They were all setup and mic’ed so I was able to experiment and try different things. Most of what I ended up using on the record was the Fender stuff. I get better tone out of a combo, so I’ve kind of abandoned the 4×12 cabs. It’s a lot clearer. It’s still got gain, but it’s not that fuzzed-out gain. When you play fast you want that clarity. You have to find that sweet spot where you get in-between where the gain is out of control, and in control.
This article originally appeared in VG November 2013 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.