Richie Kotzen

Fight For Familiarity
Richie Kotzen
Photo Credit: Travis Shinn.

So he’s not burning up the Top 40, but Richie Kotzen has been a soul-crooning monster guitarist for a very long time. With almost 20 solo albums and group projects with Greg Howe, Poison, Mr. Big, Stanley Clarke, and most recently, The Winery Dogs, the guitarist would like you to get to know him a little better.

Why now to release The Essential Richie Kotzen?
It’s an introductory CD for people who still don’t know who I am. In talking about the success of The Winery Dogs, there are people who come up to me and say, “Wow, I didn’t know you could sing!” In my mind, I’m thinking, “Damn. I’ve been singing since I was 17.” My second record came out when I was 19 and I was singing on that, but people don’t really know. So, people will look back and say, “What records do I buy?” There are so many that it’s kind of confusing.

So I figured, “Let’s make one package that defines who I am.” That means picking songs from the past not because they’re old, but because they’re still relevant to who I am now. Then I threw a few new songs on there, and decided to do some re-records where I broke the production down with some of the older material and made it acoustic guitar and voice, or piano and voice.

You’ve been around for a long time. Why don’t more people know what you do?
Yeah (laughs)! I’ve read various threads of what people are saying, and it’s like, “If this is a real retrospective, why isn’t this song on there?” “Why doesn’t he have a song from his first record?” That’s because it’s completely irrelevant. I’m not going to play my first record. It’s like showing baby pictures of yourself to people. This is a record to tie in everything so that when people ask, “Who is Richie? What does he do?” I can hand them something. From there they can go back to the albums.

This explains why you skipped over your first seven solo records.
It’s to give an overview and define who I am as an artist. I’m not going to use things from my first record because I don’t play it live and it has nothing to do with what I became. The song selection is me painting the picture I think is relevant to who I am now.

The songs fit together as a thematically cohesive whole. It’s singer/songwriter focused, without instrumental tangents.
The first record was songs I wrote when I was 17 and recorded at 18. I was shredding, which was popular then. Fast forward to 30 years old, I became a different person. Fast-forward to 44, there’s something else going on. So when someone wants to know what I do, I want to be consistent with what’s happening when they come to see me play. It’s all a part of how I chose the songs.

Your hardcore fans might wonder why you included material from Poison but not from Mr. Big.
I picked the stuff that I like to play. I’m not going to put “Shine” on there. “Shine” is a cool tune, but I played the piss out of that song live. Same with “Stand.” There’s a million versions of that song and I even put it on one of my solo records. I didn’t put it on this one because it’s not essential for me. I’m going to put “Fooled Again” on there because that’s a song I think is completely essential. I’m going to put “OMG (What’s Your Name?)” on there because it has an element of something I do that’s very unique to me – a certain style and certain sound. I put “What Is” on there because I know when I wrote that song where my head space was, and that song just poured out of me. However long it is, that’s how long it took to write. I don’t mean to discredit what other people like, but c’mon, man! I’m just putting out a record. Roll with me here (laughs).

What’s coming up next?
My solo band is going on a full-on world tour. I’m also releasing another solo album in January and I designed something for Tech 21 called the RK 5. It will debut at the NAMM show. It’s a multi-effects signature pedal that includes a SansAmp, delay, reverb, and a two-stage overdrive. It’s just big enough so your foot can hit the switches. It’s really cool.


This article originally appeared in VG January 2015 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.