Richie Kotzen

Better Days Coming
Richie Kotzen
Richie Kotzen: Piper Ferguson and John McMurtrie.

Richie Kotzen is one of today’s busiest rock guitarists. In addition to being a long-time solo artist (and possessing an awesome singing voice), he manages his time between the Winery Dogs (with Billy Sheehan on bass, Mike Portnoy on drums) and most recently, Smith/Kotzen, in which he’s teamed with Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith. The duo released a self-titled debut album in ’21, and the studio/live Better Days… And Nights dropped recently.

How did you and Adrian first meet and decide to work together?
It was random. There was a bar in Los Angeles, the Whiskey Bar, in the Sunset Marquis Hotel, where a lot of musicians and actors would hang out. One night, a friend and I started talking to this lady, and my friend showed her a video of me in Brazil, singing “Remember.” She said, “My husband is in a band.” I say, “What band?” and she says, “Iron Maiden.” It was Adrian. We became friendly, and when Adrian came to town, we all got together. [Adrian’s wife] Natalie’s birthday falls around the holidays, so they always have a party, and afterward we’d go into the music room and jam. One night, she suggested, “You and Adrian should try to write something.” So, we did. He came over, and the first thing we did was “Running.”

How long have you been a fan of Adrian’s playing?
Since I was 12 years old – the first rock concert I ever saw was Iron Maiden. I used to listen to The Number of the Beast every morning before school.

How does your playing fit with Adrian’s?
I think quite well. We’ve got some common ground, obviously, because I grew up a Maiden fan. But aside from that, we both like the bluesier side of things. Adrian’s got a real strong background in the blues, and I have a background in blues – but more soul and R&B, probably because of where I grew up outside of Philadelphia – I was exposed to the Spinners, the O’Jays, and I love Curtis Mayfield. I get my bluesy element from old R&B. And we both loved Paul Rodgers from Bad Company and that era of rock.

The differences are that I’ve got a bit of a jazz-fusion thing in me, from when I played with Stanley Clarke and Lenny White [in Vertú]. And Adrian has the melodic side to his playing. I remember when we did “Scars,” I was like, “Okay, it’s done.” And he said, “I’ve got an idea.” He starts playing this melody inside the chorus, which took it to another level. I think we complement each other quite well.

Which guitar did you use most on Better Days?
I had the signature Telecaster that I’ve played since 1996, and a signature Strat that has also been made since ’96; I have a white one and a red one.

What is your current amp-and-effects setup?
I’m using a signature head from Victory, the RK50 combo, and Tech 21 makes my signature Fly Rig, which has a few effects – reverb, overdrive, boost, delay, and a Leslie simulator. I use two of those, one set up a certain way with the delay.

I run it into a Victory 4×12 cabinet, and I used to use 25-watt Celestions, but what I liked about them wasn’t the wattage, but the size of the cone – it’s smaller on that speaker than on a 70-watt. And now, they make a creamback 60-watt with a small cone. To my ear, it sounds like the 25-watt speaker. So, that’s in my 4×12 cabinet.

What’s the status of Winery Dogs?
We just mastered a new record. I can officially say the songs are done and we’re super-excited. 2023 is going to be all about the Winery Dogs – we’re going to release the album and tour. I’m over the moon about this record.

Are there future plans for Smith/Kotzen?
While I’m home, I’ll start work on ideas for the next Smith/Kotzen record. Adrian has already sent me a bunch. At some point when Maiden’s done touring, Adrian and I will get together and hopefully have enough for a new album.

This article originally appeared in VG’s December 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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