This past Wednesday, I had the honor of interviewing my all-time favorite songwriter/singer/musician, Richie Kotzen. We discussed a wide range of topics from his new 2 CD/1 DVD collection ‘The Essential Richie Kotzen’, his stint playing for Ozzy Osbourne, his friendships and collaborations with Stevie Salas & Richie Zito, plans for The Winery Dogs, the effect that his time in Poison had on his career throughout the 1990’s & his forthcoming solo album due in January.
For 24 years, I’ve raved about his talents to anyone who would listen or was at least within earshot of me! Richie Kotzen’s music is to me what Elvis Presley’s music was to many others! Thanks to the success of The Winery Dogs, people are FINALLY discovering his immense talent as a songwriter, singer and musician! Richie was a pleasure to interview as he was very candid, humorous and honest during our talk.
LRI: Good afternoon Richie, how are things in L.A. today?
RK: Well, it appears to be a nice day. I haven’t actually gone outside yet today because I’ve been doing press all day. The sun is shining. It is warm and hot. I’ve got the air conditioner on & that’s about it, you know.
LRI: Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. You are gearing for a tour overseas for the months of September and October. Will this be with the solo band or acoustic gigs? Who is in your solo band these days?
RK: It is with my band. The band consists of Dylan Wilson on bass, Mike Bennett is the drummer and of course, me, singing and playing guitar. We’re starting the tour in Europe, I believe our first show is in Spain & we spend about three weeks over there and work our way to Latin America. We’ll go through Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Then we’re going to do a long run here in the United States.
LRI: WHD Entertainment released ‘The Essential Richie Kotzen’ in Japan back in March with a different track listing. Now it is coming out in the U.S. through Loud & Proud Records on September 2nd, what prompted Loud & Proud to release it here in the U.S.? Will it be released in other territories?
RK: Right. The rest of the world release including the United States is happening on September 2nd. You are correct, the initial release date was in Japan. I don’t remember exactly the actual date they released it but it did come out in Japan first. Fuck, I don’t know why they wanted to put it out other than they wanted to. (laughs) The idea was to make a retrospective that really wasn’t so much about, the purpose wasn’t just to put out a ‘Best Of’ or ‘Greatest Hits’ because the fact is I never really had what you would consider a hit record in the mainstream. It is more of an answer to a question to the people who don’t know what I do. Apparently, there is a considerable group of people who know my name but don’t know what I do. Maybe they know me from the Shrapnel days or maybe they know my name from being in Poison twenty years ago. But with this record, I put it together to answer the question, who is Richie Kotzen?
So, I picked songs that I like, that are my favorites, that I still play live. It’s like someone wanting to know what you look like so you give them a picture of yourself that you like, that shows yourself in the best light. So this is kind of that. It is a collection of material for people that really don’t know what I’ve been doing for the last fifteen years. At the same time, I wanted to have content that was interesting for people that do follow me so I included two new songs on there. On the second CD, I did a bunch of re-records to really just showcase the song itself and bypass the older production values. I do do these acoustically so that kind of ties into it as well.
LRI: You personally compiled this collection. Can you walk us through how you decided what to include and what to exclude?
RK: Right. That is kind of like what I just said. I didn’t make this package to go back twenty years and put material from the first or second record on there because it is not relevant to what I do now. If someone comes to my concert to see me play, I wanted this record to be consistent with that experience. So, it’s not so much about digging through the archives, it is more about when someone asks the question to me, “Hey Richie, I didn’t know you could sing until I heard you in The Winery Dogs. I didn’t know you had twenty records out, I want to get into your solo music but I don’t know what to buy?” Now, the answer to the question is now ‘The Essential Richie Kotzen’, that is the record to buy. This is the record that best describes what I do, what I am doing today and it is a good starting point for anyone who is curious who wants to get into my music.
LRI: Did it feel like being asked to pick your favorite child?
RK: It is a little tricky but you know, you got this thing like “I forgot I wrote that song.” or “maybe I shouldn’t put this song on it.” You know what I mean? It is easy to get confused in the process. That’s where I had to think in terms of what songs do I still play live? I always play ‘Fooled Again’ live, I always play ‘Doin’ What The Devil Says To Do’, ‘Remember’, ‘You Can’t Save Me’. It’s started to become very easy for me to pick songs because I equate it to a set list for example. I always have certain songs in there. You know what I mean?
LRI: The DVD includes eleven videos. How come the promo videos for ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’, ‘Wave Of Emotion’, ‘Something To Say’ and ‘Don’t Wanna Lie’ didn’t make the cut?
RK: The reason that I didn’t include them, believe it or not, as ridiculous as it sounds is I don’t have any clue where those master files are. So, umm, the only places they live is on YouTube. I don’t have any reels of those. It is kind of weird. It’d be really kind of difficult for me to find them because it has been so long ago. That is the only reason why I didn’t include them. The ‘Wave Of Emotion’ video I would never put anywhere, it is like my worst nightmare somehow! (Laughs)
LRI: The video for ‘Wave Of Emotion’ is very different! (Laughs)
RK: It is! I don’t know where they live!
LRI: I don’t want to give too much away but on the Japanese DVD, after the credits, you included a video that you had posted on your website back in 2004 of you getting tattooed at home; does that video appear on the U.S. DVD?
RK: (Laughs) Yeah! I told them to put it on there so I hope they didn’t take it off there. It is a hidden video.
LRI: It is hilarious! I’ve had that release since it came out in Japan in March and I was watching it last night. Someone called me so I put it on mute, the last few videos played through. I look up after the credits ended and said “what the hell?”
RK: (Laughs) Yup, yup! (Laughs) That is funny!
LRI: I’m going to backtrack and ask you a few questions that I’ve always wanted to ask you. After the release of your ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’ album and touring cycle, it was reported that you were joining Ozzy Osbourne’s band due to departure of Zakk Wylde. Is there any truth to that and did you ever audition or rehearse with Ozzy?
RK: Wow! How did you even know about that? Of course you would know about that!
LRI: You pick things up when you follow an artist like I’ve followed you for twenty plus years!
RK: Wow! Not many people know that story. I can tell you that story. It is pretty funny because back then….I’m trying to remember what was going on. Ok, that was like in 1995, it must have been. I had just lost my deal with Geffen because my A&R guy had moved over to Sony. I had got out of that contract and at that time I was talking about signing with RCA. In that period, I remember that I got a phone call from my manager. The way it was presented to me was that they had called and wanted to meet with me. Sharon wanted to meet me and they needed a guitar player. At the time, they had done a lot of work with Steve Vai & for whatever reason, it didn’t pan out. Zakk wasn’t involved at that point.
So, they flew me to New York. I remember, I was so sick. I had to actually get to my gate in a wheelchair. I couldn’t walk. I had some kind of food poisoning. It was a nightmare! I remember I got to the gate in a wheelchair which is really weird for me because I am one of those people who would never go to the doctor. I’m one of those guys who would just tough it out. I was really sick but I knew I had to get to New York. So I got to New York, I was fine by the time I landed.
I went to Ozzy’s hotel room to meet him. He played a joke on me and I didn’t even realize what he was doing. He had this like, um, you know when you have a tooth pulled? I can’t think of the word for it but it was like this syringe thing that sprays water or alcohol. He was trying to make me think that he was about to shoot heroin. He was going through all these crazy motions & it was just me and him in this hotel room. For whatever reason, it wasn’t registering what he was doing. I wasn’t even paying attention and finally he got frustrated that I wasn’t seeing that he was trying to play a joke on me. That became a whole other funny moment. But we sat in his room and we watched ‘Dumb & Dumber’. Me & Ozzy watched the movie ‘Dumb & Dumber’ together. (Laughs)..For some reason I think there was two trips. On that trip, it was like this casual thing. I sat in this hotel’s downstairs restaurant with Sharon. She basically told me what was going to happen. She told me what they were going to pay me, they told me I could sell my own t-shirts at the gig, all this stuff. It was like “Wow! I am going to play guitar for Ozzy!”
So, there is another point where I played with him as well but I don’t know if it was the same trip. For some reason, in my mind, there is a huge gap. At one point I played with him at one point. Geezer Butler was the bass player & Deen Castronovo was playing drums. It was in New York. What happened, I came back and told someone that I was going to be Ozzy’s guitar player. They had already negotiated the deal with my manager and everything. Back then AOL was really popular. Everything was going on in these chat rooms where you had people in there gossiping. I made the mistake of telling someone I was going to do this. They went and put it in one of these AOL chat rooms that “Richie Kotzen, ex-Poison guitar player is going to play with Ozzy!” And people went fucking crazy! And they said “That’s fucking bullshit, a guy from Poison is going to be in Ozzy’s band?” These were people who didn’t even know my name & they had no idea who I was but because this person wrote “Poison” there was this huge blow back on the AOL thread.
I remember seeing it & I was so fucking pissed. I said “Why the fuck would you go and fucking make this public? I told you this as a friend and now you are fucking blabbing it on the internet!” So, the whole deal, everything, went dead. Literally, I can only assume that is the only reason. They had, my manager had negotiated the deal, everything was agreed upon. You know, it was all good. The minute it got out they quit responding, we got nothing from them. I had been sending them riffs, recording song ideas but after that happened, it went totally dead. What they actually did, I think Zakk ended up going back and making the record.
Then they got a guy who, I think, no one had ever heard of before….
LRI: Joe Holmes?
RK: Who was the guy, do you remember his name?
LRI: Joe Holmes. Actually my friend Robert Locke has a band with him now called Farmikos that Eddie Trunk has been raving about all over social media. You should check them out!
RK: There you go. They got a guy with no real history or at least not a history like mine for example. It is so funny man, that whole Poison thing for me, in one hand it was a great opportunity and I really loved that record we made but one the other hand, it really fucked up a lot of opportunities for me throughout the entire 90’s. I mean, everything from that situation I just talked about to record deals. It was this horrible association that really fucked me up throughout the entire 90’s. The sad thing about it is, what I do as I musician had absolutely nothing to do with what made Poison a famous act. So, it is like a double hit. Yeah, I was in the band, I understand it is not the coolest band in the world to some people. I also have been doing this whole other thing which is who I am. It was really fucked up & it wasn’t until the internet came along that I was able to actually directly reach my base without having to deal with a label. That changed everything for the better for me!
LRI: That was definitely an interesting story between Ozzy & you. I always wondered about that, whatever came of it and why that didn’t happen. In the past you have collaborated with your good friend Stevie Salas on various projects and did a run of shows in the UK with him where you traded off vocal, guitar and bass duties. Is there any chance of you two recording a full collaborative album that sees you trading off vocal, guitar and bass duties?
RK: I think Stevie’s kind of moved into a whole other realm. He has kind of become quite the entrepreneur! I know he still does music. Back when we hanging out together when he still lived in L.A. We used to do all kinds of things, recording, I played on so many different records he was involved in that I don’t know what I played on!
LRI: I could send you a list! (Laughs)
RK: (Laughs) I am sure you could! It was a fun time back then with him. He is someone I’ve always respected as a musician but is also a very dear friend as well so the idea of working with him would be just easy. It’d be like working with your brother or something like that. I’m a big fan of what he does and he is a person that one of my best friends so there you have it!
LRI: Richie Zito, who produced your ‘Mother Head’s Family Reunion’ album and you, did a ‘download only’ album called ‘The Road’ under the name ‘Wilson Hawk’ back in 2009. Will it ever be released as a physical CD or on vinyl? Will there ever be a second album under the ‘Wilson Hawk’ name?
RK: You know, probably not on all fronts although that album on vinyl would be kind of cool. There was some company in New York that was talking about doing a vinyl on me. You just gave me idea, that would be really cool to put that on vinyl. To print cd’s up and offer them, there is no point. Nobody really knows about the record other than my fan base so everybody that knows about it already has it. It is what it is. It is a record that I really like. I loved making it, it was exciting & fun and artistically rewarding. Initially when we did it, we kind of anticipated getting a more proper traditional deal from the record but it never materialized. So, we didn’t want to have that music never see the light of day so we just decided to let’s make it available as an internet download. We can share it that way. It was just an easy road to take so to speak, no pun intended, being the album is called ‘The Road’.
I love Richie. He is a super-talented guy & I learned so much from him, not only about production value but also as an artist and writer. There is so many things he taught me, almost inadvertently just by being around him. There was a period in the 90’s where we hung out all the time and spoke literally every day, we were really really close. Lately, because of my schedule and the fact that I’m constantly on tour, I don’t see him as much but he was a huge influence on me for a period of time.
LRI: In 2012, you formed The Winery Dogs with Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheehan, releasing your debut album in 2013 to great critical and fan acclaim. Since its release, you have received an insane amount of overdue recognition due to the success of the band & many people are just now discovering your vast solo catalog. Does it seem surreal that you’ve been a professional recording artist for twenty-five years and now people are finally discovering you?
RK: (Laughs) That’s funny! It is kind of interesting. The thing that drives me nuts & it doesn’t really drive me nuts because I don’t take myself nearly as seriously as somebody else would take themselves I think. People come up to me and they are like “Wow! Richie Kotzen, I didn’t know you could sing!” I’m thinking to myself “How do you know my name and not know that I am a singer?” It just baffles my mind but the reality is that a huge bunch of people that when they hear my name they think of the guy with the teased hair from 1989 with the Shrapnel Records thing. So that is the reality. I do have a good fan base which is awesome but I am relatively still unknown in the big picture. It is kind of surreal which is a good word for it to think that at 44 that I’m finally getting people outside of my base that I’ve created for myself over all this time. You know what I mean? I don’t really need, for my own being, I’m happy with the way things were before The Winery Dogs because I still am making my life through my music so I am fine with all that but this is a nice bonus!
I didn’t anticipate any of this positive response from The Winery Dogs. I thought it’d just be a cool record that came out & the people who were into that kind of music would pick it up. Maybe we’d do a handful of key market dates & I’d go back to being Richie Kotzen but this thing kind of grew legs, sort of speak. It’s been a great thing for all three of us!
LRI: I have several friends who got into The Winery Dogs and were like “Ohhh, now we get what you’ve been talking about with Richie Kotzen for the past 20 plus years!” I was just wanted to say to them “Duhhhh!” (Laughs)
RK: (Laughs) That is funny but hey, better late than never you know!
LRI: In your live shows, you have performed an amazing version of the Hall & Oates classic ‘Sarah Smile’ for many years. Will you ever release a studio version of the song to please the many longtime fans such as myself? Our mutual friend Laure always wanted you to record it before she passed!
RK: Oh yeah! That is a different animal because when I do a cover song, I am usually doing it because there is a reason why I am doing it. It is because the song influenced me like I do ‘Shapes Of Things’, or I’ll do ‘Sarah Smile’, I put ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’ on my record, I did a Spinners tune, ‘I’ll Be Around’ on one of my records. To do ‘Sarah Smile’ would be really cool! I don’t really know why I haven’t done it yet? It is something people talk about. At some point, I’d want to do it but I’d want to record it in a way where I utilize my band. A lot of my recordings, I play all the instruments and that sort of thing. If I were to record that song, part of what makes my version interesting is the way the three of us interact on an improvisational level. That kind of add something to it! So, if I did record it, I’d definitely use my band.
LRI: When you return from overseas in late October, you will be touring the U.S. in support of ‘The Essential Richie Kotzen’. How long will this tour last?
RK: The plan is to stay out for about a month. The interesting thing that is going on is I’m going to be doing all this touring off of ‘The Essential Richie Kotzen’ but I have a brand new solo album that I am going to be releasing in January. So, what is going to be kind of interesting is at what point do we end touring or continue? I think in a perfect world I’d like to tour up until December then because it is the holidays and everything, I’d like to stay home and be with my family.
I know The Winery Dogs need to start writing for our new record. Somewhere between December and January, I’d like to be able to A) take a break & B) write some new songs with Billy and Mike. Then go out and do some shows in support of my new solo record which I think all that is completely realistic because the way the time frame would work is that once we write the songs with The Winery Dogs, we would then record the record. Then we’d have a huge chunk of time where things would be set up, be it press, interviews or whatever. During that time I could be out touring with my band in support of the solo record then roll that right into The Winery Dogs cycle so that The Winery Dogs are on tour in the summer of next year.
So, what that sounds like is someone is going to be dragging me off to some kind of rehabilitation center due because I’m going to be so exhausted!
LRI: Take you out & drop you off at Club Med!
RK: (Laughs) Yeah, right!
LRI: In January 2015, you will be releasing a new solo album entitled ‘Cannibals’. What can everyone expect with this release and is Loud & Proud releasing it? Will there be a tour in support of ‘Cannibals’?
RK: I’ll tell you what, the new record is really cool! You’ve never heard someone say “Hey! Check out my new record, it really sucks!” Obviously, I am excited about what I did. I will tell you there is one song on the record that is very special! The song is called ‘You’ & the song was written by my daughter and myself. The way this came to be, many years ago, I think she may have been 14 or 13, and she is 17 now. Years ago, she’d sit at the piano and play this piece. I kept saying “What is that? Every time you come in here, you sit down and you play that.” She said “It is something I wrote.” I said “Well, we should record it so you don’t forget it.” So, I put the mics up and we made a nice recording of it. That lived on my hard drive for probably three or four years. When I was assembling the new record, I went back into my archives and found it on my hard drive, I pulled it up & listened to it & thought “Wow! This is really cool! This needs to be written.” So, I wrote some words to it, threw a vocal down, and that is on the record. It is just piano and voice, one little interlude where I play a Theremin melody and we actually shot a music video for it this past weekend so I’m very excited about that!
LRI: Awesome, I look forward to it! Loud & Proud is putting this out?
RK: Yes, that is the plan, yeah!
LRI: Anything else you would like to discuss or plug?
RK: No, that is perfect, good timing. My daughter just arrived here a little while ago so I can get off the phone & thanks for the interview man. I hope it all comes together nice!
LRI: Thanks again for making a dream come, I’ve been trying to track you down for an interview for years! Best of luck with everything & safe travels on the road.
RK: Cool! Alright dude, I’ll talk to ya later!
Visit Richie Kotzen on the Web:
Thank you to Amanda at ABC, UEG Inc. for the photos & most of all, Richie!
Extra special thanks to my parents Omar & Dorothy for being my biggest supporters & my Brothers from other Mothers; Josh, Shaggy and Black for always encouraging me to never give up on landing this interview!