Samick Motherlode

December 2014
more... ArtistsRichie Kotzen

Interview: Richie Kotzen

I hate Richie Kotzen.

He’s a good-looking, skinny guy with long hair, tattoos, cool clothes and wears his guitar slung low. He looks like a rock star. He can eat anything he wants and not gain a single pound. He can get away with wearing the kind of clothes I would look absolutely absurd in. I’m sure he meets hot chicks all day long as well. Must be tough.

To add insult to injury, he’s no poser. He really plays the shit out of the guitar! He plays jaw-dropping stuff and has a freakish left hand. Kotzen signed his first record deal as a teenager, toured and recorded with bassist extraordinaire Stanley Clarke, and replaced the notorious Paul Gilbert in Mr. Big. Yes, he’s that good. Solo records poured out of him as well as shred-fusion projects with Greg Howe. He also owns his own commercial recording studio, gets cool gear for free and writes the kind of songs that make you wish you had written them. He’s nice guy too. Damn you, Richie Kotzen.

Kotzen gets lumped in with the shred guys, but his songwriting style falls more into the blue-eyed soul/rock category. He’s recorded rock-fusion and shred, but it’s his bluesy singing style and soulful melodies that are the focal point of his contemporary work. He’s a tuneful, introspective guy who writes accessible, radio-friendly songs with a rock edge. He puts on the type of show that our guitar-obsessed readers could drag their wives or girlfriends to and be assured they’d have a good time. I caught up with Kotzen just before the Los Angeles leg of the Guitar Generation tour.

I’m coming to your gig tomorrow night with George Lynch and Paul Gilbert. I’m expecting unadulterated mayhem.

[Laughing] We did our first one in San Diego the other night and it was a lot of fun. I really like Paul a lot. Not only the way he plays, but personally. He’s just a great guy. We have a fun time in the jam. George too. I don’t know George and I don’t feel as familiar with George as I do Paul, because I was in Mr. Big and I spent a lot of time listening to Paul, but it’s just a cool hang. I wish this tour could develop into something that was more than just three shows.

Me too. It sounds like a hoot.

Right now as it stands we’re only doing three shows. We’re talking about moving it toward the fall. The last show is in Anaheim.

You guys are obviously doing individual sets and a jam at the end. Tell me about it.

I go up first, George does his thing, then Paul. Then we do the jam.

What kinds of tunes are you jamming on?

We do “Snortin’ Whiskey” by Pat Travers which was one of my suggestions because it’s one that I used to do and it’s a fun guitar tune. Paul suggested “Light My Fire.”

[Laughing]

It’s really cool! It’s funny. The minute I got the email I said, “Oh! I know why he wants to do this -- it’s because he learned the organ part in the beginning on guitar.” Sure enough, he did and it sounds really cool. He sings it and does it really great. We’re also covering “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “30 Days In The Hole.”

I can’t wait to hear you guys. By the way, your Live in Sao Paulo disc is truly awesome. I love the playing and the production. Great crowd response.

Thank you. There’s so much stuff of me on YouTube. I don’t watch myself anymore because I have a hard time with it. I know when I’m at my best and I know when I’m at my worst. I feel like I’m a good judge of me. What happens is that you have thousands of videos and naturally I want to be shown at my best. I feel like Live in Sao Paulo was the first time I was recorded properly where I really was at my best.

That’s what makes the record special to me. Here’s a proper recording and decent video footage. It’s not super high quality video footage but it’s good enough to see what’s going on. It’s the first time somebody actually captured me doing what I do, where all the elements came together. The band played great, I played as good as I could, I sang as well as I was capable of at that time and the audience was into it. I’m really excited about the fact that this exists. If I wouldn’t have dug it, I wouldn’t have released it. At this point I don’t put anything out that I don’t stand behind.