STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
The band sounded great on paper. Three superb musicians. One of the busiest drummers on the planet, Mike Portnoy, is best known as the former drummer of Dream Theater. Billy Sheehan is the bassist and founder of Mr. Big and he had stints with David Lee Roth and Steve Vai, among others. Guitarist and vocalist Richie Kotzen, a native of Reading, Pa., has recorded 20 albums under his own name and also played with Poison for a few years. They each have serious credibility.
But what would happen when the three artists with somewhat different styles attempted to combine forces? The answer is their eponymous debut CD (Loud & Proud, 2013). In other words, the experiment worked.
The Winery Dogs just released their follow up CD “Hot Streak” (Loud & Proud, 2015), which further solidifies the band’s chemistry and branches out more than on the debut. I had the opportunity to interview Kotzen by phone from Los Angeles, his home since 1990. We discussed the band and the new album. The following are excerpts from our interview.
Brodkin: How did The Winery Dogs form?
Kotzen: We started a couple of years ago. There’s a DJ in New York, Ed Trunk. He had called me and wanted to know if I was interested in starting a new project with Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy, who had been working together. We all had a meeting at my house and went in my studio and did some playing together and came up with some songs and it grew from there. We decided that we should make a record. We didn’t have any expectations actually; we just wanted to see if we could make a cool record. When we were finished, we had a lot of options to tour and ended up touring for over a year. Here we are now with another record. It’s been very cool.
Brodkin: Do you think The Winery Dogs fit into a specific genre?
Richie: The Winery Dogs is a rock band. We grew up listening to bands like The Who and Led Zeppelin — that’s the common ground. If you take that common ground, it’s the glue that keeps us together so we have that kind of connection. I’m doing more of a soul, blues, R&B thing and you’ve got Mike bringing in the progressive rock thing, and Billy’s bringing in his thing. That helps make the band sound unique. Somehow (we’re) able to take all those influences, however diverse they are, and meld them together and do really well.
Brodkin: Are all three of you equal partners in the songwriting process?
Kotzen: The songwriting process starts out with the three of us together in a room and we throw ideas around. Ideas can start from anywhere. I might sit at the piano or pick up a guitar, or Billy might play a bass line, Mike might play a drum groove, or I might sing something. In that initial meeting, we basically (had) time set aside… in a studio. We got together and just threw ideas around. Those ideas are documented, they’re recorded, and they’re basically little musical skeletons. From there, I take those musical skeletons and I develop them and turn them into actual songs. What that means is I’m writing the lyrics and writing the melodies and then, once I have that together, we book another studio and we go in (and) we record the record.
The recording process takes a couple of months from start to finish. The first thing we do is record the basic tracks, which would be drums and bass. Then I take those recordings and I spend about a month or so alone in the studio doing the rest of it – the guitars, the piano, the keyboards, the vocals. Then once I get all my stuff finished, we get together again and if there’s anything that needs to be changed, or fixed, or altered, we deal with that. Then we send the record up to be mixed.
We all play a different role. I’m wearing a lot of hats by nature of what I do and what I bring to the table. I’ve always been that way. I’m the one guy in the band that you could drop in a recording studio and a week later I’ll come out with a collection of completely finished songs from top to bottom. That’s something I’ve been doing my whole life, something I enjoy.
Brodkin: How is the band different live than on your recordings?
Kotzen: What happens live is you start to take on a different life. There was a song from the last record called “Regret” that I (played) piano on, that I play live. I get behind the piano in the first half and then when the second half comes in I step off the piano and pick up the guitar. That’s an interesting thing for the show; people seem to respond well to that. In general, we’re a power trio. I don’t want to get on stage and copy what I did in the studio because it’s a different environment and I think the outcome should be different. We play the songs the same way – the same lyrics, the same chord progressions – but it’s a different kind of energy live than it is in the studio. It always is, no matter who the band is.
Brodkin: How have you developed your fan base?
Kotzen: When The Winery Dogs formed, all these people were very curious. ‘What is this new band? What is The Winery Dogs? What’s it going to sound like?’ I don’t know how we did it, but we got them all. We got all these people that normally wouldn’t even pay attention to Richie Kotzen or know anything about him or people that never really would pay attention to Dream Theater and would never go to a Dream Theater concert. All these people that are on all three different sides came together, and we have this fantastic fan base. We were able to go out and play for over a year. We played over a hundred shows worldwide. It was fantastic.
Brodkin: Are you excited to be playing near your home town?
Kotzen: Yeah, it’s nice. I come back and see my family, and obviously come back here to play our shows. It’s always nice to see people I grew up with come (to) support the band. There (are) a lot of people back there that I’m still friendly with.
IF YOU GO
What: The Winery Dogs with Kicking Harold
When: Concert is set for 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8.
Where: Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside.
Tickets: $29.50 – $75.00
Ages: All Ages
Info.: Call (215) 572-7650 or check www.keswicktheatre.com
Artist’s website: www.thewinerydogs.com