This month we feature A Soulfoul Ritchie Kotzen, a truly amazing creative spirit. Having played with superstar rock group Poison, then touring with Jazz Bassist Stanley Clarke, I didn’t know what to expect. When we met, he gave me an incredible gift – the re birth of a soulful/bluesy performance of sensational ROCK! Not only was he playing it, he was singing it too! Did I mention he wrote and produced it as well? I was blown away with his stage presence, his hypnotic voice and – oh my – the music! Needless to say, I am forever grateful to Richie Kotzen for that gift!
Meet multi-talented, phenomenally creative, singer, songwriter, guitar extraordinaire Richie Kotzen!
I&S: Where does your soulfulness come from?
RK: I was born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1970 and grew up outside Philadelphia. I was exposed to quite a bit of R&B music, which was something entirely different back then compared to what the music has become today. Also, American R&B and Soul music inspired the rock music I was listening to. Back then; a huge chunk of contemporary music was rooted in Blues and Soul. In today’s time, it seems like that influence has really become watered down.
You don’t hear a lot of soul in the sense of what soul music was in a lot of younger artists because they didn’t grow up with it or were never around to experience it. They may not have been exposed to those artists making that music on a daily basis through radio or live shows. So really my sound is quite normal for someone who grew up in that environment and time period.
I&S: As you know, I am a big Richie fan, not just the musician but also the entire package. Tell us about the fan that tattooed your name on her body? How does that feel?
RK: Well, that is pretty wild to say the least. I’ve personally seen about 10 people around the world after shows that came up to me with some type of tattoo of my signature or image.
One of the coolest ones and the first one I saw was on a guy in Praha, (Czech Republic) He has a portrait of my face on one part of his arm that melts into a portrait of Hendrix on the other part of his arm. I think I posted that somewhere on my Instagram account.
Whatever artist did that tattoo is really good because the ink literally looks like photographs. It is one of the best portrait tattoos I’ve ever seen – not just because it is one of me.
I&S: I know you are multi-talented as a musician. What other instruments do you play? And if you didn’t play guitar, which instrument would you choose?
RK: Well other than guitar my main instrument is my voice. I really feel pretty much equal on either. I don’t look at myself as just a guitarist or just a singer, my abilities are really based strictly around whatever ideas I need to execute as it relates to the music I write.
I’m not one of those musicians that want to master every style. I feel like I have a lot of creative energy and music is my best outlet for that. My practice approach often revolves around trying to play something I hear in my head that I can’t quite execute – not the traditional method of practice where you study various theories and exercises that others present to you.
I really enjoy music and I love the feeling of writing something new but music isn’t the end all for me. When I was as a teenager it really was an obsession. But ironically, once that wore off, my focus became more on my ideas and myself. Then when I wrote something it felt more connected to who I was. I really think that started to happen for me in the early 2000’s. If I were not playing music I would see myself doing something else in the creative realm – perhaps an architect of some kind. I love buildings and construction and all that sort of thing so I picture myself somewhere in that field on the creative end. Not so much framing and doing the drywall but more like shaping the overall design.
I&S: Where is your favorite place to play in the world?
RK: Well I’m very lucky because I have played so many amazing places. The first city that pops into my mind as far as an incredibly energized audience would have to be Sao Paulo, Brazil. I do have great audiences everywhere though… Chile is always great, Argentina, Germany, Italy, many places in Europe. At one time Japan was a great touring market for me but after I opened for the Rolling Stones in 2006 I have not been back for a proper show of my own. I miss playing Japan quite a bit. I will say one surprising thing and that is Los Angeles is at the TOP of my list of cities to play and just not because I’ve lived here for 22 years. A funny thing happened to me in LA a few years ago.
I was on a 3-guitar player bill. It was George Lynch, Paul Gilbert and myself. I opened the show and when we got on the stage and finished the first song the audience response actually scared me! I was expecting the normal we’ve seen it all response that you get in certain big cities but I swear to god the crowd was so loud that I looked at my bass player and said, “Where the hell are we, Brazil?” So because of that I would also put Los Angeles at the top of the list as one of my favorite cities to play in the world… home sweet home.
I&S: Are you a firm believer in “Behind every successful man is a great woman?”
RK: I’m not so sure about that. I do have a great relationship with my mom. I think people like clichés and love to say things that explain how and why someone is successful but really all that is nonsense. There are so many variables but at the top of the list would have to be a connection to what you create. You could be an amazing artist/painter with incredible technique and attention to detail but if you don’t paint anything that anyone is interested in looking at then no one is going to look at your paintings.
Now if you personally are defining success by personal gratification then in that case you will be the most successful painter in the world. If you were looking to others to validate and celebrate your work, then perhaps this painter we were talking about would be a failure. It depends on how you define success. By my definition of success I consider myself successful.
I&S: What’s up in Kamp Kotzen?
RK: I currently have a new CD awaiting release. It is a new band called The Winery Dogs with world-renowned bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Mike Portnoy.
We are looking for a June release of the self-titled CD. It is a very interesting record because it is simply three guys playing together with absolutely no computer or artificial influence to the sound. There is no auto tune, drum sampling, looping, robot voices, creepy squeaks or herky-jerky weirdo sounds – just three musicians singing and playing together. It is quite a risk releasing a CD like this in today’s market but it is something we really enjoyed making.
I&S: The editor/publisher/owner of Image & Style Magazine lives in northern California and is looking forward to your upcoming gig in SF. When will you be in her area?
RK: I am going to be opening up for Y&T at the Fillmore on May 18th. It will be a short set with my trio. It is hard to verbalize what she will see or hear but since the fans post content all over YouTube from almost every show it is easy to check out. That is the great thing about today’s technology. If someone wants to know, there is an immediate answer. I love that!
I&S: I think your look is smokin hot, but again, I like the entire package! Tell us a little about the Richie Kotzen fashion look? Do you have anyone who influences your choice of your fashion?
RK: My fashion look (laughing) you mean the homeless vibe? It’s funny, but years ago when I was in Poison I was going out to a dinner party with one of my friends and as we are leaving he looked at me and started laughing. And I’m like: “What’s the problem?” and he said, “I’m looking at you trying to figure out how you could be wearing $2,500.00 in wardrobe and still somehow look homeless.” So I don’t know how to answer that question. I do believe some people dress in a way that reflects something inside them. Others put on clothes because it is a social requirement so there is absolutely no thought in the matter and that is obvious by looking at them. I think there is more thought put into what I buy rather then what I wear. I like having stuff that not everyone is going to have. I guess that is part of my ideal of being an individual.
I&S: Is there anyone out there that you would want to work with, not as a musician but as a writer or producer?
RK: Probably but I really would have to think hard about that… It would likely be someone from the past that may not be so ready to work with someone like me.
I&S: Who have you worked with that just took your breath away musically?
RK: Stanley Clarke. He is by far the deepest musician I have ever worked with. Next to him would have to be Karen Briggs. The 3 of us were in a band called Vertu and made a record for Sony back in 2000. We also toured Europe and did all the Jazz festivals that year.
I&S: Give us every which way to contact Richie Kotzen.
RK: If you want to know what I’m doing or where I’m playing you have many options: First thing is to sign up for my mailing list at richiekotzen.com. There you can join the community and you will receive personal e-mails. If you require more information from me you can click the contact link on the website and an email will be sent to my manager.
I also have a Facebook site (which is great for updates) as well as Twitter and YouTube accounts. I also started using this thing called Vidy along with Instagram.
I&S: Please provide dates and locations of upcoming gigs and anything else you may want the public to know.
RK: The next gigs I have will be in Mexico City on April 23, 24, and 25 followed by the Fillmore show in SF on May 18th, Iridium in NYC on May 27th, and an acoustic tour that begins this june in europe and lasts for a month.
Please see richiekotzen.com for more info on upcoming shows.