Heart of Steel: Interviews

Richie Kotzen

Interviewed by
Keith McDonald

Richie Kotzen got his career started at a very young age. At an age when most kids donít know what theyíre going to do with themselves, Richie was recording solo albums for the well know Shrapnel Records. After doing tours and clinics Richie got a call to join Poison as C.C.ís replacement and a few years later replaced Paul Gilbert in Mr. Big. He has still carried on with his solo career with the release of his new album ĎGet Upí. I had the opportunity to speak with Richie and get the lowdown on his new CD

How did you start playing guitar?

I started playing the guitar when I was seven years old. I was very much into entertaining my family when I was a little one. Iíd jump around singing and air guitar playing all over the house.... Somehow someone got the idea for piano lessons but piano wasnít very rock in my mind so I asked for an electric guitar. Thatís how I started.



How did you land at Shrapnel Records? How much did recording with them advance your career?

I landed at Shrapnel Records through their magazine column in Guitar World Magazine. The label owner Mike Varney did a story on me when I was seventeen and then signed me to a recording contract. As for the question how did they advance my career? I guess if it wasnít for Shrapnel one could argue that Iíd be playing a dive bar somewhere deep in the woods of Pennsylvania right now.... Shrapnel got me world exposure as a guitarist. After my first CD was released I got the cover of guitar world. I was only 19, so at that point I was very happy with Shrapnel Records.



You were very young when you started recording and touring. How did this help your career?

I think it helped a great deal. I was playing arenas when I was 22 years old. I was playing with a shit band but still I was playing arenas and that was fucking cool for a 22-year-old kid. I have made so many solo records since I was 18 and they are all over the map as far as the style. I think that has to do with starting to make records young. Itís like documentation....I know I hadnít really figured out my identity as an artist until the last 5 years. The guitar playing musician thing came quick for me but I had to do a lot of experimenting musically until I finally settled into what I'm doing on my new CD, Get Up. This CD is really what Iím about. Itís obviously rock, but I think the song ĎRememberí is the most definitive song I've written for myself.



Would you recommend someone touring at a young age or not?

Hell yes.... No doubt the best time to tour is when youíre young.... Itís so much easier. You have less responsibility; you bounce back from hangovers faster... Youíre less likely to die of a heart attack from snorting too much cocaine... You can do a lot more fucking when youíre young.... I think the absolute best time to tour is when your young.


Despite the controversy, do you think being in Poison helped you grow as a musician or not?

Being in Poison helped me grow my bank account for a year, but grow as a musician? Are you serious? Being in Poison helped me forget I was a musician.



Do you think you fit, musically, in Poison, or not?

Well when I was in Poison I was the only one making any music so yes I fit musically. Iím not really sure if those guys even played on their own records before I got there, I know C.C. did. I know I played the bass on a few songs on native tongue. When I went on tour with them did I fit musically? Fuck no. I think if Rikki could have counted to four without getting confused it would have been easier to fit in.

It was nothing personal ... I think my mind was starting to rot away....g, c, d, over and fucking over - AHHHHHHH... The best thing about being in Poison was fucking... A lot of fucking.... I couldnít stop fucking... At first it was fun but then I started to get so weak. At one point I was worried about my health... Iím so much better off now.



How did touring the world with Mr. Big help you grow as a guitarist?

Iím not sure. I think playing with Mr. Big made me play faster. Iíve never played faster than when I played with Mr. Big.



What do you enjoy more - touring as a solo artist or in a band?

It depends on the band. The most fun touring for me was when I played with Vertu, which was the fusion band I was in with Lenny White and Stanley Clarke. There were 2 women in that band and it was constant chaos. I mean the music was confusing enough, then with the girls and all their shit wow! It was fucking wild. I remember in Italy we were playing in the courtyard of this huge castle and I heard bottles breaking and shit. I was down by the stage after the show signing CDís and somehow a huge fight broke out between band members up in the dressing room. That band was more rock than any rock band Iíve played with. Plus everybody was a sick musician.... Loads of fun!



Tell me about your Fender signature guitar. How did that come about?

About 5 years ago Fender approached me to make a signature model guitar based on my Telecaster. It is an honor to have it exist. Last year the UK started selling the guitar as well. Itís very cool when I go over seas because I donít need to bring my guitar.



How was it touring with Vertu? Different from what you're used to?

Well I have never been in a band with a violinist. Karen Briggs was on violin and she is the best soloist I have ever heard play live in my life. She was awesome.  So connected to what she was doing...It was almost like she was possessed when she would do a solo. She was an inspiration for me in that band. We hung out a lot on the tour and had a great time being friends.



You seem to blend a big bag of musical tastes (rock, blues, fusion, etc.). How did that come about?

I guess I want to be a part of everything. Iím never satisfied. I grew up as a rock guitar player listening to soul singers outside of Philadelphia, PA. After a while the rock thing became less interesting and I started listening to fusion players then I started to get headaches and blurry vision so I decided to get back to the rock.



I see you have a new album GET UP. How would you describe the new material?

The best music Iíve ever made... ĎRememberí is my favorite song in the world. I love my record and I usually hate everything I do a week after itís finished. This is the first time I can listen to my own CD from start to finish and not want to vomit at some point in the process.



Will you tour behind this release?

Yes...I leave for South America on September 28th then its Japan then its Spain, then itís the UK, then itís Italy, then itís hopefully going to be Germany then its back home to Los Angeles.



How many solo albums do you have? Are they all available here in the US?

There are 13 Richie Kotzen solo CDís not including the 2 CDís I did with guitarist Greg Howe and not including the new best of thatís coming out and not including acoustic cuts. Yes you can buy them in the U.S. The new CD, Get Up is being sold through my web site at richiekotzen.com. I am so tired of people saying "hey man why cant I get your record".... So I decided to sell it myself.... now I know that anyone who wants it can get it. Very simple, go to my website.



Tell me about the new recording studio you opened. Who has recorded there already?

The new studio is named headroom-inc..... Client list? Ok here we go.... Gene Simmons, Dave Navarro, Keanu Reeves, Blu Cantrell, Meshell NdegeíOcello, Toto, John Wait, Doyle Bramhall II, and me!



What lies ahead for you?

I donít know.... Hopefully itís good.

Thanks for having me!