Raised in his hometown of Reading, PA Richie Kotzen fell in love with playing the electric guitar at the early age of 7. He recorded his very first album at the age of 18 for Shrapnel Records in San Francisco,CA.
Fans of his work are well aware of his presence in the Glam Metal band ‘Poison’ as well as one of my personal favorite bands ‘Mr. Big’. However his solo career and library of music is beyond stellar and I was thrilled when the opportunity to speak with Richie came along.
His brilliant style of playing guitar as well as his sultry and hypnotizing vocals completes a total package of remarkable music. Speaking openly about his love for music & his priorities in life with me was one of the best ways to spend over half an hour in the afternoon.
TFL: So you’ve been sort of all over the map with your career hey…spent some time with Poison as well as Mr. Big.
RK: Yeah…um you know I’ve been doing it for a long time, I never think back and look at stuff I did but when people point it out to me and talk about my first record & I start really thinking ‘MAN!’. I made my first record when I was 18 you know, in 1989 it was released and I was 18 when I recorded the thing. A lot of the songs I was even younger when I wrote ’em but it’s kind of been a cool journey you know just going through all the experiences & I feel like in the last 10 years pretty much have got comfortable with myself as an artist & musician and now it’s just a matter of I do what I love I don’t do it for any other reason than the love of music & I’m doing EXACTLY what I want so I’m really grateful for that.
TFL: Well ironically enough the ONLY Poison song on my MP3 player is “Stand’. (Laughing) it’s the ONLY one!
RK: Oh Cool! I have to say Thank You because that’s the song that I…there’s a couple songs that I brought into the band – one was ‘Stand’ another was called ‘Fire & Ice’. There were 2 or 3 other ones ‘Seven Days Over You’ and one called ‘Bodytalk’ that was a totally different kind of song but um… you know the thing about ‘Poison’ that was interesting that actually I LIKE as far as a format for a band is the idea that no matter who wrote a song, when I was in that band for that record it was either me or Bret who were doing the writing. No matter who wrote the song the band would split it 4 ways – once you brought the song in it became a ‘Poison’ song and the thing about that I know a lot of guys probably don’t like that but the thing that works for that was really a band is you don’t get any kind of competition between people trying to pitch their songs. Everybody is more inclined to make the best decision based on really what is best for the band and what they like as opposed to having somebody in the band who is trying to lobby to get their songs on the record – that just doesn’t exist in that kind of format so that was one of the things that I admired about the way the ran the operation over there.
TFL: You went into ‘Mr. Big’ with the ever so talented Billy Sheehan…
RK: Yeah…well that was quite a few years alter. I…you know my history is such that I did…before I even did ‘Poison’ I was already known primarily as a guitar player – even though there was a lot more going on with me – I was at times signed to Interscope as a solo artist & I ended up after I did 3 records I went into ‘Poison’ came out of ‘Poison’ a few years later and the re-signed with Geffen and went back to making solo records for 1994, 95, 96, 97..99 is when I actually was asked to join ‘Mr. Big’ and at that time I was already in a band with Stanley Clark. My initial response to joining ‘Mr. Big’ was “no”…for a lot of reasons. The main reason I said “no” was at the time I didn’t think it would be possible. I had already started recording a record with Stanley for Sony…we had already committed to doing a month and a half in Europe for the Jazz Festivals & I had released 2 records of my own that year – one was a blues covers record and the other was a studio record – so in my mind I was just way too busy. Then on top of it I was really… you know I didn’t really feel a connection to the hard rock scene, I didn’t really think that it made sense for me at the time to be a part of that. So initially I said “no” I didn’t think it made sense and then I remember it was like a…it was almost like a Mafia meeting, it was very funny because Billy and Pat said “Well listen, let’s come over to your house and talk to you because I just really think that you don’t realize you know the opportunity this is and what we’re willing to do with you”. So they came over and sat down and basically told me about their band and how primarily their market was Japan, so you know he was telling me that we want to make a record, we want you to write it with us, we’re going to tour but it’s likely that it will only be in Japan & you know it’s a fun band & we want something a little different – we want that sort of Blues/Rock/R&B influence that you have & we want to work with you. So after we sat down and talked about it I was definitely a fan of the first ‘Mr. Big’ record, I was a fan of Paul’s & I was a fan of Billy’s from when i was coming up in Pennsylvania so I decided to do it – so that was probably the busiest year for me. We ended up doing 2 studio records and 2 tours in Japan and it was fun you know it’s something that was a cool little phase in my life.
TFL: Now…you’ve got a new little project going…
RK: Yeah! You’re talking about Wilson Hawk right?
TFL: Wilson Hawk – that’s right!
RK: Basically what that stems from is a conversation I had with a good friend of mine last year at my house, we were hanging out and talking about music & talking about my records and he pointed out to me…you know obviously growing up where I did I was really influenced by Hard Rock but I also have a really strong R&B influence from the music that was played on the radio when I was growing up. It kind of comes out more probably in my writing and when I sing & he started pointing out songs like ‘hey you’ve got a lot of songs that are just amazing songs that are reminiscent of that era of music & he starts talking about my songs like ‘Remember’ and ‘My Angel’ even the song ‘Stand’ and he said but you never really made an entire record where you more or less put down the guitar and just sang & didn’t really think about anything but just writing the songs and singing them. So we had a conversation about you know getting other musicians involved which usually I’m the only musician on my records…most of my records you know I’m playing most of the stuff myself so we decided to get a group of people together and we ended up with this really cool project and we called it something else just to sort of you know, indicate that this isn’t necessarily the typical Richie Kotzen record. It’s something…it’s a different side of me, it’s a side that I’ve shown but not to that extent on an entire album so it was kind of a purely creative endeavour & it’s out there and people can but it on Itunes.
TFL: Would you ever consider being in a “band” again Richie or are you enjoying your solo work too much?
RK: You know my…the truth of the matter is I never intended on EVER being in a band EVER, it was never my desire to be in somebody else’s band. My first initial reaction to that is well that’s not really what I do – I sing and I play the guitar and I write my own songs and if I go and join your band then I’m only doing a 1/4 of what it is that I really do & what I really feel comfortable with so the short answer to that is I’m not really looking for that & I never DID look for that BUT when I did do those 3 band things that I did being ‘Poison, Stanley’s band and ‘Mr. Big’ in all 3 situations I was allowed to be myself even though I was replacing CC who is a strong personality, Paul… brilliant guitar player – it wasn’t a situation where I was stepping into BE either one of those guys. It wasn’t a situation where I was meant to be replacing someone as it was we like what you do, we want you to be creatively involved in the process of making the record. On that level, you know maybe it IS something that I would consider if it was the right situation…especially if it was a new band you know..if it’s a collection of musicians that I really like & want to do a project – THAT to me is great, that would be really inspiring because you know you have that other element of working with people which I love BUT it’s not that I sit around and think “AH I want to join a band” that’s the last thing that I really put into my mind.
TFL: ‘You Can’t Save Me’ is by FAR my favorite song you’ve ever written. It drew me in and kept me from the first time I heard it – can you tell me what the inspiration was for that song?
RK: Well you know, someone else asked me that recently it’s not really 100% clear to me right now because it was a few years ago, WHAT exactly the inspiration was but I’ll tell you what had happened at that period was I wasn’t really writing very much & it was a situation where I wasn’t trying to write it was like if I get an idea, I’ll develop it but I’m not really good at forcing myself to do anything. At that period it was one summer I wrote 3 songs – I wrote ‘You Can’t Save Me”, “Fear In The Shadow” and then shortly after that came “Misunderstood” and “Doing What The Devil Says” and the songs kind of wrote themselves. It was at a time where I wasn’t really thinking about anything, I was just kind of BEING and DOING & just being myself and the songs came out. ‘You Can’t Save Me’ kind of I guess the lyrics you can listen to the lyrics and they tell a story and you can figure out what the meaning is & the meaning is going to be different for everybody. I don’t really embrace the idea of an artist specifically telling you here’s why I wrote it and what it’s about the fact of the matter is for me, as a fan when I listen to a song like a ‘Hotel California’ – songs to me that I like paint an image in my mind and it’s what attracts me to the songs, it’s what makes me want to listen to the song because it takes me somewhere. You know, what if you have this great image of this song that someone wrote and it makes you feel good & then suddenly they tell you here’s what I had in mind and it’s completely opposite of what you were thinking so I don’t really sit down and analyze my songs that way – I write ’em, I put them out, I make them available & I LOVE performing them and that’s kind of the way it works for me.
TFL: Do you think videos kill songs?
RK: No, I don’t…I think videos actually help certain songs. I think there are songs that have made it until you see the video – and the video takes it to another level. So I don’t think a video hurts a song.
TFL: What recording artist would you like to hear record one of your songs?
RK: Oh man, I don’t know. There’s a lot of great singers out there I mean off the top of my head I don’t know…there’s definitely songs that I could hear people doing I mean ‘Change’ or ‘Shine’ I think would make a great country song for somebody…I don’t really know off of the top of my head but the notion of people covering my music is really cool – I like that idea because it like me. I do certain covers in my set because they meant something to me. I do ‘Sara’s Smile’ sometimes from Hall & Oates because when I was a kid, I remember…(chuckles) well actually the song ‘Rich Girl’ was the one I would play with my buddy because they said bitch in it and we thought it was really cool to swear and we would get away with it. Those kind of songs represent something to me in a period of my life where I have a lot of great memories and so you know I throw the song in the set because I feel like it’s part of me so that’s why I do it. So if someone were to do that with one of my songs that would be great! I can’t control that but I would definitely approve.
Following the demand of his music, Richie is always making plans to tour so he can get on the stage and pour out his soul through his music. Now with a new album out titled ‘Peace Sign’ the world is sure to be seeing more and more of this sensational artist. To find out information on where to purchase his album, see tour dates or ven learn what is new – check out his MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/richiekotzen ~ you can also check out his celebrated songs on his page as well & I HIGHLY recommend you do!
Thanks so much Richie for the killer interview & we appreciate the years of music you have given us. Backstage Live Magazine is so very proud to welcome Richie Kotzen into our Rock & Roll Family.