This week watch an exclusive interview with a true guitarist’s guitarist, Richie Kotzen of The Winery Dogs. Richie first came to fame in Poison, playing guitar on their 1993 album Native Tongue, before a stint at the end of the decade with Mr. Big, but is also known for his soundtrack work and solo albums which have their own dedicated following. Find out what ’70s rockers got him started playing music and how he coaxes hard rock sounds out of his signature Fender Telecaster.
VH1: What was the first guitar that you owned?
Richie Kotzen: A Gibson Marauder. I showed up to my lesson with something from a yard sale and the teacher told my parents that it was unplayable and that I needed a real guitar if I wanted to learn. And so that night we went to the local music store and I got a Marauder.
Those are pretty good guitars to learn on…
I think they’re good beginner guitars. I haven’t seen one though since then. I think they’re kind of rare.
Who’s the first guitar player that made you want to be a guitarist?
Well, it wasn’t really a guitar player that made me want to play guitar so much as the band Kiss. I remember I was 5 and I was taking piano lessons, and I liked to play and improvise. At some point I just kind of lost interest in the lesson aspect of things and I remember seeing a poster of Kiss and I was very intrigued. I remember hanging it in my bedroom, and my mom was like, “Aren’t you going to be afraid? Those guys are scary.” You know, because I was only 5. And I said, “No, that’s Kiss. They’re cool.” And from there, I think, that’s kind of what led me to want to play guitar.
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What’s your favorite song to play live and why?
I have a couple that are favorites. One of my songs, “Doin’ What The Devil Says To Do” is one of my favorites just because of the lyrics. It’s one of those certain songs, as a singer, that can be difficult to sing live and for some reason that song, no matter what condition my voice is in, I can always kind of “eek” it out. Not that it’s easy to sing, but it’s one that connects well, that I really enjoy. And also with The Winery Dogs I love playing the song “Regret,” which is the closing song on our record.
What gear are you playing live these days?
I’ve been using my signature Fender. Telecaster. There’s a Strat as well, but I’ve been using the Telecaster consistently now for the last ten years. The guitar was kind of tweaked by me so it’s easy. You know, I just pick it up, I feel comfortable, I don’t have to think. For the amps I’ve been using Fender amps too. I use the Fender Vibro-King with a 212 cab on it, so it’s three 10” speakers and two 12” speakers on the bottom.
You use a lot of Fender gear between the Telecasters and the Vibro-Kings combos. That’s not what people usually think of as hard rock gear. How did you end up using that stuff?
It’s just because of the way I play. I mean, I’m not really a “hard rock” player per se. I mean, I love rock and I love metal—I grew up listening to Iron Maiden and Ozzy—but there’s a lot of other things that I’m into as well that I grew up listening to. So in order to cover the scope of what it is that I want to play on the instrument, Telecasters are really transparent guitars. It just magnifies what you’re doing so if you’re playing sloppy, you sound sloppy. There’s kind of no forgiveness, you know? But it’s really important to me to have that dynamic range because when I intentionally play quiet, I want it to be calm and controlled. And if I want it aggressive, I play aggressive and it’s aggressive. So for me it’s just the perfect blank canvas to be creative with.