Written by Miriam Blackbird, translated by Austen
It’s seems to be a matter of coincidence that, a few months after the master Jimi Hendrix passed away in
It wouldn’t be until 1989 when Kotzen began his solo career after being discovered by Mike Varney from Shrapnel Records. He recorded his first album in San Francisco when he was 18 and the same year he created the video Roch Chops for REH Video, showing many technical abilities including movements as wide intervals and fluent sweeping. He appeared in several specialized magazine covers such as “Guitar World” where he awarded 3rd Best New Guitar Player.
After he recorded three albums with Shrapnel Records, Kotzen moved to LA at the age of 21 and he joined the Hard Rock/Glam Metal band Poison. He replaced the guitar player C.C. Deville, participating in the composition and recording of “Native tongue” album. Richie Kotzen co – write two of the most popular singles of the album “Stand” and “Until you suffer some (fire&ice)”
The beginning of a legend: International recognition
After his separation of Poision and the recording of 6 more solo albums, Kotzen collaborated with his friend and also guitar player Greg Howe, with whom he recorded two albums called “Tilt” (1995) and Kotzen/Howe Project (1997). He also took part of the band “Vertu” together with bassist Stanley Clarke. In 1999 they recorded a jazz fusion album in which they mixed electric violins and guitars creating a very innovative sound. At the same time, he launched “Bipolar Blues” in which Kotzen performed several blues classics of all times with a clean technique and great quality.
That same year, Richie Kotzen replaced Paul Gilbert as main guitarist in the rock band Mr Big keeping the great success of the band and contributing to the realization of “Get over it” album, with which the band was awarded a Platinum Album in Japan. He also took part in the following album by Mr Big called “Actual Size” in which the n.º1 of the Japanese list “Shine” – written by Kotzen - was included. The whole band performed at the Osaka Dome (Japan) together with Aerosmith in the countdown of the new millennium.
Regarding this collaboration stage, Kotzen declares: “It’s been a long time, you know Poison was a long time ago in 1993, it’s pretty far in past and Mr Big as well, that was 10 year ago when I joined the band, actually 11 years ago, this experiences are very far away on time so I now I think about the things I’m doing right now”
The maturing of an idea
Richie Kotzen bought a commercial building in LA and established a recording studio and a production company where he produced his solo albums as well as collaborations with well known rock, jazz and fusion artists.
Since then, apart from being working in his solo career he is been expanding his horizons with interesting collaborations such as “Nothing to lose” a project he recorded with Forty Deuce in 2005 with a much more aggressive and hard style, or the project called Wilson Hawk in 2009. I did do a few really cool collaborations, that was a pop-rock project a few years ago called Forty Deuce that was a lot of fun for me, It was much heavier rock than me so that was kind of fun getting that influence and making that record, on the opposite side of that I did something 2 years ago called Wilson Hawk which was more a R&B base project in which I collaborated with some people, so I like doing that from time to time, It’s not something that I ever planned, it’s something that It’s just kinda happen, it’s actually good, it’s really cool to be able to explore different kind of music”
Technical features: style, voice and equipment
Richie Kotzen has a very personal and unique style; a mixture of blues, rock, soul, fusion and jazz. Although at the beginning he was mainly motivated by guitar players as Paul Gilbert, Jason Becker or Vinnie Moore, with the passing of time he started composing songs focused on the vocal base more than the instrumental base so he became a very much appreciated singer besides being an exceptional guitarist.
Apart from all the success, Kotzen is one of the few artists to be honored by Fender Guitar with not one, but two signature model guitars. The Kotzen Telecaster guitar has repeatedly been the #1 selling signature model guitar for Fender Japan. Cornford Amplification also honored Kotzen with his own signature series guitar amp (the RK 100) which in 2005 was voted Amp of the Year in the UK. In 2009, Zoom released the Richie Kotzen Signature Edition effects pedal (the G2R), providing a diverse range of tonal solutions programmed by Kotzen himself.
Throughout the years of career, Kotzen has built a very personal style based in his personal experiences as he explained to MNTv: “I started to make records when I was very young, so the first record I made was when I was 18, and now it’s more than 20 years later so, it’s almost like taking pictures of yourself and the way the people change in general, they grow up and have different experiences, that life experience comes to your music, you can hear that when you listen to the records that I’ve made throughout 20 years”
When we talk about the evolution of music in all this time, Kotzen confessed “I can’t really say that there are better or worse, they’re just different. There were a lot of great guitar players that were around when I was young, and there’s a great one up there this days, It’s great to go on the road and to run into young people playing the guitar and listening to my old records, and then kind of doing their own thing with it I think music is something that is always evolving, and it’s an exciting thing to be part of.”
20th album in his solo career: Peace Sign
In 2009 Richie Kotzen published - until now – his last studio album called “Peace Sign” which in his own words: “Is the best thing I’ve done until now. I’m the one to think that the last thing I’ve done is the most exciting and the best thing ever, which I think is a good sign as it means that I keep updating myself. When I did “Into the Black” I thought it was the best album I ever did, now I feel exactly the same about Peace Sign, so as far as I keep being excited about it, I know I’m doing the right thing.”
In Peace Sign Kotzen includes a funkier style in some of the cuts bringing to our memory R&B roots that have been present throughout his years as musician. We can hear the artist playing all instruments in some of the songs of the album something that has been common to all his works, “It’s the way I always record, I like to do it, if you listen to the record Get Up or Into the black it’s the same kind of things sort of what I’ve always done , generally I work with other people. The previous record went faster I worked with a full band so that was kind of fun and on this record I just went back to what I normally do, It’s something that I’ve done since when I was a teenager, it’s a real easy process for me” .We are talking about a very dynamic and personal album and it seems to be orientated to the amazing alive performances that characterize Kotzen, always using the 3 piece format on stage that leads to an easy improvisation; “Live I prefer not to have a rhythm guitar, actually I don’t like playing the rhythm guitars specially in the style that we play because a lot of what we do is improvise. The improvisation is a format that I like, I like a trio format, a lot of space, you can really hear each other really well, so I always have that freedom in my band to improvise, I always play in a 3 piece band. There was a period in the late 90´s were I played with a person who played a Hammond organ, that person really connected to me musically so If I ever play in a band again I would bring in some kind of keyboard player or someone who plays the organ, but generally I really love the 3 piece format” stated Kotzen. The trio format includes drums, bass and guitar, if we add this to Kotzen spectacular voice we get an amazing alive show which is worth attend it.
Among his favorite songs in this record Richie brings out “Paying Dues” and “Holding on”: “I like Paying Dues a lot, it’s really exciting to play alive, and I think it’s kind of different to Richie Kotzen thing, the kind of tempo, aggressive blues base stuff that I’ve done from my second album. ‘Paying dues’ is a difficult kind of tempo song, and I’m excited about it. The last song ‘Holding on’ is a really cool song. You said it right, I like all of them” confessed the artist.
Richie Kotzen keeps touring around the world, playing in studios, festivals and clubs. His present tour includes America, Europe and Asia. Last year we had the chance to see him in 3 different shows in our country and he told MNTv about it: “We had a great time last year, I think we made 3 shows maybe 4 shows, and they were really great, I had great experiences there in Spain, and it’s always a pleasure to come to Europe, we’re gonna be coming back in October November, we’re gonna be doing a long tour so I’m looking forward to that. I’ve just finished touring in the US I did 20 shows in the east coast and that was a lot of fun and it’s just great to get up and play in front of people that likes your music.”
Piece of advice for young musicians
All in all, Richie Kotzen is an exceptional musician, very talented who faces life with courage, doing whatever possible to improve his technical skills, to innovate and to collaborate with other artists in new and surprising projects, besides he is able to make time to support young musicians; he took part of Valparaíso Guitarfest. His great values gave hime the chance to be The Rolling Stones Guest Artist in their Bigger Bang Japan Tour. When MNTv asked him to give us a piece of advice to young musicians who are staring up his answer was conceit and simple
“Make sure you make music because you love it”