Contributor’s Note: When a person turns 50, they usually spend that entire year celebrating in as large of a way as possible to make it their biggest and most memorable birthday yet. Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist RICHIE KOTZEN is taking the concept literally, as he gears up for the release of his most ambitious album to date, and he wants to share this big birthday present to himself with his fans around the world. On February 3rd, the legendary Richie Kotzen released his most ambitious record to-date, on his 50th Birthday entitled “50 for 50”, where he wrote, produced and played all the instruments on his 14th solo record. The man mixes Philly soul R&B, Jazz, Rock, Funk and fusion guitar genres and is also known for his work with The Winery Dogs, Poison and Mr. Big. In this interview with Madness To Creation, Richie Kotzen sits down with Mark to discuss “50 For 50”, along with doing 100% of the musicianship on the album. This really shows how much ass he kicks in the world of music. Fans can find Richie Kotzen at the following locations:
Mark UK: Hi, Richie. How are you?
Richie: I’m good. How are you?
Mark UK: I’m pretty good. Okay. You’ve just released an album, well, quite a package of an album- it’s quite an ambitious musical project. I just wondered how the idea first came to you.
Richie: Well, you know, I had finished what would have been a normal length record and I was holding onto it. I was prepared to release it in 2020 and it might have been about 12 songs or so. And then I realised that I had five other songs that I hadn’t released that were finished for quite some time. So at that point I’m like, wow, like I have a lot of songs here ready to go. You know, it was like 17 songs or something. And then while I was on tour, I had a hard drive with me that had basically, it was a mirror image of what was in my studio at my house. And I started going through some of these ideas, and I realised that I had quite a few things that were pretty interesting. And I just thought to myself, well, when I get home I’m going to go and in the studio and [inaudible 00:01:25] how many of these things I can finish.
Richie: And I started working on finishing these ideas and then that starting the process, I started writing new things. And before you know it, I had about 37 or 36 songs recorded. Then I thought, well if I can get to 50 I’m going to stop and then I’ll release all 50 on my 50th birthday and thought that that would be kind of a kind of a crazy thing. I don’t know if anyone’s ever done it before. And I thought, well, I’m turning 50, I’m only going to turn 50 once. It is half a century. So I thought, Hey, let me see if I can put out a 50 song album for my 50th birthday. And so here we are.
Mark UK: Was it difficult? Obviously you’ve had over recent years and previous years, other band projects, Winery Dogs, just being one. Was it difficult to actually free up the time and focus just on this?
Richie: Well, not really. I mean, believe it or not, I do have a lot of free time. I mean, I’m very lucky in the sense that I’ve kind of built my career in a way that I really can do things on my own terms. You know, I own the masters to about 14 of my records. I can tour when I want to, if I feel like the timing is right to collaborate with some people, I do it. But in general, I’ve kind of gotten myself into a position where I don’t have very much pressure, which is ideal for a creative person because now the only time I’m going to really record is when I’m feeling the inspiration. In the early days, you had deadlines and you kind of were forced to make a record under a certain timeline. And not having those kinds of restrictions, I think it’s great for an artist and the quality of your work. It’s going to be a little more honest, a little more true.
Richie: And so I had the time. I was on tour playing the festivals in Europe with my band, my solo band. And you know, when you’re on the road, you got a lot of times. The gig is only an hour and a half. And so all the other time you’ve got to figure out what you’re going to do it yourself. And so I took the time to start working on these songs. And I would listen to them and come up with lyric ideas and document those things. And so really I wasn’t under any real time pressure. It worked out really well.
Mark UK: Yep. Was it totally a solo project or do you have to involve other musicians on there?
Richie: For the most part, I’m the only musician on the record. Now there’s a couple of songs where some of the songs had been recorded years ago and there’s four songs that were co-writes. And so those songs, the performances are split up between me and my respective partners on those four songs. But everything else is me playing everything. And anything that isn’t to me is credited on the liner notes inside the record. But for the most part I kind of work on my own. It’s the way I’ve become accustomed to doing it. I have my studio set up in such a fashion where everything is mic’d up at all times. That means the drums are always mic’d up and ready to go. The guitar amp is always ready to go, mic’d up. So I can work very quickly in a kind of a round robin sort of way. You know, if I do a song on Tuesday and I decide on Friday that I don’t like the drum fill in the second chorus, I can go back to fix it. So it’s a very easy, free flowing way for me to work.
Mark UK: Yeah. You indicated that there was no pressure in terms of time scale for actually completing the project, but you have actually set yourself your own target of getting it done by your birthday. I just wondered with that [inaudible 00:05:29] hanging over your head, did you feel like it brought a lot of pressure? Was there any time you thought, Oh, flip, what have I done?
Richie: Well, I knew that there was a chance that that could happen. You’re absolutely right. So my point was I kept the idea really to myself until I was confident I was going to hit my mark. So I think once I got to the point where I was like, well, I’m 15 songs away from my goal and it’s October, you know, I thought, okay, [inaudible 00:06:05], I’m okay, I’m all right. You know what I mean? And hey, I’ll tell you, to be honest, there were days where I’d go in the studio and I had nothing in the tank. And so I’d just, I’d avoid that room for a couple of days, go to the beach or what have you, and then come back and I would start over again. Nothing was forced, just kind of happening, and the beauty of it is if I didn’t do it I didn’t make it, no big deal. But it was something that I, in the back of my mind I thought would be really cool if I could pull this off. So thankfully, I got there.
Mark UK: In terms of… How did you want this to come across to fans? Was it something that you felt should be dipped into selectively or listened to right through? Because it does take quite a while to get through.
Richie: Yeah. I know. That’s right. You know, one of the jokes I made to one of my friends was this record is going to be impossible to review. I mean who’s going to sit through 50 brand new songs from an artist? But in all seriousness, one of the hardest things to do was to sequence the record. In the end, I’ve got it down to a three disc set. So you know you can release… I mean you can listen to just one and treat that like one long album, and then just do the same thing. You can listen to that, treat it like one long album, and the same for disc three. Now at the same time with modern technology, I think folks like to kind of make their own playlists. So here we can do that too. You can listen from the beginning to the end and pick out your favourites and make your own playlists and stuff. You know, I came up with a sequence that I thought made sense, but to each his own. You know, everybody has the flexibility to listen how they like.
Mark UK: What about playing those songs live? I’m sure obviously you played some of them already, but have you any plans to maybe go up, maybe do a three night stint, a one venue, do one album, one night, then the second album, then the third album? Any sort of ideas of playing the whole thing?
Richie: Well I tell you what, you’re the first person that’s said that and that’s a great idea. Obviously that will be a lot of work for me and my band to learn all those songs. So that would be the major obstacle there. We are going to go out on tour. I start my tour in the Northeast in North America in June. First show, I believe is in New Hampshire around the 17th or the 18th. So that is something where I’m going to play a selection of songs from the new record, but I’m not really worrying about playing all of them or anything of that nature. Because you know, with any artist you have songs, regardless of your new record, you have songs that people expect to hear when they come to see you play. And so do I. There’s certain songs that we have to play and we love playing. So it would just be a matter of figuring out what songs translate the best in the power trio format.
Mark UK: You mentioned that obviously you’ve got a musical legacy that you want to honour. I just wondered if you generally prefer when you’re writing an album, when you’re creating an album, to work as a solo artist or within a band framework? Obviously you’ve got more flexibility in terms of time when you’re doing it solo.
Richie: Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of a loaded question in the sense that I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or say the wrong thing, but the fact is I’ve been a solo artist since 1989 and so I’ve had major label deals in my early twenties, and I’ve had independent label deals. But the fact is I’ve been making records under my own name as a solo artist since I was 18 years old. So that’s what I am first and foremost. The times that I did play in bands, I was never a hired gun. I was always involved in the creative process as a songwriter and they were fairly short lived. So in the end, yes, I’m a solo artist first and foremost, but I don’t want to undermine the music that I’ve made in group efforts because it’s equally as important in carving out my journey and my growth as an artist. All those experiences and relationships definitely had an influence one way or another, good or bad. So it’s all important. It’s all part of the big picture.
Mark UK: Yeah. Obviously in bands like Poison and Mr. Big for example, you have to write in a particular way. People wanted Poison and Mr. Big designed a particular way, whereas maybe with Winery Dogs there’s a bit more improv, I know certainly in the live thing, I just wondered if you’d prefer to write just like in the Winery Dogs where there’s more sort of spontaneous and free form.
Richie: Yeah, I hear what you’re saying. I definitely think there is more of a common parallel between the Winery Dogs and what I do as a solo artist. I think there’s more commonality there because like you’re saying, the Winery Dogs is something that started from the beginning. You know, the three of us created that as opposed to somebody joining a band that’s already defined, that already has a history of selling multi-platinum. The Winery Dogs was more of a, you know, started from the very beginning with the three of us. So there was more flexibility involved there to carve out our thing. So yeah, you’re absolutely right in pointing that out.
Mark UK: Who would have been… Obviously you’ve worked with many musical greats. Who would have been the most influential musician that you have worked with, maybe a person that’s taught you the most as a musician?
Richie: Well, it’s a difficult question because I had the luxury of always working with great musicians from the point when I was very young. So I’ll tell you on my first record, the drummer was Stevie Smith who you know as the original drummer from Journey, and he was also a fantastic jazz drummer. And so my first full length album was being in the studio with him, and I really learned a lot from him about rhythm and timing, and there’s a massive difference between playing in the studio versus playing live. And at the time that I got into the studio with Steve Smith, I really was a kid and I was a live guitarist. I was all about showing off on stage, doing the tricks and entertaining people. And when I got into the studio, I really didn’t know much. And so he really taught me a lot and focused me on learning how to play proper rhythm guitar.
Richie: And then many years later being in a band with Stanley Clarke, you know, that band was way more jazz influenced. So that kind of woke me up to some other things, be it playing over chord changes that were outside the realm of your typical rock progressions and you know, just interacting dynamically and really listening and responding, being a lot more conversational as musicians. So they are two guys right off the bat that I know that I learned a lot from playing with them, and the list goes on and on because you know, even if you’re playing with someone that isn’t necessarily a virtuoso musician, you’re still going to pick things up and learn things. And so it’s just been a great journey. I think one of the most important things I can say for young musicians is to get out there and play with other people as much as you can.
Mark UK: Yeah. What in your life are you most proud of? Would it be something that’d be personally or maybe something that you’ve created in music?
Richie: Sure. Well, I guess at this point I would have to say 50 For 50. I mean, I really think that that’s my… Honestly I think it’s my best work. And the reason I’m saying that, it spans a course of time where there’s brand new music. There’s songs on there that I have recorded back in 2000. There’s stylistically things on there that I’ve been holding onto that I never released because I didn’t know how they would fit on a small, I mean on a normal record a 10, 12 song record. So I think this is the most diverse musical statement I’ve ever made. So I would have to say the 50 For 50 would be the most important thing that I’ve done musically.
Mark UK: Yeah. Do you still have hopes, dreams and ambitions, things that you still want to achieve?
Richie: Well, I guess I don’t know that I have the same kind of hopes, dreams and ambitions that I had as an 18 year old kid signing his first record deal. You know, I think in terms of just happiness and enjoying my time, and not taking things too seriously and not obsessing over things that I can’t really change or have influence over, I just kind of think I’m a lot more mature now as it relates to just music and life and expectations and everything. So I certainly don’t have that anxiety and pressure that a lot of people have when they’re young, which is also the drive that pushes you forward. And you know, I still have the creative energy. I definitely have the creative energy. I don’t necessarily feel like I have anything to prove as I did when I was very young.
Mark UK: How do you view your own musical legacy? Do you actually go back and maybe check out, revisit those early releases? Or do you prefer to focus on the here and now, what lies ahead rather than what’s behind?
Richie:… Kind of like to move forward and be as present as I can. I definitely think about what I’d like to do next and that sort of thing, but in general, I rarely go back and kind of reminisce. Maybe once in a while I’ll crack a bottle of wine when wife is out of the house and I’ll sit and play some old records of mine, but not too often.
Mark UK: Yeah, yep. Just a couple of final ones then. What are your touring plans? Do you have any primarily focused around this 50 for 50 release you mentioned there in the States. I just wondering regarding your UK, Europe, if you’ve got to be playing some of those songs over here.
Mark Uk: Yeah?
Richie: Yeah, yeah. We have, like I said, a month and a half booked in North America and then in September, we’re going to come to Europe, we’re going to go to the UK and I’m going to spend a month there touring as well. So it should be a great time.
Mark UK: Are those dates finalised? Yeah, they’re all panned in and that’s definitely going to happen?
Richie: Yeah, the European dates are finalised. They’re all on my website.
I think they’re on my website, but they’re definitely, they’ve been advertised. They’re on my Facebook fan sites, so all the Europe dates are up and out there, so if you want to include them, Amanda, my publicist would be able to get all of them to you if you can’t find them.
And then the United States, believe it or not, we’re still putting it together.
Mark UK: Yeah, no worries. Just a final one then. If the roles were reversed, who would you personally like to interview?
Richie: Oh, wow. Who would I like to interview?
Mark UK: Maybe not even a musician.
Richie: Man. Paul McCartney would be a first person I think would have a lot of great stories. I think that he would probably be the ultimate guy to interview.
Mark UK: Yeah. Outside of music would there be anybody, maybe from some other walk of life that has personally inspired you.
Richie: Yeah, I think Michael Jordan, probably. That would be a great one.
Mark UK: Okay, that’s great. That’s brilliant, Richie. Thank you very much for chatting to me.
Richie: Okay. Thanks for calling and I hope to see you maybe on the tour to come to one of the shows, introduce yourself.
And there you have it! Richie Kotzen has some gigs coming up this summer. Check out the gig dates below:
Fri. 6/19- The Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie, New York
Sat. 6/20- The Vault Music Hall & Pub in New Bedford, Massachusetts
Sun. 6/21- City Winery in Boston, Massachusetts
Sat. 6/27- Ardmore Music Hall in Ardmore, Pennsylvania
Sun. 6/28- Musikfest Cafe in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Tue. 6/30- Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis, Maryland
Wed. 7/1- The State Theatre in Falls Church, Virginia
Thu. 7/2- The Beacon Theatre in Hopewell, Virginia
Sun. 8/30- Kansas City in Odense, Denmark
Mon. 8/31- Melkweg in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Tue. 9/1- Gloria Theater in Cologne, Germany
Thu. 9/3- Gruenspan in Hamburg, Germany
Fri. 9/4- Columbia Theater in Berlin, Germany
Sat. 9/5- Palladium in Warsaw, Poland
Mon. 9/7- Futurum Music Bar in Prague, Czech Republic
Tue. 9/8- Akvarium Klub Official in Budapest, Hungary
Thu. 9/10- Hard Rock Cafe in Bucharest, Romania
Mon. 9/14- Arena Wien in Vienna, Austria
Tue. 9/15- Technikum in Munich, Germany
Wed. 9/16- Live Music Club in Trezzo sull’Adda, Italy
Thu. 9/17- Ninkasi Gerland in Lyon, France
Sat. 9/19- Sala Apolo in Barcelona, Spain
Sun. 9/20- Shokolive in Madrid, Spain
Tue. 9/22- Dynamo in Zurich, Switzerland
Wed. 9/23- La Laiterie Artefact in Strasbourg, France
Thu. 9/24- Alhambra in Paris, France
Sat. 9/26- Muziekcentrum De Bosuil in Weert, Netherlands
For tickets and further information on any of the gigs listed above in United States and Europe, click here.
Fans can find Mark Dean at the following locations:
- Photo Credit: Larry DiMarzio