When Richie Kotzen plays his guitar, you know it’s him. The guitar virtuoso, singer and songwriter possesses an inimitable style that’s both instantly recognizable and immediately striking. The former Poison member is still at it today reinventing himself into a world-famous solo act. 2017 looks to be a hectic year jet setting around the world, as his latest run of shows will last deep into September, touching down in 20 countries.
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Chris Remmers: We are going to talk a little bit about where you’re from, the places you have been, the things you have seen and how that all has influenced your music career. Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about where you’re from?
Richie Kotzen: I’m originally from Reading, Pennsylvania, which is about 45-miles northwest of Philadelphia. As a kid I was always really into music and always listened to a lot of Philly radio stations. At that time I was exposed to a lot the Philadelphia soul sound and that sort of R&B thing that was happening back there. At the same time I was listening to WMMR and YST, which were the rock stations playing all the popular music back then. So, I’ve kind of had this influence of what is now considered classic rock and that era of soul music.
I remember my first concert was in Valley Forge, which is outside Philly. I went out to see Stevie Wonder. It was an amazing round stage, so you got to experience every angle of the show. So, I guess sometime after that I had decided I wanted to pursue a life becoming a musician and entertainer. Shortly after that I learned how to play the piano.
CR: Wow, that sounds like an incredible transition into realizing what you wanted to do with the rest of your life! What age were you?
RK: I was around five or six. It was really more of a suggestion from one of my family members. They suggested I take piano lessons, because at that time I was always singing and dancing trying to entertain the family. So, I ended up taking a few piano lessons and then I kind of lost interest in it. It wasn’t until I was around seven when I saw a guitar at a yard sale and that really put the idea in my head that I wanted to learn the guitar. I really took to that instantly.
CR: That is amazing! What was the first song you were able to learn on the guitar?
RK: The first song I ever remember learning was Purple Haze, and the funny thing was that my mom was a Hendrix fan. She was very familiar with his music. I was once reading the notes off the paper and I wasn’t really getting any of the inflections of the things that sounded cool about how Jimmie played it. She said to me, “That doesn’t sound like purple haze.” I started crying, “Yes it is! Look at the music sheet.” So, we got into a little argument. Thank goodness I did not give up music right there.
CR: That’s too funny. So, who would you say were some of your hardcore influences that kept you progressing into where you are today with music?
RK: It kind of evolved over time, because in the beginning I was more into guitar stuff and then somewhere along the line I got back into R&B stuff. So, that really influenced my writing and playing, but I feel like I didn’t really figure out my direction until I was 21 and joined Poison. At that point I knew more about who I was and the kind of music I wanted to write. So, it was kind of a long period of development, because I started very young. All the stages I went through developing are well documented in my brain.
CR: That’s a story in itself right there — incredible. Can you remember any shows when you started playing that gave you your first culture shock?
RK: Some of the most interesting things I’ve done were later in my career. In 2006, I opened up for the Rolling Stones and that was very surreal. To the point where I thought, “Wow, there’s a chance this could fall through or potentially not happen.” So, I was reluctant to tell friends and family until my first show. We did like five or six shows together. It was just so surreal. One of the coolest things I have gotten to do.
CR: I can only imagine how incredible that must have been to travel and preform with the Rolling Stones. That being said, how do you feel music and travel really fit together best in your life?
RK: I have a joke I always say, “I don’t get paid to do the gig, I get paid to do the travel.” If your playing music that you love and your excited about what you are doing then that is great. The thing that is really hard to get excited about is sitting on an airplane for eleven hours or sitting on a bus. Being transported in general is not so fun. The gig part of it all is great, but the part that can be brutal for a musician is the travel.
CR: Where would you say most of your inspiration comes from? Does it come from being at home with friends and family, or does it come from your time on the road traveling?
RK: It is definitely a balance between the two, because when you are home for too long you start to get a little crazy. As a musician if you are not in the studio creating music or touring then what are you doing? I have been out of the music scene for a little while, but I’m ready to go back. One thing I love about the way I tour is I do it in pockets. I know it doesn’t really make sense for a lot of bigger organizations, but for me it really works great. I can go out in the United States for five weeks and then I can come home for a couple weeks to recharge. I’ll head out to South America for a few months and then come back. That way I can keep a nice balance. I don’t forget who I am.
CR: To segway this more into a travel sense when you are looking for a getaway, are you looking for a beach, a new city, the mountains, or something completely different all together?
RK: What’s interesting is I kind of live in a vacation spot. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for more than half my life, even though I am from the Philly area. I’ve been Californized if you will. So, California is a vacation state in a lot of ways, but I recently moved out to the mountains. I’m also very close to the beach, so in a strange way where I live is almost like a vacation-type place.
Another thing is I get so beat up by the travel that the thought of standing in lines or getting back on a plane puts me in the worst possible mind set. So, I haven’t been able to take a proper vacation, because I have been avoiding the travel. Of course this is a different story when I have not toured or done much over the course of a year or so. I don’t mind it so much. In general though, I would say that I am more of a beach oriented person. I love the ocean and i love that kind of surrounding. I love the mountains as well, so I really like where I live. I feel like I have the best of both worlds.
CR: When you are traveling, whether it be for vacation or music, what are some of the first things you like to do when you touch down in a new location?
RK: It really depends where I’m coming from. Sometimes when we arrive and are coming off a long [flight] or dealing with a time change we stumble up to the hotel room and just rest. Of course there are other times where we go to our rooms, drop our bags, meet in the lobby and just adventure around. Old Town Prague is a great place to go out, explore and walk around. There are so many interesting things to see and people to meet there. You especially want to go there if you like puppets. It’s a thing over other. Verona is another great spot we have had a lot of fun in. It’s a place I cannot wait to go back too. I have some friends out there and have played out there. It’s just a place I have grown to love.
CR: That sounds wonderful. Definitely places I would one day like to visit! Being a well traveled and cultured person, do you have a bucket list of places you would eventually like to visit?
RK: I have always wanted to preform in Australia. I’m finally getting to go and do that this year actually. Having never been I’m very excited. I’ve also never been to Alaska, that’s a place I would definitely like to visit. It’s like another world there, just so isolated. Everything is different from the way I live. I feel like it would be a really cool experience.