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The Six-string Interrogation: Richie Kotzen

Former Poison and Mr Big guitarist and current Winery Dog Richie Kotzen remembers playing Purple Haze badly, and reveals how to handle being intoxicated when you really shouldn't be

The Song That Made You Want To Pick Up The Guitar

It wasn’t a song, it was a picture. It was a picture of Kiss with Gene Simmons looking like a demon. ‘Mommy, I want to do that!

The first guitar I owned was…

My mom bought me a guitar from a yard sale, and my teacher said it was unplayable that night we went to a music store and bought a Gibson Marauder.

My first guitar teacher was…

Larry Rosendale. He lived in the woods in Pennsylvania and I was terrified when I saw him. He was a very tall man, this hippie with long hair and a red beard. He was teaching me to read music one time, and he pulled out this pointer, pushed a button on it to extend it. I saw this thing out the corner of my eye and I honestly thought he’ pulled out a switchblade.

The first thing I learned on guitar was…

Purple Haze, incorrectly. I was playing it in the open position, so it was all the right notes but not in the right place on the fretboard. My mom was a huge music fan – she’d seen Hendrix, seen the Beatles – I tried to impress her with it and she kept saying ‘That’s not Purple Haze!’. I remember being so angry and frustrated.

The most underrated guitarist in history is…

I think Joe Walsh is a great guitar player. People look at him as an artist, a writer and band guy, but he’s not talked about as a player. It’s a weird thing, but Joe’s probably underrated.

The most I’ve spent on a guitar…

Probably $2000, for an acoustic guitar. But most of the guitars I have were given to me. I have these master-built guitars that Fender gave me more than 20 years ago when I first signed to them, but they never leave the house and I rarely play them. I mostly use my signature model brown Telecaster and a limited edition Strat I bought myself for $1300.

The album I want to be buried with is…

Curtis Mayfield, The Anthology 1961 – 1977.

If I wasn’t a musician I’d be…

A contractor or an architect.

The worst thing about singers is…

[Fellow Winery Dog] Mike Portnoy and I discussed this recently. Apparently there are typical lead singer moves, but I wouldn’t spot them as I’m a singer and guitar player. It’s a weird yin and yang thing, it’s almost like that keeps you in check. I’ve never been in a band long-term with another singer so I’m not that aware of the moves.

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My musical nemesis is…

Any musician who doesn’t listen, who just plays like they’ve got blinders on. It’s these non-responsive musicians who are going to do what they’re going to do regardless of what’s going on around them. That drives me crazy.

The silliest I’ve ever looked onstage was when…

When I’ve been overly intoxicated. You have that moment where you feel great, invincible – your inhibitions are low enough but your skill levels are okay, and you’re in this magical little zone. Then you have this one little drink too much and it all falls apart. I had that at a show once and I literally stopped mid-set, and turned my concert into a Q&A session. I chewed up about 15 minutes with that, by which time I’d sobered up. I finished the show and everybody was happy. I learned a real lesson there.

Tell us your favourite musician joke

I don’t want to disappoint you but I don’t know a lot of jokes. There’s a guy in England I know who has hundreds of them. Next time I’m over I’ll ask him to load me up with a couple.

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