TVD: Being that you are originally from Pennsylvania, what were you listening to when you were growing up—were you into Cinderella?
Kotzen: (Laughing) Yes, only Cinderella specifically over and over—no, wait—and Britny Fox. Actually I love Tom Keifer; I think he’s awesome. But when I was living back there, way before Cinderella, I was really just a fan of the records I heard in my house. My mom was into all the classic rock stuff like, you know, Stones, Beatles, The Who, Janis Joplin….She saw all those acts when they came out to play. My dad was kind of an R&B guy; he listened to Percy Sledge and Stevie Wonder records.
So, I was kind of getting hit from both sides, and then once I started writing songs and playing out, I was a rock guy with a love for Soul and R&B. I left there pretty quick, though. I played around in my cover band from the time I was 15 to 17 and then I got signed to a label that was based in San Francisco called Shrapnel Records. I went to San Francisco and made my first record with them, and that was pretty much the beginning of my career.
TVD: You were recently on That Metal Show, and Eddie Trunk spoke of you as one of the most underrated guitarists. What was the experience like?
Kotzen: Well, first of all, I love Eddie Trunk. He’s been a real good friend to me over the years and very supportive of whatever I’m doing musically. So playing on the show was cool although there was—you’re opening a door for me to talk about something that I been dying to talk about. It’s something that only a guitar player can understand—how horrifying a situation like this can be. I had just come off the road. I was somewhere in Latin America, and I get there, we do a sound check, and I was having a real hell of a time trying to get a sound out of the amp they provided for me.
No matter what I tried to play, it wouldn’t work, and any time I tried to play something remotely fast, the notes wouldn’t track. Everything sounded screwed up, and I didn’t know what was going on, so it forced me to play real simple stuff, a couple of chords or whatever. The thing that really messed with my head was that Eddie told me before the show, “make sure you shred, I want you to play some shredding stuff on the show,” and I said cool. So, I go and play, and I can’t play anything fast because the notes won’t track. I didn’t know what happened until after the first break I looked at my guitar, and I see that the pickup had fallen inside the body cavity instead of a quarter of an inch or so away from the strings; it was buried.
So, I couldn’t use the bridge pickup at all. It was a total disaster. We did the whole episode that way because I didn’t want to stop and say hey, man, my guitar is screwed. So, I thought whatever, I’ll deal with it, I’ll play some chords and do some wacky stuff. Then on the second episode we shot, which ended up airing first funny enough, I sat there….It took me about 20 minutes to deal with it, and I was able to fix the guitar. So, you’ll notice that I sound like a completely different guitar player between the two episodes. I was so frustrated that happened. It bothered me so much, but I was thinking, you know what, I’m never going to watch it, I’m not going to watch myself, so forget about it.
TVD: Over the years with 20-plus records under your belt, where is the most usual place you’ve heard your music?
Kotzen: The most unusual place I’ve heard my music? I don’t know about that. I can tell you one of the most unusual things that I’ve seen. There is a Ritchie Kotzen cover band on YouTube that someone showed me. It’s a couple of Japanese guys, and they were trying to dress up like me and play my songs; that was kind of unusual.
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