The virtuoso guitarist with songs oscillating between rock, blues and funk, walked the Hellfest stage for the first time. Unknown in Europe, he is nevertheless a rock legend across the Atlantic. Meeting with a great gentleman.

A reference in the world of rock with around thirty albums to his credit, singer Richie Kotzen had the honor of Mainstage 1 at Hellfest on Saturday June 22, 2019. He was able to seduce the public with his clever mix of rock, blues, jazz and soul and his warm, rocky voice, championing many of his hits on stage, such as Bad Situation, War Paint or Love is Blind as well as his latest single Venom. He lent himself to the game of the interview for, telling us about his career, his projects and his musical influences with a lot of humility, humor, and great sympathy.

Richie Kotzen: I thought it was fantastic to see so many great bands in just one day and over multiple days. Today I’m excited to run into ZZ Top, Def Leppard and Kiss because when I was young I used to dress like [Kiss bassist] Gene Simmons, I thought I was him. He was a big influence on me. I didn’t think about it when I was playing on stage, but I realized when I saw them in the dressing room. It was crazy.

It was super cool to open for ZZ Top. It’s a great venue, the sound is really good. The place is well built according to the acoustics. It was a fun gig.

I guess if you count my solo albums, the little projects I had, and the two bands I was in, I’d say I have close to 30 albums under my belt. There were the projects The Winery Dogs, Poison, Mr Big, Wilson Hawk, Forty Deuce, Vertú… With that alone, that’s 7 albums… And I’ve made 21 solo albums.

The year 1988 was a long time ago and I started making music young [19 years old]. That’s why I have a lot of work behind me. In the end, the average of one album a year or maybe a little less isn’t that much.

I’m a mandolin ace. If you put a mandolin in my hands, I would know what to do with it [Laughs]. I actually just know how to figure out the specific part I want to play in the studio. I play it, but if I can’t, I can call someone to do it for me. It’s in a song from a Winery Dogs album, a B-side for Japan. I wanted to play the mandolin but was having difficulty. And a friend offered to play for me. I would say that my voice and the guitar are my instruments of choice and I use the piano a lot for writing.

When I started singing, the very first singer who influenced me was Paul Rodgers from Bad Company, Rod Stewart in his early days, then Terence Trent from Arby: I was absolutely bowled over and obsessed with his album and I tried to learn to sing like Terence. My TOP 3 would be Rod Stewart on his debut, Paul Rodgers and Terence Trent d’Arby and I would add David Coverdale [vocalist of Whitesnake] to my TOP 5.

Well, I don’t know if that’s true. Some people know who I am. When I started, it was really difficult because you had to have the support of a label to be able to break through. That’s why I signed with two big labels that I thought would be able to give me some support in finding an audience. But it didn’t and it turned out badly. So I can’t do anything more than make my music and be true to myself. It’s really my only option.

The people and things I see, do, or talk about, the situations people go through…

Yes, sometimes mine, sometimes as an observer…You never know when inspiration strikes but one thing I’ve learned is not to force myself to make music. I think the best music I make is the one that happens naturally. I’m not one to say, “Let’s do a writing session!” I’m not that kind of guy. If I know someone personally, it’s easy to write with them. And I did it successfully. If someone has an idea that inspires me, it will be easy to write with that person. But in general, I like inspiration to come to me, like “Oh, there, I have an idea, I will follow it to see”.

I recorded 3 songs last year actually. I recorded this song around the same time. I’m still recording and writing and recording… But I didn’t have enough songs that I liked enough to put on an album. So, I preferred not to wait to have 10 or 12 songs to release one.

I could possibly make a new solo album but I don’t know when. In the meantime, rather than doing nothing, I released a few songs.

It’s a joke! It’s cute but it’s not true! I have a good history with Japan because when no one wanted to hire me, Japan was ready to play me. Ah ha, it’s a great story with Japan!

I opened for the Rolling Stones in Japan for 6 shows in 2006 for their Bigger Bang Tour. It was awesome. I was very worried that it wouldn’t happen so I purposely didn’t tell anyone until I found out I was in for the first show. Before that I was afraid that I wouldn’t have the chance to be there and that I would be like, “there’s this guy on stage and we don’t have an opening act for him”…I didn’t want to let that happen.

Well, I happen to be collaborating with someone right now, but it’s a secret!

Yes, he’s a big name in rock. He plays the guitar. So far we have 3 songs. We both play the piano. I don’t know what will happen but we’ll see!

I think the era of big rock stars like Prince or Michael Jackson, who were huge references in music, could be put aside, specifically for rock’n’roll with rockstars like Jimi Hendrix or David Lee Roth … The reason I say that is that social media can take the mystery out of us and so I think a lot of what made these people interesting was what you didn’t know not from them and what was left for you to imagine. So if you take all that out, you have the music you just played, which is cool obviously, but when you take the mystique out, it kinda kills the star effect.

I really like Alice In Chains, they’re one of my favorite bands: Jerry (Cantrell) is a friend.

Yes, we just toured the United States. We were in concert for a month, 5 weeks, and we went all the way from New York to Los Angeles. And that’s just a circumstance rather than an actual tour. We don’t have a new album in the works. We did this tour and then we take a break, then next year I hope to do my solo album and I know these guys have another band they’re playing with, so they’re going to do a new album. So maybe after that we’ll see. We have a few years ahead of us…