Richie Kotzen and Billy Sheehan Talk Gear, Roots and The Winery Dogs' Stripped-Down Sound
He points to the song “Not Hopeless” as an example. The song was begun from a riff that Sheehan started playing at one of the group’s jam sessions. “It’s pretty much a standard rock song,” Kotzen says.
“It’s not that elaborate. But in the middle of the song, there’s a long instrumental thing where the bass and drums are kind of dueling and moving together, and suddenly the guitar comes in and plays the unison.
"What happened was, Billy started going off, and Mike started responding to what Billy was doing. I was listening to it and decided that, in the second half of that break, I was going to double what Billy did there. It sounds like we went in and charted it out, but that’s really not how it worked at all.”
For the recording, Kotzen used his signature Fender Telecaster (which features a sanded neck, a Schaller D-Tuner on the low E, a DiMarzio Chopper T mini humbucker in the bridge position and a DiMarzio Twang King pickup in the neck position) strung with D’Addario EXL115s (.011–.049) and run through a variety of amplifiers.
“I used a Fender Custom Vibrolux and a Fender Vibro-King—I often had them linked—and I also sometimes had a Fender Bassman linked in with the Vibro-King,” he says. “Also, I have a 20-watt Marshall head that just has two knobs, tone and volume, and I used that with a 2x12 cabinet. And then, for some of the really heavy stuff—it’s stuff you don’t really hear, mostly for texture—I have a 100-watt Plexi, and I doubled certain things with it in the bigger choruses where I’m playing open, whole-note power chords.”
As befits the album’s live-in-the-studio vibe, Kotzen’s guitar tone is fat and natural sounding. All of the reverb and tremolo you hear comes from the Vibro-King. His bare-bones pedal board contains only a Sobot Drivebreaker 4 overdrive, a Tech 21 digital delay and a Dunlop Jerry Cantrell wah. “I also have a rotating speaker, a Mesa/Boogie Revolver cabinet,” he says. “It has a cool chorus sound, which I used in the song ‘One More Time.’ ” Sheehan played his signature Yamaha Attitude bass through his live rig: a Pearce pre-amp, an Ashly audio compressor, and Hartke LH 1000 and HA5500 heads.
According to Kotzen, the stripped-down, organic nature of the Winery Dogs’ sound—both in the studio and onstage—was one of the things that inspired the band’s name. “A winery dog is actually something real,” he explains. “They were used to guard the vineyards and chase the pests away that would spoil the vines and the grapes. So if the winery dogs were guarding the vineyards, you could say that we’re kind of guarding the old-school approach to making records and making music.
“There’s a lot of great modern music,” he continues, “but so much of it is made by people who aren’t really musicians. Technology has allowed them the creative freedom to make music, which is a beautiful thing. But the kind of music we play requires some degree of time alone with the instrument.
"I’m still learning to play, and I’ve been playing since I was seven, so let’s say you need a good five to 10 years with the guitar to really figure out how it works. You spend years learning the instrument, you play with other guys, and when you make the record, you’re in the room playing together. You’re not using a machine to create the art. I’m not dissing that technology; it’s just that this is what we do in the Winery Dogs.”
Photo: Larry Di Marzio