Learn the rhythm and lead styles of all-star rock guitar double act Richie Kotzen and Adrian Smith

[L-R] Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen
(Image credit: John McMurtrie)

On the surface, the collaboration between ex-Poison and Winery Dogs guitarist Richie Kotzen and Iron Maiden’s Adrian Smith is one of the more surprising double acts of recent years. 

However, they are united by a shared love of classic rock, having grown up listening to bands such as Deep Purple and Kiss. They both sing on records and on tour, and the live band is completed by Kotzen’s wife Julia Lage on bass guitar and drummer Bruno Valverde. Although their debut album is built on classic rock, there are R&B, blues and soul elements here, and even moments that lean towards jazz-fusion.

The pair began writing together remotely in 2019, then recorded and self-produced the album on the Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos. They were joined in the studio by Nicko McBrain and Tal Bergman who played some of the drums, although Kotzen played the majority of drum tracks, while Smith and Kotzen both contributed bass.

Having started on the Mike Varney Shrapnel label along with Jason Becker and Paul Gilbert, Kotzen’s style is the more technical of the two, whereas Smith has always been rooted in blues-rock, even though he is one of the pioneers of heavy metal guitar. On recordings and at gigs their different guitar playing and vocal styles complement one another perfectly.

The track this month is built on an E minor rock riff and chord progression and with bluesy pentatonic playing from Smith and speedier Kotzen style licks in the solos. 

We’re in E minor (E-F#-G-A-B-C-D) but with the inclusion of an A major chord (A-C#-E) and the C# note in the Kotzen style solo. The E Dorian mode E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D is also used frequently. This leads to a more upbeat sound than E natural minor.

The guitar in the left channel is Smith style, while the right channel is Kotzen. When playing as two guitarists we have the opportunity to vary the parts in terms of timing, tone and delivery which can create interesting results. 

This is very different to the common double-tracked parts which are usually played as tightly together as possible. The recording and the chart have a second rhythm part to signify the Richie Kotzen input (bars 9-16), which is different to the guitar in the left channel. 

Get the tone

Amp settings: Gain 7, Bass 4, Middle 6, Treble 6, Reverb 3

Both players use Marshall style tube amps, with Smith’s tone being more high-gain. Smith also uses a Jackson electric guitar with a humbucker in the bridge and Floyd Rose vibrato, while Kotzen uses Stratocasters and Telecasters with single-coil pickups. 

Set your main sound to a medium gain (Smith), then jump on an overdrive pedal for your Kotzen tones. Add light delay or reverb.

Example 1. Rhythm

Richie Kotzen stopped using a pick a number of years ago, so it would be good practice to try playing the right channel guitar with fingers and thumb, as it is on the recording. This will likely lead to a few new challenges both in terms of rhythm and lead playing.

Example 2. Lead

There are some fast legato lines in this Kotzen style solo using both picking and fretting-hand hammer-ons, so it would be good to practise this slowly and also to focus on string muting. The Smith part is less demanding, but will still require attention to your timing, and the pitching accuracy of string bends.

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