Quick Stats: Richie Kotzen singer-songwriter/guitarist
Daily Driver: Ram 1500 (Richie’s rating: 10 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: See below
Favorite road trip: Indianapolis to Los Angeles
Car he learned to drive in: Pickup truck
First car bought: 1982 Corvette Collector Edition
Guitarist Richie Kotzen was a Jaguar guy until he drove a 1994 Porsche 911 Speedster.
“Many, many years ago, when I was much, much younger I always loved Jaguars,” he says. “I loved the XK-E. I had two XJS’s, but after the second one, I realized these cars are really pretty but they’re always in the shop. There’s always something wrong. The XJS was a nightmare. The last one I had was brand new. I bought it in 1994 and brand new car—all kinds of crazy stuff going on with it. I was like, this is insane.”
A friend suggested he test drive a Porsche. “He says, ‘If you really want a sports car, you should look at a 911’, and I drove a ‘94 Speedster 911 and I just fell in love,” he says. “It was the coolest thing, and I really regret not buying it back then. But after the first time I drove the Porsche, nothing feels like that, and I’ve driven a lot of cars. I drove the Ferrari California across Italy, and it was cool, but the Porsche feels like nothing else.”
The 2017 Porsche 911 Carrera is his fourth Porsche since the switch from Jaguar. “I’ve always been happy with the brand, and when I think about sports cars in that price range, I wouldn’t even consider anything other than the Porsche, I just love it,” he says. “Previously I was driving a Carrera S and that was a 2008 and that was pretty much a new car. When I traded it in I only had 25,000 miles on it. I don’t do a lot of driving, plus I have multiple vehicles.”
With his 2008 Porsche, Kotzen felt that at almost 10 years, it was time to get a more updated one. “It was time to get into more modern technology, and the Porsche 911 has come a long way since 2008 with technology and the PDK transmission and even the convenience features, all the technology with Bluetooth and Internet capabilities, so I felt like now was the time to upgrade and get into the modern times,” he says.
One of the things Kotzen loves about Porsches is they hold their value. “So many of these cars, you lose value instantly,” he says. “With the Porsche 911 it’s such a great car, and it’s classic.”
The Ram has become his daily driver, and getting back into a pickup took a bit to get used to.
“This thing is just huge, it’s just high off the road,” he says. “The adjustment was dealing with the big truck, but now that I’m driving that almost every day, it’s a lot of fun for me, I really love it. I bought the truck because I bought a new home, and I was doing a lot of remodeling on the house, and so I needed a vehicle that I could move things around in. It’s perfect.”
There’s isn’t anything Kotzen dislikes about the truck, giving it another perfect 10. “It’s a great vehicle, it handles great, considering how large it is,” he says. “I was really happy with it. But I haven’t had a pickup truck for a very long time. It’s probably why I’m driving it so much just because I like being higher up and all that sort of thing.”
2015 Mini Hardtop Cooper S
“It was a weird impulse buy,” Kotzen says of his Mini Hardtop. “I always wanted one, I always thought they were cool, and I convinced myself that my daughter was going to be driving soon. I bought it anticipating that I would give it to her.”
But his daughter doesn’t have a license yet. “I guess it’s kind of a trend with a lot of young people here,” he says. “L.A. is a place where you need to drive, but now I guess with Uber and Lyft and she takes public transportation. As it turns out, she’s turning 20 and still hasn’t bothered to get her driver’s license and doesn’t seem interested in driving, so now I’ve pretty much handed the Mini Cooper off to my wife to drive, and she likes it. But it was a really crazy impulse buy.”
Kotzen almost had another impulse buy that a friend saved him from. “I almost bought a Smart car that was black with purple flames,” he says. “I went home to get my checkbook and my friend said, ‘Let’s go down to the pub and have a drink and just think this through for a minute.’ And I went to the pub and he’s like, ‘You realize you almost bought a car with purple flames that looks like a skate.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I guess I’m not going to buy that car.’”
Although Kotzen gives perfect marks for the Porsche and the Ram, the Mini Hardtop gets a 7 out of 10 because there are some things about it that he finds extremely annoying.
“It’s mostly technology,” he says. “The performance is fantastic for what it is. But somehow they have it in their mind that they should control the radio volume for you. Being a musician and someone that has to reference new mixes, I don’t want the audio system changing the volume and doing strange things.”
He’s taken it to several Mini dealers who all thought it could be turned off. “Apparently you cannot turn it off. No one knows how to turn it off,” Kotzen says. “So if you have a new song that you’re going to put on your new record, and you’re trying to check the mix, and the volume’s changing, you don’t know if it’s overcompressed or what’s happening. The audio system is horrible in the car. The audio system in my old Jeep is fantastic. I always use that to reference everything.”
Although that’s his biggest complaint about the Mini, there’s another item that affects his ride as well. “When you get in the car, it’s like riding inside of a slot machine,” he says. “There’s so many weird noises, notifications—this is happening, that’s happening, ‘ding, ding, ding, ding.’ I said to Julia (his wife), I feel like I’m in Las Vegas every time I get in this car. So those are the little annoyances that bug me about it, but it does drive great. It really does, and it’s fun, it’s quick, and she loves it because you can zip around.”
2006 Jeep Commander
Although Kotzen likes his Jeep’s trusty audio system to listen to new songs he’s written, he just keeps it as a utilitarian car around the house.
“I needed a sport utility vehicle, and it’s great for that,” he says. “The motor is super fast. It’s very responsive because it has that Hemi, which is great. I love that. I took it off the lot, and the next day had all these serious problems with it. They eventually fixed everything for me. I don’t really drive it much anymore, and it’s depreciated in value to the point where it doesn’t make any sense to sell it, so I just have it. If my parents come out, there’s a car here for them to drive. Eventually, if my daughter ever decides to get her license, there’s a car for her to drive. So it’s just sitting there.”
First car bought
Kotzen bought a 1982 Chevy Corvette Collector Edition with money he made by playing in a cover band. “We played four nights a week, and we were doing really, really well. It was a used car, but it as a really nice one and that became my primary vehicle in my later teens. That was a very specific car because it had a two-tone interior.”
Kotzen was hesitant at first to drive to school in it. “I didn’t really drive it to school till the very end because I didn’t want to make too much ruckus,” he says. “But then there was a girl at my school that I remember drove a Maserati. Once she showed up in that, I said, ‘Well, I guess it’s alright for me to drive the Corvette.’ Everybody thought it was cool. It was a small school, too. Everybody knew everybody and everybody knew that I was in a band and I played all these clubs, and they thought it was cool.”
Although his car was supposed to help drive him to a work study program, Kotzen often left school at lunch to go home to bed instead because he’d been up all night playing shows in places such as New Jersey and Baltimore.
Kotzen says he had a weird schedule when he was 15, and it soon turned into a full-time band. “Back then my father got involved and he was managing the band and booking us,” he says. “He really structured everything like a business, so we were on a payroll and everything. It was pretty cool. We did everything from Aretha Franklin to Ronny James Dio, and we had an amazing female front person who sadly passed away last year, but she was fantastic. She could sing Dio like you thought it was Dio, and then she would do an Aretha Franklin song. You can see her in one of my music videos. I have a video of a song called ‘In an Instant.’”
Favorite road trip
“The craziest drive I can remember was driving from Indianapolis to Los Angeles because I had done a tour back in the ‘90s with my band, and we were in a van sharing the driving,” Kotzen says. “I got stuck in Indianapolis on the freeway that was a circle that goes around the entire city, and I didn’t realize. I thought I was making progress. I kept seeing the city, like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’”
With everyone else in the van sleeping, Kotzen realized something after an hour of driving around the same sights. “Suddenly, I realize I’m literally going in a circle! By the time I got to Oklahoma City, I was falling asleep and waking up behind the wheel,” he says. “I’m like, ‘Oh man, this is bad, I was just sleeping for a second, I’ve got to pull over.’”
That memorable trip was when he had his solo band and a 1994 album to promote. “I had my two band members and a tour manager, and we were in the van,” he says. “Then I had the two roadies following us in a U-Haul truck behind with all of our stuff. But this was at the end of the tour. We had to get everything back to Los Angeles. That’s the craziest drive I can remember. I got lost on that freeway that goes around Indianapolis (I-465), but the fact that I spent an hour on a freeway not realizing I was going in a circle is pretty silly.”
Salting Earth out April 7
Kotzen is excited about his new album Salting Earth. A tour in support of the album starts in Los Angeles on April 21.
“I’ve forgotten how many records I’ve released, but I’m somewhere over 20 solo albums,” he says. “I’ve been doing it for a while, but I’m really excited. We’re starting our tour in L.A. at the Canyon Club, then we’re going to go all over the United States and to Australia, South America, Europe, Japan. It’s to be a long, long tour.”
On the new album Kotzen plays a lot more piano than he did previously. “I always would have a song or two, but on this one I’ve got some really significant songs that are very important to the record that are way more piano driven than guitar driven, and I’m really known as a guitar player,” he says.
He’s playing three piano-based songs on the tour, whereas with previous solo tours, he says he always stayed on the guitar. “But now I’m going to sit down behind the electric piano and do a few things, so I think it’s going to be fun for the fans to see me in a different light on this particular tour,” he says. “I have another band called the Winery Dogs and in that band, I would sit down and do one song, then it evolved into two, so I have done it before, but not with my solo outfit.”
Kotzen’s music spans from rock to soul to R&B. “When I was a kid I listened to rock bands like AC/DC and all the stuff that all of us kids listened to, but then I also listened to a lot of my parents’ records like Stevie Wonder, the Spinners, a lot of soul music,” he says. “So I fall between those two barometers—either the classic rock thing or the soul thing. That’s where my influences really come from.”
The tour starts at the Canyon Club on April 21. For more information about Kotzen’s tour dates and album, please visit richiekotzen.com
Photos of Kotzen with his 911 by Julia Lage.