REVIEW: Electric Joy by Richie Kotzen (1991)

Classic Kotzen! For a look at the new album by his new supergroup The Winery Dogs, check out Jon Wilmenius’ excellent review.

RICHIE KOTZEN – Electric Joy by Richie Kotzen (1991 Shrapnel)

Albums by Richie Kotzen were impossible to find in Canada.  My only exposure to his music was “Dream of a New Day”, from his second album Fever Dream.  Fever Dream was his first vocal album, but Kotzen returned to instrumentals on his third, Electric Joy.  I’d seen his picture in dozens of guitar magazines, but hadn’t heard his tunes until “Dream of a New Day” was included on the Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack.

His debut album was a hit with the shredders, but three albums in, Kotzen had already delivered three completely different pieces of work.  Electric Joy has some of the playfulness of the debut, but is mostly a jaw-dropping collection of intricately composed pieces that skirt multiple genres including funk, country, bluegrass, jazz, fusion, and blues.  If I had to pick out an influence, I would say that Electric Joy sounds like Richie had been listening to a lot of the “two Steves”:  Vai and Morse.  His technique is top-notch.

I first got this on a trip to Frankenmuth, Michigan.  My parents made a point of going there every spring and I started tagging along, and then later on my friend Peter joined us as well.  We’d stay at the Bavarian Inn and on the way back to Ontario, we’d stop at the stores in Port Huron, where I found this as well as old rare Savatage cassettes.

“B Funk” opens the album with some light-speed bluegrass-y licks, but it keeps changing, from a funked up rocker with shredding, to a melodic “chorus” section.  Then it’s back to the bluegrass from space.

At this point I’ll point out that Kotzen plays all the instruments except drums, himself.  That’s Richie’s standby Atma Anur on drums.  What this means is, that incredibly dexterous bassline you’re hearing on “B Funk” is also performed by Kotzen!  And it’s almost every bit as stunning as the guitar!

“Electric Toy” begins ballady, with some lyrical Vai-like moments.  Of course, Kotzen can’t help but do what he does, so there are different sections, some at lickity-split tempos.  This is followed by “Shufina”, which is essentially a blues jam.  Kotzen’s deep bends are appropriate, but before too long he’s harmonizing with himself on some unconventional melodies.

A smoking hot riff ignites “Acid Lips”, little lightning licks flicker in and out, but this one has a solid groove.  (It can’t be easy grooving with yourself on bass.)  “Slow Blues” contains some of Richie’s most lyrical lead work.  If you can imagine the lead guitar taking on the role of a singer, then “Slow Blues” is probably the most accessible song on the album.

The next song “High Wire” is uncatagorizable, suffice to say that like all of Electric Joy it combines quirky notes with shreddery, funk and groove.  My favourite song is “Dr. Glee”.  It sounds like it seems it should – gleeful.  I find this pleasant melody to be very summery.  Kotzen guitar has so many different sounds and shades, even just within this one song.

“Hot Rails” is another one that sounds like advertized…a train racing down the track.  Kotzen’s slide work is anything but simple.  This one’s so fast it’s hard to keep track of all the cool different guitar parts.  It almost sounds like Kotzen wrote a blues shuffle, and then decided to hit fast forward on his tape deck and learn it at that speed!

Electric Joy closes with “The Deece Song”, which thankfully is mid-tempo allowing us to catch our collective breath.  It’s another great performance, similar in style to “Dr. Glee”.  It has its sweeping Satriani moments as well.

The production on the album is very dry, which is different from what a lot of the other instrumentalists were doing at the time.  While this means it might take some more time to penetrate an album that is loaded to the brim with dense ideas already, it is a worthwhile endevour.

In a bizarre turn of events, Kotzen briefly put his solo career on hold.  He received a phone call from Bret Michaels.  The Poison frontman was looking for a replacement for the departed CC Deville.  The fact that Kotzen was from Pennsylvania, not already in a band, and wrote and sang original material caught Michaels’ eye in a magazine article.  Having a shredder, but one with some feel too, might garner Poison some respect in the tough 1990’s.

Kotzen did succeed in co-writing (and in some cases, writing entire songs himself) their most accomplished album, Native Tongue.  Of course, it did not sell.  The Poison relationship imploded because of another relationship: the one that Kotzen was secretly having with drummer Rikki Rockett’s fiance!  Kotzen eventually married her, and he was replaced in Poison by another shredder, Blues Saraceno (who was in the running with Kotzen in the first place).

As for Electric Joy?

4/5 stars

ELECTRIC JOY

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25 comments

  1. That’s interesting, I’d written him off as a bit of a shredder and that sort of guitaring really turns me off. I might give this a go.

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  2. I haven’t heard Kotzen’s pre-Poison albums at all, I must admit. But I own everything he has done after Poison and they are all killer albums, especially his Mother Head’s Family Reunion ones. But after this review I guess I must check those out as well even though I’m not that big on instrumental guitar albums.
    As for Native Tongue, it’s easily Poison’s greatest effort ever. It’s also pretty easy to spot which songs that were brought in by Kotzen. No way in hell all those songs were band collaborations. And listen to the rhythm section as well. I find it hard to believe that Bobby Dall and Rikki Rockett are playing on that album – it’s too damn good and groovy. Kotzen should re-record those songs by himself someday.

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    1. I agree fully with everything here. And you may be onto something…I know he did re-record “Stand” as a Japanese bonus track.

      It’s a shame Poison couldn’t make it work with Richie. I still like Native Tongue.

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        1. Ha yeah, I’ve got no problem playing the stuff. I just find that with instrumental players like this, and a song is one idea with a bunch of soloing overtop of it, they either better keep it short and sweet or let the soloing go way off the beaten path into crazyland before coming back. I say the same thing about jazz. I’m not drunk enough to enjoy reptition for the sake of repetition.

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        2. I get that. I know I have heard some lengthy Yngwie instrumentals that could have used some editing.

          But some dudes love that stuff the longer the better!

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  3. I’m fairly sure my brother had this one on tape. He was into all the shredder stuff. I could never get into those kind of acts (although Yngwie did some great albums). I liked the track you posted though! I tend to hear this kind of stuff and really appreciate it but it’s not something I ever listen to very much.

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    1. Stuff like instrumental rock music is an acquired taste. I first became interested in Yngwie as a kid, but I haven’t listened to any of his new stuff in almost 20 years.

      But it was Steve Vai that got me totally into instrumental rock. Just hearing him talk about his compositions made me want to check them out. I mean he built a guitar that has 10 notes per octave instead of 12. That kind of ingenuity blew me away — he’s not even playing standard musical scales, he’s playing something based on splitting an octave up into 10 instead of 12, and since the intervals were unique I’d never heard anything like it before.

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  4. But it needs to be said that Kotzen doesn’t do instrumental albums anymore. The guy is a killer singer as well and his albums are more 70’s influenced – very groovy stuff.

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