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Three Is The Magic Number: The Winery Dogs Hit Their Hot Streak

Tuesday, 02 February 2016 Written by Simon Ramsay

They may be a power trio featuring some of the most respected and well travelled musicians on the block, but the time has come to surgically remove the 'supergroup' label from the Winery Dogs' back. This is no flash-in-the-pan vanity project for Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan and Richie Kotzen and with two superb albums of soulful, melodic and instrumentally adventurous hard rock under their belts, as well as hundreds of live shows, they are every bit the bona fide band.  

Currently touring the UK in support of their latest record 'Hot Streak', we caught up with former Dream Theater drummer Portnoy to discuss how these three amigos have blossomed into one of the most exciting rock groups of recent years.

The Winery Dogs were immediately embraced by the rock community. Were you surprised by how quickly you gained such a passionate following?

I guess, because after Dream Theater I kind of launched so many different things, from Adrenaline Mob to Flying Colours, and not all of them were as embraced. So when the Winery Dogs came out it was a little surprising how well it did right out of the gate. All the shows were sold out, all the reviews were positive. I guess the only thing I could really attribute that to is that maybe the style of what we do is so universal.  

They're probably the most accessible band you've been in, but without alienating fans of what you're known for.

Progressive music is not everybody's cup of tea, or what I was doing with Adrenaline Mob, whereas what the Winery Dogs do is something that prog fans can like, musicians can like, straight ahead rock fans can like. It's kind of like the music of Van Halen or Aerosmith, everybody can get it and enjoy it. The music was very song and vocal oriented, but not so much that musicians couldn't like it because there was always me, Billy and Richie doing our things within that style. So it had a little bit of something for everybody.

And it shows that, regardless of all the specious obituaries, people still have a strong hunger for great rock music.

Well, I don't think that's ever changed and, yeah, the numbers are down, the concert tickets are down and the record sales are down, but I don't think the quality of music is down. Sure enough, there's gonna be a lot of crap, there always is a lot of crap, but there's also a tremendous amount of great music being made as well. So don't believe the hype.    

You've been involved in a lot of projects and collaborations since leaving Dream Theater,  but is there something about having a regular band that you need in your life, and have you found that alongside Billy and Richie?

Well, the Winery Dogs definitely fulfil that kind of home base that I think is important. I don't know if I could ever just be a free floating guy jumping from thing to thing. People have this impression that I am, but that's not the case. I was as loyal as you possibly could be to one band for a quarter of a century, so you don't get a more loyal, foundation-oriented person than I am.  

But I do need to have that camaraderie and foundation, and even though I love Flying Colours and Transatlantic and Metal Allegiance, or filling in with Twisted Sister, those are all more part time situations, whereas the Winery Dogs is a real band that will go on the road and play a hundred shows per cycle and be active for a year straight. So it's definitely the most full time of everything in my life right now.  

When you started out with Billy and Richie was there a game plan with regards what kind of music you were going to make, as you could have shot off in so many different directions?

There was no game plan, and what's funny is there was never even a discussion. We never sat down and said 'we wanna be something in the classic rock vein’ or ‘we want to be a vocal, soul oriented band'. We just wanted whatever naturally fell out of us to be completely organic and real and that's the way we approached it. Not only did we not have a game plan stylistically, we didn't even have a game plan in terms of career. It wasn't like we said: ‘Let's get together and have a real band and this will be the home base for all of us.’ We basically just made a record, and once the album came out it was embraced and well received, so that dictated how much touring we did and all the places we were asked to go and play.  

You've proved the doubters, who thought this would just be another well-conceived temporary project, wrong.

It happened on its own and that was the best thing about it. It wasn't some sort of master plan.  A lot of these 'supergroups' are thought up in an office somewhere by a record company, but that wasn't the case at all. This was me, Billy and Richie saying: ‘Let's get together and see what happens.’ That's how it's been ever since.        

You've mentioned that the music is more 'straight ahead', were there times making the two records where you had to reign in your virtuoso tendencies?

No, and if it ever did get too far we would embrace it. The three of us have each had careers that are 30 plus years, so we have nothing left to prove individually, and we have nothing to be scared of stylistically. The great thing is that we're all so far into our careers that the Winery Dogs is an outlet for us to just do whatever we want.  

We can hear that on 'Hot Streak' as you definitely spread your wings a little further.

There's a song called Spiral which is almost like a techno kind of disco song, and we're like: 'Hey man, let's roll with it.’ A song like Fire, which is almost Sting meets Seal, very kind of contemporary pop, we embraced that as well. I think inevitably that the bulk of the material is going to be very power trio oriented, and the three of us have our individual styles that come together in the Winery Dogs, but also very different backgrounds and musical tastes as well, and we let that take us wherever it wants to go.   

You've always taken charge of the bands you've been involved with, Richie's been his own boss for a while and there's Billy too. Who makes the decisions in the Winery Dogs?

Inevitably, there's always gonna be one or two people that are more hands on or controlling than others. I don't think you can have a band of leaders with four or five different people, it's just impossible, but being that there's only three of us it works. Now I understand why Rush has lasted as long as they have, maybe a band like ZZ Top or whatever. It's easier with three people, and all of us have been around forever, so we know how to deal with other egos and personality quirks.  

With age comes wisdom.

When you're a new band and you're in your 20s, everybody is jarring for control and there's a lot of game playing to see who's going to run the show and be the leader, but in our case we've been doing this for a long time and the three of us all respect each other, so we're just at that point in each of our careers and ages where you mellow out a little bit more and let things roll.  

Have you had to dial down your tendency to take charge?

In my previous bands I was very controlling because I'm a very driven, passionate person with a lot of very strong ideas. But in this case I'm working with my favourite bass player on earth. So I trust Billy's instincts, and Richie's such a genius singer, songwriter, guitar player that I totally respect him and trust his instincts as well. We're all the same with each other, we all respect and trust each other and all know when to step back and let the other person take control.   

What are your long term ambitions for the Winery Dogs?

I'm happy being in a band with two guys who I truly admire as artists and truly enjoy hanging out with as friends.  Lifelong ambitions? Who the hell knows what's gonna happen tomorrow? I take it one day at a time, but for the moment I'm really happy with this band and enjoying playing with these two guys and, on top of it all, I do have five other bands I'm playing in, so I could not be more musically fulfilled than I am at the moment. It's like a dream career, I could not have mapped it out any better than it's been.  

Keep your eyes peeled for the second part of our interview with Mike Portnoy later this year, where he goes into detail about his various projects and collaborations, discussing The Neal Morse Band, Flying Colours, Metal Allegiance, what he still has left to achieve and how leaving Dream Theater made it all possible.

The Winery Dogs Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue February 02 2016 - BRISTOL O2 Academy Bristol
Thu February 04 2016 - MANCHESTER Ritz
Fri February 05 2016 - BIRMINGHAM Institute

Click here to compare & buy The Winery Dogs Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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