The Winery Dogs live in San Francisco, Ca

The Winery Dogs at Yoshi's
San Francisco, CA
Wednesday, October 9, 2013

by Dan Wall and Ace Collins

Set-list: Elevate, Criminal, We Are One, One More Time, Time Machine, Damaged, Six Feet Deeper, The Other Side, You Saved Me, Not Hopeless, Doing What the Devil Says To Do, You Can't Save Me, Shine, I'm No Angel, The Dying, Regret.
Encore: Fooled Around and Fell in Love, Desire.

90 minutes.

Editor Jeb: I sent you two knuckleheads on a rock and roll mission last week to cover “The Winery Dogs” gig in SFO…. give me the low-down….

Ace: Really, who names their kid “Ace”?  Not even Mrs. Frehley did that… oh, anyway… YES!   Jeb, thanks for the ‘add’ to the guest list; that gig was an incredible experience… not enough juice to get us into the after-show party?

Editor Jeb: I will ignore that… Dan, what did you think of this new so-called ‘super-group’?

Dan Wall: Back in the 60's, the idea of the supergroup came into being when musicians known for their place in other bands started up new bands as a collective of well-known players who would then band-together and become a "supergroup." Some early examples of this include both Cream and Led Zeppelin, and both could be considered inspirations for The Winery Dogs, along with Soundgarden, Lenny Kravitz, and Alice in Chains.

The power trio consists of guitarist Richie Kotzen (formerly of Poison and Mr. Big), bassist Billy Sheehan (formerly of Talas, David Lee Roth's band and Mr. Big) and drummer Mike Portnoy (formerly of Dream Theater and a temporary drummer for Avenged Sevenfold). These three guys are not only considered to be great players, but are some of the best individual musicians in the world.

Ace:  I knew I was going to be blown away, as I had seen Sheehan live with Mr. Big, Niacin and Steve Vai… I had also seen Portnoy with DT and A7X… I had not seen Kotzen yet, but dig his style… so I called 3 more buddies from my garage band, and we piled into the ROADEE van… Band Trip!

Editor Jeb:  Give me a little background before we get into the gig details, Dan….

Dan: The band came together after guitarist John Sykes failed to generate any heat with Sheehan and Portnoy, and rock personality Eddie Trunk suggested Kotzen to the others (even though Sheehan was in Mr. Big with Kotzen). From there, a full-length recording was produced and this mini- tour generated, but the scale of the ‘live show’ is a far cry from what these guys are used to out on the road.

The Dogs hit the West Coast last week, with this show taking place at Yoshi's in San Francisco, a beautiful jazz club / restaurant / bar that has been dabbling in rock for about a year now. It was a perfect venue for this band, since most of the songs performed were fleshed out with improvisational stretches that touch a bit on progressive jazz… but make no mistake; the Winery Dogs are a rock band.

For comparison sake, let's say led Zeppelin meets Mr. Big, with big, chunky riffs and a ballsy rhythm section meshing with melodic, well-defined lyrics. Kotzen's voice is not Eric Martin's nor is it Glenn Hughes’, but he is close to that same rarified air, perhaps with a dash of Chris Cornell thrown in for good measure. He is also an excellent guitarist offering riffs; shading when needed and blazing solos the rest of the time. Fender even offers a high-end signature Telecaster with Richie’s name on it… he’s that good.

Billy Sheehan, playing a Sonic Blue Signature Yamaha Attitude 3 Bass, is a muscular, ferocious beast on bass, playing so fast and fluidly that he sometimes appears robotic. Playing much like he does with his other bands, Sheehan's runs and solos were particularly crowd pleasing, and it’s always great to see him play live. Billy’s Hartke rig sometimes overwhelmed Kotzen’s Fender Vibro King combo and extension cab…

Portnoy attacks his Tama Starclassic 5 piece custom the same way he has attacked his monster kits in DT, but he has to be a bit more restrained here, because the song structures are much more compact, as well as the stage! Most of the tunes are based around one riff or idea, not the usual arrangements for a guy used to playing 42-minute songs with Dream Theater or heavy metal with A7X.

Editor Jeb: Ace, what was your take on those guys?

Ace: Let me just say we are at Yoshi’s, and Dan is scared of sushi. We live on the west coast; get over it. But, to sum it up, Sheehan is a monster. Period. He’s got the pony-tail goin’, puts on his charcoal pinstripe bell-bottom slacks and platform boots and lets it rip!  Billy does that rock-fusion in-the-pocket so skillfully it is hypnotic. The Steve Vai tapping thing is cool as well, especially when he and Kotzen jam it together…

Kotzen has an unusual style of strumming rhythms with his thumb; I didn’t see him use a plectrum all night. So the rhythms are a bit softer and muted than if he was playing with a pick. But he gets some attack playing with his fingers during the solos; he’s got the Cry Baby wah and the boost on the floor, so he can cut through. His vocals are perfect for this group; simmering, soulful, bluesy…

Portnoy is so proficient at his craft that he is able to have a lot more fun back there than most drummers. He kept swinging the vocal mic away from his mouth just so the guy who was in charge of it had to rotate it back, just to mess with him. The stick tosses and twirls, spitting, and head punches kept everyone’s focus on his antics. I could have done without the stick up the nose routine, as these guys are a class act and world class musicians.

During the show, I leaned over to my buddy Dan here during the show, and said,” Whatta ya think?”  and he replied, “These guys are Great !”    Then, I leaned over to the drummer and bass player in my garage band and said… well, actually, I didn’t say anything… one guys jaw was on the floor, and the other’s attention could not be broken… That’s the difference between going to a show with a common everyday concert reviewer and a musician… shows like this can be appreciated on a much deeper level… in fact, I spotted and talked with Uriah Duffy ( bass / Whitesnake) and there was no mistaking why he was there too…

Editor Jeb: Dan, I think Ace just dissed you…anyway, tell me about the song selection…

Dan: First off, Ace is an idiot. Secondly, that’s not even his name. Now… Song wise, the band has provided fans with 13 cuts on the disc that range from driving hard rock to soulful, melodic ballads. ”I'm No Angel” would have been #1 in 1989, and songs such as “Elevate,” Criminal,” “Time Machine” and “Desire” rock along nicely with a huge riff, chorus and solo. The band also played a couple of Kotzen’s solo songs, a cover of Mr. Big’s “Shine” and the Elvin Bishop standard, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” which surprised many with its inclusion. The performance of that tune showed how well they all work together as a band, all 3 harmonizing together vocally while driving home that melodic blues hook.

Mr. Big makes more dough in one show in Japan than this band makes on an entire American tour, but give the guys credit, they are trying to build this band from the ground up and look poised to do just that. If Sheehan is truly done with Mr. Big, then these guys need to get another album out and keep working clubs like this. The Winery Dogs will probably never be as big as the bands the guys once played in, but they should be around for a long time offering good music and a good time out.

Ace:  I wouldn’t venture a guess as to whether or not each individual is done with any act they have ties to… for me, this is a ‘boutique’ band; one that listeners with the ‘trained ear’ appreciate even more… they ‘get it’… the band will also get cross-over fans from their previous works, as well as chicks that just dig Richie. You should have heard his solo acoustic performance of “Doing What the Devil Says To Do”… passionate, mesmerizing… check out Richie’s live shred of “Sara Smile” on YouTube… unique, fresh… crazy…   Then go straight to the official video of “Time Machine”… you might put away your Zep and Alice in Chains CD’s for a bit…

I believe these guys just love to connect with the club crowd, and can see the appreciation from the people that were there, as opposed to just seeing dollar signs from bigger venues and selling an expansive array of merch. These guys live to play… period. If you get the chance to hear or see this band, take it.