The Winery Dogs

Steve Miller guitarist Kenny Lee Lewis reviews the Winery Dogs.
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The Winery Dogs- Granada Theater, Dallas , Texas, May 25, 2014

To say that the Winery Dogs are good, is a gross understatement. I haven’t felt this way since I first saw Eric Johnson before he had a record deal. But there are three of them on stage here. All virtuosos. Think Grand Funk meets Frank Zappa. But Richie Kotzen’s voice harkens back to Steve Perry with Journey giving The Boys a high rockin’ tenor soaring over sub tone guitars.

Lets start with the drummer. Mike Portnoy is a consummate showman in the old skool sense. The show takes on the dimensions of vaudeville and slapstick at the same time blowing your brains out with sweeping altered arpeggios and subdivided tom tom fills that shake the roof. Amazing chops and a great sounding kit. One of the showiest drummers I’ve seen in years.

Billy Sheehan is a string arranger. Yes he’s a bass player to. The continuing two and four part inventions throughout the evening nodded in the direction of cellos and bass violin. He fills the room with a swirling bass sound processed like there’s no tomorrow! When the band went into Jimi Hendrix’s arrangement of “Hey Joe”, Billy’s bass sound was very similar to what was used on that record. Fender Jazz Bass through phase shifters, compression and reverb. The boys rendition sounded like the Are You Experienced Album done live. Billy is a class act, an amazing entertainer and showman as he weaves his Dionysian Web.

It is well known that Jeff Beck’s electric guitar style is: finger picking with right hand and no pick. It’s what gives him his unique approach to the instrument. Richie Kotzen has taken it to a whole new level. Think Flamenco meets banjo pickin’. The amazing runs he pulls off just between his thumb and index finger takes your breath away. Of course he has to stand balanced and concentrate like a mo’ when he’s pulling off those riffs. He is a laid back performer who has a huge job singing like a bird and accompanying himself with a multitude of guitar textures and overtones which he does splendidly through a full Marshall stack. Visually he reminded me of a young Mickey Rourke during his Pope of Greenwich Village period. Cool as a cucumber.

Billy and Mike sing! The three part harmonies reminded me of when I first saw Elton John in 1971 with his magnificent trio with Nigel and Dee. The sound system in the Granada Theater was insufficient to elevate the vocal level above the stage volume. Fortunately the band, being the professionals they are, used dynamics throughout the night to feature Richie singing. He also did a solo acoustic number “Doin What the Devil Tells Me to Do” which was very cool. He has an engaging voice that hits overtones similar to Perry and Tom Waite. Another great pop song they did with a whole arranged bridge/solo section was called “I Aint No Angel” I think. Great song.

Portnoy comes out from behind the drums at one point and takes the crowd back to vaudeville with a Fred Astaire drumstick solo that covers the entire stage. I didn’t know if I was watching Return to Forever or The Three Stooges at one point but it was all coming off with a big dose of entertainment. This band has it all. Crunching Zeppelin grooves with vocal pop sensibilities. Yngwie Malmsteen meets Eric Johnson guitar flurries propelled by Kotzen’s banjo fingerpicking technique. I wish I could have heard the vocals for the words, but alas…I gave up my late night food per-diem and bought a Winery Dogs DVD instead, just so I could. I guess I’m hooked! —Kenny Lee Lewis, guitarist, Steve Miller Band.