Mike Portnoy is a hard worker. There is no doubt about that. However, the question needs to be asked. With so many projects running, where is the quality control?
Of course, I know that quality is in the eye of the beholder and since Portnoy is just a drummer, the quality is in the music.
Music comes from the guitarists/keyboardists he chooses to work with. The guitar player in the band has the same value as a Number 1 draft pick for a losing team. You build a championship winning team around a great guitar player.
In Dream Theater, Mike Portnoy had the Michael Jordan of guitar players in John Petrucci. When Portnoy left the DT team, he committed career suicide in my view.
In Adrenaline Mob, he had the wild card roughie, Mike Orlando, who in my view is getting really close to the greatness of Iommi and I seriously believe this band is capable of producing a classic album like Heaven and Hell from Black Sabbath.
In Transatlantic he has a minor league player in Roine Stolt on guitar and another minor league/division two songwriter in Neal Morse. (Anyone remember Morse, Portnoy, George project, it was a deadest joke). If you want to hear quality spread thin, listen to Neal’s solo albums.
In Flying Colors he has the veteran superstar in Steve Morse, who has done his victory lap already and is now also spreading himself too far and too thin with Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, Flying Colors and the Steve Morse band.
And that brings us to The Winery Dogs. For this project to be special, it needs to bring something different to the table, so that it stands out amongst the noise.
Richie Kotzen is a good guitar player, however there is nothing special about him. If I keep with the sporting analogies, this player wouldn’t win any trophies for you. He wouldn’t be a bad player to have on your team, but he is not the champion that you need. As a draft pick he would be way down the order.
When Kotzen came out with his first self-titled solo album in 1989 and with Fever Dream in 1990, he was just another shredder on the Shrapnel label. I have both of those albums and I can’t really remember much from them. I even purchased the Mr Big album he played on after Paul Gilbert left and that was also forgettable.
Just like Hard Rock and Glam Rock killed itself by cloning itself over and over again, the same thing happened to the Shred Movement.
Kotzen was a clone of the shred heroes that came before him like Yngwie Malmsteen, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Paul Gilbert and Jason Becker (who also produced Kotzen’s first album).
There was also a Jimi Hendrix/Stevie Ray Vaughan blues influence, however that part of his playing didn’t really come out until he joined Poison. Maybe he was told to conform to the shred sweep picking style. The point. He is a clone of the shred era. He got his deal, because he could shred. Yes, he had talent. Yes, he practiced. Does he have the songs? No.
Even in his vocal delivery he clones Chris Cornell. There is nothing different or special about what he does and he is the centrepiece of the band as the guitarist and vocalist.
The point I am making is that there is no signature sound from Kotzen and since he is the frontman and the main songwriter, it is a troubling fact.
Which brings me to Mike Portnoy. Dream Theater success is because of the music. The musical instruments in the band are the guitars, keys and bass. Drums are a percussive instrument. If Mike Portnoy had never met John Petrucci, he would be just another talented drummer trying to make it.
Is Portnoy a great songwriter? Does he have the ability to write a great song on his own? My answer is NO.
Billy Sheehan is the bassist, and as good as he is, all good bassists need great guitar players. With Talas, Sheehan was the man, and that band was a product of its time, where it was cool to be a different and a leader and that is what Billy Sheehan was, a leader. However that band never really had success.
Then he found commercial success with two supergroups. First with David Lee Roth and then with Mr Big. In both of those bands, he had two monsters on the guitar. With David Lee Roth, he had Steve Vai (at one stage Yngwie Malmsteen was considered for the DLR slot) and with Mr Big, he had Paul Gilbert.
However is Billy Sheehan a great songwriter? Does he have the ability to great write a song on his own?
In DLR’s band, he had one song writing credit in Shy Boy, which is from his Talas’s days. In Mr Big, his name is over a lot of songs, and they are okay songs, however the main hit songs (which gave Billy Sheehan a career) are not written by him.
James Hetfield once said that he is anti-side projects for a very good reason. It dilutes the quality of the main product.
And in the end it is quality that the people want. That is the reality.