A to Z of Making It, Music, Unsung Heroes

Lifers

If you want to have a career in the music business “Lifer” is a term that you need to get used to. You need to be in it for life.

Look at Mike Portnoy. He is a lifer. He lives and breathes music. In his youth, he worked in a record shop and substituted his pay for records. It shows his life commitment to music. Since December 2010, he has pushed out new music on a consistent basis and he has toured non-stop behind that new music. I can’t say I like everything from the bands that Portnoy is involved in, however he understands the current music business. And as much as the metal and rock bands don’t like it, the music recording business is not about releasing an album of 10 songs or more every two years and then touring behind it.

The recording business is about releasing music consistently. Capturing that spontaneity. When music is too thought out it loses its soul. It becomes processed. Even though I am not a big fan of “The Winery Dogs”, I do appreciate the soul of the songs, that loose feeling that anything could happen. This brings to mind a quote from Kevin Shirley who was the producer on the Dream Theater “Falling Into Infinity” album. He loved the original solo take that John Petrucci did for the song “Hollow Years” because it had this spontaneous feeling to it that fit the mood of the song. However Petrucci didn’t like it because it wasn’t precise enough and of course, Petrucci ended up re-doing the solo section to make it precise.

Going back to Portnoy, in 2011 he was involved in the Adrenaline Mob EP, the Neal Morse “Testimony 2” album as well as a tribute album to The Beatles (with Paul Gilbert, Neal Morse, and Kasim Sulton) called “Yellow Matter Custard – One More Night in New York City”.

2012 saw the release of the Adrenaline Mob album “Omertà”, the Flying Colors self-titled debut album as well as another Neal Morse album called “Momentum”.

2013 saw the release of a covers album from Adrenaline Mob called “Covertà”, as well as the self-titled debut from The Winery Dogs. In addition, live releases came out from the “Portnoy, Sheehan, MacAlpine and Sherinian” 2012 tour called “Live In Tokyo” as well as the Flying Colors 2012 European tour called “Live in Europe”.

2014 will see a new Transatlantic album called “Kaleidoscope” as well as the new BigElf album that Portnoy played drums on called “Into The Maelstrom”. Also in the pipework’s is a new Flying Colors album and a live release from “The Winery Dogs”.

In amongst all the studio time of the official releases, Portnoy was on the road, touring. That is a lifer to me. He implored Damon Fox from Bigelf to carry on when he thought about throwing in the towel and even stepped up to the plate to play drums. That is a lifer inspiring another musician to also become a lifer. It’s contagious.

What about bassist, Marco Mendoza? Who you say?

The first time I heard Marco was on the Blue Murder album “Nothin But Trouble” released in 1993. He then fell in with John Sykes, appearing on “Screaming Blue Murder” in 1994 and then on John Sykes’s solo album in 1995 called “Out Of My Tree.” He also appeared on the 1997 albums “Loveland” and “20th Century Heartache” and “Nuclear Cowboy” released in 2000. That year also saw a Thin Lizzy (this is the version that John Sykes put together in 1994,with guitarist Scott Gorham, keyboard player Darren Wharton and drummer Brian Downey. After a few one-off concerts, the band toured more consistently from 1996 until 2000, with Downey being replaced by Tommy Aldridge) live release called “One Night Only” as well as his involvement with David Coverdale’s solo album “Into The Light.”

Real musicians are lifers. He hasn’t had that hit single or appeared on that hit album, but that doesn’t make Marco any less successful.

He spent time with Ted Nugent, went back to John Sykes, then jumped ship to Whitesnake, while still continuing with the John Sykes Thin Lizzy project up until 2009. That project then became Black Star Riders. In between he appeared in Lynch Mob and their Smoke and Mirrors album in 2009. He is going to tour Australia with the band “The Dead Daises” led by former Noiseworks vocalist Jon Stevens.

Would you say that Marco Mendoza has been successful at his music career?

Marco has played with two of my biggest guitar influences in John Sykes and George Lynch. He is a great vocalist and from watching the live Whitesnake DVD from 2006, he hits those highs that Glenn Hughes did in “Burn”.

He has never been without a decent sized gig and if he is, he has his little solo band and his jazz three-piece project that play the bars and the clubs. The bottom line is that he is working non-stop. He is a lifer when it comes to music. That is why he is still around. While record labels whine about the lack of recorded sales in a society where streaming has won the war, Marco is the definition of the long hard slog to have a musical career. A lifer. Excellence is the key. That is why he is in demand. He fits in well, is professional and he doesn’t have a social media presence.

You want a career in music, prepare to be a lifer.

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Music, My Stories, Stupidity

Is Having Mike Portnoy in your band a good thing or a bad thing these days?

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.

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