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Richie Zito: The man behind some true melodic rock classics.

Starting out as a session guitarist, to being part of Elton's John band, to a partnership with Giorgio Moroder, to award winning production work for the likes of Cheap Trick, Bad English, Tyketto, Eddie Money, Heart and now his own solo record and record label. Richie Zito has seen it all. Read about some of that right here.


How's yourself Richie?
I'm very well, thank you.

Look, great pleasure to talk with you. I've been a fan of your work since Cheap Trick's Lap of Luxury.
You're going to make me feel old, be careful.

Haha. That's probably the oldest record I've got of you producing.
I was just thinking about that the other day. It was December of '86. We had everything recorded and mixed. The only thing that wasn't recorded and mixed was “The Flame” and a couple of others.

Okay.
And then we came back from holiday and mixed the last 2 or 3 songs very early in 1987. That brings back a lot of memories and that was quite some time ago.

It was indeed. You've got an amazing catalog. I've even bought CDs on the strength of it saying “produced by Richie Zito”.
Great, I had a wonderful, wonderful period of time where I was very fortunate. Once you've had some success you're in a position where you're offered things that are very, very good. The odds for success then increases and then the odds for a better record increases because the artists are a little better and a little more savvy at what they do. All in all, it's better for everybody.

Is it a slow climb up the ladder?
I don't know. Not really. For some. And for others it seems like it rockets. I totally got serious so, so early in my life, at every plateau, at every stage of my career, first as a guitar player, then as a producer, obviously I always wanted to succeed, I always wanted to succeed more, I always wanted more, so yeah. The younger you are the more in a hurry you are for it. It didn't come overnight but it seemed to come at a fair pace, frankly. It seemed to work fine for me. Once I figured out how to do it successfully, correctly, it seemed a little easier. I was a little lucky, obviously and I think like everyone else there's a time when you hit your stride.

Can you identify a time when your career started?
I came to L.A. in 1972. I was signed to Atlantic records at 15 years old in like 1967.

Wow! I was actually going to ask you about that. I knew you were a session guitarist to start with.
I started as a band and we kinda didn't really deserve a record deal <laughs> but we were so grateful to get it. It was myself and Joey Carbone, I don't know if you know who that is…

Joe Williams' studio partner, right?
Exactly. Joey and I grew up together. We were in a band together, got signed by Atlantic when we were 15 and that was our education. We went there everyday, whether it was the studios of Atlantic… and this was the days when they signed the first Led Zeppelin album, the Bee Gees, lots of the R&B stuff, Otis Reading, Aretha Franklin, Solomon Burke, Sam and Dave, all came under that. The Cream. It was a wonderful time in music and in particular at Atlantic. We were young and not really ready. It was kind of the equivalent of a Development Deal today.

Yep.
We released a few singles. For us it was just a wonderful opportunity to get close… you know what I mean?

Yeah.
To the real business. You know, walking in and seeing The Rascals, a blue-eyed soul pop R&B band of the day and then seeing Aretha Franklin. It was a wonderful education so I sort of started there. Then I moved to Los Angeles in 1973. and at that point, it was sort of the time of the singer/songwriter was in vogue and that led to sort of the hired gun session musicians was in vogue at that period, at least in L.A., at least in the circle that I traveled. It gave me the opportunity to work with many, many artists and producers and learn just so many things. Particularly later on after spending so much time with such talented producers. Learning the trade of record production. I don't think I could've learned it a better way from better people.

I haven't got a bio for you but I've done a little research…
By the end of this conversation you'll have more than you need to know.

Yeah <laughs> Neil Sedaka, Eric Carmen, Art Garfunkel, Leo Sayer, there's some amazing names for starters…
Again, very fortunate, very lucky. Stepped off the plan in '73 here and within the first year I did a tour with Bobby Hatfield, may he rest in peace, of the Righteous Brothers, within 6 months of being here. And when I got off that tour, again, formed a band with Joey Carbone and Rick James. And that was all in 1973, the first year I was here and by 1974 I started to do, not real sessions in terms of playing on people's records that were real successful, but starting to find my way into the studios in Los Angeles and in 1974 found my way into Neil Sedaka's world at a time when he had connected with Elton John on a song called “Laughter in the Rain” which was an international big hit. Then wrote “Love Will Keep Us Together” for Captain and Tenille which in America was a Grammy winning Record of the Year, so at 22 years old I was in that environment. I played with Neil, toured with him for a couple of years, started to record with him, sort of became friendly with Elton and that camp and then I wound up in Elton's band in 1980 and 1981, made 3 albums with him and toured the world with him. So I was very fortunate to keep very good company.

That was an amazing experience, I'm sure!
Wonderful. If I had known how great it was… I was too young to know how great it was. It was a wonderful time; wonderful experience. It opened a lot of doors. Playing with Elton John still opens a lot of doors. When I start to meet young bands today and tell them that I played guitar on Top Gun and Danger Zone it gives me more credibility than anything I've ever produced. Some of the moments in my life, in my past, in my career were wonderful experiences and I still enjoy them.

Absolutely. What was the first record where you were at the helm and had the producer's chair for?
I always tried to produce. I always loved playing guitar but because of the way I came up and how I came up, for whatever reason, shortly after arriving in L.A. I was a session guy playing other people's music and songs. It's different when you're on the road playing in your own band with your own music, not to underplay how much fun it was to play with Elton John believe me it was incredible but playing your own songs and doing your own thing is a little different so I always had my eye on how to be a little bit more creatively involved in the process of making a record. I was always really influenced by records. I always wanted to make records. That was always my passion. I was always trying. Always. After Joey and I got signed to Atlantic we were always pounding the pavement of New York trying to let people, get them to let us write and produce artists for them, and they did a couple of times but nothing terribly successful. But I always had an eye for it, always.

Yeah
And then doing the session world in LA, the turning point came when I became one of Giorgio Moroder's crew. I met Giorgio in the late 70s. Some of this interview isn't going to make sense to your audience because it's about rock but some of it is.

I've got a pretty diverse reader base.
Great. My first record with Giorgio as a musician was with Donna Summer and Barbara Streisand's duet “Enough is Enough, No More Tears”, which was a single platinum 12-inch that was on two different platinum albums. So that was a nice day. I then worked on American Gigolo which featured “Call Me” by Blondie. So I got into that world and that was a wonderful experience. I loved Giorgio, he was European so he did things a little differently than some of the people I worked for. And then I didn't see him for a couple of years when I was touring with Elton and I was touring with him almost exclusively. Then I came back into Giorgio's world around '83 or so and that was a wonderfully fortuitous time for all of us at the time and the first thing I did when we reconnected was Flashdance. In a short period of time we did Flashdance and then Top Gun and then Harold Faltermeyer did Beverly Hills Cop and I played guitar on “The Heat is On” and I played guitar on a lot of that stuff.
So there was a lot of traffic.


Giorgio Moroder

There's some great songs on those soundtracks.
It was a lot of traffic. And for the soundtracks there were 14 artists, not just one. There were many different opportunities. There was a band called Berlin. Then Giorgio was magnanimous enough to allow me to co-produce a couple of songs on Berlin's record. And that sort of brought me to the attention of a lot of people. Again, being around that camp at that time gave me many, many opportunities. Keith Forsey was part of that crew.

A great producer as well.
A great talent. My neighbor actually.

Really? He's cool. I love his work with Billy Idol.
One of the greatest. That helped get him into that environment and then, of course, Harold Faltermeyer a lot of us owe our beginnings and record productions to the association with that particular, that moment in time was a very hot moment in time. That was my entrée. From there, I made some records. People started to trust me a little bit. My first real hit which I think put me in play was a song with Eddie Money. It was bigger in America than it was outside. Some of those records back then did better in American than they did outside of America.

I must tell you, I'm an absolute devoted Eddie Money fan.
Oh, wow. Wonderful.

I think he's a marvelous…
At the time, as you know, there was more kind of corporate American stuff that was not so well loved outside of America.

Yeah, that Can't Hold Back album did pretty well here in Australia.
Australia's always been a little bit more connected to us in that respect I believe. That record was my first real big record. It was a number 1 rock track here, Top 5 hit in Billboard, it was a platinum plus record. It made people say, “Wow, he can produce records.” So that was a turning point in my career. And then doing Cheap Trick's Lap of Luxury and doing “The Flame”. Nothing like a second hit. One, they always think maybe you got lucky, but two sort of sets it in stone. The combination of those 2 records was the real beginning of the wonderful time I had.

Absolutely. To speak of those briefly, the first interview I did when I started this website was Eddie Money.
This is your website, Melodicrock.com?

Yeah, that's me.
I know it's you, but I didn't… okay, you're the person. You and Serafino, the two of you, are carrying the torch for melodic rock.

Trying to.
Not all by yourselves but you're certainly at the front of the charge.

Thank you! It's great to talk to someone who has greatly influenced my record buying. The first interview I did was Eddie Money and I think I'm still recovering. He's such a colorful character.
He's a wonderful guy.

I remember one thing he said about the album was he knew he needed to make the best record of his career to have a continuing career after that point and I think he did. Everyone kind of holds that up as a landmark record…
I think Eddie Money is one of those guys, first of all, he's very talented. You can't hit a homerun every time up to bat, but he has a knack a lot of times in his career he's come up with those important records when he needed them and I think that was one of those times and I'm proud to have been part of it, particularly proud that I was part of the duet with him and Ronnie Spector because she's such a legendary, iconic part of American musical history. It was just the cherry on the cake, you know.

Whose idea was that to bring her in?
It happened very organically, the song didn't come from us. It was a time where, Eddie was so used to writing his own songs even the idea of recording other people's songs made no sense to him, and understandably. We happened upon this song and I really liked it so I brought it to him and we went and did a demo of it and I think the original demo just had the original singer sing “just like Ronnie sang, be my little baby.” Eddie didn't want to sing it because he felt silly singing it, so there was a girl hanging around the studio so we had her sing what became Ronnie's part and it just became screamingly obvious at that point that she should sing it. We made the offer and thankfully she said yes.

I've talked with another producer who has worked with Eddie and I know he's a colorful character, keeps people on their toes.
He's colorful, no question.


Eddie Money

Do you have any stories that you could share?
The funny thing about Eddie, it's so easy to talk about people's antics but the world should know that he's one of the greatest guys you'd ever want to know. Aside from his colorfulness, and he is colorful, when I called him for this Avalon project he was very quick to say, “Sure I'd love to do it and I've got a song for you.” He was there in spades. It was a labor of love. It wasn't an opportunity to make money, nothing like that. He showed a real sense of friendship that warmed my heart, I must say. That's my favorite thing to say about him right now. I love Eddie. I think he's got one of the best voices I've ever heard, he's one of the most believable signers I ever worked with. Sometimes he's say things I didn't understand and I'd still believe him. He's got that way of making you feel that he's really telling you the truth. I think the best singers have a way of… believability is a common theme in my favorite singers.

Yeah, exactly. You connect with him emotionally, don't you?
You absolutely do. He transcends music and all kinds of stuff. He's absolutely emotional.

I think the track that “I Put My Life in Your Hands” is classic Eddie Money.
Absolutely. He's had that title for a long time and then when I finally heard it written it brought a smile to my face that the timing was so great for me. A big fan of Eddie Money. I can't tell you how happy I am that he said yes.

We should talk about the record. I'm going to talk about some of the other projects you've worked on.
Yeah, I'll talk your ear off and you can cut out whatever you like.

We'll talk Avalon first. It's been a while in the making hasn't it? I remember Frontiers announcing that you'd make an album for them a couple of years back.
You know what it was, I'll tell you the absolute truth always, I was working with Philip Bardowell and you know him obviously…

Yep, a great singer.
I was happy enough that he came to sing 2 songs that we wrote for the record. I'm sorry that I missed him last night because he just played nearby and I couldn't get there.

Oh that would've been a good show.
Yeah I just live around the corner. Philip and I were working together doing a cover band for fun because over the years I kind of stopped playing and I missed playing so him and I and Joey Carbone made a cover band to play up at B. B. King's, just a sort of local venue here in Universal City.

Yes.
At the time he was making a record for Serafino so I think he's got a lot to do with mentioning my name to Serafino. We never really worked together but certainly he knew who I was and vice versa because we had so many things and artists in common. It was through Phillip that Serafino reached out to me and said, “Hey, what do you think about making a record?” and I said, “Sure, I'd love to. I never did it before and I'm not getting any younger so it might be a good time.” I don't know how long it took. It seems like we finished it earlier in 2006. But it was in the planning stage fore a while it took a while to get the songs right. We did the bulk of the recordings last fall. I think I did the bulk of the recordings in Oct/Nov/Dec. and finished in January 2006. Some of the songs were older songs, about 4 of them, the rest were all new songs and that process probably started in the spring of '05. It didn't take a super long time but we definitely put the energy into it and the thinking about it and the preparation.

The album's got a classic vibe to it.
That's great news.

I kind of pondered the question of whether the songs were demos from way back.
Some of them quite frankly were and I'll tell you which ones. The one Joseph Williams sang (“Oh Samantha”) which I wrote for my daughter. It's something I wrote for her about 15 years ago but the only demo that ever existed was her sitting in my lap and me singing into a ghetto blaster, a little cassette recorder. I had a version of that and I had that and that was it. I never thought about recording it, I just wrote it for her so that was one of the songs. In fact it was Joey Carbone that reminded me that I had written it. I sat with him and we went through my entire collection of CDs and cassettes and compiled everything to come up with 20-30 songs. If I had just done some good bookkeeping of what I had done it would be appropriate. And then there were a few other songs like “Blue Collar” came “Is He Better Than Me” came, “Oh Samantha”, I think there's only 1 other. Oh, yeah, Eric Martin “I Don't Want To Want You”. Those 4 songs came from a collaboration between me and someone named Davitt Sigerson and someone named Henry Small and the 3 of us had written those songs for a band called Prism.

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(l to r) Joseph Williams & Eric Martin

Exactly what I was going to ask you about. Why are the Prism songs on there?
Those songs came from Prism from an album that I was very proud of. A group of songs that were written at a time that I thought was one of the most creative things I've ever been involved with. Henry and I and Davitt got together for oh I don't know how long, got together and wrote those songs then went into the studio and made that record and it was never really successful. It just sort of went away and that always bothered me a little bit. When I was going to make a record that was going to be based in… it seemed logical to look there. Those songs made sense to Serafino, they made sense to me. I was really happy to get the opportunity to re-do them. I've always wanted to be involved with those songs again. They were a lot of fun and Davitt's a bright guy, he was a Rhode's Scholar, he went to Oxford. He was the CEO of Polydor Records, a very clever gentleman. Henry Small was in Prism and A Small Wonder before that. I met him in the '70s so those were the only songs that existed prior to this record.

Great.
And then I went to Eddie Money and… “Nightmare” is the other song that came from Prism… and I said, “Eddie, would you like to sing this song?” and he said, “Sure, I'd love to and I've got a song for you,” and he gave me “I Put My Life in Your Hands” and then I wanted Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey involved. I went to Giorgio and Keith was the bonus because he had happened to write the lyrics to that song so I knew that song and I went to Giorgio and asked him if he had any songs that would be appropriate for my record and he gave me that song “Blue Monday” so I was very happy to have him involved. He'd give me the track and then I'd take it and put some guitars on it. Those are the songs that existed prior to the record. Everything else, brand new.

Fantastic.
I wrote them with the singers. I would create a track at home with sequencing software and then I'd email the MP3 to a singer and then Danny Vaughn would say yay or nay and Eric Martin would say yay or nay and that was the process.

You really have picked some gems because alongside Eddie Money who is a longtime favorite since the '80s, Danny Vaughn and Eric Martin are 2 others that I just buy everything from regardless.
Yeah, love it. And I didn't just pick singers that were great but again I've had the good fortune to work with some great singers and every one of these are the best, but usually there's another component to the relationship. Like in the case with Eddie Money, it's the first time that I'd ever made a hit record, you know what I mean? That's like your first… I was a virgin before that in terms of making a hit record. And Eric Martin, I produced that last incarnation of Mr. Big with Richie Kotzen. I produced Eric Martin as a solo artist and I produced tracks for Eric for movies like Iron Eagle. Me, Eric, and Neal Schon played together in what used to be the Bay Area Music Awards in '86 so that's a longtime relationship. Joe Lynn Turner I met on the road in the late '70s before either one of us were well known so that always had that… you know, old relationships. The Prism songs came from a real special place in my life and the relationship with Giorgio and Keith were integral to my higher career as a musician and a record producer, so it was all those types of things. Danny Vaughn was… first I'll go with Hugo, Hugo did Open Skyz and then Valentine first which became Open Skyz and I had a label through RCA and that was the one band signed to that label that I released so that was a milestone in my career.

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(l to r) Hugo & Danny Vaughn

I have that record here too.
And Danny Vaughn I just always had a connection to. We made a record together in the later days of that kind of music and it didn't fare as well but Tyketto was one of those bands that really sort of undaunted by any type of taste or style in music, they just transcended all of that and just kept the faith and made lots of great music for a long time. I always had a lot of respect for him.

Amazing songwriter; I love his stuff.
And Joseph Williams who about 2 years ago him and I and Joey Carbone, I keep mentioning Joey because we go back so long, the 3 of us went to New York to the Tribeca Film Festival, the thing that Robert De Niro is in charge of and another friend of ours did a movie that debuted their and Carbone and Joseph Williams had been involved with the music for it so the 3 of us formed a band and played there at the Tribeca Film Festival. It was another one of those things. And Philip Bardowell was part of my reconnection with playing guitar as an adult lately and he was integral to me making this record in the first place. So there were lots of those kinds of threads between myself and the relationship between myself and the singers on the record, you know what I mean?

Yeah. It's great getting such a detailed background behind the album.
That's really what it was meant…that's all true.

It brings it together.
It wasn't like, let's see who I can get to sing <laughs>. If they had said no it would've become that but thankfully we didn't have to go there. Everybody said yes, everybody made time. Joe Lynn Tuner was very busy. He definitely made time for me and he put in a lot of sessions. A lot of people went to a lot of extra work to make themselves available really made it kind of special.

Fantastic. I want to ask you about some of these albums, but I'm going to ask first, will you make another album then?
I don't know. I'm very proud of this. If you ask anyone about anything to do with any kind of sequel they're never going to tell you. And I genuinely don't know. I don't have an answer that would be honest or accurate. The real honest answer is I really don't know. If it makes sense to make it again, to make another version of it, then yeah, of course I would. And if it doesn't make sense, of course I wouldn't.

You'll just wait and see.
Yep, I'll just wait and see. If the demand is there and there's more motivation to do it or if there's another way or another part of the story that has to be told, you know what I mean?

Yeah.
For the right reasons, I'd love to.

Absolutely. Well you've just mentioned a couple of albums so I'm going to ask you about them.
Sure.

The Tyketto record, is -- amongst stuff I cover on this site -- is universally regarded as an absolute classic.
People love that band, which is great because that's a great record. A lot of the records I made at that time a lot of the artists had a leg up because they had already been successful at one time in their careers and some don't always get all of the love and attention for all of the reasons and for whatever reason I think that's a better record… I don't think it got the due that it was entitled, frankly.

It should've sold 5 million.
I don't remember what year it came out, there's a time when it started to get to the end of the genre's first life.

In '91 it came out.
If it came out in '91 it's a lot clearer as to why. Nirvana had probably already come out and the record company was already wearing their flannel shirts.

<laughs> Curse that band.
There were a couple of records I made at that point and whether they were any good or not, it didn't quite work out. <laughs>

I curse the day Nirvana came onto the scene.
I can listen to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” now, but I couldn't for 5 years.

I bet.
I'm okay now.

That record put a lot of people out of business.
Then again it put a lot of people into business. As you get older you just got to move with it.

Tyketto is an amazing record, it still sounds great today.
Yeah, yeah, it's a good record, we worked hard, John Kalodner was the… the very famous John Kalodner who also probably… the thread through melodic rock has his handprint and footprint is all over it. He had a lot to do with that record, him and Mary Gormley both. That was a fun record to make, actually.


Great stuff. Probably my 2nd favorite Mr. Big album of all time is one most people have never heard, Actual Size.
I know. That's okay. We did about 150,000 units in Japan. That's okay. It's harder and harder. There's a time when Mr. Big could do 800,000 units in Japan. This is nothing to do with them, Paul Gilbert or Richie Kotzen or any of them; it's just the climate these days. We did okay. And we made a good record. I co-wrote a couple of the songs. “Shine” was one of the songs I like the most. I co-wrote it with Richie Kotzen.

I'm a huge fan of “Wake Up”. I love…
Yeah I think I co-wrote that one too. They're both predominantly Richie Kotzen songs but I just kind of stuck my 2 cents in a bit.

That was the 2nd record with Kotzen but it had less of a Kotzen feel and more of a Mr. Big feel.
I think that was because I was involved and I wasn't involved on the one prior. I was in a real lucky position because Richie Kotzen is one of my better friends and he's my neighbor also.


Richie Kotzen

Really?
I live on a pretty musical street.

He's another great artist. I'm going to have to visit that street <laughs>
Yeah, it's great. And we've got more, we've got 30 Seconds to Mars… believe me; it's incredible who we have on this street. Richie and I go back quite a way to his first record with Poison.

Yep.
And then a couple of solo records. I've been really involved in his career and then I knew Eric Martin as well. I had an equal understanding of both components that were very important components in that record. Perhaps maybe I got it.

I think you did because the record before, the sound just didn't quite suit the band but this one sounded like a million bucks.
I don't know that record terribly well. Maybe a lot of it was Richie trying to find his way in the band.

Sure.
I'm not sure. I don't know it as well.

Actual Size sounded like a sequel to Lean Into It, it was just wonderful.
We had a good time. We made it over at Richie's house. It was fun.

Did the Billy Sheehan/Eric Martin tensions come into play?
No, I don't think it impacted on the record, at least it didn't… it certainly didn't impact negatively. You know, sometimes tension…

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Sometimes it's good.
As long as you can keep it going, some of the best records are made that way. No I think everybody was very professional on that record. Everybody was very creative. Sometimes I think that my bedside manner can help in tense situations. It wouldn't be the first record I made under tense situations.

That's a question I've got here for you, I'll come back to that one.
It wasn't a terribly uncomfortable record by any means. It was quite creative.

Again, when I listen to that record I just think there's so much left in that band. I wish they'd give it another shot.
I have prior to and since then a pretty good relationship with all of those guys. So a lot of it was my relationship with Pat Torpey and my relationship with Billy Sheehan and Richie Kotzen. That served me well, I think.

Such amazing players. All of them.
Oh, God. Kotzen blows my mind sometimes.

He's amazing.
And he did when he was 22.

The Cheap Trick record put them on a new plateau didn't it?
For the moment <laughs>. Yes, absolutely. I like to think that, not every time I step into the studio with someone, but a lot of times I step into the studio with someone and as a result of our collaboration something very positive happens to their career, whether for the first time or the second time. That was one of those cases for sure. They didn't embrace that album too much, but I did.

Yeah, I don't know why.
Because they didn't write… it was sort of a double-edged sword for them. Their biggest hit… I think most people would still look at “I Want You To Want Me” as the definitive Cheap Trick song and Live at Budokan is the definitive Cheap Trick album and that's wonderful, and it is perhaps, but we made a record at a moment in both of our careers where we made a record that we needed to make and get some national market appeal to the band but I think they always had a problem with the fact that that wasn't their song.

Fair enough.
To me a C chord is a C chord no matter who wrote it.

Yeah. Fair enough.
But I'm not the artist. Sometimes that's a very difficult position to be in. And I respect that perspective of the artist but sometimes you have to look at the greater good and in that case I think the greater good was making a record that… Cheap Trick is one of the greatest American bands of all time.

Oh, I love 'em.
Too often they kind of go under the radar and where they need to be. Sometimes you need to do some extraordinary thing to make that unfair thing work itself out.

Talking of precious, the Bad English album is another all-time classic as far as people are concerned.
That's a good record, I think.

That is an amazing record.
We worked hard on that one.

It sounds like it. You put a lot of time into that one didn't you?
Yes, and it was hard work. When you produce a band, and to some extent it was the same with Mr. Big's Actual Size record and maybe a little bit with Poison with Richie Kotzen, but never as much as this… usually when you produce a band… every band to me has always been a sort of society… it's a little five-some and usually the internal politics have been worked out – this person is the spokesman, this one does this – and they have a way of coming to decisions. It's a functional unit, you know what I mean?

Yeah.
So when you produce them, you become part of this functional unit and become part of the club as it were for that period of time. With Bad English, there was no unit. None of that was worked out. It was on the job training. The Bad English record started with me agreeing to produce a John Waite solo record.

Right.
Or maybe not, but early on, John Waite was the only one there. And me. And that's when we said we were going to make a record. Then it was like, “You know what would be cool is if it was a band,” and then it was like, “okay, cool.” And then the going assumption was John would find some musicians that he was passionate about working with or whatever. That never happened. Shortly thereafter he connected with Jonathan Cain, I believe came on first and then perhaps Ricky Phillips came on shortly thereafter. And then Neal Schon said he'd be part of it but he wasn't sure if he really wanted to join yet. We hadn't started recording by any means. But just to show you how early in the project I was involved. I got in early so as we made that record I went through the growing pains and the band went through growing pains of becoming a band. It's sort of like growing up on TV as it were. So they were becoming that band. Even though some of them had those previous relationships, 3 of them having been in The Babys, and Jon and Neal being in Journey together. It was very difficult working out the sociological aspects of that relationship because they're all very strong guys, very talented, came from… it's almost like they were all in situations where they had a degree of autonomy and now they were… having to sort of compromise, not compromise artistically by any means, compromise wasn't the best word, a better word is, finding a way to work together in that particular environment. It was a challenging record. Everyone was on their toes the entire time.

Right.
Straight up. There's was no kicking back. There wasn't a lot of feet up. It was heads up ball, as we like to say.

I think that really came through on the 2nd record, wich I know you didn't produce..but some of the tension came through in the music. Even apart from the debut…
I think the record we made, I mean, I sometimes felt like, and this is no insult to anybody because I love all of those guys, I felt sometimes like I was sort of serving as an ambassador. Sometimes I was doing a lot of diplomacy. A diplomat is a better word. I was doing a lot of diplomacy a lot of the time.


Yep.
But that's okay too because there's so much talent in the room. Neal Schon would play those solos on the track. He'd say, “I don't want to think about the solos later, I want to do them now,” and then boom there would be the solo and then he'd do the rhythm guitar after. So there was some moments in that world there that was pretty great. These guys were good. <laughs>

There's a real energy in that record.
It was good. There were fights, but not like mean spirited fights, just good healthy debates most of the time. Everybody had a different perspective or point of view. It never really got out of control or out of hand. They're all pretty intelligent guys. It wasn't like a crazy record where guys were nuts on drugs or anything. It wasn't like that kind of record. It was a lot of guys that really wanted it to be right, really wanted it to be great. At times there may have been a difference of opinion, but that's the worst that it got to my recollection. I think we got a good record. I think we got one of the better records I worked on.

Absolutely,
Yeah, I think it was good.

Have there been any records where it's been just a complete, to be blunt, a real cluster-fuck, you know what I mean?
I like to think a lot of that is the responsibility of the producer, quite frankly. So I like to think that not too many come to mind frankly. Some are harder than others, some are easier. Very often the harder ones are the most successful. Frankly. So it's hard to get mad at that. Sometimes the easier ones are…

What do you think were some of the hardest ones for you to make?
I think the Bad English record was a challenging record to make, that first Eddie Money was a challenging record to make, Lap of Luxury was a challenging record to make, Heart's Brigade was a challenging record to make and I think they were the biggest records in my career.

Right. I was going to ask you about Brigade
It wasn't difficult and hard like, “Oh my God I can't stand the studio,” I don't mean that my any means. Each one for different reasons.

Heart. Why was that a challenging record?
Because they were on a path that they sort of created with Ron Nevison and they made 2 very, very successful records, so it was challenging for me to make one to live up to that, you know what I mean? They had so much success, and sometimes success can get in the way. If you take away the hunger… one of the challenges of making that record is it took a long time. We worked on it off and on for about 8 months if memory serves.

Yeah, that's a long time.
There were some breaks, but there was lots of pre-production. A lot of that was because of the time it took to make that record.

That's a long time.
For the first time in my career I started to understand what movie guys go through, trying to keep their perspective for years. By the end of that album I was like, “Wow,” after 8 months, it was a little tougher to keep my… the perspective was something that I was fighting to keep. But then, something you have to know, is that making that record, Ann Wilson would come to the studio at 5:00, open her mouth and there was nothing quite like it. <laughs> Like maybe, once a week, maybe not sing a word right. Flawless performances to the point where trying to figure out which vocal to pick was a very difficult thing to do because they were all so good.

That's a nice position to be in.
I know but sometimes it's even more challenging <laughs>

Yeah.
Sometimes it's like, okay, now what? She was a pretty impressive human being.

Wow. She's an amazing singer.
She would just open her mouth and I'm like, “Oh my God, listen to that.” It would take you aback sometimes. I think a lot of the singers I've worked with do that to me. John Waite. For different reasons at different times, each one of them made me stand up and say oh my goodness.

He's one of my top 5 vocalists as well.
He could sell you the phone book.

I love his voice.
Very believable.

I think the best album that White Lion ever released was the one you produced for them.
Again, that was when the flannel shirts were already out.

Exactly. Criminally undersold, that album.
And you can't get mad at anything post 1990. The tide had already changed. Even the Poison record I made, there were times where we felt that we were going to be the ones that showed that bands that came out in the '80s were still viable in the public's eyes. That was one of the biggest disappointments. There were a couple of songs on there that I could have probably maybe showed a more mature Poison and a growth with Richie Kotzen involved. So again, some of those records like Poison's Native Tongue, good, bad, or indifferent, or Tyketto or White Lion's record that I made, again, the dye was already cast.

Well I think Native Tongue is actually my favorite Poison album too.
It's a good record. There were moments on that record that were like, yeah, I think are pretty great.

It wasn't bubble gum was it? It was a real mature record.
Well they had grown up and gotten a couple of years older. C. C. Deville is one of my favorite pop songwriters but he wasn't in the band and, you know, C.C. has that fantastic personality, an incredible sense of humor. Richie is a way more introspective type of human being so all of a sudden the style of writing was more serious. That chair was occupied by a serious, not in a better sense, but you know what I mean – a more somber personality, so it showed that and yeah there were some moments there, like I thought “Stand” might transcend the fact that it's no longer fashionable to like bands that you liked last year. But again, it was a Gold record in America so I'm very proud of that.

Absolutely.
And “Stand” has been on a lot of platinum and multi-platinum collections since then too. I've definitely done worse.

Here's a thought for you. Something I wanted to ask you. Out of all of those bands, Poison is still on the road, Eric Martin is still playing, Danny Vaughn is still playing, Cheap Trick is still on the road.
Everybody's playing.

Eddie Money, John Waite, they're all working but how many of these grunge bands are still going? Why are people, the media, not giving this music the credit that it deserves for the longevity that it's had.
I don't know. I know that the Grunge shelf-life was kinda short, I thought. It sort of gave away to alternative music which has had a longer life. I don't know the answer. Gen X… every generation thinks that the one that preceded them were a bunch of old-fashioned people when they come along. Every generation has their own things that define them. Gen X was a very unhappy time. Although this wouldn't be the first time, there were a lot of deaths in that genre. It was a very anti movement. It wasn't based on something it was more against Ticketmasters and against this and that. It was anti-flash pop, anti-larger than life. It was more of an antichrist than a Christ. I think sometimes when you stamp out that which you set out to stamp out, you're done, your mission is accomplished. And I think there's a lot of that in that kind of music. More than there was… you know what I mean? Is that weird to you? I think before that it was a purer time. I don't know. I think that's one of the reasons why… I don't know. I think every generation, especially the kids now, they have so many things to compete with. The new musicians have so much to compete with the young kids because they have the cell phones and their Play Stations and their internet. I think the people that grew up on the music of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, that music occupied more of the center stage of their childhood, so maybe it's more precious to them.

Well it did for me completely so I relate to that.
Maybe the kids that you would think would ordinarily be at a grunge show, maybe Michael Jordan meant more to them. Or maybe we think that grunge meant a lot to them but maybe they were going to see Run DMC instead. I don't think we've lost a lot of potential… what a lot of people don't realize is that we've lost a lot of potential rock fans not to grunge, we lost it to hip-hop, frankly. That's when rock started to less occupy center stage of the culture.

And like you said, there's so many cross platforms for entertainment.
There really is.

DVDs, PlayStation.
Hip-hop really. Everything has a shelf-life and a cyclical life span but hip-hop really filled a lot of the needs that rock used to for the young guys. You can't discount that impact.

One positive, I get a lot of feedback from the bands and they're saying that there's a lot of young people coming to the shows.
Oh, God yes.

Just to witness what a real, true entertainment show is. Some of these newer bands don't know how to perform or entertain or whatever.
A lot of the newer bands, I don't like to insult anything because I think there's a lot of wonderfully talented musicians out there today that are very talented, future musicians coming every day, and I generally mean it, I'm not just saying it to say it, but I think nowadays video sort of gets you to the world quick. Everything's quicker and easier. Back in the day, before you got a record deal, well it's happening again, but there's a lot or road work that went on. A lot of time of wood-shedding and growing the band before it came to the attention of the media and mainstream labels. And I think that over time that was a shorter period of time.

Yep.
So they didn't get a chance to do that night after night after night on the stage to learn what worked and what didn't work so by the time they got out on the national or international stage they weren't quite as seasoned. So that might have been part of it. But I think that's changing now too because the new rock bands in America especially are existing before labels, they're existing with independent labels so they are very much doing that again, getting out there and getting their chops up and getting out there to the people and hopefully sell some records.

Does any band in this genre stand out to you as having the potential to be a top 10, top 40, top 20 force again?
It's a funny world we live in. Bob Dylan, I think, has the #2 record in America.

Yeah. <Laughs>
I'm 54. I bought “Like a Rolling Stone” when I was like 15 so absolutely. Some of the people sure, absolutely. Bob Seger I think is the top 5 also.

Yeah, that's great to see.
If you make the right record on the right day anything's possible.

Yep.
I really genuinely believe that. I don't think mediocrity is going to take you very far – ever. But I think sure. I think some bands may have a harder time reconnecting with their fan base. Poison did that, I worked with Poison and they're touring rather successfully every summer.

Yes.
And I was there. I did some songs with them for a greatest hits record early in that new reinvigorated Poison with C.C. back in the band, selling lots and lots of tickets and they've definitely reconnected with their fans.

Yes.
They're bringing them out in quite large numbers.

Yep. And I personally think that Journey have as good a shot as anyone.
Bon Jovi still sells lots of records.

Exactly. So why couldn't Journey or someone else like that do the same?
You know, if the right record or the right day and then somehow convincing the right gatekeeper that this is a record worth wrapping his company around…

Yeah.
But it almost doesn't matter anymore. Because it's almost like, you know, whether you're number 1, 2, 3 or 4, that's not really as relevant as making great music and finding a way to survive as a group and to continue to play those songs on the road and in Journey's case especially, going on the road and playing old songs and making new songs. I think that is success.

Yeah.
You know what I mean? We tend sometimes to… it's not sports. It's not like at then end of the day there has to be one winner and one loser. That's not the way it is. If you find a way to stay viable and make your music and get people to come see it and hear it and buy it, download it, whatever. That's success.

So you're basically saying that if they're out on the road, touring, playing to people, then more power to them.
Absolutely. Listen, any pitcher is going to throw harder when he's 19 than when he's 50 but what's the difference? A career is a body of work, not just a moment. Unfortunately that's the sad truth of what can be prevalent in the music industry these days is lots of artists, and sometimes I use the work artist loosely, whose careers really are just a moment. That's what you really want to avoid, that's, to me, not success.

Yes.
Creating a body of work, yeah. It's a rare thing, a wonderful thing. I'm proud of anybody that does that. I'm proud to have been associated with a lot of people like that.

Yeah, record labels these days seem to be less on championing careers and more for the instant, aren't they?
Well particularly in America, I don't know what it's like outside of America, cause I just got involved with a brand new independent record company called Your Music America, YMA, and I have some partners and some investors and we're starting up a new label and that's about to get rolling.

Great.
The thing is that the bigger companies have stockholders involved, the way they operate and they sort of have to go for those big splashes. And to get those big slashes they have to go after and nurture certain types of recording artists. I think because of that a lot of different types of artists tend to get ignored. The next crop of bands and songwriters and so therefore the great news is that a lot of independent record companies are mushrooming up in America and a lot of great music is starting at that level.
And that's where a lot of music is coming from. It's good. It's kind of sorting itself out where the big labels are able to focus on the kinds of records that they need to make with TV components and big stars and big stories but then because you have a band with a guitar player-singer a keyboard player-singer that is growing and developing there's quite a few new independent record companies that are creating a nurturing environment for that and I'm proud to say that I'm involved with one.

Well that is a very positive synopsis; I'm pleased to hear that.
Yeah, I'm proud to say that. It's where I see the present and the future sort of… rock is a funny word, but rock. Rock music in America.

Fantastic. Well anything I can do to help along the way as far as getting the word out to the masses.
Well yeah I'm sure if you could just mention that I'm very proud of the fact that we're starting this new company Your Music America, YMA, and again it's going to be primarily young developing artists but those are the ones that need a place to be creative.

Absolutely. They need somebody to help them develop.
Someone to help them because the bigger companies more or less say, “Look guys, we'd love to help you,” it's not that they don't want to help, it's not economically feasible until they get to a certain level. So we're there to pick up the slack. And it's happening. A lot of the new rock bands that are selling a million records, either got their start or quite frankly more than their start are more than happy being with independent record companies. I think that could be a very and already positive thing for rock.

Yep. Sounds great. Anything you'd like to add, Richie?
Did we say enough about Avalon? I bent your ear about my entire career and life because I know, you know, melodic rock and the style of music and I had a web site and a legion of fans I want to make sure that I cover a lot of base but a lot of stuff, you know, not the primary reason, but the primary reason for the timing of this interview is the Avalon project.

Absolutely. And I think we covered everything quite nicely.
Yeah, it's something that's very special to me, very close to my heart. Most of the stuff that I've done that people would know about through your web site and Serafino's company and lots of other things out there, pretty much is me producing other artists and at the time I produced a lot of those records, those bands contained very talented musicians so I was pretty much, my role was my role. This record, I got a chance to play guitar, I played bass on everything, the keyboards, so it was a very good time for me as a musician.

There's some fantastic guitar work on there.
Well, thank you. I think I played every note.

Wow.
On the guitar. I played a lot. I didn't play drums on anything, thank God for the listeners. And I didn't sing much either. But I played a lot of everything else, I played all of the guitars on it. And again, I am a musician, I started as a musician, a lot of my success and notoriety came from having been a producer but this album is kind of special to me because at my core Richie Zito is a musician, good, bad, or indifferent, and it's at the center of my soul. And I'm kind of proud of that. There's the producer part of me that's also very exhibited here by me getting up and… the good news is, I get the best of both worlds, but thankfully I didn't sing on the record. I got to produce the performances where applicable whether or not I get credit, but I got to produce and I got to be a musician too. So it really satisfied me very, very much.

Yep.
I'm cool. If you're happy, if you've got enough, I'm good.

I'm more than happy, Richie. I really appreciate your time and everything you've told me.
My pleasure. And if I've said anything insulting, please don't print it. <laughs>

No, I don't think you did. I think you well and truly played a diplomatic role…
Well, I'm a fan of everybody that worked on my record. Don't forget, every time somebody asked me to produce them, I always had the opportunity to say no. Every time you saw my name on a record, I said yes. And I said yes because 99% of the time, and the other 1% of the time the other people weren't really yet well known, I was already a fan of them. So if you called and said, “Hey do you want to do Joe Cocker?” it's like, “I'll be there in less than 5 minutes.” I was very, very fortunate and I'm a fan of everybody I've had the opportunity to work with. It's not all diplomatic, it's true.

That's great. It shows through in your enthusiasm for the record and everything you've had to say.
It's been a fun life so far, you know.

Yeah.
And those of us who've been in it, they'll say the same.

Fantastic.
All right, my friend. I look forward to reading it.

I appreciate your time.
Yeah I appreciate your time. I appreciate what you've done for melodic rock.

Thank you, Richie. And likewise. And thank you for some great records.
All right, my friend.

Keep in touch.
All the best.