How Iron Maiden’s Adrian Smith + Richie Kotzen Wrote an Album Together
Iron Maiden's Adrian Smith and renowned blues guitarist Richie Kotzen (whose credits include The Winery Dogs, Mr. Big and Poison amid an extensive body of solo work) dropped Smith/Kotzen, their collaborative debut album and we caught up with them both to learn more about what went into writing and recording this unique mix of blues and hard rock.
While Kotzen's affectation for the blues is his calling card, Smith's love for the style has certainly been less prominent in his career as Maiden's expressive, melodious axeman. Smith/Kotzen gets gritty at times, but is equally capable of evoking hair-in-the-wind vibes, though both attest that the oasis-like setting of the Turks and Caicos Islands they inhabited for the writing and recording session did little to impact that musical notion.
Not only was this a chance for both Smith and Kotzen to step out of their usual writing zone, recording as a two-guitar tandem (Kotzen is typically the lone player and Smith one of three in Maiden), but they seized the opportunity to share the singing roles as well, something that served as a nod to some childhood favorites.
Read our full interview below.
This album was recorded at the Turks and Caicos Islands. Why did you choose this location to write and record?
Richie Kotzen: I had never been to Turks and Caicos and it was Adrian’s idea to rent a house down there and get away. There’s nothing to really do except go into the ocean and fish, swim and drink.
The first day we didn’t do anything and just went to the local spot, but we got into a rhythm. Adrian likes to do his fishing in the morning, I like to go in the ocean and then we’d meet up and spend the day working for six to seven hours then go to dinner. White wine was the way forward and then we’d start over the next day.
Adrian Smith: I’ve been going there for 10 years for vacations. Iron Maiden did an album at Compass Point studios — The Final Frontier — and after I finished that album I had some time to kill so the wife and I went to Turks and Caicos and we loved the place. [Editor's note: Piece of Mind, Powerslave and Somewhere in Time were also recorded there.] When we needed somewhere to do work on the album, I thought it would be great to go down there, bring our wives with us and have some fun.
What elements of each other's playing did you become more perceptive of while in the studio writing and recording together?
RK: I was aware of what Adrian does in Maiden, because I was a huge fan for my whole life. Prior to writing together, we had gotten together multiple times at his house in Malibu and had jam sessions. I was well aware of his singing voice and improvisation style, but one thing that was fun for me is that in my career I’ve been the only guitar player, really.
What was great with Adrian was his sense of counterpoint and melody. I remember recording certain songs and thought they were done and Adrian had ideas he’d come up with that sent it to another level.
AS: The first time I heard Richie's music, we had a barbecue in the early ‘90s and I wasn’t in Maiden at this time. A friend of mind, tennis player Pat Cash, brought Richie’s [1994 album] Mother Head’s Family Reunion, and I thought it was great.
I didn’t hear anything for many years after that and around 2010/2012, my wife played me some of his music. It was exactly what I listen to in my relaxation time. I love what I do in Maiden, but that swaggering blues rock always gets my attention. Then we became friends and started jamming.
Richie Kotzen, "Mother Head's Family Reunion" Music Video
I knew what he was capable of and I’ve seen a couple of his shows. All my solos in Maiden are 16 bars and Richie will solo for 5 minutes onstage. He’s got incredible stamina in his hands.
Watching him record was quite an eye-opener. His technique is something else. He has great feel and he doesn’t play with a lot of gain/distortion and plays very clean. He made me clean my sound up a bit.
This is the first time either of you have made an album where you're one of two guitarists. What did you appreciate about returning to that dynamic?
AS: With Maiden, we go in and it’s a more frantic energy. We play live in the studio and the last couple albums we haven’t even rehearsed and record in the studio as we’re writing it. It’s very on edge.
With Richie, we sat down together and bring a riff in and develop it. If I wanted to play some kind of solo, I’ll write the chords. I can do exactly what I want with Richie — almost. The magic is we think along the same lines 90 percent of the time and that 10 percent where you disagree makes it more interesting.
RK: The song “Taking My Chances,” Adrian came in with that riff and I had an idea. I put up a click track and jumped behind the drums and it was the only time we jammed while making the album. I played a beat, went somewhere else with it and he followed me on the groove and we got back to that riff on a five minute recording.
I came back to the control room, did some editing and came up with a chord progression for the chorus and had some melody ideas. A large portion of that master recording is that first tape from the jam. I’ve never really worked like that with anybody before.
Smith/Kotzen, "Taking My Chances" Music Video
"Some People" conjures up some big Deep Purple Stormbringer vibes. It seems obvious the MKIII lineup with Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale singing had an impact on this album.
AS: I absolutely loved that lineup. I like the idea of bands having more than one singer, and I love frontmen who play the guitar. Steve Marriott from Humble Pie was one of my early heroes. One Maiden tour we did, we supported Humble Pie with Judas Priest headlining.
RK: That’s a great album! Glenn Hughes and I go back to the early ‘90s. We wrote a couple songs together — “Stoned” and “Against the Grain” and some others. Both Glenn and David Coverdale have been a huge influence on me as singers.
I can honestly say I spent a lot of time listening to David Coverdale trying to emulate that tone and that rasp and the richness in his voice. With Glenn, his ability to sing any melody you can conjure… we both love Stevie Wonder and the soul and R&B singers.
Smith/Kotzen, "Some People"
Glenn and David picked up a lot of that sound touring America and listening to blues and R&B on the radio. Adrian, were you in tune with American blues much at all in your early years?
AS: It was more the British scene. You had this pop scene in the early ‘60s spearheaded by The Beatles, who then went over to America and heard the Delta Blues — real blues — and then they came back and you had bands like Cream come up, which was in my older brother’s record collection. By the time my ears latched on to it, it was Deep Purple, Humble Pie, Free — that tough second generation that electrified blues.
Richie, what was the first Iron Maiden show you saw?
RK: The Piece of Mind tour in 1983 at Allentown Fairgrounds in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Fastway was on the bill.
Adrian, you may remember that night in particular, as it resulted in the infamous "Mission From 'Arry," which was released as a backstage recording of an argument between Steve Harris and Nicko McBrain. How are live mistakes treated within the band now vs. back then?
I remember listening to that all go down as I had a smile on my face. It wasn't a normal band mistake though. Steve sent one of the road crew members around to extend Nicko's drum solo [while he sorted out a tech issue].
This guy wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box and sort of distracted Nicko and tapped him on the shoulder during the solo and made him make a mistake and he felt like a fool. He had a go at the road crew member and sent him off with his tail between his legs and Steve got annoyed because Nicko reamed the guy.
As far as mistakes now, we just laugh. We have a big, cheesy grin when someone hits a bum note or something, especially if it’s one of the more dramatic parts of the song, it’s quite funny. If someone is consistently fucking up, then that’s something different, but that doesn’t really happen.
Iron Maiden, "Mission From 'Arry"
Thanks to Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen for the interview. Get your copy of the 'Smith/Kotzen' album here (as Amazon affiliates we earn of qualifying purchases). Follow Adrian Smith on Instagram and follow Richie Kotzen on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Listen to the full album on Spotify.