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Winery Dogs are your vintage rock n’ roll band

Supergroup visiting Eagles Theatre before touring around the world

The Winery Dogs, from left, Mike Portnoy, Richie Kotzen, and Billy Sheehan, will be at Eagles Theatre in Wabash on Friday, March 3.

Wheat Williams

Whatzup Features Writer

Published February 22, 2023

Rock supergroups are a strange musical animal. 

Historically, these bands have fallen into two types. In the old days, say the 1970s and ’80s, they might have been created by record label executives who selected a roster of stars in a calculated marketing plan. This, often enough, resulted in a few hit records until the cast of prima donnas with massive egos who never liked working with each other imploded in a furious spate of lawsuits. 

The second type, more common these days, has veteran rock stars who actually respect each other and decide to make music together for lower stakes and some actual enjoyment. Enter the Winery Dogs, who will be performing at Eagles Theatre in Wabash on Friday, March 3.

Finding time to get together 

In 2012, veteran bass virtuoso Billy Sheehan, best known for his work in the ’80s and ’90s with David Lee Roth and the terrifyingly sharp hair-metal-pop-band Mr. Big, looked up one of the most revered progressive rock drummers, Mike Portnoy, who a couple years earlier had left his band of 25 years, the enduringly influential Dream Theater. Wanting to form a classic rock power trio, they recruited Richie Kotzen, a guitar gunslinger who had done stints in Poison and Mr. Big. In his solo work, Kotzen stretched out as a lead singer, with a scorching, smoky voice reminiscent of the late Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave. 

The three had the business acumen to do things their way and had the connections to tour worldwide. With the members wanting to remain active in other projects, they’ve managed to come together three times in the last decade to write and record an album and tour for a year.

On Feb. 3, they released III, their first album since 2015’s Hot Streak. It’s more swaggering, sweaty, glorious rock n’ roll, with staggering chops but tempered with well-earned maturity.

Band scratches an itch

I caught up with Portnoy via Zoom from his home in Pennsylvania as The Winery Dogs planned to launch another chapter. 

Portnoy is incredibly busy, rotating his attention to no less than eight other bands, plus session work. So, why does he keep coming back to The Winery Dogs?

“All of the bands and projects I’m a part of are rooted in either prog or metal, but The Winery Dogs are neither of those,” he said. “The Winery Dogs offer a musical outlet of a style that I love, that old-school ’60s and ’70s classic rock power trio. And of course, with Richie’s styles, he brings a lot of funk and soul and R&B.

“To me, the most fulfilling part of this band, the musical outlet, is getting to tap into that style,” he added. “Then obviously working with Billy and Richie is just so much fun because both of them are just so incredibly talented. It is just an amazing group of musicians to work with.”

And his other supergroups? He lists them: “Sons of Apollo, Transatlantic, Flying Colors, Neal Morse Band, Metal Allegiance, Liquid Tension Experiment. I just did an album and a tour with John Petrucci, and I’m also about to do another session with BPMD.” 

You’ll have to look up each of those and spot the numerous luminaries from progressive rock to jazz to thrash metal, some of whom have been stars going as far back as the ’70s all the way through today.

Global touring act

Key to understanding The Winery Dogs requires a perspective that people in the U.S. often lack: They are bigger stars outside of the States than they are at home.

“The tour starts in mid-February, and we have dates that go all the way till November,” Portnoy said. “We start with a U.S. leg, or a paw, as we call them. We do February-April, take a break to go down to Brazil for some festivals and shows down there. Then we are going to resume in the States with a second paw in May to get over to the West Coast. In June, we head over to Europe throughout the summer. In the fall, we’ll be doing a full South American tour. We’re going to get over to Japan by November. 

“So, the Earth is a big place to cover,” he said. “It takes a lot of time. The three of us are fully focused and committed to the Winery Dogs for 2023.

“Anything I’m a part of does the whole world, really. The world’s a bigger place than just America. People in America don’t realize that, but these other markets like South America and Europe or Asia are in a lot of ways bigger markets than America.”

All of this means that we’re lucky to be able to see the Winery Dogs in the intimate Eagles Theatre, which seats about 500. Those tickets are going fast.

Adapting to different styles

I’m a longtime fan of another project of Portnoy’s, possibly the grandest, most-pompous-and-proud-of-it prog rock band of all time, Transatlantic. 

I asked him to contrast how going out with this power trio is different than playing in a progressive rock supergroup. 

“I don’t think one is more difficult or complicated than the other,” he said. “I’m a fan of all different kinds of music. So what The Winery Dogs do are in the vein of Cream and Hendrix and The Who and Zeppelin, and that’s a huge part of my background. But so is what I do with Neal Morse and Transatlantic, which is rooted in Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and The Beatles. So it’s just another side of me. And even though Transatlantic does 30-, 40-, 90-minute songs(!), that’s just as easy for me as playing five-minute songs with The Winery Dogs. It’s just an extension of what I do. I’m comfortable with all the different hats I wear in all the different bands I play with. It’s just a matter of changing hats and shifting gears.”

For 2023, Portnoy, Sheehan, and Kotzen will be in the highest gear, revving up that motor, blowing your hat off, and blazing a path around the world with The Winery Dogs.


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