The world has Nathalie Dufresne-Smith to thank for Smith/Kotzen.
Turns out the wife of Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith first got her husband together with six-string virtuoso Richie Kotzen, who, in addition to two dozen solo albums, has played with Poison, Mr. Big, the Winery Dogs and more. Then, after the two had developed a friendship and musical rapport, Nathalie gave them the push they needed to go from jamming to writing and recording.
“This is the first time I have actually told the factual story about how we met,” Kotzen tells UCR.
“One night, I was out, driving around L.A. with one of my best friends, and we went into this place that I used to frequent a lot called the Sunset Marquis. It’s a tiny little bar inside of a hotel in West Hollywood. My friend and I just started talking to his woman, and my friend told her that I was a musician. It turns out that this was Adrian Smith’s wife Nathalie.”
Watch Smith/Kotzen’s ‘Taking My Chances’ Video
The two kept in touch, and when Adrian came out to Los Angeles a while later, the guitar heroes were introduced. Over a few years, the pair got to know each other as friends and players when the Smiths would host parties at their house and epic jam sessions would eventually happen.
“We hit it off, and it turned into this thing where we would all hang out whenever they came to town, and Adrian’s wife and my wife became really great friends,” Kotzen explains. “Eventually, somebody, and I think it was Nathalie, said, ‘You guys should try and write something.’”
Smith recalls the beginnings of the project similarly.
“My wife spotted this,” he notes. “Because sometimes it takes an outsider to give you a bit of guidance, and by outsider I mean outside the music.”
Watch Smith/Kotzen’s ‘Scars’ Video
The two talents spent a lot of time doing covers and trading licks, bonding over heavy, blues-descended rock of the ’70s, like early Rod Stewart, Bad Company and Humble Pie. The duo’s LP finds the musicians sounding relaxed even as they explore new territory. Smith/Kotzen often feels like that heavy blues-rock of the ’70s that both guys love.
But with world tours and albums to make with other people, neither musician thought about a true artistic collaboration. But Nathalie did.
“She said, ‘You play well together, you sing well together, you should try and write some songs and see what happens,’” Smith explains. “And that’s just what we did. We sat down with guitars and microphones and started singing and playing, and by the end of the day we had a couple songs. The chemistry was there.
“It’s not a given when you sit down with someone that it’s going to work, and I have sat down with a lot of people and it hasn’t worked. But with Richie, we just went back and forth [with ideas], and it worked, so we decided to run with it and do an album.”
Watch Smith/Kotzen’s ‘Running’ Lyric Video
Smith says he loves music, enjoys being in Los Angeles and getting plugged into different groups of players, but he’s not the type of person to push himself to turn a new relationship into a full-blown project. Having his wife’s encouragement about the new friendship and budding artistic partnership helped seal the deal. “You know what they say, behind every good man there’s a good woman,” he chuckles.
The duo spent a year or two writing and recorded the album before lockdowns made musical collaborations harder. Originally, the plan was to tour the Smith/Kotzen band right away. While those plans are on indefinite hold because both artists will need to make up other dates when things open up again — Smith with Maiden and Kotzen on an extensive solo tour — they both insist that getting on the road together will happen as soon as their schedules and safety allows.
Until then, there’s plenty of time to let the next collaboration percolate. Maybe one with Kotzen’s wife, Julia Lage – a bassist, singer and songwriter. “Richie’s wife is a fantastic musician,” Smith says.