Had he been born in the south of Spain, Richie Kotzen reasons he likely would have grown up doing his best to hypnotize audiences with spellbinding flamenco licks.
Fate, on the other hand, had a much different plan for The Winery Dogs guitarist.
Kotzen was raised in Reading, Berks County, and started playing the six-string at the age of five. It was a relatively close proximity to Philadelphia that would shape and mold his distinctive hybrid of classic rock-infused lightning-fast fretwork, old-school soul and R&B.
"I grew up listening to Philadelphia radio. The first concert I remember was in Valley Forge (Pennsylvania), seeing Stevie Wonder and shortly after that I saw George Benson," Kotzn said during a April 23 phone interview. "I know why I hear music the way I hear music... Your influenced by your surroundings, but in the end you end up creating your own kind of thing."
That melting pot of influences is loudly and proudly displayed on Kotzen's latest solo effort, Salting Earth. The bombastic, balls-to-the-wall rock 'n' roll Kotzen has been perfecting for the last years is evenly balanced with groovier -- occasionally funkier -- and more slow-burning cuts.
Kotzen said his approach to songwriting has not wavered much over the years. He will often go long stretches of time -- weeks, months -- without writing. Suddenly, Kotzen said, he will be flooded with ideas as the creative juices start to flow.
"You have to get away from the music and get away from it for a while and get inspired," Kotzen said. "With Salting Earth, I finished the album last year. I put it way and didn't play music for four or five months. I told myself if I go back and listen to it and like it I'll put it out... And that's what happened.
"When I'm alone, that's the ultimate creative situation. Something comes to you and you see it to fruition without distraction."
Kotsen is touring behind the album with his backing band, which is rounded out by bassist Dylan Wilson and drummer Mike Bennett. He performs May 17 at Musikfest Cafe in Bethlehem.
"We've had such great audiences, just playing together at a level we've never played before," Kotzen said. "Now with the acoustic elements and the piano, the show is just so much more fun for us."
He added, "We know so much back catalog, we'll probably do a different set list every night."
Kotzen first wound up on the radar of guitar aficionados when he was signed to Shrapnel Records at age 19. In 1989, Kotzen released his self-titled debut solo effort in 1989.
Two years later, Kotzen joined glam metal rockers Poison and recorded the album Native Tongue. The album spawned the singles "Stand" and "Until You Suffer Some (Fire and Ice)," both of which were co-written by Kotzen. (Kotzen left Poison in 1993.)
He later replaced guitarist Paul Gilbert in Mr. Big, a role he held on to from 1997 to 2002.
In 2013, Kotzen formed hard rock supergroup The Winery Dogs with drummer Mike Portnoy -- best known for his stick work with progressive rock band Dream Theater -- and Mr. Big and former David Lee Roth bassist Billy Sheehan. The Winery Dogs have since released two albums: 2013's The Winery Dogs and 2015's Hot Streak.
"Sometimes you have a situation where you're injecting yourself in a project with other guys and interpreting (the music). The first record was a hybrid of stuff we worked on together and stuff previously written and brought into the band," Kotzen explained. "A lot of the Hot Streak record, the original nucleus of the record, came from bass exercises and bass riffs.
"There's no rules to this shit. It just comes from wherever it comes."
Kotzen there is a certain, undeniably unique chemistry he shares with Portnoy and Sheehan that makes The Winery Dogs click so well. He said the fact that all of each of its members have very different musical tastes adds to, not takes away, from the dynamic captured in the studio and on stage.
"The one thing we could always agree on is we all love The Who. Then our tastes go in different directions," Kotzen said. "Mike Portnoy has the Mike Portnoy thing. Billy Sheehan has a thing. I'm a singer-songwriter guy. My first priority is the song. I'm bringing that to the table. They have unique ways of playing their instruments. To me, that's the charm of The Winery Dogs. If you replaced anyone in the band, it wouldn't work.
"We signed a contract that if anybody quits the band, it's done. We knew this was not going to be some kind of revolving door."
For Kotzen, the journey and growth takes away from various experiences in a career is what keeps him focused and moving forward. The most important thing I have really found, not that I didn't before, is you get closer and closer to who you really are and realize what's best for you and for the right reasons. You get to a certain level of clarity and a certain level of confidence.
"I'm a weird animal. I don't have a to-do list. I'm a day-by-day guy. I always focus on what I can control."
Richie Kotzen performs 7:30 p.m. May 17 at Musikfest Cafe. Tickets cost $25-$30 in advance, $28-$33 at the door.