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Mike Portnoy and The Winery Dogs: On the road again

Mike Portnoy of The Winery Dogs
Mike Portnoy of The Winery Dogs
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

If you look at the tour calendar on Mike Portnoy’s website, you’ll immediately notice that from April 3 to April 29, the Winery Dogs drummer appears to be taking a break.

Say it ain’t so Mike.

“We’re still a month away,” he laughs. “Who knows what might happen.”

Of course, asking if Portnoy is slacking off is done in a joking manner, as the New Yorker is renowned (maybe even notorious) for being one of the hardest working folks in the music business.

“I am the living definition of it,” he said. “I am the Dave Grohl of Prog.”

Just back in the United States after 14 dates in Europe with Transatlantic, Portnoy and his comrades in The Winery Dogs – Richie Kotzen and Billy Sheehan - will reunite for another leg of their own tour, which hits B.B. King’s in New York City Tuesday and Wednesday, and this kind of hectic schedule is just what he likes.

“I need to be busy and I need to have my hand in a million things,” said Portnoy. “It’s just my nature. It’s not something you can become. I was just born that way. I was always obsessive-compulsive, and even all those years in Dream Theater, I just had to do everything and have my hands in every single aspect of being in a band. I’m a workaholic and I need to play with as many different people, doing as many different things as I can, and taking advantage of life while I have it.”

The 46-year-old isn’t just working for the sake of it though, as the man considered to be one of the premier drummers in the world is at the height of his powers, something evident on The Winery Dogs’ acclaimed first album, even if its focus is on the songs, not on the instrumental prowess of the trio.

“That was always the focus from Day One,” said Portnoy. “As soon as the three of us got together, we immediately established that we didn’t want this to be some instrumental wankfest. This was something that was going to be song-oriented and vocal-oriented, and something that moved us that way. I think that’s where we’re all at and we’re all on the same page. Richie’s been doing that for so long now, but Billy and I have always been associated with a million notes and technique and stuff like that. Yet the two of us are such fans of a good song and three-part vocal harmonies, so we were really looking to do something in that vein, and that was always the calling card for this band.”

It worked. While most Supergroups of this sort pull in the hardcore rock fans and those who love songs featuring endless solos from all members of the group, The Winery Dogs have made that move to reach a wider audience, making several “Best of 2013” lists as well as #27 on the “Top 200 Albums” chart. Not bad for three vets of the biz getting a second life on the charts after previous success with the likes of Dream Theater, David Lee Roth, Mr. Big, and Poison.

“All three of us could not be happier with the reception so far,” he said. “It’s been incredible. We went out for a lot of last year and toured all over the world, from South America to Japan to Europe to America, and everywhere we went it was so well-received. The fans have embraced it, and not only the fans, but the critics and all across the board. So it’s so satisfying, especially at this point in all three of our careers. We’ve all been doing this for a long time now, but when you come together with something new, you kind of build it from scratch, no matter how established you are individually. And the fact that it’s been so well received makes us want to continue to take this as far as we can.”

That’s great news for fans, and while the songs have been the obvious catalyst for their success, behind the scenes it’s been the ability of three veteran stars to put their egos to the side for the greater good of the band.

“I think the fact that all three of us have had our individual careers and individual acclaim kind of helps to keep the egos in check,” said Portnoy. “It wasn’t like a band where you had two guys that had done something and one was a newcomer. All of us had been around the block and have been doing this for 20-30 years now, so we had that mutual respect and we know what each person brings into the big picture.”

Not being a bunch of 20 year old kids getting their first dose of the rock and roll lifestyle doesn’t hurt either.

“We’ve all been there, done that,” he said. “We’ve played the Budokan multiple times and been around the world dozens of times, so at this point it’s about the music. When the three of us came together, we didn’t have this master plan of being the next Guns N’ Roses; we had this master plan of getting together and making some music that the three of us enjoy. It was all about us seeing what the three of us could make together. If it gets us off, let’s stick with it. That was always the goal, and so far we’ve achieved that goal. We made an album that all three of us are incredibly proud of and really enjoy listening to and playing.”

And despite their years in the business, when the lights come on, it’s still that same feeling they had the first time.

“When you do it this long, it’s easy to become jaded, and I think that’s part of the reason why I needed to make some changes in my career,” said Portnoy. “I needed some fresh blood and excitement and to work with some different people that can create that. Even though I’ve played Madison Square Garden, I can still get on stage at B.B. King’s and get that same buzz, as long as it’s with the right people and the people in the audience are genuinely excited about what you’re doing. If it’s something fresh and something new, yeah, that buzz will always be there.”

The Winery Dogs play the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York City on Tuesday, March 25 and Wednesday, March 26

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