Mike Portnoy: The Winery Dogs are a modern day version of The Who

The Winery Dogs studio portrait
(Image credit: Travis Shinn)

As drummer Mike Portnoy reminds us, most supergroups never make it to a third album. Admittedly, The Winery Dogs, the all-star power trio he formed a decade back with bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist Richie Kotzen, have taken their sweet time – no studio material since 2017’s Dog Years EP – but with this year’s III they remain a going concern, fusing their formidable musical chops to deliver some appealingly route-one songs.


You three must have high standards. Is it difficult to let an album go? 

Nah, we’re easy. All three of us work really naturally together and the germ for the music comes super-quick. When you’re in a band with four or five people, everything gets bogged down. The three-people chemistry is so much easier. I think that’s why bands like Rush and ZZ Top have sustained so long. 

How would you describe the band’s musical vibe? 

Well, I can tell you two things The Winery Dogs are not, and it’s the two biggest genres of everything else I do, which is prog and metal. It’s really more of that old-school, classic-rock, power-trio sound, rooted in late-60s and early-70s stuff like Cream, Hendrix and Zeppelin. This band is a three-ring circus. No matter who you watch on stage, you’re gonna get entertained. It’s a similar dynamic to The Who. If you listen to Live At Leeds, Keith and John are going insane, Roger and Pete are holding it together. 

With The Winery Dogs you have the rhythm section going nuts and Richie is the anchor. What were the challenges you came up against with this record? 

It’s easy for me. Of all the bands I’m a part of, this one has the shortest songs, the least odd time signatures. The longest song for the Winery Dogs is seven minutes. With the Neal Morse Band or Transatlantic, seven minutes in, we wouldn’t even have hit the opening verse yet.

The Winery Dogs' III is out now via Three Dog Music.

So are there songs here that a garage band could play? 

Well, you could play any of them on an acoustic guitar. But the special sauce is that all three musicians are sprinkling it with fire and juice. The songs are simple, but the musicianship is really pushing it. 

Isn’t it tempting to flex that virtuosity all the time? 

If you look at the way we played in our twenties, even Richie was doing shred albums for Shrapnel Records. In your twenties you want to go for it and blow your wad on everything. But with age you learn to tone it down. We could really play anything we can imagine. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. 

This is the Dogs’ third album. Which is your favourite third album of all time? 

Let me see… Zeppelin III would not be my favourite Zeppelin album. It’s too early for The Beatles. Rush’s Caress Of Steel is not one of their best. The Yes Album was a great third album. Queen’s Sheer Heart Attack. Kiss’s Dressed To Kill

We’re curious, what actually is a winery dog? 

I don’t know, it was a name Richie brought up. Honestly, I wasn’t the biggest fan, but the argument was: “Well, what’s an Aerosmith?” Alice In Chains – who the fuck knows what that is? At the end of the day it’s the band that makes the name.

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.