Mike Portnoy attends the Metal Hammer Awards 2017 at Kesselhaus in...

Mike Portnoy attends the Metal Hammer Awards 2017 at Kesselhaus in Berlin, Germany.  Credit: Getty Images/Sebastian Reuter

Drummer Mike Portnoy was born with two arms, but he plays like he has six. His versatility has made him one of the most sought-after performers in hard rock and heavy metal. Although he’s internationally recognized, Portnoy’s roots are firmly planted on Long Island.

Growing up in Long Beach, Portnoy, 55, first started in the band Majesty, which made its debut at Sundance in Bay Shore in 1986. That band became Dream Theater, which took over in the ‘90s as the kings of progressive metal. Since leaving DT in 2010, Portnoy has played with a variety of bands including Avenged Sevenfold, Twisted Sister, Sons of Apollo, the Neal Morse Band and Adrenaline Mob.. 

Today, Portnoy is behind the kit in the supergroup trio The Winery Dogs along with bassist Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big) and vocalist/guitarist Richie Kotzen (Poison), which comes to the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts on Feb. 18 in support of its third album, “III.” 

Newsday’s David J. Criblez spoke to the stickman about mixing it up with Sheehan and Kotzen, why he left Dream Theater and reuniting with his old bandmate guitarist John Petrucci.

How would you describe the chemistry in the Winery Dogs? You are all three leaders and main songwriters. How does that work?

The reason it works so well is because there’s a lot of mutual respect. All three of us respect and admire each other and with that comes trust. When we got together to make the first record, you never know what the chemistry is going to be like when you come into a room together. We found that all three of us work off each other well. If Richie has a riff or a melody line and Billy or I make suggestions, he’s not very possessive or defensive over it. We will work together to make things our own. That goes for all three of us. No matter who is putting an idea on the table, we respect each other’s opinions and are open to it.

It’s been over seven years since the last Winery Dogs album. When you returned to the fold after doing multiple projects in between, how does that impact the current project going forward?

I think the time off made us hungry to work together again and appreciate how special what we have is. We did the first two albums and tours back-to-back. After that we wanted to catch our breath and go back to the other things in our personal careers. We got together to do some shows in the summer of 2019 for the fun of it. That reignited the excitement to play together again. Once we did those shows, we knew we had to do a third record because we were ready.

You play in so many different types of bands. What is the variety of your activities a reflection of?

It’s really a reflection of my musical taste. I love everything from the Beatles to Slayer. I want to be able to tap into a little bit of everything with what I do. After I left Dream Theater in 2010, that was my mission statement to get into all the different music that I love.

When you left Dream Theater to do multiple projects you received some criticism. Now it seems everybody is doing it. Does that surprise you?

Yeah, it has become the norm. For me the motivation was my diverse taste. I wanted to have a range of musicians to work with. It wasn’t out of necessity but rather a hunger to do as much as I can. I did get a lot of criticism after I left Dream Theater because people couldn’t quite understand it. Today it’s hard to find a musician who isn’t in multiple projects. It’s almost uncommon for someone not to be.

You recently recorded and toured with your old Dream Theater bandmate guitarist John Petrucci. How did you return to playing together?

It started years ago on a personal level. He and I met when we were teenagers at Berklee College of Music in Boston and put Dream Theater together. That was an entire lifetime together. Our wives play together in a band and our daughters share an apartment together in Brooklyn. There’s so much personal stuff intertwined between the two of us, even though I left Dream Theater and there were a few years of drama to get past, the personal history was too strong to not still have each other in our lives. Once 2020 hit and we were in lockdown, John wanted to work on a solo album and he called me to do that. That was our first time reconnecting on a musical level. A few months after that we did “LTE3,” the third Liquid Tension Experiment album and this past year we got on stage together for the first time in years. Every night you could feel the emotions in the room. If you looked out to the crowd, you could see grown men crying. It meant a lot to a lot of people including both John and I. The minute we played the first few notes, it was like we were 18 year-old kids back at Berklee again.

What advice do you have for young drummers who are following in your footsteps?   

It’s important to keep an open mind and listen to lots of different things. Don’t just try to be one kind of drummer. Try to play with other musicians and create music rather than playing your instrument to a camera and putting it on TikTok.

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