The Ultimate Jam Night Interviews with Monte Pittman
At Ultimate Jam Night 64, guitar virtuoso Monte Pittman participated on a number of songs – including a powerhouse version of the classic Skid Row tune Youth Gone Wild – which also featured original Skid Row member Scotti Hill on guitar and Jacob Bunton of Lynam and Adler on lead vocals.
Monte Pittman is best known as the longtime guitarist for the iconic Madonna – and he’s spent some quality time in the long running metal collective Prong. Pittman has also released his own visionary brand of solo artistry, the latest magnum opus being The Power Of Three from Metal Blade Records!
Highwire Daze Online caught up with Monte backstage at the world famous Whisky A Go Go for an interview, just right before Pittman would dazzle the Ultimate Jam Night 65 crowd with his thrilling axe work in a rousing rendition of the Guns N’ Roses classic Welcome To The Jungle. Read on…
How did you become with Ultimate Jam Night and how many times have you participated?
I have lost count with how many times I have participated. I don’t remember who the first person that I played with. One thing happens after another, you play with one person and then you meet another person and then you play a song with them the next week. It’s a small world, small town, small community. You become friends with everybody.
Is there any particular night that stands out as being one that’s particularly special?
Every night has something special. What surprised me was a couple of weeks ago, we did a couple of David Bowie songs, but those came off really well. Which you know I thought was going to be another night, but that was so great, everybody really liked it.
How did your association with Madonna happen, what happened the first time you met her?
She was always really cool to me since I first met her. I started giving her guitar lessons, and then you know, long story short – then it was a month after she first started taking lessons from me she asked me to play on David Letterman with her and then from there she was going on tour again. She hadn’t been on tour in like seven years and she said that she still wanted me to come on tour with her and teach her and then she was going to need a guitar player so why don’t you play guitar for me. (And now it’s) Sixteen years later. Letterman was the first time playing with her.
Describe what was going through your mind the first time you played with her.
Letterman was like, everything went by so fast and I mean it just didn’t seem real. It was really cold outside. I remember going out into the room backstage and Biff was going to tell me when to come on and I had both of our guitars and the guitars wouldn’t stay in tune because it was so cold in Letterman Studios, it was such a drastic difference for the guitars and I was worried I couldn’t keep the guitars in tune and I was in the back far corner trying to tune and Biff would come over and tell me “SHHH”, cause they were doing the interview. And then he says just to go out on stage, so I go walk out on stage and I don’t know if I’m going to go sit at the table like where he interviews. Then we were going on the stage and play. I didn’t know what was going to happen but I just went and sat down on the stool, she came over, I gave her a guitar, and then there’s all these lights in your face you can’t even see the audience. So I didn’t know how many people were there and I was just so cold. It was hard to concentrate and we started playing and I remember almost said, “wait, what if we are not in tune? What if, I wonder if I should stop? I wonder if I should say, ‘Hey, let’s stop and tune and start again’.” Which I’m glad I didn’t do that. It wasn’t like you felt like you were on TV.
What was the experience like playing the 2012 Superbowl?
It was another thing that went by fast. You only have a few minutes to get out there on the stage. The whole performance is probably twelve minutes long and that went by really fast. It wasn’t guitar heavy at all, so I kinda just had the best seat in the house. Like when we did Like a Prayer, you know I can play that with my eyes closed, so I was playing that and just kinda looking around and seeing everybody had these sort of lights. I don’t know if it was on their phones, I don’t know what it was, but it lit up the entire stadium and it was a cool sight. It made everything almost look like fluorescent.
You spent some time with Prong. How did that come about?
I started playing with Prong, like right after I’ve first moved out to L.A. from Texas. A mutual friend Ivan de Prume who use to play drums for White Zombie introduced me to Tommy Victor. I was a huge Prong fan and that’s why Ivan introduced us. And then I met Tommy and went over to his apartment one night At first he said he might sell some of his amps and guitars and I said, I’ll buy them all. Prong’s “Cleansing” is one of my favorite albums. One of the best sounding metal albums. I was tuning his guitar and he was saying something like, yeah, we can do this. We can do that. Saying we. Are you saying I’m in the band? He’s like, well yeah! [laughs] I’m like, what? Ok. On the way home, I called my friends. Hey, I’m in Prong now. I played with them for about 10 years and it got to a point where he needed somebody who can be there all the time. My schedule – the good thing is I’m busy all the time but the bad thing is, things suffer because you can’t be in two places at once.
Is there any story behind the title of your current solo album “The Power of Three?”
It’s the third album. It’s a saying. Kind of the first album too, starting over. It emphasizes the power of three. It’s also a musical term. The three in music tells you if the chord is major or minor, a lot of different things around that.
Who are some of the special guests you had on Power of Three?
That one, Alex Skolnick did a guest guitar solo. Chris Barnes did a guest vocal. All in the same song, the last one. “All’s Fair in Love and War.” I’ve had people tell me I should have shortened that song and made it a single, they really liked it. I wanted to make the song as long as possible, it’s thirteen minutes long and it had all these parts in it. And at the end of the song, I was going to get my different friends together and have them all do solos but Alex is the only one who actually got to do solos. There’s like, 5 solos and Alex is in the middle there. I put in the credits where he is because there are so many. But you can tell where it’s obviously him.
You mentioned you’re working on a new album? Tell me a little about it.
Just finished the next album, it’ll be out this year on Metal Blade again. We’re in the mixing process now. Once it’s mixed, go to mastering which should be easy and we’ll have the final artwork in the next few weeks. So I’ll be ready to turn the whole thing in, in a couple of weeks. Then we’ll get a release date, probably in the fall. Hopefully we can get some singles out before then, like late summer maybe. I leave all that to them, they definitely know what they’re doing when it comes to putting out an album.
Will we see you perform in any songs off of your solo Metal Blade albums? Will you do any touring yourself?
Oh yeah, hopefully somebody will have me as an opening act. The music is a lot heavier and a lot faster and a lot more balls out than the last album.
What’s up next for you in the near future?
Working on getting that album out. And I’ve been playing in the LA KISS House Band.
Tell me about that.
It’s LA KISS’ football team. We do a thirty minute set of slower songs as the doors are opening and the opposing team is on the field so we can bum them out with slower songs. We play throughout the game, a few songs at halftime and then after the game, we do like a real set. People can come down on the field, meet the players and cheerleaders.
Have you ever played Madonna any heavy metal?
Well yeah – we did the riff from Pantera’s “A New Level” in the 2008/2009 on tour. It came from me, I showed her that riff and she’d always play it. She likes everybody. She had Maverick Records, they signed The Deftones. A great thing about playing with her, you get to play so many different styles. There’s always acoustic stuff, the funky stuff, the clean atmospheric stuff like songs from the Ray of Light album. Then we always do something kind of heavy, something distorted. Like on this last tour we just did, the Rebel Heart tour. We did “Burning Up” and it was with distorted guitars.We didn’t sound like Iron Maiden, but it was an interesting juxtaposition how the guitars are heavy and how it fits with the theme of burning up, how it fit with the theme of the show at the time. But then the drums were the original drum sounds and the keys were original from the album, from the recording.
Be sure to check out Ultimate Jam Night every Tuesday at the world famous Whisky A Go Go on the Sunset Strip!
(Interview by Ken Morton – Live Photos by Jack Lue)