Meet Monte Pittman, Madonna’s guitarist and former guitar teacher

Guitarist Monte Pittman will be backing Madge up this weekend at the MGM Grand.
Jeremy Saffer

You know what they say: Those who can’t, teach. Well, Monte Pittman is living proof that adage is a bunch of bull. Not only will he be backing Madonna onstage at the MGM this weekend, he’s the one who taught the pop icon how to shred it up on the guitar.

While waiting to play a recent gig in Seattle, the Texas native took the time to chat about his famous students, how he landed the gig with Madge and more.

How did you land the Madonna gig?

I started giving her guitar lessons, and then from there she started taking it seriously and then she asked me to join her band and come on tour with her. I’ve been here ever since.


October 13-14, 8 p.m., $45-$380
MGM Grand, 891-7777

How did you end up teaching her how to play the guitar?

I had worked in a music store, I worked at the Guitar Center in Hollywood, and I quit and started teaching lessons, kind of to become my own boss. At the time I was living down in Redondo Beach in L.A., and then driving up to Hollywood and working, and then after that going up to Burbank and rehearsing … just doing that, that took up my whole day. And so I thought, “Well, what if I just start teaching guitar lessons?” which I had done back when I had lived in Texas. … Guy Ritchie was my third student, I think third student, and they were dating at the time. So I started teaching Guy and from there I started teaching her.

How did you land these crazy famous students?

Well, Guy’s assistant at the time, Nathan, he called the Guitar Center looking for guitar teachers, and that’s why I started teaching, because you never heard of any teachers. I never had when I worked there, there were only a few names that I had to give to people, and customers would come back saying, “Do you have anybody else I’d be more happy with?” So I was like, “Why don’t I do this?” … A lot of people would go to the Musician’s Institute … but Los Angeles is such a big city, you also want to find somebody close to where you are.

Was Madonna a good student?

Oh yes. I could tell that she had gone over everything that I had given her by the time of her next lesson, whether she had it down exactly or not. Teaching somebody like her … She’s already done more than what most people aspire to do, learning guitar and trying to make it or whatever. She just loved it and she had that musical sense about her already.

You began touring with her in 2001, correct?

Yeah, 2001 was the first tour with her. The first time I played with her was on David Letterman, which was 12 years ago now. But yeah, this is the fifth world tour. There’s been promo tours also.

Wow – David Letterman? That’s a pretty awesome first gig to have with the Queen of Pop.

Yeah, she asked me to come play Letterman with her; I thought she was joking with me. It was like a Monday when I found out and we filmed on a Thursday, so things changed rapidly. … I hadn’t even been teaching her a month before that happened.

Are you a studio musician for her as well?

I’ve played on a couple things. I played on some of Confessions on a Dance Floor and Hard Candy. I’ve written a couple of things here and there, I’ve co-written with her – it just depends. If there’s guitar needed, she’ll call me in; she has in the past. Sometimes producers have a group of musicians that they already work with, so she may get a track that already has guitar on it … so what’s the point of redoing it just to be me? It’s just a different situation with everybody you would work with. Yeah, I played on Confessions and Hard Candy, didn’t do anything on the MDNA album. I did some stuff for other people. I played on Sophie Ellis Bexter’s album, Mel C from Spice Girls, a couple of things. I don’t even remember anymore (laughs).

You’re on the road right now. What are you currently up to?

We’re in Seattle, we play tonight and tomorrow night. I did a solo show last night here, and I’ve been doing those when I can. At first I didn’t know if I was going to have time to do them. I did one in New York, that kind of got me going again, because I had to kind of put my solo career on hold, in a sense, when I left to do this tour. We played the Superbowl beginning of February, and [then] I went home, I had a week. And then I was [in L.A.] for the L.A. Music Awards, I think that was the one it was. They nominated me for four categories, but I won best artist and I closed their ceremony … The next night I headlined The Whiskey, on Saturday, for the first time. … I grew up in East Texas, so headlining The Whiskey on a Saturday night, that’s almost unthinkable. … I got on the plane, the first flight out, the next morning, and left to start doing rehearsals for this tour. I did some things in Europe, mainly a couple of TV things. I booked a gig in New York, I did that, had a great turnout … I played with a friend of mine in Chicago and then I just played Seattle last night, so now I’m trying to fill in some gigs when I can, because … I’m all excited about doing that again.

Has it been difficult finding a balance between your solo career and touring with Madonna?

It hasn’t been. The hard part is finding a place that has availability on whatever your day off is. I had a day off yesterday, so I was able to book a show. And we only booked it like a week, maybe two weeks before. We didn’t have a lot of time to promote it and all that, but mainly just to get out there and keep playing and see who comes out and just kind of build a relationship with the cities, because I’m working on booking my own tour next year in the spring. I’m doing everything on my own, I’m not on a record label or anything like that. You just have to take it step by step.

You mentioned you’re currently working on your third album. Is there a release date yet?

It’s coming out in three parts, and the first part comes out November 19. I’ve got some songs that are stripped-down acoustic songs, and then I’ve got some songs that are like super heavy and then some songs that are blues songs. So I’m releasing each of those in three parts and I’m working with the producer Flemming Rasmussen. He’s my favorite producer ever. He did Kat Stevens, Rainbow, Morbid Angel. But mainly what I really love is that he did the classic Metallica albums: Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, …And Justice for All. That’s the stuff I grew up on, that’s the stuff I still listen to to this day. So it’s great having somebody who you can reference something that’s [one of] your favorite albums. Like, “Hey, can you give it this sound like you did on this song?” So I’m excited for what else we have coming up in the future.


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