Johnny Depp is many things, but some still do not realize that, aside from being one of the hottest actors on the planet, he is also a bonafide musician. In fact, Johnny claims that music is his first love and that he feels he is a musician, before he is an actor. Having played in bands, as a guest performer on the albums of some of the biggest names in music, co-starring in music videos, even producing, Johnny makes no bones about admitting that he is just a rockstar at heart.
Johnny began his love affair with music at the age of twelve. His mother bought him a Decca electric guitar for twenty-five bucks, and the budding guitar player began to teach himself guitar chords.
From his own music website, Johnny says, “When I was twelve, I talked my mom into picking up a Decca electric guitar for me for twenty-five dollars. It had a little blue plush amp. And then, this is horrible, the first thing I did was steal a Mel Bay chord book. I went to this store, stuffed it down my pants and walked out. It had pictures – that’s why I needed it so badly, because it was immediate gratification. If I could match those photographs, then I was golden. I conquered it in days. I locked the bedroom door, didn’t leave, and taught myself how to play chords. I started learning songs by ear. Every kid with a guitar at that time, the first things that came up were almost alwaysSmoke on the Water, obviously, and 25 or 6 to 4,by Chicago. But the first song I played all the way through must have been Stairway to Heaven. I remember getting through the finger-picking and just cursing Jimmy Page. When I was about thirteen, I got together with some other kids in the neighborhood. This one guy had a bass, we knew a guy who had a PA system, we made our own lights. It was really ramshackle and great. We’d play at people’s backyard parties. Everything from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin to Cheap Trick to Devo – and Johnny B. Goode was the closer.”
After spending his teen years playing in various, local garage bands, he joined The Kids. The Kids were well known around the South Florida music scene. Johnny remained with the band from 1980, until their breakup in the Summer of 1984. The Kids started out as The Kydz, before Johnny joined, and can be seen in an old newspaper article here. The band has reunited a number of times, most recently in 2008 for a benefit concert honoring Sheila Witkin, a manager of local South Florida bands in the Seventies and Eighties and the mother of Bruce Witkin, Depp’s childhood friend and bandmate. An amateur video of the performance can be seen at the end of this article. After leaving The Kids, Johnny played in two other bands, Rock City Angels, followed by P.
Johnny, on being in a band: “Music was huge for me. I loved playing the guitar and playing in a band and just hanging out with guys who loved music and pretty much felt the same way about school and life that I did. Even though I knew at one point that I would never be a great guitar player, I still loved the freedom that came from playing in a band. My band was good enough to open for Iggy Pop and that was a wild time for us. Music was the thing that got me out of pumping gas and indirectly led me into acting.”
“We opened for Chuck Berry once, in Atlanta. Back then, the majority of the time, he didn’t have a regular touring band. He’d just show up in a town and there would be a band there, local guys. I think he assumed that we were his band, so he walked into our dressing room, put his guitar down – I was dumbstruck. I was seventeen. He plops back, looks at me and says, “What’s the matter, young blood?” I said, “Nothing, nothing.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him his dressing room was upstairs. Then he asked if we’d tune his guitar. So we got that fuckin’ red 335 and tuned it up. A bunch of kids.” (Source: Rolling Stone, July 13, 2006)
Throughout Johnny’s Hollywood career, he’s played as a guest guitar player for the likes of Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Oasis, and Shane MacGowan. In February 1992, Johnny played with The Partibrejkers, a Serbian rock/punk blues group, while in Belgrade for the Belgrade International Film Festival to promote Arizona Dream.
In 1993, Johnny and fellow musician Chuck E. Weiss opened the famed Hollywood night club, The Viper Room. The Viper Room’s intimate setting appealed to many popular musicians. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played opening night on August 14, 1993. Johnny and his band, P, took the stage sometimes, joined occasionally by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols. Bruce Springstein once held an impromptu concert at The Viper Room. In December 1993, Johnny Cash took the stage and was introduced by Johnny with the following: “Ladies and gentlemen, I can’t believe I get to say this: Johnny Cash!” Two songs Cash performed that night were recorded and included on his album American Recordings.
Johnny has been the producer of albums or individual tracks on albums on several occasions. Johnny was credited as executive producer for “Devil With Blue Suede Shoes” on Chuck E. Weiss’ album Extremely Cool The album was released on February 2, 1999. Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys was an idea born from a fascination of pirate and sailor lore during the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean. Co-produced by Johnny and Gore Verbinski, the two-disk set features popular artists such as Bono, Sting and Nick Cave singing songs of the seas and the men who sailed them. Rogue’s Gallery was released in August 2006.
Over the years, Johnny has had his hand in various projects. He has appeared in Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ music video “Into the Great Wide Open” and The Lemonheads ”It’s a Shame About Ray” music video. He made a cameo as the Mad Hatter in the music video for Avril Lavigne’s “Alice” in 2010. He performed lead guitar and drums for a cover of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”, which appeared as a bonus track on some editions of Marilyn Manson’s 2012 album Born Villain., also performing live with Marilyn Manson in the Revolver Golden Gods Awards 2012, performing various songs of Marilyn Manson. He also appeared in the music video of “My Valentine” from the album Kisses on the Bottom by Paul McCartney released in February 2012, along with Natalie Portman.
Only time will tell what Johnny will do next, but for now, take a look at the video of Johnny and The Kids performing at Club Cinema in Pompano Beach, FL in 2008.