On the other hand, if you dig the sounds of Jesse Malin, Ryan Adams or Marky Ramone and the Intruders, then the chances are you’ll know exactly who bass player Johnny Pisano is, what he has done, where he has been and where he is going, music-wise.
For me, it was via a Jesse Malin gig a couple of years ago in Leeds that I first saw Johnny play. The band were in the UK promoting Jesse’s second album, The Heat and apparently I smiled for the entire show that night, not that I was aware of being observed from the stage I might add, but yeah… I did have a great time!
Johnny’s name came to my attention again after he appeared on stage with Bruce Springsteen at the 2004 Flood Aid show in Pittsburgh… so yes, as you can see, Johnny’s name had stored itself in my musicians-I-want-to-remember box.
Watching Johnny keepin’ the groove as he plays bass guitar is a fascinating experience, and one of the things that is most noticeable about him is the length of his fingers; when he plays, he uses three of them, a technique which resulted in Marky Ramone dubbing him “Fingers” as per the lightning fast speed with which Johnny plays.
Along the way, Johnny has given a few in-depth interviews about his life and career as a musician, including an intimate look at his bathroom in a very Frank Zappa sort of way!
Fast forward to now and www.myspace.com/maggiepowell
“MySpace” is one of several online networking communities that demonstrates the “small world phenomenon” and not surprisingly, is rapidly becoming THE place to hear, as well as to market, new music. And that is precisely where I caught up with Johnny.
As you will see below, Johnny was kind and patient enough to reply to a whole bunch of stuff I recently ran past him… and yeah, I know this might sound like we were having a cosy chat over a cup of coffee but in reality, this interview took place by e-mail. I began by asking Johnny about HisSpace on MySpace, it’s concept and how he first heard about it.
Johnny:I heard about “Friendster” and “Orkut” in So. America and I looked into it… and to be honest I was afraid of it ‘cause it looked like a great place for people to gossip, and I hate gossip. Jesse Malin has a message board connected to his site and he actually has people watching it and taking stuff off, ‘cause people can be malicious or say things that aren’t true… but I took the chance and joined, and waited… and nothing happened (that I know of) so its great…
What are your experiences of it so far?
Johnny: Well at first I didn’t want any “friends” out of fear I would be introducing the wrong people to one another. But it’s been working out really good, so now I have my friend Keith Derouin from Seattle helping me make it look nice ‘cause I’m not good with that html shit.
Have you denied any “friend” requests yet??
Johnny: Na’ everyone is welcome, unless there’s a problem…
Can we talk a little about the music you have chosen for your MySpace Player… they’re all “you” but from quite different angles… let’s begin with Sam’s Song – I love this, it has a Pink Floyd-esque feel to it… would you like to tell me the story behind it please?
Johnny: Sure Maggie… the truth is I can write bass lines like crazy and have plenty musical ideas for collaborating with people, but I rarely write my own song from start to finish. I have ideas that I sing into a tape recorder or even in my cell phone, but then they just sit there… I’m lazy with my own shit, but if I’m doing it for someone else, I’ll finish it.
So anyway, my niece Samantha was turning 16 and I realized how fast time goes by… I wanted to be the uncle she came to for advice and stuff and I really wasn’t around as much as I wanted to be all these years. So I thought about that and the words started to flow. I surprised her with it at her “sweet sixteen party”. I gave some copies out that had the words in it, they read along and some family members started to cry. So the surprise went over well.
I recorded it at Don Dilego’s studio and he helped me produce it, he played piano, drum samples, a little guitar, backing vocals and added those weird sounds that give it that “Pink Floyd” feel. I sang, played upright bass, and acoustic guitar.
TKO is just brilliant and I *love* the opening bass lines… what memories does this song evoke for you when you hear it now?
Johnny:I still love that song, and Paul Garisto’s laid-back drum beat really brings that bass line to life. I remember sitting with Jesse alone when we used to rehearse at Giorgio’s green door space… he started singing and I started playing… and that’s what came out of me. Later I gave him the three chords for the bridge; he’s a great writer I wish I could write words like that.
Don’t Think – a million miles away from Sam’s Song in terms of genre, so what made you choose this particular track for your play list?
Johnny: Honestly, I just wanted to put songs on the MySpace thing that I wrote, or was a part in writing. And yea, I’ve done some different stuff through the years… I joined Marky Ramone and the Intruders in 1996 – that year I was having a rough time with a broken heart, and I was walking around repeating to myself “…don’t think about her, don’t think about her, don’t think about her…” and I started singing those words… and that became the chorus. I wrote the verses later on sitting on a bus with Vernon Reid (Living Color) but that’s another story.
What is your earliest memory of wanting to become a musician?
Johnny: Me and Mike Buffa Standing in front of my stereo, 12 years old, playing air-guitar to KISS albums – yea that’s right, vinyl! He was “Ace” and played a paddle ball paddle and I was “Gene” and played a baseball bat…
Can you remember your first public performance – where was it and what was the occasion?
Johnny: Our very first band (me and Mike Buffa) was an original band called “Bundle of Nerves”… I think it was 1982. Blaise Del Bianco gave us his songs and managed us 14 year-olds. We played our first gig at this place called “The Dive” it was on 8th Ave., I’ll never forget it.
You appear on the soundtrack of, as well as in the film, “A Perfect Stranger” starring Bruce Willis, Halle Berry and Germany’s own, Heidi Klum, how did this come about?
Johnny: A friend passed my name on to a producer, Matt Chiaravalle, and I was asked to play two songs on the soundtrack – My Funny Valentine by Chet Baker to be played on upright bass and Al Green’s, Love and Happiness on electric. During the recording session they said they needed a guy to play the role as the bass player in the movie, so I said, “Hell, yea’!” and it was two full days of waiting around, which wasn’t so bad since I was a few feet away from Bruce Willis, Heidi Klum, Halle Berry and a bunch of models all day…
So, did you get to hang with these guys?
Johnny: They tell you you can’t talk to the actors, but I squeezed in a “hello” and some small talk here and there… Bruce Willis didn’t seem too friendly, all work, all business… I was an extra in another film called “August Rush” – I was pretending to be in an orchestra, and Robin Williams kept us entertained between takes, it was cool.
As far as playing electric and upright bass went, did you have any influence about which instrument to play?
Johnny: Certain songs you just know would sound great on upright but it’s a pain in the ass to carry around! I’m not as good on the upright as I am on electric, but I fake it… it’s the same rules as the electric but harder to apply.
Which one do you prefer and why?
Johnny: I love upright but my electric is like my 3rd arm, and when I hear those James Jamerson or Bootsy Collins bass lines… it still goes right through me in a way I can’t explain…
Talking of instruments, you have been known to shake sleigh bells on occasion… noticeably when you appeared on stage with Bruce Springsteen at the Flood Aid show in 2004… definitely a “Kodak” moment… what do you remember most about the experience?
Johnny: I was on tour with Jesse and we happened to be playing in Pittsburgh on the same night as the Flood Aid show and Bruce called us up to sing Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town… we had the Santa hats, I ended up with the sleigh bells and found myself sharing the microphone with him… it was surreal…
Do people ever confuse you with the “other” John Pisano, the jazz guitarist, and is there any connection between you?
Johnny: Yea it’s funny… it’s spelled the same too. I don’t think people confuse us ‘cause it’s two different worlds and two different generations… ya know jazz and rock… and I’m in my 30’s and he’s in his 60’s I think… and no, we’re not related… however there is a story…
After recording with Ryan for the “Love is Hell” stuff and the record came out, I noticed that I was not credited for the song Anybody Wanna Take Me Home and, they spelled my name “John” instead of “Johnny”. I could have lived with that but I figured they could fix it for the second pressing so I called Ryan’s Business Management and she was really nice and said, “No problem…” and asked me “…did you receive your check?” and when I said, “No” she looked in her computer and said, “The check went to John Pisano in Sacramento, California…” and I said, “Well, there may be a “John Pisano” that lives there, but I live in Brooklyn, New York.” So they cut me another check and now we know that me and John Pisano are both in the Universal Records Computer system… I’ve tried to contact him through a Website “The Flying Pisanos” so we could laugh about it but I got no response. I hope he spent the money wisely… ha ha!
Career highlight(s) to date?
Johnny: Playing in front of 20,000 people looking down on the biggest marsh pit I’ve ever seen at a festival in Brazil with Marky Ramone and the Intruders going on right before Cypress Hill, Space Hog, The Sex Pistols, and Bad Religion.
Being on the “Tonight Show” comes a close second – I grew up watching Johnny Carson staying up late with my father.
Playing with Deborah Harry on my birthday at Irving Plaza with Danny Sage and Michael Wildwood (of D-generation) and Joe McGinty (The Psychedelic Furs, Jesse Malin, etc.) – was more amaa-aazing than words can describe…
Career lowlight(s) to date?
Johnny: There’s too many to mention and I still live them all the time… I was gonna say playing crappy music in front of no-one, but playing crappy music in front of a lot of people is worse… I have a motto I tell everyone that, “Every job has its Mondays.”
What’s your favourite place and/or country to play and why?
Johnny: Brazil is amazing ’cause the people are so passionate for music, they don’t all know the English language but they still know every word to the songs and they inquire about the meaning… especially the New York slang.
Most bizarre request for an autograph?
Johnny: I was asked to spit in this kid’s book after I signed in it!
What’s in your CD player right now?
Johnny: I won’t tell I lie… I put all my CDs in my computer and I run them off iTunes. But I read the liner notes in the CDs and I still appreciate the artwork even though it’s not as large as it was when it was vinyl.
Aha… I think you just answered my next question iPod or MP3?
Johnny: So yea, I have an iPod.
What’s the next thing on your “to do” list?
Johnny: I’m playing with a bunch of different artists now, trying to play as much as I can, doing some movie bits here and there… I’m off to Europe with Musiciens Sans Frontiers for a month and I may go to the UK with Don Dilego and Bree Sharp after that. I have some scattered gigs with Willie Nile, Kirsten Thien and Alice Smith; I’m even subbing for the bass player in The Niagaras. Baby Wants Candy will be back in New York soon I hope they get a Broadway run – they are an improvised comedy rock opera, lots of fun…
OK, so, this is where I hit fantasy-mode… if you had a magic wand and could make just one thing happen, what would it be and why?
Johnny: World Peace? Ha ha!! Sorry, it sounded like question they ask in the Miss America beauty pageant!
I would want to be in a band situation, ya know like a family, with cool music that we write together and great lyrics that I can stand behind… with no egos (you did say magic wand right?) that also has a great following of cool people that give a shit and may even want to interview me or something… ha ha!
And there you have it! A revealing insight into some of Johnny Pisano’s inner-most thoughts and you can see why he has a reputation for being one of the nicest guys around.
Be sure to check out Johnny’s schedule and catch his shows if you can – you won’t be disappointed, that’s for sure. Meanwhile, surf on in to HisSpace where you’ll be able to hear the songs we talked about above as well as to read about his musical career and influences thus far.
Sincere thanks Johnny for making this such an enjoyable piece to write.
Johnny Pisano is also on Facebook.