Sometimes all it takes is some luck and a good break. Nobody joining Madonna
onstage Thursday night at Ramat Gan Stadium for the debut of her MDNA world tour
will attest to that more than her guitarist Monte Pittman.
already had oodles of a third ingredient – talent – when in 1999 at age 24, he
left his home in Longview, Texas to pursue a music career in Los Angeles. Like
many struggling musicians, he ended up making ends meet by first working in a
guitar store and later giving private guitar lessons.
“It was hard to
leave my home and everybody I grew up with, but I thought I would try to make it
and just come home if it didn’t work out,” recalled Pittman last week in a phone
call from New York where he was participating in exhaustive rehearsals for the
“What I discovered though is that every time I got to the point
where I thought it wasn’t going to work out and I’d have to quit, something
The pivotal amazing development occurred when a novice
who had just received a guitar as a gift from his girlfriend approached him
about giving lessons. The novice was filmmaker Guy Ritchie, and the girlfriend
“I didn’t even know who he was when I started teaching him,
that was before [acclaimed Ritchie film] Snatch came out,” said
The lessons apparently went well, though, because soon Ritchie
introduced Pittman to Madonna, who also started taking lessons from the young
guitar whiz. Pittman was in seventh heaven, unaware that the best was yet to
Booked to appear on The David Letterman Show to promote her newly
released album Music, Madonna felt emboldened to perform on guitar in public for
the first time.
But revealing that even cultural icons have moments of
self confidence gaps, she asked Pittman to accompany her.
So in March
2000, the struggling guitarist from Texas who had been resigned to the
likelihood of returning home with his dream of making it in the music business
unfulfilled, was suddenly performing an acoustic guitar duet on the song “Don’t
Tell Me” with the most famous singer in the world on one of the most watched TV
shows in the US.
“I really thought that she was joking when she asked me
to appear with her. Then it kind of dawned on me – ‘hey, she’s not kidding after
all, we’re going to go on ‘Letterman’!” said Pittman. “It’s a performance people
still talk about – her debut playing guitar on TV.”
Delighted with the
performance, Madonna soon after invited Pittman to join her band for the 2001
Drowned World tour, and the guitarist has since performed on every tour the
Material Girl has undertaken, including appearing at least year’s Super Bowl
performance. In addition, he co-wrote three songs with her for her 2009 album
“Writing together can work in several different ways, just
from playing the guitar together and coming up with something, to already having
a chorus and having the other person add the bridge or the verse,” said Pittman.
“For me, it’s sort of like creating a painting, where you start out thinking
it’s going to be one way and it comes out completely
Different is what the 37-year-old Pittman is about – and his
good fortune with Madonna has opened up opportunities for him to express that
versatility – including stints with the metal industrial band Prong, playing
lead guitar and acting as musical director for American Idol alum Adam Lambert’s
live band, and juggling a thriving solo career that has two albums to its
His 2009 debut solo album, The Deepest Dark, featured 11 acoustic
songs and last year’s Pain, Love & Destiny, recorded with the aid of
Kickstarter campaign that raised $65,000 in under 24 hours, delved into his rock
& roll side.
“To me, music is music, and it’s all about the effect
and attitude that goes behind it,” he said. “I don’t need to psych myself up to
play certain styles of music, it all comes naturally.
When I’m playing my
own music, I leave things open so I can do things differently depending on how I
feel – whether it be using different guitars or tunings. Playing live, it’s like
this is this show’s version of that song, and it’s not going to be the same as
the night before.”
But when he’s on tour with Madonna, there’s less
leeway for changing the tempo and moods of songs, a restriction that Pittman
doesn’t find restricting at all.
“When I’m performing with Madonna, what
I try to do is to go to work every day and taking on a character – following a
certain way she wants everything to be organized,” he said. “I’m happy to be
playing that role.”
The touring band, which arrived in Israel over the
weekend, was going through grueling rehearsals in New York, led by Madonna’s
musical director Kevin Antunes.
According to Pittman, the level of
professionalism among the performers is the highest he’s
“There’s not so much pressure, but it’s a lot of work. I can
only speak for myself, but I think everybody’s really pleased at the outcome of
all this work and the show is going to be great,” he said.
is not involved in the business behind the tour or the decision to open up in
Israel (the same location where she ended her Sweet & Sticky tour in 2009),
he agreed with Madonna’s statement she made last week explaining her decision to
launch MDNA in Israel because “it’s the center of the world’s energy and what
happens here affects the whole world.”
“Tel Aviv is one of my favorite
cities in the world, and I’m really excited to get back there,” said Pittman.
“There’s a different energy there you don’t feel in other
Pittman also gets a burst of energy from playing with his boss,
who he said serves a role model for him on how to maneuver through the jungle of
the music business.
“It’s like taking lessons from the best person you
can as far as being in the music business,” he said. “Nobody tops her, the
longevity of her career and the catalogue of her music that can offer such a
wide variety of styles to entertain people,” said Pittman.
“For me, as a
guitar player, there’s a lesson there, too. I guess one of my main attributes is
to be able to play a lot of different styles.
If you stick with one thing
for a long time, peoples’ tastes are going to change over time and they’ll move
on. And you’re going to be out of luck unless you have that
Pittman has that versatility – and we already know he has
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