UPDATED: Monte Pittman: Madonna's Texan Guitarist Has Deep Metal Roots
Just a guess, but when Madonna played to tens of thousands of fans at Toyota Center last week, most of them probably didn't know that onstage with her was a member of one of the most severe metal bands of the past 20 years.
But it's true. Native Texan Monte Pittman has been a guitarist in the pop empress's touring band since her Drowned World Tour in 2001. For many of those years, he was also a member of Prong, the bicoastal band founded by former CBGBs sound man Tommy Victor. On and off from 1987 through this year's Carved Into Stone, Prong has thrown thrash-metal and hardcore into a wood chipper and spat out brutal songs such as "Whose Fist Is This Anyway?," "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck" and "Can't Stop the Bleeding."
The apparent disconnect between his two guitar gigs doesn't seem to faze Pittman much. To hear him tell it, people are a little surprised to learn Madonna has a guitarist at all.
"When I first started playing with her, people were like, 'I didn't even know that Madonna needed a guitar player," he told Rocks Off, reclining on a bench outside the Harris County Family Law Center the afternoon of the first Madonna show.
"But there's actually so much stuff in those tracks, there's so much going on and it's so strategically placed, if you took it away you'd miss it. 'Ray of Light' - that song has like eight guitar tracks to it."
Pittman, now 36, joined Prong only a month after he moved to Los Angeles from Longview in early 2000. His first band was called
Photo by Jeremy Saffer Instinct Insanity, which he started with his best friend Chris Sheehan; they played their first show at an East Texas teen club when Pittman was 14.
"You had to be 15 to get in," he says. "[Sheehan] was six months older than me -- somehow we had to sneak me in. I don't know how that happened, because nobody had an ID anyway."
His later band, Myra Mains, shared a name with several others, including ones in Washington State and Austin (except that one called itself Myra Manes). Myra Mains even recorded its first album, Condition Yourself, in Houston. He describes their sound as "Pantera meets Rage Against the Machine meets Fishbone."
When Wes Borland quit Limp Bizkit in 2002, Pittman auditioned for the job. He made it to the finals, but was still waiting to hear a decision when Victor called him for another Prong tour. (Borland rejoined Bizkit in 2004.)
"I was having so much fun for Prong I never even called them again," he says. "Prong was one of my favorite bands learning to play guitar. Still is. I was like, 'I can't believe I'm in a van showering at truck stops, and I'm happier than I've ever been playing clubs with Prong."
Pittman played on Prong's 2003 LP Scorpio Rising and switched mostly to bass for 2007's Power of the Damager, but after that Madonna's touring picked up again. He first met her through another of his jobs; he had recently quit the Hollywood Guitar Center to become a guitar instructor, and one day Guy Ritchie's assistant asked him to give some to Madonna. The Snatch director had given his then-wife a guitar for her birthday.
"I figured she'd maybe take a lesson and that would be it," he says.