Canadian Musician

JAY WALKING

Jason Raso


The Remarkable Matt Bissonette!

mattbissonette

I recently went to see Elton John live at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. It was a fantastic show. I was very pleasantly surprised to see Matt Bissonette on bass. Matt replaced longtime Elton John bassist Bob Birch who passed away in 2012. Birch replaced bassist Dee Murray in 1992.

Matt Bissonette is a sought after bassist and producer who has worked with Gino Vanelli, David Lee Roth, Joe Satriani, Rick Springfield and Ringo Starr to name a few. He graciously took time from his busy touring schedule to answer a few questions.

JR: When did you start playing bass and who were your early influences?

MB: I started playing the bass when I was thirteen. My parents bought me an Aria 4 string bass as a surprise. They told me to get the groceries out of the car and voila, I started playing. In two weeks my dad bought me a tux and put me in his wedding band and started playing every Friday and Saturday. I tested the patience of his band!! My early influences were Peter Cetera, Ron Carter, Geddy Lee, Chris Squire and of course Paul McCartney. When I got into college I really got into Jaco, Jeff Berlin, Eddie Gomez, Neils Orsted Pederson and just about anybody else I could listen to.

JR: At what point do you feel you came into your own as a player?

MB: I thought that I had it together in high school till my first day of college when I heard a guy named Gary Willis playing at a local club. He and other bass players at North Texas State University pretty much humbled me down to a nub and made me work my butt off to keep up. I think by my second year of college I started getting away from classical acoustic bass and dived more into jazz and that focus of that helped me to be a better band mate. I realized the bow wasn’t for me and started playing in more local rock funk and jazz bands, and started singing a lot, which helped me to mature and hear all the music around me, not just the bass.

JR: Which non-bass player has had the biggest impact on your playing?

MB: Our family used to go see Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson play all the time when I was a kid. I heard Don Ellis once and it was really a rock and roll band with horns. My brother Gregg and I were on the road with Maynard in Toronto once and we heard a loud rock band playing across the street and hearing girls screaming and we went over and heard Rick Springfield playing a concert. It looked like a lot of fun and we both started hedging more towards rock and pop music. I loved all the vocal bands with harmonies, Chicago, Yes, The Eagles, The Beatles. It was always the song that got me, the bass parts became more secondary than the melody and the lyrics, but I loved guys that could play bass and sing, and play around with melodies as they sang.

JR: Now that you are playing with Elton John, you are following in the footsteps of Dee Murray and Bob Birch. I am a big fan of both players, but especially Murray. How do you approach their bass lines?

MB: I always loved the way Dee played on all of Elton’s songs. I learned after going into the studio once with Elton that everything is on the fly. You really only get one chance to play your part, Elton is always going at a fast clip and you have to keep up. Bob Birch told me about that years ago, you would ask if you could punch in at a certain spot and Elton would look at you and say “why? It’s rock and roll.” I realized that Dee must have been an amazing bass player to come up with them parts on the run like that, and the same with Bob on the recordings he did. It is a challenge replacing either one of those guys because they were both so talented. I kind of split the difference between what Dee would play and what Bob would play. Elton just wants you to bring something to the table and jam as much as possible, keep it different; only certain things are the same every night.

JR: What was the rehearsal process like when you joined the band? 

MB: When I heard that Bob passed away, and we all went to the memorial Davey Johnstone called me and asked me to come to his house and talk about doing the gig. I had to learn about 60 songs with singing all the high vocal parts that Bob sang. I was on the road with Rick Springfield and had to listen to the songs over and over. The hardest part with Elton’s songs are that they are all piano songs that have a lot of inversions, and each song has twists and turns because he writes the music around Bernie Taupin’s lyrics, that are like poetry lines on a page, so there are odd phrases and little things that can mess you up. After 5 days of listening on my iPhone we rehearsed for three days in LA and left the next day and started the tour. We had a great piano player singer named Adam Chester who is the “surrogate” Elton, and he does rehearsals, very talented guy. I met Elton at the sound check the day of the gig and we just started touring. There wasn’t very much time but I really tried to soak in all the songs in my head, the band was really cool about helping me out.

You can check out Matt at mattbissonette.com

Also, stay tuned for a deeper look into the under appreciated Dee Murray’s bass playing in the coming weeks!

 

2 Responses to “The Remarkable Matt Bissonette!”

  1. Toby Gorham Says:

    I have heard Matt on two of Elton’s latest televised concerts. First of all, I have been a huge Elton John fan since 1974. His songs have since been the reasons I started playing bass guitar, since I would never attempt to learn piano. That having been said, Dee Murray was one of my bassist idols. I was not aware that Dee was no longer Elton’s bassist, so I was unaware that Bob Birch had taken over for him. Matt has stepped in, in my opinion, and fulfilled both previous bassists’ roles. I hope Matt and Elton have several more years ahead performing.

  2. Jason Raso Says:

    Thanks Toby! I love Dee too – one of my favourites! Unfortunately Dee passed away in 1992. Hard to believe it’s been that long.

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