Johnny Depp Talks About Music

Updated December 13, 2010

I listen to a lot of [Bob] Dylan, who I like a lot. I like Bruce Springsteen. I like T. Rex. I like all different kinds of music. One minute I'll be listening to Benny Goodman and the next I'll be listening to the Sex Pistols! (1988)

Jesus, music has always been my first love. I use music in my work because it's the fastest way to an emotional place. You hear a song, and that memory comes right back you're there. (Source: Rolling Stone, 1988)

Making music is immediate, and it's all about you. If you're playing guitar, the feeling comes through the way you bend the note, the intensity with which you hit the strings. With making films, although it's real emotion, it's false emotion. You're lying. (Source: Rolling Stone, 1988)

I honestly have no clue how to play [piano]. But if you walk into a room with a baby grand, you're kind of obligated to fuck around on it. (2003)

As a guitarist, I would always look for whatever felt right, something tasteful - and I guess I still do. [I'm] more interested in finding what fits the piece musically as opposed to how many notes I can play quickly. I was never one of those 'look at me' players. (2004)

Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators, a band out of Texas, they were basically the first psychedelic-rock band, 1965. And if you listen to old 13th Floor Elevators stuff - Roky Erickson especially, his voice - and then go back and listen to early Led Zeppelin, you know that Robert Plant absolutely copped everything from Roky Erickson. And it's amazing. And Roky Erickson is sitting in Austin, Texas; he's just there. And Robert Plant had a huge hit. It always goes back to those guys, you know? I love those fucking guys. (2004)

[My brother] turned me on to Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. I remember listening to the soundtracks to A Clockwork Orange and Last Tango in Paris. I loved Aerosmith, Kiss and Alice Cooper, and when I was older the Clash, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. (2004)

I was more interested in music than anything else. Music was like life. I had found a reason to live. (2004)

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. (2004)

I was 12 when my mom bought me a $25 electric guitar. I had an uncle who was a preacher, and his family had a gospel singing group. He played guitar in church, and I used to watch him. I became obsessed with the guitar. I locked myself in my bedroom for the better part of a year and taught myself chords. I'd try to learn things off records. (2004)

I had an uncle who was a preacher, and he played [guitar]. I used to watch him. He was a real preacher -preacher - hellfire, damnation, that kind of thing. Then I started listening to the Doors, the Stones, the Beatles, Aerosmith. Then the Clash hit, and it was like, "OK." My first guitar was a real cheap little electric thing my mom bought me for twenty-five bucks. From then on I don't remember puberty, I was just playing guitar. (Source: Rolling Stone, July 13, 2006)

Well, at that point you're working with one string, so like everybody else's first song, mine was either 25 or 6 to 4 by Chicago, or Smoke on the Water. I worked my way up to Stairway to Heaven. At sixteen or seventeen we were on the road. (Source: Rolling Stone, July 13, 2006)

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)

[Music is] still my first love as much as it ever was, since I was a little kid and first picked up a guitar and tried to figure out how to make it go. Going into acting was an odd deviation from a particular road that I was on in my late teens, early 20s, because I had no desire, no interest, really, in it at all. I was a muscian and I was a guitarist, and that's what I wanted to do. But because of that deviation, and because I don't do it for a living, maybe I still have been able to maintain that kind of innocent love for it. (Source: Vanity Fair, January, 2011)

My mom and my dad weren't particularly musical... But I did have an uncle who was a preacher, and he played hillbilly bluegrass guitar... That was where I got the bug: watching my uncle play the guitar with his little gospel group, right in front of me. ...The first record I remember listening to nonstop, oddly, was Dean Martin, Everybody Loves Somebody. And then Boots Randolph. And then the record album of Blackbeard's Ghost, with Peter Ustinov. I'd never seen the film - I didn't see it until I was in my late thirties. But I knew it verbatim. Slightly ironic. And then I turned that corner into preteen and I remember listening to Frampton Comes Alive! too much. My brother's ten years older than me. He grabbed the needle off the album and there was this horrific noise - wrrrraarrrar. He said, "Listen, man, you're killing me. Try this." And he put on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. And it stirred me. I'd never heard anything like it. I said, "OK, maybe Frampton Comes Alive! is a little tired." Then my brother, very pleased with himself, started turning me on to other things, like the soundtrack to Last Tango in Paris. I was a little kid and it sounded good enough to me. I remember liking the image on the record album, of Brando and Maria Schneider, although I didn't quite understand it. It's a good bit to chew on when you're a kid. Now, thirty-some years later, it's still a pretty good bit to chew on. It's good stuff.

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 always Smoke 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.

You're thirteen years old and you're playing rock & roll. Loud. Poorly. But somebody's letting you do it in their back yard. And it was absolute perfection. It was freedom. Right off the bat, there was no question: I had found my future. (Source: Rolling Stone magazine, January 24, 2008)