Interview: Matt Bissonette (The Reddcoats, Elton John, REO Speedwagon, David Lee Roth)

Matt Bissonette talks to Hit Channel about the new album by The Reddcoats, "The Reddcoats 2", "The Song In a Day Show" with his brother Gregg on Youtube, touring with Elton John, his collaborations with Ringo Starr, David Lee Roth and Jeff Lynne and many more.

- Advertisement -

HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: April 2024. We had the great honor to talk with an extremely talented bassist, songwriter and vocalist: Matt Bissonette. He has played with Elton John, Joe Satriani, David Lee Roth, Ringo Starr, Electric Light Orchestra, REO Speedwagon and Rick Springfield. His band, The Reddcoats just released their new album, “The Reddcoats 2” featuring Andy Timmons (Danger Danger, Olivia Newton-John -guitar), Gregg Bissonette (Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, David Lee Roth, Robert Downey, Jr., Don Henley, Santana -drums), Wally Minko (P!nk, Jean-Luc Ponty, Toni Braxton -Grammy Award-nominated Keyboardist), percussionist and co-producer Mike Medina (Edgar Winter, Victor Wooten­) and Ron Pedley (Barry Manilow, Air Supply, Kombo -keyboards). Read below the very interesting things he told us:


How did you come up with the idea to form a band with these particular musicians?

- Advertisement -

Well, I was on the road with Elton John probably around 2018 and we were playing in Dallas, Texas and with a friend of mine, Mike Medina, who was the co-producer and percussionist for The Reddcoats, we went and saw Andy Timmons playing guitar in a club in Dallas. I just remember when he would play his guitar solos, he looked very cool when he was playing them and when he would do solos he looked like he was reaching for the heavens: He would go on, look up and play and it just got me that night and we drove back to the hotel and Mike dropped me off and I said: “We’ve got to do a band sometime and just write cool songs and jam”. I wrote one song on the first record (ed: “The Reddcoats” -2020), called “Only the Messenger” and I had Andy play on it and my brother, Gregg (Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, David Lee Roth), played drums on it and it was just for fun and we really liked it and we said: “Let’s do a whole album”.

It just turned into this thing and it was during Covid, it was the first one, so, of course everybody was sitting around doing stuff in their studios and trying to figure out what they are gonna do with their lives and stuff. My brother, Gregg, the drummer, he and I, we grew up in Detroit, Michigan and we just loved every style of music, so, when we would drive in our cars we would put on a radio station and there ‘d be pop songs, The Beatles and everything and then there ‘d be like Weather Report playing “Birdland” on the radio. We just grew up with that. It’s a different thing now, but back then we were exposed to so much different kinds of music that it kind of creeps into these albums because it shows how we grew up and all those different styles and stuff. I never intended to go this far as far as putting out albums, but it turned into that and we were just really happy and love playing the music live and love being with friends in a band. Very fun.


What was the musical vision you had on “Reddcoats 2” album?

For the name, The Reddcoats, I always loved that phrase “The Redcoats” from “The Redcoats are coming” (ed: famous phrase by Paul Revere, a military officer during the American Revolutionary War), so, whenever we play a gig it’s an easy thing to put outside: “The Reddcoats are coming on April 28th” or whatever. Gregg and I do a lot of sessions in LA where we play on other people’s songs and we play with a lot of artists and stuff like that and we love doing that. We love playing other people’s music and supporting them. We had a band called The Mustard Seeds in the ‘90s and that was a pop/King’s X kind of band, like that vocal band and with this band, The Reddcoats is like unleashed the beast, in a way. Like my brother, when he plays, my favourite thing to do is to write a song with figures and he can kick on the drums and play around and solo on and we ‘ve been doing that forever.

- Advertisement -

We used to go to parties when we were kids and go down in the basement, set up a drum set and just watch Gregg go crazy and all the girls were screaming and we always loved that, so we have always written songs based on drum fills and figures that Gregg can jam on. It ‘s basically the concept of playing the music that we want to play, not really thinking about if it’s ever gonna go on the radio, of course, you never know what’s gonna go on the radio, whatever radio is anymore. The concept basically is just a bunch of guys jamming and looking at each other and cracking up and laughing and playing ridiculous, over-the-top music that we know we wouldn’t do with other people; they won’t let us do that. So, we get unleashed a little bit. It’s fun to play with a bunch of guys that we love and to try and play these songs live it’s very difficult, especially the guitar parts, the keyboard parts and the bass parts are very challenging and fun and we are lucky if we pull it off in one piece (laughs).



- Advertisement -

“All for Me” is very addictive. What inspired you to write this?

Well, music is addictive; it’s the repetition of music. Especially today’s music is not damp down, but a little simpler and hypnotic and music does the same thing over and over, so you hear it and then you buy it, that’s the culture that we live in and we are not like that. We still like doing a record, a CD, not just a single for Youtube. We just wanna do a record, a CD. That’s old school and it could be considered ancient, but when we were growing up in Detroit, Michigan we used to get a record at a store, like a Chicago album or Boston or Kansas, all the cities, we ‘d get the albums and before we had even listened to it, we would open it up and look at all the pictures and read the liner notes and we knew everybody in the band, because we felt like we grew up with them and then we would listen to the music, you saw the whole picture of the music and the people playing. Now, music comes out and you have no idea who’s playing on it and it’s this entity of sound that you say: “Oh, I like that song”, but we really wanted to have something be a band, where you listen to it and you have to listen to it a few times. When I listened to the record after it was mixed, it exhausted me to listen to the whole thing for 45 minutes, because it’s so much stuff going on. Of course, I remember all the things, mixing, going through this and trying to get the parts done, but it’s kind of a journey from first song to the last song and it takes concentration to listen to whole thing from top to bottom, like it does for any album. I ‘ll go and see a concert and within 30 minutes I say: “I had enough. I can’t do anymore. It’s too much”. So, the concept basically is a fun party from top to bottom and those that understand the music and they like it for that, the musician part, we want that, but we also want people that don’t know anything about music that they would listen to it and say: “I like that song”, “I like that”, “that’s crazy!”. So, that’s the mission.


I love “Mask On, Mask Off” from “Reddcoats 2” album! Please tell us everything we should know about this great track.

Oh, thank you very much. That’s the craziest one. I think that’s kind of like a Weather Report song, like “Teen Town”, just the way Weather Report used to slam, play loud and go crazy and the melody is really challenging. Andy (ed: Timmons) is a crazy guitar player because he doesn’t write out every note he plays and then read it and punch in every section. His brain, he has to learn and memorize all the lines and then play the whole thing, the whole melody and that song it’s like (ed: sings the melody): “Ba-dada, Da-dadaaan”, it’s a really fast melody and Mike (ed: Medina -co-producer, percussion) was recording him and he did not want to write it out, he just didn’t want to punch in those sections, he had to play the whole thing top to bottom on the melodies. For me, that seems impossible, because I have a shorter brain span than the does, but that’s the way he sees music and when we played live he didn’t have any charts, he just memorized everything and it’s very impressive. But the basic premise of the song was: It was written during Covid and of course everybody had to deal with their situations going from point A to point B and my brother and I were always talking about how frustrating we were about the rules of the lockdown when you’d walk in one building, if you didn’t have your mask on, they were gonna shoot you and in the other ones they said: “That’s fine. Take it off”. It was so uncertain that it just became a funny line. We ‘d see people driving in their cars in LA by themselves with the masks on, with the windows rolled up and in a horrible situation like that we were trying to find some humor in it because you had to laugh because it was so weird. When I hear the song it sounds like somebody says: “Ok, masks on! Just listen to the song: “Lalalalala”, “ok, masks off, for the slow part”, “put them back on for this part”. It’s like a constant changing, the mood was always changing in LA and all these cities and stuff. It’s just like a funny thing to a horrible situation.


Andy Timmons told me that you wrote all the stuff of “Reddcoats 2” album on a keyboard. How did it come about?

Andy probably hates my guts. In fact, I know that he hates my guts (ed: obviously, he is joking). Basically, we were all writing the stuff. It’s like the Van Halen school: David (ed: Lee Roth -vocals) and Eddie (ed: Van Halen -guitar) didn’t say: “I wrote this and I wrote this, so I’ll get this”. They said: “You know what, the whole band is in on this” and they would split publishing and I think they did and the band was happy because everybody was part and getting paid, and that’s what we do with this band. Because I realized that if Gregg plays a drum part, whatever the drum part is, he is writing a song, because the drum parts are big deal, so he is a writer. Wally (ed: Minko) and Ron (ed: Pedley) are playing keyboard parts, even though they are playing the shell of what I wrote and Andy and Mike, too, they are all doing their own thing to make it The Reddcoats. So, it’s not like I ‘m writing everything, sitting here, The Wizard of Oz writing all the stuff but the thing you are asking about Andy: He was so nice about it. The first record, he was nice about it. This one, he is nice about it but he kind of says: “This is pretty hard because you are writing these melodies, I ‘m afraid I don’t really lay on the guitar that well”. I mean, I try to, I kind of know where the guitar sits, but I’m sure there are certain songs that he thought: “Man, this guy has no idea what he is doing”. Especially for the fast ones: “Mask On, Mask Off” and the fact that he memorized it, showed me that he is disciplined enough to get it under his fingers.

If there is a keyboard part, he is gonna figure out the way that it’s gonna lay for him to play it naturally and to do his Andy Timmons slides and soulful stuff, which was amazing to me. For me, it’s really hard. I got a track the other day sent to me and I played the bass part for this guy’s song and it was a synth bass part, a fretless, beautiful Trilian bass part, but it was a fretless sound and it was just stuff that I would never play. But it was really cool because it made me stretch out and say: “Oh, that’s cool! I don’t think I’m playing like a bass player”. Lately, I have been writing songs, like a swing song, where I’ll sing a solo. It’s not just like I’m playing a bass solo: I’ll sing a solo and then I’ll learn it on the bass, so it doesn’t sound like any other bass solo that I play, because every bass solo I play, at least, sounds like a bass player blowing through changes or whatever. But when I sing it, when I hear it in my head, I think: “That sounds like melodies, like (ed: he sings) Doo-boo-dap/ doo-boo-di-ban/ Doo doo-doo/ be-ba-bin/ doo-da”. I normally wouldn’t just play that on the bass, so when I record that, I learn it on the bass and I say: “Oh, that’s the solo!” That’s what Andy does in his head, but the way that he put all this stuff in his fingers and made it sound like guitar parts was amazing to me, because sometimes you never know when you are writing it if it’s gonna work or not. He always makes it work and that’s one of the things that I like about him, besides that he is a Beatle freak.


You play with your brother, Gregg, in Reddcoats. Does this fact make it harder to separate the professional from the personal aspect of the things or it’s actually easier because you know very well each other?

Way easier because my brother is my best friend and we know each other so much. We have this TV show called “A Song In a Day” where we wake up in the morning, we go to Starbucks with my friend Paul Dexter, he is the producer and everything. We say: “Today we are gonna write a song like a funky Bruno Mars song”. Then we are filming the whole time: We go to a studio, we record the bass and drums and then we send the files to a guitar player or we go to the guitar player’s house. The whole day we are recording from 10:00 in the morning, we get a singer, all the way and it has to be mixed by the end of the day. So, it’s called “The Song In a Day”. Gregg and I have been doing that our whole lives, since we were little kids in Detroit, Michigan playing in a basement bass and drums, playing “Smoke on the Water” the day I got my bass, just looking at him and him looking at me and we had that thing since we were 13 years old. I think I know exactly where he is gonna go with the song, how is gonna play it and if he doesn’t like, he’ll tell me and there is no weird stuff because we are brothers and I get it. Sometimes, in the old days, he used to get a little crazy when I produced his records. I remember one story: Steve Vai was playing a solo for one of Gregg’s songs (ed: “Noah’s Ark”), I think it was on “Submarine” (2000) album. I was producing it, I wrote the song and Steve is playing guitar and he is doing a solo. I’m at Steve’s studio, The Mothership, I ‘m in the back room just giving Steve space because it’s a solo, but Gregg was saying: “You should be in telling him what to play. You produce this” and I looked at him and said: “It’s Steve Vai. What am I gonna do to tell him to play?”

I mean, how does anybody tell Steve Vai or Joe Satriani or anybody? So, at certain times we would bump heads because we want it to be great and there is just a difference of opinion. That’s the only time we ‘ve ever fought musically. For this thing, Gregg would come over here and use this drum set (ed: it’s behind him during our Zoom conversation), at my studio here and I ‘ll write a song because I know that he is gonna kill it, he is gonna play it and he is gonna make it great. So, it saves so much time that I don’t have to say: “Hey man, can you play that hi-hat like that”. I would just say: “Hi hat” (ed: and then Gregg replies: ) “Yeah, hi hat, yeah-yeah”. I ‘m not telling him what he is gonna do. So, it’s like a telepathy thing where I know what he is gonna do and we both share the same faith, we are both Christian guys and we both share the same worldview, so that, as crazy as that sounds that eliminates a lot of things in theory that come up of the way you live your life that I know he’s always gonna try to do the right thing. He is not perfect, I am not perfect, but I know where his heart is and that’s the main thing. It’s just cutting through. In music you are getting to know people and they are your friends. People have different worldviews and different things, it helps to be on the same page. It’s like marrying somebody that believes the same thing that you do, it’s gonna make it easier. So, Gregg has saved me a lot of time over the years because we are equal minded.


How natural was it for you to incorporate all those different kinds of music on “Reddcoats 2” album?

Well, I think the good thing about this album and I think music in general these days is that a lot of the bands have one hit song and nobody knows anything else that they do and they focus on that one song and that’s great. But like I said earlier, we really wanted to make a record from top to bottom that offloads and I know that every song is a little bit different but the common theme of the whole thing is: Five guys go nuts on a song trying to contain their crazy playing into some sort of sanity, but then it goes off the rails again going crazy and then it comes back down. I try to treat all that stuff like a pop song, like a Coldplay song or something where you know it’s not just jamming and playing and then you can understand it and you go to club and hear them and you say: “Oh man, they are just great musicians, they are playing all over the place and they are fantastic” but I don’t remember one song, I don’t remember one melody. I just remember they are really-really good and that was awesome. I mean, I want to have that awesome playing where everybody does their thing, but you have to have hooks and melodies that some guys are gonna come see you and they are gonna drive home and they are gonna sing that song, even in a band like this. I think that’s the main thing because when I hear a song, I wanna hear a melody, I wanna hear something to hold on to. So, I think on each song we have something. Some more than others, but just from point A to point B, I think we want every song to have its meaning like the first song: “Reddcoat Stew” which is a joke on the title “Reddcoats 2”. I kept saying “Reddcoat Stew” like the stew that you are eating. We are always starting an album off with the craziest track words. The first album that came up starts with this swing song and it goes into rock and all the stuff. This first song it’s like Gino Vannelli-meets-Weather Report and it goes into a pop song, “All for Me”, which is the single or whatever you wanna call it, which is more 12/8 groove song like “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, the Tears for Fears song and it’s just a pop song with us jamming on it and then on third song it’s like a funk song. Everything switches moods which is what we want to do, we want to look at it like you get in your car, you put on your radio and you just change channels and each time you change the channel there is a different style of music. It might not make sense for some people but that’s the way we like it. We just like different things every day and a different song, a different feel for this album.


How much did Covid affect the plans of Reddcoats?

We never really intended to take over the world and go touring and get out on the road and promote the album, for the first one. I was working with Elton all the time and I was gone all the time and Gregg was out with Ringo all the time and everybody was working doing stuff and then when Covid hit everybody was getting their home studios together, right. So, I thought: “If I can’t work, I am gonna finally do that project, that stuff, that thing and let’s start that project” and I had probably six or seven projects going on that I ‘ve always wanted to do, never had the time, but we were all forced to sit there and do it. We were working on this album, Mike Medina and I, we were both co-producing and I would just send them things online and say: “What about this song?”, I would write out a demo, do the drum demo and then have Gregg come over and play, play the bass for real, send it to Andy, Mike, Wally and Ron and have everybody do their thing. As it was coming together, I said: “This is pretty cool, we should definitely go out on the road”. So, we did a gig in Dallas a couple of years ago and it was really-really fun; there was a lot of work to learn all those songs for one gig, but everybody was on the road so much. Now, we are looking at it like we might want to do more stuff playing live and get out and actually support the record and it’s so much fun, but there is a lot of work, to everybody get off the train and off the road and go tour for a couple of weeks, but we ‘d love to do it.

Covid thing really made us all realize -not the only reason why we think this- that life is short and you always have this bucket list things of plans that you wanna do. Covid smacked everybody right in the face and said: “You can die tomorrow. What do you wanna do if you have one more year? You have one more year, what is that you wanna do?” and my checklist was not so much musical as it was just relationships with people and my son and everything going on in life, my wife, my dog. But it made me realize how important music really is to me because sometimes you forget -especially, when you are out on the road so much and you are playing- what blessing music is and the fact that you can go in your studio and create something like the show “A Song In a Day”: We wake up with no idea, we talk about a song “let’s do it” and by the end of the night, there is a song. There is a TV show Youtube video that every couple of weeks we put it out, it’s called “The Song In a Day Show”  -you ‘ve got to subscribe, come on, baby- and by the end of the day you have this thing and we make a video to  it and it’s heartwarming because you take everything, it’s like Seinfield meets the TV show “Friends” where it all comes together at the end of the day when you play all the things that ‘ve happened in that day like a drum fill or a funny story. When you put that all together you think: “That’s what life is, man”. It’s like one big video of your life and I remember this song for that day. That’s where we are at with The Reddcoats, like this is a time where we are just saying: “We are very fortunate to be able to be in a band with a bunch of good guys and it’s not work, it’s just fun.


So, will you tour for “Reddcoats 2” album?

We talk about it. Right now, I’ve been going out with -I don’t know if you remember that band- REO Speedwagon, I’ve playing with that for a little a while and Gregg is out with Ringo, we just have to find the time. We are gonna see how this album fares and what happens with this and if there is something that’s coming up, we’d love to do it. It’s just everybody has to get off their speeding trains for a minute and say: “Ok, let’s do a month here. Let’s go out and do this”. It always seems easy in my mind, but then you put it to paper and do it, it’s a lot work, because we are doing it all ourselves. You see, we had road managers and other people booking everything, you have to put different hats on and do different things and get into a van, drive on and do gigs which it sounds like fun and it’s fun but when you are out there is like: “Why are we doing this?” (laughs) But I am looking forward to doing that and I hope that we get to do it.


What are the other projects you are currently involved with?

Right now, we are doing the “Song in a Day Show”, which comes out every couple of weeks, we are in The Reddcoats and I’ve also a band with Rick Springfield called The Red Locusts. We write songs that are like The Beatles but they are all original songs and our goal is to be so close to The Beatles that we get put in jail, the Beatle jail, because we are ripping off The Beatles so much, so it’s a kind of a little joke band that we have. I ‘m in a band with Simon Phillips (ed: Toto, The Who, Jeff Beck -drums) and my friend DarWin who has a band called DarWin who we have a bunch of videos out. I’m doing mostly singing in that and great guitar players playing with that: Greg Howe and Andy plays in that a little bit, different guys and really-really good production. I’m just doing a lot of sessions at home, Gregg and I were always working at the house for people. People send us files and going out with REO Speedwagon and doing a couple of Elton gigs here and just writing a lot. I’ve been writing a lot of orchestral stuff and on my website  I have a bunch of videos of orchestra songs with fretless bass and just different things like that. I’m always just trying to keep going, but working as much as possible, playing on people’s stuff to pay the bills. Some of the funniest time I have is playing on people’s songs that people will never hear (laughs), but it’s good. At the end of the day, it’s like playing in a sandbox, where you are getting paid to play music and it’s pretty unreal.


Could you describe to us your feelings while making Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour?

That was an amazing tour from the beginning. I’ve been playing with Elton since 2012 and they always talked about this farewell tour that is gonna happen at the end and it seemed like a million miles away when they were talking about it, but then it started happening. Then, Covid hit and then we picked it up again. It was a massive production and it was just the hit songs from all those years and the last gig at Dodger Stadium, it was bittersweet because it was really great, it was fun, but it was really sad too to look around and think: “Probably, we are never gonna do this again”. I mean, probably will do corporate gigs and we will probably do one-offs or residencies or something, but this with Ray Cooper ( percussion), Davey Johnstone (guitar), Nigel Olsson (drums), John Mahon (percussion, backing vocals), Kim Bullard (keyboards) and myself, we were all looking at each other thinking: “This is pretty epic” and we were just playing big baseball stadiums the whole time. It was big and in a way it seems like it never happened, because it was last year that we were done but I looked at the Disney special the other day, because I have to learn the songs again because we are doing a gig next month and I am thinking: “There are a lot of great memories in there and a lot of great stories”. We went through a lot of crazy stuff, there were crazy stuff going on with terrorism and different things like that. We were in Nice when the Nice shooting happened, we were in our hotel when that happened and stuff like that just seemed to follow us around. So, it was emotional at the end to look at it and think: “Ok, this part of your life is over. Now something else is gonna happen”. Like anything, any day of life could be the last time you do something. So, trying to appreciate that moment is the thing that I ‘m trying to do in my life (laughs).


Was it an interesting experience to tour with David Lee Roth (Van Halen -vocals) in 1987?

Oh man! I remember doing the “Just Like Paradise” video and hanging out with Steve (ed: Vai) and building that set where Dave at first he started to go out on a surfboard and then the boxing ring. I was just amazed at the production that Dave would do for the show and it was like Dave had this vision: “Ok, we are gonna play a song and then I ‘m gonna jump up on a surfboard, fly over the audience and get in a boxing ring and sing a song, jump out of this boxing ring and in the middle of the thing get on the surfboard and come back” and I said: “Yeah, yeah. Sure” and then when they did it for the video and we did it on the tour I was thinking: “You can do anything if you put your mind to it”. So, Dave was a very intense guy to work with and he knew what he wanted and we didn’t always see eye to eye on everything and I was working for him, so that was his prerogative and it was a great experience for me. I mean, I was pretty young then and I learned a lot from it and just playing with Steve, Gregg and Brett Tuggle (keyboards), who just passed away, by the way. It was a humbling experience to one day just be on that stage with those guys. It was really fun and I will never forget it.


Was it a bit surreal to record the song “Give More Love” (from the album of the same title -2017) with Ringo Starr?

Playing with Ringo was always crazy. I remember Mark Hudson (producer) put a band together Ringo and the Roundheads and we would play for TV shows and different concerts and stuff and I’d be looking over at my brother and he ‘d be looking at me like: “That’s a Beatle! That’s a Beatle right there!” I remember one time we were  on a Jay Leno TV show and there was a song that he was doing that talked about The Beatles being together and one of the lines was: “We were brothers through it all” (ed: from the song “Never Without You”, it’s on 2003’s “Ringo Rama” album) and while we are playing it, I look back at Gregg, he was playing drums and he had this tear coming down his eyes ‘cause he was looking at me thinking: “Brothers through it all playing with a Beatle”. It was just way over the top. I’ve been recording with Ringo over at his house a lot lately, in last couple of years and the last experience was amazing, because he sat next to me the whole time when I was playing my bass part. Sometimes you don’t really want to ask a Beatle too many questions because it’s all they do: They have people asking Beatle questions, but he looked at me like: “Ok, I’m here if you wanna do it, do it now”. So, I peppered him for 45 minutes during the bass track and he talked about everything. I mean, he didn’t hold back. I was asking him questions about how he heard Paul’s bass and where he was at and he was just answering all the questions and he was fine with it. So, it’s pretty amazing how he sits down, he is just like a normal guy (laughs). He is a Beatle and he is a normal guy. Pretty wild.


What memories do you have from Electric Light Orchestra’s “Zoom Tour Live” (2001) DVD?

Gregg and I got called by a friend, Craig Fruin and Jeff (ed: Lynne -vocals, guitar) needed a rhythm section to play for going ELO back on the road, finally. It was 2001, when 9/11 happened and everything changed again. We were in the middle of rehearsals and I just remember learning the songs, having my in ears, and then playing them and hearing Jeff Lynne’s voice in my ears thinking: “Man, I’ve heard these songs my whole life and this guy is singing them. It’s not a Jeff Lynne cover band, it’s Jeff Lynne”. Same thing with Ringo, it’s like: “That’s the guy”. I remember one thing that I’ll never forget: We are in rehearsals and I know that Jeff is a musical genius, but one day it was three or four of us singing and when I sing sometimes I scoop (ed: scooping: a vocal technique in which the vocalist sings a note just a little below the desired pitch right before sliding up to it), I go: “Baa-ra-ra/ Daa-ra” (ed: with an increasing voice)  I can’t get up like a Beatley, not just “Paa” (ed: like a timely beep) right on the notes sometimes and then in the middle of the song he says: “Who’s scooping? Who’s scooping” and I say: “It’s me”. He could hear that one guy who was scooping vocals. Man, this guy has got radar ears and then I ‘m thinking: “If he can hear that, he can hear everything”. So, yeah, we rehearsed a bunch and we were ready to go on the road and then the tour got cancelled, because of financial stuff, because of 9/11 I think and he, like a true English gentleman paid everybody for the tour. We never went on the road but he paid us, anyway. So, very classy guy.


Did you have fun performing with Yellow Matter Custard (The Beatles tribute supergroup featuring Mike Portnoy, Neal Morse and Paul Gilbert) in 2003?

Man, you ‘ve done your homework. We were out with Satriani and Dream Theater was playing and we ‘d go to bars and Mike was the biggest Beatle freak, like he knew every Beatle song and he asked me to join this band, Yellow Matter Custard and I said: “Yes” and it was Paul, Neal Morse and Mike and when I got the songlist from Mike, I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I play in a Beatle band with my brother and we play typical Beatle songs and get pretty deep in The Beatles, but Mike was way deep. If he could he would do “Revolution 9” (ed: from “White Album” -1968), he would do the word from that: “Number 9. Number 9”. If it was up to him, he would go there. He wanted to do just random Beatle songs that I hadn’t learned before and I remember going to rehearsal and hanging out with Paul (ed: Gilbert) and we all laugh and sing in every Beatle song. I have an ok range but Paul McCartney is in another level of high parts; I was just trying to cover those. We had so much fun at soundcheck that I completely lost my voice for the show and when you look at it on Youtube, I ‘m barely hanging in there trying to sing. It was impressive that Mike was such a crazy, great drummer for the technical stuff, but he would play the Beatle songs like the Beatle songs. He played them like Mike, played them a little bit different but he really knew the songs up and down and I admire him so much as a drummer but also as a businessman, too. That guy, before I knew it, we had Yellow Matter Custard hats, t-shirts, CD’s, videos. He’s a machine and there is a reason why he is where he is, because he is on it.


How much has your approach to bass changed over the years?

I grew up in Michigan, like I said, listening to so much different kinds of music that I would love the way Peter Cetera played in Chicago and the way that he played melodies on the bass. I love the way Eddie Gómez (Bill Evans Trio) would play upright bass and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. I would listen to those guys as I was going to college in North Texas and listening to Jaco (ed: Pastorius) of course, but then listening to Dave Hope from Kansas, Geddy Lee, all these different guys, it became a kind of smorgasbord, I guess it’s best way to see it. This is the power of music and I know that I’m not gonna be like Jaco, , I’m not gonna be as a player as good as Jaco, Marcus Miller and guys like that but I can learn what they do and apply it to who I am and come up with my own thing. I knew I was not gonna be the best bass player in the world, but I knew that I can get to a point that I’m good enough to hold my own. I ‘m not gonna be the world’s best soloist and I want to be able to solo good and do what I do. My first gig was with Maynard Ferguson (trumpet), right after the college when I was 19 years old and I just got thrown into the jazz world.

We were on a Greyhound bus travelling with older guys and Maynard, touring all over the place and playing jazz. Playing upright swing big band, but Maynard wanted to rock too, so we ‘d play Weather Report tunes, we ‘d play everything. That was a major exposure for me to think: “Oh, wow, the music is great. It’s fun to play for a bunch of people”. At that point I realized that I wanted to get into rock and pop. So, I think over the last 40 years I just got more into songwriting and when you write songs, it’s like you are thinking about the bass part the whole time, but it’s really not where you are focusing on. Like when The Beatles would play, Paul would write a song and then later on he would think: “I wanna really focus on my bass part” and he put his bass part on last. I mean, he was playing great bass parts in their early Beatles, but then later on he said: “I want to do this last”. I get that. So, for The Reddcoats stuff I’m thinking about the bass part all the time because it’s based on bass and drum fills and stuff. I don’t think I’m better than I was younger, but I think I’m older now and I know more about what to play and what not to play.

The good thing about now, when everybody has their own home studios, Gregg and I would do a session here and we ‘d say: “We are gonna give you three versions”, especially if it’s online and we ‘d do it live in studios, too. We ‘d say: “Here is the simple version, take 1. We play like the demo. We ‘d write out exactly what the demo does. You have that live band playing your demo”. Now, the second take we are gonna do more like what we would do, split the difference between the demo and then what we would do if it was our band and then the third one is the “go nuts” take where we just go over the top and play whatever and then they can always edit it. That’s the beauty today of music and in the old days there was a 2’’ tape and you had to have that take. So, I remember with Maynard, as soon as we got in the band, we did live to 2-track album right away (ed: “Storm” -1982).

19 years old, maybe 20 years old, having to play with the big band live in LA where you can’t fix anything, and then the second record “Live from San Francisco” (1985) with Maynard, same thing, live to 2-track. So, we learned early that you gotta do this, now it’s a little simpler because you are in the studio, you can punch yourself in, but there is something about the spirit of the first take that we all love and that’s usually the one that we go with The Reddcoats. It’s that first thing that comes out. I believe that music comes to you from God and God just shoots it to you and you shoot it out, you know, it’s weird. The first thing that comes to you is usually the right thing, it’s usually the best thing, but there are always second and third takes, too. So, overall approach, I think the main thing for me is just learning to be more of a team player musically and to know that it’s not about me when I’m playing other people’s music; to support the artist. The Reddcoats is just the opposite (laughs), it’s all about us. It’s like: “This is what we can do”. So, it’s a good balance.


By the way, Ron Carter (Miles Davis Quintet -double bass) told me last year that the first take in the studio is always the best, because the first time you play the music, the second time you play yourself. Do you agree with this?

I agree and I would never argue with Ron Carter on anything. He is exactly right. I think he is talking about that spirit of the first take: How you hear a song the first time you start playing on it; you might make a couple of mistakes and stuff, but that’s just pure who you are. I remember being in a studio with Elton for the first time, sitting there and we are in the studio, we are getting all the sounds and then Elton comes up with the song and he says: “Let’s record it. One, two, three, four” and we all start playing and I’m thinking: “Where is the click track? Are we gonna practice this or are we gonna play it?” and we get through the song, mistakes all over the place, we got done with it and now I know the tempo we can start from scratch and we are gonna figure out the parts. He says: “Ok, let’s go in and listen”. So, he goes in and listens to it and he says: “Let me sing the harmony”, he puts the harmony on it. Davey Johnstone says: “Let me go and play a guitar overdub”, he goes and plays a guitar overdub and I ‘m sitting there thinking: “This is what they did. This is how they did it”. All these mistakes that they made and I made, all of a sudden become charming and cool-sounding, like “Rocket Man”, there are little things all over the place, they probably fixed major mistakes, but the first thing that came out, they would keep in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and that comes through. Sure, there all funny little things with The Beatles that you say: “Oh, that’s not perfect” but you know those things and they become part of the song, like when George’s (ed: Harrison -guitar) voice cracks on one of the harmonies. You can’t wait to hear that because you know it’s coming. It doesn’t make you like the song any less, it makes you like it more, because it’s human. So, I think that was what Ron was talking about and I agree.


How much artistic freedom do you have on other people’s albums?

I am surprised lately that people are open to you just doing what you wanna do. I mean, the beauty of doing three or four takes is that you always want to respect someone’s demo and give them what they used to hear in but with a bass player instead of a keyboard bass or whatever their demo bass is. So, out of respect I do that and I’m amazed sometimes when I do a third take of some crazy stuff that that’s what they end up using. I think music is changing, it’s not like straight drums “too-too-tan/ too-too-tun, boo-boo/ bamp-bamp”. Music is changing, even Joe (ed: Satriani). I just did a bass part from their new song (ed: “The Sea of Emotion, Pt. 1” by Satriani & Vai) that they did a video for and Joe sent me the files. In the old days working with Joe -I ‘ve worked with Joe a million times and because he can play really good bass- he could be right in there looking at saying: “Don’t do that. Don’t do that. Do this. Do that” always in a good way, not controlling but he just knew what he wanted. In this song he said: “Do whatever you want. Just play what you want” and I thought: “Wow! That sounds pretty cool”. I mean, in parameters, you don’t go playing what the song isn’t. I think people are more open to doing whatever, because they know music is changing and it’s not that it has to be so cookie-cutter.


Who are your influences on bass?

Oh man, it’s just everybody. I can’t name less than 20, if I was to sit down and tell you who these people are and what they ‘ve meant to me and how I’ve listened to them over and over and over again. First band, of course, was The Beatles that Greg and I saw with my sister, Kathy and my dad, we went to see The Beatles in ’66 I think in Detroit, so you listen to that and you ‘ve already listened to so much, with the Beatles. That got us into rock bands. I went kicking and screaming in the music because I didn’t really want to do it, so I would go downstairs with my tennis racket, put my phone on it pretending I was jamming to Rush, Kansas, Boston, Chicago, all the major cities and all the different bands, REO Speedwagon, I was listening to everything and then I started playing bass and started playing in bands in Detroit and then learning how to read. My mum made me playing trombone, she made me learn upright bass with a bow. Thank God, she did that and I just got into different kinds of music and by the time I went to North Texas State, I was pretty into jazz and then you get to North Texas State and there is a whole other level of musicians. Everybody is good, everybody is better than you, you gotta step up. Living with my brother, Tim Ries the sax player, a great sax player who plays with The Stones now, they would turn me on to music that I had never heard and so many different bass players. I remember the first time I got to school, I heard Gary Willis, I heard him playing at a club and I walked in and heard him and I just couldn’t believe how good he was and I went home and packed my suitcases, because I was gonna leave, because I said: “If everybody plays like this, what am I doing?” and my brother said: “Everybody doesn’t play like Gary. Garry is a freak show, he’s amazing. Just stay here, it will be ok”. Being in college like that just made me see the big picture of so many different styles. So, yeah, just listening to everything, that’s all I can say, just constantly listening to music.


How important is improvisation to you?

I always wish I could be better and it will surprise somebody because they will say: “He’s a rock bass player”, like when I first toured with Dave (ed: Lee Roth) everybody thought that I was a metal/rock bass player and that’s just what happens. You get typecasting in that thing, but it never was that way. I like to play it but I also like doing everything else. I always try to work on my chops and try to get better, but like I said earlier it’s only in the last year that I realized if I can play what I hear in my head, then I would be a really good bass player. So, I’m in the process now of writing tons of songs just as an exercise of singing whatever I hear and then thinking: “Man, I would never play that on the bass. That’s what I wanna hear a bass player play”. So, I will let you know how that goes because I ‘m trying to figure it out, but it’s making me play a lot different. The unfortunate thing with bass solos is that everything drops out except for the drums. You have no bass pumping, that you are still on these uncharted waters of keeping the song going, yet playing a bass part, which is what I hate about bass solos. It’s helping me when a bass solo comes out, I would hope the keyboard player would be playing changes and I can play pop lines or rock lines over that but not just doing the same thing I’ve been doing for 40 years because I’m sick of myself. I want to change that.


Tony Williams came from Boston and joined Miles Davis when he was 17 years old. Are there those kinds of opportunities nowadays?

Oh yeah. I would think now probably more than ever because of Youtube and social media. I mean, people are posting things, kids playing stuff now that nobody could play 30 or 40 years ago. They just became different kinds of animals, that they are playing stuff that I didn’t even know what language they are speaking. I would think that somebody like Stanley Clarke would hear a guitar player online and just say: “Man, I gotta get that guy”. I would think those windows and doors are way more open than in the old days where you ‘d say: “I heard of this guy, Tony Williams from Boston, yeah, let’s fly him out here, let’s check him out”. I would think those opportunities are way more than back then, because you can see everybody now on Youtube and you feel like you know them because you are watching them every day. So, yeah, that’s a good question.


Looking back, was the ‘80s a good decade for music?

In the ‘80s, when I moved to LA in ’83, first thing I did was I had to make money because I didn’t have any money, so I joined the Top40 band that we were playing five nights a week at this club at Universal Studios and then the band on Sunday and Monday, their bass player left, so I took his place. I took the place of Jason Scheff. Jason just got the gig singing, playing bass when Peter Cetera left Chicago, so I joined this band called Donna and the Kids, with Donna McDaniel. Then, I was playing five nights a week with that band, two nights a week with this other band on the weekend. But then I got the gig in Disneyland in the daytime playing five sets of Top40 coming up from the ground at Disneyland and the lead singer I met the day I auditioned for that and she became my wife later and one of my best friends was the drummer in that band. So, the more you do, the more you meet people that are with you your whole life. I was playing Top40 5 days a week, 7 nights a week for 1 ½ year straight and the ‘80s music, I don’t remember it right now because I probably got it a lot in my system, but every new song that came out you ‘d play the next day; you had to learn all the songs. I mean, from Madonna to “The Heart of Rock & Roll”, Huey Lewis, to Prince. It was wide back then. There were a lot of different styles, a lot of great music and some rockin’ tunes. I don’t know if people beg on the ‘80s, they always beg on things that ‘ve already happened like they think they are reinventing the wheel. I was just talking to somebody the other day about that song “Everybody Wang Chung Tonight” (ed: “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” by Wang Chung -1986), and the song is an ok song and it was a hit song, but the bridge on that song is one of the most beautiful things that I have ever heard in my life. You know that (ed: he’s singing great) : “On the edge of oblivion”. That was on the radio and it sounds like Sting. There was some amazing music in the ‘80s and there was the metal/rock, the hair rock, it was all slammed in the ‘80s. The ‘90s went into different direction, Nirvana and different things. Each decade had its own thing for better or worse, but I personally love the ‘80s, I thought there were great songs, but I’m glad to be here now in 2024, still alive.


You ‘ve played with many different people in your career. Is playing with different people a kind of evolution too?

I learned early that I didn’t really want to be the center of attention. We had a band called The Mustard Seeds and some different bands that I was in, where I was singing and being the main guy and it freaked me out, because once you are singing words you are responsible for the message of those words, you are the face of the band and you are this and that. Sometimes, I don’t wanna deal with that. So, playing with artists like Elton and Rick Springfield, Satriani, Steve and different bands like you guys deal with it, I just wanna play bass. Sometimes, that’s a lot of fun to me. Sometimes I like to be the guy singing the song, but I wouldn’t wanna do it all the time, that’s why The Reddcoats is great for me because we can do that while doing all the other stuff. But as far as taking all the attention of being that guy, I don’t want that, I can’t handle that and my brain is not wired for that.


Why is there no competition among bass players? I mean, you, Leland Sklar, Tony Levin, Billy Sheehan, Victor Wooten, you all love each other.

That’s because bass players are team players, I think and there are certain personality types. Guitar players, not all the time, but they have their thing, mentally. Of course, everyone is different, you can’t cookie-cut what everybody is live, but I think bass players are a little more mellow, in America there is the second baseman, in the baseball field. Out of all the nine positions, there is the second baseman. If you don’t have a good second baseman, you are not gonna win because that guy does all the dirty work. He is doing double plays, he is doing this, he is moving all over the place but it’s not like: “That guy is the best!” He supports the team. I think bass players do that. We just want the band to rock, we want the band to swing and I’m the motor for that. Me and the drummer are the motor for that. I’m gonna do what’s right for that situation and when it’s my time to shine and play, I’ll do it. I think that cultivates a personality of just being a good guy, being a team player and those guys you mentioned they are all great guys. Billy is just a great team player guy; Billy has his sound, he has his way that he wants to do things and it’s amazing. I mean, nobody plays bass like that guy, but in the bottom line he’s a bass player, he wants the band to rock and without him doing his job or my doing my job, the band is not gonna rock. It’s a personality thing, I think about that all the time: Most bass players I know are pretty mellow, good guys. Not to say that the other musicians aren’t, but face it: Drummers are a little wacky, guitar players are wacky, keyboard players are wackies, bass players rule. That’s all I’m gonna say.


Do you think because of the streaming services listening to an album from start to finish is becoming a kind of lost art?

Definitely. Most definitely. I am always trying to support full albums and support and buy my friends’ albums. When I listen to the whole album, I am exhausted. When I listen to The Reddcoats album, I am exhausted. We had to listen to it many times, Mike and I when we were mixing it; he was mixing it and I was putting in my ideas and thoughts. It takes a lot now, because we ‘ve suckered into just these quick memes and short little videos, TikTok. Our attention spans are out of the window and this is no news to anybody; we’ve changed the way we look at life and that’s not good. Especially for relationships: Relationships take work. My marriage with my wife is not always perfect. We need us to sit down, stop everything, talk and fix this problem, it takes time. When I go, in the back of my mind, I ‘ve got to do this session, I ‘m talking to my wife, I have to literally say: “The session away. This is the most important thing”. I think we ‘ve lost our minds and put away the most important thing to what is quick and easy. So, listening to an album top to bottom, is not on everybody’s list, but I highly encourage it and I want to do it more. I mean, I saw Paul McCartney at Dodger Stadium and after half an hour, my mind was going a little crazy and I had to walk around and come back and that’s Paul McCartney, my hero. So, it has affected me as much as I can judge anybody else for, because it has happened to me. I need to retrain my mind and get back to the basics and listen to whole albums and look at the artwork like I did when I was a kid.


Do you have any musical ambitions left?

Of course, yeah. I love working, I love playing on everybody’s stuff whenever people send me stuff or when I go on the road supporting artists and being in a band like with REO. I would definitely love, like I said, to keep writing things where I am singing melodies and playing that and working on that, working on different things. I ‘d love to keep writing Reddcoats stuff and keep expanding on that and getting better. At the end of my life, on my deathbed, I am not looking my life thinking: “Oh man, I wish I practiced more” or “I wish I had written more songs. I ‘m gonna be gone”. I want to be with the people that I love, with my family and just appreciate this life. So, I don’t want to make music so important that it becomes everything, because it’s not. There is so much more and I’m a big proponent of living your life and going on vacations and hanging out and play music when you want to and I’m older now, so I don’t have to do as much legwork as I used to. But I always wanted to get better, I always wanted to watch guys and learn but I ‘ve crumbled into my own ways of going. I don’t know if I am gonna get much better in the time I have left, especially when I see these kids and I just say: “Man, there is no way I’m gonna get as good as that kid. He’s 12 years old and he’s playing circles around me. God bless him! That’s great. I hope it works out. Keep doing what you are doing”. 30 years from now it’s gonna be nuts. It’s like a pitcher on baseball throwing 100 miles/hour maximum and it hasn’t changed for 100 years, but by practicing every day, can he throw 120 miles/hour? I don’t think so. He is maybe gonna throw 105, I don’t think that’s gonna change so much. I don’t think in the rest of my life, I am all of a sudden gonna be Ron Carter or Eddie Gómez or Jaco. I think I’ve peaked out, but I can always get better.


Who is the person you have the best musical connection on stage, except Gregg?

(Laughs) Oh man, I love drummers. When, I was playing with Elton, Nigel (ed: Olsson) and I would laugh all night, just playing and looking at each other. There is nothing like playing and looking at people when you are playing. It’s the greatest thing about being in a band, reminds me the first time when I played with Gregg in a basement. So, playing with Bryan Hitt in REO, we would look at each other and laugh and guitar players and stuff, it’s just that human connection of life and saying: “I’m really tired right now, we ‘be been on a bus all night and I’m not really feeling that great”, but we are playing a song and I’m looking at you and you are looking at me and we are saying: “We are gonna get through this”. That’s what music is, man, it’s just going from point A to point B everyday and trying to appreciate that now, instead of 10 years from now, looking back. I was talking with my wife yesterday: Right now. All that matters is right now, enjoying this moment, even though it’s not perfect, whatever happens now is where I wanna be. I don’t wanna look too much down the road. I’m right here with my dog right now talking to you and there is no place, I ‘d rather be (laughs).


Are you optimistic about the future of instrumental music?

Absolutely, we just did a “Song In a Day Show” at Concordia University Irvine, down my street and I was walking around the hall, they had a beautiful studio built there, the guy named Steve Young is running the Music Department and I was amazed that there are all these young kids, they are going to school there for music and I’d go to their practice rooms and I’d hear them and they were amazing players. We had some girl singers sing the choir part to the song and they sounded like they were 50 years old, they were amazing singers. Sometimes I get bitter, I think all of us, all the musicians get a bit bitter and judgmental of what’s coming. We always say: “Oh, 2’’ tape man, you couldn’t punch in on 2’’ tape”, we always say that, but we are also scared of what’s coming because we know that they are gonna be better. They may not be as tasteful, because that’s gonna come as they get older, but right now, young kids are like charging bulls coming: “I’m better than you, guys. I can play that circles around you” and that’s cool and hopefully they do it in humility and they fine-tune their art to be great musical players. But I have a lot of confidence not to be bitter about it, not to think: “Oh, music was so much better when I was growing up”. It’s just as good  now, players are just as good, if not better. A lot remains to be seen about where it’s gonna go, but yeah, I have a lot of hope to the future.


I am a huge Jack Bruce (Cream -bass). Is he an influence on you?

Of course, yeah, Jack Bruce. The fact that he was playing fretless bass, too, it kind of freaks me out. Singing, playing fretless bass. Yeah, he is huge, he is the guy. I do a lot of cover bands singing his songs and a great vocal range and what a great bass player. Simon Phillips  (Toto, The Who, Jeff Beck), who I record with, talks about playing with Jack all the time and said that he was one of the most musical guys on the planet.


Now you are talking about fretless, a couple of months ago, I  did an interview with Percy Jones (Brand X, Brian Eno).

I did a fretless session yesterday here at my house and on the third crazy take I did a Percy “Bbrrrooouuup”, the harmonic slide neck. I just thank him every time I do that because he started that whole thing or he was the first guy that I heard do it.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr. Matt Bissonette for his time. I should also thank Mr. Steve Karas for his valuable help.

Official The Reddcoats website:

Official Matt Bissonette website:

“The Song In a Day Show” Youtube channel:

More Interviews