Bass Instinct: Johnny Pisano Works And Plays Well With Others
Johnny Pisano has been “on the horizon” for some 15 years and counting, and as the ultimate team player he Is comfortable just outside the limelight. This musician’s musician has played gigs with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Deborah Harry, Counting Crows and Joan Osborne, and his distinctive bass lines can be heard on the upcoming releases The Innocent Ones from Willie Nile andLife Is a Problem from indie rockers Marah. He has also recorded with Jesse Malin, Ryan Adams and Marky Ramone, among dozens of others.
Ironically for a man who doesn’t like sports, the Bensonhurst-born Pisano’s highest profile appearance to date was playing with Nile in his “Welcome to the Big Show” video as part of MLB.com’s Opening Day baseball coverage this season. Ironic, yes, but also fitting, considering that his first instrument of choice was a baseball bat, which he used to play “air bass” to Kiss tapes.
“Me and my friend Mike would sit in my room with a boom box. He was always Ace Frehley, playing lead guitar on a ping-pong paddle, so I was Gene Simmons.” When a neighbor, a music teacher, heard about these sessions, he offered to teach the boys the real thing and Johnny’s passion for the bass took off in earnest. “I fell in love with the sound of the bass. Every time I listened to music my ears would focus on the bass player no matter how low or loud he was in the mix. I would literally break the rewind button on my boom box to figure out exactly what he was doing, what notes he was playing, to complement the vocals or the lead guitar.”
At first Pisano listened to a lot of King Crimson, Rush, reggae and other “bass friendly music,” then kicked it up a notch when he got into Motown and old school funk. He cites legendary Motown bassist James Jamerson among his early influences, but says it was The Clash who “changed my whole life. Joe Strummer was like a history teacher to me and Paul Simenon created these amazing bass lines. Their musical creativity plunged me headlong into punk rock.”
In the 1990s he got to indulge his passion for punk when he was asked to join Marky Ramone & The Intruders, and in the three-degrees-of-separation world of pop music, this led him to Jesse Malin, which led him in turn to both Ryan Adams and Marah’s Christine Smith…well, you get the idea. “We’re like a bunch of friends looking out for each other and helping each other.” Aside from his obvious musical talent, he attributes his popularity among his peers to “Doing my homework well. My ear has gotten so good that I pick things up real quick. They have confidence in me.” He also says it’s important to “Get to the gig on time, hit your mark and be a nice person.”
Although Pisano says his is not interested in a career as a singer or songwriter, his own “Sam’s Song” has garnered more than 30,000 hits on his MySpace page. He says listening to Willie Nile has inspired him to do more writing. “Willie is out to change the world with his music and lyrics, like Mike Peters of the Alarm, Neil Young, Joe Strummer, Bono, John Lennon and Bob Dylan, if I dare to put him in that category. His songs are so simple yet they get the point across.”
Johnny also finds inspiration in the “old school vibe” of many Brooklyn’s neighborhoods. “Walking a around Coney Island inspires me; you feel like you’re really connected to places like that.”