[Please welcome Michael Nelson to the Stereogum News Desk! Michael has served as the Editor-In-Chief of Long Island Press and Invisible Oranges, and you can find his tweets at @MPN666. Check out his inaugural post below, and feel free to say hello/ask him your burning Johnny Depp questions in the comments.]
Last night, after Johnny Depp finished up a two-song set with the Black Keys at the MTV Movie Awards (Depp played guitar with the band on “Gold On The Ceiling” and “Lonely Boy”), presenters Steven Tyler and Joe Perry called the moonlighting screen legend “a rock star.” And yes, in a world where a Burger King-shilling Steven Tyler is still considered a rock star, Depp may look the part, but over the course of his musical career, he’s been less of a star and more of a bit player, showing up seemingly at random to lend a hand.
For Depp, music isn’t a lark: before he found success as an actor, he dropped out of high school to play in the South Florida band the Kids, who moved to Los Angeles and changed their name to Six Gun Method in the hopes of making it big, but … well, they fell short of that goal. Depp then worked with punk band Rock City Angels — co-writing a song on the band’s Geffen Records debut, Young Man’s Blues — but by the time that album was released in 1988, Depp was starring in a television show called 21 Jump Street, and his fate had more or less been sealed.
Still, Depp’s occasional forays into music have been notable for their sheer weirdness, and he’s been foraying more and more over the last few months. So with his Black Keys collab fresh in our heads, we’re looking back at seven other supporting roles played by Johnny Depp, the musician, as he inches closer and closer to rock stardom.
Johnny Depp’s musical career predates his acting career, but his first musical project of note was P: a “supergroup” whose lineup featured Depp alongside the Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes, Sal Jenco (who played Blowfish on 21 Jump Street), and songwriter Bill Carter (the band’s lineup also featured occasional contributions from Flea, Al Jourgensen, and the Sex Pistols’s Steve Jones, among others). They played frequently at Long Angeles’ Viper Club (of which Depp was co-owner) and released one album — 1995’s self-titled debut, which came out on Capitol Records in 1995 and was reissued in 2007 by Caroline Records.
With P still a going concern, Depp stepped out to bring “weird guitar noises” to “That Woman’s Got Me Drinking,” the second track on MacGowan’s first post-Pogues album, 1995’s The Snake. Many years later (in 2010, to be precise) MacGowan teamed with Depp again (along with—deep breath—Chrissie Hynde, Nick Cave, Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, the Clash’s Mick Jones, the Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock, Paloma Faith and Eliza Doolittle) for a cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s “I Put a Spell on You,” released to benefit Haiti relief.
Depp played slide guitar on “Fade In-Out,” from Oasis’ 1997 album Be Here Now, a track that borrows liberally from Bon Jovi’s “Dead Or Alive.” (Who says Noel Gallaher only rips off the Beatles?) Depp also lent his six-string to Oasis’ non-album track “Fade Away (Warchild Version),” from the 1995 compilation The Help Album (interesting note: that track also featured Kate Moss on tambourine, who would later go on to enable such rock stars as Pete Doherty).
On October 22, 2011, in advance of his movie The Rum Diary, Depp played a surprise gig with ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons and Austin songwriter Bill Carter (also formerly a member of Depp’s long-abandoned alt-rock band P). This was perhaps Depp’s most substantial cameo: He jammed with the band for a full 90-minute set.
Depp and Richards have a rich history together — Richards had a minor role in two Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, and Depp claims to have based his own Pirates character, Jack Sparrow, on Richards (as well as Pepe LePew); Depp has reportedly been directing a Richards documentary for the last couple years. And last October, the pair brought their partnership to the stage, jamming on a cover of Charlie Segar’s “Key To The Highway” at an after party for Depp’s movie The Rum Diary at Manhattan’s Hiro Ballroom, mere days after Depp’s set with Billy Gibbons and Bill Carter in Austin.
Depp joined Marilyn Manson for a cover of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” on Manson’s recent album, Born Villains. Depp also joined Manson (and Gossip Girl’s Taylor Momsen!) for a live version of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” in April at Revolver magazine’s Golden Gods Awards show. “I’ve known Johnny for a long time,” Manson told Fuse. “I was actually an extra on 21 Jump Street when I was 19.”
Cooper was featured prominently in Depp’s newest cinematic release, Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, and earlier this month, when Cooper and his band performed at an after party for the film’s premiere (in a tented parking lot behind Los Angeles’ El Capitan Theater), Depp joined them on stage for the 30-minute set. (The band was later joined by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith—the very same rock stars who called Johnny Depp a rock star at the MTV Movie Awards! Worlds collide!)