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Guitar World
Guitar World
Janelle Borg

“Johnny Depp was the worst guitarist I'd ever seen”: The moment the man who discovered Mötley Crüe and Guns N' Roses knew Depp wasn't meant to be a rock star

Johnny Depp playing guitar on stage.

Johnny Depp needs no introduction. However, it wasn't always like that, especially when he was pursuing a music career. But, according to Tom Zutaut – the man who signed Guns N' Roses and Mötley Crüe – he did have star quality.

“For the most part, there's just a certain kind of energy,” explains Zutaut in an interview on the x5 Podcast. “I mean, I discovered Johnny Depp... I thought that Johnny Depp isn't going to be a rock star.”

He relates how pre-fame Johnny Depp auditioned for him twice, with no success. "So I go to a rehearsal, and the manager's a friend of mine, he goes: 'Man, I got this band from Jacksonville, you know, they're really great.' And I go see them and they were terrible."

“Johnny Depp was the worst guitarist I'd ever seen, but his charisma was insane. And so, afterwards, I looked at this manager and said: 'Listen buddy, that ain't gonna make it. But you should get this kid an agent and put him on TV or in a movie. This kid's a star, but these songs suck. The musicianship is terrible, and it's going nowhere.'”

A few months passed and the band manager calls Zutaut again. “He goes: ‘I don't believe you, but we auditioned for every record label in the world and they passed.' And he goes, 'so I got him an agent, nothing's happened yet.’”

However, when the manager calls him a couple of months down the line, he confirms Zutaut's initial hunch: “‘Tom – Johnny's gonna star in this new TV show, 21 Jump Street,’ and he goes, 'You were right,' and I go, 'I know. The kid is the real deal. He just ain't gonna make it in a rock band. Congrats man, he will be one of the biggest actors in the whole freaking world, I'm telling you.’”

However, Tom Zutaut's Johnny Depp story doesn't stop there. “Johnny Depp pops up 10 years later. He's like, the biggest actor in the world. I get a phone call and somebody goes: 'There's this band playing [Hollywood nightclub] The Coconut Teaszer tonight. They're great. They're from Jacksonville. They have a famous guitar player, but I'm not gonna tell you who it is – just come.’”

Zutaut decides to go and see this band. Lo and behold, he sees Johnny Depp on stage with Rock City Angels, the band he had once signed, but never made it big: “He was... I mean, he's not the greatest, but he's doing it. He finally learned how to play. I guess when you're bored on the set you can teach yourself to play guitar when they're filming everybody else's scenes!”

Since then, Johnny Depp has performed with Oasis, Aerosmith, Iggy Pop, Marilyn Manson and his ex-partner Vanessa Paradis, among many other A-listers, and collaborated on Jeff Beck's final studio album, 18, before touring with the guitar legend. He also shares the stage with Joe Perry and Alice Cooper in the supergroup Hollywood Vampires.

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