Humanity currently faces many looming questions: How do we reverse climate change? Will this pandemic ever end? Is Johnny Depp actually good at guitar?
For those who aren’t familiar, when Johnny Depp isn’t acting or looking haggard in the courtroom, he moonlights as a scarf-hanging-from-the-headstock blues rock guitarist in the vein of Joe Perry from Aerosmith. In fact, Depp formed the supergroup Hollywood Vampires with Perry and Alice Cooper. Essentially a glorified cover band, the trio check off all the hard rock cliches and bring an inherently limited amount of creativity to the table. Considering the legacies of Perry and Cooper, it was Depp’s chance to brush shoulders with his rock god friends — and show off his skills on the axe.
Perhaps the best example of Johnny Depp’s essence as a guitar player is the obnoxious Dior fragrance commercial that tortured television audiences for the past year. It sees Depp playing blues licks in a desert while surrounded by a pack of wolves. The cringe factor is high, and the guitar work is average. But Depp didn’t always have such obvious guitar-dad vibes.
His journey as a “professional musician” began with a brief stint in Rock City Angels, a Guns N’ Roses-style ’80s glam metal band. Likely due to his budding acting career, Depp would hang up the axe until forming the semi-joke band P with Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers. The group released one self-titled album in 1995, somehow securing major label support from Capitol. The single “Michael Stipe” garnered minor attention via novelty, but the project didn’t go beyond the debut LP. Depp had some underground cred, at least, by association with Haynes.
That brings us back to the original question: Is he talented?
Well… that’s relative. The P album is certainly adventurous, proving that Depp could hold is own playing fractured punk and weirdo rock. But it’s not necessarily an example of virtuosity (nor was intended to be). Still, we’ll chalk up some points for jamming with a Butthole Surfer and lending his very famous name to a record that gave zero f**ks.
As for the guitarist Johnny Depp is now, we have to look toward the cover tunes of Hollywood Vampires and most recently, his collaborative work with guitar legend Jeff Beck. The latter offers us an ideal side-by-side comparison, and they just announced a new album together titled 18 and shared a cinematic Depp original “This Is a Song for Miss Hedy Lamarr.”
On one hand we have Jeff Beck — widely considered one of the greatest guitarists of all-time. He’s certainly talented. On the other hand, there’s Johnny Depp. A cursory run through the new track “This Is a Song for Miss Hedy Lamarr” and their 2020 collab cover of John Lennon’s “Isolation” presents plenty of competent chord progressions. It all sounds pretty stock, so it’s not always immediately discernible as to whether you’re hearing Beck or Depp (other than Beck’s obvious solos). But hey, that’s more points in Johnny’s favor. He might not be able to hit those virtuosic runs like the former Yardbirds shredder, but he definitely holds his own.
The Hollywood Vampires material does him less favors, in that it’s just so rote. Rock pastiche after rock pastiche: It lumps Johnny Depp, the guitarist, into a bar-cover-band context, which is how he’s generally perceived. He put himself here, though, with the out-of-season Sunset strip attire and that god awful commercial. But to be fair, he’s not a bad guitar player, even if he comes off like a knockoff Joe Perry.
A tad generic? Certainly. Unoriginal? Probably. Untalented? No. As talented as Joe Perry? Also, no. Still, it’s evident the dude has been playing guitar for decades and knows the blues scale by heart. We definitely don’t need to see him playing butt rock riffs in the desert between every half inning of the ball game, but that doesn’t mean he sucks at the instrument. Final Verdict: Johnny Depp is a relatively talented guitarist who has adopted a somewhat cloying presence as a musician. Haters gonna hate — and defending Johnny Depp’s guitar playing isn’t necessarily hip — but I don’t see you jamming with Alice Cooper or Jeff Beck.