A&R exec who signed Mötley Crüe and Guns N’ Roses: “Johnny Depp was the worst guitarist I’d ever seen”

Tom Zutaut wasn’t keen on his guitar playing, but he did note that “his charisma was insane”.

Johnny Depp

LONDON, ENGLAND – JUNE 20: Johnny Depp of Hollywood Vampires performs live on stage at Wembley Arena on June 20, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images)

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Aside from his acting career, Johnny Depp has made plenty of forays into the world of rock ‘n’ roll, including with the supergroup Hollywood Vampires where he shares a stage with Alice Cooper. However, according to a renowned A&R rep, he wasn’t all that skilled with a guitar at first – in fact, he has now said that Depp was “the worst guitarist I’d ever seen”.

The A&R rep in question was Tom Zutaut, who was responsible for signing Mötley Crüe and Guns N’Roses, who recounts the experience of watching Depp play with a band before his career took off. While his guitar chops might have been lacking, Zutaut did believe he had star quality.

“I thought that Johnny Depp wasn’t going to be a rock star… You know, Johnny Depp auditioned for me twice, he tells the x5 Podcast [transcribed by Ultimate Guitar]. This is a funny story. I go to a rehearsal, the manager’s a friend of mine, and he goes, ‘I got this band from Jacksonville, they’re great.’ I go see ‘em, and they were terrible. Johnny Depp was the worst guitarist I’d ever seen — but his charisma was insane, you know?”

“Afterwards, I look at his manager, and I said, ‘Listen, buddy, he can’t make it, but you should get this kid an agent and put him in TV or on a movie; this kid’s a star. But the songs suck, and musicianship is terrible.’”

A few months later, Zutaut learned that “every record label in the world” rejected the band but Depp had signed with an agent who landed him a part in 21 Jump Street. 

Ten years later, Zutaut ended up hearing Depp playing guitar again. “Johnny Depp pops up again in my life, 10 years later. He’s, like, the biggest actor in the world,” he recalls. “And I get a phone call. Somebody goes, ‘Hey, there’s this band playing the [Hollywood nightclub] Coconut Teaszer tonight. They’re great. They’re from Jacksonville, and they got a famous guitar player, but I’m not gonna tell you who it is. Just come.’

“So, I go, and I see fucking Johnny Depp up on the stage, and the band is Rock City Angels… And he was not the greatest, but he’s doing it. He finally learned how to play, I guess. When you’re born on the set, you can teach yourself to play guitar when they’re filming everybody else’s scenes.”

Rock City Angels was a band Zutaut had previously signed, who he says earlier in the interview were the only band he had signed who didn’t become a major success.

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