Recording artist, producer, musician with an extensive career and an amazing talent for fretless bass solos…and that’s just the beginning. Matt Bissonette is a rare anomaly in a land of highs and lows. He has managed to retain a fantastic sense of humor, a balanced view of success, and takes in his stride an illustrious career working with some of the greatest in the biz, including his drummer brother Gregg Bissonette, the other half of the dynamic Bissonette Brothers. As many people in the business joke, the Bissonettes bring an entire rhythm section into the recording studio!
Matt Bissonette was born in Detroit, Michigan, on July 25, 1961, but grew up in Warren, Michigan, where his family moved in 1964. He has one brother, whom he affectionately calls Gregg the Egg, and a sister named Kathy. His mom and dad were both gifted musicians who instilled in their children a love for music and a strong work ethic. His dad was a drummer, and his mom played the vibes and piano.
His brother Gregg started playing drums very early. Although he loved that Gregg played, Matt was more into sports. Once in a while, he would go downstairs where Gregg was jamming, and using his tennis racquet for a fake guitar, he would pretend he was playing with Boston, Kansas, Chicago, or Rush—pretty much whatever music they had in the house.
Then one day, fate stepped in. Around age 12, Matt’s parents asked him to fetch the groceries out of the car. When he opened the trunk, he saw an Aria bass and a Jordan amplifier lying in it. He freaked out and immediately dashed downstairs to jam with Gregg. At first, he thought the bass was actually a guitar, and when he and Gregg jammed to “Smoke On The Water,” he thought the bass part was the guitar part. But he figured out pretty quickly what the bass actually did…and he’s been playing ever since.
A couple weeks later, Matt’s dad got him a tuxedo and hired him to play in his wedding band. Matt had no idea what to play or do. With an accordion player named Harry, he was told to perform whatever he wanted for four hours a night, and to get the band drinks from the bar! For a 12 year-old, being paid fifty dollars a night was pretty cool!
Soon afterwards he started playing in the junior high school jazz band as well as local rock bands. Matt figured out early on that girls liked guys in bands. “That was it, I was in!” Matt laughs. The young bassist soon found himself getting lots of calls from local musicians and booking agents to play at local weddings and private parties. Much to his dismay, his mom made him learn how to read music right away, but if she hadn’t, he probably wouldn’t be playing bass today, he says. She also made him learn the trombone, which he remembers as being pretty scary, but it paid off in the end. His first “road gigs” were with The Kingston Trio, The Four Lads, The Ink Spots, and some musicians associated with Lawrence Welk. Not bad for first gigs! Matt would tell you this was because of a shortage of bass players in Detroit at the time who could read music, but his musical genius was fast at work. He and Gregg went on to play a lot of different gigs over the years, sometimes with their sister Kathy, another musically gifted Bissonette with a great voice.
When Gregg left for college in the 1970′s, Matt continued to work in Detroit playing with The Austin Moro Big Band, The Johnny Trudell Orchestra, Brookside Jazz Band, and others. He had a steady Sunday afternoon gig playing at the Detroit Lions football games at the Pontiac Silverdome. With some good friends, he also had his own rock band called Blue Wind, and they entered many Battle of the Bands contests (and blew off many a flash pod!).
Finally, in 1979, Matt left to attend North Texas State, figuring he would take the world by storm when he got there. But on his first night, he went to a small club called Bennie’s Jazz Club and heard a guy named Gary Willis playing bass. “After that, I pretty much decided to pack my stuff and go home!” he says.
Fortunately, Gregg talked Matt into staying, and Matt learned a lot about playing musically and really listening to other instruments in the band. He played both upright and electric bass till his fingers fell off and made a lot of good friends he still keeps in touch with.
In his third year at college, he got a big break when he was called to play with Maynard Ferguson. His brother Gregg had met the guys in the band and put his name in the hat because they needed a bass player for the next tour. Soon Matt was leaving college to play in Maynard’s band from 1981 to 1983. Gregg joined the band for a tour in 1983, and it was a blast! It was Matt’s first time around the world. That year, he moved to LA but a few months later headed out to New York to play in a band called Caspar. This was his first run at a signed band, and it was tough.
He says he lasted about six months before heading back to LA — and warm weather.
Back in LA, Matt started playing in several bands, including Pat Kelley’s band at local jazz and rock clubs. He joined three Top 40 groups and learned how to play covers. In 1985, he became part of the Disneyland band in Anaheim (the band that comes out of the ground at Tomorrowland Terrace), and looks back on it as the best gig he ever had. Besides meeting some great friends, he also met his beautiful and talented wife Chariya, one of the singers in the band. Although they didn’t marry until years later, they kept in touch.
At Disneyland, he played five sets a day in Anaheim, then sped home to play seven nights a week at a club called Womphopper’s in Universal Studios. “I can honestly say the Top 40 gig changed my life, but I was always blessed to play with amazing musicians,” Matt says. At the same time, he also joined a band called A440 with his good friend Nick Brown. They recorded a record (yes, a record!) for Polygram; they also did some videos and toured with the band AHA in 1986.
Gregg and Matt got a call to join Gino Vanelli’s band in 1986. Then at the end of the year, Matt went on the road with Sheena Easton. He toured a bit in the States, meanwhile doing a lot of session work while at home in LA. He worked with numerous advertising agencies on commercials, film, and TV projects. Once again, Momma is always right! Reading music was the ticket, even in a big pool like LA. Matt worked with artists like Christopher Cross, Brian Wilson, Jeff Lorber, Captain and Tenille, and many others.
In 1988, Matt got the call to join David Lee Roth’s band with his brother Gregg. They traveled the world, recorded A Little Ain’t Enough, and had a great time together. Two years later found Matt doing more session work and starting to write music. After a publishing deal with Island Music, he recorded with more bands, including Don Henley, Lita Ford, Steve Perry, and Kombo. In 1991, he and Gregg joined Joe Satriani’s band. They recorded The Extremist and also toured with the band from 1991 to 1992. As with David Lee Roth, they traveled all over the world and hit a lot of countries they had never been to before.
While on the road, Matt got the itch to start another band with Gregg. They put one together called The Mustard Seeds with Doug Bossi and George Bernhardt. They have stayed together for over ten years, and Matt, George, and Doug released a CD in 2009 called Mustard Seeds III. Matt has written well over a hundred songs with the band.
In 1993, Matt married Chariya and became an instant stepdad to Brandon. That same year, The Mustard Seeds got a record deal and gigged extensively in the States and in Germany.
A few years later, on November 1, Matt was on stage when he was told his wife had given birth to their son, Joshua — he was born six weeks early, and Matt wasn’t there! With typical Bissonette humor and charm, Matt says he’s “been doing all the yard work to make up for it!” Matt also started working with Rick Springfield in 1999 and still tours and records with him today. He co-produced his last record, Venus in Overdrive, as well as co-writing all the songs on the album.
So Matt’s life was changing and everything was falling into place with his family. Being a stay-at-home musician had a lot of perks. He got to spend more time with Josh as he was growing up, playing music and baseball together. By the time Josh was 7, Matt and he had hit every baseball stadium in the country. The most fun part of the trip, he says, was driving in the car talking about the color purple, or whatever the topic happened to be — it was just good to be a dad.
It was about this time that Matt really dove into writing. And so began another chapter in his life: He got a computer, bought a house, and made a studio with a drum room! Not happy just to sit around, he recorded and released several albums’ worth of material — The Squirts, Raising Lazarus, Ten By Tuesday, Jet Velvet, Oh No Bass Solo, The Closet Surfers, Spot, and Spot 2. To Matt, it didn’t matter if he sold a million copies or just five — he had to write and record because it was so much fun.
And that’s where we find Matt today — writing, touring, and enjoying hanging out with his family as much as possible as time flies by. Matt sums it all up: “I am grateful to God for great relationships, great friends, and living in a great State, as much as we all hate it sometimes. I am blessed with an amazing family, a great mom and dad, who I know now are hanging with God in heaven. I am a blessed man playing in my sandbox every day with music. Thank God I quit sports or I’d be looking back at a short career right now. I’ll leave the sports to my son Josh.”