That Time Monte Pittman Taught Madonna a Pantera Riff

Some time around 2008, the internet became flooded with YouTube clips of Madonna playing a Pantera song on guitar on her Sticky & Sweet tour. Naturally, portions of the human population became severely butt-hurt and decided such a false display of metal was blasphemous, so they took to the comments section of metal websites to air their many grievances. That’ll show Madonna! Meanwhile, the earth continued to spin on its axis, and the butt-hurt people went about being butt-hurt about many other things.
Not surprisingly, nobody was interested in why Madonna was playing Pantera. Well, Madonna’s guitar teacher Monte Pittman is the man with the answer. Pittman has a metal pedigree, having played alongside Tommy Victor in Prong, and the guy grew up near Dallas, so he was pretty familiar with Pantera’s repertoire. Oh, also, Dimebag had something to do with it.

You’ll read more about Pittman in an upcoming issue of Decibel, but for now, here’s the story, as told by the man himself:

There are so many little details that led to it. It wasn’t like one thing that happened. That goes back to me playing in Prong. There was a Prong show we played in Dallas. That’s the closest place to where I’m from that we played. Dimebag came to the show. He came early, around sound check to say hi to everybody. Tommy Victor was introducing me to Dimebag. It’s just me, Tommy, and Dime backstage at the Galaxy. Tommy’s saying, “This is the new guy; he’s playing guitar with us.” Dime kind of knew about me from the area because I had a band there, [longtime Pantera producer] Sterling Winfield did our last album, so there was a little bit of a familiarity. And Dime was saying, “Do you guys do ‘Cut Rate’?” And we’re like, “Yep.” He’s like, “That’s one of my favorite Prong songs ever.” And he’s looking at me, like, “You can do the solo, right? You got that part?” And he was kinda singing out how the solo went. And I said, “Yeah, that’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to play because the song does not let up.” And we played it faster than how it was on the album. He said, “You gotta stay on top of that string!” And I’m like, “Yep, I know, yep.”

Fast forward years later, I’m playing bass with Prong. We were playing in Oklahoma City and we’re exhausted, doing a lot of traveling and playing every day. And we played that song, and I had to play that on the bass, which is even harder [than playing it on guitar]. And I’m thinking, “How did Paul Raven do that?!” Then this voice went off in my head: You gotta stay on top of that string. And I realized what Dime had been saying to me. When you play fast, your pick naturally goes away from the string, but it doesn’t need to go far away from the string. And so I kind of realized what he was saying, and that changed my right-hand technique forever.

Now fast forward again, we’re getting ready for a Madonna tour [Sticky & Sweet]. She and I go back and forth [practicing the guitar]. We work on some left-hand things, then we work on some right-hand things. I said, “Let’s work on your right hand. Here are some techniques.” Then I told her the story about how Dime told me, “You gotta stay on top of that string.” That kinda led to me filling her in on the whole story of Pantera and how that relates to me. They weren’t just a band that I found out about—that was our hometown heroes.

The next day, she comes back, and on the guitar I could tell she had been practicing what I told her. She was just chugga chugga chugga on the guitar. I was like, “Wow! That’s so much better! That’s a huge difference.” She said, “Yep. You gotta stay on top of that string.”

And so at the same time, she had gotten a new musical director. He wanted to do her song “Hung Up” with her playing guitar. But it’s in D minor. That would be a great segue to me showing her drop D tuning on the guitar. So I was showing her the song, and I was like, “You know what, I gotta teach you some Pantera.” So I showed her the riff to “A New Level” because I thought it would be easy to remember how the notes just move up chromatically, one at a time. She loved that. She kept playing that all the time.

When we were in band rehearsals doing “Hung Up,” once we ended the song, she would start going into that Pantera riff. The rest of Madonna’s band, they’re not really familiar with that music, so they just started playing what she was playing. Every day in rehearsal when we would end that song, we would just start playing that riff. I thought, “Oh that’s cool, that’s fun.”

But then all of a sudden, you would start to see, like, some runners bring water in to stock the refrigerator. And the tour manager just happens to walk in, doing something. All of these people just started showing up at rehearsals who are there working, but just kinda popping their head in the door, like, “Hey I wanna see Madonna play that Pantera part again.”

And it stayed [and became part of the live show]. I was surprised that it stayed. Of course, I’m not gonna say no. When else am I gonna get to play Pantera on a stage in a stadium? But it stayed, and that’s where that story came from.

Here’s Madonna and Pittman performing “Hung Up” and getting their Pantera on beginning at the 4:27 mark.

Monte Pittman’s new album The Power of Three will be available on Tuesday, January 21, on Metal Blade. Check out the video for his first single, “Before the Mourning Son.”