Elton John World banner

Print

New EJ Bass Player is Candid About Challenges He Faced

Written by Chief Editor.

Elton's new bass player says that his friend and mentor was the late Bob Birch.
 
Matt Bissonette was hit hard when Birch committed suicide on Aug. 15, 2012, at the age of 56, after dealing with myriad health issues.

“When I got that call, I was — everybody was — just in complete shock about it and couldn’t believe it had happened,” the 52-year-old tells the Oakland Press. “I talked to Bob's wife and his son and ... it still seems unreal to me.

“So even today, when somebody says ‘Congratulations on the gig (with Elton’s band),’ I really don’t know what to say. It’s just a horrible circumstance, and I really don’t know what to say about it. It’s just one of those bittersweet things. We all miss Bobby. Everybody misses him out here.

“I just hope Bob would be happy that a fellow Detroit guy took his place. It was kind of a natural thing that it just worked out.”

Bissonette got the call, not long after Birch’s death, from Elton’s guitarist and bandleader, Davey Johnstone. It was indeed a good fit; besides taking early lessons from Birch, Bissonette had racked up impressive credits playing with the likes of Ringo Starr, David Lee Roth, Joe Satriani, Rick Springfield, Brian Wilson, and Boz Scaggs.
 
“They had some gigs coming up and just needed to move on,” says Matt, who had to learn “a massive amount of songs and vocal parts” in short order. He even hired two friends to transcribe Birch’s parts from a concert recording Johnstone gave him, but he was still apprehensive about how to approach the job.

“I walked into this situation where (Birch) had been there for a little over 15 years,” says the musician, who was playing with Springfield at the time and co-wrote much of the material on his latest album, 2012’s Songs For the End of the World.

“He was such a mainstay with the band, it’s impossible to fill that spot. I just try to keep a low profile and fit in.”

Things went well off the bat; John even surprised Bissonette by telling him after the first show — on Sept. 11, 2012 — that “he saw Bob’s ghost behind me while I was playing.”

“It was a really big deal to Elton because Bob was one of his very, very close friends.”

But it was also the pop veteran who told Matt when it was time to come into the band in his own right.

I used to have a picture of Bob on my bass for the first three of four shows,” Bissonette says. “Elton kind of took me aside one day and said, ‘You know, I love Bob and he was the greatest guy in the world, but we need to move on and have a whole new thing. I want you to play whatever you want to play. I really appreciate that you’ve done the thing and learned all (of Birch’s parts), but I just want the band to go where it’s gonna go.

“So he respectfully kind of said it’s time to move on, ’cause there’s no other place to go than that. But every time I go up there I’m thinking about Bob. He was a really close friend. It wasn’t so much weird as it was the right thing to do.”