Bon Jovi Guitarist Phil X Discusses New ‘Hired Gun’ Music Biz Documentary
Vision Films has partnered with Fathom Events to bring a riveting new rock documentary, Hired Gun: Out of the Shadows Into the Spotlight, to select U.S. movie theaters this summer, with an exclusive one-night theatrical event set for June 29.
The feature-length doc, which has been screened to critic and audience acclaim at SXSW Festival, Glastonbury Festival and Calgary International Film Festival, introduces fans to several unsung heroes of the music industry. These artists have played with legends such as Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, Alice Cooper and many more.
Guitarist Phil X (Bon Jovi, the Drills) is just one of the artists featured in the documentary. I recently spoke with him about Hired Gun, his role in Bon Jovi, the Drills, his gear and more.
How did you get involved with Hired Gun?
[Producer] Jason Hook and I go back to our teens outside of Toronto, Canada. He moved to LA a few years before I did, and we later started putting a band together and making music. We went on to different things and ended up in the “side guy” realm of life. When he was presented the opportunity to make a documentary, he had the idea of getting all the people together he knew who were hired guns. So it was a no-brainer for him to call me up and say, “Hey man, you just toured with Bon Jovi. You want to be in there?” [laughs].
Was having a career in music something you always aspired to do?
For me, there was no choice. I feel that if you’re truly passionate about making music, you can’t do anything else. You’re always making music because it’s in your heart. Everyone has a dream of being in a successful band, but for some reason, my bands always happened on a small scale. The hired-gun thing started in the studio and by meeting people and then playing guitar on their records. Two years later, around 1999, I was asked to come in and play on Tommy Lee’s solo record, Methods of Mayhem. It started snowballing after that.
How did you wind up getting the gig with Bon Jovi?
It happened very quickly. I was doing my session thing at Henson Studios, and John Shanks had a studio there. John co-wrote and produced a lot of the recent Bon Jovi records, and I’d run into him a lot either having lunch or walking down the hallway. What changed the game was one day he came up to me and told me he couldn’t stop watching my YouTube videos.
We hit it off, and a few weeks later he called me up and told me about a gig he had. He told me about a band that was having some issues with their guitar player and that I might be the guy to get called in to do some shows when he can’t. I said, “Ok, who are we talking about?” and he said, “Bon Jovi. Do you want to do it?”
So they gave me the material to learn the two-and-a-half-hour hour show and told me I’d be in the reserve tank. That meant I might get a call or I might not. Then it happened: April 14, 2011. They told me to go to New York and rehearse with the band. I was on hold again, and then “on hold” became “Let’s go! We’re playing New Orleans in a few days and there will probably be 50,000 people there.” That was it!
What’s the best part of working with Bon Jovi?
Well, the best part about working with Bon Jovi is just that—working with Bon Jovi. It’s the dream every musician has—to be in a situation where you’re playing arenas and stadiums. You sit back and you go, “Wow! this is it. This is the top of the chain.”
What’s the best advice you can give to someone who’s a hired gun or someone who finds themself in that position?
You never know what it’s going to be like until you’re thrown into that situation with the band, so you can never prepare too much. It’s hours and hours of practice. I know everyone says that, but in this case it’s really true. There’s no relaxing. It’s constantly learning.
What’s your current setup like?
No matter what gig I do, it’s usually an amp and an overdrive pedal. In Bon Jovi, you obviously need the talk box for “Livin’ on a Prayer” and a wah and a few delays. Basically, I’m using my Friedman X head that I co-designed with Dave Friedman and a ‘76 Marshall JMP that I blend with it, along with two overdrive pedals. I go in with the amps working hot but not too gainy. Just a real nice gain where you get true power chords and the single lines sound really powerful. For solos, there’s one overdrive pedal I use and that’s the Saucy Box by Way Huge. I use it for the country solos like “Who Says You Can’t Go Home.” For the more gainy songs like “Raise Your Hands,” “Prayer” and the solo to “Wanted Dead or Alive,” I use a prototype pedal from a company in Italy called LAA. I went through 20 to 25 overdrive pedals and this pedal came out on top of everything.
Do you have an update on the next Drills album?
We’ve got the fourth record we’re working on right now. There are 12 songs on the record with 12 different drummers, including Tommy Lee, Ray Luzier from Korn, Kenny Aronoff, Abraham Laboriel Jr. from Paul McCartney’s band and Glen Sobel from Alice Cooper. We’re in mix mode now and I’m hoping to have it out for Christmas.
Is there a message you’d like people to take away from watching Hired Gun?
It’s all about the hustle. Everybody in this movie hustles their ass off. Whatever gig it is, your job is to go in and take the music to another level, especially on a record. Being a chameleon musically is also helpful. I’ve said this at every clinic I go to, and Steve Lukather also says it in the movie: If you can sing, you’ll probably get more gigs. You can be play great but people will always need a background singer. So work on your vocals when you practice your scales!
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.