John McEnroe talks about dating David Bowie, learning guitar with Eddie Van Halen, and life as an after-school radio touring musician…


This week on After School Radio, Mark Hoppus celebrates Episode 100 and chats with tennis legend John McEnroe, where they talk about his love of music and his time playing in a band.

John McEnroe on meeting David Bowie for a drink at his hotel…

“I was in a hotel in London, I would say it was 1981 or two, somewhere around there. It was around the time that I kind of re-engaged and started trying to playing guitar. And one of the songs that I was trying to play was a pretty simple song, “Suffragette City. So I’m in my hotel room, I’m playing this, I’m slaughtering “Suffragette City and all of a sudden there’s a knock on the door, and I open the door and it’s David Bowie. And he’s like, ‘Hey man, I heard you were staying at the same hotel . Would you like to come and have a drink in my room.” And I said, “Damn yeah. Yeah, absolutely.” And then he says, “Don’t bring the guitar.”

John McEnroe on learning the guitar with Bill Wyman, Eddie Van Halen and Carlos Santana…

“I had a lot of people trying to teach me how to play guitar. The first guy was probably Bill Wyman, another bassist. He was trying to teach me the one, four, or five move blues and I wasn’t able to digest it as fast as he would have liked… But the late great Eddie Van Halen tried to teach me on a few vacations, but he got frustrated after a few minutes. I said, “Could you teach me that riff in ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love?’ Because I thought it was like an amazing riff. And he’s like, “Hey man, I had to do something. There were only two chords, that song.” So I go, “Okay.” So he played the riff and I asked him “Do you see it?” And I’m, instead of playing remote like him, I’m playing, “…”, in slow motion. And he was like, “Oh, forget it. Let’s just go party, forget it.” So he abandoned me, but I had Carlos Santana, for example, the great Carlos Santana…so I had teachers, or I’d probably call them friends rather than people who actually tried to help me play the guitar.”

John McEnroe on his life as a touring musician…

“I was the greatest, the most traveled, not the greatest, I should say, take it back, the most traveled unsigned band in the history of music, I believe. When I came out in ’94 after having quit acting and i was in the middle and end of a pretty bad divorce, kinda lost, trying to figure out how to pass some time, it seemed quite natural to try and get away from what i was doing at that time, because I was a little fed up with it. Although it turned out that it worked out pretty well for me and hopefully vice versa. So my agent at the time was Italian , so we had the idea to do this tour in Italy. It was the first tour… I played 12 concerts in 14 days. I had some young guys with me. One of my friends was another bass player, Kenny Passarelli was his name He used to play with Joe Walsh He co-wrote “Rocky Mountain Way” Great bass player I saw him when he was playing with Elton John he was with Crosb y, Stills & Nash. He was the bassist, the mercenary. They play in stadiums, I think it’s amazing. It was fun. I felt like a real rock band. I was like, “Wow.” That’s part of why I played tennis because you’re on your own and you don’t have to worry about all those other guys. And so it was definitely everything I thought I imagined in a rock band. And then I did a lot of shows, and the next year I went to Japan, to Europe three, four times, to South America, my wife was pregnant with our first child, my second wife with ‘era. And she was with me and played all over the world because I connected her with tennis exhibitions and stuff. It was quite an experience, but at some point quite early in our relationship, my wife’s Patricia Smyth who was in Scandal and a solo artist, she told me, after there was a festival that I did in Belgium, I think, and she said, “Okay, if anyone is going to play music, it’s going to be me, not you. So that’s the end.” Because I also had this idea that I was like, “Okay, Patty was a little…” She had toured with Rod Stewart. She had had a platinum disc. It was a big hit that Don Henley helped sing on one of them… “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough.” But she seemed kind of disillusioned with the music industry, the way they treat women, so I thought I’d come along and bring that positive energy. So I said, “Hey, we should play in a band together.” And she was like, “Yeah, we should play mixed doubles at Wimbledon.” I say, “You don’t play tennis.” She says, “Exactly.” So that sort of cleared up the priorities for me. But I’ve had a music lover for a long time, I love music and I just love to play… And that’s part of why I did it and played in bands because I was so used to being alone and doing it myself I wanted to experience something with a group of guys and see how it would work. So it’s something I’ve always wanted to pursue, but never really… Now it’s kind of like a passion, it’s not a job. It’s fairer, I love doing it.”

John McEnroe on meeting the Allman Brothers…

“I remember when I was probably 20, 21, I saw the Allman Brothers for the first time, maybe 20, in New York at the Palladium, I think. And I walked in the back and Gregg Allman is there with Dickey Betts, and they look at me and they hesitate and they walk away, Greg Allman says to Dickey, “Hey man, here’s the golfer.” And I say, “Well, enough close. I’ll take it. But I’m the tennis guy, I actually run.”

John McEnroe on how he looks back on his life playing tennis and raising his kids…

“Are there things I needed to go that far for? From there I could have trained harder. I could have done better. I wanted to have kids, but I thought that I could juggle the kids and still be the best player in the world. And for various reasons, that turned out to be harder than I thought. And so when you bring kids into the world, your responsibility, to me, is before all to your kids and trying to make your relationship last no put it aside i’ll see you in a few months i have to go train and try to earn some more so it was hard to navigate, especially tennis in a certain way, because you are And as you succeed, for me, I was trusting my instincts and they worked well for a while, but at a certain point, they call it in economics, the law of diminishing returns, and finally it started, I don’t mean backfire, my is not as well. And then there’s the hard part… Knowing when to shift gears and doing it in the right way is always the trick. So of course I wish I had handled things differently sometimes and done things differently but overall if I want to send a message to the kids or my own kids for that matter I want to look at the glass half full as opposed to half empty.

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