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Dirty Honey's John Notto: "I was never going to be a jazzer… or a teacher. No backups! Victory or death!"

John Notto of Dirty Honey performs at St. Andrews Hall on February 10, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan
(Image credit: Scott Legato/Getty Images)

Dirty Honey had no label and had never released a full-length - but that didn’t stop them from making rock history. In early 2019, the Los Angeles band self-released their self-titled EP, which contained the powerhouse, classic-rock-inspired single When I’m Gone. And in October, Billboard announced that the track hit Number 1 on the Mainstream Rock Songs Chart - the first time that’s ever been achieved by an unsigned band.

The accomplishment was the culmination of a whirlwind couple of years for Dirty Honey, whose music channels the heavy '70s-era rock of Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. Since 2017, the quartet signed on with a big-time management team, recorded with a hotshot producer in Australia and landed coveted spots opening for Slash, The Who, Alter Bridge and Guns N’ Roses.

“It’s a dream come true,” says guitarist John Notto. “The response at every level of show we’ve played has been that we’re winning people over... Enthusiastically, people are like thanking us for doing what we’re doing.”

For Notto, the road to Dirty Honey’s rock revival began when he was a kid growing up in the '90s in “the middle of nowhere” Maine. After discovering his mother’s vinyl collection - which included vintage hits like Led Zeppelin II and the Allman Brothers Band’s Eat a Peach - Notto would obsessively air-guitar to the music on his mom’s stringless ukulele.

I was never going to be a jazzer… or a teacher. No backups! Victory or death!

He soon acquired a knock-off Tele (a gift from “this old stoner dude” that worked with his father), and later, around age eight, a knock-off Stratocaster. The Strat got him through high school and into his freshman year studying music at the University of Southern Maine. While college was a great escape from small-town life, and helped hone his ear, Notto knew the path of an academic wasn’t for him.

“I was never going to be a jazzer… or a teacher,” he says, laughing. “No backups! Victory or death!”

After graduation, he headed to Los Angeles and dove headfirst into the music scene. Notto, who at this point upgraded to Gibson Les Pauls, gigged with rock, R&B and pop bands, before connecting with singer Marc Labelle over a shared love of classic rock. 

After recruiting bassist Justin Smolian and drummer Corey Coverstone to fill out Dirty Honey’s ranks, things took off in 2017. They caught the attention of Red Light Management, who connected them with producer Nick DiDia (Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam) and the band traveled to Byron Bay, Australia, to record their raucous debut EP and the history-making When I’m Gone.

John Notto's gear

Guitars

  • 2003 Gibson Custom Shop 1958 Reissue
  • 2019 Gibson Standard 50s
  • 2019 Gibson Standard 60s
  • 2019 Gibson J-45 acoustic

Amps

  • 2019 Marshall JTM-45 Reissue
  • 2019 1960B straight 4x12 cab
  • 1981 Marshall JCM 800 (spare)

Pedals

  • Pedaltrain board 
  • Strymon El Capistan delay
  • Electro-Harmonix POG
  • Fulltone Octafuzz
  • Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Mini Wah
  • Xotic AC Boost
  • MXR Uni-Vibe
  • Voodoo Lab 2 plus power supply