Comment(s)

“The first time I was shot at, I was 14 or 15 years old. I had ventured out to try and catch a glimpse of one of my favorite bands playing at a venue in Detroit called Harpos. Anyone who knows this venue knows that you really don’t want to venture anywhere off the property. The surrounding area is extremely dangerous. It helped give Detroit the stigma that has surrounded it for years. And back in the early 2000s, I remember the venue having two jeeps with guys wielding ARs doing laps around the perimeter.

“Being under age and unable to get into the show, my friends and I hung out in the parking lot hoping to overhear the concert or see the band walk in or out of the building. Every so often we would venture out to the nearest gas station to take a piss or get some snacks. But walking around down there was reason enough to be targeted. Rather than trying to rob someone and have them put up a fight, most of the criminals in the area would rather shoot you first and then take your money. It gives them better odds.

“In my case, instead of being robbed, some people wanted us to know that we needed to leave. A group of guys opened fire on us when we were near the gas station. No words were exchanged, just glances. They followed us for a second, started coming up on us quickly, and when we started to jog away faster, they started shooting in our direction. I didn’t look back long enough to see if they were trying to hit us or just scare us. But, thankfully, none of us were injured.

“It scared the shit out of me at the time, and I remember feeling more helpless than I ever had before in my life. We circled around, made it back to our car and left.”

Deadly Motivation

That isn’t the only time Matt DiRito ended up on the wrong side of a gun while growing up in Detroit. But he eventually overcame that fear. “It took quite a while after that—almost 10 years—before I really felt comfortable enough to even pick up a gun or try to learn more about them,” DiRito said. “I’m grateful that I did, because it ultimately became one of the most empowering experiences of my life.”

If you don’t already know, DiRito is the bassist for the rock band Pop Evil. But he’s a bit of a Renaissance man. Not only is he a skilled musician who has played with some of the biggest bands, but he’s also a craftsman and shooter. Actually, that’s a giant understatement. I first met DiRito while touring Cabot Guns, a company known for making extremely high-end 1911 pistols, where he was busy machining a pair of grip panels. Cabot’s owner, Rob Bianchin, simply said, “Oh, there’s Matt. He’s a rock star.”

It took me a minute to realize he was being quite literal. And what the hell was the bass player from a popular rock band doing in a 1911 shop, running machines and building guns? That story, as I came to learn over dinner that night in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is as interesting as DiRito himself.

He shared a few stories like the one you just read about his childhood. “I wouldn’t wish that sort of thing on anyone,” he said, but they did have a silver lining, as they spurred him on toward an appreciation of guns. Now he is an avid collector and shoots whenever he can. “I actually seem to get more time on the range when we’re touring than when I’m back home.”

He trains regularly with a variety of weapons platforms, including some ComBloc firepower: “The AK-47 is super reliable and runs regardless. It’s the Glock of the rifle world.”

He’s also learned from several prestigious instructors but is too humble to name drop or brag. And while we chatted, he told me he was excited for an upcoming rifle training course; he’d get to shoot targets well beyond a mile away.

Shop Mentality

So how did DiRito end up making grips in a shop in Indiana? It turns out that he has a lot of diverse abilities that somehow seem to mesh together. For several years, he worked as a welder and eventually became a shop manager. He’s also built motorcycles and possesses what he calls a “shop mentality.”

This mechanical background translates perfectly to the firearms world. DiRito said, “I’m bit of a gun nerd, and it’s important to understand the tool that you are shooting—why and how it works.”

That’s why he appreciates a well-made 1911. Which brings us to Cabot Guns. DiRito and his Pop Evil bandmates had some downtime after playing at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. They discovered an area of the event simply called the “machine gun pit,” a place where people could check out machine guns and a variety of other exotic weapons.

“In the midst of all of this tactical weaponry was a table filled with beautiful 1911s from Cabot Guns,” DiRito said. He struck up a conversation, and the Cabot team soon realized they weren’t dealing with a novice. DiRito spoke of tolerances and machining in ways few people know, even in the gun world. He mentioned his desire for an heirloom that could be handed down over generations. The guys at Cabot started producing one for him in short order.

Now DiRito is essentially an ambassador for Cabot Guns. One of the many things he does is take people to the range when he’s on the road, showing them Cabot 1911s and why the company’s commitment to high quality matters. It’s also this relationship that brings him into the shop. DiRito said, “Life on the road in a band isn’t exactly filled with quiet time,” but during the downtime he gets between tours and events, he likes to come to the shop. “I enjoy being a part of the process and see my time there as a getaway.”

Giving Back With Matt DiRito

Rock star? Check. Gunsmith? Check. But being the humble and genuine person that he is—you won’t find any arrogance here—DiRito also runs a charity as well. His organization, Star Treatments, provides a VIP transportation experience to medical facilities for children battling cancer and other long-term conditions.

“Being in a position where I get attention for what I do on stage every night and on social media, and all that goes with that, if I could take that spotlight or that attention that’s on me and divert it onto someone who actually needs the attention, that’s really the whole premise behind it,” DiRito said.

The charity was inspired by one little girl who won her battle with cancer. DiRito knew that high-end tour buses, limos and so on—with all the comforts and amenities of home—sit idle when they’re not booked while children across America drive for hours, in pain, to and from their chemotherapy and medical treatments. His Star Treatments charity brings the two together at no cost to the family. The staff completely deck the vehicles out to fit the needs and personalities of the passengers, with their favorite snacks, video games and more, so trips to and from the hospital are less of a burden.

The Star Treatments Facebook page is full of praise from families. One woman said, “My daughter, Avery, was over the moon. She was super happy watching her favorite movie, Lilo & Stitch, while being treated like a princess. [Star Treatments] has gone far and beyond to bring joy to our family.”

What’s even more impressive is that the Star Treatments charity spends no money on soliciting donations. Everything they’ve put together has been through word of mouth and social media. That speaks volumes about their dedication to the cause they serve. As another parent put it, “This is an amazing grassroots mission driven by one amazing, selfless, caring heart.”

Building a Legacy

As you can probably tell, you won’t find another person quite like Matt DiRito. He brings down the house in performances around the world. He helps kids with cancer feel a little less scared every single day. And he is a strong Second Amendment advocate who teaches those around him how to shoot and enjoy guns—not be afraid of them.

While many people in the entertainment industry have jumped on the anti-gun bandwagon, there are a few who firmly stand their ground. Even fewer in those ranks are what I consider hardcore gun people, and Matt DiRito is absolutely one of them. He is a rock star on many levels, and I’m lucky to have gotten to know him better.

This article is from the April/May 2019 issue of Ballistic Magazine. Get physical copies and digital subscriptions at OutdoorGroupStore.com.

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