SEMINOLE — In Europe, Matt LaPorte was a star. Heavy metal fans thousands deep absorbed his racing guitar riffs and soaring sonatas for the band Jon Oliva's Pain.
Type his name in YouTube and you'll see why. In two of the first videos under "Matt LaPorte," he demonstrates the guitar portion of Oliva's compositions for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Though he did not play for TSO, Mr. LaPorte knew those musicians and was considered a top-tier guitarist.
At Seminole Music and Sound, where he taught for more than 15 years, Mr. LaPorte was known more for the way he cajoled and pushed his students to attain the same heights he had reached, usually while nursing a cherry-flavored Diet Dr Pepper from a 50-cent machine in the hall.
Mr. LaPorte, who was revered by metal fans locally and in other countries and was known for his sure-fingered mastery of the guitar and deep musical knowledge, died April 20, apparently in his sleep.
He was 40.
"Matt showed me how to play in front of 10,000 people and do it with huge attitude," said Jerry Outlaw, a fellow guitarist in Jon Oliva's Pain.
"He taught me six months of college-level music theory in a 45-minute lesson," said Mark Napier, 45, a student for the last several months.
His everyday personality was nearly as quiet as his music was loud. He refrained from eating meat or "anything with a face on it," but made up for it with cheese pizzas and veggie subs.
Students knew he had been there, done that.
Mr. LaPorte was born in Clearwater, but spent part of his childhood in Minnesota before returning to Pinellas County for good. He got his first electric guitar at age 12.
"He went to a professional guitar school in Minneapolis, stayed one semester and said, 'I already know all that stuff,' " said Sharon Paul, his mother.
He played with several local bands, then joined Big Brother, which drew crowds for years to Gators Cafe and Saloon in Treasure Island. In 2003, he played his first concert with the band that would later be renamed Jon Oliva's Pain.
He never married. "He would have been an awful husband," his mother said, "because his whole life was his music."
Mr. LaPorte went to bed at about 3 a.m. April 20, his mother said. About 12 hours later, his roommate noticed Mr. LaPorte's breathing was labored. Mr. LaPorte did not recover. Authorities have not pinpointed a cause of death. His family suspects sleep apnea.
At the time of his death, Mr. LaPorte was nearly finished writing and recording music for his own version of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Apart from Saturday's funeral service, fellow musicians are planning a celebration of life in mid to late May.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.