Featured Interview – Slash

Cover photo © 2024 Roman Sobus

imageOn May 17th, a new album hit the market. Those who were paying attention may have wondered about the project, entitled Orgy Of The Damned, by rock icon Slash. And blues fans undoubtedly were more than a bit puzzled when they learned that the lead guitarist for Guns N’ Roses as well as Velvet Revolver had cut a blues album for Gibson Records, his sixth solo release.

For many, the thought of Slash playing blues is a mighty long stretch. But if you take a few minutes to dig deeper, you quickly learn that this album is one facet of a project which has the potential to impact a lot of lives on some very human levels. While the record fulfills a long standing dream for the guitarist, it also provides him with an avenue to have fun while hopefully make the world a better place.

Born in London in 1965, as a young boy Slash and his family moved to Los Angeles, where his parents were deeply involved in the music business.

“I came along at the right time, getting turned onto the music by my grandmother and my cousins on my Mom’s side. I heard a lot of blues stuff growing up, but I never got to see any of these guys. Once I picked up the guitar is when I started to really learn what it was all about, just listening to records. Eventually I did get to meet B. B. King and got a chance to play with him a few times, which was great. I went to a lot of shows when I was a kid in the seventies with my parents, but I don’t recall ever going to any that featured the blues greats.

“ B.B. King, when I first heard him as a kid, I didn’t know anything about anything. It just appealed to me, and then as I got older and started to appreciate him as an artist, I think the things that spoke to me even back when I was young was just his personality in his singing and playing. I mean, when it comes down to it, he had a certain cadence, and there’s a certain melodic thing to his playing that really separated him from all the other blues guitar players that I listened to. I think that’s what makes guitar players, or makes artists in general, what makes them great is not their insane technical ability. They have their own personality, their own sort of voice that comes across. And if that appeals to you, you can identify with that strongly.

“And that’s sort of where BB King was for me, but he’s not the only one. He was one of the first ones. Albert King is another one of those we call the three Kings, Freddie King as well. All three of those guys had a massive influence on me with their unique personalities on their instrument and their voices. When you really have a recognizable style of personality, it becomes something allows you to separate this artist from that artist. Those three guys definitely had very distinct personalities. But I don’t want to just single them out, because Howling Wolf, which is somebody that I covered on this record, is another one of those guys, very, very keen identity, and the same for Muddy Waters.”

The idea for a tribute album had been out there for quite some time. Finally the planets aligned, and the guitarist decided the moment had arrived.

“There was no decision necessarily about it except that it was time. Obviously, any of the bands that I’m a part of aren’t hands-down blues bands, but they’re sort of blues based. When I picked up the guitar, the blues guitar style was what I was into. But as far as the kind of band that I wanted to be into, I was full on hard rock, high energy and all that. But I spent a lot of time jamming with different people off on the side, doing sort of loose blues shit all the time.

“At one point in the nineties, I had a blues cover band called Slash’s Blues Ball. It was with a couple of the guys that are on this record, just a really fun, loose, drunken cover band. We did shows and actually toured around on it. And I always said at some point, I would love to make a record of this. However, I’ve just been so busy with so many different things for so many years. But because I’ve been listening to a lot of blues over the last decade, at one point I had a couple of weeks off during the last Guns N’ Roses tour, in between legs, It all seemed to come together and I decided I’m going to do that record.

“So I got Tash Neal, who I jammed with a few years ago. He came in to play guitar and sing. Then we have Teddy Andreadis on keyboards, Johnny Griparic plays bass, and Michael Jerome on drums. We put together a bunch of songs over a course of a couple of weeks and recorded them real quick. Then some of the singers we called on were around at the time, so they came in the studio while we were actually making the record and put vocals down. For the other singers, I had to wait for the next break in the Guns tour, then go here and there, taking the tapes over to them and cutting the vocals in another studio somewhere else. That is how that process always goes whenever you have guest singers, but it was just a fun thing to do.”

imageAs you might expect, the guitarist enlisted a star-studded list of vocalists including Chris Robinson, Gary Clark Jr., Billy F. Gibbons, Paul Rodgers, Demi Lovato, Dorothy, Brian Johnson from AC/DC, and Steven Tyler on harmonica

When it came to selecting songs, Slash started out with some that provided a higher level of familiarity.

“A couple of the songs we used to do back in the day in Slash’s Blues Ball, like “Key to the Highway”. “The Pusher,” recorded by Steppenwolf, which is not really a traditional blues song, was another one of those songs. We also did “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, which also isn’t a traditional blues song. But I decided I wanted to do “Living For The City” instead because that was one of my favorite songs when I was a kid.

“Then fast forward to other songs I decided I wanted to do.. There is “Crossroads,” which was originally going to be “Cross Roads Blues”, the Robert Johnson song, but it was just a little too slow and too laid back, that version of it. So doing the “Crossroads” version based on Cream with Eric Clapton seemed a little bit more my speed for this thing. “Born Under A Bad Sign” was something that I always wanted to do, along with Peter Green’s “Oh, Well.”. The big one for me musically that I always wanted to do and never really played it with anybody, was doing “Killing Floor,” the Howlin’ Wolf song with Brian doing the vocal.

“These were songs that have recognizable riffs that really had an influence on me. For Muddy Waters, it was either “I’m A Man” or “Hoochie Coochie Man”. My decision was “Hoochie Coochie Man” would be the one to do, with Billy Gibbons. “Stormy Monday” is a song that I’ve heard a lot of different people do, and I’ve just loved the song, especially the Etta James version of it. It’s really not a guitar thing that I was influenced by, just the song itself. Everything on the album had a personal kind of connection to me somehow.

“The other thing is, this is not an attempt by me to go, “Oh, you know, I’m a blues purist. And this is like a traditional blues album.” This is just me doing stuff that I like that’s very blues oriented. I’m not trying to rediscover myself as a blues artist, so to speak. But my guitar influence really is in the blues, that’s where it comes from.

“Even in the eighties, when Guns N Roses first started, as a player, as much as I loved the whole high energy thing at that time, that sort of hard rock musical direction that all the bands were going into at that time, one of the reasons why it worked for me was Guns was doing very old school blues oriented kind of melodies and song structures, even though you wouldn’t consider them that. They were really more soul oriented than some of the other bands that were our contemporaries at the time. But as a player, it was all very deeply rooted in the stuff that I learned how to play when I first started, which was all just blues guitar.

“There was one song on the record that I didn’t choose. Johnny, our bass player, got an idea. He had that heard Iggy Pop has always wanted to do a blues thing, but just never had the opportunity to do it. It’s in an interview. And I was like, really, as I’ve known Iggy for a long time and worked with him a bunch. So I called him, told him what I’d heard. And he said, yeah, that’s true. I said, well, if you were going to do a blues track, which song would you do? And he picked “Awful Dream.” I had never heard that song before. I obviously had heard plenty of Lightnin’ Hopkins, but I just never heard that one. So I looked it up and it’s seemed like almost a throwaway track. It’s really cool, but it seems like it was the first and only time they ever played it, that kind of thing.

“A couple of weeks later, Iggy flew in and we just sat together on stools and just made it up, because I didn’t really learn it in earnest, because the original track itself wasn’t played in earnest. It really meant something to Iggy to do this particular song. And it was a nice moment to give him that outlet to be able to do that. I’m stoked because he hasn’t heard the finished track yet. So when it comes out, he’ll check it out and it’ll be awesome.”

The track is a highlight of the album, featuring a stripped down arrangement with Slash on guitar, Jerome on drums, and Iggy delivering a world-weary vocal that resonates long after the track ends.

For the iconic Peter Green song, “Oh Well,” Slash had another surprise up his sleeve.

image“I’m not one of those guys that listens to a lot of country music. For a Guns N’ Roses U. S. tour back in 2016, we had Chris Stapleton open some shows. He’s one of these outrageously gifted guys with a really great voice. That stuck in my mind. So when I was thinking of that song, it suddenly popped into my head that his kind of cadence delivering that lyric would be unpredictable, something people would not expect but it would sound really cool. He was one of the few artists on the record that I’d never actually met. I cold called him and he was really sweet and very gracious, and he knew the song. He found some time at some point, so I sent the tape to Nashville and he did it. And it was just great!

“The album is a little less predictable, not what you call a hands-down traditional blues record. It’s certainly not me trying to be that guy that says, “Oh, I’m a fucking blues artist and this is the next sort of mainstream blues thing.” There’s a lot of artists out there who are serious blues players. I’m a blues player, but this is not meant to be that kind of a record. It’s my take on a bunch of blues standards and some other songs, and then having the different singers take them in a direction which makes them a little bit more eclectic. If I’d had Paul Rodgers sing the whole record, then it might have fallen more into place, more of a traditional kind of a thing, because he has a really great capacity for old school blues. This was more just sort of fun with the genre.

“As far as all of the arrangements on the record, for the most part we took them in different directions. We didn’t stick to doing everything identical to the original versions. Some of these songs, there’s so many versions of them. You don’t even know which one is the really the more traditional of the bunch. But with “Stormy Monday,” it was based off of the Etta James version, although it doesn’t sound like it now so much. It’s a live version by her that I always really liked.

“But when I asked Beth Hart about doing it, she wondered what if we could do it in a minor key. And I thought that would be cool. So we rehearsed it in a minor key. That actual take was really just a rehearsal take but Beth sang the shit out of it, and that was it. We were done. The band actually hadn’t even played that song more than three times, and we had just got in the studio first thing in the afternoon, just going to run through it instrumentally just to make sure we knew what the changes were. And then she came in and just started singing it and that was it.”

In July, Slash and his band will embark on a 27 date tour in support of Orgy Of The Damned. There are several unique aspects to the tour. It is being marketed as the S.E.R.P.E.N.T Blues Festival. The name stands for Solidarity, Engagement, Restore, Peace, Equality, N’ Tolerance, all worthy concepts that the world could use more of.

Opening for Slash on the tour are other outstanding guitar players including Warren Haynes, Keb’ ‘Mo, Eric Gales, and Robert Randolph. Equally exciting is the inclusion of younger artists, including women, with Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Samantha Fish, Larkin Poe, Jackie Venson, and ZZ Ward. The line-up varies from date to date, but there’s no doubt that it provides a wonderful opportunity for the younger artists to connect with a wider audience.

In addition to providing attendees with a fine day of blues and rock ‘n’ roll music, Slash wanted to use the festival to generate the maximum social impact. With that in mind, he has partnered with PLUS1.org for assistance in delivering part of the proceeds from every ticket sale to five non-profit organizations whose work mirrors the festival’s themes. The organizations include the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), The Equal Justice Initiative, Know Your Rights Camp, The Greenlining Institute, and War Child.

“I’m just really excited to do it. I’m glad to be able to get a bunch of really cool artists on there that I handpicked, and they were willing to do it. This is something unlike anything that I’ve really ever done. I jam in clubs with all different kinds of players, but to do an actual blues festival tour and go out there and play night after night, it’s an amazing outlet for me. And then to also play with all these other outstanding players! I’m hoping that if this tour goes well, we can do it every year, giving me the opportunity to play the blues for however many months out of the year.

image“I mean, the fact that I’m getting a chance to tour with Eric Gales is amazing, because he’s a monster. It’s going to be a fun, new experience. Jackie Venson is a name that not many people are going to recognize. She’s got an amazing voice, but she also very unique unto herself. She’s a great guitar player. She fits the bill perfectly. There’s a lot of these of newer artists out there, all very sort of pure and doing the music for all the right reasons.

“They don’t always get a shit ton of exposure, they’re just out there doing it because they love doing it. If you’ve got your ear to the ground, you can pick up on it and find all these great artists. That was one of the exciting things about this tour, to be able to put something together with those people, artists that I just got turned on to that I think are really good. And I thought what I’d like to do with this tour is be able to give back a little bit. This is sort of a bizarre time in our history where we’re starting to go backwards. I was looking for charities that were aiding impoverished people on a variety of issues. My goal was to do something where it was all inclusive and about bringing people together. The blues is a great vehicle for that.”

It has been a good life. Slash is proud of the new album, excited about the tour and all of the music to be made, thankful that he is in a position to make a difference. The blues purists will most assuredly not be impressed, but the guitarist understands. He isn’t trying to be anything other than who he is, and continue to have fun playing the music that spoke to him many years ago.

“I love playing guitar solos. There are live shows where there’s a loose jam in the song and I can jam all day. But I think more than anything, as a player since I was a kid, I was always into the song, and the lead guitar in the context of the song, like a vocal. It wasn’t all about the guitar. The guitar enhances the song and it’s another sort of vocal outlet, but you’ve got to keep the song together. If you start going on a tangent, you forget what the song was.

“I’ve been around music all my life. When I met up with the original drummer for Guns N’ Roses, Steven Adler, we were 14 years old. We started hanging out and he had an electric guitar. When his grandparents were out working at the bakery, we go into his apartment and he had a Kiss record. He’d bang on this guitar, playing the Kiss record really loud. And we just had that youthful kind of enthusiasm like, well, we’ll start a band. And I originally was going to play bass but I didn’t know anything about anything. There was a local music store around the corner. I went in there without an instrument because I didn’t have shit.

“The teacher is sitting there asking me questions, trying to figure out what the fuck I’m doing. As he’s talking to me, he’s playing Cream licks on a  Gibson Les Paul  Black Beauty. I know I told him I was going to play bass. He goes, do you have a bass? No, I don’t have a bass. And he’s clueless as to why I’m there. As he’s playing this stuff off of Cream’s Disraeli Gears album, I told him that’s what I want to do. And he replied, that’s not bass, that’s guitar. From that moment on, that was it. I went and found a guitar that we had in a closet somewhere. At the time I was racing BMX and I was all about aspiring to be a motocross racer and race 500s. It all went out the window. I just locked onto this guitar and I’ve been doing it ever since.“

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