If a commanding stage presence and instantly recognizable image were the things that made a great guitarist, Slash would be my first choice out of the gate. But in addition to those visual traits that make him famous, Slash is a guitar player with an undeniable passion for music and a technical mastery of the instrument. It must have been an easy decision for the video game company Activision to choose his music and likeness to promote their billion dollar selling (yes billion!) Guitar Hero. As well as being a playable character in the game, Slash wrote and recorded the game’s theme song and the marketing campaign prominently features his distinctive likeness. He is unquestionably the world’s first ambassador of guitar.
Slash (real name Saul Hudson) was in born in England in 1965. He wouldn’t even have to wait to grow up before getting an inside view of the music industry as his mother, a costume designer, worked for David Bowie (among others) while his father designed album covers for the likes of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. The Hudson family moved to L.A. when Slash was eleven and growing up in Los Angles in the 1970s is about a cool a place as any for a musician to come of age. Riding his BMX around Hollywood, Slash would find himself hanging out at the same playgrounds as other kids like Flea, the future bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Early music influences for Slash included the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith, and these bands’ take on American blues music is a prominent feature of Slash’s sound. Taking up guitar himself, Slash quickly abandoned guitar tab and music books to figure things out by ear. One of the first songs he learned to play was “Smoke on the Water.” Later in life he would come to say: “Imitation should remain a stepping stone for a player to find his or her own voice, but it must never become his or her own voice: no one should emulate their heroes to the point of note-for-note mimicry. Guitar is too personal of an expression for that; it should be exactly what it is – a singular extension of the player.” So he probably smiles with a bit of irony when remembering his first band, a Motorhead tribute called Road Crew that he formed in 1983.
Among the other members of Road Crew were his childhood friends Steven Adler and Duff McKagan (who played bass for a brief spell). After Road Crew disbanded, Slash briefly played with another L.A. hard rock/punk band called Black Sheep. They sometimes shared the same bill with a band called Hollywood Rose, who were fronted by a singer calling himself Axl Rose. The pair became friends and they would eventually form a band together. They were joined by bassist Duff McKagan, guitarist Izzy Stradlin, and drummer Steven Adler to form Guns n’ Roses.
Guns n’ Roses spent 1985 and 1986 writing songs and making a name for themselves around the L.A. bar scene. In 1987 they released their first album Appetite for Destruction. The album would become the best selling debut album as well as the fastest selling album of all time. To this date it has sold over 28 million copies. This album is a virtual greatest hits of 1980s hard rock staples like “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Paradise City” and that staple of guitar store noodlers everywhere, “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” The band released an EP in 1988 but it would seem an interminable wait for another full length studio album. In 1991 Guns n’ Roses released a pair of new albums on the same date. Use Your Illusion I & II were sprawling and less cohesive albums than Appetite. Still, they produced another torrent of rock radio anthems such as “Civil War,” “November Rain” and a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” The band’s popularity was underscored by the memorable music video for “You Could Be Mine.” The highly requested MTV video featured Arnold Schwarzenegger from the movie Terminator 2 hunting down members of the band at one of their concerts. (You can check out the video here.)
Guns n’ Roses toured for more than two years on the strength of their continuing album sales. These were turbulent times for the band, and they would only release one more album of cover songs before Slash was out of the band for good. The band today is still fronted by Axl Rose with all new musicians. In 1995 and 2000 Slash released solo albums under the name of Slash’s Snakepit. In 2002, Slash reunited with former Guns n’ Roses pals Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum (Adler’s replacement since 1990). They initially approached Izzy Stradlin who opted out, preferring to stay away from life on the road and his unwillingness to work with a singer again. The band found a willing collaborator in Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots fame. Velvet Revolver, as they were called, released a pair of albums in 2004 and 2007 and is now currently looking for a new singer to replace Weiland who has returned to his former band.
The ups and downs of Slash’s career are chronicled with great detail in his 2007 autobiography simply titled Slash. He writes at great length about growing up in L.A. and his musical influences. He describes playing guitar as a personal experience: “Finding guitar was like finding myself; it defined me, it gave me a purpose. It was a creative outlet that allowed me to understand myself. The turmoil of my adolescence was suddenly secondary; playing guitar gave me focus.”
Slash has a well documented love of Marshall Amps and a collection of over a hundred guitars. Gibson Guitars now sells a Slash Signature model Les Paul which comes close to matching the axe used on Slash’s most famous songs. Slash has also lent his distinctive sound to other artists, including Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Lenny Kravitz, Michael Jackson, Ronnie Wood, Ray Charles and Daughtry. For an unapologetic read on sex drugs and rock and roll, plus a behind the scenes look at a life in rock music, check Slash’s autobiography. You can also find numerous resources online for emulating Slash’s style, including this one on his use of licks and scales and this one on trying to get the right tone. Lick Library offers some very good tutorial DVDs as well.
In 2010 Slash released his first solo album, simply titled Slash. Slash and Friends might have been a more descriptive title as the album features many of the vocalists Slash dreamed of working with over the years, including Ozzy Osbourne, Myles Kennedy, Ian Astbury, Fergie and others. Slash spent much of 2010 touring with Myles Kennedy singing classics from Guns n’ Roses, Velvet Revolver and Slash’s solo career. Slash recently told Entertainment Weekly that he rejected a request from the producers of Glee to use Guns N’ Roses music in an episode of the series. His reasoning was pretty simple: He thinks the hit show is horrible. He recently placed in the top spot on MTV’s Top Ten Guitar Legends. Slash keeps in regular contact with his fans via his Twitter account.