Rocky George: Going the Distance with Rocky
Guitar World speaks with Suicidal Tendencies/Fishbone guitarist Rocky George.
Released in 1983, the self-titled debut album from Suicidal Tendencies has long been considered a classic of hardcore punk, and a crucial album in the punk/metal “crossover.” The band went through several guitar players before settling on Rocky George in 1984, and he had a lot more to offer than the usual punk/thrash players.
George was a talented lead guitarist with a background in jazz, and in those days guitar solos were forbidden in hardcore. But fans who accused Suicidal of abandoning their roots didn’t realize the band was moving away from what was accepted in hardcore since the first album. Suicidal founder Mike Muir gave the band a lot of room, and he wasn’t afraid to bring different elements, like Rocky, and later bassist Robert Trujillo, into the band. As Muir once said in an interview, “Is the song good, that’s the bottom line, not, ‘What kind of style is it?’ We’ll do something if we like it, [and] if we like it, it’s good.”
Although Suicidal had a surprise radio and MTV hit with the song “Institutionalized,” it took a while for the band to move up in the world. Like the Dead Kennedys, there was controversy over the band’s name, and they couldn’t play their native Los Angeles for years because of concerns over crowd violence. Still, the major labels came knocking, and once Suicidal signed with Epic in 1988, the band took a big step up with their songwriting and production on their third album, How Will I Laugh Tomorrow.
In 1990, Suicidal finally headlined in Southern California without incident, and they gave Pantera a big break as the opening act for their Lights, Camera, Revolutiontour. Suicidal would subsequently hit the road with Metallica, Queensryche, and the European leg of the Clash of the Titans tour with Megadeth, Slayer and Testament.
When Suicidal first broke up in 1995, George felt the band could have gone further, but he hasn’t spent much time looking back. Muir has since reformed Suicidal with a new line-up, and Rocky’s currently playing in Fishbone, another L.A. band that gives him plenty of room to do his thing. Though he’s laid down a lot of great guitar playing over the years, Rocky still feels there’s plenty more for the world to hear, and this in-depth interview with Guitar World has been long overdue.
GUITAR WORLD How did you hook up with Suicidal? You were in the band fairly early, and from what I understand, the guitarist on the first album, Grant Estes, was a fill-in guy.
ROCKY GEORGE Yeah, he wasn’t in the band that long. The guy before me didn’t last that long either. I joined in ’84. Amery [Smith, Suicidal drummer] was my connection. I met him through another guy that used to play guitar in Suicidal. I starting jamming with some people, and Amery was one of the guys I was jamming with then. Not too long after I started jamming with these guys, the guitar position opened up and Amery suggested me to audition. In fact, I was the only guy they auditioned.
GW Even on the first album Suicidal had guitar solos, which was verboten in punk at the time.
GEORGE That’s one of the things I liked was the fact there was space to play some solos. At that time, it was different for that genre of music. I know it pissed a lot of people off, but you can’t please everybody.
GW So did you feel the band was going for something different or had more vision than other hardcore bands?
GEORGE Yeah, definitely. There didn’t seem to be many restrictions. It wasn’t like, “We have to do this format.” Later on, when Robert [Trujillo] came on, he brought in another element from another musical direction, and that started changing things too. It wasn’t on purpose—it was a natural evolution. We never had an agenda,like, "we’re gonna go out and do this.” It was like putting seeds in the ground and seeing what will happen. The band was a complete democracy as far as decisions went and everyone had an equal input.