Slash and Izzy Stradlin Discuss Life in Guns N' Roses in 1989 Guitar World Interview
Strap a guitar around Slash and an unbroken ribbon of riffs will inevitably flow. Not the phoney-baloney kind that routinely kick off most generic heavy rock excursions; but the classic, iron-fisted variety that assumes a front-and-center role in a song.
Born in England in 1965 and raised in California, Slash developed a keen musical ear early on. Since both his parents worked in the business, at-home listening was readily encouraged. "This predates CD's or even cassettes," Slash recalls," but we had something like a thousand records at home, all kinds of stuff. So, by the time I became interested in playing the guitar, I had a pretty acute sense of what I liked and why I liked it.
“That can be very important. I remember Jimmy Page saying once in an interview that the most essential element to being a good musician is being able to hear music in your head. If you can hear it, then you'll show yourself how to play it!"
A good theory, but rather difficult to test on the one-stringed Spanish guitar Slash started on. "Yeah, a lot of jumping around was required!" he laughs. "It wasn't a real bad guitar or anything, but it did have just one string -- the low E string. I was real determined to learn, so just having a guitar was a start. I taught myself a bunch of songs on just that one string.
“Then, when I finally went for lessons, the teacher just sort of looked at me and asked if I had another guitar. I guess I was kinda naive back then. So, there was a long period before I had a real guitar."
By the time he owned his first authentic instrument, a Les Paul copy bestowed on him by a thoughtful grandmother, Slash was doggedly teaching himself licks off of records. "It was," he remembers, "the only way that could have worked for me. I wasn't real good with the lessons, though the guy I did study with, Robert Wolin, was a big help. He was an inspiration, in a way, because he had a band, one of those really good Top Forty bands, the kind that played all the classics, night after night.
“He was literally the most amazing player I'd ever seen. He turned me on to what the difference was between lead and rhythm, showed me how to recognize and play the different things I was hearing on records. It was a lot of fun, really, because I'd bring him a record, he'd put it on, and he'd learn it right there, all the leads, everything note-for-note.
“When you're a teenager, the most amazing thing is seeing someone play 'Stairway To Heaven' right in front of you. So this teacher gave me the basics in just the right way, which enabled me to take things off of records and learn 'em myself, which is what I did for a long time."
Growing increasingly obsessed with the guitar, Slash, an admitted "fuck-up" in school, practically ditched the entire seventh grade to sit home and practice.
"Your basic seventies rock fare," he recalls. "Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent. The guitar just held this unshakable thing for me. About the only thing that interested me in school was this music harmony course, which I took because it was music and I figured that I'd be interested in it. The whole course was based around the keyboard -- everything was written on it. The interesting thing is that I got an A in the course, although I never really applied anything to the guitar. It didn't occur to me. The course, to me, was more mathematical.”
Slash's equipment collection then mirrored his somewhat haphazard approach to playing. "The amp I had at the time was a Fender Twin, a black-faced one. I didn't know what I was holding on to, so I traded it for this piece of shit, this Sunn Beta Lead! Can you imagine? It had this solid-state crap head, it was just the worst! Man!"
The Les Paul copy met with a more merciful fate: "I wound up putting it neck-first through a wall. I don't know why. I wasn't able to get instruments I liked until I started working in this music store; because of that job, I was able to get some good deals. I got a B.C. Rich, then a real nice '59 Stratocaster and then a '69 Les Paul Black Beauty, which I really liked."
By the time Slash started gigging, a genre-less void had developed on the Los Angeles club scene. The Knack explosion of 1979 evolved into a brief L.A. punk movement. However, it wasn't until a resurgence of heavy metal -- a newer, flashier version, spearheaded by the likes of Motley Crue -- that the Hollywood club scene finally got back in business.