Slayer's Tom Araya: "Practice, Practice, Practice. That's the Best Advice I Can Offer"

What influenced you to pick up an instrument?

My older brother was learning to play the guitar. So, basically, to accompany him. I started doing that when I was 11 or 12 years old. By the time I hooked up with [Slayer guitarists] Kerry [King] and Jeff [Hanneman], I was 19 or 20. I’d been playing for seven or eight years already.

What was your first bass?

My first bass was a Vox acoustic guitar with four strings on it. When my brother started to take his guitar playing seriously, he bought a $20 guitar and amplifier, a Sears Roebuck model, from our neighbor. Then I took the Vox and put four strings on it, then learned how to play.

What was the first song you learned?

It was probably a Beatles song. I can’t think of the exact song, though. I think the first riff I learned was “Satisfaction.” And you know, you follow it with Deep Purple's “Smoke on the Water.”

What do you recall about your first gig?

It was at a party at a friend’s house and we were just learning how to play one song and we played it all night. I can’t think of the song. Maybe it was “Johnny B. Goode.”

Ever had an embarrassing onstage moment or disaster show?

It was with a band that I had formed with my brother, his friend and two other friends. We played at this 15th or 16th birthday of some girl. That was a nightmare gig because we played the same songs over and over again. We got paid, so it was kinda cool I guess.

What’s your proudest moment as a player?

Oh, man. Oh, wow. I’m amazed that I did what I did at such a young age. I just picked up an instrument and learned how to play it. I took the initiative and learned how to read music and write music. That was an accomplishment, because my brother took music lessons. He was in band class. I wasn’t. I just went out and bought charts and really put my head into learning how to read music.

What’s your favorite piece of gear?

I use a standard Marshall bass head, which is a really good head. And they made me a couple of cabinets that sound really cool. But yeah, I just use a standard rig. It’s not hopped up; it’s not the “Tom model.” It’s just a Marshall bass amp, which sounds awesome. And I have an ESP signature bass that I use. Lately, I’ve been using the passive pickups that sound really amazing.

Do you have any advice for young players?

Practice. Practice, practice, practice. That’s about it. That’s what I did. Religiously. Same with the band. We practiced all the time. I mean, 24/7. We practiced a lot until our first album with Rick Rubin, which was [1986’s] Reign in Blood. Covers, whatever. We just practiced all the time to make sure we were tight, tight, tight. So that’s the best advice I can offer.

Photo: Jimmy Hubbard

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