Slash reveals how he really came up with the Sweet Child O’ Mine riff

(Image credit: Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Sweet Child O’ Mine. It’s one of the greatest riffs ever written – one that both defined the sound of ‘80s rock music and helped confirm Guns N’ Roses as one of the greatest hard rock acts of their generation.

It’s an upper-fret fingerboard workout centered around the E minor pentatonic that doubles as both a smash-hit riff and, for some, an effective left-hand loosener routine, engaging almost every finger of the fretting hand as it dances round the box. Naturally, this has led some to speculate Slash first devised the riff as a quick-and-easy warm-up lick.

However, Slash recently revealed to Eddie Trunk that warming up wasn’t on his mind when he initially wrote Sweet Child O’ Mine, and the riff’s origins are far more humble than most would imagine.

Speaking on the Eddie Trunk Podcast, Slash dismissed the idea that Sweet Child O’ Mine was a practice routine, explaining, “Somebody else said that and it just became one of those things. It wasn't a warm-up exercise.

“I was sitting around the house where Guns used to live at one point, in '86 I guess it was, and I just came up with this riff,” he continues. “It was just me messing around and putting notes together like any riff you do. You're like, 'This is cool,' and then you put the third note and find a melody like that. So it was a real riff; it wasn't a warm-up exercise.”

Slash went on to explain that, since the whole band were together at the time, Izzy Stradlin and Axl Rose quickly began to improvise their own parts and the whole song came together naturally.

However, Slash once told Total Guitar that, had the band not been together at that time, he might not have shared his idea with them, which may have meant the song’s iconic riff would have been buried forever.

“Initially it was just a cool, neat little riff that I’d come up with,” Slash recalled. “It was an interesting pattern and it was really melodic, but I don’t think I would have presented it to the band and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this idea!’ because I just happened to come up with it while we were all hanging around together. 

“Izzy was the first one to start playing behind it, and once that happened Axl started making up words, and it took off that way.”

Elsewhere in his recent conversation with Trunk, Slash went on to reflect on the song’s impact, saying, “At the time, it was just a song. Nobody had any designs for it to be a big hit or anything like that. It was just a song that we put together that was cool before we actually made the Appetite for Destruction record. So we put it on the record like that, and then the next thing you know at some point after the record had been released for a while, that song all of a sudden just took off.

“We're sort of blessed that we have something that's become as memorable as that,” Slash continued. “You can't really mock that. You have to appreciate that you have something like that in your career, that you have a song that is really that effective. So it's cool.”

Despite this revelation, guitarists would be forgiven for thinking Sweet Child O' Mine initially began life as a warm-up exercise. After all, some of music's most well-known guitar riffs all started out as left-hand-limbering licks.

Just last year, Angus Young revealed he wrote AC/DC's Thunderstuck specifically as a warm-up routine for acoustic guitar.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.