Slash talks new book, childhood with Joni Mitchell, how he 'stumbled into' playing guitar, and why Guns N' Roses would probably get 'canceled in this day and age'
Guns N’ Roses guitar god Slash certainly has led a wild life, and if he wanted to pen a juicy new memoir filled with the typical topics of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, certainly dozens of publishing houses would make him an offer. Just the acoustic album G N' R Lies — which turns 35 this year — and its “One in a Million” controversy could fill a lengthy chapter, all on its own.
Such a book, from 2007, does exist for those who are interested. But that’s not the sort of autobiography that Slash wanted to write at this point in his life.
“I haven't actually haven't thought about it in that context. I mean, I really, to be honest, I haven't really thought about all that [scandalous stuff] that much recently,” Slash muses, when asked about G N' R Lies. “But now that you mention it, most of everything that [Guns N’ Roses] did would've gotten us canceled in this day and age. We would not have fared well in this environment, for sure — I mean, on so many different levels. But I mean, a lot of things from back then would not be what you consider acceptable at this moment in time. … I'm just glad that we didn't have the internet back then! It would've been a different world altogether. But anyway, I don't dwell on all that stuff. It just is what it is.”
Instead, Slash has opted to tell his life story in a unique way — through the backstories of his cherished guitars — in the hefty coffee-table tome The Collection: Slash, the first official book release for Gibson Publishing. Featuring 364 pages and stunning Ross Halfin photographs of 400 or so axes — acoustic and electric — the gorgeous hardcover book covers everything from Slash’s first instrument (a one-string, Spanish-style acoustic guitar that his “grandmother had tucked away in a closet”) to his “go-to recording guitar” or “comfort-zone guitar,” a Les Paul ‘59 replica used on Appetite for Destruction and hand-crafted by late luthier Kris Derrig.
Through its photos, interviews, and first-person essays, The Collection: Slash tells the compelling story of a man seemingly born to play the guitar. But incredibly, even though he grew up in both the U.K. and L.A. surrounded by music legends — his late mom, Ola Hudson, was a fashion designer and stylist whose rock-star clients included David Bowie, Janis Joplin, and Ringo Starr, and his artist dad, Anthony Hudson, created album art for Neil Young and Joni Mitchell — Slash tells Yahoo Entertainment he initially “had no aspirations to actually be a musician” and “sort of stumbled into it.”
"It’s funny, because I grew up in that world,” the rock legend, whose real name is Saul Hudson, told Yahoo Entertainment in a previous interview. “I grew up in that very bohemian, artistic environment — tons and tons and tons of music. I never aspired to be a musician, but I loved listening to records. ... I didn’t think about an instrument until I just sort of accidentally picked up the guitar, when I was just about 15. It was right before my 15th birthday. And then, that just changed everything. So, I guess I was groomed for it, but I just didn’t know.”
Slash now elaborates that well before he turned 15, he was already turning into a gearhead of sorts. “I was huge fan of the whole process and I loved to go to recording studios and watch, say, Joni doing her thing. It was an amazing experience. But I didn't know that I was going to be a musician. And then all of a sudden, I just happened to pick up the guitar. … We used to spend a lot of time at [famous Hollywood club] the Troubadour and recording studios around town, so I was really taken with the setup of the gear — before the show started, that whole thing of seeing everything — and then with the actual show itself.”
A decade or so later, the Troubadour would become the setting of one of the most important nights in Slash’s career — Feb. 28, 1986 — when Geffen Records A&R scout Tom Zutaut witnessed local buzz band Guns N’ Roses’ show there and decided to sign them. And 30 years after that, when GNR reunited, their surprise "Not in This Lifetime" tour warmup gig — the first time that Slash, frontman Axl Rose, and bassist Duff McKagan had all been onstage together since 1993 — was at the Troubabour. However, looking back on his first formative six years in living in the small Midlands town of Stoke-on-Trent, Slash realizes that he was already getting the music education that would lay the groundwork for the rest of his life.
“l Ioved living in England, and I missed it when I left,” he says. “The great thing about living there… was that my dad and my uncles were massive rock ‘n’ roll fans — like hardcore, get-the-record-and-listen-to-it-intently-at-full-volume fans. And so, I got turned on to the blues, I got turned on to the Stones, I got turned on to the Moody Blues, I got turned on to Pink Floyd and the Yardbirds and all that stuff that was happening at that time, like Jimi Hendrix [who first found success in Britain]. I was weaned on really great British rock ‘n’ roll from my inception.”
And once Slash, whose real name is Saul Hudson, and his father moved to Los Angeles to rejoin Ola, who had returned to the States for work, he formed core memories of hanging in the background, “sort of like a piece of furniture,” observing his mother’s Troubadour-frequenting fabulous friends.
“There were a lot of people around — we were living in Laurel Canyon, and it was 1971 or whatever, so they worked with Joni Mitchell and a lot of David Geffen artists, or like David Crosby, who just passed away. All those people were all in the Canyon, and it was a very communal environment. I have great memories of just being around… everybody hanging out, smoking a lot of weed and being really, really creative and everybody being, for the want of a better word, supercool.
“Everybody was really laid-back and everybody was really cool — and everybody was really intelligent, which is a little bit different than the sort of picture of rock ‘n’ roll that we think of,” Slash continues with a nostalgic grin. “All these people were very, very much educated and had a very sort of clear perspective on what they wanted and what they wanted to do, and were super-super-creative. So, it was really great for me to have been around that — even though I didn't know what I was taking in at the time, looking back on it.”
However, it was Slash’s future GNR bandmate, drummer Steven Adler, and an astute, Eric Clapton-loving teacher — not any of his parents' famous friends — who eventually convinced Slash to seriously take up the guitar. “I went over to [Adler's] place one afternoon, and he took one of those really cheap department store electric guitars and an amp, and an equally cheap stereo, and put KISS Alive II on, and just cranked everything up and just banged on it,” Slash remembers. “I mean, at that point we were doing a lot of air guitar too, so we were sort of discovering our own music at that age. And I thought, ‘We’ll put a band together!’ That naïve dreamy thing: ‘We’ll start a band!’”
Slash initially thought he’d play bass, but a visit to a nearby music school changed his destiny forever. “I went over there without an instrument, and not knowing what the f*** I was doing, and went in and talked to the teacher, this guy Robert Walling, who I’ve talked to a couple of times over the years. So, he took me in the room and we were talking, and he was playing guitar the whole time, and he was playing Clapton licks. And I said, ‘Well, that’s what I want to do.’ And he goes, ‘That’s not bass, that’s lead guitar.’ And that started. That’s where it went.”
And the rest was history — and now that history is all compiled in The Collection: Slash, which is available to order here in various versions, including the Custom collectible edition limited to just 500 copies. Watch Slash’s full Yahoo Entertainment interview above to learn about his one “guitar that got away”; how G N' R Lies and another Guns N’ Roses album celebrating a milestone anniversary this year, The Spaghetti Incident?, were loose and spontaneous projects; and Slash's other big collection… of snakes, including Pandora, the iconic boa constrictor that starred in the G N' R Lies-era “Patience” music video.
Read more on Yahoo Entertainment:
Living the dream: How David Bowie, Sylvester, and Neil Young shaped Slash’s rock ‘n’ roll childhood
Slash recalls dangerous 'November Rain' video shoot and finally getting sober: 'I didn't have very much fear of death in those days'
Slash talks addiction, recovery: 'I was fortunate. I didn't die, and I didn't go to prison.'
Guns N' Roses' Duff McKagan defends misunderstood '80s lyrics: "None of our friends said, 'Grab her by the…'"
Nirvana manager recalls Kurt Cobain/Axl Rose VMAs feud: ‘They would be friends if Kurt were alive today’
Slash talks ’80s versus #MeToo era: Some GNR songs were ‘sort of sexist,’ but never ‘malicious’