SLASH

By Paul Guy

Interview for FUZZ magazine

© Paul Guy 1997


Slash website

So what's happening with Slash right now? What are your plans for the future?

- To try to make a long story short - even though I have a tendency to ramble on - when Guns first started, we were together for 12 years, which is a long time, specially for a fuckin' band like we were, which is definitely sort of like an anti-establishment kind of band, a spur of the moment kind of thing. Anyway, since I left the band, 3 years ago, I've been doing this and that, I don't make a big deal about it, like with my own band, Snakepit, or if I work with somebody else, you know, on the side, an Iggy Pop record, or a Michael Jackson thing or whatever, it's basically because I dig playing. And at this point, as far as plans for the future, I want to do another Snakepit record, but we're building a studio, so I'm waiting till the studio's done. I've been scoring stuff lately, like writing scores for different things - I did a cartoon, I got offers to do movies. And so I've really being getting into doing that while I'm waiting for the studio to get built, because they foot the bill for the studio time to do their shit, but for my own personal stuff I'm waiting till it doesn't cost me as much money - realistically, you know. Plus I can't find a fuckin' singer!

That's always a problem, isn't it...

- Well, we found a couple, but I'm just waiting to find the right one. And then I worked with Izzy (Stradlin) recently, and I worked with Duff (McKagan) recently - I went back to Guns 'n Roses for a while, but I couldn't deal with Axl, we just don't see things on the same plane, so to speak... So all I do is basically just jam, go around and do whatever it is that seems interesting having to do with what I can - you know, facilitate my guitar with. I don't have any immediate plans. I'd like to go back on the road for a couple of years - straight. Because the last time I toured, it was only for -what, two and a half years, was it, the last Guns tour, I did four months with Snakepit, and I've been touring for the last year with a band called Bluesball. Slash's Bluesball. And so, realistically, I don't look at things in real time, I sort of look at things as they come, you know. Actually that's probably more real time than the average person would imagine, a musician on tour - you know, the lifestyle? It's more real time when you're actually doing it than when you read about it in a magazine.

So in short, I'm just working on whatever seems like it's getting to its fruition, I'm focused on a lot of different things, but the main thing is just to focus on one thing in particular, and then put a record out and tour on it.

Can I get the lowdown from you on this - Guns 'n Roses got a lot of bad press for being racists, something to do with a problem with Living Colour. What really happened?

- Well, see, I don't read anything, I don't keep up with the press. As far as Living Colour was concerned, it had nothing to do with me, I was too concerned about my own drug problem at the time. I think Axl had a problem with Living Colour, that's when we were opening up for the Stones, that was it, four shows. There definitely wasn't anything political going on, you know, with Axl's reputation... there definitely wasn't any racist shit going on. Specially, cause I'm around, and I'm half black and half English actually, so there definitely wasn't anything from me. But I think a lot of people - for some strange reason, ever since Guns started, we've always been the centre of attention for trying to build things out of nothing. Always in the negative, too. Always - we peed on an aeroplane, we do drugs, and we do this, and we do that, and it's like, you know, all things considered, we're not half bad, you know, compared to some of the people I knew when I was growing up. And it's just like, why us? And in some ways I guess that's cool, and in some ways it's a pain in the ass, because you walk around with an image that you don't necessarily think of when you think of yourself. But people, really, they perceive you as that image, and some of the reactions that people on the street have, it's just like - phew, what the fuck is your problem?

You know what, in all honesty it stemmed from a lyric that Axl, being from the Midwest in the US, from Indiana, he said something I didn't agree with when we recorded the song, he said something about niggers and faggots and something like that and it was his introduction to Los Angeles downtown. And I know where he's coming from in some ways, but I also know where he's really coming from in another way - and it wasn't necessary to say it, because you would really have to know his background to understand where that's coming from. It generated a lot of bad blood. I mean, I got jumped in Chicago because of it. By a bunch of my brothers, you know - about three of them - and they cornered me in a mall, in the dark, and I was like - "Look -" and I told them the same thing I'm telling you, look, you got to understand the guy, and we parted on good terms, but I understood why he shoudn't have done it in the first place. Me and Axl have many lyrical discrepancies, the way his mind works is different than the way my mind works. I'm a little bit more down to earth than he is, but he's a singer, so... (Mutual laughter) I said, well, if you insist on doing this, it's your responsibility, but in the long run it turns out to be the band's responsibility. In essence, we didn't ever have a problem with Living Colour as far as I know.

People get hold of so much misinformation...

- It's just the story of our lives, I think. We were called "anti-feminist"... and I'm the most, like, anti-anti-feminist person in the world when it comes down to it - bring 'em on, you know!

You've always played Les Pauls, right?

- Well, the way it started was, for one, I didn't know the difference between a guitar and a bass when I first started playing hands-on music. And being that I was raised in a musical environment, I just never even thought to think what the difference between more or less what the instruments were - I mean, I knew what drums were, I knew what stringed instruments were, and what singing was - but I never really differentiated in particular. I mean, there were different basses, different guitars, different kinds of drums. So when I decided I was going to play something, I started out playing bass, and that didn't sound right to me, like that wasn't the answer to what I wanted to do, so I ended up playing guitar. Because it had more strings on it, and the guy that turned me on to guitar playing knew how to play Stairway To Heaven note for note, like the solo and stuff, I said - "That's what I want to do!" - so I started teaching myself how to play it. And - what was the original question again, before I start rambling?

(Chuckles) About Les Pauls...

- Right, yeah... (laughs). So the first electric guitar that I got was a Les Paul copy, I think it was called a Memphis. And I basically got going with that, and I started a band and everything. And then my grandmother footed the bill for a B.C. Rich Mockingbird, 450 bucks I think it was - rest in peace, huh - but she actually paid the money to do that for me. And over the course of time, I went through lots of different guitars, but I ended up back with the Les Paul style guitar. And then when Guns was doing "Appetite For Destruction", I didn't have any set guitar that I was really comfortable with, and I was going to go in and do all the guitar overdubs, Alan Niven, he was Guns 'n Roses manager back then, he brought me this Les Paul, and it was a handmade one, it wasn't an original one, it was hand made, and it sounded great, and that's what I used on "Appetite For Destruction", and I've played a Les Paul ever since. So you have that learning period, trying different things out to find something that's a vehicle for, one, how you play, and also something that connects with your Marshall, you know, how you sound. If all three of you work together, then... you find some sort of a marriage, and then like the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", so... I mean, I'm not lazy, but I don't like to fuss about with the shit. If I have a problem with it, it's like with women, you know - just sort of tweak it a little bit, it'll be all right. You don't necessarily have to get a new one right away... ! (Laughs)

What year is your main guitar?

- The one I take on tour with me? The one I snapped, the broken one? That was the first guitar from Gibson that I got, I think it was 1986 I bought it, and I've had it ever since. I had it refinished - I had it as my main guitar pretty much until the last few months, but then I snapped the neck on it, and I thought, oh-oh, because this guitar has been a mainstay for a long time. If I pull a couple more of those tricks with it, it'll be no more. So I went to Gibson in Nashville and went through about twenty guitars, and found two new replacements, so that I can take those on the road and beat the shit out of those... (laughs) But it's just a Les Paul Standard, a 1985.

Do you have any vintage ones?

- Yeah, I've got like four 59's, I have one 58 V and two 58 Explorers, a couple of old SG's, a couple of Melody Makers - let's see, I have a doubleneck SG that's relatively old, but not way back. Then when we get into acoustics, I have a couple of old Martins. I've got some old Strats and Telecasters, too.

Do you ever use them?

- Well you know what it is, you have one pair of shoes, but you have twenty
other ones that you have in the closet in case? I have my standby, that's always my Les Paul. That's the guitar that I use no matter what, even if it's a pinch and I've got twenty-thirty guitars in front of me, and I need to do something real fast, I'll just pick up the Les Paul and work with that, as opposed to sifting through a bunch of guitars for looks' sake, or whatever.

Do you ever use the Fenders in the studio?

- Hands down - I think this is a diluted quote from Jeff Beck - hands down, a Strat is probably one of the best rock'n'roll guitars, but you gotta find a good one, man! But that's more of a pain in the ass than what it's worth, sometimes. So I will pull a Strat out, especially one with a bar on it, it's a 63 or a 65, somewhere around there, and use it for something when I really need a good whammy bar. But I won't take one on the road, cause it's too unpredictable. If I need a whammy guitar sound I'll take one B.C. Rich guitar on the road with a tremolo bar on it. And if the worst comes to the worst, I'll just keep bending the neck on the Les Paul... (laughs).

OK, you have a bunch of old ones and you have a bunch of new ones. Do you think the old ones sound better?

- You know, we were talking at the press conference yesterday, there was a thing about, "Do you collect guitars?". And guitars aren't really what I would consider for collecting. All the ones that I have are ones that I have used at some particular time, because I'm a pack rat like that, I keep them. If it worked for me once, it'll work for me again if I ever need it. So I keep them. You know, if I have something that looks great, and doesn't sound for shit, then I have no use for it - I'm not all that attractive myself, let alone - I mean, a guitar's not going to help me out any better, you know what I'm saying? (Laughs) So I don't keep guitars around just because they're vintage, but I have to admit, some of the sounds of the older guitars that I have are very organic compared to some of the newer ones. And I think that has a lot to do with the amount of craftsmanship that they had to do hands-on, building the guitars, as opposed to the factories. I don't have that much experience, technically, but I can tell the difference.

But at the same time, when you're thinking about that subject, it really is the player, too. I did a gig in India recently, and I was using whatever they had, and it wasn't what I would consider the optimum product to be using, but you just work with it, it's all you have to go on. So you know, you can have favourites, and things that you like to deal with, but when it comes down to it, as a player, you have to work with what you have. If you're lucky you can sell a couple of records, and then you can have whatever you want, and then you carry that around. But if something happens and your plane goes down and you happen to be the sole survivor, and your guitar's broken and you have a gig the next day, you use whatever you can get.

What music did you like as a kid?

- First thing I remember is my Uncle David used to play the Moody Blues a lot. And my Dad - there was a lot of Bob Dylan going around, and Jimi Hendrix - and when I moved to Los Angeles, Zeppelin happened right around then. The Who, and the Yardbirds, and Cream, they all happened at different times, but for some reason they all came together for me around 1972-73. And there was like Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell, and tons of stuff, and from my grandmother's background there was all the classical stuff, cause my grandmother was a classical pianist. So she wanted so much for me to be a nice clean-cut pianist - I had piano lessons when I was about ten or eleven years old, but it didn't last very long... But she did turn me on to classical music, she was very supportive as far as music was concerned. But I think it wasn't necessarily the style of music, it was the rock'n'roll lifestyle that drew me in.

Guns had a lot of rock'n'roll attitude for an 80's band...

- Yeah, you know - and it's a really fucking hard thing to do, to be able to - I mean, Guns was a fluke, to come out of LA at that time - it was a mesh of five people who just happened - I don't know if it was fate, however we met, but none of us were from LA, none of us were born there, and we all happened to meet - and we went through different bands, and we all ended up meeting each other over and over and over again, to the point where we the only band of its kind that could possibly exist in Los Angeles, we didn't get along with anybody else, inevitably, that was the case. And then at that time, it was during the 80s when music was during its weakest stage, and we were like the Anti-Christ, you know what I mean? And for some reason that caught on in Los Angeles, we got picked up by Geffen, they had the one guy with the ears to hear what was genuine - and I won't brag, but I will admit that Guns is probably one of the best rock'n'roll bands that came around at that time. And so we went on and we were like totally - not so much irresponsible, but we scared everybody! We couldn't get a manager, the record company wanted to drop us because we were more trouble than we were worth, and so on and so forth. So when we got signed they put us on the shelf for a while, you know - "We got to find someone to work with these guys, someone with a little bit of adventure..." And when the record was finally released, we toured opening for - you know, you name it, The Cult, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, all these different bands - Iron Maiden - and that's - all of a sudden, a year after the record was released, we broke, just from being an opening band. And that was just genuine fuckin' down-and-out rock'n'roll stuff. And it had nothing to do with exactly what style of music it was, it was the attitude.

I was talking to Gilby Clarke about rock'n'roll attitude a few weeks back...

- You know, when Gilby and I first hooked up, it was because he comes from the old school, and I can relate to that. Unfortunately, when he got fired from Guns, I was completely - that was the beginning of when I left Guns, because I felt that Axl was losing touch with where I was coming from, and it sort of snowballed after that, on the down side. I sort of just went, OK, Axl, you do what you're gonna do. But as far as rock'n'roll is concerned, yeah, there's a few guys around that actually know it pretty well. You know that guy with the Backyard Babies last night, I don't remember his name?

Dregen...

- Yeah, Dregen, right. He seems to know what it's all about... You know, you can see people go through the motions, but it seems like he has a good handle on it. It's very weird, you feel like you're a dying breed, that only you can see the ones who are genuine, everybody else misses it.

I know exactly what you mean...

- It's a sense of humour and a sense of experience - rock'n'roll is very tongue in cheek, it's very hard to get analytical about it, you have to live it. I think rock'n'roll is more a passion of the heart than anything.

In Hollywood when I was a kid, I was taken care of by a couple of people who would just as soon fix it, try to make it right for me, and take an IOU - which I would always honour as soon as I could - and get me on my way. Whereas I'd walk into a place like Guitar Center, I'd go in there just to play a guitar, cause I didn't have one, and some big guy would come up and grab me by my fuckin' shirt collar - "Get the fuck outta here, kid..." It was the little places like this - you saw how excited I got when I walked back here! - it was the little places like this where I got the help that I needed to get where I am now.

I did a photo shoot the other day with this guy, he's a pretty well known photographer in the history of rock'n'roll photos, his name's Robert Knight, he's done a bunch of good stuff. And he put some old Jeff Beck stuff on, bootleg stuff, when he used to play a Les Paul - and I was in seventh heaven, you know, I'm on a photo shoot, I've got a guitar with me, and I'm playing, like I'm emulating his licks, and I'm really - I haven't heard this thing before, so I'm focused on the tape, as opposed to the photo shoot, so God knows how the pictures'll come out. And that to me was, that was the shit. And I'll hold that kind of feeling for it till my dying day. So with everything that goes on on the money end of it, you know, MTV, and record companies, the corporate side of it - I'll always hold true to one thing. As long as I have some strings...

Jeff Beck is my big guitar hero...

- That's my favourite guitar player. That's the guy I sat down to learn "Cause We've Ended As Lovers", "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat", all that stuff. That's when I really started focusing on guitar technique, with Jeff.

What string gauge do you use?

- That's a good question, cause I didn't know the answer yesterday... (Laughs) It starts at 11, the low string is a 48. As far as guitar picks are concerned, pretty much the heaviest ones I could find. When I play live I play really hard, very brash, even on the sensitive stuff (laughs). I play with my fingers, and I play with the pick, but if I'm playing something like "Paradise City", I'm talking about hitting the guitar really hard. If I'm playing "The Thrill Is Gone", like with Bluesball, I'll be playing mostly with my fingers, you know, pulling the strings. I switch pickups constantly, depending on the mood of the song.

Can I take a look at your guitar?

- Sure, yeah.

(I get the guitar - a 1996 Les Paul Standard - out of the case and start playing some licks, and notice that the first and second strings choke out on the frets up around the octave.)
This guitar is starting to need some work...

- Yeah, also there's a place it's been buzzing, too, somewhere around there... (points to G string, 13th fret) That's the newest guitar I've gotten from Gibson in the last year.

(Checking it out) Yeah, it could use a fret dressing.

- Well, I tell you what, if you want to check it out, I'll leave it here and come back and pick it up tomorrow...

(And that's the story of how I got to fix Slash's Les Paul!)

© Paul Guy 1997

Slash website