Slash seems almost like a myth. You could imagine the ageless legend emerging from the depths of a forest like a rock ‘n roll Frankenstein who as assembled in a stormy lab outside of Los Angeles. With his massive aura in mind, it’s easy to forget that he’s been around for so long, as Slash just turned 51-years-old on July 23.
Being involved in the music industry for more than three decades has led to no shortage of wonderfully decadent and pure rock ‘n roll Slash moments. A Google deep dive on the subject is like cracking open a time capsule of a high school for lunatics and reptile enthusiasts. There’s the time Michael Jackson got upset with him for overstaying his welcome during a concert or his stint playing in Velvet Revolver, one of the rare instances where a band built together amidst the ashes of other damn near legendary bands actually worked, albeit briefly. Slash seems to exist to do two things: be an amazing rock n roll guitarist and to provide the adoring public with equally amazing rock ‘n roll moments.
To celebrate his birthday though, let’s focus on his initial run with Guns ‘n Roses and appreciate his 10 best moments during that time.
10. All the Guitar Solos Slash Played on “Civil War”
“Civil War” is a dark horse top tier tune in Guns N’ Roses’ catalog (and a personal favorite of mine.) Like a number of the songs that emerged during the Use Your Illusion era, it flirts with being epic and grandiose, but still maintains the hard rock bite that Guns was built on. This is due in large part to Slash, of course. While none of the solos he plays during the song are especially long or even that ornate, each one fits perfectly. They are not solos that stop you dead in your tracks, drenched in amazement, but help to guide you and move you along. It’s a trick that the true guitar gods pull from time to time; a role they play. Slash’s work on “Civil War” proves why he was such an effective counterweight to Axl Rose. He was able to make these crazy epics playing in Axl’s head not seem like alien scribbles to diehard fans.
9. Slash Slurs his Way Through Two Acceptance Speeches in One Night
Any list of this nature and about this subject matter would feel empty without at least one bit involving Slash and public intoxication, and his appearance at the 1991 American Music Awards is probably the most notable. Partnered up with Guns’ bassist Duff McKagan for the night, the two were just popping in to have a good time. Or as Slash put it during the acceptance speech for Favorite Heavy Metal Album, “we’d come down, we’d hang out, it’d be two hours and sh*t.” They were quickly cut off and ushered off stage.
Slash and Duff did not quietly return to their seats, though. Come on — not their style. The dynamic duo did some more drinking and when it came time to accept the award for Favorite Heavy Metal Artist, Slash was significantly more tomahawked and his speech, significantly more slurred. The F-bombs were still understandable though. There were a couple of them and despite following them with a few child-like “oops,” Slash and Duff were again quickly whisked off stage.
The next morning is a mystery when it comes to what Slash was up to. But at ABC, the network that broadcasted the show, the phone lines were lighting up.
“We have received many calls during the telecast and this morning protesting the fact that the program contained offensive language,” said an ABC spokesperson the next morning.
To which Slash politely responded, “what telecast?”
8. Slash Creates a Riff Fit for the Terminator on “You Could Be Mine”
A track that almost gets lost among the largess of the Use Your Illusions albums, “You Could Be Mine” became most closely associated with Terminator 2, in which it was featured prominently on the film’s soundtrack. This was back when big time movies had big time soundtracks and enormous acts contributed epic songs to those blockbusters. Guns N’ Roses on the T2 soundtrack was serious business and I still remember watching the video for “You Could Be Mine” with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator, making his way through the crowd. “You Could Be Mine” is easily one of the most gnarly songs Guns ever wrote and it kicks off with Slash’s razor-like guitar strut over Duff’s thundering bass line with the guitar riff sounding just like the Terminator — robotic and menacing. Slash knew how to give a song a proper intro and more examples are to follow, but don’t sleep on his riff at the top of “You Could Be Mine.”
7. Slash Snuck a Mountain Lion into the Four Seasons
By 1993-1994, Slash was looking to settle things down a little bit and bought a home in Los Angeles, away from the lunacy, madness, and potentially lethal surroundings of Guns ‘n Roses. When I bought my house, I got a dog. When Slash bought his house, he bought a wild collection of venomous snakes, lizards, almost a dozen cats and a mountain lion. The mountain lion’s name was Curtis, because of course it was. If I had a mountain lion, I might also name him (or her) Curtis.
Slash’s quiet stint in domesticity was interrupted in January of 1994 when the Northridge earthquake hit. As a result of the damage done to his house, Slash was forced to shack up at a Four Seasons hotel in Marina Del Rey. The venomous snakes, lizards and almost a dozen cats were left to fend for themselves, but not Curtis. Slash snuck Curtis into the Four Seasons and the mountain lion stayed there with Slash until it was safe to return to the house. Reports that Curtis abused the mini-bar were unconfirmed but come on, it’s Curtis. That’s how he rolls.
6. Slash Closes Out “November Rain” with an Epic Solo
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that “November Rain” was Guns N’ Roses’ version of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” The song is an undeniably epic monument of Axl Rose’s burning desire and limitless ambition. There are a number of highlights throughout the nearly nine minute long song, but I for one appreciate the way Slash sends the song off to its conclusion. His solo, which starts around the 7:20 mark, is the sound of impending doom, at once both ominously dark and lurking and foreboding. It’s the enormous guitar solo that caps up off an enormous song; effectively sealing the deal on “November Rain” as a legitimate massive rock epic.
5. Slash Provides a Stadium Favorite for Years to Come
Having one iconic opening riff on a song is probably the goal of every rock guitarist and Slash had three on his band’s first album alone. The way he kicks off “Welcome to the Jungle” may get the bronze when it comes to the big 3 on Appetite for Destruction, but it’s a race that goes down as too close to call. There’s a reason why that rattling riff that Slash plays on the tune has become so popular, so prevalent at sports stadiums across the country. It sounds like a siren signaling a call to action, but also a warning of danger on the horizon. There’s nothing out there that sounds like it and coupled with Rose’s vocal intro, it’s a dynamic and lethal one-two punch.
4. Slash Steals the Show in the “Don’t Cry” Video
Guns N’ Roses’ videos became bigger and more grandiose as they entered their Use Your Illusion phase, becoming spectacles and traffic stoppers when they played on MTV. Yet sorting through the pageantry and the story lines and whatever the hell Axl was doing, there was Slash. Part of the allure of Slash was how he looked – the Sideshow Bob-esque hair, the cigarette dangling from his mouth and his guitar, slung low by his waist. In the video for “Don’t Cry,” this look and the Slash mystique was in full effect. Then comes the solo. It starts around the 2:30 mark as it comes crashing onto the scene – exploding out of the build that paves the way for it. As it plays, Slash speeds recklessly down a dirt road, a gal riding shotgun and not at all happy about Slash’s driving. Slash smiles. The girl protests and yells. Slash goes on smiling. This continues. Then, hold up – Slash drives the car off a cliff and it explodes into flames. Then there’s a quick cut to the edge of a cliff and there’s Slash. HE’S ALIVE. He finishes the solo, whips his guitar off and then, dude he CHUCKS THE GUITAR OFF THE CLIFF! Ladies and gentlemen, Slash IS rock ‘n roll. You’re welcome.
3. Everything Slash Does on “Paradise City” is Perfect
Slash’s playing on “Paradise City” will be taught to future generations of guitar players when they settle in for Guitar God 101. Start with the opening – simple and clean. It’s anthemic from the jump. It hits the cheap seats without even trying. Slash follows that up with a riff that’s a bellowing call to action that bruisingly ushers in the verse. But wait, the verse riff is a freight train. It’s gritty and dirty; pounding like a Gibson model jack hammer. The bridge riff is a sleeper. It’s so incredibly harmonious and melodic. And finally the climactic solo that takes it all home is the stuff guitar players dream about. “Paradise City” is the sound of parties beginning, good times kicking off and celebrations ramping up into full swing. We’re better off with “Paradise City” in our lives and that is no way hyperbole.
2. Slash Provides an Everlasting Image in the “November Rain” Video
Yes, the actual solo plays around the four minute mark of “November Rain” is amazing, but even better is Slash’s actions during that part of the video. Axl and his then girlfriend Stephanie Seymour are getting married and the ceremony looks so lovely that even The Knot would approve. Slash is the best man, because of course he’d be the best man, but he isn’t exactly one for weddings, as he gives the ring and peaces out. Emerging from the church, a church that is definitely the church he was just in (I’m still possibly missing the symbolism in that) the solo starts — tumbleweeds, a tattered white picket fence and a Slash, ripping his solo as only he can.
There’s a couple riffs that Slash will also be known for, but I think the image of him at this point of the “November Rain” is the image people will always think of when they think of Slash.
1. Slash Becomes a Certified Guitar God With the Intro Riff on “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
On second thought, there aren’t a couple riffs that Slash will be truly known for — there’s only one. Slash’s signature riff, that one that everyone will automatically point to, is the opening of “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” This isn’t up for debate. It’s the riff that cemented Slash’s place on the list of greatest rock guitarists and it’s the riff people will ask if he can still play 20 years from now, when he’s retired, living with a new mountain lion in Boca. What’s crazy is that the riff that kicks of Guns N’ Roses’ only number one song was initially an exercise Slash would play at the start of rehearsals, something to stretch his fingers. At one rehearsal, he was working through it, the band’s other guitarist at the time, Izzy Stradlin, heard it and started playing along. The rest of the band followed suit as Axl quickly started scribbling lyrics. Axl spent over 10 years writing and perfecting “November Rain” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” seemed to come together in 10 minutes. And in a way, that makes sense. Slash has always made it look effortless, like it simply just came natural to him, whereas Axl always looked like he was in the fight of his life.
Happy birthday Slash. May your day be filled with well-behaving mountain lions, whiskey and rock ‘n roll.