As a space geek, I got accustomed to NASA (the National Aeronautic and Space Administration) using acronyms for just about everything. It only really bugged me when they would use one and not tell you what it meant, YKWIM (You Know What I Mean)? Okay, I am just toying with you a bit because using Sw/MK&C (Slash with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators) for a title was the only way I could figure out how to shorten it up and include all the parts necessary in order to identify the subject of this article. We have talked about Slash in the past (FTV: Better Call Saul 2-20-19) but it seemed his fourth album with Myles & Company (4 was released on February 11, 2022 on Gibson Records/BMG) gave us a good excuse to revisit Saul Hudson (aka: Slash) and connect the dots between his past and current projects.
It is hard to fathom that it has been 35 years since the out of the gate success of Slash’s first major band GN’R (Guns N’ Roses) and their mega-selling first album (Appetite for Destruction). According to Slash, they weren’t all that confident their music would be accepted in the era of big hair and makeup (so called Hair Metal Band days): “In 1987, I didn’t think I was gonna be around until eighty-eight. I had absolutely no predictions for the future.” Slash was all of 22 when the album was released on July 21, 1987 and a ripe old 23 when it hit No. 1 on the charts in the United States a year later. As Classic Rock Magazine’s Paul Elliot described it in his extensive interview with Slash (CRM # 297, February 2022), “It would become the biggest-selling debut album of all time. It made Slash rich and famous, and defined him as the guitar hero of his generation.”
Those were wild and crazy times for the band and it led to just the kind of problems one assumes this kind of overnight success can inflict upon a band. Still, they continued to put out remarkable music even as the cracks in the foundation began to show. Drummer Steven Adler was eventually fired due to his excess consumption of recreational drugs. Bass player Duff McKagen, guitarist Izzy Stradlin, and Slash dabbled in the drug scene but it was alcohol that began to take over the controls of the bus. When McKagen nearly bled to death (his heavy drinking caused a burst pancreas), they started to get the message and sobered up. Stradlin cleaned up his act to the point he actually left the band permanently. Slash recalls, “You’re having a good time and everything’s great, and then without knowing it you cross a line somewhere where it becomes a mental and physical burden that you have to deal with and you start to become so completely dependent and your life just starts to spiral out of control. And as a musician, you start to lose focus of what it is that you’re supposed to be doing.”
As for lead singer Axl Rose, his issues with the band seemed to come more from ‘rock-star-itis’. He became more erratic in his dealings with the fans, press, and record label (not too mention his handling of intra-band matters). It is hard enough to keep a band together through the ups and downs of a normal career but when Appetite for Destruction became as much a band motto as an album title, the writing was on the wall. If you think I am being too critical of Axl’s place in all the drama, by all means look up the album he made under the GN’R name after the original group splintered. Chinese Democracy was recorded between 1998 and 2007 and finally released on November 23, 2008. This extended recording timeline included personnel changes and missed release dates. All pointed to a lack of focus and direction under Axl’s leadership. The album sold reasonably well but in the end, Chinese Democracy fell far short of the bar the original line up of GN’R set. So why did Slash decide to jump back into the band?
Ever since the band broke up, GN’R had an open invitation to do a reunion show at the Coachella festival. Slash recalls, “When we got together [again], Axl and I really got over this major sort of hump of negativity that we’ve been carrying around for years and years. It was a real simple, relatively short conversation that we had, which pointed a lot of fingers in the direction of (expletive deleted) that we were going through in the past, and people we were working with at the time. So we got past that.” Asked if he ever believed the band would still be touring together six years after their reconciliation, he said, “I didn’t really have any expectations, but it was such a magical kind of thing, such an overwhelmingly positive experience, that we just started doing it in earnest across the planet. And it’s continued for a pretty long time.” Maturity may have helped as the notoriously temperamental and sometimes tardy Rose has been a new (at least a different) man. Perhaps time apart was the therapy they all needed to work out the kinks in their relationships.
Taking a step back to his high school days, Slash says his rock and roll lifestyle wasn’t a result of him being a hellion bent on destruction. His entry into the L.A. music scene wasn’t caused by his ‘chaotic childhood in L.A.’: “Really, the only thing that made me into being a musician was music. I don’t think it was escapism from life, that whole cliche. It was just that suddenly I discovered the passion to play music and the music I was turned on to was the hardest rock I could get my hands on. And that just took me in the direction I went in.” Having endured Axl Rose in the first phase of GN’R, one would think Slash would have looked for a calmer singer for his next project, Velvet Revolver. Perhaps the late Scott Weiland wasn’t the best choice. Slash says, “I never really managed to find a solid footing in that band because everyone seemed to have their own agenda. Scott was difficult. All things considered, he was irretrievable. Everybody had told me about that when the band first started but I just did not know anything about Scott up until I started working with him. It was sad to go through that and how that all turned out, But like I said, we had some good times in that band, too.”
The next step came a couple of years after Velvet Revolver folded. Slash decided to employ a bunch of guest-star singers on his first solo album. One of them was Myles Kennedy: “He and I met over text and email at first. I sent him some music, and he sent it back. And I was so enthralled with that recording that I flew him to L.A. and we did a couple of songs on my first solo record. He was just a pleasure to be around and that’s just evolved into working together in the context of a band.” Being a gifted guitarist as well as a songwriter and singer, working with Myles is a different ball of wax than working with someone who is just a singer. Slash continues, “Myles is basically very much guitar player-like, so we relate to each other on that level, and then he also has this incredible voice and range. So I understand how Myles works, and we’ve just had this very cool, smooth kind of relationship since 2010.”
Slash has now played a big part in the recording of 14 studio albums. None of them compare with the rambling journey that became the most recent one, 4. When they decided to put their COVID-19 time to good use, the band worked around the travel and recording restrictions by ignoring commercial travel in favor of everyone hitching a ride on their own tour bus. They had already got the bulk of the record down playing live in Nashville’s RCA Studio A when Slash got a phone call. It was Kennedy calling from elsewhere in the building to break the news that he had tested positive for the virus. Apparently he picked it up at a rest stop on the way to meet the tour bus but it didn’t show up when he was tested before recording began. The virus ripped through the band. Bass player Todd Kerns got knocked down the hardest with (drummer) Brent Fitz and Kennedy also getting laid pretty low. Slash himself seemed to escape the worst symptoms even though he tested positive two days after getting vaccinated (no word was given as to how second guitarist Frank Sidoris fared). With the majority of the recording completed, they were able to use Myle’s scratch vocals (reference vocals used while recording the songs – these are usually re-recorded for the final tracks) and assemble the rest of 4 while the band was still in quarantine. When they jumped back on the bus to L.A., Slash called it, “A unique bonding experience. It’ll always be one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had.”
With the band on the mend, touring the album is next on the agenda. Setting up a back line (of equipment) in a big room made the recording of 4 a bit different than most studio albums. Slash explained, “Myles was in a booth (isolation booth so the vocal mic would not pick up the rest of the instruments) right next to us, so you could actually see him, and we just did it like that. So this is the result, warts and all. It is a live record, basically.” Translating the new songs to the stage will no doubt take less rehearsal time than it would with a conventionally recorded album. Slash said he is looking forward to getting back on the road with the Conspirators this year. Being “not historically good with time off,” in the past, the COVID layoff kind of forced him to learn how to adapt to being more home centered. He and his significant other got along well (which he claimed would not have been the case with his ex-) and he learned to enjoy the break. Now Slash is ready and anxious to get on the road with the new songs.
Juggling tours by the Conspirators and Guns N’ Roses can be a bit tricky. The new record was already done last April because COVID derailed the planned GN’R tour which gave Slash time to bang out 4. The Gunners are currently working on new material (according to McKagan) and will no doubt be rescheduling their canceled tour in the near future. Kennedy had also finished his own solo album (The Ides of March released May 14, 2021) and went on tour to support it in 2021. Naturally, this pushed back the Conspirators’ tour even farther.
Scheduling two major tours at the same time isn’t new to Slash and Axl. Just as GN’R’s Not in this Lifetime tour (a play on previous statements made about the chances of the band getting back together after their acrimonious split at the conclusion of their final show in July of 1993), Axl stepped in to fill 23 dates subbing for AC/DC’s Brian Johnson. Johnson was diagnosed with serious hearing problems (from motor car racing without proper hearing protection, not from performing loud music) and was advised to step back from touring and seek treatment. The band was already in the middle of their Rock or Bust tour and with $221.1 million in box office receipts at stake, they were fortunate to have Rose volunteer to fill the gap when they approached him. The phrase “special guest-star fill-in singer” would dampen the fan’s enthusiasm in most cases, but AC/DC had an inkling that Rose could pull it off.
Top Piece Video: Here is The River is Rising from 4!