No, I am not talking about the TV show Better Call Saul. I am talking about Saul Hudson. Don’t ask me why, but I have always been fascinated with the real names of actors and musicians who are better known by their stage names. Take Peter Horlebeeke, the singing drummer for one of Michigan’s biggest bands of the 1960s and 1970s, Rare Earth. Horlebeeke went by the name of ‘Pete Rivera’ then and still does to this day. Gordon Sumner? He is much better known as ‘Sting’. The name was bestowed upon him when he was the bass playing lead singer of The Police and liked to wear a black and yellow (think ‘bumble bee’) sweater. Saul Hudson is a busy man and has been since his first band imploded twenty years ago so it is a wonder that Classic Rock Magazine got him to sit still long enough for an interview in the early summer of 2018. You probably know him better as ‘Slash’; he of the curly mane, oversized top hat and the blistering guitar licks that graced hit after hit for Guns ‘N Roses. Until I read this interview, the origin of the Slash moniker had always been a mystery.
It turns out that young Saul used to hang out with actor Seymour Cassel’s (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) son and it was the elder Cassel who started calling him ‘Slash’. Yes, it sounded cool, but no one really knew what it meant. When Guns were touring behind their Use Your Illusion albums, Slash ran into the senior Cassel in Paris. Not knowing the answer himself, Saul asked Cassel why he started calling him by his now familiar nickname. As Slash related the story in his autobiography, “His reason for calling me ‘Slash’ was that I never stood still for more than five minutes. He was right. I’ve never stayed still. I am perpetually in motion, often saying goodbye while saying hello, and Seymour summed that quality up in a word.” CRM writer Scott Rowley seems as taken with the nickname thing as I am. He expands on Slash’s own explanation, saying, “He’s ‘Slash’ in the sense of ‘and/or’ or ‘yes/no’ – not slash as in knife wound. He’s not a split, he’s a join, a conjunction. He’s not one thing, he is both. A slash is used to link alternatives: black/white, English/American. He’s a walking paradox, a duality.”
Rowley got so into the whole ‘Slash’ thing, he even researched the French origins of the word: “The word ‘slash’ has roots in the old French world ‘esclachier’, meaning ‘to break’. He’s been breaking things his whole live – records, rules, bones, hearts. But his appetite for destruction was matched only by his work ethic.”
Never would I have thought the Slash of Guns N’ Roses fame existed on such a deeper plane. I like the music he created with G’N’R, Slash’s Snakepit, Velvet Revolver, and (most recently) with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, but I never gave him much credit for being articulate in the English language sense. Being much less outgoing than some of his lead singers (Axl Rose and the late Scott Weiland as examples), Slash never had to be very chatty during interviews. Pursuing his own projects, he became the de facto ‘talking head’ of his solo bands, sometimes alternating between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ interviews and more expansive discourse. The problem for me was his liberal use of the ‘F-word’ without regard to who was interviewing him or who was watching or reading the interview. Granted, the most recent CRM article was more than chock full of that word that shall not be mentioned (yes, sounds a lot like that bad guy in Harry Potter), but Rowley still finds a more likeable side to Slash’s personality. CRM admits that they perhaps have been on the G’N R (and thus, Slash’s) bandwagon more than most trade publications (including four Slash covers over the last few years). Rowley makes the point that it isn’t because there is a personal connection here. According to Rowley, “Music writers and rock stars do not normally become fast friends.”
With that said, Rowley goes on to relate a story that made me reassess this F-bombing character with the cool name. Back in May of 2018, we covered the fall and rebirth of Classic Rock Magazine (FTV: The Power of Print 5-30-18). The thumbnail version goes like this: the company that had purchased CRM made some bad business decisions that led them to pink slip the whole magazine staff just before Christmas of 2016. Through a series of small miracles, CRM’s previous owners repurchased the company and kept CRM and her sister publications alive and their whole publishing team working. Naturally, Rowley was in a funk about the whole process when the pink slips were issued. He had worked at the mag since 2004 and was facing an unknown future until their Christmas miracle occurred. Rowley explains, “Two days later (after the pink slipping), I was home, shell shocked. I had no clue what to do next. I was cooking dinner for my kids when the phone rang: “Hey, Scott?” says a soft, American voice. “It’s Slash. What the (expletive deleted) is going on?” There where many kind gestures over the next weeks .. . but Slash calling me at home – one small personal gesture, but one he didn’t have to do – was one of the standouts.” Slash explained his reasons (for calling) when he made a follow up call to Rowley: “I was sort of devastated when I heard . . . there’s not many magazines left and I had a relationship with you guys. It was really sad. So I was really happy that it turned around like it did . . .We’ve known each other for a long time.” Minus the F bomb that I edited from the above passage, I was struck by a side of Slash that I hadn’t seen before. He is still too busy to stand still, but I was impressed that he took the time to contact Rowley when CRM looked to be heading down the tubes.
Rowley took it upon himself to seek out others who had stories about crossing paths with Slash. A fan named Betty said that she had missed a concert meet and greet with the band due to an illness. Five years later, Slash heard about the incident, got Betty tickets and a backstage pass to a concert where he held a private meet and greet with her. A fledgling photographer named Alissa said she was at stage front trying to shoot pictures of the band with a cheap camera. Slash saw she was having difficulty so he ambled to that side of the stage and posed for over a minute so she could get the shots. Then there was Robert, a fan who took his son to see Velvet Revolver because the son was a big Slash fan. Back stage, Slash was having an argument with the concert organizers and yet when Robert asked if they could get a picture, Slash came over and had a chat with them before returning to the previous row with the promoters. Slash seems to have a knack for making a positive impression on just about everyone he meets.
The fact that Slash became a good friend of the late Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead isn’t much of a surprise. As far back as 1992, Slash appeared on a couple of Motorhead tracks (on the album March or Die) and as Slash tells it, “We became good drinking buddies and whatnot.” Slash told those in attendance at Lemmy’s funeral, “Lemmy was one of my all-time favorite (expletive deleted) human beings.” It turned out that both Slash and Lemmy had suffered with the same cardiomyopathy, an enlargement of the heart brought on by excessive drug or alcohol use. Slash heard the warning call and has been sober for the past 13 years. Unfortunately for Lemmy, his diagnosis hid the cancer that eventually took his life. When Lemmy sang Dr. Alibi on Slash’s first solo record, the lyrics seemed a preface of where Lemmy was headed, “I went to see the doctor / he said your pretty sick / You’ve got some real bad habits / You’d better stop right quick . . . Don’t you know I feel alright / doing what I do / I’m not going to toe the line / not till I turn blue.” Slash remembers Lemmy as being one who dispelled the notion that one had to act like a punk and wear leather to be a rock star: “ He was a (expletive deleted) perfect gentleman. Very considerate and polite to everybody around him, and yet he was as hard core a (expletive deleted) rock ‘n roller as you were ever going to find.”
When asked on his book tours if he wants his kids to read about his rock ‘n roll lifestyle, Slash says that his kids don’t really want to read what dad has to say about anything. In the next breath, however, he admits that his 15 year old son did indeed crack the book: “So now anytime I have anything to say to him about school or work, or whatever it is that he doesn’t necessarily want to hear, he can (expletive deleted) fire back at me, ‘Well, in your book you said…’.” Divorced from his wife of 13 years, Slash is back with his old band and in a renewed relationship with a woman he had spent time with when he was twenty five. His new album with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators came out in September of 2018 and he will hit the road with them as soon as the rest of the G’N’R dates play out. The new LP is called Living the Dream, but the title refers to the current state of turmoil in the world, not living the rock and roll dream: “I mean, if you were to sit there and put on any news channel right now and spend a good two hours watching it, that’s when the sarcastic ‘living the dream’ statement comes to mind.”
After all the negativity that surrounded the end of Guns ‘N Roses, how did they manage to get back together for the ‘Not In This Lifetime’ tour? When Axl and Slash got around to talking about things, Axl mentioned that the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival had repeatedly offered them some major cash for a reunion. Other bands had done similar reunions at Coachella (Alice in Chains, The Stooges, The Pixies) leading Axl to remark, “You know, Coachella would be sort of fun, wouldn’t it?” The plan was to do a couple of warm up dates and then the festival. It has gone a little farther than anyone expected. The on-going tour is now the fourth biggest tour of all time.
Slash has hinted that it might lead to a new G ‘N’ R record, but it is too soon to tell. He does, after all, have his own album out and will be touring in support of that. In spite of Axl’s past history of not showing up for shows on time, this go around Slash says, “Axl has been (expletive deleted) great. Axl has been (expletive deleted) amazing. He has been so professional it blows my mind. It has been quite a (expletive deleted) positive experience.”
Slash tends to post quite a bit of stuff on social media, but he claims he doesn’t have time to bother with reading what people write about it. He doesn’t want to get involved in the time suck that social media can be, but he does recognize the importance to bands today: “I’m on social media for the marketing. I mean, to promote a gig or to promote a record. You can talk to the fans in a direct way that you couldn’t before. I just don’t want to be in that world where you are just glued to what everybody else thinks and everybody else has to say about it.”
As Rowley neatly summed up his interview, “Slash may not be, by is own admission, much of a talker, but he certainly seems to have a lot to say.” Will listeners be hearing Living the Dream on WOAS-FM? I would say that is pretty much a lock, but as with all Slash records, it will need to be previewed to make sure no pesky (expletive deleted)s sneak on the air. Stay tuned!
Top Piece Video: Slash and Co at the Hollywood Palladium – nice venue, got to see Truth and Salvage Co. open for the Black Crowes there some years ago…back when the Crowes were still talking to each other!