- 28 Feb 11
Iconic guitar-slinger Slash talks to Peter Murphy about Thin Lizzy’s influence on Guns N’ Roses, how Phil Lynott inspired him in his formative years and confirms that Axl Rose got a tattoo in tribute to the Dublin rockers.
Forget working with Iggy Pop, Fergie, Lemmy and Ozzy Osbourne on his eponymous solo album: one of the sweeter moments of last year for ex-Guns N' Roses/Velvet Revolver guitarist Slash was meeting Philomena Lynott after his Dublin show in May.
“That was very, very cool,” he says, the day after picking up his Album of the Year gong at the Classic Rock Awards in London. “She was amazing actually, so sweet and very, very gracious and enthusiastic. She gave me a statuette of Phil and it was a really nice moment. She's definitely, what's the word for it, very comfortable in that environment. I mean, we're talking about not just Phil Lynott's mom, but a mom, which sorta tripped me out.”
Presumably he was too young to catch classic Lizzy live?
“I started going to concerts in 1978 and I just don't remember those guys ever coming to LA during that time. I heard them on the radio all the time, but I didn't really start getting Thin Lizzy records 'til I started playing guitar, and then I started listening to a lot of bands in a different way. I was into Thin Lizzy, Rainbow, Ted Nugent, Rory Gallagher, different guitar-driven bands. I started playing 'Jailbreak' in one of my first bands in junior high school.”
For the adolescent Slash, the obvious hook was the Live & Dangerous-era Robertson/Gorham dual lead guitar sound.
"A lot of the bands that I liked were two-guitar bands,” he admits, “be it the Stones, AC/DC, Aerosmith or Thin Lizzy or whatever, even The Scorpions. You just got more out of two guitars! I never really set out to be in two-guitar bands, but when Guns N' Roses started, that's the way it came together. I hooked up with Izzy and Axl and they were sort of a package, it was sort of established already. But the way that Izzy and I did it was completely different than Thin Lizzy. I just played my thing and he played his. We did have a good chemistry, he and I. But it's great when it works, certain chord progressions can sound a lot more interesting with two guitars that have a natural cohesion."
Does he have a favourite Lizzy song to play?
“Y'know it sounds funny, but one of my favourite Thin Lizzy records is actually the Thunder & Lightning record, which I think was their least popular. But I love that particular song. I remember when I first heard that, it was so up my alley, it was riffy, that one-string wonder, and it was just so fuckin' heavy with the bass and the guitar both doing the same line. Before that the only Thin Lizzy songs I played a lot were when I was in a sort of cover band playing beer parties and stuff, so it was always 'The Boys Are Back In Town' and 'Jailbreak'. I used to play an instrumental version of 'Jailbreak' in a band that didn't have a singer, and it was fuckin' killer, it was stretched out with guitar solos. This is when I was like, seventeen years old. I had a tape of one of those gigs that we did, and sometimes I think my playing back then was better than it is now, 'cos it was so sort of naive and unadulterated and unaffected, and where I was coming from was as innocent as it comes. A lot of really honest shit comes out of that stuff. Sometimes you wish you could start unlearning some of the stuff you learned.”
Lynott was of course a singular figure, a black man playing hard rock years before Bad Brains or Living Colour. His only real antecedent was Hendrix. One wonders if Slash, born of mixed parentage in West Hampstead and raised in Stoke-On-Trent before moving to LA at the age of eleven, considered Lynott any kind of role model?
“I'm glad that you mentioned Bad Brains,” he says, “that's a rare name to hear in conversation these days! Yeah, it's funny, being born in England and being half-black and all of a sudden deciding to be a musician... I didn't ever really think about the racial aspect of it. Obviously when I was hip to Thin Lizzy it was encouraging to know that this really cool and very, very unique artist was mixed and had an interesting background, 'cos it made me not feel so alone. But that said, the racial/colour kind of thing didn't come into play too much in my psyche, I wasn't overtly conscious of it, or wasn't made to be overtly conscious of it.
“But when I was a kid living in England... God it must have been mind-blowing for my grandparents when my dad (sleeve designer Anthony Hudson) came home with this American black woman (Ola Hudson, costume designer for David Bowie among others), and she was pregnant with me. And I'm from a little village in the midlands, and there were no black people around, especially then. That must have all been very, very interesting. I'm sure it was at least a percentage of the reason my dad ended up moving to America.”
According to Scott Gorham, Lynott was far more militant about being Irish than being black.
"If he never had any reason to feel awkward, then why would he? But one of the things about Phil – and the same thing with Jimi for that matter – as hard rock as he could play, a lot of his songs really went in a lot of different places that other artists just don't do, and I think he doesn't get enough credit for how original he was. And I think a lot of that has to do with his being mixed, I think he got a lot of a certain kind of soul from one place, and a certain kind of thing from another, and that makes him a very unique artist. I've always related to him on that level. I've never wanted to be pigeonholed into just one thing. As a guitar player, I'm not really into real complex solo styles, scales and crazy techniques and stuff, so I play basic blues stuff and try to adapt it to different styles of music so that it has a different feel."
Of all the guitarists who passed through Lizzy's ranks – Eric Bell, Scott Gorham, Brian Robertson, Gary Moore, Snowy White, John Sykes – does he have a favourite?
"When Scott and Brian Robertson were playing together, that's the Thin Lizzy sound I most identified with stylistically. But that said, Gary was the one guitar player that influenced me the most. Gary as a solo artist, fresh out of Thin Lizzy, his first solo records I actually copped a lot of shit from. But Brian and Scott had a definite synergy as a two-guitar team.”
Finally, is it true Axl Rose had a tattoo of the Black Rose album on his right arm?
“Yeah – he still does!”