Maybe it’s his top hat. Maybe it’s his ‘fro. maybe it’s the near-death drug experiences. Or maybe it’s his guitar, played cacophonous and dirty, his solos providing a mighty riposte to the howls of Guns N’ Roses mate Axl Rose on Appetite for Destruction, the band’s debut album and the masterpiece of 1980s Sunset Strip rock. Who knows what it is? Somehow, Slash, with his iconic look and blues-infused rawk, has imprinted his name on the air-guitar-playin’ soul of a generation
I visited Slash’s house in the San Fernando Valley not so long ago, and shared red wine and French smokes with the man himself. He’s 40 now, but doesn’t look it. “A lot of people say I look young,” he remarks. “They say I should look a lot more addled.” Is that because of his former decadence, when he walked, talked, shot, and snorted the rock ‘n’ roll dream, back when even Steven Tyler was impressed at how hardcore GN’R was? “Yeah, probably,” he says, in his mellow-yellow mumble. “Aerosmith used to trip out on the fact that we were so fucked up. Maybe we reminded them of themselves.”
Slash was born Saul Hudson on July 23, 1965, in London, England, to Anthony and Ola Hudson, a white Englishman and an African American. His father was an artist, an album cover designer for Geffen Records, and his mother was a fashion designer who once dated David Bowie and created some of his costumes. The family moved to Stokeon- Trent (birthplace of Lemmy Kilmister and Robbie Williams), where Anthony’s father lived, but they left the country before Saul hit his teens. Saul moved to L.A. With his mother when he was 11, and grew up in an affluent, bohemian household where members of the rock gliteratti, including David Geffen, Iggy Pop, and Ronnie Wood, were regular houseguests.
Outside the home, Saul was a loner who didn’t fit in at school. He hung around with street kids, riding his brakeless BMX bike in empty pools in Hollywood. At 14, he met future GN’R drummer Steven Adler after Adler fell off his skateboard in a half-pipe and Saul went over to see if he was okay.
When Saul was 15, his maternal grandmother gave him a Spanish guitar with just one string on it that she had in her basement. He started practicing, sometimes up to 12 hours a day. “When I started playing,” he recalls, “this explosive and progressive part of my personality, which I didn’t even know existed, came out.” He had just discovered Aerosmith’s Rocks. “I grew up on the [Rolling] Stones, Bob Dylan, The Kinks, and Zeppelin, but when I discovered this one Aerosmith record I related to it on a different level. The decadence, the sloppy guitars, the huge drums, the screaming Ð the whole of it. It did something to me.”
Soon after that, Saul became Slash, not just in spirit but in name, given to him by character actor Seymour Cassel. “I was friends with his kids, and he used to call me Slash because I was an aspiring guitar player, always hustling, never stopping to hang out. I was always in a hurry. So he started calling me that, and it stuck.”
Obsessed with guitar and guitar only, he dropped out of school in the 11th grade and formed a band called Road Crew with Adler. In the spring of 1985, Slash and Adler were invited by Axl Rose to play with his newly-created band, Guns N’ Roses, after his drummer and lead guitarist failed to show up for rehearsals. Slash bought himself a top hat from a store on Melrose Avenue in preparation for his first gig with GN’R, June 6, 1985, at the Troubadour, billed as “a rock ‘n’ roll bash where everyone’s smashed.”
“We started out on the lowest rung of the ladder, as far as club bands are concerned,” says Slash, recalling the early days of GN’R. “When we got signed [to Geffen] we were totally fucked up. We got $7,500 bucks apiece and spent it all on drugs. We had nowhere to live. We were staying in cheap motels. We couldn’t find anyone that wanted to produce us and manage us. Then we went on tour opening up for Aerosmith, and everything just sort of worked its way up.”
Some of the most memorable hard-rock guitar riffs of the pre-grunge era emanated from Slash’s Gibson Les Paul, including those on “Paradise City” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” He claims the “Sweet Child O’ Mine” guitar melody came about from “just fucking around. I didn’t even like that song or the guitar part. I thought it was stupid. But Axl really liked it.” Despite their growing success, the band members were too dysfunctional to really take stock of what was happening. Even after Appetite for Destruction went Platinum, Slash never felt like a rock star off-stage. “We’d be on the road and we’d hear we sold a certain number of records. Then we went back to Hollywood and it’s the same shit: living in a cheap apartment and doing drugs all the time, except this time I didn’t want to go out because people would recognize me.”
After their sold-out Use Your Illusion tour ended in 1995, Axl went on hiatus and Slash worked on his side projects, Slash’s Snakepit and Slash’s Blues Ball, and recorded with artists like Iggy Pop, Lenny Kravitz, and Michael Jackson. In October 1996, Slash resigned from GN’R and gave the rights to the band name to Axl, mainly because Axl wanted to take the band in an industrial-techno direction while Slash wanted to remain true to their bluesrock roots.
It was around the time of the band breakup that he ran into his second and current wife Perla Ferrar, whom he married on October 15, 2001. He had been introduced to her by porn star Ron Jeremy in Las Vegas several years prior, at the height of GN’R’s fame. “I was just in the process of quitting Guns N’ Roses, and I was losing my first wife. I was sitting at the bar and Perla came in with her crazy girlfriends, and we just started dating.” Their first son, London, was born in 2002, and second, Cash (producer Robert Evans came up with the name), was born two years later. Becoming a father meant Slash had to give away his collection of reptiles and wild animals, including a mountain lion that once slept in his bed with him.
In the meantime, Slash was rounding up former band mates Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum (who replaced Adler in 1990 after Adler was kicked out for his drug abuse), along with Scott Weiland from Stone Temple Pilots and Dave Kushner from Wasted Youth, to form his current project, Velvet RevolverÑthe plan being, no doubt, to continue creating rock music of the highest magnitude. “The best piece of advice my father ever gave me was ‘Don’t go down with the ship.’ That’s what he said when the band was breaking up and I was losing my mind. What I’ve learned is that there’s always another ship.”