Music Spotlight: Slash

Slash’s sixth solo project, a blues album entitled Orgy of the Damned, is out on Gibson Records. To celebrate, the iconic Grammy-winning guitarist and songwriter has curated an all-star Blues lineup for the S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Blues Festival touring North America this summer. His tour includes locations across the USA, including a stint in Franklin, Tennessee, on August 14 at the FirstBank Amphitheatre.

When asked how he came up with the title for his latest blues album, Slash told Germany’s Rock Antenne, “Blues and Rock n Roll have long been considered taboo and devil’s music—hide your kids from it —especially the Blues…”

Photo by Steve Rose.

Arguably one of the foremost guitarists in the world, when Slash covers or plays songs, he takes the melody to the next level as he puts his emotion and soul into the expertly crafted riffs, more so than any other guitarist I have personally witnessed. However, since he does not sing, for the album’s vocals, he enlisted diverse guest artists, who include the likes of Gary Clark Jr, Billy F. Gibbons, Chris Stapleton, Dorothy, Iggy Pop, Paul Rodgers, Demi Lovato, Brian Johnson, Tash Neal, Chris Robinson, and Beth Hart.

He explained, “When I would pick the song, I would just think in my mind who I would imagine doing it. And these were really all the first people off the top of my head that came up. And so, I was fortunate that I was able to get everybody on board.”

The only person on the record he didn’t know ahead of time was Chris Stapleton, even though he was a huge fan. Once he got a hold of him, Slash said, “You would be amazing doing that [Fleetwood Mac] song, ‘Oh Well.’” And naturally, Stapleton was honored to sing.

With Orgy of the Damned, Slash throws it way back, covering blues greats who were popular years before he was born. With Gibbons singing/playing on Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man” from 1954 and AC/DC’s Brian Johnson’s unbridled take on Howlin’ Wolf’s 1964 “Killing Floor,’ (along with Steven Tyler’s raucous harmonica cameo), I wondered how the British born rocker came to be influenced by these American icons.

His dad was British, so he was raised on bands like The Who, the Rolling Stones, and The Kinks. But it was his maternal grandmother who turned him on to the Blues.

“My grandmother on my mom’s side saw that I was sort of weaned on all this British stuff. And she said, ‘Well, you know all that comes from this.’ And that’s when I first heard BB King, when I was just a little kid. But my grandmother and some of my cousins and whatnot turned me on to all kinds of blues and R&B from that period and older. And it was just so genuine and so honest and so sort of pure and from the heart that it just always stuck with me. So, as I got to be older and I listened, you know I was raised around a lot of different types of music. When I started picking up a guitar, blues was the thing that I gravitated to. And I started automatically listening to contemporary guitar players that were a generation before me, like Eric Clapton and Jim Patrick and Jeff Beck and all those British guitar players,” Slash recounted.

And when he created his latest record, it was never his intent to emulate the originals.

“There are key things that you want to adhere to, but you can’t try to try and copy it. All you can do is your own interpretation of it, which is more of an homage to the original. And then you can have a really good time with it. You want to keep to the song’s basic integrity and what makes it important and not take so much artistic license that you’re actually using that to create another song,” he said.

The album enthusiastically encompasses a broad range of styles within the blues genre, veering from an upbeat, rowdy take on Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” featuring Clark Jr, to a plaintive, twanging rendition of T. Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday” that features Hart.

Besides the brilliant arrangements, Slash’s incomparable shredding, and his incredible band, the thing that makes Orgy of the Damned a cut above the average blues/rock record is how he perfectly matched the song to the artist. When you hear the original “Hoochie Choochie Man,” you can’t imagine anyone but Gibbons covering it. And though I didn’t know it, Lavato personally relates to “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” With her powerful vocals, her almost childlike rendition of the cut is off the charts.

However, I was completely taken aback by Johnson’s take on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” a song Johnson grew up listening to. Initially, he tried it with the higher pitched AC/DC sounding vocals, but they found it worked much better when they dropped it an octave to get more of the earthy and gritty sound that the song needed. When Steven Tyler jumped in on harmonica, it may have made the track the best cover on record.

The biggest surprise to me was that they included a Stevie Wonder track, “Living for the City,” a song that was featured on Wonder’s 1973 Innervisions album, which guitarist Tash Neal so masterfully covered. Slash said, “That particular song on that album really spoke to me. I guess I must have been nine years old when it came on. And that whole story, the way they recorded it, and the street sounds and the police coming in and arresting the narrator. I just loved that song, so I put it on the record.”

To prove that he belongs in the hall with all the other great blues composers, Slash included his original song, “Metal Chestnut,” a simple but haunting song that came together quickly and organically.

I was privileged to attend the PBS taping of Slash’s Blues Band in Nashville, where they covered many of the songs from Orgy of the Damned. And while he can’t have the artists featured on the record to go on his S.E.R.P.E.N.T. tour, with keyboardist Teddy ‘ZigZag’ Andreadis and guitarist  Neal swapping out on vocals, you barely miss the original artists. Add the stellar rhythm section of Michael Jerome on drums and Johnny Griparic on bass, and you might have the tightest band I have ever heard.

This brings me to a point: If you are anywhere near a location where Slash is bringing his S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Blues Festival, do everything in your power to get there. Otherwise, you will just have to wait for the PBS special to air to see exactly what I am talking about.

Besides hearing Slash and his unrivaled blues band (which you must see/hear to believe), the S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Blues festival includes Warren Haynes Band, Keb’ ‘Mo, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Robert Randolph, Samantha Fish, Eric Gales, ZZ Ward, Jackie Venson, and Larkin Poe. On all dates, SLASH will perform alongside his Blues band featuring bassist Johnny Griparic, keyboardist Teddy ‘ZigZag’ Andreadis, drummer Michael Jerome, and Neal.

I am grateful to Slash for bringing these blues and rock masterpieces to the forefront in such a powerful and pervasive way. I can’t think of any artist in the world who could cover these songs more skillfully without losing the songs’ originality and integrity. People will pass, but meaningful music will last forever.

Click here for Orgy of the Damned Album credits.

Click here for dates and locations of the S.E.R P.E.N.T. Blues North American Tour

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Bethany Bowman is a freelance entertainment writer. You can follow her blogInstagram, and X.


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