Slash: Life is now more roses than guns
After surviving the sex, drugs and gunplay years, the guitar legend tells Kunal Dutta why he's glad to be rocking up in Britain again
Slash – rock guitar God and former drug fiend – wants to confess. Not about the time he overdosed, was pronounced dead, revived, then checked himself out of hospital and leapt straight on stage. Nor about his thermo-nuclear falling out with the lead singer of Guns N' Roses at the height of their fame. No, he wants to come out about his love for Adele.
"She's great," the 47-year-old says, speaking from Indiana ahead of a UK tour starting next week. "She's a shot in the arm for this industry. She writes her own music that's not at all contrived. And she's managed to sell loads of records which makes her a great example to the younger artists. Like Amy Winehouse, she's organic and real. It's great to have that happen at this moment when everybody else is so synthetic."
It's an odd admission coming from a rock legend whose appetite for self-destruction was so huge that he had a defibrillator implanted at the age of 35. But Slash, recently named by Time magazine as the greatest guitarist of all time, after Jimmy Hendrix, appears to have mellowed.
It's apparent in the life he leads. In the early Nineties Saul Hudson, as he is also known, rewrote the book on guitar heroes: cigarette dangling, frequently shirtless, with a leather top hat clinging at a crazed angle to his shock of curls. The hat and the curls covered the top of his face to the extent that it was rumoured that he did not have eyes. Even off stage he invariably wore sunglasses to hide the ravages of what he dismissively referred to as "our little drink and drug dependencies".
Predictably, to go with the drugs and rock and roll there was lashings of sex with groupies. Oh, and gunplay: on one occasion he fired a shotgun through the ceiling of his home. His lover at the time was asleep in an adjoining room.
That was then. Now, having recently quit smoking; reconciled with his wife after filing for divorce in 2010, and drug-free for more than seven years, Slash has put his demons to rest. When not on tour you'll find him at home in Beverly Hills, nursing a cranberry cocktail; building Lego with his sons or challenging his neighbour Robbie Williams to a game of poker.
Born in Hampstead and raised in Stoke-on-Trent until he was six, Slash went from LA local hero to worldwide rock star with Guns N' Roses. Fusing heavy metal with a punk spirit, the band's debut album Appetite for Destruction in 1987 went platinum. As they went on to sell more than 100 million albums, egos and psyches paid the price: while lead singer Axl Rose developed a Messiah-complex, Slash succumbed to heroin.
The band's breakdown was as spectacular as its breakthrough. Lead singer and lead guitarist have not spoken to each other for nearly 20 years. Communication, if at all, is via mutual acquaintances and at the level of name-calling: Rose has called Slash "a cancer". The guitarist, in response, doesn't "bother myself" about his former bandmate. "The differences of opinion between us became too hard to maintain," he recalls, saying Guns N' Roses was built on a "pure and naïve rock and roll fantasy" which came to a shuddering halt. Clearly, the well of bad blood remains full: Rose is mounting a $20m lawsuit against a games developer for including the guitarist in a Guns N' Roses video game, and in April the singer was the only member absent when the band reunited for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Slash insists he has moved on: "I still look back on it being the ultimate pre-adult, post-adolescent experience. But I simply don't think you and I would be speaking had I tried to carry on. I'm a pretty durable survivor and I'm fortunate to be here anyway. But I think if I'd kept trying to negotiate that existence, I wouldn't be here."
He describes his life now as "less domestic bliss" and "more domestic rock and roll". His children, London, nine, and Cash, seven, give shape to his life. "I want to make sure that I instil in my children some of the values that kept me grounded growing up. In the midst of all the drugs and the booze and the chicks," he says, "no matter how crazy I have been, there was always a decorum and set of manners. A lot of that came from my parents and wider family."
Musically, he has little left to prove. Four years after leaving Guns N' Roses, he formed hard-rock supergroup Velvet Revolver and since 2010 has a band with Myles Kennedy on vocals. Kennedy is everything Rose wasn't: mild-mannered, flexible; even acquiescent when it comes to singing the Guns N' Roses back catalogue. They are crafting a second album to be released next year.
Slash's return to the UK next week marks a new chapter and, while it's clear that his identity was formed by growing up in LA from the age of six, it gives him a chance to nod towards his British roots. As well as Adele, he insists that much of the best music lately has come from British women. "Amy Winehouse was great. God bless her. She was one of the purest artists to come out for a long time. Most of those who have come out are female; it's not the male-dominated rock and roll icons of my generation. It's refreshing."
He has memories of growing up in Stoke, where he revisited last year for the first time, though when pushed, he struggles to cite specifics. Nevertheless, he is pleased to be welcome. "The UK has always been very gracious. There is a patriotism that is in the British blood. It's endearing for me to be part of that. When I'm in Britain I feel as though part of me has come back to who I am."
Slash opens his tour at Edinburgh's Corn Exchange on Sunday, then Manchester (8 Oct), Birmingham (9 Oct), the O2 Academy Brixton (11-12 Oct and Newcastle (15 Oct)
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