Slash and burn: The Guns N’ Roses guitarist has a new album out, and it’s a blues tribute - Hindustan Times
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Slash and burn: The Guns N’ Roses guitarist has a new album out, and it’s a blues tribute

May 24, 2024 02:14 PM IST

The star-studded compilation features Steven Tyler, Demi Lovato, Iggy Pop, and covers of legendary blues tracks. Plus, a bonus original by Slash.

Few rock stars are as instantly recognisable from their silhouettes as Slash is. With his leather top hat and long curly hair, Gibson Les Paul in hand, the outline is one of rock music’s most iconic images. As iconic as is his guitar playing.

The cover art for Orgy of the Damned. PREMIUM
The cover art for Orgy of the Damned.

Slash (birth name: Saul Hudson), now 58, became famous in the late 1980s as the lead guitarist for the uber-successful hard rock band Guns N’ Roses (GNR). But the blues have been an integral part of his musical journey. (Even with GNR, his riffs were as searing as they were bluesy).

Earlier this month, he released a new solo album, Orgy of the Damned, which is a grand tribute to the blues. Calling it a solo album would be a misnomer. It is a project that is star-studded. Not a singer himself, the guitarist has roped in a galaxy of collaborators, including Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes, Paul Rodgers of the bands Free and Bad Company, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Iggy Pop, and Beth Hart.

All except one instrumental track on the album are covers of great blues songs.

Slash has had an enduring love for the blues. In 1996, when he first left GNR (he would later return to the band), he formed Slash’s Blues Ball, a blues rock band that was active for a couple of years, touring and playing gigs. That band never released albums, although recordings of their live shows do get passed around among fans.

The guitarist, who was born in England to a black American mother and a British father, moved to the US when he was a child and discovered American blues music courtesy his maternal grandmother, who introduced the young boy to artists such as BB King, long before he would begin to play the guitar himself.

Steven Tyler records his harmonica solo for Killing Floor. (slashonline.com)
Steven Tyler records his harmonica solo for Killing Floor. (slashonline.com)

Those were lasting influences. To savour some of his truly bluesy guitar-playing, I would recommend the YouTube videos of gigs that Slash’s Blues Ball played in the late 1990s. Their covers of classics such as Jimi Hendrix’s Stone Free, BB King’s The Thrill Is Gone and Muddy Waters’ Hoochie Coochie Man are unique, mainly because of how Slash plays the guitar on them.

Nearly 30 years after he formed Blues Ball, he regrouped last year with a couple of those bandmates, Johnny Griparic on bass guitar and Teddy Andreadis on keyboards. Then he set about getting the vocalists on board. The result is an album that pays homage to one of contemporary music’s most legacy-rich and influential genres, in a singular way.

The songs are all covers (listen to a playlist of highlights here), but because each of the classic blues songs on the album is sung by a different singer, each vocalist gives it his or her inimitable touch and that makes it a fascinating album to listen to. Soaring above all of that is the real deal: the pyrotechnics of Slash’s guitar.

Iggy Pop records Awful Dream. (slashonline.com)
Iggy Pop records Awful Dream. (slashonline.com)

The album opener is a cover of Steppenwolf’s The Pusher, with Chris Robinson whose high-tenor vocals render the tune with a soulfulness that is quite different from other popular covers of the song.

On Killing Floor, a Howlin’ Wolf original, AC/DC’s Brian Johnson is on vocals, singing it an octave lower than he usually sings on his own band’s songs, which makes the version a killer interpretation of the original, with a bonus too: Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler plays a harmonica solo on the track.

For Stormy Monday, a T-Bone Walker song composed in the 1940s, which has been frequently covered by others, Beth Hart delivers a hair-raisingly passionate version that was recorded in a single take, after which you can hear Hart, drained by the effort, sighing: “God! That was fucking badass shit!” She is believed to have collapsed on the studio floor after that.

Orgy of the Damned has other surprises. The septuagenarian Iggy Pop, known as the godfather of punk, sings a strikingly tender version of the Lightnin’ Hopkins song Awful Dream, on which he also uses his vocals to mimic a blues harp; the pop singer Demi Lovato does a cover of the Motown staple Papa Was A Rolling Stone; blues guitar sensation Gary Clark Jr sings and plays with Slash on the Robert Johnson classic Crossroads; and the veteran Paul Rodgers sounds fittingly perfect on Born Under a Bad Sign, which was first recorded by the bluesman Albert King in the 1960s.

Slash performs Metal Chestnut in the studio. (slashonline.com)
Slash performs Metal Chestnut in the studio. (slashonline.com)

The real standout on the album, however, is Slash, whose guitar solos range from scorching to tenderly soulful, depending on the track and on the style of the vocalist singing it. The album ends with an instrumental track, the only one that isn’t a cover but a Slash original. It’s called Metal Chestnut, a simple tune yet teeming with the emotion of his expressive guitar. A fitting closer to a fine album.

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