Meet Slash, Velvet Revolver's mane man

The bushy-haired, top-hat-wearing guitarist has plenty to say about music and the question people ask over and over again.

By Sean Daly, Times Pop Music Critic
Published October 5, 2007

Velvet Revolver

Velvet Revolver, with Alice in Chains and Sparta, performs at 7 p.m. Saturday, Ford Amphitheatre, Interstate 4 at U.S. 301 N, Tampa. $25-$55. (813) 740-2446.

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Behind the rattlesnake riffs linking the Delta blues and the Sunset Strip, Slash is not as cool as you think.

Oh, don't get me wrong. The famously shaggy guitar god, whose licks are ingrained in the DNA of any rock fan worth his leathers, is certainly cooler than you or me.

He's cooler than anyone in West Hollywood, the hair-metal Gomorrah that gave rise to his legend and heroin addiction. He's cooler than Scott Weiland, the lead singer of Slash's current supergroup, Velvet Revolver, which plays Ford Amphitheatre in Tampa on Saturday.

And he's decidedly cooler than That Other Lead Singer from Slash's Other Band, a famously brewing brouhaha we'll get to in just a bit.

And yet, there are moments in the life of Saul Hudson, born in the United Kingdom 42 years ago to an English father and an African-American mother, when the coolest dude in rock is, lo and behold, a flat-out wreck.

For all his swagger, Slash, calling from a tour stop in Dallas, is actually "painfully shy." That's the real reason why his long black hair is always in his face, why his glasses are always on, why that ever-present black topper has reached mystical status.

"Without it, I'd feel really naked," he says. "It's something that I hide behind. I couldn't look at the audience without it."

Even in the late '80s, when he was earning honors as one of rock's most notorious wild men, Slash was a social misfit.

"I was considered a bad influence by everybody," he says. "I was very open-minded about chemicals and booze. . . . But I'm a real loner. I'm not a social partier. I'm like the closet (bleeping) junkie type."

In November, HarperCollins will publish his tell-all, Slash: It Seems Excessive . . . But That Doesn't Mean It Didn't Happen. In the book, co-written with Anthony Bozza, Slash will catalog all the drugs. (These days, he's "reasonably clean.") He'll dish on the girls, the parties. ("I was amazed at how, if you put your mind to it, all that stuff comes back," he says, chuckling. "At least the more pertinent stuff that happened.")

He'll talk about the dichotomy of being both a rock star and a father to two "crazy" boys, London, 5, and Cash, 3, both of whom joined him on the first part of this Velvet Revolver tour. ("They're not wallflowers," he laughs. "My kids are on Mach 10.") He likes chilling out with his family. He's even taken a shine to video games, most notably Guitar Hero, the bestselling phenomenon in which you noodle along with famous rock songs.

"I was obsessed, man," he laughs about the game. "As a guitar player, it's actually harder to play than if you're not a player. I could do (the) medium (level), but on expert, I can't pull the chords off!"

But "the primary reason" Slash wrote a 400-plus-page book is because of the one topic, the one band, the one man that messes with his cool more than any other:

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Guns N' Roses portion of this story.

Leaving the past behind

For better or worse, GN'R connected the glam metal of the '80s to the grunge movement of the '90s, ripping off a short stack of classic albums (most notably '87 debut Appetite for Destruction) that expressed, in the most graphic terms possible, how Slash & Co. both adored and despised themselves. Welcome to the Jungle, Sweet Child O' Mine, You Could Be Mine - sex, violence, drugs, all autobiographical, all awesome.

Led by mercurial nut job Axl Rose, fueled by the reckless heart of Slash, Guns N' Roses worked hard and played hard. "It became an image that people expected of us," says Slash, who used to buddy around with Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx, both of whom excelled at the subtle art of vomiting under a bar and resuming drinking.

"But the only reason I'm walking the earth at this juncture is that I was solely motivated by music and the rest was just extracurricular entertainment. . . . That's why I'm still here."

By 1995, due to ego and Axl, Guns N' Roses had broken up. There have since been lawsuits, acrimony, insults. And countless times in the last 12 years, depending on "the amount of people I talk to in a day," Slash has been asked the same question:

When are you and Axl getting back together?

"Besides the recorded music," Slash says, "the only thing that ties (Axl Rose and I) together currently is everybody else's fantasy about us getting back together. But that's not a conversation we've had."

In other words: Don't hold your breath, kiddies.

'No' really means 'no'

"I'm so sick of it," Slash says of the Guns talk. "It just doesn't go away."

He understands what the Gunners mean to millions of suburban dirt balls. And he allows that a reunion would mean millions of dollars for his old crew, including bassist Duff McKagan, who's also in Velvet Revolver. What with the Police and Van Halen - talk about dysfunctional bands - reuniting for profitable tours, Slash has been approached by businessmen desperate to broker a deal.

"The figures that have been dangled in front of us have been astronomical," he says. "But that's not a motivator."

So again, no. No. And once more for the cheap seats, no.

"Guns was great," he says, adding: "But it's been a long time since I left, and I've been spending all that time moving on and doing other stuff."

Slash says he's a "better musician now than I was in the '80s." Thus, there are myriad projects he wants to tackle. "There's stuff that I haven't done yet, a certain kind of musical expression I want to get across. Being in a band is a sort of limiting experience, 'cause you're going to do what the collective wants to do."

So for now, he'll keep rocking with Velvet Revolver, a strutty, glammy throwback that has grown its own fan base.

He'll star in the video game Guitar Hero 3, which hits stores Oct. 28. To create an animated Slash, game techs hooked him up with wires and sensors and sci-fi stuff to create a video avatar: "I had to go six hours out of my comfort zone doing that (expletive)."

And day after day, he'll continue to say no to millions of dollars and millions of Guns N' Roses fans. You may think that's crazy. But Slash, well, he's cool with it.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.