Born Saul Anthony Hudson on July 23, 1965 in the English city of Stoke-on-Trent, he was the first of two sons born to Brit Anthony Hudson, an album cover designer for Geffen Records, and his wife, African-American costumer designer Ola Oliver, who created fashions for John Lennon and David Bowie. He relocated to Los Angeles at the age of five, where he was raised in the celebrity enclave of Laurel Canyon; his singular moniker was reportedly given to him by actor Seymour Cassel, who called him "Slash" due to his energetic nature. His parents' separation in 1974 sent Slash into a rebellious period that only found resolution when he discovered the music of Aerosmith as a teenager. Shortly thereafter, he took up guitar and attempted to form a band with a classmate, Steven Adler. That group never took root, but a second attempt in 1983 led to the creation of Road Crew, with Adler on drums. Veteran Seattle musician Duff McKagan soon joined as the group's bassist, but the group folded, due in part to Adler's lack of a work ethic and substance abuse issues.
Slash would later join Hollywood Rose, a glam-rock outfit headed by Midwestern transplants Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin, which also called it quits after a brief run through the Hollywood club scene. In 1985, Rose and Stradlin decided to give Hollywood Rose a second try, and recalled Slash to the fold. He brought Adler and McKagan with him, which resulted in the formation of Guns N' Roses. Almost immediately, the group established themselves as one of the most formidable hard rock groups on the Sunset Strip, playing a mix of classic rock that borrowed liberally from the Rolling Stones/Aerosmith riff book and more corrosive elements of metal and punk rock. They also gained notoriety as loose cannons with an anarchic streak fueled by excessive drug and alcohol use. Slash himself served as a sort of living symbol of the group on stage, where he fired off expert, soulful licks while staggering around under a curtain of curly black hair and an oversized top hat.
Their reputation soon captured the attention of major music labels, including Geffen Records, which signed them in 1986. The following year saw the release of their debut album, Appetite for Destruction (1987), which sold over 28 million copies worldwide on the strength of such iron-fisted tunes as "Welcome to the Jungle," "Paradise City" and "Sweet Child O'Mine," which provided the band with its sole No. 1 singles chart hit. The runaway success of the album led to industry accolades and star-making slots on tours with Metallica and the Rolling Stones. But tensions within the group, fueled in no small part by prodigious amounts of drugs and alcohol, were already beginning to create fissures between the band members. Chief among the band's problems was the growing animosity between Axl Rose and the rest of the group. Rose sought complete control over the direction of Guns N' Roses, and systematically targeted various members for their chemical usage. Slash and Adler were the main sources of his ire, and while Slash was able to wrest control of his problems, Adler failed consistently and was eventually fired in 1991. Slash's 1992 endorsement of Black Death vodka did not mend fences between him and Rose, who rejected songs Slash had penned for Use Your Illusion I and II (1991), the epic, two-album follow-up to Appetite.
Following the grueling two-year tour behind the Use Your Illusion records, Guns N' Roses went on an extended hiatus, during which Slash stepped into the spotlight as a guest of honor on albums and live performances by Michael Jackson, Sammy Hagar and Alice Cooper. He eventually became a bandleader in his own right, first with Slash's Snakepit, a hard-rock side project with guitarist Gilby Clarke and Matt Sorum, who had replaced Izzy Stradlin and Steven Adler in Guns N' Roses. The group released It's Five O'Clock Somewhere (1995), which sold over a million copies, before disbanding the following year. Its success led in part to Rose reaching out to each of his bandmates to cease their solo projects and return to the Guns N' Roses fold.
To the surprise of many, Slash announced that he had severed all ties with Rose and the band. Though many cited Rose's growing interest in electronic and industrial music as the source of the rift, Slash would later reveal that his reasons for leaving the band were based entirely on Rose's unprofessional and combative presence during Use Your Illusion, which saw him arriving late to numerous shows, brawling with audience members, and attempting to wrest control of the group by demanding ownership of the band name. Rose would spend the better part of the next two decades crafting the third full-length Guns N' Roses album, Chinese Democracy, which was finally released in 2008. From 1996 to 1998, Slash fronted the blues-rock group Slash's Blues Ball while working on a variety of side projects. He contributed to the soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown" (1997) and appeared as himself in "Howard Stern's Private Parts" (1997). In 1999, he reformed Slash's Snakepit with a different lineup of players, which generated a second album, Ain't Life Grand in 2000. Despite a high-profile opening slot on AC/DC's summer tour that year, the band failed to generate much consumer interest, and Slash brought them to a close in 2002. Their decline marked the beginning of a period of great change and renewed promise for Slash's personal life and career.
In 2001, the guitarist was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the muscle of the heart is weakened to such a degree that sudden death from cardiac arrest is a constant risk. Given less than six months to live, Slash underwent extensive therapy, including the implantation of a defibrillator, and gave up his toxic levels of drug and alcohol consumption. His health eventually improved, and he began performing at various events. In 2002, Slash reunited with Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum at a tribute concert for veteran metal drummer Randy Castillo, and found that their chemistry together was still potent. They decided to form a group with Dave Kushner, McKagan's bandmate in a new group called Loaded, and brought aboard singer Scott Weiland, who had recently departed Stone Temple Pilots under a storm of controversy. The resulting supergroup, called Velvet Revolver, released a debut album, Contraband, which sold over two million copies in 2004 and won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance the following year. In doing so, Velvet Revolver removed the final vestiges of Guns N' Roses from Slash's career, and firmly established him as a successful bandleader.
However, the same factors that caused Guns N' Roses to split apart in the early '90s - drugs and ego - also conspired to undo Velvet Revolver. Weiland's drug habits once again took hold, forcing the band to cancel crucial tours; by 2008, Weiland had left the act to return to Stone Temple Pilots. Slash once again dove into an array of projects, from an eponymous, tell-all biography in 2007 to playing guitar on Clint Mansell's soundtrack for "The Wrestler" (2008). That same year, he released his eponymous solo debut, which featured all of his ex-Guns N' Roses mates save for Rose, as well as guests ranging from Ozzy Osbourne and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters to the Black Eyed Peas' Fergie and Adam Levine from Maroon 5. The album debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts and generated a successful solo tour. Two years later, Slash branched out into film by launching his own production company, Slasher Films, which devoted itself to horror features. He also began work on his second solo album.
By Paul Gaita