Saul Hudson, more commonly known by his childhood nickname ‘Slash’, turns 50 today. It is safe to say that the next 50 years of his life are unlikely to be quite as hectic as the first. The heroin-addicted lead guitarist of Guns ‘n’ Roses has settled into a routine of philanthropy and Angry Birds.
He is always mentioned in magazines as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. The opening to ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ is routinely voted the best guitar riff ever. But the true extent of his genius — which stretches far beyond his ability to produce a nice tune — is still not fully recognised.
Many in fact think he’s overrated. They say he didn’t do enough to transform the genre in the way that Jimi Hendrix did. On one music forum, a user stated that his only influence was to entice teenagers, through his hat and glasses, to play his songs somewhat unimaginatively to impress peers.
Granted, his influence may not be quite that of Hendrix’s, but he was still crucial. His style was unique in being so calm and reserved compared to his contemporaries. He made it clear that he preferred the hard rock of Guns ‘n’ Roses to their ballads — in fact he admits that he always disliked ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ — but even when he produced heavier rock, it was done with a delightful ease. It showed budding rock musicians that you don’t need to gurn to perform great music. Calm is cool.
One of Slash’s most overlooked traits is his improvisation. ‘November Rain’s many contrasting emotions are all perfectly communicated by Slash’s guitar, especially the overwhelmingly beautiful solo — the climax of the paradisean love section — which began life as an improvisation.
The death of rock is one of rock music’s oldest traditions. But the music endures, in no small part down to Slash. Any musician who encourages new generations to emulate them has succeeded. Whether or not this is to appear cool is irrelevant. Rock music and heavy metal are still alive. They owe this fact largely to Saul Hudson.