It started as just another night on the Sunset Strip in the early '80s. A 17-year-old Slash borrowed his mom's car to party at the Rainbow with Steven Adler. Fake IDs in hand, they got to the bar only to find out that it was “ladies' night.” Steven got in, but Slash was turned away. Dejected but determined, Slash went home and came up with an idea to sneak back in. Slash's mother, an L.A. costume designer, decked him out in a skirt and fishnets, piled his curls up under one of her beret hats, and finished his look off with a touch of makeup. Slash was pleased with the results; he didn't look like just any chick, he looked like a Rainbow chick. Back at the club in full drag, the bouncer let him in, without even asking for ID.
Today Slash and the band that first catapulted him into the limelight, Guns N' Roses, are synonymous with the Sunset Strip. The Rainbow's interior is decorated with autographed photos of the iconic guitarist and his band memorabilia hangs proudly on display. For many the Strip is still the epicenter of rock-and-roll dreams and debauchery. Sure, Slash has come a long way from that brash teenager who once dressed in fishnets in order to dive into a scene, but his creativity and determination remain the same.
We caught up with Slash to congratulate him on being the 2010 honoree for this year's third annual Sunset Strip Music Festival. From Doheny Drive to San Vicente Boulevard, Slash talked Sunset Strip survival tips, stealing his first top hat for a gig at the Whisky, and why he's proud (but still gets a little shy) about being a part of West Hollywood's legacy.
L.A. Weekly: Congrats on being the honoree at this year's Sunset Strip Music Festival.
Slash: It's surreal. Ozzy [Osbourne] won it last year and I never expected to get that phone call, “Hey we really want to honor you for the Sunset Strip Music Festival.” I was like, “You gotta be kidding me.” [Laughs] It's very flattering.
You have many memories of the Sunset Strip, obviously. Everything from dressing up like a girl to sneak into the Rainbow underage, to breaking out with Guns N' Roses. What is it about the Strip that endures? What still makes it so appealing to people?
Slash: I'd say the appeal of the Strip — from a rock-and-roll or artistic point of view — is that there's so much creative energy. It has some gravitational pull for all these different artists. That's what's cool. It's got this inspired vibe to it. On top of that, it's also got a renegade vibe — or it did anyway — where all the on-the-edge people were hanging out. Growing up, there were a ton of people coming down here — my parents and hippies from all over the world, not just from L.A. — doing whatever it was they wanted to do and having this freedom to try and make a go of it in the music or art world.
Slash: It's this whole community of artistic people, more or less. There was all this music and modern art coming out of it and killer graphics and whatnot. That's the way it was from when I was a little kid up until a certain point in the beginning of the '90s. Since then, there hasn't been necessarily a big inspiring scene coming out of [the Strip] but the legacy of what has come out of West Hollywood is still there… the Rainbow, the Roxy, the Whisky and those cool places… and there's a lot of fashion stuff still going on.
Nic Adler's done a lot of great work to bring a modern element to the Roxy and the Strip.
Slash: Yeah. When I was a kid I remember I went with my mom to the Roxy, she was doing the Rocky Horror Picture Show when it was a play back in 1974 or something, and Cheech & Chong were opening. Being that little, I remember what a scene that was and going there every weekend. That was one of Lou Adler's gigs. He's been a major catalyst for making the strip exciting. I think it's really cool that they're doing this event every year because it's somewhat reminiscent of SXSW. It brings a ton of attention to music throughout the whole neighborhood.
The Sunset Strip has a reputation for being very debaucherous.
Slash: [Laughs] Yeah, there's been a lot of debauchery. Many a thing goes on behind the scenes around here.
You've never gotten sick of West Hollywood? Never wanted to pack up and move somewhere else?
Slash: No. Every so often you'll be traveling and think it'd be nice to live here or there just because it's different. But I can't imagine actually moving out of L.A. to go live permanently somewhere else. One of the great things about touring is you do a lot of traveling and get to enjoy different places just for a minute, you know? I feel very at home in Hollywood, with all its quirkiness.
What are your Sunset Strip survival tips for a musician or band coming to Hollywood from, say, the Midwest, that hope to get gigs but not get caught up in all that debauchery?
Slash: Have your wits about you and be prepared for anything. It's a tough racket to get into. You just have to use your head and focus on what you're trying to achieve, especially if you're not familiar with how the game works. Just know that in Hollywood there's always more than one side to everything.
Any special guests that will be joining you on stage Saturday at the Sunset Strip Music Fest? I know Fergie is.
Slash: Yeah, just Fergie as far as I know.
As far as you know? Well, you never know who might just jump on stage.
Slash: Yeah, right? It's out in the middle of the street so it is possible. I'm really proud to be the guy this year. It's great for me because I've been living more or less around this neighborhood ever since I moved to L.A. in 1970. I was raised in the music business here, discovered that I was going to be a guitar player here, had all my first bands here, made it here, and I'm still here. I feel very much a part of what West Hollywood is about. So to actually be recognized is very cool on a personal level. I spoke on Ozzy's behalf last year. There were a bunch of us that came up and spoke about whatever it was we wanted to say about Ozzy as a person. And I guess they're going to do that to me, so I'm a little bit shy about the whole thing. I'll be sitting there while my peers come up and say whatever it is that they want to say about me.
Well, at least it's not a roast.
Slash: Yeah. It'll be interesting. But after that I'm gonna go jam with Beth Hart at the Whisky.
The Whisky and you have a lot of memories.
Slash: Oh, for sure. Some of our early Guns N' Roses gigs were there. Actually, the first time I ever wore a top hat was at the Whisky. Prior to that gig went to Retail Slut on Melrose and stole a top hat. I saw the top hat and thought I'd be cool. It was the afternoon of the gig and I was just looking for stuff and didn't have any money so everything had to be a five finger discount. I nicked the hat, took it back to the flat on Clark Street, wrapped a conch belt around it, and it became the tool I used for hiding in my inebriated state… [laughs]… back in those days. It's been that thing ever since.
The Sunset Strip Music Festival launches tonight, August 26, with a benefit in Slash's honor at the House of Blues and culminates Saturday, August 28, featuring over 50 bands including Slash with Myles Kennedy and Fergie, performing songs off his new self-titled solo album, and grand finale headliners the Smashing Pumpkins. More details on the Sunset Strip Music Festival's full lineup and set times here.
Missed our video interview with Slash about his new solo album? Check it out below: