Slash barely had enough time for one quick rehearsal run-through at Dolby Theater in Los Angeles before his face-melting performance of “I’m Just Ken” with actor Ryan Gosling and musical stalwarts Wolfgang Van Halen and Mark Ronson during the Academy Awards show March 10.

The guitarist extraordinaire had an excuse for being, if not late, at least hurried. Slash was on tour in Asia at the time and managed a trans-Pacific roundtrip to L.A. and back without missing a beat. In the end, cost was no object – Gosling, who played Ken in the Oscar-nominated “Barbie” film, wanted Slash for the Best Music (Original Song) performance and wasn’t going to be denied.

“It was Ryan [Gosling] who said, ‘This is going to happen. [Slash] has to be there. And he went to the CEO of Mattel – who is a very cool guy – and he got me his plane. …” Slash says. (Gosling, clearly, is not “Just Ken,” nor is Will Farrell the the CEO of Mattel Inc.)
So Slash boarded a plane from Seoul, South Korea, the morning after a March 9 show with Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators, flew to L.A. and headed straight to the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

“I was rushed in and ran through it one time, and then went back and had to deal with all the wardrobe and all the chaos that goes along with the Oscars, which I really wasn’t prepared for anyway… Then the time came and I got up there and played for my 28 seconds!”

Was he satisfied with his 28 seconds after two days and some 13,000 miles in the air? “I guess it went off really well, though the rehearsal wasn’t so great because I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing,” Slash says, laughing. “But the actual gig itself came off with no hitches. And then I went home, changed my clothes and got on a plane back to the Philippines (for a March 12 show).”

96th Annual Academy Awards Show
NOT JUST KENS: Slash (Front R), Mark Ronson, Ryan Gosling and Wolfgang Van Halen steal the show at the 96th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles March 10 with their performance of “I’m Just Ken” from the film “Barbie.”
Photo by Kevin Winter / Getty Images

It’s just the latest example of Slash’s work ethic and willingness to go, go, go, literally, to the ends of the earth to play, anytime, anywhere. And this year Slash has outdone himself. This week he releases his new album Orgy of the Damned (Gibson Records) that delves into his lifelong passion for the blues. As the title might suggest, it features a veritable orgy of damned amazing artists that includes perhaps of best list of collaborators ever assembled: Chris Stapleton, Brian Johnson (AC/DC), Iggy Pop, Demi Lovato, Billy F. Gibbons (ZZ Top), Chris Robinson (The Black Crowes), Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company), and Beth Hart. Recorded at East West Studios and Snakepit Studio in Los Angeles, the album was released Friday (May 17).

And if that weren’t enough, he’s launching his own summer festival. From Montana to Texas to New York, Slash’s S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Festival (which stands for Solidarity, Engagement, Restore, Peace, Equality N’ Tolerance) will play 29 mostly amphitheater dates, and features a murderer’s row of blues assassins including Warren Haynes, Keb’ Mo’, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Robert Randolph, Samantha Fish, Eric Gales, ZZ Ward and Jackie Venson, and aims to do nothing less than bring the world together.

“There’s so much animosity between different groups of people and just all this weird stuff,” Slash explains. “More so than usual. So I wanted to do something where everybody could come and spend a day; it’s all-inclusive and it doesn’t matter what color you are or what background you have, or what fucking gender you are. I want to bring everybody together to be able to just enjoy a day of music, hang out and just sort of forget about all that stuff.”

Casual fans of Slash, either as a solo artist or as a member of either Guns N’ Roses, Slash’s Snakepit or Velvet Revolver, may find his Orgy of the Damned material to be a departure from his usual virtuosic, hard rock shredding.

“I’ve always been a hard rock guy,” Slash says of the genesis of his latest album and tour projects. “And I was always turned on to the energy and all of that, and it’s what I always aspired to do. But my playing style was very much influenced by straight up blues guitar. It’s always been a thing for me to just play blues, and I’d find myself jamming with a lot of blues players over the years.”

This creative exploration for Saul Hudson is nothing new. The British-American guitarist, born in Britain but who grew up in the shadow of the Hollywood sign, Slash was given his moniker as a teenager by actor Seymour Cassel, whose son Matt was a high school friend of Hudson’s. Cassel gave the frenetic young Hudson the nickname “Slash” because he was incapable of sitting still or in one place for long. It stuck.

Slash's High School Band
PRE-SLASH BASH: Bassist Ron Schneider,
guitarist Saul Hudson — soon to be known as
Slash — and drummer Adam Greenberg play with their band Tidus Sloan during lunchtime at Fairfax High School on June 4, 1982, in Los Angeles.
Photo by Marc S Canter / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Slash has been performing since high school, starting with his band Tidus Sloan – which played lunchtime shows at local schools and, he says in his autobiography “Slash,” whose “most extravagant show was a bat mitzvah deep in the middle of nowhere.”

He says he picked up the guitar when his childhood friend and aspiring bandmate Steven Adler decided to play drums. The band didn’t gel, but Slash and Adler eventually – and famously – would unite first as members of Hollywood Rose and then as Guns N’ Roses in the early 1980s. Slash, whose artistic streak extends to the visual arts as well as music, created handbills for his bands’ shows as well as drawing up the first version of the GNR logo.

Of course, his career trajectory was initially tied to that of GNR, which exploded out of Hollywood’s grittier establishments like Gazzarri’s and Madame Wong’s and eventually the Whisky a Go Go and Starwood before moving into arenas and stadiums. But in between tours, albums and sometimes professional differences, Slash never stopped playing or touring.

In 1994, he formed Slash’s Snakepit, a supergroup with two of his Guns N’ Roses bandmates – drummer Matt Sorum and guitarist Gilby Clarke – as well as Alice in Chains bassist Mike Inez and former Jellyfish guitarist Eric Dover on lead vocals. Far more successful, though, was Velvet Revolver, which formed in 2002 while Slash was taking an extended hiatus from GNR. He teamed again with Sorum but also GNR’s Duff McKagan, former Wasted Youth guitarist Dave Kushner, and former Stone Temple Pilots vocalist Scott Weiland.

Between 2004 and 2008, Velvet Revolver reported 170 shows to Pollstar, selling 727,561 tickets and grossing more than $29 million. It might have continued successfully had Weiland not returned to Stone Temple Pilots in 2008. Velvet Revolver broke up soon after, and Weiland died in 2015.

Slash returned to GNR in time for a blowout reunion at Coachella in 2016, which was followed by the “Not In This Lifetime…. Tour,” which in 2016-17 grossed more than $579.3 million and finished at No. 2 on Pollstar’s Year-End Top 100 Worldwide Tours chart in 2017.

The group’s “We’re F’N’ Back! Tour” launched a North American leg from July through October 2021, playing mostly arenas and some stadiums before rolling through Europe, Latin America, Asia and Oceania. Guns N’ Roses returned to the road for its “Guns N’ Roses 2023 Tour,” again circumnavigating the globe and continuing to draw massive crowds. Over 41 dates worldwide, GNR reported selling 1,041,729 tickets and the tour grossed $113,728,941.

As a solo artist, Slash more than holds his own and has been reporting to Pollstar since 2008 with tours across North and South America, Europe, Oceania and Asia, reporting a total of 112 shows, 316,815 sold tickets and grossing more than $15.3 million before 2022.

Which brings us back to Orgy of the Damned and Slash’s next live excursion, the S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Festival, which kicks off July 5 at KettleHouse Amphitheater in Bonner, Montana.

See Also: Slash Tells How He Brought Top Blues Men & Women Together For S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Fest Summer Tour

“It was very fun and spontaneous and a great outlet for me to be able to record something that is very close to my heart,” Slash says of the album. “And then on top of it, now we’ve got a tour so I can go out there and legitimately play this stuff professionally, as opposed to just showing up in some club or The Baked Potato (one of his and many Angelenos’ favorite jazz and blues clubs, located in Studio City and dating back to 1970). It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

It’s a sentiment his team echoes. “The initial thought behind this was more along that line of saying, ‘OK, do we park this in one place and do a multi-day, or do we route a tour?,’” says Slash’s manager, Jeff Varner of Revelation Management Group. “There was enough excitement from the promoter level, from the market level, that we said, ‘Look, let’s do a tour.’ It also speaks to the fact that [Slash] loves to play. He loves to play a lot. ‘Do you want to do three days, Slash, or do you want to do a month?’ Well, that’s a no-brainer.”

Live Nation’s Greg Siegel, who is working with Slash’s team (which also includes WME agent John Marx) to promote the S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Festival, is similarly impressed by the concept.

“This is special because it’s like a traveling festival and you’re hitting different artists in different cities. It’s more of a blues thing, but with Warren [Haynes] maybe it touches on the jam band world, too. Having Warren is cool and there’s other markets where there’s other great artists.”

Slash is also lending his platform to emerging stars who are bringing their own flavor to a classic music form that’s the basis from which all rock ‘n’ roll springs.

“From what I was told, I was chosen to be on the tour, which feels really cool,” Samantha Fish says of learning Slash added her to the curated lineup. “I heard whispers about it last year, and it seemed like one of those far-fetched things that come across the desk from time to time. I was thrilled that we locked it down.”

And though she hadn’t met Slash until very recently, Fish has been an admirer of his guitar work going back to the early days of GNR.

“I grew up burning through multiple copies of Appetite for Destruction. Slash is a rock ‘n’ roll icon,” she says. “I think it’s really cool that he wants to utilize his talent and time paying homage to the root of all modern music, the blues. I’m excited to hear how he presents these songs, but I’m also excited to see how it’s going to expose new audiences to the blues.”

Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators With Tash Neal Nashville, TN
Slash performs at The Grand Ole Opry on March 16, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

In addition to the guest artists, Slash will play each night with a band featuring bassist Johnny Griparic, keyboardist Teddy “ZigZag” Andreadis, drummer Michael Jerome, and singer/guitarist Tash Neal.

Slash is also putting his money where his mouth is, taking the S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Festival’s philanthropic mission as seriously as the music.

“I wanted to help out some of the people that have been a little bit sidelined and [recognize] some of the racial inequality issues that have been happening,” Slash shares. “I also wanted to address mental health because that’s something that is prevalent. And it’s also near and dear to me. So that was basically the goal – to provide support to people who have been disenfranchised.”

Slash is working with an organization called PLUS1 to facilitate the support of a number of charities including The Equal Justice Initiative, Know Your Rights Camp, The Greenlining Institute, and War Child. S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Festival has also partnered with PLUS1 to support the charitable endeavors.

“Slash and his team reached out to us directly to build the nonprofit component to the S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Festival,” Claire Melanson, director of operations for PLUS1, explains. “It’s always helpful in any partnership like this for us to be on the front end of it. We listened to him and his team and figured out what he’s interested in and is passionate about. From there, we worked with them to build a strategy that is effective for their goals and their missions and, and impactful for grantees.”

After the tour concludes, Slash says the tentative plan is to return with Guns N’ Roses to the studio and another tour down the road is a distinct possibility.

Whether he is sitting in at The Baked Potato, dashing halfway across the globe to play 28 seconds at the Academy Awards, putting on a traveling blues festival to change the world, or globetrotting with Guns N’ Roses, one thing is certain – Slash is always down to play. s

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