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Thanks to His New Album, Slash Is (Happily) Singing the Blues

The guitarist’s sixth solo project, ‘Orgy of the Damned,’ is currently the #1 blues album in the U.S. and the U.K.
Slash onstage at Amoeba Music on May 29, 2024 in Los Angeles. (Credit: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)
Slash onstage at Amoeba Music on May 29, 2024 in Los Angeles. (Credit: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images)

Ever since he attended his first one when he was 14 years old, Slash has always loved music festivals. “I love the vibe,” he says. “I love the beer. I love the fucking outdoor breeziness of it. I love the looseness and the idea of people who don’t know each other hanging out together and getting in the mix together. And I love doing all of it while listening to great music.”

That affinity for the festival experience has led Slash to create his very own: the S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Festival, a blues-focused summer shed extravaganza. An anagram for Solidarity, Engagement, Restore, Peace, Equality N’ Tolerance, the new outing functions as a live-in-the-flesh extension of Slash’s recent studio album, Orgy of the Damned, which saw the Guns N’ Roses guitarist dive top-hat-first into his lifelong love of the blues, enlisting superstar friends (Iggy Pop, Demi Lovato, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, AC/DC’s Brian Johnson) to help tackle a clutch of blues classics—from “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “Born Under a Bad Sign” to “Killing Floor,” “Key to the Highway,” “Stormy Monday,” and more. 

Rather than support Orgy of the Damned with a traditional tour, Slash decided, in a similar spirit to the record, to do something celebrating the breadth and depth of the blues: bring together some of today’s greatest exponents of the form and make it a party. To that end, each stop on the S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Festival will include a headlining blues set from Slash and his band (singer/guitarist Tash Neal, bassist Johnny Griparic, keyboardist Teddy “Zig Zag” Andreadis, and drummer Michael Jerome), with support from a rotating cast of artists like the Warren Haynes Band, Keb’ Mo’, Larkin Poe, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Samantha Fish, ZZ Ward, Robert Randolph, Eric Gales, and Jackie Venson. 

“It’s exciting for me because it’s something I’ve never really done before,” Slash says, adding that, along with curating the first-class lineup, he’s also leaving room for some spontaneous magic. “I would imagine that there’ll be a lot of jamming [between artists],” he continues. “And I’m starting to make those calls to get people from the [Orgy of the Damned] record up onstage too, when they’re in the same area as a show. Because I love that unknown thing. So I’m just really looking forward to all of it.”

Slash in the studio with Demi Lovato. (Credit: Gibson)

What are you most looking forward to with the S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Festival?

Slash: Just the idea of doing a show that is geared around all these cool blues covers, and also playing with a great band of seasoned blues guys. And that’s in addition to all the other artists that are going to be there. I mean, I’ve known Warren Haynes for a long time, and he’s a big influence on me. Eric Gales is amazing. I love Samantha Fish. Robert Randolph, he’s phenomenal, and he’s the one that turned me onto the pedal steel that I’m playing these days. So the whole thing is just great. 

You’ve said that you love the concept of an all-day music fest. What are some festivals you’ve attended that blew your mind?

That’s a good question—I went to a lot of sort of loose-y goose-y festivals with my parents when I was young, but the first real one I remember was the [CaliFFornia] World Music Festival, at the Coliseum here in L.A. It was a two-day event, I was 14 years old, and it was the first one I went to on my own. The headliner the first day was Ted Nugent, and then Cheap Trick. And the second day was Aerosmith and Van Halen. That was really the thing for me because Aerosmith were my favorite band and I’d never seen them before. And Van Halen I’d just gotten hip to because they had just come out. Then I remember REO Speedwagon was there, Toto, the Boomtown Rats… and UFO, which was big for me because I’d just gotten into their Strangers in the Night record. So it was a huge event. 

Another one of the early festivals I attended that really left an impression was the Playboy Jazz Fest [at the Hollywood Bowl] in 1981. I was 16, and Weather Report with Jaco Pastorius played. The lineup also had Art Blakey, Count Basie… it was one of those great summer daytime music festivals that I think of when I think about summer festivals. 

A festival is an ideal setting for bringing a wide range of artists—and fans—together in one place. 

That’s one of the cool things about it—getting people together on a positive note. So one of the ideas that I had for this festival was really encouraging the inclusivity of it, so that it’s people of all kinds just having a great time. Because there’s so much division going on now. It’s really very apparent over the last few years how bad it’s gotten. This festival is trying to be the antithesis of that. I want people to hang out and have a good time and drop all that shit for a day. 

You’re going to be sticking mostly to covers of blues classics for your S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Festival sets. But suppose you wanted to add in a track of two from, say, Guns N’ Roses or Velvet Revolver. What would be the songs that would best work in a blues format?

With Guns N’ Roses, you could do “[Mr.] Brownstone.” I think it would fit in there because it’s sort of got that Bo Diddley kind of thing, which, the line between early rock ‘n roll and blues is a little blurry—you can sort of do both in the same kind of vibe. You could do a really cool fucking take on “Welcome to the Jungle” in a blues setting, and there’s ways of doing “Paradise City,” definitely. Now, with Velvet Revolver it’s hard for me to imagine what would work, although there are a couple songs—I just can’t remember the names of the ones I’m thinking of. [Laughs.] I’d have to go look at the actual track list on the records.

(Credit: Gene Kirkland)

You have such a wide range of artists playing with you on Orgy of the Damned, and you’ve also done a variety of memorable guest spots yourself over the decades. Is there any session that sticks out to you for having been outside your comfort zone?

One would be playing with Ray Charles. This was in 2001, and at that time I had gotten really sick—I almost died at one point [Ed. note: Slash was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy]. When I started to come out of that, I got a call from Ray’s producer to come in and play on this track that he did called “God Bless America Again,” on one of his records. And it was great. It was at his studio down in south L.A., and I went down there and I got really chummy with Ray—he put his arm around me and was really supportive of what I was doing. The producer was great too, and after we did that he kept me around, and it was the first real playing gig that I had done after coming out of the hospital. 

Then at some point they said, “Hey, we’re re-recording some of Ray’s standards for this Ray movie. Maybe you want to come down…” I was out of my depth at that point, but I went in anyway. And I was there with all these old guys that had been with Ray for fucking eons, playing literally jazz standards. I said, “Oh, I don’t know these songs…” So they gave me some chord charts, but these were all chords that I wouldn’t usually use, you know? But I tried to learn everything. And so I came back the next day, and I started playing along with everything… and Ray goes, “You don’t really have a thing for this, do you?” [Laughs.] And I was like, “No, this is really out of my league…” That was a tough experience, but it was a great learning moment too. 

You’re obviously busy with multiple projects—Guns N’ Roses, Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators—but you’ve hinted that you might want to explore more blues-focused projects in the future as well. Do you think that will happen?

Well, this project was a huge outlet for me because the things that I do, depending on who I’m playing with, which are usually rock ‘n roll guys, they’re very loose and they’re broad, but they’re still confined to a certain sort of hard rock kind of thing that is trying to get away from, in a lot of ways, the most obvious stuff. You’re trying to have that hard rock feel but do something interesting with it. And that’s all good. But blues is a great outlet to be able to just do those simple sort of chord progressions and find interesting things to do within that framework. And also not be so conscious of all that all the time. So I enjoyed doing this record for a lot of reasons, but that was one of them. And I would love to do something else that has that same kind of uninhibited thing. I don’t think I want to do another blues covers record, at least not anytime in the foreseeable future, but I might want to do some solo stuff that is original material, and also more blues-oriented. So, we’ll see.