Tom Morello is becoming the kind of ubiquitous rock and roll gun-for-hire who rivals Dave Grohl at his most collab-happy. The guitarist for Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave has sat in with Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and backed up everyone from folk legend Pete Seeger to Pink Floyd's Roger Waters to the Wu-Tang Clan.
This weekend, Morello joins Ozzy Osbourne onstage for the metal god's headlining Halloween set at Voodoo Fest in New Orleans, anchoring a supergroup that also features Slash and original Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler.
Maxim spoke to Morello about performing with his musical idols, his thoughts on the Rage Against the Machine-loving new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and his upcoming album featuring Skrillex and Bassnectar.
You're playing with Ozzy Osbourne on Halloween night in New Orleans, which must be a big deal considering you named your son after Ozzy's original guitarist, Randy Rhoads.
It’s a thrill. My first-born son Rhoads Morello is named after the great Randy Rhoads. There was a Randy Rhoads poster on my wall when I was practicing guitar eight hours a day, and he was very influential because while he was playing big heavy metal songs with Ozzy Osbourne, he was first and foremost a musician, and secondly a rock star, and that always appealed to me. So being able to play with Ozzy on some of Randy’s songs is another check off the bucket list.
Growing up, were you more into Black Sabbath or Ozzy's solo stuff?
Both. I grew up as metal as can be in the northern suburbs of Chicago. It was all about hard rock and heavy metal. So Ozzy’s solo work and Sabbath were always very high on my list. I was a huge fan of Tony Iommi’s riff writing and of Randy Rhoads' extraordinary guitar playing. To be able to dust off a few of those gems and play them in front of 50,000 people is something I’m looking forward to.
You spent 2014 touring with Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. What’s the difference between playing with Bruce and Ozzy?
Well, first of all I don’t know there’s a guitar player in the history of the six string instrument that has as diverse a resume as me. You’ll find very few guitarists who have played with Pete Seeger, Ozzy Osbourne, Wu-Tang Clan and Bassnectar. One learns and gets different things out of each experience. I’m a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen. It was an honor to sit in with the E Street Band. The challenge in that was over the course of 34 shows we played 182 different songs. That’s a mind- spinning experience. With Ozzy, the work is often very, very technical. I had to really kind of brush up on my woodshedding chops.
You don’t have nearly as many noodly solos with Bruce, I’d imagine.
Well, If I was doing noodly solos with Bruce, I was conjuring them up from scratch.
Bruce covered AC/DC's Highway To Hell when you guys played Australia. Was that your idea?
The first time we played it was in Perth, which is the birthplace of Bon Scott, the original singer for AC/DC, and I just made the casual suggestion at the hotel bar: “Do the circles of the E Street Band and AC/DC overlap?” And Bruce said, “I’m sure they do.”
Former Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan famously said Rage was one of his favorite bands, after which you fired back at his politics in a blistering Rolling Stone op-ed. Now that he's Speaker of the House, do you have any advice for him?
I’m guessing after that Rolling Stone piece, he perhaps combed through his music collection a little more closely and sorted by lyrical content. He doesn’t seem to have improved one iota.
I bet he still listens to Rage when doing the P-90X workout, but it probably stings a little more now, given that you said he was "the embodiment of the machine our music rages against."
That’s hard to say. But if I played any role in denying him the White House, I’m satisfied.
Are you a fan of Bernie Sanders?
He certainly seems like the person with progressive politics and integrity. But I worked as a scheduling secretary for Sen. Alan Cranston for two years, so I got to see how the sausage is made, and it’s not pretty. My emphasis has always been on direct action activism, and the kind of change that comes from below, not from electing someone and crossing your fingers that they’re a messiah.
Ted Nugent is probably even more conservative than Paul Ryan, and yet you guys are friends.
I was a huge fan, grew up on his records. Someone from Ted’s camp approached me before his 60th birthday saying they wanted video tributes. In more recent years, he’s been known for his politics, which are to the right of Genghis Khan, but my little video was about things I’ve learned from Ted Nugent. For example, the song “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” as a kid was baffling, until I looked up some of the references. My hormonal awakening can in some ways be attributed to Ted Nugent. We actually have quite a bit in common, from our love of the First Amendment to our willingness to be outspoken. He wrote me back a nice message and we’ve stayed good friends.
You've inducted both The Clash and KISS into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Who else deserves entry that’s been egregiously overlooked?
I think over the last five years or so, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has become more open to hard rock music, with KISS and Rush, but there’s still many more on that list that need to get in, before those of us with heavy metal hearts are going to sleep well. Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Motorhead are all very, very deserving.
This Halloween show is the only time this Ozzy-fronted supergroup will play America, right?
There’s two shows. The New Orleans show and then the same combination with Dave Navarro instead of Slash playing Tokyo in November. That’s all that’s currently on the docket. Slash and I have been acquainted for a long time and he’s a great guy. Geezer Butler and I played together a few times before, but honestly like, yesterday in rehearsal, we were playing some of the songs that first made me just lose my fucking mind and love rock and roll, which is pretty exciting.
You've played with Ozzy, Bruce, Pete Seeger...are there any other living legends on your list?
Two weekends ago, I played with Roger Waters in a show that was for, and with, disabled veterans from Walter Reed, so that's one. It was an amazing night, standing next to Roger Waters and playing Pink Floyd songs for these very talented wounded warriors. In the course of one month, I’m getting two of my all time favorites. So honestly I’ve been pretty blessed in that regard.
And you know I have to ask: Any plans to reunite with Rage Against the Machine?
No plans. I know you're doing due diligence, but there are no plans.
OK, well what else can your fans look forward to?
I’m working on a huge rock record right now. The notion of this record is the 'Hendrix of Now' and I want to put all my guitar riffs and abilities on the table, but in the context of working with producers not traditionally known for rock music, and still making a very heavy record, people like Bassnectar and Skrillex. We’re about halfway done. It's going to be some of the hugest music you’ve ever heard.