Living the dream: How David Bowie, Sylvester, and Neil Young shaped Slash's rock 'n' roll childhood

Lyndsey Parker

It seems that Slash — the famously top-hatted, aviator-shaded Guns N’ Roses guitar god, who’s about to about to release Living the Dream, his third album with his other band, Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators — was almost literally born to be a rock star. As the son of artist Anthony Hudson, who created album covers for Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, and costumer Ola Hudson, who worked with (and briefly dated) David Bowie, he grew up surrounded by rock ’n’ roll role models, the coolest of the cool. But interestingly, he didn’t pursue music himself until he was a teenager … and the guitar wasn’t even his first instrument of choice.

“It’s funny, because I grew up in that world,” the rock legend, whose real name is Saul Hudson, tells Yahoo Entertainment. “I grew up in that very bohemian, artistic environment — tons and tons and tons of music. I never aspired to be a musician, but I loved listening to records. I loved going with my parents to the Troubadour and the Forum and this and that. So, I loved music, and I was fascinated — like, if you go to a gig and you see them putting up the gear, I was completely mesmerized — but I didn’t think about an instrument until I just sort of accidentally picked up the guitar, when I was just about 15. It was right before my 15th birthday. And then, that just changed everything. So I guess I was groomed for it, but I just didn’t know.”

Slash recalls Bowie coming over to his home when Ola and Bowie were a “little item for a while,” when his mother (who died in 2009) was designing outfits for Bowie’s Thin White Duke era. “She did some of his coolest stuff, I have to say — that whole thing with the suits and everything. He definitely looked good,” Slash chuckles. A-list rockers like Bowie understandably made a lasting impression on little Slash.

The suit from the “Thin White Duke” from the “Station to Station” tour designed by Ola Hudson, left. (Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP)

“David was very cool,” he says. “I was in the presence of growing up with a lot of those musicians and artists, who were really, really f***ing cool. Whereas a lot of people try to be cool these days, but these different folks were really, really together: really intelligent, but just very much had their own language and style and everything, and it was very counterculture. … They were very aware of themselves, and very aware of their music and what they were trying to convey, and they just were, like, very left field, but together. … All very different personalities … it was a really exciting time, because it was so inspired and creative.”

The “Sweet Child o’ Mine” axeman met Stevie Wonder, Minnie Riperton, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, and Keith Moon as a child, but he seems to have the fondest memories of one dynamite disco encounter. “There was a guy — I mean, I just have to mention him because he was so awesome — he was this very extroverted performer named Sylvester, back in the day. He gave me my first pet rat, and he was awesome,” Slash, a noted animal lover and activist, recalls with a grin.

However, it was Slash’s one-time GNR bandmate, drummer Steven Adler, and an astute, Eric Clapton-loving schoolteacher who encouraged Slash to take up the guitar. “I went over to [Steven’s] place one afternoon, and he took one of those really cheap department store electric guitars and an amp, and an equally cheap stereo, and put KISS Alive II on, and just cranked everything up and just banged on it,” Slash remembers. “I mean, at that point we were doing a lot of air guitar too, so we were sort of discovering your own music at that age. And I thought, ‘We’ll put a band together!’ That naïve dreamy thing: ‘We’ll start a band!’”

Slash initially thought he’d play bass, but a visit to a nearby music school changed his destiny forever. “I went over there without an instrument, and not knowing what the f*** I was doing, and went in and talked to the teacher, this guy Robert Walling, who I’ve talked to a couple times over the years. So, he took me in the room and we were talking, and he was playing guitar the whole time, and he was playing Clapton licks. And I said, ‘Well, that’s what I want to do.’ And he goes, ‘That’s not bass, that’s lead guitar.’ And that started. That’s where it went.”

Slash went on to be as cool as the rock stars he met as a child, becoming one of the greatest rock guitarists in history and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. His recent “Not in This Lifetime” tour with the reunited Guns N’ Roses is now the fourth-highest-grossing concert tour of all time, and his new song with the Conspirators, “Driving Rain,” is his most successful single released under his name. Surely his mother would be proud.

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