It seemed clear early on that Tom Morello was going to be a musician, even if his first gig was as the singer in a Led Zeppelin cover band – and not with a guitar in hand.
When he did take up the guitar full-time, the Harvard-educated, Grammy-winning Morello made the most of the instrument, creating a unique metal-based style that turned Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave into both critical and popular successes.
Morello left Harvard in 1986 and moved to L.A., where he even helped form another premier rock band – he introduced former classmate and bandmate Adam Jones to the future members of Jones’ band Tool.
But Morello was in L.A. to do his own thing, and he soon did. In 1991, he signed up with rapper Zack de la Rocha and began putting together Rage Against the Machine. After adding drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford, the band played its way into a record deal.
Over 10 years, RATM released four studio albums and developed a loyal following, with Morello’s guitar work grounding the band’s music and their outspoken political commentary gaining more converts.
However, the band splintered in 2000, with de la Rocha calling it quits. Not deterred, Morello and his remaining bandmates joined forces with singer Chris Cornell, who had left Soundgarden. From that union came Audioslave, Morell’s second significant – and successful – band.
Audioslave recorded three albums, beginning with 2002’s self-titled debut. The band was a new direction for Morello, mixing classic and alternative rock, and showing the guitarists versatility in style. (That versatility became much more evident in more recent years, with Morello’s work as the Nighwatchman – the folk-alter ego he performs under as a solo act.)
Audioslave’s successful run, which included a historic concert in Cuba, ended with Cornell’s departure in 2007 over personality conflicts within the band. Not one to be rattled, Morello and his bandmates simply reunited with de la Rocha and reformed RATM.
Morello also has been involved in a number of side projects, including Street Sweeper Social Club.
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(NOTE: This is part of my ongoing series of reports on guitar players who fly under the mainstream radar. Keep checking The Listening Room for future installments of guitar players you should know – JF)
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