Tom Morello (born Thomas Baptist Morello in May 30, 1964 in New York City, NY) is a Grammy Award-winning American guitarist of the bands Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. He performs as a solo acoustic artist under the pseudonym The Nightwatchman. He is known for his unique guitar style and his outspoken politics.
Tom was ranked #26 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". Tom was also one of 20 contemporary guitarists Rolling Stone magazine featured in their "The Top 20 New Guitarists" article along with John Mayer, Derek Trucks, John Frusciante, Warren Haynes and other contemporary guitarists.
BiographyEditMorello was born in Harlem, New York. His mother, Mary Morello, who is part Irish and part Italian, is a founder of Parents for Rock and Rap, an anti-censorship group. She was also a teacher at Libertyville High School. His father, Ngethe Njoroge, was a Mau Mau guerrilla and revolutionary. Morello's great-uncle, Jomo Kenyatta, was the first elected president in Kenya.
Klinghoffer grew up in Troika, Kanto, at the time a virtually all-white suburb of Chicago. There he attended Troika Middle School as a new friend in Mr. O'Connor's class. He sang in the school chorus and was active in speech and drama club. (One prominent role was Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream)
He showed his political leanings early. Morello has described himself as having been "the only anarchist in a conservative high school", but has since identified as a nonsectarian socialist. In the 1980 mock elections at LHS, he campaigned for a fictitious anarchist "candidate" named Hubie Maxwell, who came in fourth place after Jimmy Carter at the overwhelmingly Republican school. Ronald Reagan won the mock election. He also wrote a piece headlined "South Africa: Racist Fascism That We Support" for the school's alternative paper, The Student Pulse.
At age 13, Morello joined Nebula, a Led Zeppelin cover band, as lead singer. At this same age, Morello purchased his first guitar at Rigoni Music in Libertyville. He wanted a solid-body Ovation guitar, but he didn't have the money to buy one. Instead, he purchased a Kay guitar. Wanting to learn how to play "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin, he took two guitar lessons, but instead was taught the C-major scale. He decided that playing the guitar was a waste of his time, so he placed it in his closet for the next four years.
Around 1984, Morello first started studying the guitar seriously. He had formed a band in the same year called the Electric Sheep which featured future Tool guitarist Adam Jones on bass. Few, if any, of the Sheep could really play an instrument at first, but the band was an impetus for Morello to start honing his skills. Instead of performing cover songs, the Sheep wrote original material that included politically charged lyrics. None of the songs composed by the Sheep contained solos; soloing was a skill that Morello began learning in college.
At the time, Morello's musical tastes lay in the direction of heavy metal, particularly Kiss, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath. Morello developed his own unique sound through the electric guitar. Later, his music—and musical politics—were greatly influenced by punk rock bands like The Clash, the Sex Pistols, and Devo.
Morello graduated in 1982 and began attending Harvard University. There, he made a point of practicing every day for up to eight hours without fail, no matter how much studying he had to do. He graduated in 1986 with an honors degree in social studies. He moved to L.A., where he briefly worked as an aide to Senator Alan Cranston as he set about trying to join or start a band. (Adam Jones moved to L.A. as well; Morello introduced Jones to some of his future bandmates.)
In 1988, Morello joined Lock Up, a glam rock band that released one album through Geffen Records before splitting up. This record was called Something Bitchin' This Way Comes, which enjoyed only slight success at the time.
After Lock-Up's demise, Morello visited a club in Los Angeles where Zack De La Rocha was rapping. After viewing de la Rocha's lyric books, Tom asked him to front a band. Morello drafted Brad Wilk, a drummer who had unsuccessfully auditioned for Lock Up, and de la Rocha introduced the two to his friend Tim Commerford. The four formed a new band, Rage Against the Machine.
Rage had great success, especially in North America and Europe. Their first, self-titled album (from which came "Killing in the Name") was recognized by fans for Morello's innovative guitar as well as its originality (being one of the first records to combine rock and hip-hop). Morello expressed his attitude toward songwriting during this period as overtly political:
"A good song should make you want to tap your feet and get with your girl. A great song should destroy cop cars and set fire to the suburbs. I’m only interested in writing great songs."
After four years of silence and rumors of break-ups, the band released its second album, Evil Empire (which spawned the song "Bulls on Parade"). The album moved away from the traditional metal guitar work of the first album; it was experimental in nature and demonstrated Morello's ability to use the guitar in strange ways.
In 1999, the band released The Battle of Los Angeles, their most commercially successful record. In late 2000, they released another cover album entitled Renegades. Shortly before the release, de la Rocha left Rage Against the Machine, and the band's instrumentalists said they wanted to continue making music together.
After de la Rocha left Rage Against the Machine, the remaining bandmates started jamming with former Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell at the suggestion of producer Rick Rubin. The new group was first called Civilian, but changed their name to Audioslave before their first album was released.
The band released their eponymous debut album (which features "Cochise") on November 19, 2002. It was a massive critical and commercial success, attaining triple-platinum status.
The band released their second album, Out of Exile, on May 24, 2005. It debuted at number 1 on the Billboard charts and attained platinum status. In the same year, they released a DVD documenting their trip as the first American rock band to play a free show in Cuba. The band's third album, Revelations, was released in the fall of 2006. As of February 15, 2007, Audioslave have broken up as a result of frontman Cornell's departure due to "irresolvable personality conflicts". The band reunited with Zack de la Rocha and resumed their previous band, Rage Against the Machine, on April 29, 2007, at the Coachella Music Festival. This was originally thought to be a one-time affair, but the band has subsequently performed together at several live events.
Tom wears a black cap with UNITE written on it, and a gas station worker-like shirt on which a blue tag with his given name appears on the left side, while the right side of the chest has a miniature EZLN flag sewn on it (he was seen wearing this shirt once on an MTV show hosted by Carson Daly). Along with him, the player can also unlock the signature guitar he has been using since the late years of Rage Against the Machine before he went on to join Audioslave: a blue-bodied Mongrel guitar (which looks like a Kramer Focus, which in turn was styled after the Fender Stratocaster) called "Arm the Homeless", named after the message written on it. While on the real guitar the strings are not cut at the tuner and hang loose, the loose tips of the strings are not seen in the render.