Tom Morello, the landmark guitarist best known for his work with Rage Against the Machine in the early 1990s, has spanned several successful collaborations over the past three decades, visiting a multitude of styles and genres. Getting to know Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Ben Harper and Ollie Sykes, Morello opened his mind to the vast expanse of rock music’s rich tapestry.
Throughout the 1980s and during his time with Rage, Morello adhered to a distinctly heavy guitar style with plenty of headbanging riffs. This aggressive sound perfectly framed the politically charged subject matter with which he and many of his early bandmates and collaborators identified.
Long before broadening horizons or the genesis of his political persuasion, Morello’s introduction to music was primarily through classic heavy rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper. However, the one band that rose above all others during Morello’s youth was Kiss, whose influence was particularly palpable in his early music with future Tool member Adam Jones as they formed their first band, The Electric Sheep.
For an article published in Fork in 2020, Morello was challenged to choose the records that changed his life. Selection of Kiss’ Alive IItheir second live album from 1977, Morello described the profound impact that makeup rockers had on his first musical plots.
“Kiss is the band that really made me fall in love with rock and roll music,” Morello said. “I was a big comic book collector, and it was a bunch of superheroes, as far as I know. It’s hard to paint you a picture of the mystique of a bunch like that at the moment. Now, via reality TV and YouTube, you can see all the shrimp quesadillas that every rock and rap star eats. blood from his tongue. Was it real? Did he bite his tongue at every gig? How did he breathe fire after he spat the blood? They had a wall of Marshall batteries – how bad that must have been? It was like a vibe of mystery and legendary power of the Loch Ness Monster, and it was in very stark juxtaposition to Libertyville, Illinois, and was very intoxicating for a young man.
Morello appreciated the live presence he encountered when seeing Kiss in concert. With his record budget tight, he sought out the live album to recapture the magic. “I had seen the band live before and had a huge desire to listen to the recordings from that tour,” he said. “Dog Ear Records was Libertyville’s record store, and I called them every day. They were like, ‘No, we don’t have it yet. But we have your number, and we promise to call you back as soon as it arrives. I’m like, ‘OK, I could call later today.’ They’re like, ‘You don’t need to call later today.’ And I’ll call later today.
“My music consumption was very limited by my budget,” he continued. “My mother was a single parent teacher in a public high school. I had no influence from my parents, older brothers or friends. I was on a solo trip and no one in my school liked the music I liked. I wore my Kiss T-shirt to school, and kids said the mean things kids say. The Kiss Army, as we were encouraged to call ourselves by the Kiss merchandising department, was truly an alternate family that I felt I belonged to and didn’t have with many peers.
Listen to Tom Morello’s favorite Kiss album below.
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