Thomas Baptist Morello is an American guitarist best known for his unique style of guitar playing. He's best known for playing in bands such as Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. He also performs solo under the alias "The Nightwatchman."
Tom Morello was born in Harlem, New York, on May 30, 1964, to Ngethe Njoroge, a Kenyan immigrant, and Mary Morello, who is of Irish and Italian descent. Morello's father was Mau Mau guerilla and revolutionary that helped free Kenya from British rule. Morello's great-uncle, Jomo Kenyatta, was Kenya's first elected president. Morello's mother was a teacher at Libertyville High School, the same high school Morello graduated from, in Libertyville, Illinois, a Chicago suburb and the town where Morello grew up. At that point in time, Libertyville was virtually an all-white town. Morello played the French horn in the school band, sang in the school choir, and was active in speech and drama.
Morello first started playing guitar at age 13, but after taking two guitar lessons, he decided that playing guitar was a waste of his time and gave up on it. He started again when he was 17 and became serious about it. At that point, Morello joined a band called The Electric Sheep and played the lead guitar. However, none of the songs had solos, as he didn't start creating them until he went to college.
Morello graduated high school in 1982 and attended college at Harvard University. There, he earned a Bachelors Degree with honors in Political Science in 1986. He then moved to Los Angeles and got a job working for Democratic Senator Alan Cranston. The job was only brief, however, because Morello didn't enjoy the work environment.
In 1988, Morello joined a glam rock band called Lock Up. However, they only released one album before disbanding in 1990.
Rage Against the Machine
Crushed by the lack of success with Lock Up, Morello decided to start a band of his own from scratch. He went to a nightclub and ended up meeting rapper Zack de la Rocha. After Morello listened to de la Rocha rap, he asked de la Rocha to front his new band. Morello then drafted drummer Brad Wilk, who had unsuccessfully auditioned for Lock Up. De la Rocha then introduced Morello and Wilk to his good friend Tim Commerford, who played bass. They decided to call themselves Rage Against the Machine after a song that de la Rocha had done with his previous band, Inside Out. They performed their first show in Los Angeles on October 23, 1991.
Rage Against the Machine signed a contract with Epic Records in 1992, and released their self-titled debut album later that same year. One of their most popular and controversial songs from the album is the song "Killing in the Name," in which de la Rocha is heard yelling the phrase "f--- you I won't do what you tell me" several times in a row. The following video is the clean version of the song.
After four years of rumors of the band breaking up, Rage Against the Machine released their second album entitled Evil Empire in 1996. In this record, Morello focused more on using his famous "kill-switch" technique rather than the heavy metal riffs used in the previous record. The most famous song off of Evil Empire is the song "Bulls on Parade," in which Morello is heard making a DJ-scratching noise with his guitar using his kill-switch technique and rubbing his hand on the strings, as seen in the following video.
In 1999, Rage Against the Machine released their third album entitled The Battle of Los Angeles. In this record, the Morello focused on both heavy riffs and DJ-emulating sounds with his kill-switch technique. This is clearly evident in the songs "Guerilla Radio" and "Sleep Now in the Fire." The song "Born of a Broken Man" is one of the few Rage Against the Machine songs that doesn't have a solo.
On September 12 and 13, 2000, Rage Against the Machine played their last live show at the Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles.
The following month, on October 18, Zack de la Rocha left Rage Against the Machine. He was quoted saying, "I feel that it is now necessary to leave Rage because our decision-making process has completely failed. It is no longer meeting the aspirations of all four of us collectively as a band, and from my perspective, has undermined our artistic and political ideal."
Rage Against the Machine's fourth album, Renegades, was released the following December. Each song is a cover of songs originally written and played by other singers and bands such as Bob Dylan, MC5, Cypress Hill, Rolling Stones, and Bruce Springsteen, as well as others. However, some of the songs' riffs and solos were completely rewritten, including Street Fighting Man by The Rolling Stones, Maggie's Farm by Bob Dylan, and The Ghost of Tom Joad by Bruce Springsteen, whereas some of the other songs were only changed slightly like Kick Out the Jams by MC5.
Six years later, in January of 2007, Rage Against the Machine reunited, and played on the final day of the Coachella 2007 on April 29, and they've been playing at shows ever since.
In 2006, a cover version of the song "Killing in the Name" was made playable in the game Guitar Hero 2.
In 2007, Morello was featured as a boss and playable character in the game Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock. Morello also wrote an instrumental song for the game. The game also featured the song "Bulls on Parade," which can be played once the player defeats Morello in a guitar battle. The guitar battle can also be played as a solo player song on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 by downloading the song from the internet.
In 2009, the original version of "Killing in the Name" was featured on the game Guitar Hero: Smash Hits.
After de la Rocha left the band, Morello, Commerford, and Wilk joined forces with former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell at the request of director Rick Rubin. At first, the group was called Civilian, but their name changed to Audioslave before they released their self-titled debut album in late 2002.
In 2005, Audioslave released their second album entitled Out of Exile.
That same year, Audioslave became the first American rock band to play a free show in Cuba.
Also in 2005, a cover of the song "Cochise" was featured on the first Guitar Hero game.
Audioslave released their final album Revelations in late 2006. Cornell left the band the following February.
Morello is less known for his solo folk music that he performs under the alias "The Nightwatchman." He was quoted saying, "The Nightwatchman is my political folk alter ego. I've been writing these songs and playing them at open mic nights with friends for some time. This is the first time I've toured with it. When I play open mic nights, it's announced as The Nightwatchman. There will be kids there who are fans of my electric guitar playing, and you see them there scratching their heads. But it's something that I enjoy doing. I look at it more as an extension of my politics. Then again, some of the songs are not explicitly political. It really helped me grow as an artist and songwriter. Once you prick the vein you never know what is going to come out. You could aim for all union songs and you find yourself in other territory." Morello started performing as The Nightwatchman in 2003, but he didn't start touring until 2007 when he released his first solo album entitled One Man Revolution. He's released three more after that: The Fabled City (2008), Union Town (2011), and World Wide Rebel Songs (2011).
Arm the Homeless - This is Morello's most famous guitars and has been his primary guitar for the past 26 years. The original guitar was made by Performance Guitar USA for Morello to his exact specifications. It featured a Stratocaster body with a Performance Corsair neck, 2 Seymour Duncan JB pickups and a chrome original Floyd Rose tremolo system. However, when he got the guitar he hated everything about it and completely reassembled it. Since then just about everything has been changed countless times. The only thing that remains from the original guitar is the body. The body is blue with the words "Arm the Homeless" written on it in black and red. It has 4 white hippos painted on the front, one large white upside-down hippo painted on the back, and a hammer and sickle symbol sticker, which represents communism. The neck is Kramer knock-off of unknown make. It is made of graphite, has a 22 fret rosewood board and a "banana" headstock. It has a black Ibanez Edge Floyd Rose tremolo system, an EMG 81/85 set of pickups, 2 volume knobs, 1 tone knob, and a 3-way pickup-selector switch. Morello uses his kill-switch technique most often with this guitar by turning the neck pickup volume all the way down and the bridge pickup volume all the way up and uses the pickup-selector switch to switch between the pickups, thus creating the kill-switch effect. The guitar is tuned to Standard E (EADGBE). This guitar is available in the video game Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock.
vTom Morello doing the solo of "Bulls on Parade."
Soul Power - This guitar is a Fender Stratocaster that was originally made as a Factory Special Run for Guitar Center. Morello found it on the rack and really liked the look of it. It has a black finish with white binding and a color-matched headstock. It also has a mirror pickguard, Ibanez Edge Floyd Rose Tremolo, a 2-way on/off toggle switch wired as a kill switch, a Seymour Duncan Hotrails pickup in the bridge and Fender Noiseless pickups in the middle and neck positions. It has the words "Soul Power" on the top of the body in silver paint and was his main guitar in Audioslave for songs that are in Standard E tuning.
vTom Morello doing the solo of "Your Time Has Come."
Sendero Luminoso - This guitar is a black stock 1982 Fender Standard Telecaster, and is Morello's main guitar for use in drop-D in Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave and Street Sweeper Social Club. He got this guitar in a trade with his roommate. The guitar has various stickers on its body, most notably the words "sendero luminoso" in white and red. Sendero Luminoso is Spanish for "Shining Path."
vTom Morello doing the intro to "Testify"
Custom Ibanez Artstar Hollowbody - This guitar was made especially for Morello. It was based on an old Vox Ultrasonic and contains several on-board effects (wah, echo, dist, treble/bass boost) and is painted red and black paint. Used live on the song "Guerrilla Radio" by Rage Against the Machine but rarely seen anywhere else, until it was used in the video clip for Cypress Hill's "Rise Up." Tuned to Standard E.
vTom Morello playing "Guerilla Radio."
Custom Ibanez Talman - This guitar has 3 single coil "lipstick" pickups, an Ibanez Lo-Pro Edge tremolo, and a killswitch. It has a custom Kenyan flag finish and was used on "Revolver", "How I Could Just Kill A Man", and "Pistol Grip Pump" for Rage Against the Machine and "Exploder" for Audioslave. The guitar has a faulty internal pickup which makes odd feedback noises, which Tom adjusts by tweaking the tone knob and using the guitars tremolo. This technique can be heard at the beginning of Rage Against the Machine's "Revolver", Audioslave's "Exploder", and the live version of Street Sweeper Social Club's Promenade. Tom owns a second Talman, in a white finish, with two humbuckers.
vTom Morello playing "How I Could Just Kill A Man" with Rage Against the Machine and B-Real and Sen Dog from Cypress Hill.
Gibson EDS-1275 (Double Neck SG) - This guitar is tuned to drop-D on the six-string neck. Only seen used live on "The Ghost of Tom Joad."
vTom Morello playing "The Ghost of Tom Joad."
Gibson "Budweiser" Les Paul - This guitar was used during the recording of Audioslave's third album, Revelations. Originally bearing an orange Budweiser logo that Morello hated and burned off with a lighter. He liked the new appearance and modified the guitar with DiMarzio pickups. Tuned to drop-D.
vBefore logo was burnt.
vAfter logo was burnt
Gibson Les Paul Standard - This guitar has an orange burst finish. Tuned to drop-B for use in Audioslave and Street Sweeper Social Club.
vTom Morello playing "Gasoline" with Audioslave on the Late Show with David Letterman.
James Trussart Steelcaster - This is a Telecaster style guitar with a body made in steel, finished with a red star graphic over a holey front. Has Seymour Duncan pickups (Alnico pro II in neck and a Hot rails in bridge) and a kill-switch on the lower horn. Seen occasionally on the Rage Against the Machine reunion tour, Tom also owns one with polished finish that was used on early tours.
<Tom Morello playing "Township Rebellion."
Ibanez roadstar- This is Tom's backup guitar for Arm the Homeless. It has all the same specs as Arm the Homeless (light blue finish, edge trem, toggle switch on the bottom horn, EMG pickups, etc.) but has several small hippo stickers instead of the 4 larger ones seen on the original guitar. This guitar can be seen briefly in the "Sleep Now in the Fire" music video.
vTom Morello in the "Sleep Now in the Fire" music video.
Whatever It Takes - A custom Ibanez Galvador nylon-string acoustic guitar he uses during concerts as The Nightwatchman. Plain body with ''Whatever It Takes ((star))'' left of the bridge.
Effects and Amplifiers
Dunlop Original CryBaby Wah-Wah
Boss TR-2 Tremolo
DigiTech Whammy WH-1
Boss DD-2 Digital Delay
DOD FX40b Equalizer
MXR M-101 Phase 90
Ibanez DFL Flanger (replaced with the Phase 90 for Audioslave)
Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2 Power Supply
<Tom Morello's pedalboard.
<Ibanez DFL Flanger similar to the one Morello had.
Marshall JCM800 2205 50-watt head (with the Marshall logo blocked out to avoid endorsment proposals)
Peavy 4x12 Cabinet (with Che Guevara's silhouette on the grill)
^Tom Morello's amp stack and Arm the Homeless guitar
"The Nightwatchman." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 05 May 2012. Web. 06 May 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nightwatchman>.
"Rage Against the Machine | Biography." LyricsFreak. Web. 6 May 2012. <http://www.lyricsfreak.com/r/rage+against+the+machine/biography.html>.
"Tom Morello Biography." Tom Morello Biography. Web. 06 May 2012.
"Tom Morello." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 06 May 2012. Web. 11 May 2012.