He’s more than just a hat and a pair of shades. The legendary lead guitarist for Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver has a new album out, titled Apocalyptic Love, with new band Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. He sat down to talk to TIME about life as a hard-rocking family man, his signature hat and why he doesn’t talk to Axl Rose. Watch the video above for the interview, or read below for some excerpts:
You’ve worked with a bunch of lead singers over the years: Axl Rose in Guns N’ Roses, Scott Weiland in Velvet Revolver and now Myles Kennedy, with the Conspirators. Did you ever at one point say, I’m just going to do this lead singing thing myself?
I hate singing. I just don’t enjoy it. There’s been a couple times where trying to find somebody to front a project has just been difficult and I thought well, God, I’ll just do it myself. But I just don’t want to. I don’t like doing it. I don’t even like humming to myself.
In 2009, TIME magazine came up with a list of the top 10 guitar players, and you were ranked second, behind Hendrix. The citation read, in part, “Does he make the cut partially because of the hat? Yes. Yes he does.” Tell us about the hat.
The hat, it’s funny. It’s become something that is hugely recognized. It was just a hat that I’d picked up back in 1985 or 1986 and I saw it in a store window and I thought, well, that’s cool. I wore it that night at a show and over time it just became one of the most identifiable features as far as my look was concerned.
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Ever lose the hat?
I had a couple stolen. I had one stolen and I got it back because the guy who stole it was dumb enough to try to sell it on eBay, and I had another one stolen in a bar that I passed out in, and I never did get that one back.
This July is going to be 25 years since Appetite for Destruction came out. At the time, did you think you were going to be doing this, 25 years down the road?
As far as being a musician? Of course. I never thought at any point since I picked up a guitar that I’d put it down. As far as the 25 years since Appetite is concerned, back then it was just what we were doing at that moment, and I didn’t know what would going to happen in the next 25 years.
In terms of life off the road, your lifestyle’s different. You’ve got two kids now.
Two kids and I’m married, so, yeah.
If they came to you and said they wanted to be a guitar player, or a musician, what would you tell them?
Right now they’re basically 8 and 10. And they both have instruments, and they both mess around, and obviously at that age it’s tough to tell whether they’re serious or not. But if at some point, they were to turn around [and say they wanted to be musicians], it would be something I would support. But I would be looking carefully to see where the passion was, to make sure they were really ready for this, because it’s an insane commitment and it takes an incredible amount of hard work and dedication. You know, rock and roll on the surface doesn’t look like that, but it definitely does.
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Do you think, with the problems in the music industry, it’s harder to be a rock star now than it was when you were coming up?
It’s harder and it’s easier. It reminds me a lot about what I know about rock and roll in the early days, when you really had to bust your ass to be identified among the throngs of musicians that were out there, you had to be really, really good to be different and to stand out. And I think it’s like that now even though there’s a lot of people who are famous for doing nothing at this particular point in time.
In April, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, you guys were honored. Axl Rose, shortly before the event, said he wasn’t going. Can you talk a little bit about what went through your mind when that happened?
Nothing. It just gave me some clarity I guess at that moment that he wasn’t coming, because I didn’t know for sure what was going to happen. We don’t communicate.n