Tom Morello: The Song That Inspired Me to Think Outside the Box as a Guitarist

It's this Allan Holdsworth tune that connected Tom with DigiTech Whammy back in the day.

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Tom Morello: The Song That Inspired Me to Think Outside the Box as a Guitarist

Tom Morello singled out Allan Holdsworth's 1985 track "Metal Fatigue" as the No. 1 song that inspired him to venture into the experimental waters and ultimately forge his signature guitar tone.

The musician tells Music Radar: "The big introduction to outside playing for me was Allan Holdsworth. I remember a friend of mine playing me his song 'Metal Fatigue.' And admittedly, while the singing is kinda hokey, the guitar playing is insane.

"It was the first time I heard someone go outside of the expected melodic parameters, and that sounded fantastic to me."

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He added later during the chat: "The DigiTech Whammy pedal felt like such a revelation when I got one in 1991 - I had been trying to find a way to approximate the harmonizer used on that Allan Holdsworth song. I bought a rack harmonizer but I couldn't even figure it out."

As for other musicians that inspired him to think outside the box, Morello added: "I also spent a lot of time jamming along to jazz greats John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and guys like that. I wouldn't say I am deeply attuned to all the jazz changes and theory going on in those songs, but I could definitely feel how to flow with the music - as opposed to being trapped and locked into particular finger patterns that work in certain keys. That's been part of my playing for a long time and I love it - it provides the freedom to let go on the fretboard."

When it comes to advice he'd like to share for "guitarists that are stuck in the same old ruts," Tom noted:

"I would say that you should try to take a step back. My take is that the electric guitar is a relatively new instrument on this planet. You should not assume that the way it's been played so far is the only way that it can be played. It’s just a piece of wood, six or seven wires and a handful of electronics inside. That's it!

"When I deconstructed it all in my mind, I realized it wasn't about learning Chuck Berry licks, it's more about what sort of sound does this thing make and how can those noises be made into songs? It really took off from there.

"I had blinders on before by practicing too much, desperately trying to play like Yngwie Malmsteen or Steve Vai. Those guys cornered the market with their own particular styles. I wanted to have my own style. You could look at it as I didn't want to just run on the same treadmill as them, I wanted to build a whole new gym!"

10 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Wow, I had no idea this song was such an influence on him. I think Holdsworth got the sound for that riff using a digitech and setting it so it adds a fifth to the notes he was playing.
    But Digitech didn't sell the first Whammy until 4-5 years after the record was made.
    Hmm, I dunno what Holdsworth was using, because he replicates the sound live during this 1984 performance (The song is 54 Minutes in):
    This guy is great. I don't care what anyone else's opinion is. And that track definitely sounds like something he'd be into. Cool article, UG.
    this coming from Tom "Gear doesn't matter" Morello? contra-dick-shun
    He means 'Expensive' gear doesn't matter. He has explained lots of times that having cheap gear and limited resources forces you to be creative with what you have, rather than assuming you need a ton of pedals and a£2k guitar.
    The quote you've shared has no context. He means, the gear dictates what type of songs you would compose and what sounds you would design. It's in reference to rehearsing on rental equipment and sounding awful. He was wise enough to make the connection between the equipment being incompatible with the kind of music they were trying to play on it. He finishes the thought by saying "if we had this gear we would have written different (great) songs".
    I have been playing guitar now for 18 years and have had decent success on a personal level as far as skill goes and what I am able to play but some songs when first listening to them sound so fucking impossible to play.
    he's a hack ... using a Whammy pedal tastfully is one thing ... using it as a crutch in every fucking song is laughable.
    Vai, Holdsworth, Thordendal, Abasi, and Eklundh: Aliens. And of course, let's not forget the main culprit: ZILTOID!