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Thomas Baptiste Morello (born May 30, 1964) is a Grammy Award-winning Americanmarker guitarist best known for his tenure with the bands Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, his acoustic solo act The Nightwatchman, and his newest group, Street Sweeper Social Club. He was featured as one of the guitarists in Rolling Stone's "The Top 20 New Guitarists" article and was ranked #26 on Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". He is also an outspoken political activist.


Early life and family

Morello was born on May 30, 1964, in Harlemmarker, New Yorkmarker. His mother, Mary Morello, is of Irish and Italian descent. She was a teacher at Libertyville High School and was the homeroom teacher for Tom's classmate and fellow guitarist Adam Jones, of the band Tool. His father, Ngethe Njoroge, a Kenyanmarker, was the country's first ambassador to the United Nations.

Morello grew up in Libertyville, Illinois,a suburb of Chicagomarker. There he attended Libertyville High Schoolmarker. He sang in the school choir and was active in speech and drama club; a 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. He also wrote a piece headlined "South Africa: Racist Fascism That We Support" for the school's alternative paper The Student Pulse.

Morello graduated in 1982 and began attending Harvard Universitymarker. He graduated in 1986 with a BA degree (with honors) in political science. He moved to Los Angelesmarker, 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 and Maynard James Keenan to Danny Carey, who would come to form the band Tool.

For two years in the 1980's, Morello worked in the office of California Democratic Senator Alan Cranston. However, the experience was a negative one for Morello, who decided not to pursue a professional career in politics.
"I never had any real desire to work in politics but if there was any ember burning in me, it was extinguished working in that job because of two things: one of them was the fact that 80 per cent of the time I spent with the Senator, he was on the phone asking rich people for money.
It just made me understand that the whole business was dirty.
He had to compromise his entire being every day.

The other was the time a woman phoned up to the office and wanted to complain that there were Mexicans moving into her neighborhood. I said to her, 'Ma'am, you're a damn racist,' and she was indignant. I thought I was representing our cause well, but I got yelled at for a week by everyone for saying that! I thought to myself that if I'm in a job where I can't call a damn racist a damn racist, then it's not for me.."

Morello also recently admitted that he worked as an exotic dancer at one point to pay the rent.
"When I graduated from Harvard and moved to Hollywood, I was unemployable.
I was literally starving, so I had to work menial labour and, at one point, I even worked as an exotic dancer.
'Brick House' (by The Commodores) was my jam!
I did bachelorette parties and I'd go down to my boxer shorts.
Would I go further?
All I can say is thank god it was in the time before YouTube!
You could make decent money doing that job – people do what they have to do."

Musical influences

At age 13, Morello joined his first band; a Led Zeppelin cover band as the lead singer. At this same age, Morello purchased his first guitar. 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. The band 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, Iron Maiden, 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.


Rage Against the Machine (1991-2000; 2007-present)

In 1991 Tom was looking to form a new band after Lock Up disbanded. Tom was impressed by Zack de la Rocha's freestyle rapping and asked him to join his band. He also drafted drummer Brad Wilk, who he knew from his band Lock Up, where Wilk unsuccessfully auditioned for a drumming spot. The band's lineup was completed when Zack convinced his childhood friend Tim Commerford to play bass. After frequenting the L.A. club circuit, Rage Against the Machine signed a record deal with Epic Records in 1992. That same year, the band released their self titled debut. They achieved a considerable amount of mainstream success and released three more studio albums.

In August 2000 in Los Angeles at the Democratic National Convention, Rage Against the Machine performed outside the Staples Center to a large crowd numbering in the many thousands while the Convention took place inside. After several audience members began to throw rocks, the Los Angeles Police Department turned off the power and ordered the audience to disperse, firing rubber bullets and pepper spray into the crowd.

In late 2000, after Commerford's stunt at the VMA's, the disgruntled de la Rocha quit the band. On September 13, 2000, Rage Against the Machine performed their last concert at the Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. After the band disbanded, their fourth studio album, Renegades, became a collection of cover songs from artists such as Bob Dylan, MC5, Bruce Springsteen and Cypress Hill. 2003 saw the release of their last album, titled Live at the Grand Olympic Auditorium, an edited recording of the band's final two concerts on September 12 and 13, 2000 at the Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. It was accompanied by an expanded DVD release of the last show and included a previously unreleased music video for "Bombtrack".

After disbanding, Morello, Wilk and Commerford went on to form Audioslave with former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell, and released three albums as well as a DVD from the band's concert in Cubamarker. De la Rocha started working on a solo album collaboration with DJ Shadow, Company Flow, and The Roots' Questlove, but the project was dropped in favor of working with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor. Recording was completed, but the album will probably never be released. So far, only one track has been released: "Sexy Time With the Motherland" was featured on "Songs and Artists that Inspired Fahrenheit 9/11".

On April 29, 2007, Rage Against the Machine reunited at the Coachella Music Festivalmarker. The band played in front of an EZLN backdrop to the largest crowds of the festival. The performance was initially thought to be a one-off, this turned out not to be the case. The band played 7 more shows in the United States in 2007 (including their first non-festival concert in 7 years at the Alpine Valley Music Theatermarker in East Troy, Wisconsinmarker), and in January 2008, they played their first shows outside the US since re-forming as part of the Big Day Out Festival in Australia and New Zealand. In August 2008 they headlined nights at the Reading and Leeds festivals.

The band has since continued to tour around the world, headlining many large festivals in Europe and the United States, including Lollapalooza in Chicagomarker. In 2008 the band also played shows in Denver, Coloradomarker and Minneapolis, Minnesotamarker to coincide with the Democratic National Convention and Republican National Convention, respectively. Though they played together for these events, they do not play together regularly.

Audioslave (2001-2007)

Morello with Audioslave at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2005.
After de la Rocha left Rage Against the Machine, the remaining band mates began collaborating with former Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell at the suggestion of producer Rick Rubin. The new group was first rumored to be called The Civilian Project, but the name Audioslave was confirmed before their first album was released.

The band released their eponymous debut album on November 19, 2002. It was a 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 Cubamarker. 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.

The Nightwatchman (2003-present)

Morello is less known for his folk music, which he plays under the alias The Nightwatchman. He has explained:

In November 2003 The Nightwatchman joined artists Billy Bragg, Lester Chambers of The Chambers Brothers, Steve Earle, Jill Sobule, Boots Riley of The Coup and Mike Mills of R.E.M. on the Tell Us the Truth Tour. The thirteen-city tour was supported by unions, environmental and media reform groups including Common Cause, Free Press and A.F.L.-C.I.O. with the ultimate goal of "informing music fans, and exposing and challenging the failures of the major media outlets in the United States." Tom Morello explained:

"Media consolidation needs smashing and globalization needs unmasking. When presidents and politicians lie, it is the job of the press to expose those lies. When the press fails, the gangstas come out from hiding. The lie becomes the law. The point of the Tell Us the Truth Tour is to help others make connections, and to show them that activism can change the policies of this country."

One of his many songs, "No One Left", which compares the aftermath of September 11 to that of a U.S. attack on Iraqmarker, appears on the album Songs and Artists that Inspired Fahrenheit 9/11.

The Nightwatchman also appeared on the album/DVD Axis Of Justice: Concert Series Volume 1, contributing the songs "Until the End", "The Road I Must Travel", and "Union Song".

Morello, as The Nightwatchman, released his debut solo album, One Man Revolution, on April 24, 2007.

The Nightwatchman joined the Dave Matthews Band for its short European tour in May 2007. As well as opening for the Dave Matthews Band, he was invited to guest on a couple of songs each night. The last night of this Morello/DMB arrangement was May 30, 2007 at Wembley Arenamarker in London, on Tom's birthday.

The Nightwatchman is currently supporting Ben Harper on tour. During this tour, Morello has been joining Harper onstage for a cover of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War", on which he plays the electric guitar in the style for which he's best known.

Morello has presided over a hotel cafe residency in L.A. since November 2007, which has featured many of his musical cohorts, including Serj Tankian, Perry Farrell, Jon Foreman from Switchfoot, Shooter Jennings, Nuno Bettencourt, Queen V, Sen Dog from Cypress Hill, Jill Sobule, Boots Riley, Alexi Murdoch, Wayne Kramer from MC5, and others.

On October 10, 2008, The Nightwatchman appeared on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson as a musical guest, promoting his new album The Fabled City.

Street Sweeper Social Club (2006-present)

Following Audioslave's breakup in 2006, Morello met up with Boots Riley of The Coup, suggesting that they start a band which Morello had named Street Sweeper. After giving Riley a tape of various songs to write to, the two created the duo Street Sweeper Social Club.

Street Sweeper Social Club opened for Nine Inch Nails and Jane's Addiction in May 2009.

Other side projects (1994-present)

Morello has played with a great number of artists. Some of the more notable contributions are listed below.

Morello and Wilk joined with Maynard James Keenan of Tool and Billy Gould of Faith No More to record the song "Calling Dr. Love" for the 1994 Kiss tribute album Kiss My Ass. The lineup was billed as Shandi's Addiction.

In 1995 Morello formed a short-lived project called Weatherman with former Articles of Faith frontman Vic Bondi. They recorded demos in September 1995. Bondi wrote all the lyrics, while Morello wrote all the music. One track, "Enola Gay", was recorded by Brett Eliason in fall 1996.

Morello played lead guitar and produced on three tracks of Primus' 1999 studio album Antipop.

Morello played the guitar on The Faculty soundtrack, featured with Class of '99 for their cover of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall (pt. 2)"

Morello worked with The Crystal Method on their 2001 album Tweekend. He co-produced and played guitars on the smash single "Name of the Game" and "Wild, Sweet and Cool".

Morello recorded guitars along with country legend Johnny Cash during his late career with American Recordings, which was released on the Unearthed.

Morello produced the 2003 Anti-Flag album The Terror State. He has played with Anti-Flag in some of their concerts.

Morello played guitar in the single "No Man Army" by The Prodigy, which appears on the "Smack My Bitch Up" single.

Morello played guitar on the Atari Teenage Riot song Rage.

Morello played a short solo on the Benny Mason band song Exodus IV.

In July 2006, reported that Morello and Boots Riley, front man of The Coup, would collaborate on a project called Street Sweepers. Riley has often performed alongside Morello's alter ego The Nightwatchman, and Morello produced and performed on a track for The Coup's 2006 release Pick a Bigger Weapon.

Morello played the guitar solo on the track "Depleted Uranium is a War Crime" by Anti-Flag from their 2006 album For Blood & Empire.

Morello sat in with the Dave Matthews Band featuring Butch Taylor and Rashawn Ross for multiple dates on the band's May 2007 stint in Europe. He performed on "#41", "American Baby Intro" and "Satellite" at various dates on the brief tour.

Morello appears in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock as a "guitar boss" (the first of 3 in the career mode of the game) in a night club. Beating him in a one-on-one battle (playing an original composition he recorded for the game) will unlock him as a playable character and will result in the player and Tom playing the master track of "Bulls on Parade" as an encore immediately following the battle. Morello's original composition features many of his trademark guitar effects like those heard in songs such as Audioslave's "Cochise" and "Doesn't Remind Me" and Rage Against the Machine's "Bulls on Parade" and "Sleep Now in the Fire".

In April 2006, Morello produced two tracks for the group Outernational; on the band's website, it states that Morello will be producing their debut album.

In April 2008, Morello made two guest appearances with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Anaheim Pondmarker. They performed "The Ghost of Tom Joad" (which had been previously covered by Rage Against the Machine). Ones of the performance was included on the Magic Tour Highlights EP.

On October 29, 2009 Morello performed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert at Madison Square Garden. He performed "The Ghost of Tom Joad", "London Calling", "Badlands" and "Higher and Higher" with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

In film

Morello played on a number of soundtracks, including Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006), Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, and Spider-Man. He was an "Additional Electric Guitar" in the 2008 superhero movie Iron Man and played a terrorist. He also stars in the movie Berkeley (2007).


"Whatever it takes", a nylon-string acoustic guitar used by Morello in his The Nightwatchman persona.
Morello is famed for his guitar style, which consists of heavy metal/punk hybrid riffs and hip hop-inspired sounds. His guitar playing is also characterized by heavy use of guitar effects, such as delay, modulation, wah, harmonizers, distortion, feedback, and others in unique ways and combinations. The most recognizable effect in Morello's arsenal is the Digitech Whammy, which helps him create many of his sounds. Matthew Bellamy of the English band Muse has cited Morello as an influence, which can be heard in his use of pitch-shifting in solos.

To produce his alien guitar sounds, Morello chooses various effects pedals. During his tenure in RATM, he used a Dunlop Cry Baby, a Digitech WH-1 Whammy, a Boss DD-2 Digital Delay, a DOD EQ pedal (set flat and just used to boost the volume during guitar solos or particular rocking moments), and an Ibanez DFL Flanger. Around the time of The Battle of Los Angeles he added a Boss TR-2 Tremolo pedal (which can be heard on "Guerrilla Radio"). For Audioslave, Morello replaced the Ibanez Flanger with a MXR Phase 90. His amplifier of choice has always been a 50-watt Marshall JCM 800 2205 and a Peavey 4x12 cabinet. Though the Marshall is his amp of choice with Rage Against the Machine, he used a Vox AC30 combo amplifier for multiple overdubs on Audioslave's 'Revelations' album. While the Marshall amplifier has two channels, he only uses the overdrive channel, and simply turns down the volume on his guitar to get cleaner sounds.

In the studio, Morello uses the same setup for the bulk of the guitar tracks. For The Battle of Los Angeles, he also used a few other amps, such as a Line 6 as heard on the clean, spacey intro of "Mic Check", plus a Pignose mini-amp and a MusicMan "Twin" style amp. During the recording of Audioslave's last album Revelations Morello experimented with different amplifier setups. For the title track's solo he split his signal to his standard Marshall 2205 head and Peavey cabinet and a 100 watt Fender Bassman head and an Orange cabinet. With delay sent to one while the other is unaffected the sound is being "ping-ponged" between the two amplifiers. He also borrowed a VOX AC30 amplifier from producer Brendan O’Brien for some tracks.



Morello uses heavily modified guitars from various manufacturers, but he has never had an official endorsement deal with any company.

  • Mongrel Custom, aka "Arm The Homeless" - Morello's most famous guitar, and his main guitar for standard tuning since 1991. The original guitar was a Kramer Pacer Imperial. Over time, Tom switched out parts from the guitar. The only thing that remains from the original guitar is the body. It has a metallic blue body with the words "Arm the Homeless" written on it in black and red magic marker, 4 Hippos (painted) on the front, one large hippo (upside down) painted on the back, and a hammer and sickle symbol sticker. Its neck is a 22 fret Performance Guitar neck with a rosewood board and a "banana" headstock; it has an EMG 81/EMG H set of pickup and a Ibanez Edge Floyd Rose Tremolo. The guitar is tuned to standard E.
  • Fender Stratocaster, "Soul Power" - 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 is his main guitar in Audioslave for songs that are in standard E tuning.
  • Fender Telecaster, "Sendero Luminoso" - A black stock 1982 Standard Telecaster, his main guitar for use in drop-D in Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. He got this guitar in a trade with his room mate.
  • Ibanez Artstar Hollowbody (Custom) - Made especially for Morello. Based on an old Vox Ultrasonic, it 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.
  • Goya Rangemaster de Greco, "St. George Creamy" - Bought by Morello at a Canadian pawnshop for $60. It was modified with a Seymour Duncan hotrails pickup in the bridge position. A toggle switch was also added that is dead in the middle position, resulting in a "hummingbird chirp" when toggled. Used as a drop D guitar for some songs on the Rage Against The Machine record Evil Empire. Currently, it is tuned to drop B. Used in Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave and with the Street Sweeper Social Club.
  • Ibanez Talman (Custom) - Has 3 single coil pickups, an Ibanez Lo-Pro Edge Floyd Rose Tremolo, and a killswitch. It has a custom Kenyan flag finish and it was used on "Revolver", "How I Could Just Kill a Man", and "Pistol Grip Pump" for Rage Against the Machine and "Exploder" for Audioslave. He owns a second talman in a cream finish with a tortoiseshell pickguard.
  • Gibson EDS-1275 (Double Neck SG) - Tuned to drop-D on the 6-string neck, and only seen used live on "The Ghost of Tom Joad".
  • Ovation Breadwinner - Tuned to standard E, used for "Ashes in the Fall" for Rage Against the Machine. Also used with a MusicMan amp and Tone Bender pedal to capture the Korean radio station audio heard at the end of "Sleep Now in the Fire." He owns 2 others and confines them to the studio because he thinks they look weird.
  • Gibson "Budweiser" Les Paul - Used during the recording of Audioslave's third album "Revelations". He hated the Budweiser logo on the guitar and thus decided to burn it off in parking lot of the studio where he received it using a lighter. Afterwards the burn lines were filled with artwork. He liked the new appearance and modified the guitar with "Zebra" Dimarzio pickups.
  • Gibson Les Paul Standard, #1 - orange burst finish. Tuned to drop-B for use in Audioslave.
  • Gibson Les Paul Standard, #2 - Red finish. Rarely used live until Audioslave's Out of Exile tour where it was tuned to drop-D and only used for Soundgarden covers.
  • Gibson Les Paul Standard, #3 - tobacco sunburst finish. Tuned to standard E and used in Street Sweeper Social Club. Can be seen in the music video for "100 little curses".
  • James Trussart Steelcaster - A Telecaster style guitar with a body made in steel, finished with red star graphics over a holey front. Seen occasionally on the Rage Against the Machine reunion tour, Tom also owns one with polished finish that was used on early tours.
  • "Whatever It Takes" guitar - 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 & Amplifers

Morello's amplifier and effects setup has been practically the same throughout his career in Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave.


Axis of Justice

Morello and Serj Tankian of System of a Down are the co-founders of Axis of Justice, a political group whose declared purpose is "to bring together musicians, fans of music, and grassroots political organizations to fight for social justice together." They "aim to build a bridge between fans of music around the world and local political organizations to effectively organize around issues of peace, human rights, and economic justice." The group has worked for such causes as immigrant rights and death-penalty abolition. Its recommended book list includes such authors as Noam Chomsky, Karl Marx, Che Guevara, George Orwell, Mumia Abu-Jamal and Grant Morrison.

Morello and Tankian, together with a handful of other artists, including Maynard James Keenan, Wayne Kramer of the MC5, the hip hop group Jurassic 5, and Michael "Flea" Balzary of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, released a live recording of covers and original songs, titled The Axis of Justice Concert Series Volume 1.

On April 6, 2006, Tom Morello was honored with the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award for his support of worker's rights and for his AOJ work. Tom has worked on numerous labor campaigns: the Guess sweatshop boycott, the LA janitors strike, the Taco Bell boycott, the southern California grocery workers strike and lockout, and others.

Morello was a strong supporter of the Immigrants Reform Rally and protest around the US. Morello played as The Nightwatchman at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles and has featured many articles on AOJ. On September 28, 2006, Morello was one of 400 protesters arrested protesting in support of immigrant hotel workers' rights, in what organizers called "the largest act of civil disobedience in the history of the Los Angeles". Morello knew he was going to be arrested; he wore a bright yellow shirt, and gave the LAPD his driver's license number a few days before the march. Morello told MTV:


On August 27, 2008 Morello performed in Denver, Coloradomarker at the Open The Debates rally in opposition to the Commission on Presidential Debates exclusion of third party candidates from the nationally televised debates. He performed "This Land is Your Land" as The Nightwatchman and endorsed Independent Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader. Sean Penn, Jello Biafra and Cindy Sheehan were also part of the rally.

In October 2009, Morello, among a number of musicians, sued the US government for the declassification of all documents relating to the use of music in interrogations at Guantanamo Bay. He stated, "Guantanamo is known around the world as one of the places where human beings have been tortured -- from waterboarding to stripping, hooding and forcing detainees into humiliating sexual acts -- playing music for 72 hours in a row at volumes just below that to shatter the eardrums. Guantanamo may be Dick Cheney's idea of America, but it's not mine. The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me."

Tom has also stated that he is a vegetarian for both health and ethical reasons.

Selected discography

Lock Up

Rage Against the Machine


The Nightwatchman Street Sweeper Social Club



External links

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