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See Slash, AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, and Steven Tyler Rip Through Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Killing Floor’

Around the time Slash parted ways with Guns N’ Roses, he got deep into the blues and soul music. With a group called Slash’s Blues Ball, he reinterpreted the music of Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, and Stevie Wonder, among others, at gigs between 1996 and 1998. Now — nearly three decades later — the guitarist, who returned to GN’R in 2016, is recommitting himself to that group’s repertoire on Orgy of the Damned, a new solo album due out May 17, which finds him trading licks with many of his famous friends.

The album, which is available for preorder via Gibson Records, features guest appearances by Iggy Pop, Chris Stapleton, Demi Lovato, Paul Rodgers, Chris Robinson, Billy Gibbons, and Gary Clark Jr. On the first single, AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson wails Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” while Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler plays harmonica and screams, and Slash plays a freewheeling bluesy solo.

“‘Killing Floor’ was a song that I’ve always wanted to do,” the guitarist tells Rolling Stone on a February Zoom from Melbourne, where he was touring with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. “Brian was the only guy I thought of for that song, just because I know Brian’s voice, and I know what it sounds like when he sings in a lower register.”

“When Slash asked me to sing on ‘Killing Floor,’ I said yes immediately,” Johnson tells Rolling Stone in a statement. “It was one of the first songs I learned in my very first band, and when he played me the backing track, it was a no-brainer, and Steven’s harmonica is so bloody hot. I had a ball with Slash in the studio, and I think we did this great old song justice. Rock on.”

Slash, a longtime AC/DC fan, enjoyed working with Johnson because “he’s fucking such a great example of a real rock & roll guy who just loves what he does.” Slash still sounds in awe the singer, as he recalls how the two of them spent an afternoon together while Johnson knocked out the vocal. “Then I went home to L.A. for a second, and Steve Tyler came in,” Slash says, “and he put an impromptu harmonica on it, and that was just really cool.”

The music video for the song weaves together footage from each of the sessions: Slash with his bandmates cutting the song live, Johnson getting into the groove, and Tyler yowling between harp bursts. One shot of Slash’s session shows a sign that reads “Mr. Hudson’s Bluz Band, ‘All Things Considered’” (Slash’s real name is Saul Hudson) while another shows Slash listening intently as Johnson channels his best Howlin’ Wolf.

“I was just trying to listen objectively,” Slash explains. “When you’re working with a legend like that, if you can get past the starstruck aspect of it, you just have to really listen to see if you have anything constructive to say about how the performance should go or if a part should go a certain way or whatever. So you’re just hanging out, and then you’re listening at the same time and trying to get a perspective on it.”

Slash waits for a beat and revises his wording. “‘Starstruck’ isn’t maybe the right way to put it because I’ve known these guys for a long time, but at the same time, I may be awestruck,” he says. “There were just so many people that you have an immense amount of respect and admiration for, people that are really great at what they do and were inspirations for me when I was coming up. It’s hard to find the right word for it, but when you’re working with guys like that — guys that have been around for a long time and are really great — you’re very aware of the situation, and you feel honored to be in the same room actually working with them.”

Slash cut the music for Orgy of the Damned, which frequent Guns N’ Roses producer Mike Clink helmed, last spring at East West Studios and Snakepit Studio in L.A. For some of the tunes, he fit the singer to the song, as with Johnson on “Killing Floor,” and on others, he asked what singers would like to do. Iggy Pop told Slash he’d always wanted to cover Lightnin’ Hopkins’ moody “Awful Dream,” so they got together and did a stripped-down rendition. For many of the songs, Slash traveled to the singers, such as to record Gibbons’ rendition of “Hoochie Coochie Man.”

The guitarist, who will be announcing a major tour next week in support of the release, found the whole experience inspiring. “I just think that [this album] is coming from a different place [than usual],” Slash says. “Looking back on it, there was definitely a laidback, spontaneous approach to what I was doing. There was definitely a difference-making this record compared to some of the other stuff that I’ve done.”

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Orgy of the Damned track list:

1. “The Pusher” feat. Chris Robinson
2. “Crossroads” feat. Gary Clark Jr.
3. “Hoochie Coochie Man” feat. Billy F. Gibbons and Les Stroud
4. “Oh Well” feat. Chris Stapleton
5. “Key to the Highway” feat. Dorothy
6. “Awful Dream” feat. Iggy Pop
7. “Born Under a Bad Sign” feat. Paul Rodgers
8. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” feat. Demi Lovato
9. “Killing Floor” feat. Brian Johnson and Steven Tyler
10. “Living for the City” feat. Tash Neal
11. “Stormy Monday” feat. Beth Hart
12. “Metal Chestnut”

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