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Tom Morello Used to Disavow Hendrix Because of Racist Comparisons

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Tom Morello is known to rock fans as a seeker of truth and justice on top of his guitar showmanship. Both pursuits, activist and musician, go hand-in-hand for the 57-year-old Rage Against the Machine guitarist who soon drops his solo album The Atlas Underground Fire.

Morello’s dual quest was guided by his early experiences, such as when he encountered racial prejudice as a budding artist. In fact, the musician, who is Black, recently recalled a time he renounced the legendary shredder Jimi Hendrix because of frequent racist comparisons made between him and the late Jimi Hendrix Experience bandleader.

“There’s a large subset of the audience that is shocked and upset when they hear me talk about self-identifying as Black,” Morello shared with NME on Tuesday.

“They’re one step short of offended,” he continued, “but I’m Kenyan, dude. I’m straight-up Africa Black. It’s not always a malicious prejudice but there is that ingrained prejudice in the DNA of rock, despite the fact it was invented by Black people.”

On race relations now, the Rage rocker said, “I don’t know if things have got better over the last couple of years, but there used to be a firewall. I used to publicly disavow Jimi Hendrix because every single gig I played as a young man, someone in the audience would yell ‘Play ‘Foxy Lady!” or ‘Play with your teeth.’ That was the assumption because there was only one signpost for what a black guitar player could be. I had to distance myself from that to be the guitarist I wanted to be. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case.”

But, wait — isn’t Morello friends with musician Ted Nugent, the outspoken Republican supporter and NRA member who stands accused of being racist?

Indeed, he is.

“I reserve the right to be friends with anybody,” Morello explained. “I reserve the right to confront opinions I disagree with, with open-heartedness and love, or by throwing a brick. That’s up to me.”

“In the case of Ted,” he said, “I know he’s become this right-wing caricature, but there have been several times where I have reached him on issues that [might surprise you]. But he is still crazy uncle Ted, who says all sorts of shit. It can be important to keep an open dialogue with people you disagree with, especially in this global community of disagreements.”

Morello added, “Sometimes it’s just as important to block them, though.”

Rage Against the Machine return to the stage in 2022. Elsewhere this week, Morello remembered when Rage had to return half their concert fee from the first Coachella. The Atlas Underground Fire arrives Oct. 15 – pre-order it and related Morello merch here.

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