Tom Morello

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Thomas Baptist Morello (born May 30, 1964) is an American guitarist, singer, songwriter, and political activist. He is best known for his tenure with the rock band Rage Against the Machine and then with Audioslave. Between 2016 and 2019, Morello was a member of the supergroup Prophets of Rage. Morello was also a touring musician with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. He is also known for his acoustic solo act, the Nightwatchman, and Street Sweeper Social Club. Morello co-founded Axis of Justice, which airs a monthly program on Pacifica Radio station KPFK (90.7 FM) in Los Angeles.

Born in Harlem, New York and raised in Libertyville, Illinois, Morello became interested in music and politics while in high school. He attended Harvard University and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies. After his previous band Lock Up disbanded, Morello met Zack de la Rocha. The two founded Rage Against the Machine together, going on to become one of the more popular and influential rock acts of the 1990s.

He is best known for his unique and creative guitar playing style, which incorporates feedback noise, unconventional picking, and tapping, as well as heavy use of guitar effects. Morello is also known for his socialist political views and activism; creating the Nightwatchman offered an outlet for his views while playing apolitical music with Audioslave. He was ranked number 40 in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists".
Early life

Thomas Baptist Morello was born on May 30, 1964 in Harlem, New York to parents Ngethe Njoroge and Mary Morello. Morello, an only child, is the son of an American mother of Italian and Irish descent and a Kenyan Kikuyu father. His mother was a schoolteacher from Marseilles, Illinois, who earned a Master of Arts at Loyola University, Chicago and traveled to Germany, Spain, Japan, and Kenya as an English language teacher between 1977 and 1983.

His father participated in the Mau Mau Uprising (1952–1960) and was Kenya's first ambassador to the United Nations. Morello's paternal great-uncle, Jomo Kenyatta, was the first elected president of Kenya. His aunt, Jemimah Gecaga, was the first woman to serve in the legislature of Kenya; and his uncle Njoroge Mungai was a Kenyan Cabinet Minister, Member of Parliament, and was considered one of the founding fathers of modern Kenya. His parents met in August 1963 while attending a pro-democracy protest in Nairobi, Kenya. After discovering her pregnancy, Mary Morello returned to the United States with Njoroge in November and married in New York City.

When Morello was 16 months old, Njoroge returned to his native Kenya and denied his paternity of his son. Morello was raised by his mother in Libertyville, Illinois and attended Libertyville High School, where his mother was a U.S. history teacher. She was the homeroom teacher for Morello's classmate and fellow guitarist Adam Jones, later of the band Tool. Morello sang in the school choir and was active in the speech and drama clubs; a prominent role he played was that of Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Morello developed left-leaning political proclivities early, and has described himself as having been "the only anarchist in a conservative high school", and has since identified as a nonsectarian socialist. In the 1980 mock elections at Libertyville, he campaigned for a fictitious anarchist "candidate" named Hubie Maxwell, who came in fourth place in the election. He also wrote a piece headlined "South Africa: Racist Fascism That We Support" for the school alternative newspaper, The Student Pulse.

Morello graduated from high school with honors in June 1982 and enrolled at Harvard University as a political science student that autumn. Morello's band 'Bored of Education' won the Ivy League Battle of the Bands in 1986 with Carolyn Bertozzi on keyboards (a laureate of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry). Morello graduated in 1986 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in social studies. He moved to Los Angeles, where he supported himself, first by working as a stripper.

Adam Jones, his high school classmate, moved to Los Angeles as well; Morello introduced Jones and Maynard James Keenan to Danny Carey, who would come to form the band Tool. From 1987 to 1988, Morello worked in the office of United States Senator Alan Cranston (D-CA); however, this proved to be a negative experience for Morello, who decided never to pursue a career in politics.

Musical influences

At age 13, Morello joined his first band, a cover band called Nebula, as the lead singer; Nebula covered material by bands including Led Zeppelin, Steve Miller Band, and Bachman–Turner Overdrive. At this same age, Morello purchased his first guitar. Around 1982, Morello first started studying the guitar seriously. He had formed a band in the same year called the Electric Sheep, featuring future Tool guitarist Adam Jones on bass. He wrote original material for the band that included politically charged lyrics. He has said that he was profoundly influenced by Run-D.M.C, and Jam Master Jay in particular. This influence can be heard in songs like "Bulls on Parade" where his guitar solos mimic a DJ scratching. Additionally, the Bomb Squad and Public Enemy has had a large impact on his musical style.

At the time, Morello's musical tastes lay in the direction of hard rock and heavy metal, particularly Kiss and Iron Maiden. As he stated in Flight 666, he is a huge fan of Piece of Mind, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath. In an interview with MTV he said Black Sabbath "set the standard for all heavy bands to come". He cited Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi as one of his biggest influences as a riff writer. Morello developed his own unique sound through the electric guitar. Later, his musical style and politics were greatly influenced by punk rock bands like the Clash, the Sex Pistols, and Devo, and artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. On Queen he said, "It's one of the few bands in the history of rock music that was actually best in a stadium. And I miss Freddie Mercury very much."