Few rock guitarists in the 1990s were as groundbreaking as Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello, who incorporated a myriad of different styles into his own playing. Born in New York City on May 30, 1964, Morello was raised by his mother (who, decades later, would help create the anti-censorship organization Parents for Rock & Rap) in Libertyville, Illinois. As a teenager, Morello became infatuated with both rock music and politics, as he was almost entirely self-taught on guitar (in fact, he learned the most about the instrument while practicing up to eight hours a day during a stint at Harvard University, where Morello majored in political science). Upon graduation, Morello relocated to the Los Angeles area, where he decided to try and make a career out of music (making ends meet by working for a spell as a California senator's secretary). By the late '80s, Morello was a member of L.A. rockers Lock Up, who inked a deal with Geffen and issued a lone album, 1989's Something Bitchin' This Way Comes. When the album sank without a trace upon release, the group broke up.
But Morello already had plans for his next project, which would be more thought-provoking and politically minded (taking a cue from such respected artists as the Clash and Public Enemy) and harder-edged musically. With Morello joined by vocalist/rapper Zack de la Rocha, bassist Tim Commerford, and drummer Brad Wilk, Rage Against the Machine were born in 1991. Over the course of a four-album career -- 1992's self-titled release (an album which many point to as the trailblazer for the heavy metal/rap style, inspiring countless other bands in its wake), 1996's Evil Empire, 1999's The Battle of Los Angeles, and 2000's all-covers Renegades -- Rage Against the Machine became one of rock's leading (and most confrontational) bands. But rumors of friction between de la Rocha and the rest of the members continued to persist (stemming from the fact that the frontman wanted to issue a solo album), and shortly before the release of the fourth album, de la Rocha left the band. Undeterred, Morello and the rest of the Rage members enlisted the services of former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, forming the group Civilian, which would later be redubbed Audioslave.
In addition to his work with Rage and Audioslave, Morello has lent his playing (and in some cases, production) talents to recordings by a variety of other artists, including Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, the Crystal Method, Perry Farrell, Primus, Puff Daddy/Jimmy Page, and Run-D.M.C., as well as collaborating with enigmatic Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley on a cover version of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2" for the soundtrack of the 1998 film The Faculty. Morello also performs solo material sporadically under his political folk alter ego, the Nightwatchman. The artist also performed -- as the Nightwatchman -- during the demonstrations in Wisconsin supporting the rights of state workers to collectively bargain, protesting a historic union-busting bill spearheaded by governor Scott Walker. He was inspired by the demonstrations there, and by the protests in Cairo, Egypt demanding democracy that eventually toppled the regime of Hosni Mubarek, to record an eight-song EP of pro-union anthems entitled Union Town under the Nightwatchman moniker. It was released early in the summer of 2011 -- with all profits going to the America Votes Labor Unity Fund. The set included three Morello originals and five standards, including the full-length version of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" with the -- usually -- censored verse intact. Morello, once again as the Nightwatchman, followed the disc with the full-length World Wide Rebel Songs, released later in 2011 on New West. ~ Greg Prato