Few rock guitarists in the 1990s were as groundbreaking as Tom Morello, who incorporated myriad styles into his own playing, which spread across a number of bands and solo projects into the 21st century. His trademark style — elastic slapping, atmospheric distortion, and effects that resembled turntable scratching — was a crucial component of Rage Against the Machine's rap-metal sonic attack in the late '90s, helping launch Morello and the band to Grammy-winning, multi-platinum success. After that influential outfit took an indefinite hiatus in 2000, Morello's signature guitar could be heard in supergroups Audioslave, Prophets of Rage, and Street Sweeper Social Club. Additionally, Morello is also a vocal political activist and solo artist who performs as the Nightwatchman.
Born in Harlem 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, he became infatuated with both rock music and politics, and 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 he 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.