Tom Morello Biography and Profile

tom morello nightwatchman
Tom Morello. Photo: Matthew Simmons/Getty Images.

Tom Morello’s Upbringing:

Tom Morello, the lead guitarist for Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, was born May 30, 1964, in Harlem, New York. His mother is a white American teacher and activist, and his father was a Kenyan who fought for the country’s independence from the British. Raised in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, he picked up the guitar at age 17, inspired by his love of punk and metal.

Rage Against the Machine:

After graduating from Harvard, Morello briefly joined the band Lock Up. But by the end of the ‘80s, Lock Up and Morello had parted ways. Morello quickly teamed up with singer Zack de la Rocha, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk to form Rage Against the Machine, one of the premier protest bands of the 1990s. It was with Rage that Morello become famous for his furious scratch-style guitar solos, a canny mixing of hip-hop and metal. Morello’s expressive, combative guitar was able to replicate the sounds of wailing harmonicas and turntables – indeed, his instrument proved as defiant as de la Rocha’s cadences.


After Rage Against the Machine went on hiatus in the wake of Zack de la Rocha’s departure, Morello (along with Commerford and Wilk) joined forces with Chris Cornell, formerly of Soundgarden, to become Audioslave. Although they had the usual strengths and weaknesses of any supergroup – instant name recognition but an air of familiarity – Audioslave managed to make three commercially successful albums. Morello continued to refine the distinctive guitar phrasing that helped make Rage so memorable, but Cornell’s interest in moody mid-tempo songs served as an interesting counterpoint to his thrash-heavy style.

Axis of Justice:

Around the same time as Audioslave’s formation, Morello got involved in a non-music project as well. With System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian, Morello organized Axis of Justice, a nonprofit whose mission, according to its website, “is to bring together musicians, fans of music, and grassroots political organizations to fight for social justice.” Axis of Justice has organized protests, concerts, rallies and walkouts to promote the group’s agenda.

The Nightwatchman:

Since the collapse of Audioslave after their 2005 album, Morello has remained involved in music. Creating an alter ego named The Nightwatchman, Morello recorded his first solo album, One Man Revolution, in 2007. As opposed to the guitar-driven hard rock for which he’s known, the Nightwatchman is acoustic-based folk music that recalls Bob Dylan’s earliest protest songs. His second album, The Fabled City, came out in September 2008. In 2011, Morello as The Nightwatchman recorded an album of cover songs called the Union Town EP and his third full-length studio album World Wide Rebel Songs.

Street Sweeper Social Club:

Tom Morello teamed up with vocalist/rapper Boots Riley of The Coup in 2006 to form the group Street Sweeper Social Club. The band's musical style was similar to the funk rock of Rage Against the Machine with Boots Riley's rhymes alternating between satirical and political. In short, they sounded like Rage Against the Machine with a sense of humor. Morello provided guitar, bass, and backup vocals along with drummer Stanton Moore on the group's 2009 self-titled debut album. Morello described the album as "revolutionary party jams." Street Sweeper Social Club toured as the opening act for 2009's NIN/JA tour featuring headliners Nine Inch Nails and Jane's Addiction. The band's went on hiatus after releasing 2010's The Ghetto Blaster EP.

Bruce Spingsteen and the E Street Band:

In April 2008, Morello appeared onstage with Bruce Spingsteen and the E Street Band at two concerts in Anaheim, California, performing extended guitar solos on "The Ghost of Tom Joad" (which Rage Against the Machine covered on their 2000 Renegades album). On October 29, 2009, Morello played live on four songs at the 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concert at Madison Square Garden with the E Street Band. Morello played on two songs for Bruce Spingsteen's 2012 Wrecking Ball album. When E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt had scheduling conflicts due to his acting career Morello filled in on guitar for Springsteen and the E Street Band's March 2013 Australian leg of their Wrecking Ball Tour. Morello subsequently appeared on eight out of twelve tracks on Springsteen's 2014 High Hopes album performing co-lead vocals on Springsteen's re-recording of "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Morello also played on Springsteen's 2014 High Hopes Tour.

Key Tom Morello Songs:

“Bulls on Parade” (with Rage Against the Machine)
“Testify” (with Rage Against the Machine)
“Cochise” (with Audioslave)
“Like a Stone” (with Audioslave)

Tom Morello Discography (as The Nightwatchman):

One Man Revolution (2007)
The Fabled City (2008)
Union Town EP (2011)
World Wide Rebel Songs (2011) 

Tom Morello Trivia:

  • After graduating from Harvard, Morello worked in Senator Alan Cranston’s office before pursuing music as a career.
  • Tom Morello has many similarities to Barack Obama. Both men have white mothers and Kenyan fathers, they both attended Harvard and have spent time living in Illinois.
  • He has appeared in two of director Jon Favreau’s films, and Made, and had brief cameos in Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Voyager.

(Edited by Bob Schallau)