No axeman ever got famous being called John Doe (well, apart from “John Doe” of L.A. punk legends X, but he was really called John Nommensen Duchac). The point is, a memorable nickname has helped the careers of many guitar rockers. But do you know how guitarmen Chester Burnett, Saul Hudson or Riley King got the names by which you know them? Or why The Edge came about?
Allow us to educate you, with the Top 10 Guitarist Stage Names:
10. B.B. King
Riley King earned his nickname in the 1950s, when he DJ’d at Memphis radio station WDIA, where he was known as Beale Street Blues Boy. His moniker was shortened to Blues Boy and then simply to B.B. Surely B.B. is the only guitar legend who is universally known by initials that are not even his own.
9. Muddy Waters
Bluesmen always liked stage names, and McKinley Morganfield got his because he loved playing in mud as a baby. Plus he grew up by the Mississippi. So it makes sense. He briefly called himself Muddy Water (no “s”).
England-born Saul Hudson was given the nickname Slash by family friend Seymour Cassel, according to whom the young Saul “was always in a hurry, zipping around from one thing to another.” Unfortunately, “slash” is slang in the U.K. for taking a pee. We imagine the guitar legend is cool with this, because he remains cool.
7. Izzy Stradlin
Guns N’ Roses revelled in stage names. Axl Rose is really William Bruce Bailey. Duff McKagan’s real first name is Michael. But Izzy Stradlin? Izzy is a shortener of Jeffrey Dean Isbel’s surname. “Stradlin” is alleged to be about his favorite sexual position. Ahem. Let’s just call him Izzy. Or Jeff.
Yet another ex-GN’R member. We could be going out on a limb here, but Brian Carroll came to be called Buckethead because he wore a KFC bucket on his head? Hugely talented, he is one of guitar’s true eccentrics. Even Ozzy Osbourne couldn’t handle Buckethead. “I asked him to work with me, but only if he got rid of the [expletive] bucket,” said Ozzy.
5. Howlin' Wolf
Chester Arthur Burnett was originally named after U.S. president Chester A. Arthur, but he soon had many more nicknames. Big Foot Chester and Bull Cow were based on his size: 6’ 6” tall and nearly 300 pounds. Like Muddy Waters, Wolf got his nickname from family: Burnett's grandfather repeatedly warned him that if he misbehaved, the wolves would get him.
4. The Edge [and Bono]
David Evans’ nickname was inspired by his face’s sharp features, and also applied to his sharp mind and the way he tended to observe things from the edge. Bono Vox (now simply Bono) was Paul Hewson until he was nicknamed after a Dublin shop (Bonavox) that sold hearing aids – it means “good voice.”
3. T-Bone Walker
The electric-blues pioneer was born Aaron Thibadeaux Walker. (Thibodaux is a town in Louisiana, but Walker was born in Texas, so no relation.) Speculation suggests his middle name simply got abbreviated into a more usable stage name. Say it quick and Thibadeaux = T-Bone. Sounds tasty.
2. Ace Frehley
The KISS guitarist is really called Paul Frehley. When Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley auditioned Paul for KISS, they told him that the band could not have two Pauls. So Frehley told them to call him Ace. The nickname came from his school days, when Frehley displayed a wily ability to get his friends dates with girls. Another fact: Frehley is the designer of the famous KISS logo.
1. Synyster Gates
The Avenged Sevenfold axeman is not, you may have guessed, the son of a Mr. and Mrs. Gates. No, he is really Brian Elwin Haner Jr. On the Avenged Sevenfold DVD All Excess, Gates claimed that his name was created on a drunken drive with Sevenfold drummer The Reverend Tholomew Plague, who is really called James Owen Sullivan. Gates’ father is a professional comedian. Ah, now it all makes sense.
No time to explain Lightnin’ Hopkins, John 5, Black Francis, Flea and numerous others. Add your favorites below.