Tom Morello remembers the exact evening when he realized he could and should be more than just the guitar player from Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave.
"The thing that actually pushed me into picking up an acoustic guitar and writing my first song was a young man I saw perform at a teenage homeless shelter in Hollywood on Thanksgiving night," Morello says, recalling the event about five years ago. "He didn't have much going for him in his life. He got up and played two of the most impassioned songs. He didn't have the greatest voice, but he meant every word of it.
"In the midst of everybody talking and kind of eating their turkey and cake, I was just mesmerized. I thought, "You know what, what's keeping me from doing that? I've got a guitar. I've got a thought or two about a thing or two.'"
Morello, to no one's surprise, actually had quite a few thoughts to share. Fans are now getting to hear them via One Man Revolution, his debut CD under the guise of The Nightwatchman, as well as a tour in which Morello is armed only with an acoustic guitar, harmonica, a microphone and his songs.
One Man Revolution is an early favorite to be 2007's political album of the year. Morello, with a collection of sturdy, Dylan-esque, mostly acoustic solo songs, rails against the Bush administration and the war in Iraq; rallies support for union workers; and urges people to stand and be counted in seeking social and personal justice.
This summer, Morello recorded a new song to be played over the closing credits of Michael Moore's new film, SiCKO. One Man Revolution was reissued digitally July 3 with the tune, "Alone Without You," a story told from the point of view of a dying man.
Of course, mixing activism and music was nothing new for Morello. As Rage Against the Machine guitarist, he was an integral part of a band that integrated provocative leftist lyrics with a fiery funk/rap/rock sound and built a large and loyal following before splitting up in 2000.
Three of the band members Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk then joined forces with former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell to form Audioslave. And the recent disbanding of Audioslave has opened the door for Rage Against the Machine to return, at least on an occasional basis.
The group first reunited to play the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival near Los Angeles in April and will play a handful shows on this summer's Rock the Bells tour, as well as a pair of headlining dates.
Morello is making no promises beyond these shows for Rage Against the Machine, which will include former lead singer Zach de la Rocha.
"My things I intend to concentrate on are making Nightwatchman records and doing Nightwatchman tours and being open to the possibility of doing more Rage Against the Machine shows as well," he says.
Audioslave, on the other hand, appears to be over and done after Cornell's February announcement that he was leaving the group.
Morello didn't get specific in offering his perspective on the breakup, nor did he express any bitterness.
"Well, Chris had been divorced from the band for months before he put out that statement," Morello says. "We had reached an impasse that we just couldn't get by, like rock bands do. It's a shame because we built Audioslave from scratch ... But at the same time, those years were fantastic. We had a lot of fun making Audioslave records, a lot of fun on tour. It was great working with Chris." firstname.lastname@example.org
The Nightwatchman, featuring Tom Morello
Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer St.
Sunday, July 15, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $16, 21-plus; visit bigmarkstickets.com.