Photo: Laura bland/Beao / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

How Famous Rock Stars Actually Got Their Nicknames

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The rock 'n' roll genre is incredibly fascinating, with a rich history that spans decades; included in this history are many rock legends with unusual rock star nicknames. Let’s face facts: The genre would not exist if there were no talented rock stars to keep it alive.

Famous stars keep the genre rocking with their musical talent and the many theories and stories that surround their interesting lives. Numerous rockers have sported cool musician names throughout rock history, but there has always been uncertainty surrounding how they received these monikers.

You will likely be shocked to learn of the strange, outlandish, and downright weird theories about how these cherished rock stars received their nicknames. Fortunately, alongside the theories, we will also delve into how some of the most famous stars actually got their nicknames. 

Photo: Laura bland/Beao / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

  • Interestingly, Eric Clapton is the only rock star to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times. He achieved this once as a solo artist and twice as a member of the bands Cream and the Yardbirds. With his undeniable guitar skills, Clapton is often referred to as one of the most influential guitarists the world has likely ever seen, with many budding artists hoping to achieve the level of success he has.

    During his music career, Clapton has had many nicknames, such as “God” and “The Greatest,” but the one that stuck is “Slowhand.” A few theories exist surrounding how this British rocker received his nickname. According to Clapton’s former bandmate Chris Dreja, “Slowhand” came about due to the way Clapton would replace a guitar string slowly and methodically onstage - in front of an audience - if it broke during a show.

    Dreja remarked that British audiences would watch Clapton replace the string and give him what was known as the “slow handclap,” which in British slang is known as being given the "slowhand.” Clapton said this theory is indeed true, but that there was more to it, when he was interviewed for his 2007 biography.

    According to Clapton, the nickname also came about when Giorgio Gomelsky decided that a pun for a nickname would be hilarious yet memorable. All Clapton’s fans knew him as an incredibly fast guitar player, so Gomelsky thought the nickname “Slowhand” would be a fun play on words that people would remember. 

  • The rock genre has many famous guitarists remembered for their talent; Saul Hudson is undoubtedly among them. Hudson has been named to best solo guitarist lists throughout his career, and has even made numerous renowned lists for being one of the greatest guitarists in the world. However, many might not know Hudson by his given name, but by his nickname: “Slash.” Although many people theorize that Hudson received his nickname for always being in motion, there is more to the story.

    According to an interview that Hudson gave, he stated his nickname was bestowed upon him by his best friend’s father, Seymour Cassel, a famous actor. Hudson further said that the nickname took time to stick, but eventually, as he continued to gain success as a leading member of the band Guns N' Roses, the nickname became more popular. During the interview, Hudson was asked why Cassel decided to call him “Slash,” and Hudson revealed that he never knew why until years later, when he asked Cassell about it. Reportedly, Cassel said he had nicknamed Hudson “Slash" because he was incredibly energetic, always moving and in a rush. Additionally, Hudson hardly ever stopped to concentrate on a specific event, but instead continued moving and going with the flow of things. 

  • There is perhaps no other rock star who personifies his nickname quite as Ozzy Osbourne does. Osbourne rose to fame in the 1970s as the lead vocalist of the famed heavy metal band Black Sabbath. After a few incredibly successful years, Osbourne was forced to leave the band due to alcohol problems. The singer was down but he wasn’t out; he launched a successful solo career that arguably gained him even more fans than before. Osbourne has had a few nicknames during his career, but the spookiest of them all became the nickname many now associate him with. Known to the world as “The Prince of Darkness,” Osbourne has continuously embodied this persona and given the world what they hope to see.

    Many theories surround why Osbourne received the nickname. Some believe it's due to his appearance and stage presence, wearing black outfits with gothic makeup. Others believe his alleged involvement in satanic cults led to his nickname. Fairly recently, new fans associate his nickname with the obscene and strange acts he has reportedly done, such as biting the head off a bat, painting a room with shark blood, and talking to his wife as if possessed. However, Osbourne has spoken out about how he received the name, and the truth is as far removed from the theories as possible. Osbourne stated his nickname arose after the release of the song “Black Sabbath.” He reportedly said that the song was one of the scariest ever written, and that his performance during the song led to his bandmates jokingly calling him “The Prince of Darkness.” The joke eventually became a reality, as people still continue to refer to him using that dark nickname.

  • Jerry Lee Lewis - 'The Killer'
    Photo: Maurice Seymour, Chicago / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The rock 'n' roll music genre is filled with exuberant rock stars with big personalities. Jerry Lee Lewis is known as being one of the first truly wild rock personalities. Before his career faltered due to his controversial marriage to his 13-year-old cousin, Lewis was a rising star with a bright future. With the marriage deemed unsavory, he eventually switched genres and turned to country music, where he again began to gain success. His rock albums are still a hit today, with many enjoying the energetic personality reflected in his work.

    During his career, Lewis had a popular nickname that many fans would fondly call him. Known as "Killer," Lewis carried the nickname with him from his high school days. Some fans believe it came from his incredibly thrilling and energetic live performances, where fans would say he “killed it” after his set was done. Others believe the nickname came from his stage antics, where he was known to set a piano on fire a time or two.

    The truth is, Lewis’s nickname originated from a popular slang term. Many people would use the term “killer” as part of a greeting to one another, and after a time, Lewis’s friends started calling him “Killer.” The nickname stuck, and he carried it with him well into his music career, with many still referring to the acclaimed musician and pianist by his nickname instead of his given name.

  • Jim Morrison - 'The Lizard King'
    Photo: Elektra Records / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In rock history, there might not be another frontman as influential as Jim Morrison. He was a lead singer for the popular band the Doors, but he was often referred to as erratic, controversial, and unpredictable. However, his free spirit, wild personality, and distinctive vocals have ensured his memory lives on in his music.

    Morrison’s rebellious nature earned him many nicknames throughout his career, but the one that managed to firmly attach itself to his persona was “The Lizard King.” Numerous fan theories surround Morrison calling himself this, and some are more outrageous than others. One theory states that Morrison titled himself “The Lizard King” because he firmly believed he could communicate with the creatures.

    This strange theory is almost entirely based on the belief that after years of drug use and drinking, Morrison’s sanity became questionable, as he would frequently profess that he could control lizards with his mind. A more popular theory states that Morrison invented the nickname to act as an alter ego when he needed to perform on stage.

    Reportedly during the early years of his music career, he was excessively shy and would hide his face during shows with the band. “The Lizard King” alter ego was presumably invented to help him battle his shyness and overcome his fears.

    The truth behind why Morrison was known as “The Lizard King” is simple - the famous poem he wrote where he referred to himself as such. This poem gained immense popularity, with the band even putting music to it, which eventually had fans deciding to call Morrison “The Lizard King.” When asked about his nickname in a Rolling Stone interview with Ben Fong-Torres, Morrison said, "I meant it ironically…half tongue-in-cheek... It was an easy thing to pick up on.... I just thought everyone knew it was ironic, but apparently they thought I'm mad."

  • Another famous drumming legend who left a positive mark on the genre is Doug Clifford, best known for being a founding member of Creedence Clearwater Revival. After a few years of international success, the band split, and Clifford decided to launch his solo career, which was a resounding success. Interestingly, he decided to reform a version of the original band, and thus Creedence Clearwater Revisited was born. Although this band wasn’t as successful, Clifford continued to gain fans and recognition. He has only ever been known throughout his musical career under one nickname, which he is often referred to in news articles and reports.

    The nickname “Cosmo” has some mystery surrounding it, with one theory stating it originated after Clifford released his solo album Cosmo. However, the truth is far more interesting. According to numerous reports, including Clifford himself, “Cosmo” was given to him by a hippie at a house party. Clifford admitted in an interview that he once lived in a dilapidated Victorian house with little supervision. This, he said, enabled the house occupants, including himself, to host the best parties. Clifford was asked what the "C" stands for in his middle name at one of the parties, but before he could answer, a hippie in attendance stated it stands for “Cosmic.” Ever since, the nickname stuck and has stayed with the singer throughout his iconic career. 

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