Guns N Roses, were they the greatest band on the planet, or where they just the creation of an egotistical red haired maniac with a plan for world dom
If you were an American teenager in November 1987, when Guns N’ Roses debut Appetite for Destruction was released, chances are that you had a father or uncle who fought in Vietnam/Korea and a Grandfather who served in WW2. There was anger and resentment, rife from a youth who had no identification with the world, and in itself that was their label. AFD presented a vibrant sound, a gritty outlook and truthful lyrics. Every word of that album is based on a real event, person or place, and there’s nothing that the band ever made up, with the possible exception of Used To Love Her.
‘If you know anything about us we write most of our songs based off an element of truth’
Axl Rose, Live Era 86-93
At the forefront of the band, a red haired maniac named Axl Rose, a man who would be become infamous for his incitement of hatred, riots and general panic. At first, Axl seemed like the generations David Bowie or Elton John, a man who had both the looks and the gift of the gab. He wrote controversial lyrics for his time and made his presence felt with intensity but he would grow old gracefully and inspire future generations as he did so. But in a band with such a name, life was far from peaches and roses, and it soon became clear that a race had begun, the victor, whoever lasted the longest.
At first, Axl had a modest approach; he was humble to the fans and gracious to the audience. Appreciative and thankful to those who approached and talked to him. Those celebrities and photographers who have spoken about Axl remember a different man in those early times, a man full of energy and life, his inquisitive nature and general charm made him someone you wanted to share a room with out of pleasure as opposed to celebrity. But as time went on, Axl was outspoken about his bandmates, even going so far as to criticize them publicly during a concert in LA. His bandmates wouldn’t take it from the start though, and rightly so they fired him in 1988, before taking him back 3 days later.
‘Immigrants and faggots…. start some miniature Iraq, and spread your fucking disease’
One In A Million (1988)
It was possibly this one event that triggered his future behaviour, coming as it did around the same time as his controversial ‘acoustic ballad’ One in a Million. While Axl had always maintained that the people of whom he spoke in that track were New York side street hustlers and conmen, people were beginning to see to a side to Axl that even made Nirvana (one of Axls favourite bands), refuse to tour with them. During recording for the bands Use Your Illusion albums Axl brought in Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon and Hanoi Rocks front man Michael Monroe to perform background vocals on songs. At the same time, while the songs written by Axl and his former bandmates represented their previous efforts, their was a significant change, even orchestral influence throughout…the grittier sounding AFD seeming as if it had perhaps come from a different band. Throughout the whole recording process Axl promised songs that were just as powerful, if not more so, then AFD and with some of the tracks having been rejected originally from AFD it was a true reflection of the bands, especially Axls’, musical tastes. The track My World on Use Your Illusions 2 would serve as an outlook for the future.
Perhaps the first to realise Axls’ problems was childhood friend Izzy Stradlin, who departed the band in 1991. At the time, reports considered that it had been because of Stradlin’s displeasure in touring, but later immerged that the two once inseparable school friends had grown far apart and since Adler’s firing Rose had taken the band in his own direction which displeased Axl. In VH1s’ special on Rocks Most Dangerous you can clearly see a bemused Izzy standing behind Axl as he storms offstage. At the same time, Axl had also hired friend Dizzy Reed to perform keyboard/piano tracks for the band, and replaced original drummer Steven Adler with Matt Sorum. While Adler’s firing had been due to his habitual and uncontrollable drug use, Adler had been childhood friends with Slash, and their separation when he parted from Guns N’ Roses would cause a friendship rift that took a decade to repair.
‘I think I knew I was out of the band when the cheques stopped arriving in the mail’
By late 1991, when the band had begun the Use Your Illusion World Tour, they had recruited guitarist Gilby Clarke. Clarke was a well-known LA session guitarist, whom Axl would later fire, claiming that he had added nothing to the writing process. But whatever of his inability to write, Gilby could play, and as such remained on the team for almost 4 years. At the time he joined the band, his first video for them being ‘Don’t Cry’, many people felt that he dressed and looked slightly like Izzy…as well as playing the same guitars as him. This level of ‘security’ perhaps helped Axl to keep things in check, letting him imagine Izzy was still in the band, and when Izzy did rejoin for 5 European dates in 1993 (replacing an injured Gilby) it was like he’d never left.
The Use Your Illusion World Tour was unique in many ways. The idea itself of launching such a big tour after only one real album out, and the follow-up months away, was pretty unusual. It turned out to be one of the longest tours in rock n' roll history, 192 shows in 27 countries in 26 months. Guns N' Roses reached the peak of their popularity during the tour- around seven million people saw them live, their albums sold extensively and their videos dominated MTV. But it was never going to be that easy, and Axls’ antics on tour were almost as legendary as those on stage, a few examples being compiled below…
• The band would usually take about 2 hours to come out on stage following their main support act. When asked about this Axl said that he worked through his bodies’ internal clock, and would not go onstage until he was ready to give the fans his best.
• In St Louis in July 1991 Axl was prosecuted under the charge of inciting a riot when he jumped into the crowd during the song ‘Rocket Queen’ and punched a fan holding a camera several times because security refused to take the camera off him. When he finally made it back on stage, with his band looking on in bemusement, he said ‘thanks to the lame ass security I’m going home’ and stormed out.
• In Montreal in 1992 during a co-headling tour with Metallica across North America, Metallica front man James Hetfield stepped too close to the pyros and ended up burnt severely, resulting in emergency treatment and Guns N’ Roses asked to go on earlier than expected. After a quick turnaround the band took to the stage, but band problems with microphones led to Axl walking off after 4 songs saying he couldn’t hear himself. Accordingly, there was a riot in Montreal.
• It later emerged that Axl had walked off stage in Montreal because his physic had told him not to play any dates in cities beginning with the letter ‘M’ that month for fear of this life.
• It was written into his contract, that during certain parts of the live performance, Gilby could not step in front of Axl and take centre stage. Axl had to be allowed to run back and forward on the stage and obstructing him was a bad idea and you’d end up forfeiting a percentage of your pay for that performance. Slash also learned to avoid Axl on stage, unless the front man ran over to him, in which case Axl would point Slash in the direction of a camera and then run off.
The tour began in North America and Europe in 1991, continuing in Europe until July 1992, before the band returned to North America from July to October 1992. In November 1992 the band travelled to South America, continuing the tour after Christmas in the Far East, this 5th leg lasting until February 1993. The band returned to North America in April 1993 before travelling to Europe again until July and then finally ending the tour with 2 shows in Argentina on July 16th and 17th 1993.
Even by the end of the Use Your Illusion World Tour there was serious dissent, and for those ‘lucky’ enough to have seen the bands bootleg copies of that final Argentinean gig, it was quite clear that there was ill feeling among them. By the final trip to Europe Axl had been warned of his behaviour and took the stage in accordance with the curfew rules every night. An album of Punk covers entitled The Spaghetti Incident became only the bands 5th official release in November 1993 to mark an end to an extremely successful 3 years on the road. Having played in front of seven million people, touring was the last thing on the bands mind, and they began to concentrate on writing a new album. In January 1994 Axl appeared onstage with Tom Petty to sing on a debut in celebration of the latter’s induction in the Legends of Rock. Knowing it or not, this would be Axls’ last public performance for 7 years.
What happened after this is, specially, unclear. What we do know is that Axl hired childhood friend Paul Huge (or Tobias) to record guitar parts for the track Sympathy for the Devil to replace Gilby. However, due to Tobias’ self-belief in his own abilities (and obviously Axls too), the formers guitar parts were used over those of Slash. When Slash heard this he was quite upset and most fans believe that this is the first incident which led him to realise that there was a life outside of Guns N’ Roses. When, in 1995, Slash was compiling his solo record (released as Slash’s Snakepit Its Five O Clock Somewhere) he invited Duff, Matt, Gilby, Dizzy and Izzy to contribute on the record but did not invite Axl to share any vocal duties. Izzy was so pleased with the recording of the record that he agreed to rejoin the band in late 1995 as they planned their European Tour, but when the tour was axed, Izzy departed once again.
‘The only member of the original line up to work hard and stay loyal everyday, on the keyboards, Mr Dizzy Reed’
Axl speaking about Dizzy in 2001
By 1996 Axl had decided upon the name of the new record, Chinese Democracy, and the studio time began. Slash had grown bored of not performing live and therefore embarked on a solo tour, where his solo band Slash’s Snakepit grew a rather cult following, particularly in Japan. By the time Slash returned in late 1996 he was fired from Guns N’ Roses by Axl. 3 days later Slash released a statement claiming that he had fired Axl, but when Axl went to court to retrieve the legal rights to the name ‘Guns N’ Roses’, Axl had finally gained 100% creative control over anything released with a Guns N’ Roses label on the front. He fired Matt in late 1996 and in 1997, Duff McKagan, the only other original founding member of Guns N’ Roses left with Axl in complete control. He recruited Tommy Stintson on Bass, Robin Finck on Guitar and Josh Freese on Drums (later switching to Brian Mania). Chris Pittman was given the second keyboardist duties and Dizzy Reed remained the only member of the original line up in the group.
‘Forgive them that tear down my soul, bless them that might grow old…bring them so they might know, that its never, too late’
1999 saw Axl release a live record, which was compiled with the help of former Guns N’ Roses members at intervals in the same studio, and official bid farewell to the old line-up. That year also saw the release of a new single, Oh My God, on the soundtrack to the film End of Days. The song represented a gothic Industrial feel, which Axl was a fan of, and it appeared that this single would be a prelude to the new album. But it wasn’t to be, and the band ended up not performing their first live show together until January 2001, highlighting the new line up. Although Brazil was quite happy to allow them to headline the Rock in Rio festival several other European Countries decided against allowing the ‘new’ bands festival appearances to happen and Axl cancelled all confirmed dates.
The next time the band played was in 2002, when they began a mini-tour in Asia and Europe, which eventually led to a spot closing the MTV VMA awards that year in New York. 10 years after he had performed ‘November Rain’ onstage with Elton John, Axl debuted his new band in front of a worldwide audience the best way possible, and used the opportunity to officially showcase a new song. At the end of that performance he can quite clearly he heard to shout ‘Round One’ meaning the imaginary battle between himself and his former bandmates that he had begun. Later that same year Axl began a North American Tour, booked to play until January 2003 that showcased the new line up for the first time in America. Despite a rather improper start to the tour with a no show and subsequent riot in Vancouver, the band played on in Tacoma and short of making light about the situation he told fans that it had been a miscommunication between promoters, because they hadn’t done their job. In all, the show lasted only 16 dates/4 weeks.
‘I mean, this isn’t a band of a bunch of guys that met each other at a bar…its been a carefully looked for, you know, these individual people and how exciting their personalities and each one of them is and what they bring to this project’
Axl speaks on American Radio in Nov 2002
The tour itself ended in a riot half way through, when in Philadelphia, Axl admitted that he had been watching a basketball game in his hotel room when he was supposed to be onstage but that the promoters hadn’t done their job in informing the fans that he wasn’t going on for an extended period. Once again, it was everyone’s fault but Axl, while the tour itself was greeted with mixed responses. Some arenas, such as Madison Square Garden in New York, sold out in minutes while other arenas remained less than half full. Support was supplied by CKY, a rather average American band who were never likely to steel Guns N’ Roses thunder. Once again, with no new album in sight, the band reverted into hiding. At the end of 2005 and beginning of 2006 the mumblings began again and, when in Feb 2006, the band announced that they were performing in Europe once again at a number of UK festivals, the support of Motley Crue at a Guns N’ Roses appearance in Ireland was withdrawn after insiders claimed Axl threw all of his toys out of the pram upon hearing this, knowing full well that a reformed Motley Crue would upstage and sell more tickets then his incarnation of the band.
I’ve been a fan of Guns N’ Roses for a long time, and I’ve put up with everything that Axl has thrown at me, anything to make the legacy the original band built look tarnished. Refusing to release an album 15 years in the waiting, an album of all new original Guns N’ Roses material seems like a dream or a myth at this stage, and the recent leaked tracks have only seemed to intensify my appetite further. Even the release of a live album from one of the soundboards of the 2002 tour would allow Axl and his record label to make back some of the money that they have lost and at the same time he would be able to showcase some of his own selections from Chinese Democracy, or leave them off, but either way we get nothing. I’m sick of hearing his excuses, the reasons he wont turn up to gigs, and another reason the album wont be out. I’m sick of hearing his tantrums, his rants, his ridiculous and stupid blame it on everyone but me and I wont tolerate it any further. But I make a promise now, and I’ll stand my ground on this one, that no matter what happens in the coming months, if Axl fails to turn up in Ireland on June 9th 2006 and release some form of Chinese Democracy before the year is out he can forget this loyal fans support and Guns N’ Roses can kiss my ass!
‘Broken glass and cigarettes…writing on the wall, it was a bargain for the summer and I taught I had it all. I was the one who gave you everything, the one who took the fall, you were the one who would do anything just to get a call’
There Was a Time (2006)