Guns N Roses
Guns n’ Roses
Guns n’ Roses
With sales of more than eight million albums in less than two years, Guns n’ Roses has become the latest heavy-metal phenomenon. Rolling Stone contributor Rob Tannenbaum calls the group “the world’s most exciting hard-rock band … young, foolhardy, stubborn, cynical, proud, uncompromising, insolent, conflicted and very candid about their faults.” A generation of teens has flocked to the Guns n’ Roses banner, celebrating the group’s fiery, belligerent, and cynical music and the members’ frankly self-destructive lifestyles. “There’s always an audience for wild-eyed hellions with electric guitars,” writes John Milward in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The Guns n’ Roses difference is that youths somehow sense that these guys’ raucous sounds are more genuine than those of their heavy-metal peers. They’re reckless kids who have stumbled onto a career, and they seem so out of control that you can’t help believing the most scandalous stories. They’re stupid enough to live out each and every rock-and-roll cliche but talented enough to spike their best songs with that same 80-proof energy.”
Band members are Izzy Stradlin (rhythm guitar), born Jeff Isabelle, c. 1962; Axl Rose (lead singer), born Bill Rose, c. 1962; Slash (lead guitar), born c. 1965 in England; Duff McKagan (bass), born c. 1964; Steven Adler (drums), born c. 1965.
Formed band Guns n’ Roses in Los Angeles, Calif., 1985; signed with Geffen Records, 1986. Released debut album, Appetite for Destruction, 1987. Featured band in several American and European tours.
Tannenbaum notes that “the Gunners” engage in antics “revolving around booze, drugs and women; they trumpet their music as ‘rebellious’; and they claim to play for ‘the kids.”’ However, unlike other metal bands, whose older members base their images on fantasy rather than the daily reality of adolescence, Guns n’Roses draws frankly on “the unfocused rage and pervasive doubt, the insecurity and cockiness, the horniness and fear” of the teen years. Tannenbaum concludes: “The Gunners’ songs don’t hide the fact that they’re confused and screwed up.” This darkly honest look at adolescence stems from the youth of the band members themselves—all are under twenty-eight, and all have undergone their own personal periods of manic behavior. “Our attitude epitomizes what rock & roll is all about,” said lead guitarist, Slash. “We … bleed and sweat for it, you know? We do a lot of things where other bands will be, like, ‘Get the stunt guy to do it.’”
Guns n’ Roses came together in the scruffy hard-rock scene of Los Angeles early in 1985. Two of the founding members, singer Axl Rose and guitarist Izzy Stradlin, grew up together in Lafayette, Indiana, where Rose in particular had a reputation for violence and juvenile delinquency. They were joined in Los Angeles by Slash, a native of Great Britain whose artist parents worked in Hollywood, and Duff “Rose” McKagan, a former resident of Seattle. The group was rounded out by drummer Steven Adler, the only married member. According to Tannenbaum, once the members met in California, “they played, they fought, they got high, they toyed with the idea of forming bands with names like Heads of Amazon and AIDS. They finally settled on Guns n’ Roses, combining the names of two bands that various members had been involved in, L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose.”
Club ads for Guns n’ Roses shows often read “FRESH FROM DETOX” or “ADDICTED: ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE.” The group members lived together in a tiny studio apartment, with no bathroom, shower, or kitchen; most of the money that came in was spent on drugs and alcohol. In 1986 they signed a contract with Geffen Records, but for many months thereafter they could find neither a manager nor a producer—even among those working with other heavy-metal bands. Finally Mike Clink, an engineer who had worked with Heart and Eddie Money, agreed to produce a Guns n’ Roses album. Appetite for Destruction was released in 1987, promptly drawing criticism for its violent lyrics and its sexually graphic cover. The band found it difficult to get airtime on Top 40 radio and MTV until one of the album cuts, “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” got grass-roots support from rock fans. Guns n’ Roses drew further attention when they opened for Aerosmith on a 1987 national tour. By the time the tour ended—almost a year after Appetite for Destruction had been released, the album went platinum and hit the Billboard Top Five.
“No law says that rock and rollers have to be good role models,” writes Milward, “but the blue-noses of the Parents Resource Music Committee couldn’t have dreamed up a group with such exploitative bad attitudes as Guns n’ Roses. Appetite for Destruction unspools like a cheesy movie about the Hollywood lowlife … [portraying] a wicked, corrupting world and [suggesting] that it only makes sense to have some fun on your way to hell.” The same theme runs through G n’ R Lies, a more recent album; its best-known cut, “Used to Love Her, but I Had to Kill Her,” has drawn protests from numerous fronts. The members of Guns n’ Roses certainly face a dilemma when they perform—while proud of their own violent antics, they try not to incite their audiences to similar behavior. “I guess we are playing with fire,” Duff told Rolling Stone. “I would seriously hate for anything to happen [to the fans], but we’re not the kind of guys to really change our ways.”
Tannenbaum describes Guns n’ Roses as “a musical sawed-off shotgun, with great power but erratic aim…. They … bring to mind the early Rolling Stones, who won a similar notoriety for singing about spite and hostility. And if the Gunners go beyond what the Stones sang about, it’s because times are rougher; they are a brutal band for brutal times. Unlike the Stones, they don’t keep an ironic distance between them and their songs.” Admitting to alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual excesses, and violent brawling, the members of Guns n’ Roses see their lifestyles as “part of the energy we put out,” to quote Slash in Rolling Stone. Milward observes that the group has never apologized for a reputation “that embraces sex and drugs and rock and roll with a casual abandon that makes earlier rock decadents seem responsible.” The critic concludes: “Years ago, the Who sang of a ‘teenage wasteland, ‘ but they saw it from a distance. Not so Guns n’ Roses—they were born there, and that’s why the kids accept them as their own.”
Live Like a Suicide (EP), Geffen Records, 1986.
Appetite for Destruction, Geffen Records, 1987.
G n’ R Lies (contains cuts from Live Like a Suicide), Geffen Records, 1988.
Philadelphia Inquirer, February 16, 1989.
Rolling Stone, November 17, 1988.
—Anne Janette Johnson
Guns N' Roses
GUNS N' ROSES
Members: Brian "Buckethead" Carroll, guitar (born Marietta, Georgia, 1969); Robin Finck, guitar; Brian "Brain" Mantia, drums (born Cupertino, California, 7 November 1971); Chris Pittman, keyboards (born Independence, Missouri, 25 February 1976); Dizzy Reed, keyboards (Darren Reed, born Hinsdale, Illinois, 18 June 1963); Axl Rose, vocals (William Bailey, born Lafayette, Indiana, 6 February 1962); Tommy Stinson, bass (born Minneapolis, Minnesota, 6 October 1966). Former members: Steven Adler, drums (born Cleveland, Ohio, 22 January 1965); Gilby Clarke, guitar (born Cleveland, Ohio, 17 August 1962); Josh Freese, drums; Paul Huge, guitar (Paul Tobias, born Indianapolis, Indiana, 1962); Duff McKagan, bass (Michael McKagan, born Seattle, Washington, 5 February 1964); Slash, guitar (Saul Hudson, born Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, 23 July 1965); Matt Sorum (born Mission Viejo, California, 19 November 1960); Izzy Stradlin, guitar (Jeffery Isbell, born Lafayette, Indiana, 8 April 1962).
Best-selling album since 1990: Use Your Illusion I (1991)
Hit songs since 1990: "Don't Cry," "November Rain," "You Could Be Mine"
The most controversial hard rock band of the 1980s spent much of the 1990s trying to recapture their former glory amidst internal turmoil, lawsuits, and the departures of all but one of the group's original members.
Rapid Rise, Gradual Decline
Guns N' Roses exploded onto the rock scene in the mid-1980s with their incendiary debut, Appetite for Destruction (1987), heralding the arrival of a blues-influenced heavy metal band on a par with the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith. But volatile personalities, self-destructive behavior, and creative conflicts led to the slow dissolution of the original band slowly after the release of their two-album epic, Use Your Illusion (1991), never to recapture their former glory.
Guns N' Roses ended the 1980s with one of the most successful debut albums of the decade; Appetite for Destruction (1987) sold more than 20 million copies. In just three short years, the group had established a reputation for unpredictability, volatility, and loutishness, resulting in part from the deaths of two fans during crowd disturbances at a festival show in England in 1988 and in part from the controversial lyrics to the song "One in a Million" (from their 1989 mini-album, G n' R Lies ), widely criticized for their homophobic and racist sentiments.
The 1990s proved even more chaotic. The singer Axl Rose faced tabloid rumors that he had abused his wife; he also faced charges of attacking an audience member following a riot at a St. Louis show. The controversy faded from headlines in September with the release of the band's eagerly awaited double-album set, Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II.
The albums were a triumph for the group, occupying the two top positions of the Billboard album charts—the first time that feat had been accomplished since 1974—and winning critical praise for the more mature, ambitious songwriting and arrangements. The three-year process of recording the work proved to be the band's undoing, however; the creative tensions and the artistic split within the group was audible on several of the album's tracks.
While Rose was enamored of the baroque rock and pop of groups such as Queen and Elton John, the guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin had more meat-and-potatoes rock and roll tastes, favoring hard rock and blues in the manner of the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith. I is the more up-tempo, rock-oriented of the albums, featuring some of Stradlin's most blues-influenced hard rock songs such as "Dust N' Bones," "Double Talkin' Jive," and "You Ain't the First." Rose explores his more progressive rock tendencies on the sprawling, piano-laden hit ballads "November Rain" and "Don't Cry."
II is packed with longer songs—four run over six minutes—that hint at Rose's more pretentious, overindulgent tendencies, such as the antiwar "Civil War" and the nearly ten-minute epic "Estranged." Not surprisingly, Rose also drew fire for "Get in the Ring," on which he threatens a number of rock journalists by name for giving poor reviews to his group. The album also features a cover of Bob Dylan's rock standard "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," delivered in Rose's strangulated, piercing scream of a voice. The albums went on to sell more than 4 million copies each.
In late 1993 after several defections, what was left of the original lineup of the group released its swan song, the covers album, The Spaghetti Incident? With covers of songs by groups such as the Misfits, Fear, the New York Dolls, and the Stooges, the ferocious album reveals the punk-rock roots that underlay the heavy-metal influences of bands such as Nazareth.
The Beginning of the End
The band recorded a cover of the Rolling Stones's "Sympathy for the Devil" for the 1994 soundtrack to the Tom Cruise film Interview with a Vampire. Though Stradlin was invited back in May 1995, the group was unable to move forward with the recording of new material because of creative disputes between Rose and Slash.
Five years after the release of their first album of new material, the group had been eclipsed by the more punk-oriented, less bombastic sound of grunge rock bands such as Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam, which eschewed the flashy dress and public excess that had made Guns N' Roses stars a decade before.
In November 1996 Slash announced that Rose had left the band, but Rose quickly retorted with a fax to MTV in which he said that Slash had been fired from the group and that he had purchased the rights to the band's name. At the time Rose promised to deliver a new album from the group by the next summer. Soon after, Rose became a recluse, earning the title "rock and roll Howard Hughes." He broke the silence in February 1998 with an arrest in the Phoenix airport for disorderly conduct.
Spot Light: Chinese Democracy
From 1997 through 2003, Rose worked with a string of producers on the next Guns N' Roses album, including Mike Clink, techno artist Moby, Sean Beavan, Pink Floyd producer Bob Ezrin, and former Killing Joke bassist Youth. Rumors of a new album came and went, fueled in July of 1999 by a bizarre MTV report that the new lineup of the band made a secret debut in the Adam Sandler film Big Daddy. The end credits of the film feature an old version of "Sweet Child 'O Mine" with the original lineup that morphs into a new version of the band's biggest hit with the band's new members: guitarist Robin Finck, drummer Josh Freese, bassist Tommy Stinson, and lone holdover from the original group, keyboardist Reed. Rose reportedly recorded hundreds of tracks with the new members between 1997 and 2003 for the album, dubbed Chinese Democracy, constantly tweaking the songs, with more than half a dozen alleged release dates passing without any new material. A handful of new songs were performed during the band's concerts in 2000 and 2002, but after more than a decade in the works, the album remained unreleased, and many wondered how many of the group's fans would still care enough to buy it if it ever did see the light of day.
Rose unveiled the band's new lineup with a New Year's Day concert in Las Vegas in 2001, taking the stage hours late before a crowd of 1,800. Several weeks later the band played a well-received set at the Rock in Rio festival in Rio de Janeiro and announced a European tour, which was canceled and rescheduled within two weeks in April. It was canceled once more in November.
In August 2002 the revamped group made an appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards, performing two classics and a new ballad from an album in the works, Chinese Democracy. The performance set tongues wagging, as Rose sounded off key and out of breath and appeared to have had cosmetic surgery. Despite an almost entirely new membership, the group was up to its old tricks when it launched its first North American tour in nearly a decade in November. The Vancouver kickoff date was canceled at the last minute, inspiring irate fans to riot, smash windows, and clash with police, who resorted to pepper spray to subdue the fans. Less than a month later, the tour was canceled after Rose failed to appear for a show in Philadelphia. By early 2003 Chinese Democracy remain unreleased.
Guns N' Roses rose to prominence in the late 1980s thanks to a volatile combination of cynicism, belligerence, arrogance, self-destruction, violence, and reckless disregard for society's rules. When the band failed to agree on a musical direction, that reckless energy turned to torpor and career limbo in the early 1990s. The enigmatic, eccentric leader Axl Rose then began a nearly decade-long exile in the studio with an all-new group, working on an album that would have to make a spectacular impression to reflect the band's sunken fortunes.
Live Like a Suicide (Geffen, 1986); Appetite for Destruction (Geffen, 1987); G n' R Lies (Geffen, 1988); Use Your Illusion I (Geffen, 1991); Use Your Illusion II (Geffen, 1991); The Spaghetti Incident? (Geffen, 1993).
Guns N’ Roses
Guns N’ Roses
Guns N’ Roses, perhaps the most controversial rock band since the Sex Pistols and certainly the most controversial to emerge in the late 1980s. MEMBERSHIP: Axl Rose (born William Bailey), lead voc. (b. Lafayette, Ind., Feb. 7, 1962); Slash (born Saul Hudson), lead gtr. (b. Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, July 23, 1965); Izzy Stradlin (born Jeffrey Isbell), rhythm gtr. (b. Lafayette, Ind., April 8, 1962); Michael “Duff” McKagan, bs.(b. Seattle, Wash., Feb. 5, 1964); Steven Adler, drm. (b. Ohio, Jan. 22, 1965). Steven Adler left in 1990, to be replaced by Matt Sorum (b. Long Beach, Calif., Nov. 19, 1960); Dizzy (real name, Darren) Reed, kybd. (b. Hins-dale, III, June 18, 1963) also joined at this time. In November 1991 Izzy Stradlin left, to be replaced by Gilby Clarke (b. Cleveland, Ohio, Aug. 17, 1962).
Guns N’ Roses produced angry, belligerent songs focused largely on the decadent side of life and its attendant rage, fear, and insecurity. Featuring the abrasive vocals of Axl Rose, rock’s most notorious and volatile male performer of the 1990s, Guns N7 Roses gained massive popularity with best-selling albums and insolent concert performances that sometimes led to riots. Along with Metallica, with whom they toured in 1992, Guns N’ Roses challenged established heavy-metal bands such as Van Halen and reinvigorated the staid metal scene.
Axl Rose met guitarist Izzy Stradlin in 1984 in Los Angeles, where they formed a band variously known as Rose, Hollywood Rose, and LA Guns. In 1985 Guns N’ Roses was formed by Rose and Stradlin; two members of Road Crew, Steven Adler and Slash; and Seattle-born Michael “Duff” McKagan. In 1986 Guns N’ Roses recorded a four-song EP for the independent Uzi/Suicide label entitled Live Like a Suicide. Subsequently signed to Geffen Records, the group scored their first (top) hit with “Sweet Child o’ Mine” in 1988, achieving their earliest notoriety as the opening act for AerosmitiYs 1988 tour. Their debut album, Appetite for Destruction, stayed on the album charts for nearly three years and yielded the smash hits “Welcome to the Jungle” (used in the Clint Eastwood movie Dead Pool) and “Paradise City” and the minor hit “Nightrain.” G N’R Lies, their next release, compiled the Live Like a Suicide EP and four songs recorded in 1988, producing the smash hit “Patience” while including “Used to Love Her” and the controversial “One in a Million.”
Mired in personal and professional difficulties for a time (the band members were admitted alcohol and drug abusers), Guns N’ Roses resumed recording in 1990, but Adler was dismissed, to be replaced by former Cult drummer Matt Sorum, and keyboardist Dizzy Reed was added. “You Could Be Mine,” from the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Terminator 2, became a major hit in 1991. In late 1991 Guns N’ Roses issued the dark, sprawling albums Use Your Illusion I and II simultaneously. The ballads “Don’t Cry” and “November Rain” and a remake of Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” became the hits from Use Your Illusion I, which contained “Don’t Damn Me,” the 10-minute “Coma,” and the psychedelic “The Garden” (with Alice Cooper). Use Your Illusion II included the minor hit “Yesterdays,” “Estranged,” a version of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (used in the Tom Cruise movie Days of Thunder), and the antiwar “Civil War.” In November 1991 Izzy Stradlin left Guns N’ Roses and was replaced by Gilby Clarke of Kills for Thrills. In 1992 Guns N’ Roses toured North America with the rival heavy-metal band Metallica.
In 1993 Guns N’ Roses toured without their usual backing musicians, Izzy Stradlin returning for five over-seas engagements in place of the injured Gilby Clarke. Their late 1993 album, The Spaghetti Incident, perhaps their finest work, contained covers of punk songs such as The New York Dolls’ “Human Being,” the Stooges’ “Raw Power,” Fear’s “I Don’t Care About You,” and Johnny Thunders’s “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” plus mass-murderer Charles Manson’s “Look at Your Game, Girl” and the Skyliners’ “Since I Don’t Have You.”
In 1992 Izzy Stradlin assembled his own band, The Ju Ju Hounds, with Georgia Satellites guitarist Rick Richards, recording an album for Geffen Records and touring in support of Keith Richards’s X-Pensive Winos in early 1993. In 1994 Gilby Clarke recorded Pawnshop Guitars with Axl Rose, Slash, Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum, and others for Virgin Records. Slash later recorded and toured with Snakepit, which included Clarke, Sorum, Jellyfish vocalist Eric Dover, and Alice in Chains bassist Mike Inez.
GUN S N’ ROSES: Appetite for Destruction (1987); G N’ R Lies (1988); Use Your Illusion I (1991); Use Your Illusion II (1991); The Spaghetti Incident (1993). IZZY STRADLIN AND THE JU JU HOUNDS: Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds (1992). GILB Y CLARKE : Pawnshop Guitars (1994). SLASH’SSNAKEPIT: It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere (1995).
Paul Elliot, G. N’ R.: The World’s Most Outrageous Hard Rock Band (London, 1990); Danny Sugerman, Appetite for Destruction: The Days of G. N’ R. (N.Y., 1992).