Guns N' Roses Biography

The original members of the most controversial heavy rock band of the late 80s included Axl Rose (an anagram of Oral Sex) (William Bruce Rose Jnr., 6 February 1962, Lafayette, Indiana, USA) and Izzy Stradlin (b. Jeffrey Dean Isbell, 8 April 1962, Lafayette, Indiana, USA). Vocalist Rose, who had first sung at the age of five in a church choir, met guitarist Stradlin in Los Angeles in 1984. He changed his name to Rose at the age of 17 when he discovered who his real father was, the Axl prefix coming from a band with whom he had rehearsed in Indiana. With Tracii Guns (b. 20 January 1966, USA; guitar) and Rob Gardner (drums), they formed a rock band called, in turn, Rose, Hollywood Rose and L.A. Guns. Soon afterwards, Guns and Gardner left, to be replaced by two members of local band Road Crew, drummer Steven Adler (b. 22 January 1965, Cleveland, Ohio, USA) and guitarist Slash (b. Saul Hudson, 23 July 1965, Hampstead, London, England), the son of a clothes designer and an album cover artist. With bass player Duff McKagan (b. Michael Andrew McKagan, 5 February 1964, Seattle, Washington, USA; ex-Fastbacks, Ten Minute Warning, and approximately 30 other north-west bands), the band was renamed Guns N’Roses.

Despite the disastrous US Hell Tour ’85, record companies were becoming increasingly interested in Guns N’Roses and in 1986, the band signed to Geffen Records. At the end of the year the four-track EP, Live?!*@ Like A Suicide, was released on the independent UZI/Suicide label. During 1987, they toured extensively, though the band’s appetite for self-destruction became readily apparent when Fred Coury of Cinderella was recruited to replace Adler temporarily, after the latter had broken his hand in a brawl. February 1988 also saw the first internal rift when Rose was kicked out, then reinstated, within three days. Their debut, Appetite For Destruction, produced by Mike Clink, went on to sell over 20 million copies worldwide and reached number 1 in the USA a year after its release date. The singles ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ (written about Rose’s girlfriend and later wife Erin Everly, daughter of Don Everly), ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ and ‘Paradise City’ were also major transatlantic hits, with ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ topping the US charts. ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ was also used on the soundtrack of the Clint Eastwood movieDead Pool.

The band’s regular live shows in the USA and Europe brought frequent controversy, notably when two fans died during crowd disturbances at the Monsters Of Rock show at the Donington Festival in 1988. In 1989, the eight-track album G N’R Lies was issued, becoming a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The first four tracks were lifted from the band’s debut EP, while the remaining four were acoustic recordings. The melodic and wistful ‘Patience’ reached the US Top 5 and UK Top 10. However, Rose’s lyrics for ‘One In A Million’ were widely criticized for their homophobic sentiments, although the singer later argued that these did not represent his personal point of view.

Although Guns N’Roses appeared at the Farm Aid IV charity concert, their career was littered with incidents involving drugs, drunkenness and public disturbance offences in 1989/90. At times their excesses made the band seem like a caricature of a 60s supergroup, with headlines screaming of Stradlin urinating in public on an aeroplane, Slash and McKagan swearing live on television while collecting trophies at the American Music Awards, and Rose’s on-off relationship with Everly. In September 1990, Adler was replaced by Matt Sorum (b. Matthew Sorum, 19 November 1960, Mission Viejo, California, USA) from the Cult. Apparently more restrained in their private life, Guns N’Roses added Dizzy Reed (b. Darren Arthur Reed, 18 June 1963, Hinsdale, Illinois, USA; keyboards) for a 1991 world tour, where their exciting and unpredictable performances brought favourable comparisons with the heyday of the Rolling Stones. In September the band released the highly publicized pair of albums, Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II, preceded by the hit single ‘You Could Be Mine’ (featured in the movie Terminator 2: Judgement Day). Further transatlantic hit singles included ‘Don’t Cry’, the epic ballad ‘November Rain’, and a cover version of Wings’ ‘Live And Let Die’ (from the James Bond movie of the same name). The Illusion brace immediately sat astride the top two album positions on the Billboard chart, the first occasion on which they had been thus dominated since Jim Croce in 1974. The feat was repeated in the UK, but the band’s more expansive sound (incorporating elements of classical music and the blues) drew a mixed reaction from critics and fans.

Izzy Stradlin found the pressure too much and left late in 1991, going on to form the Ju Ju Hounds. He was replaced by Gilby Clarke (b. 17 August 1962, Cleveland, Ohio, USA; ex-Kill For Thrills). Meanwhile, Slash’s growing reputation brought guest appearances on recordings by Dylan and Michael Jackson. He also contributed to tribute albums to Muddy Waters and Les Paul, and subsequently established his own spin-off band, Slash’s Snakepit. Guns N’Roses’ appearance at the 1992 Freddie Mercury AIDS Benefit concert at Wembley Stadium in London, England, prompted the UK release of their live version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’. While Dylan fans groaned with disbelief, the band’s vast following was happy to see its heroes reach number 2 on the singles chart.

While both of their previous albums remained on the US chart, having sold more than four million copies each, it was not until the end of 1993 that any new material emerged. When it arrived, it came in the form of “The Spaghetti Incident?”, a much-vaunted collection of cover versions with a punk foundation. A perfunctory affair, it was mainly notable for lining the pockets of several long-forgotten musicians (UK Subs, Nazareth, the Misfits, Fear, etc.), and for including a song (‘Look At Your Game, Girl’) written by mass murderer Charles Manson. The project enjoyed more success in the UK, spawning two Top 10 singles with ‘Ain’t It Fun’ (originally by the Dead Boys) and ‘Since I Don’t Have You’ (originally by the Skyliners). The main inspiration behind the project, Duff McKagan, had his debut solo album released at the same time. However, reports of an unhappy camp continued to filter through in 1994, leading to the dismissal of Gilby Clarke towards the end of the year, following his own, highly public, outbursts about Rose. His replacement was Paul Tobias aka Paul Huge (b. 1963, USA), a former flatmate of Rose from his Indiana days. His first recording with the band was a cover version of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ for the soundtrack to Interview With The Vampire. The single reached the Top 10 in the UK but did not dent the US Top 50. However, Tobias stayed only briefly with the band, as did his replacement, Zakk Wylde, who failed to record a single note with the band before falling out irreconcilably with Rose.

In May 1995, Izzy Stradlin was reinstated as second guitarist, but by the end of the year Rose and Slash were again at loggerheads and no new album was imminent. Sorum and McKagan, meanwhile, teamed up with guitarist Steve Jones for the spin-off band the Neurotic Outsiders. Slash confirmed Rose’s departure in November 1996, although this situation was reversed in February 1997 when Rose allegedly purchased the rights to the Guns N’Roses name. Later in the year, this was seemingly confirmed by the recruitment of Robin Finck (b. 7 November 1971, Marietta, Georgia, USA), formerly of Nine Inch Nails, to replace Slash.

The departure of Sorum and McKagan over the next two years left Rose as the sole original member of the band. Backed by a returning Tobias, the loyal Dizzy Reed, Finck, Tommy Stinson (b. Thomas Eugene Stinson, 6 October 1966, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; guitar, ex-Replacements) and Josh Freese (b. 25 December 1972, Orlando, Florida, USA; drums), he embarked on more recording sessions for a projected album called Chinese Democracy. In November 1999, Rose surprised everyone by contributing the industrial metal track ‘Oh My God’ to the soundtrack of End Of Days. Further delays in recording the new album led to the departure of Finck and Freese, with avant garde guitarist Buckethead (b. Brian Carroll, 1969, California, USA) and drummer Bryan Mantia (b. 1964, Cupertino, California, USA, ex-Primus) added to the line-up. With Finck back in tow, the band played a number of live sets during 2001. Richard Fortus (b. 17 November 1966, USA; guitar, ex-Love Spit Love) then replaced Tobias as the band announced their first tour in nine years during November 2002. Their popularity seemed undiminished, as Madison Square Garden sold every ticket within a few minutes of putting them on sale. Sadly, the entire tour was scrapped after only nine performances with Axl Rose’s non-appearance at several shows prompting the tour company to pull out.

The saga of Chinese Democracy rolled on into the mid-00s, with release dates coming and going. This all proved too much for Buckethead, who left the band at the start of 2004. The music industry's biggest boondoggle finally bore fruit in 2008 when Axl unveiled a record that was well over a decade in the making. While it received many rave reviews, and the critical response was positive overall, the record underperformed (its almost impossible) expectations, debuting at #3 when it came out in November.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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