Guns N' Roses History
No other decade in the history of civilization symbolized the glamorous, sleazy, over-the-top party rock lifestyle like the 1980s! No band on earth represents said excess better than the legendary Guns N' Roses.
The early 1980s was an exciting time to be a part of the Hollywood rock music scene. Punk rock was peaking in the live clubs with bands like The Circle Jerks and Black Flag. Rock bands like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Pretenders and Van Halen were ruling the radio airwaves. MTV had emerged on the scene and made it really apparent that the music not only had to rock; the bands had to look good doing it. The result was a hybrid musical pie, made up in equal parts of punk, hard rock, glam and bad boy persona. Hollywood became the breeding ground for this rock confection. Rockers far and wide loaded up their guitars and Marshall stacks and headed for the West Coast to claim their fame and fortune on the Sunset Strip. Axl wanted to meld these styles into a unique musical form.
Vicky Hamilton moved to Hollywood from Fort Wayne, Indiana in the Spring of 1981 to make her mark as one of the best female band managers in the music business. She spent many nights combing the clubs looking for talent. She ended her evenings at the Rainbow Bar and Grill interacting with future rock stars. After the bar closed at 2am, the party moved to the parking lot in between the Rainbow and Roxy Theatre. This was where many musicians met their future band mates. A short time later, she landed a job as a record buyer for Licorice Pizza, a record store chain in California where she met Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue who had just recorded their first album, too Fast For Love. Nikki got her a job working for Allan Coffman, the Crue's first manager. She then took a job working as the booking agent for Silver Lining Entertainment.
Jeffrey Isabelle, aka Izzy Stradlin, left Lafayette, Indiana for Hollywood in 1980 and was followed by his childhood friend, William Bailey, aka W. Rose (Axl) in 1892. After arriving in L.A., Axl rode the bus around Fullerton for three days and then paid some guys a case of beer to help him find Izzy. He was about to give up when he accidentally walked into Izzy's apartment in Hunnington Beach. Los Angeles natives Chris Weber and Tracii Guns, two young guitarists who shared multiple interests, were both students at Fairfax High. One fall evening they ended up hanging out in the Rainbow parking lot because they were too young to get into any of the clubs. Chris expressed to Tracii that he wanted to put a band together, but Tracii was already involved in his first version of LA Guns. Tracii introduced Chris to Izzy in the parking lot. The three guitarists then sat in the pickup truck belonging to Tracii's dad discussing their musical dreams and sharing ideas. Chris and Izzy became fast friends. They got together the next day in Izzy's Hollywood apartment and had a jam session in the living room. The pair soon developed some solid rock riffs when Izzy suggested that they hook up with his friend, Bill Bailey, who he felt was the right vocalist for their new project.
Chris, Izzy and Tracii ventured to an apartment building on Franklin & Whitley and had their first meeting/jam session atop a tar roof in the boiling hot sun. Weber accounts his original meeting with Axl Rose: "Here was this pale, white-skinned guy with long red hair blistering in the strong California sunlight." The three musicians felt the magic that day and agreed to start a band. Izzy and Chris wrote the music and Axl added the lyrics. Slash drew a picture of Aerosmith for Marc Cantor. Marc made copies and circulated them. Izzy walked into the Hollywood Music Store where Slash worked and asked Slash if he drew it. They didn't talk long. "Izzy was the type of guy with somewhere else that he needed to be." They hung out at Slash's house that night and Izzy played Slash a tape of his band. Slash first heard Axl and described it thus: "It was hard to make out and his squeal was so high pitched that I thought it might be a technical flaw in the tape. It sounded like the squeak that a cassette makes just before the tape snaps--except it was in key." Shortly thereafter, Izzy and Axl moved into a guesthouse in Laurel Canyon owned by Weber's parents. Slash dated Yvonne off and on for several years, but dated Ratt frontman, Stephen Pearcy before Slash.. In 1983, she and Steven's girlfriend were invited by Tommy Lee to Cherokee Studios for the recording of Motley Crue's Theatre of Pain album. Yvonne introduced Slash to vodka and Hanoi Rocks. Slash answered an ad in The Recycler placed by a singer and guitarist looking for a fellow guitarist in the vein of Aerosmith and Hanoi Rocks. It expressly stated, "no beards or mustaches" need apply. Slash went to Weber's guesthouse which he described as "a little shack containing enough room for a bed with space to sit on the floor and a television which was the room's only light source." Slash recognized Izzy from the music store and they talked for a while, but Axl never got off the phone. Axl only nodded his head in acknowledgment when Slash walked through the door. "When Axl gets into a conversation, there's no stopping him. In Guns, we used to call it a Twain Wreck: when Axl started telling a story, he was as long-winded as Mark Twain." Slash didn't get the job and continued playing with Tidus Sloan until Steven insisted he was a better drummer than Adam. He annoyed everyone so much the band broke up. They decided to name the band "A.X.L.", the name that Rose preferred, which was the same name as the band he formed as a teenager. Apparently either the meaning behind the name or the band itself meant a lot to him. The crew spray painted a billboard at Sunset & Doheny Blvd. on the west end of Sunset Strip proclaiming the name and took some photos in front of it. Their first gig was at a club called the Orphanage on Lankershirm Blvd. in North Hollywood. Izzy left A.X.L. for the band London and was replaced by Steve Darrow. Rob Gardner also joined as the drummer. It was Steve Darrow who convinced Bill to begin calling himself Axl. According to an interview in the Rock City News in January 1988, "The main guy was Steve Darrow. This guy said, 'Man, you eat, sleep, and walk like Axl, why don't you just be Axl?' And I said, bitchin', alright." In the meantime, Axl was also in Rapidfire with Kevin Lawrence, Mike Hammernik, and Chuck Gordon. Rapidfire played a gig on April 1 at the Troubadour in Hollywood and recorded a demo on May 25, 1983 and then promptly broke up. Izzy left London around the same time. Slash and Steven auditioned for London after Izzy quit the band. Nikki Sixx was in London before creating Motley Crue.
Slash and Steven placed an ad in The Recycler for a bass player. The ad stated, "Bass player needed for band influenced by Aerosmith and Alice Cooper. Call Slash." Duff answered and they met at Canter's Deli. They auditioned Ron Reyes, better known as Chavo Pederast when he was the frontman for Black Flag in 1979. This is where Guns' association with Black Flag came from. Nothing came of it. Slash and Duff came up with the riff for Rocket Queen. They had trouble with Steven partying too much and not working hard enough. Slash told Duff it wasn't working out and he disassociated from Steven. Duff moved into a house in Los Angeles across the street from Izzy and later became part of the LA Guns/Hollywood Rose Universe.
In June 1983, Axl and Izzy formed Rose with Steve Darrow. After Chris Weber joined, the name was changed to Hollywood Rose. In January of 1984, the boys had put together enough material to deliver a 5-song EP featuring the songs, "Killing Time", "My Way, Your Way", (later titled "Anything Goes"), "Rocker", "Shadow of Your Love", and "Wreckless" (later titled "Reckless Life". Chris' dad paid for the recording at the now defunct 16 Track Studio on the corner of Ivar & Selma Blvd. in Hollywood. Drummer, Johnny Kreis, was hired from an ad in The Recycler. The two axe men took turns laying down bass over drum tracks. Chris tracked lead guitar, Izzy played rhythm and Axl sang lead vocals. After the demo was recorded, Andre Roxx and Mick Mars joined the group. Together, the band wrote more songs that were never recorded with the exception of one: "Back Off Bitch", "Hollywood Girls", "International", "That Something", "Cold Hard Cash", and "Rock and Rose". (There was another song on the set list of the Hollywood Rose album that I could not read, "aton".)
One day early in 1984, Vicky Hamilton received a call at Silver Lining. "Vicky, this is Axl Rose and I'm the lead singer for a band called Hollywood Rose. We're going to be the biggest band in Hollywood. You were recommended to me to help us get some gigs." Vicky replied, "Do you have a demo you can send in for me to hear?" Axl responded, "Yes! How about I just come there now and play it for you?" Vicky laughed, but was charmed by his enthusiasm. "Well Axl, I think you should just mail the demo to me." And he said, "Why?" Taken aback, Vicky responded, "Well, for starters I don't have a stereo here to listen to it on." Axl persisted, "That's okay. I'll bring my ghetto blaster." At this point Vicky gave up the fight and gave him directions to the agency. A couple of hours later, Axl and Izzy were in the lobby, ghetto blaster in hand. She sat with them and looked at band snapshots listening to the demo. Already blown away by the hard driving beat and thunderous rock guitars with blues overtones - "then I heard that voice." Somehow, she just knew that what he had said about being the biggest band in Hollywood was just a small piece of where this band was headed. With a handshake, she agreed to start booking their shows. First came a show at Madame Wong's with a popular band named Candy with Gilby Clarke. "Chills ran up and down my spine as I watched the charismatic front man command the audience's respect." Though the show was still very raw, the basis of the world's next biggest band was well on its way to development. Later, Vicky Hamilton became the manager of Guns N' Roses. Slash says that Vicky promoted the band; Axl says the band promoted themselves. After Guns became a popular club band, they ditched Vicky.
Several shows were booked for them over the next few months: Country Club, Dancing Waters, Troubadour and Music Machine. Slash and Steven reunited after Steven had seen Hollywood Rose perform. They went to see the band at Gazarri's. Slash described Axl as "the best singer in Hollywood at the time." Slash described the band as an "amateur garage band doing their best, but they had an amazing sense of reckless abandon and unbridled energy." Apart from Axl and Izzy, the band was non-descript. However, the two had an ominous presence about them. "Izzy did knee slides all over the stage and Axl screamed his heart out; their performance was blistering." Axl's voice drew Slash in immediately. It was so versatile and underneath his impossibly high-pitched shrieking, the bluesy natural rhythm he had was riveting. Hollywood Rose survived for a short period of time before splitting after a gig in Santa Monica. Bass player, Steve Darrow worked with Izzy delivering the LA Weekly so they were tight. Axl didn't like guitarist Chris Weber and fired him without consulting the other members. Steven heard they were holding auditions for guitar players the next day. Slash went to their rehearsal place, a hovel called Fortress on Selma & Highland. Slash described it as "a lice-infested cube trashed by punk rockers." Slash said that only punks trash a place right out of the gate. Rockers don't do it until they're older and established. Izzy left during the second song, which Slash says is a defense mechanism that engages when Izzy thinks things aren't going right. He doesn't make a show of it; he just slips out and doesn't look back. Izzy didn't know what Slash was doing there and didn't like that Axl had fired Chris without informing him. Izzy later told Slash that he didn't like being dictated to under any circumstances. Tracii Guns had wanted Slash's position and had tried to recruit Axl and Izzy into LA Guns. Hollywood Rose at this point was Axl, Steve Darrow, Steve Adler, and Slash. They played at Madame Wong's East and West, and rehearsed in Shamrock Studio on Santa Monica Boulevard between Western & Gower.
Slash became friends with Axl during this period and Axl lived with him in the basement of his grandmother's house. Axl didn't have a place of his own; he crashed wherever he could. Axl slept in Slash's room during the day while Slash was at work. When Slash came home, he'd wake Axl and they'd go to rehearsal. They talked about music and learned a commonality in musical taste. They shared a mutual respect for the same bands. The opening riff to Jungle was first played for Axl when he lived with Slash. The echo effect was made with a digital delay on a Boss guitar pedal board. Axl had an interest in talking about life, both his own and in the greater sense. He told Slash about his family and the hard times he'd endured in Indiana; it was half a world away from anything Slash could comprehend. "Axl impressed me then with the way he always has: no matter what anyone might say about him, Axl Rose is brutally honest. His version of events might be singular, to say the least, but the truth is, he believes in what he says with more heart than anyone else I've ever met." It wasn't always smooth sailing when Axl lived with Slash's family. For the most part, Axl kept to himself when Slash wasn't there, but one morning after Slash left for work, Axl wandered upstairs and crashed on the living room couch. Slash grandmother found him sprawled out on the sofa when she wanted to watch her afternoon TV programs. She woke him and told him to go back downstairs. Axl told her to fuck off and stormed downstairs. Only Axl knows what set him off or why he attempted to sleep on the couch in the first place. Slash's mom insisted that if Axl wanted to continue living there, he needed to apologize to her mother and promise to never behave that way again. Slash borrowed his mom's green Datsun 510. On the way to rehearsal, Slash mentioned to Axl that he should apologize to his grandmother. Slash knew that Axl was a sensitive and introspective person who endured serious mood swings. Axl stared out the window as Slash spoke, then started rocking back and forth in the passenger seat. They were driving on Santa Monica Boulevard at about 40 mph when suddenly, Axl opened the car door and jumped out without a word. He stumbled, kind of hopped, and made it onto the sidewalk without falling. He steadied himself, then took off down a side street without looking back. Slash was shocked. He did a U-turn and drove around in vain, looking for him for an hour. He didn't show up back at Slash's house that night and he didn't come to rehearsal for four days. On the fifth day, he appeared at the studio as if nothing happened. He found somewhere else to crash and he never mentioned it again. Axl slept under the stairway at Tower Video and later crashed with the manager. "Axl is a dramatic kind of individual. Everything he says or does has a meaning--a theatrical place in his mind--in a blown-out-of-proportion kind of way. Little things become greatly exaggerated, so that interactions with people can become magnified into major issues. He has his own way of looking at things. There were such dramatic highs and lows, and extreme mood swings that being close to him always felt like a roller coaster ride."
The last Hollywood Rose gig at the Troubadour was a bad night. A heckler in the front row antagonized Axl and Axl either threw a glass or broke a bottle over his head. Axl going after him was like an affirmation from the universe. Slash quit the band as soon as he got off stage. After Slash left the band, Axl slept with Slash's girlfriend, Yvonne during a brief period of separation. Slash joined Black Sheep with Willie Bass-a black singer and bassist. Vicky was also the agent for Christian rockers, Stryper and the band Slash was in at that time called Black Sheep. "Hollywood Rose and Black Sheep opened for Stryper at the Music Machine and I remember introducing Slash to Axl that night." She wasn't aware that Axl and Slash already knew each other. Poison's guitar player, Matt Smith, called Slash to have him audition for Poison because he quit the band to move with his pregnant wife to Pennsylvania. C.C. Deville got the gig because Slash wasn't glam. Axl and Yvonne split up and she got back with Slash. She told Slash she had fucked Axl to get back at him for dumping her. Slash called Axl and confronted him. "You fucked Yvonne. What kind of cheap shot is that?!" Axl said, "Of course I did, but you weren't fucking her at the time so what did it matter?" Axl always had a thing for her. Slash didn't see it the way Axl did and they got into an altercation. Axl invited Slash to kick his ass, but Slash let it go. In 1984, Axl gave Slash a job at Tower Video as a peace offering. "Axl always chose to patch things up with grand gestures. It was his way of apologizing. It took a long time to overcome the animosity." One of the managers caught Axl and Slash drinking on the job and Axl took the fall. He was fired for the antics all the employees were guilty of. "Axl has the kind of presence that threatens authority figures. They see someone like Axl as a ring leader and trouble maker."
In early 1985, Axl and guitarist Tracii Guns formed the band, LA Guns with bassist Ole Beich, and drummer Rob Gardner. During Axl's stint in LA Guns, he threatened to dye his hair black. They played a few gigs and wrote a few songs in that order. "I left Hollywood Rose and joined L.A. Guns and the drummer and bass player freaked out and we kinda broke up." Izzy joined afterward and Axl wanted to change the name to Heads of Amazon or AIDS. "Izzy had booked a gig for Hollywood Rose and there was no band left, then Tracii booked a gig for LA Guns and there was no band there either. We mixed what was left of the two bands and we got Guns N' Roses (after Tracii Guns & Axl Rose or LA Guns & Hollywood Rose). Then Tracii left and went back to LA Guns and we got Duff. This line up was finalized on June 6, 1985." In June of 1985, the band consisted of Axl on vocals, Tracii Guns on lead guitar, Izzy Stradlin on rhythm guitar, Duff McKagan (formerly of 10 Minute Warning and Road Crew) on bass, and Rob Gardener on drums. They played a few more gigs and wrote a few more songs. During those Orange County shows, Axl and Tracii had a falling out. Tracii and Rob left GNR to re-form LA Guns because they didnít like the direction of Guns N' Roses' music. Izzy took Slash a flyer for a gig GNR was playing in Orange County. After Tracii quit, Axl went to Tower Video and asked Slash to write some songs with Izzy and play a gig. Izzy served as a buffer between Slash and Axl and took the pressure off. Duff would later help as well. Axl and Slash were attracted to each other and worked well together, but they were polar opposites. Slash showed up at Izzy's apartment a few days later while he was working on Don't Cry which Slash wrote some guitar parts for. Duff, Izzy, Axl, Slash and Rob found a rehearsal space in Silverlake that belonged to Nicky Beat who had been a drummer for LA Guns briefly but mostly played for the Joneses. The songs, Think About You, Out Ta Get Me, Don't Cry, and Jungle were written there. At their first rehearsal, they started throwing songs together and that evening, it gelled quickly. It was one of those magical moments where every player complemented the other and the group became an organic collective. It was at Nicky Beat's house that Izzy first introduced Slash to opium. Slash became addicted to heroin at age 19. He was at a chick's house with Izzy and she shot him up in her bathroom while he was drunk on Jim Beam. The girl's apartment was off Wilshire near downtown LA.
LA Guns demoed in 1985. Tracii & Rob left to reform with Axl as Guns Ní Roses and LA Guns broke up. In early June, Duff got the band some gigs in his hometown of Seattle. When approached with the idea of touring in Seattle, Tracii and Rob were not interested. Duff called up a couple members from Road Crew: Slash and Steven Adler, and this is when Slash stepped in as the band's guitarist. Guns N' Roses was now born. Steven's version: Steven stepped in and, as with Tidus Sloan, said Rob wasn't a good enough drummer and to fire him. I believe this was the biggest mistake Axl made and what really led to the trouble in GNR. Steven was their weakest link. His air-headed notion of partying, doing drugs, and fucking girls being the definition of a rock star is what destroyed Guns more than Axl's tantrums. Had Rob stayed, he would have improved and possibly eased some of the tension between Axl, Izzy, and Slash.
They called Danny and Joe, whose car they used regularly. They made Danny the tour manager and Joe the roadie. They drove Danny's green '70 model Oldsmobile out to the Valley and got a U-haul trailer, and then started on the road to Seattle for the Hell Tour. The car broke down 200 miles outside of Fresno and 200 miles south of Sacramento. They pushed the car to a gas station where they learned it would take 4 days to get the parts to fix it. They told Danny and Joe to stay with the car until it was fixed and meet them in Portland, Oregon at one of the gigs. They grabbed their guitars and took off hitchhiking for Sacramento. Six hours later, a truck driver picked them up. When he stopped to sleep, the band crashed on park benches, wrote songs as the sun rose, or walked around kicking trash at squirrels. I guess they played the Sacramento gig, but Slash didn't say anything about it in his book. After two days with the truck driver, the band ditched him because he was starting to smell. They took off hitchhiking again and two women in a pickup with a camper shell picked them up and drove them to Portland. Just inside Portland city limits, Duff's friend, Donner from Seattle sent someone to get them and informed the band that Danny and Joe had called ahead and said the car was too unreliable to make the trip so they headed back to LA. They had missed every gig along the way except for the last show in Seattle which was the first show GNR played. They crashed at Donner's house. Duff called Lulu Gargiulo of the Fastbacks and she loaned them a drum kit and amps. They played at the Gorilla Gardens to a crowd of 30 people. The manager refused to pay the $150 they had been promised. They packed their gear and took it outside and then cornered the guy in his office. They got $100 and left. Donner's friend, "Jane" drove them back to LA. Her car had no air conditioner so they stopped in Sacramento and begged enough spare change to get a meal at McDonald's that was barely big enough to split between the six of them. Afterward they laid under the shade of some oak trees in a park across from the capitol building. The heat became so unbearable that they jumped the fence of a convalescent home and swam in the pool. That week long trip cemented them as a band. While in Seattle during the disastrous tour, Axl wrote the lyrics to "Welcome to the Jungle." The day after they got back to LA, they piled into Duff's Toyota Celica and headed over to the Silverlake for rehearsal. They pulled into an intersection to make a left turn and were broad sided by a man doing 60 mph. Steven's ankle was broken and everyone was banged up, except Slash. Duff's car was totaled. This may have been what started the rumor that they had all died in a car crash or had been in a near-fatal accident, as was later reported by British tabloids.
They borrowed stuff from chicks to create their trashy glam look, but they were too lazy to do the makeup and went through girlfriends too quickly to keep it up. Thus their glam phase was short lived. Slash stole a concho belt from Leathers & Treasures and a top hat from Retail Slut and put them together Friday night before their first Saturday night gig at the Whiskey. Slash worked at a newsstand on Fairfax & Melrose. When he and Yvonne broke up, Slash moved in with his manager, Alison. The summer of 1985, Alison gave her position to Slash in favor of college. KNEC radio station hosted a concert at Griffith Park that Slash attended and brought a girl back to Alison's. She walked in on Slash fucking this girl on her living room floor. The following day, the newsstand owner called and fired Slash. Duff still lived across the street from Izzy on Orange Avenue and worked as a telemarketer. Slash moved on to a similar job and quit the day before police raided the place. He then got a job at a clock factory. Axl and Steven got by on their girlfriend's handouts while Izzy sold heroin supplied by his underage girlfriend, Dezi. The band's logo was inspired by a gun in Guns & Ammo magazine Slash saw when he worked at the newsstand. He drew it free hand and crossed another one with it and put roses underneath. The Roses & Pistols logo is the original Guns logo.
Desperately poor, the fledgling band struggled to survive in the streets of LA. According to Rose, they manipulated women for their money, an example being at a party at an unnamed woman's house and while one band member had sex with the woman, the others would raid her wallet for the little cash they could salvage. Axl and Slash eventually rented a single 15 x 20 foot storage unit off Sunset & Gardner that shared a community bathroom. They called it the Sunset & Gardner Hotel and Villa. Axl took the back room that had a lockable door; he kept his space immaculate. Izzy and Steven stole lumber from a construction yard where Robert John worked some 2x4s and they built a queen size loft above the drum kit for Slash to sleep on. One of the guys also donated a hibachi grill. Izzy, Duff, and Steven all lived elsewhere. The songs, Nightrain, My Michelle, and Rocket Queen were written here. On a typical night, Axl or Slash would be getting laid in the loft while the other would be passed out between the drum kit and an amp, while assorted friends drank and used drugs in the alley until sunrise. It quickly became a den for sex, drugs and rock n' roll. "Every weekend, the biggest party in L.A. was down at our place. We'd have 500 people packed in an alley and our old roadie was selling beers for a buck out of his trunk. It was like a bar and everyone had their whiskey. We could get away with whatever we wanted, except when the cops came. If there was a problem we'd escort them out. By 'escort' I mean we'd drag 'em out by their hair down the alley, naked." Axl smoked cigarettes with Izzy (one source says Slash) for $8 an hour for UCLA medical tests. Living on about $3.75 a day, they starved to make it. "We tried to live on $3.75 a day, which was enough to buy biscuits and gravy at Denny's for a buck and a quarter. That's it. We survived. We lived there for many months. It was pretty much a just a studio with beds. It didn't even have a shower." A band called The Wild with Darrel "Dizzy" Reed on keyboards rented the storage building next door. He and Axl met and became close friends. They moved out of the Gardner Street Studio after Axl was threatened with rape charges. Vicky moved Axl and Slash into the living room of her one bedroom apartment at 1114 N. Clark St. across from the Whisky above the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood until the matter was cleared up.
Izzy was still living in his apartment on Orange Avenue. Duff was living with a Hungarian girl named Katerina (whom he later married) in an apartment on Hollywood Boulevard next door to Sly Stone. Duff made the acquaintance of West Arkeen who had been living in his El Camino in the parking lot of Duff's apartment. West was a guitarist and songwriter from San Diego who quickly became a friend of the band, mostly with Axl. He co wrote It's So Easy and Yesterdays with Duff, and Bad Obsession and The Garden with Axl. He also co wrote songs for Duff and Izzy's solo projects. The band then contributed to West's project Outpatience in the late'90s just before he died of an overdose. West introduced the band to speed and crystal meth. Eventually West rented a nice ranch style house with three bedrooms just south of Sunset on Poinsettia. It was surrounded by apartment buildings and stuck out like the house in Psycho. West's biker friends from the East Coast moved in with him and he made it into a small recording studio. The rear bedroom was occupied by Red Ed and his girlfriend. The middle bedroom was shared by Paul and Del James. The media dubbed the Gardner Street Studio "The Hell House", but they got their facts mixed up. The Hellhouse was West Arkeen's house. During their down time searching for a producer, the band frequented the Hellhouse but Slash and Axl were the only ones who crashed there and it's where they gave some of their early interviews.
Throughout 1985, the band became very successful on the club circuit in LA. In June, Black Randy of the band Metro Squad paid for GNR to record a demo which was never released--not even as a bootleg. The tracks on that demo are: Don't Cry, Welcome to the Jungle, Back Off Bitch, and Anything Goes. The earliest versions of Don't Cry and Jungle were recorded at Hollywood Sound in 1985. The song "Don't Cry" was first performed live on January 18, 1986 at the Roxy Theatre in Hollywood. Sometime after the Street Scene show with Poison, they found a new manager named Bridgett who was managing Jetboy from San Francisco. Their bass player, Todd Crew, became a friend of the band until his heroin overdose in 1987. GNR rented a van and drove to San Francisco to open for them at a club called Stone. Paradise City was put together musically during the return trip to LA. Bridgett got them better gigs and they were with her when Tom Zutaut saw them play both times at the Troubadour. Even though Bridget was their manager, Vicky was better connected so all the A&R reps called her to contact the band. That caused them to rekindle their relationship with Vicky. She hooked the band up with attorney Peter Paterno who drew up the papers for a six figure advance and it was a done deal.
With William "Axl" Rose (vocals), Jeffrey "Izzy Stradlin" Isabelle (rhythm guitar), Saul "Slash" Hudson (lead guitar), Michael "Duff" McKagan (bass), and Steven Adler (drums), Guns N' Roses signed a recording contract with Geffen Records on March 25, 1986. They spent the first half of their advance on clothes and equipment, and the second half on drugs. The band continued touring the club circuit and gained a loyal following. After the band got their advance checks, they rented an apartment on the southeast corner of La Cienega & Fountain. Seven's mom donated a TV and a weeks worth of groceries. They got a sofa from the alley behind the apartment and rented two beds and a kitchen dinette set. Steven and Izzy shared a room while Axl and Slash shared a room. When they first rented the apartment, Izzy was living with Dezi on Orange Avenue, but there was a domestic dispute and he became a full time resident for a while. Geffen rented them rehearsal space at a place called Dean Chamberlain's in Hollywood where Jane's Addiction rehearsed. Mr. Brownstone was one of the first songs developed there. Dezi contributed a word here and there to the lyrics. The band was having trouble finding a producer and Paul Stanley of KISS was looking for a band to launch a side project behind the mixing board. Steven was a big KISS fan so they agreed to meet with him at their apartment. Slash and Izzy were strung out on heroin so they sat on the sofa while Paul sat on the floor in front of them beside Axl and Steven. Paul wanted to rewrite Jungle to make it sound like a KISS song and the deal was off. Paul was persistent so Geffen arranged a gig at Gazzari's (known as Key Club today). It was an all industry-invitation-only show. Paul bullied the sound engineer into letting him man the soundboard and control the mix. Paul showed up at their next gig at Raji's. Slash had a new guitar tech named Jason who had to jump out of the way every time Slash vomited behind his amps because he had shot a large hit of heroin right before the show and was drinking whiskey. Axl got into a fight with a guy in the front row and smashed him in the head with the base of his mike stand. There's a picture of this gig on the inner sleeve of Appetite. Slash was busted for a six year old jaywalking charge on his way back from Tijuana with Robert John. He spent three days in the LA County jail until Axl posted his bail and sent Dann to pick him up. They wrote You're Crazy afterward. By this time, Slash, Izzy, and Steven were full-blown heroin junkies. They were evicted when their three month rent contract expired and they didn't get their deposit refunded.
Tom Zutaut made an arrangement with Arnold Stiefel (Rod Stewart's manager) who put the band in a house after they lost their apartment. They had to record demoes to get the house. Afterward, Tom set them up with Manny Charlton, the guitarist for Nazareth at Sound City Studios on Whitsett & Moorpark in the Valley. They recorded demos for November Rain (18 minutes originally), Don't Cry, and every other song on Appetite except for Sweet Child that wasn't written yet. The house Stiefel moved them into was in a gated community called Laughlin Park located in Griffith Park near the Observatory Greek Theater and the LA Zoo, 20 minutes from where they used to live. None of them had cars so it was a very unsocial period. They lived there for about 4-5 months. By now, Axl had been dating Erin Everly. Sweet Child was written in this house and recorded at Burbank Studios. Appetite was first demoed at Pasha Studios with Spencer Proffer producing. It was he who suggested the "where do we go now" dramatic breakdown in Sweet Child. They finally settled on Alan Niven who suggested they release the Suicide album while there was still a buzz and to buy time. Shortly afterward, Move to the City was played on KNEC, a heavy metal station in Long Beach. They then went back to San Francisco and opened for Jetboy at the Stone and opened for Ted Nugent two nights later at the Santa Monica Civic Center where Sweet Child was performed live. After this gig, Axl moved into Erin's house. Duff was still living with Katerina and no none knew where Steven was living. Slash and Izzy remained in the Stiefel house. On December 23, 1986 their first EP, Live?!*@ Like A Suicide, was released on the Uzi Suicide Label.
After releasing Suicide, Izzy and Steven rented a small apartment south of Sunset Boulevard near Rock N' Roll Ralph's, a supermarket in West Hollywood where the local musicians bought beer. Slash moved in with Yvonne. This is also when strippers began hanging around the band and taking care of them. What time he wasn't with Yvonne, Slash lived with Christina and her roommate. They lived in an apartment full of strippers down the street from Izzy and Steven on La Cienega. Slash also hung out at the Seventh Veil, a strip club, and shacked up with the girls who worked there. They shared an apartment off Hollywood Boulevard. One girl, Cameron, had her own apartment in the same building so Slash crashed with her frequently. All of the guys fucked her at one point or another and Steven dated her for a while. She gave them all crabs, so they called her Craberon. Adrianna Smith also worked at the Seventh Veil. Axl and Steven both dated her. Their drug dealer, Sammy, got busted and Izzy's girlfriend, Dezi was arrested as well. Slash went back to Yvonne to dry up for the third time.
They finally found a producer, Mike Clink, and released EP in Japan. It was never released in the United States. Shadow of Your Love was on that album. They had spent 7 months in limbo trying out producers and playing gigs intermittently. They booked S.I.R. Studios where they wrote You Could Be Mine and Perfect Crime. Afterward Alan rented Rumbo Studios in Canoga Park close to where Steven grew up in the Valley. He also rented them a fully furnished apartment in the Oakwoods. Mike hired Porky as the guitar tech and Jame-O as the drum tech. They were taken out of Hollywood so they could focus. Alan also hired Lewis as a security guard to keep the guys out of trouble. After recording each night, Axl and Duff went home to their girlfriends while Slash, Izzy, and Steven were expected to live in the Oakwood apartment. Alan had also rented them a van and made Slash the designated driver. The guys went out to a redneck bar and got into a fight while Lewis was eating in the car. They went home and demolished the apartment out of boredom. Alan rented Slash time at Take One Studio, but he didn't have a proper guitar to record his tracks with. On their last day at Rumbo Studio, Alan gave Slash a flame top 1959 Les Paul replica made by the late Jim Foot who owned Music Works in Redondo Beach. It had two Seymour Duncan pickups and no pick guard. Slash also found a customized Marshall amp that he used to record the entire album. Slash had intended to keep it, but Porky returned it without telling him. The first song Slash worked on in this studio was Think About You and the last was Paradise City. Slash had also finally gotten off heroin and turned entirely to whiskey.
Duff still lived with Katerina on Crescent Heights. Riki Rachtman was the owner of The Cathouse where GNR were considered VIPs. Axl didn't hang out with the others at the bars and clubs very often, though he came to The Cathouse on occasion. Duff, Izzy, and Slash were gutter rats, but Axl was more sophisticated. At the very least, he didn't pass out like the others. Robert John photographed Slash with one of the rental vans he had trashed. The guitar is a 1960 Gibson SG that he borrowed from Howie at Guitars R Us. It was the only other guitar used for the recording of Appetite. It was only used to record My Michelle. Slash stuck it through a hole he kicked through the windshield for Robert's entertainment. The photo on the back cover of Appetite was taken in the back of a van rented from Budget Rental. Following Slash's recording of Appetite at Take One, Slash moved in with Todd Crew who had moved to LA. Todd dated a chick named Girl and her friend, Samantha, lived with them. Slash dated Samantha exclusively for a while. They hung out at The Cathouse while Axl recorded his vocals. Tom and Alan took the band to New York to mix the album. Adriana was there visiting with friends in Alphabet City. Axl fucked her the entire time. It was during the mixing that Axl fucked Adriana for Rocket Queen. She was in the studio during the mixing of the son and Axl suggested she fuck him in the live room. They lit some candles for atmosphere and spread a blanket on the floor in front of the drum riser. Adriana was so vocal during sex that she had kept Slash up for three nights having sex with Axl.
Alan booked the Marquee shows while the album was being mastered. Slash had to get a new green card before going to England because he lost his on Santa Monica Boulevard while he and Duff were leaving a rehearsal. In England, they all stayed at Kensington High Street, far away from the 24 hour life of Soho. Todd Crew and Del James met them in England. Todd had used the plane ticket to France his parents had given him when he graduated from college. They rehearsed at the John Henry's Studio. Slash hooked up with Sally, a Page Three swimsuit model for The Sun. They went to the Intrepid Fox where Slash hit UFO frontman, Phil Magg, with a shot glass. Knockin' on Heaven's Door was first performed live at one of the Marquee shows. They recorded the Marquee shows and released another EP, Live from the Jungle in Japan. While on tour, GNR recorded the Welcome to the Jungle video. The street scene was shot on La Brea in front of a little store Nigel Dick had found. The live concert footage was shot at Dale Gloria's Scream Club. Slash was sleeping with some new chick during the video shoot. Axl overdosed on too many valiums after the filming was finished and slipped into a coma for two weeks. Todd was the first person Axl spoke with after recovering. Slash returned to New York to finish the album. Todd and Girl broke up and he was kicked out of Jetboy. They kept all of his equipment and he was replaced by Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks. When Todd showed up in New York to crash with Slash, he was drinking Toad Venom, a screwdriver disguised in a 7Up bottle. Todd got some money at the Western Union and he and Slash encountered some local gothic musicians from Alphabet City who wanted to shoot heroin with them. They were introduced to Chosei Funahara, the bass player for the Plasmatics. The goth kids scored the smack and Todd and Slash shot a hit in Chosei's bathroom. They went back to Slash and Lois' hotel after watching Jaws 3-D at a movie house in Times Square. The goth kids from earlier showed up with more heroin. Todd shot to much or got some too strong while Slash wasn't looking. Something went wrong and he collapsed. The kids left while Slash tried to revive him in the bath tub. Todd regained consciousness only briefly. While Slash was on the phone with Shelly from ICM, Todd stopped breathing. He died in Slash's arms. Alan came and rescued Slash and got him back to LA.
The band released its first full-length album, Appetite for Destruction, July 21, 1987. Mixing blazing power chords with Axl's shrieking vocals, the album was not an immediate success. David Geffen called MTV and coerced them to play the Welcome to the Jungle video. The video aired on October 3 at 2am (a time they assumed no one would be watching) and within the hour it became the most requested song. The album quickly grew in popularity with the release of several singles. Two very significant events closely associated with the release of Appetite and the first viewing of the Jungle video were the Whittier Narrows earthquake (10/01/87) and Black Monday (10/19/87) when the stock market crashed. These two catastrophes cemented both in pop culture and catapulted GNR to over night super stardom. Without these historic events, I believe the album may have gone unnoticed. As fate would have it however, the album and video have become just as historically significant as the events associated with them.
By the time they went out tour with Faster Pussycat and The Cult, Slash had completely kicked heroin. During this tour, Axl slept most of the time in the lounge of the tour bus. He came out periodically to hang with the band. The bus broke down in Texas. Duff and Slash got a ride with a girl in a Trans Am that Slash had picked up. The gig was in Houston and Slash has no recollection of how the other members got there. The show in Oklahoma was cancelled. West Arkeen came out when the bus broke down. He stayed a few days and left. Alan Niven fired the tour manager and bus driver. Mike Mayhew was their rhythm, guitar, and bass tech; he is now with Velvet Revolver. Doug Goldstein was hired for the Faster Pussycat tour that kicked off in Germany. Faster Pussycat's drummer, Mark Michaels was duct taped and thrown in an elevator because he passed out drunk on Duff's bed. Slash found another girlfriend in Germany. He spent most of his days off in LA frequenting various health clinics for venereal disease. Izzy also hooked up with a girl in Germany. Back in LA, Slash dated a porn star, Savannah, and was sexing an underage junkie on the side. Axl told Paul Stanley to suck his dick during the Paradiso Amsterdam show. By this time, Slash was back on heroin. Axl got stoned and passed out on the ferry from Holland to England. After touring with Motley Crue, they opened for Alice Cooper. They did a show with him once in 1986 in Santa Barbara. "We didn't own anything. We didn't have cars; we didn't have anything ya know. What? You mean I have to change the oil? You knew that, but you never had one of your own. Maintenance. Slash is calling me at times and going, 'I got this house and my refrigerator is leaking all over the place and I feel comfortable just leaving it that way, but I know I can't do that cause this is my house'."
Axl insisted on driving to the show with Erin at the last minute. Axl never showed up. This began Axl's habit of ditching shows without warning. The band discussed kicking Axl out and getting a new singer. It would be the first of six such discussions during Guns' career. Izzy and Slash went to West's house where Slash used smack again. Axl walked in during the discussion. He sat down on the bath tub and started talking. Axl didn't understand that he had done anything wrong; it wasn't within his frame of reference. He felt like ha had no reason to apologize. Axl changed the subject and made a type of very vague apology. He also explained why he'd done what he did. Slash got the impression that Axl was totally unaware of the implications of not showing up and what had transpired in his absence that he didn't get it. There are certain protocols that Axl just didn't heed; since he's not in the same mind space as other people, the accepted norms just don't occur to him. Explaining those norms might or might not make a difference. Axl is super intelligent, yet at the same time, he lives in a place where the logic that governs other people doesn't apply. He doesn't realize what an inconvenience those choices might be for others. He means no hear; it's just the way he is. He is as sincere as someone can possible be, but it comes down to the fact that Axl, regardless of the world around him, insists on existing according to rules that hold true only in the universe that he has created around himself. Axl slowly won them over and managed to stay in the band.
While they were in Michigan, Alice cancelled the show because his dad died. Steven got so worked up about the cancellation that he went out, got drunk, and punched a street lamp post. He broke his hand and was sidelined for six weeks. They got Fred Coury from Cinderella to replace him on short notice. Alice cancelled his tour and the band went on to the Perkins Palace shows. Steven and Slash moved into the Franklin Apartments on Hollywood & Franklin. Sally from Sheffield, England showed up at the Drury Hotel in Missouri. They nicknamed it the Dreary Hotel in Misery. She had a green card and was all set to stay with Slash for a while. She survived the tour and moved into the Franklin apartment with Slash next door to Steven. They all went to The Cathouse one night which had relocated to Highland & Melrose where they ran into Nikki Sixx and Mark Mansfield. They went back to Steven's place to shoot heroin. Slash and Sally stayed at the club and went home later. Slash passed out, but Sally stayed up. Nikki wandered over to Slash's apartment and collapsed. Sally called 911 and saved Nikki's life. This overdose is immortalized in the song Kickstart My Heart. After this incident, Steven, Slash, and Sally were exiled to a Holiday Inn in Hermosa Beach to keep them out of trouble. The Lies album was written during this time period. They went to New York to play a few headlining dates. They missed their flight because Axl was running late and had to catch the next flight. The Ritz/MTV gig was played at this time. They also played the L'Amour in Brooklyn and the Limelight.
They flew back to LA and shot the Sweet Child O' Mine video with their girlfriends, except for Izzy who had his Rottweiler, Trevor, instead. Alan assigned a new security guy, Ronnie, to look after Slash. Afterward, they went on tour with Iron Maiden. Just as the two bands began to get along, Axl walked into the commissary (a tour neutral zone loaded with crew from both camps). He flipped over one of the tables and stormed out. He was seemingly frustrated about the tour. Just before the Bay area show, Axl refused to come out of his hotel room and claimed that he wasn't feeling well. Axl's throat wouldn't allow him to do the Irvine Meadows shows, but Alan had time to schedule LA Guns as the opening act so long as the rest of the band jammed with them. Tracii tried to sabotage Slash's equipment and that ended their civil relationship. After the tour, they went back to LA. Slash went to West's house and shot some heroin. Alan decided that Doug should take Slash to Maui to dry up. After five days, Slash got restless so Doug flew in a stripper that Slash met in Canada. Slash returned from Hawaii and Alan booked a show in Phoenix with TSOL. The second night, Axl refused to perform with no explanation. There was a business meeting the following morning with Alan and Doug. Axl didn't attend the meeting. Afterward, Alan talked to Axl about his no-show, but it made no difference. They returned to LA and cancelled the tour. In mid-1988, Axl blew out his throat and that caused them to cancel many shows and he was later required to have surgery.
Next was the Aerosmith tour where they had to keep their drugs and alcohol hidden so as not to endanger Aerosmith's sobriety. Axl showed up at the last minute. At Giants Stadium, they played Paradise City twice because they were shooting a video. At a venue somewhere in the Midwest, Axl was running late so Slash stayed behind with him. They got stuck in traffic and had to get a police escort. They made it with only 5 minutes to spare. After the tour, Tim Collins, Aerosmith's manager, gave each of them an aluminum Halliburton suitcase.
At the Monsters of Rock festival in Donnington, England on August 20, 1988, the extremely large English crowd was wild and out of control. This, combined with the steady rain and mud, proved to be ruinous. Even though the band stopped the show several times to get the crowd to calm down and move back. Axl stopped the show and left. His departing words were "Have a good fucking day and don't kill yourselves." Despite all attempts to calm the crowd, 2 fans were crushed to death during their set while filming the second half of the Paradise City video. Axl heard the tragic news while they were at a pub celebrating. The press put most of the blame on Axl, causing the first major negative impact about him with more to follow in upcoming years. It is for this reason that Axl will walk off stage and cancel shows if anything goes wrong. He does this to protect the fans from harm and himself from lawsuits or negligence charges. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect.
Less than a month later, they performed Jungle at the MTV Video Music Awards where they took home the Best New Artist Award. September 24, 1988, Appetite began a 3 week sit-in at the top of the Billboard charts. Shortly afterward, Tom Zutaut convinced the band to repackage the Suicide EP and combine it with the acoustic tracks they had written. By 1988, GN'R Lies was released and soon afterward, Appetite For Destruction rose to #1 on the charts with GN'R Lies at #4. This was the first time an artist had two albums in the top five simultaneously since 1969. Appetite for Destruction is now considered one of the best albums of all time and is the best selling debut album by a group. Guns N' Roses shot to the top of rock music, helped by the massive popularity of the songs "Welcome to the Jungle", "Paradise City" and "Sweet Child O' Mine", and their accompanying videos.
After Lies was released, they booked a tour in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. In Japan, they stayed at the Roppongi Prince Hotel. Their Japanese promoter, Mr. Udo, hosted a dinner for them which included executives from Geffen's subsidiary recording label in Japan, who they were told, were members of the Yakuza--the Japanese Mafia. They were instructed not to show their tattoos because their hosts might be offended. In Japan, tattoos carry more weight than they do in other cultures and tattooing is elemental to Yakuza culture. Axl wore short sleeves and Slash removed his jacket. Apparently, they won over their Japanese hosts who gave them cameras as gifts. While going through customs, they forgot to declare the cameras so they Japanese authorities detained them. Duff got through easily. Slash and Steven had lost their cameras so they got through as well. Izzy however smashed his camera, but Axl refused and they strip searched him. They missed their flight waiting for him. The next stop was Melbourne where they performed Marseilles by the Angles. They also got to meet Angry Anderson, the lead singer of Rose Tattoo. Slash wrote the acoustic version of Civil War before going to Japan; it was finished in Melbourne.
Back in LA after the tour, Slash purchased Joe Perry's 1959 Les Paul that his ex wife had sold years ago. He used it in the November Rain video. He then purchased two Les Paul Standards from Gibson for touring. Before he went on tour with Velvet Revolver, Gibson made a Slash model Les Paul that is an exact replica of those 1988 Standards.
In October of 1989, GN'R opened for the Rolling Stones for four shows in LA. At one of the shows Axl stated that Guns N' Roses would be over if some people didn't stop dancing with "Mr. Brownstone." In 1990, Axl and GN'R took a break to start recording their next album. In April of 1990, GN'R performed two songs at Farm Aid IV. Steven Adler was fired for not giving up his drug addiction and was replaced by Matt Sorum, formerly of The Cult. Axl also added keyboardist Dizzy Reed to the GN'R lineup to coincide with the "improved" GN'R sound. On September 27, 1991, exactly ten days after the release of the Use Your Illusion albums, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin resigned from the band due to lack of interest and other personal reasons. Former Kills For Thrills guitarist Gilby Clarke was hired to fill Izzy's spot on the tour. In May of 1993, Izzy returned for five shows to fill in for Gilby after he broke his wrist in a motorcycle accident. In June of 1994, Gilby was fired and replaced by childhood friend, Paul Tobias. Sometime in the middle of 1995, Slash left the band and Matt was fired for defending Slash. Slash was temporarily replaced by Zakk Wylde, who was later replaced by Robin Finck in 1996. Axl hired drummers Chris Vrenna and Dave Abbruzese to work on the new album "2000 Intentions", but signed a contract with Josh Freese. Duff left the band for Velvet Revolver in 1997. Duff was replaced by Tommy Stinson in 1998. Chris Pitman was also hired for keyboards and programming and Robin Finck left after his contract expired. In March of 2000, Josh Freese left while Buckethead and Brian Mantia joined. Robin also returned to the band. Buckethead left in 2004 which forced the cancellation of the Rock In Rio Lisbon festival. Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal signed on in 2006. Brian Mantia left the band on short notice during the Chinese Democracy tour to be with his wife and newborn baby. It is unsure whether he will return to the band. Frank Ferrer replaced Brian. The only original members remaining are Axl and Dizzy Reed from the Illusion Era.