Guns N' Roses
1. Only two people attended a group's first show?
2. The group's van broke down meaning they had to hitch hike to the tour's first gig? Then the tour is cancelled?
3. Their lead singer lost his voice?
4. Their drummer had to be replaced because he broke his hand in a bar room brawl?
5. Their substance abuse had to be confined to their dressing room so as not to tempt the headline performers?
It's easy to conclude that such the group had an appetite for destruction.
But these are but a few highlights in the Guns N' Roses legend.
At seventeen, former choirboy William Bailey decided to change his last name to Rose, his dad's last name. Bailey was his step-father's name. Picking up the Axl handle, as a tribute to some former bands, Rose headed for the land of music opportunity, L.A., to connect with his friend Izzy Stradlin. They hooked up with Tracii Guns becoming the L.A. Guns. Eventually, Guns left and guitarist Slash (Saul Hudson), drummer Steven Adler and bassist Duff McKagan signed on.
In '86, Guns N' Roses recorded an EP for the Uzi/Suicide label, "Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide." That effort paid double dividends. It brought them to the attention of Geffen Records and got a spot opening for Iron Maiden. This was where Rose lost his voice.
Their major label debut "Appetite For Destruction" was a monster selling six million copies before the dust settled. "Sweet Child O' Mine," written about Axl's girlfriend and future ex-wife, Erin Everly, rode heavy-duty vocals and a blistering guitar solo straight to the top. They followed that up with the Metal frenzy of "Welcome To The Jungle" and a tour supporting Aerosmith. Here's when they had to restrict their substance abuse. Soon Guns N' Roses were headliners.
Guns N' Roses always managed to find controversy. There were those pesky arrests for disorderly conduct or public disturbance. During various performances or awards shows, a band member or two would show up intoxicated and say something that got everybody riled. Angered by something, usually insignificant, band members routinely announced they were leaving. There was a lot of press but nothing came of it. Rose held up his end by winning Rolling Stone magazine's Worst Male Rock Singer and Worst Dressed awards.
He "contributed" to a riot during a Maryland show that resulted in arrests, property damage and the cancellation of a couple Guns N' Roses shows. There was also the long-standing dispute over Alder's departure from the band in '90 (he was replaced by Matt Sorum, formerly of the Cult). A year later, Adler claimed in court that he had been forced out and cheated out of royalty payments. '91 also saw the arrival of "Use Your Illusion I & II." The two CDs were released simultaneously and held the #1 and #2 album spots in the U.S. No other Rock artist had ever accomplished that. Each moved seven million copies. "November Rain" was the obligatory Rock ballad hit.
Next up was the covers CD "The Spaghetti Incident." Guns N' Roses had done covers before but not to this extent. It was another commercial success. Then Erin Everly went public and accused Rose of abuse. Boy, that was a shocker. As the mid-90's arrived, Guns N' Roses halted with Slash sliding into Slash's Snakepit. That adventure caused Rose to announce that Slash was no longer in the group. So much for that - and Guns N' Roses. Slash showed up in Velvet Revolver with former STP frontman Scott Weiland.
By the mid-90s, GN'R was on the ropes. In addition to Slash and Adler, McKagan bailed. And getting another album recorded was proving extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible. Tracks were laid down, then discarded. Songs were finished only to be shelved. All that appeared was the song "Oh My God" for the "End Of Days" soundtrack in '99. The song, which featured guitarist Dave Navarro (Jane's Addiction/Red Hot Chili Peppers), was to be included on what was now officially titled "Chinese Democracy." Turned out though, "End Of Days" was not particularly well received and the song failed to make the final cut.
The group's label, Geffen, probably tired of waiting for new product, issued "Live Era: 87 - '93" which culled performances from the "Appetite For Destruction" and "Use Your Illusion" tours.
Couldn't blame the label, GN'R's world looked very uncertain. Guitarist Robin Finck left the group to return to Nine Inch Nails. This move opened the door for the infamous Buckethead (Brian Carroll). Aside from being an accomplished guitarist, Buckethead earned his nickname by wearing a KFC bucket, like a crown, on stage. That and Rose's repeated chatter about the forthcoming "Chinese Democracy" though there was nothing to back it up, was turning GN'R into a joke. On the plus side, a year after he departed, Finck returned giving GN'R duel lead guitars (Finck and Buckethead).
But it didn't last. Buckethead, who had established a marginal solo career, left in '04. GN'R's official statement summed up the Buckethead experience:
"During his tenure with the band, Buckethead has been inconsistent and erratic in both his behavior and his commitment, despite being under contract, creating uncertainty and confusion and making it virtually impossible to move forward with recording, rehearsals, and live plans with confidence. His transient lifestyle has made it near impossible for even his closest friends to have nearly any form of communications with him whatsoever."
The whole Buckethead experience along with Rose's erratic behavior made it seem the Second Coming would arrive before "Chinese Democracy."
Thanks in part to the release of "Guns N' Roses Greatest Hits" the group remained a viable concert draw with an expanded line-up. It was now Rose, Finck, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal (guitar), Richard Fortus (guitar), Tommy Stinson (bass), Dizzy Reed (keyboards), Chris Pitman (keyboards) and Frank Ferrer (drums). But even this project had its snarls. Following extensive, if unsuccessful legal maneuvering by the group, they weren't consulted regarding song selection or track sequencing, the compilation landed in '04.
Dr Pepper, the soft drink maker, decided to garner a little publicity at GN'R's expense. They promised that if "Chinese Democracy" were released any time in '08, they would provide a free Dr Pepper to everyone in the U.S. That appeared to be a no risk proposition.
Then a handful of "Chinese Democracy" tracks were leaked online. Amid the controversy (how'd this happen, who was responsible?), an album release date was announced. A few weeks later the title track/lead single was shipped to radio. And after a mere 13-year wait "Chinese Democracy" was finally released. Whew!
"It's a pretty intense musical journey, really," said Reed of "Chinese Democracy." "Everyone that is in the band, or was in the band at some point - 'cause there, you know, there's been a few guys who have come and gone even since the old band - has contributed, and because of that I think it really takes you to some interesting musical places. When you add Axl and guitars, of course, though, it kinda glues it all together."
No GN'R album can ever drop without issues. Not even one that was a long time coming and logged impressive sales ("Chinese Democracy" sold 261,000 copies during its first week of release to debut at #3 on the Billboard 200 chart). The album easily met the group's controversy quota - one involved a U.S. company and the other a foreign government. Impressive - even for GN'R.
Dr Pepper made good on its offer. "We never thought this day would come," said Dr. Pepper VP of Marketing Tony Jacobs. "But now that it's here all we can say is: The Dr Pepper's on us."
Dr Pepper soon discovered that even riding on the group's coattails brought trouble. Many fans experienced difficulties trying to retrieve the free-soda coupon the company promised. The large volume of visitors apparently caused the Dr Pepper site to crash. GN'R's lawyer weighed in issuing a letter making all sorts of demands - ranging from extending the offer period to Dr Pepper making a public apology in several national publications. "It's an appalling failure to make good on a promise," railed Rose. Guns N' Roses was not involved in the promotion.
"Chinese Democracy" reviews were generally favorable (not the group's best album but up there). However, there was one major dissenting voice. China's communist government condemned "Chinese Democracy" saying the album was an attack on the country and added that GN'R was part of a Western conspiracy to "grasp and control the world using democracy as a pawn."
"As far as I know, many people don't like this kind of music," said Chinese Foreign Minister spokesman Qin Gang. "It's too noisy and clamorous." Yeah, isn't that the point? The Chinese were reportedly upset with the album's title track lyrics referencing Falun Gong ("Blame it on the Falun Gong. They've seen the end and you can't hold on now"). Falun Gong is a spiritual practice/movement founded in China that is often at odds with the government.
Shortly after "Chinese Democracy" had run its course, Rose gave his first major interview in nine years to Billboard magazine. The singer said he was open to performing with ex-GN'R members (there are a lot of 'em) at some point but vowed never to play again with Slash. "One of the two of us will die before a reunion . . . however sad, ugly or unfortunate anyone views it," declared Rose.
So will there ever be a GN'R reunion - with the original line-up? Well, in '10 Adler said there was only one person who could make it happen. "It's not up to Slash or Duff or Izzy, who wouldn't do it for the money but for the fans," Alder told BostonHerald.com. "It's all an Axl deal. He's got to be the one to say OK. But I won't pray to God to talk to Axl because if God tried to talk to Axl, he'd make him wait."
It may not have been God but in late '11 it was announced that Guns N' Roses would be inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame the following year. There was almost immediate speculation as to whether the group would perform, as is the custom, during the ceremony. Axl's initial comment regarding the honor was to question the validity of the Hall before conceding he'd show up because the fans expected it.
The interminable Axl/Slash grudge notwithstanding, Rock Hall CEO Joel Peresman claimed "everyone said they're coming" to spectacle in Cleveland. By "everyone" he was referring to Rose, Slash, Stradlin, McKagan and Adler (the line-up that created "Appetite For Destruction"), plus Dizzy Reed and Matt Sorum (who joined in '90).
Slash responded by tweeting, "For the record, I didn't RSVP, or in any way commit to attending the RRHF."
Nothing is easy with these guys.
Meanwhile, with relatively little notice, GN'R wrapped up their "Chinese Democracy" tour at The Joint, in The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino - Las Vegas.
After a short break GN'R rolled out their Up Close And Personal Tour at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City. Moving from arenas and stadiums to clubs offered an experience thought long gone. "If you closed your eyes, you could almost imagine you were seeing Guns N' Roses on the Sunset Strip in 1987," wrote Andy Greene for Rolling Stone magazine. "Then you open your eyes, and see a 50-year-old Axl in a black cowboy hat and sunglasses singing alongside some guy named Bumblefoot and you're brought right back to reality."
As far as the Hall of Fame induction was concerned, Reed was optimistic. "I know that all the original band is going to be there," said Reed. "It's one of those things I'm sure will all come together and be really cool. I'm just going to go in with a good attitude and a clear head and a grateful heart."
Too bad Axl wasn't of a similar mind. Just days before GN'R's induction, Rose announced via Facebook that he had no plans to attend the festivities. "I won't be attending ... and I respectfully decline my induction as a member of Guns N' Roses to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I strongly request that I not be inducted in absentia and please know that no one is authorized, nor may anyone be permitted, to accept my induction or speak on my behalf. Neither former members, label representatives nor the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should imply, whether directly, indirectly, or by omission that I am included in any purported induction of Guns N' Roses."
To no one's surprise, Rose was a no-show when GN'R was honored. Green Day handled the actual induction and frontman Billie Joe Armstrong came close to replacing Rose when GN'R performed. But in the end, it was Slash's vocalist, Miles Kennedy (Alter Bridge), who filled in.
For trivia buffs, the last time original GN'R lineup - consisting of Rose, Slash, McKagan, Stradlin, and Adler - performed together was on April 7th, 1990.
The current GN'R line-up continued to tour, with McKagan occasionally showing up on bass. There were even a couple Vegas residencies (long-term engagements).
Never one to keep a low profile, Rose had a cameo in a '14 Budweiser World Cup commercial. In the spot, famous soccer players performed GN'R's "Paradise City." Rose, who was standing in the audience alongside some models, caught a tossed guitar pick and used it to open his Bud, and then held the can high in a salute to the mock band.
There was more video. "Appetite For Democracy 3D: Live From The Hard Rock Casino - Las Vegas" was screened in 100 US cinemas. It was filmed seven months earlier during the group's first Vegas residency.
Guitarist DJ Ashba announced his departure from Guns N' Roses after six years. In a '15 handwritten letter to fans, Ashba stated that he planned to focus on Sixx: AM (led by Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx). "I want to take a moment to thank Axl (Rose, GN'R frontman) from the bottom of my heart for not only the most incredible experience of my life, but for truly believing in me," wrote Ashba.
Just days later, it was revealed that guitarist Bumblefoot, who joined the group in '06, had left. Some reports stated that he'd actually jumped ship in '14.
Thal then launched the Bumblefoot Rock Project, a music school for kids. "Our mission is to provide a safe, fun environment for youngsters to develop musical abilities," stated Bumblefoot.
Thal's good works were quickly overshadowed by news that Rose and Slash were gearing up for a GN'R reunion.
The reports were true. GN'R's "Appetite For Destruction"-era lineup (Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan) performed for the first time in nearly twenty-six years at the Troubadour in L.A. The debut reunion show was billed as "Not In This Lifetime," quoting what Rose said in '12 about a possible reunion. The show was a warm-up for a major tour.
Before the trek got underway, Rose fronted AC/DC filling in for Brian Johnson who'd suffered severe hearing loss. He earned generally good reviews.
While Rose was out gallivanting with AC/DC, McKagan's documentary It's So Easy And Other Lies: Live At The Moore was screened in the U.S. Directed by Christopher Duddy, McKagan told his life story during a filmed live performance in Seattle.
Well, it finally happened. The "Not In This Lifetime" reunion tour launched in Detroit.
The trek grossed $116.8 million with over one million tickets sold for 25 concerts in 21 stadiums.
The world tour included GN'R's first Australian visit in 24 years. AC/DC's Angus Young joined them onstage for "Whole Lotta Rosie" and "Riff Raff." It was the second time Young played with GN'R - the '16 Coachella festival was the first.
1987 Appetite for Destruction
1988 GN'R Lies
1991 Use Your Illusion I
1991 Use Your Illusion II
1993 The Spaghetti Incident?
2008 Chinese Democracy
Before critics had a chance to assess "Chinese Democracy," Hinder drummer Cody Hanson weighed in stating that the tracks he'd heard were "too artsy" and sounded overproduced. "I guess that's what happens whenever you've got 20 years to sit in the studio." Hanson went to say he missed the band's original line-up. Well, who didn't? "GN'R definitely wasn't just Axl."
"Sweet Child O' Mine," driven by Slash and Stradlin's guitars and Rose's wailing vocals is a Rock classic. "Welcome To The Jungle" is another hard-edged, mean-eyed Rocker. Both tracks are on GN'R's full-length debut "Appetite For Destruction." Their first is also their best.
"Use Your Illusion I & II" are the group's last major efforts.
The covers CD, "The Spaghetti Incident," includes a song written by Charles Manson. Stradlin is gone and the group is finding trouble around every corner. The toll is evident.
"Guns N' Roses Greatest Hits" is just what you'd expect.