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Artist: Guns N' Roses

Guns N' Roses

Bio

Guns N' Roses is an American hard rock band founded in Los Angeles, California in 1985. The band has released six studio albums: Appetite For Destruction in 1987, G N' R Lies in 1988, Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II in 1991, "The Spaghetti Incident?" in 1993 and, after 15 years and with frontman Axl Rose and keyboardist Dizzy Reed being being the only members left from the previous lineup, Chinese Democracy in 2008. They also released three EP's in 1986, 1988, and 1993 and two live albums, in 1999 and 2014. The group was formed in early 1985 by Hollywood Rose members Axl Rose (vocals) and Izzy Stradlin (rhythm guitar) and L.A. Guns members Tracii Guns (lead guitar), Ole Beich (bass) and Rob Gardner (drums). The band created its name by combining two of the members' names. A short time later, Beich was fired and replaced by Duff McKagan, and Guns was replaced by Slash after not showing up to rehearsal. Slash had played with McKagan in Road Crew and with Stradlin during a short stint in Hollywood Rose. On their first tour (from Sacramento, California to Duff's home town of Seattle), Gardner quit and was replaced by Slash's friend, Steven Adler. Stemming from the LA rock underground, the ugly lyrics matched the sleaze of the music--driven by heavy blues licks--covering misogyny, violence, city life, sex, liquor, and hard drugs. They also, however, had a tendency to show sensitivity and a desire to break free from the city. Subsequent albums revealed influence from bands in the vein of The Rolling Stones and Queen. Their 1987 breakthrough, Appetite for Destruction, (18-times platinum and the highest-selling debut album of all-time), coupled with the success of the hit single "Sweet Child O' Mine" in 1988, took the world by storm. "Appetite" was full of raunchy hard rock with blistering, anthemic guitar riffs and snarling vocals. The followup EP, "G N' R Lies", contained four songs from their debut EP, three new acoustic songs, and an acoustic version of "You're Crazy". The album sold well and got into the top 10 alongside Appetite. By the end of the 1980s, they were one of the most popular bands in the world. Steven Adler (original drummer) was kicked out of the band due to his drug abuse and replaced by Matt Sorum. Following the release of G N' R Lies, Use You
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Izzy Stradlin bol.com, Mar 2001

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SHAKING THE notoriety gained following six years on the road with Guns N' Roses was never going to be the easiest of tasks. But Izzy Stradlin, who formed the legendary L.A. miscreant combo way back in 1985 with his high school buddy W. Axl Rose, is doing his level best to finally put the seemingly unshakeable ex-Gunners’ mantle behind him.

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Izzy originally left the band in September 1991, and aside from deputising with his old sparring partners in ’93, has steadily set about building a solo career - initially with Izzy Stradlin & the Ju Ju Hounds and latterly in his own right – but, to many, he’ll always be known as ‘Izzy Stradlin, formerly of Guns N' Roses’.

With his latest studio collection River ready to reintroduce the world to Izzy’s decidedly Stones-esque rock ‘n’ roll muse, the 39-year old former Jeffrey Isbell is comfortably ensconced in a Knightsbridge hotel suite and good-naturedly deconstructing his singularly lurid past.

*

JEFF ISBELL was brought up in the heavily industrialised Indiana city of Lafayette, where "Rock ‘n’ roll was the only ticket out" and was introduced to music at an early age by his grandmother, who played drums in her very own dance band. "She was a big inspiration to me," remembers Izzy. "Plus she had a drum-kit."

More for convenience than anything else, Izzy decided to take up the drums and set about forming his very own grade school garage band. After years of thrashing around tunelessly and changing the words to Three Dog Night songs, Izzy finally decided to take things a little more seriously and recruited one Bill Bailey as the band’s vocalist. So what was it about the fledgling Axl Rose that appealed?

"Fucked if I know," laughs Stradlin with a shake of the head. "I keep asking myself that. I remember the first day of school I heard this fucking commotion out in the hallway, books flying everywhere and this guy ran past the door with teachers chasing him. I found out later that was Bill, Axl. I ended up with him in driver’s education class – he’s a fucking horrible driver – but that’s how I remember meeting him. So I figured this guy would probably be a good singer, he doesn’t care, he’s obviously a fucking nut, so he seemed like the perfect singer. We tried some different line-ups back in Indiana, but of course there was nowhere to play."

Frustrated with Indiana stasis, Jeff decamped to Los Angeles, where he almost immediately joined a band. Unfortunately, it was a band called the Naughty Women.

"What a bunch of fucking wankers they were," Izzy cackles. "I had no idea these guys came out in drag at the first gig. They didn’t tell me that bit; when I met them and we were rehearsing in Orange County they were all wearing street clothes. Then at the first gig they all came out in pink spandex, fucking Afros and make-up. I was like, ‘Holy shit, what’s this?’ The crowd threw bottles at us and beat the hell out of the singer. So that was my initiation into Los Angeles rock."

Soon after, Izzy switched from drums to guitar – "it was the lightest, cheapest and easiest to get hold of" – and hooked up once more with Axl to form Guns N' Roses. Pretty soon the pair had also secured the single most rock ‘n’ roll job in history: they became professional cigarette smokers for UCLA.

"One day I’m going through the paper and there’s an ad that says ‘Smokers needed, $10 an hour’, so I said, ‘Fuck, this seems like easy work. That’s all we do anyway’. And so we called this place and they said, ‘Yeah, come on down’. Of course, Axl couldn’t even do that, he quit."

*

STRADLIN STILL looks back on the Guns ‘N Roses years with some affection, even though they’re something of a blur.

"It was madness, really, it wasn’t so much work as a fucking great adventure and we were getting paid. Nobody knew if we were ever going to make a fucking dime, but it just kind of exploded. In the book Me, Alice by Alice Cooper there’s a chapter where he says, ‘No matter what you do in your life there’s nothing that can prepare you for the huge success that can happen when you have a record that goes number one’.

"I read that in 1980, and I was living in my car at the time, but I remember thinking, ‘Okay, I’ll keep that in mind if it ever happens’. Then nine years went by and I caught myself sitting in this apartment one day with a 9mm pistol on my desk, a pile of coke, smoking heroin, and I was like, ‘This is fucked up, I’m definitely not prepared for this’."

Izzy was truly living the high life, even being arrested for urinating in the cabin of a US Air flight. "Since I quit drinking," muses Stradlin, "I haven’t been in jail once. I think there may be a connection."

So was his decision to quit the Gunners symptomatic of the fact that he’d quit drugs and drinking?

"I quit the year before I left, and I worked with that band for a whole year and watched everybody killing themselves. They were my friends, and I watched my friends killing themselves using drugs and alcohol. The music had taken a back seat and it had just become a circus show. It wasn’t any fun for me at all, so I decided it was time to do something else. I didn’t know what I was gonna do, but I knew I was tired of doing that."

Was there a single defining moment that finally convinced you to clean up?

"Yeah. Phoenix County Jail was a good inspiration."

*

AFTER LEAVING the Gunners, Izzy returned to the relative calm of Lafayette, but after eighteen months of chilling with old school friends re-emerged with the Ju Ju Hounds. There have been occasional calls to reform the original Guns N' Roses line-up over the course of the intervening years, but nothing truly solid. So how does Izzy feel about Axl’s much-touted "new" Guns N' Roses?

"I’ll believe it when I see it," he shrugs, "but I’d go and see him if I was around."

Do you think you’ll go to your grave being referred to as ‘Izzy Stradlin out of Guns N' Roses’?

"Either that or ‘That asshole from Indiana’... and it doesn’t bother me a bit. In Indiana all my friends know me as Jeff, the guy who took off after school and made a bunch of money before coming home to fuck it away on bikes, toys and the same stupid shit that they’d have done if they’d had the money. 99.9% of the time I don’t even get recognised, it’s like, ‘No really, I am him’... ‘Get to the back’."

And finally, is Izzy’s ultimate intention to grow old gracefully or disgracefully?

"Just to grow old would be fine by me."

Guns N’ Roses: Danger Lurks Beyond The Doors The Observer, Aug 1991

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No other rock band today provokes such polarised opinions as Guns N' Roses. For some, they are 'the most dangerous band in the world', heirs to the delinquent lineage of the Rolling Stones and the Sex Pistols.

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But for those who believe rock advances by rebelling against the old forms of rebellion as much as against society, Guns N' Roses represent a reactionary return to the bad-boy tantrums that rock 'n' roll should have grown out of by now. Their admirers argue that Guns N' Roses' uncouth spontaneity and untamed egotism have rejuvenated a rock scene dominated (since Live Aid) by altruism and responsibility. Their critics retort that rock may be middle-aged, but that doesn't make Guns N' Roses' puerility anything but trite.

What can't be denied is the band's power: their 1987 debut album Appetite For Destruction has sold more than 16 million copies worldwide. 1991's most anticipated release has been their follow-up to Appetite, two simultaneously released albums entitled Use Your Illusion I and II, each containing over 70 minutes of music. The long awaited sequel has been subject to delays, and even now, its scheduled mid-September release date is hypothetical. In five years as a recording band, Guns N' Roses have released a meagre 21 minutes of music per year. This suggests that the group's thrall over their fans' imagination has more to do with their lifestyle and aura than their music. What sold Appetite is Guns N' Roses infamous trail of abusive and self-abusing behaviour: suicidal liquor intake, drug excesses followed by sojourns in rehab clinics, onstage bust-ups among the band, altercations with the police. Some incidents recall the Sex Pistols (guitarist Slash Hudson's televised expletives while accepting a Grammy award), others the Stones (rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin' urinating in an ashtray on an aeroplane).

The aura of chaos and simmering violence that hangs around Guns N' Roses seems intrinsic to their allure. In 1988, when they played low on the bill at Castle Donington, the British heavy metal festival, two fans died in the crush at the front of the stage. During the St Louis date of their current world tour, singer Axl Rose leapt into the crowd to attack a biker who was taking photographs without permission, starting a riot that caused an estimated $200,000 worth of damage. Rose has subsequently been charged with assault and property damage.

Guns N' Roses' volatility seems rooted in Axl Rose's unruly personality. According to some sources, he's a manic depressive who has been prescribed lithium but is too undisciplined to take it regularly. Like the band's music, Rose can shift from angelic tenderness ('Sweet Child O' Mine') to venomous belligerence and paranoia ('Welcome To The Jungle', 'Out Ta Get Me'). In his Guns N' Roses biography Appetite For Destruction (Century), Danny Sugarman portrays Axl as the inheritor of the Dionysiac spirit of Jim Morrison: a shaman who lives out the audience's impossible dreams, seeking enlightenment through oblivion and risking death by living on the edge. The comparison isn't totally preposterous, inasmuch as Rose has admitted that Sugarman's hagiography of Morrison, No One Here Gets Out Alive had a profound impression on him.

"I see Guns N' Roses and their audience's use of drugs as similar to the way Romantic poets extolled self-indulgence and derangement of the senses during the Industrial Revolution," says Sugarman, himself a former drug abuser. "It's a case of people looking for salvation and refuge from a time of chaos. But visiting Jim Morrison's grave in Paris was a turning point in Axl's life; he decided he didn't want to pursue the life-on-the-edge myth to the point of death. Since then he's begun the process of healing, by cutting down on his chemical intake and going into therapy."

Unlike The Doors, however, Guns N' Roses' drug use is divorced from Sixties mystical ideas about "opening the doors of perception". It seems more to do with blotting out an unbearable reality, searching for anaesthetic and amnesiac release (as in the title of the new album's drug-inspired epic, 'Coma'). If you're looking for a sense of the visionary, you have to turn to another Los Angeles band, Jane's Addiction, as mired in decadence and derangement as Guns N' Roses, but musically far more adventurous.

But then the secret of Guns N' Roses' populist appeal is precisely that their raunchy hard rock lacks originality. Their success is interesting if only for the fact that a band influenced by the Sex Pistols can sell a huge number of records in the era of dance-pop and club culture. (After Use Your Illusion, Guns plan to release an eight-track mini-LP of cover versions of English punk songs). The punk connection may be one of the reasons Guns N' Roses have caught the imagination of disaffected American youth. Far more than most metal groups, Guns N' Roses articulate something of the frustration and alienation of the teenagers in small towns across America; the boredom and claustrophobia; the desperate search for kicks. Axl Rose is a hero to these kids because he knows all about being hassled by the police and rednecks for 'looking like a faggot', but also because he escaped to L.A. and re-invented himself as a star. Songs like 'Welcome To The Jungle' are apolitical, but at least introduce some apocalyptic reality into the fantasy worlds of MTV.

In other respects, however, Guns N' Roses are alarmingly reactionary. 'One In A Million', a track off the group's stopgap mini-LP Lies, caused a furore with its use of homophobic and racist language. There's also a nasty streak of misogyny running through Guns N' Roses material. The original cover for Appetite For Destruction showed a woman just raped by a robot. Slash anticipates that much of the material on Use Your Illusion will enrage feminists, but has offered the typical disclaimer that songs like 'Back Off Bitch' and 'Pretty Tied Up' merely report "what happened". Like many rebel rockers, Axl Rose oscillates between idealising women and denigrating them. He wrote the poignant 'Sweet Child O' Mine' as an ode to his then wife, Erin; after one of the many rows that led to their break-up, he spray-painted a gravestone on the couple's garage: "Erin Rose: RIP Sweet Child O' Die. Slut. You Were One Of Many, nothing special."

Angry but apolitical, anti-authoritarian but illiberal, Guns N' Roses weirdly mix late Sixties excess and punk nihilism. When their world tour reaches Wembley Stadium on Saturday, you can expect spontaneous combustion. "There's a sense of risk and transcendence about Guns live," says Danny Sugarman. "There's a real sense of spontaneity, a potential for chaos. They don't take the steps most bands take to ensure that it's a solid evening's entertainment, like having a set list. They can be sublime or they can be a disaster."

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Top Albums

Appetite for Destruction cover art

Appetite for Destruction

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Use Your Illusion I cover art

Use Your Illusion I

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Use Your Illusion II cover art

Use Your Illusion II

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Greatest Hits cover art

Greatest Hits

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Chinese Democracy cover art

Chinese Democracy

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Top Songs

Sweet Child o' Mine cover art

Sweet Child o' Mine

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Welcome to the Jungle cover art

Welcome to the Jungle

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Paradise City

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November Rain cover art

November Rain

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Knockin' on Heaven's Door cover art

Knockin' on Heaven's Door

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Patience cover art

Patience

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Live and Let Die

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