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‘Axl never faked it,’ former A&R rep Tom Zutaut once told Classic Rock when discussing the attitude of Axl Rose, the notorious frontman of Guns N’ Roses, the self-proclaimed ‘most dangerous band in the world.’ Rising up the ranks of the Los Angeles rock ‘n’ roll scene during the mid-1980s, at a time when tight leather, spiked hair and lipstick were the requisite for every musician regardless of gender, Guns N’ Roses became the surprise success story of 1987 as their debut album Appetite for Destruction defied all expectations and became a worldwide phenomenon. A regular staple of both MTV and music magazines, their no-holds-barred attitude and ear for melody caused the young fivesome to overshadow the long-awaited return of both Aerosmith and Alice Cooper.
But it was a long road to rock stardom, one that had begun almost half a decade earlier when school friends Saul ‘Slash’ Hudson and Steven Adler formed the short-lived Roadcrew. Meanwhile, another young hopeful by the name of William Rose launched his own act Hollywood Rose, making their first live appearance in North Hollywood in early January 1984. With Slash and Adler finally joining Rose, who had adopted the moniker of Axl, they soon courted both acclaim and controversy throughout the city before their volatile frontman joined forces with a young guitarist called Tracii Guns to form a new group called L.A. Guns.
The band soon evolved into the first incarnation of Guns N’ Roses but before long they had parted ways with Guns and reunited with Slash and Adler. By the following year what would become known as the classic line-up (with the inclusion of Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin) would take the stage and soon attract the attention of Geffen Records. Guns, meanwhile, would relaunch L.A. Guns with former Girl singer Phil Lewis and both acts would become major sensations in and around the Los Angeles area.
In a new interview with Ultimate-Guitar Guns looks back on his brief time with Guns N’ Roses over three decades later. ‘The thing about Axl was – I was becoming friends with him before I ever heard him sing,’ he explained. ‘But I didn’t know until I saw him do a soundcheck. We were all playing together at Madame Wong’s and Axl went up to soundcheck to test his mic…It was constructing music and putting these arrangements and parts together and Axl would sit and watch the band rehearse stuff and write his lyrics and stuff down.’
While history remembers Guns as the original guitarist of Guns N’ Roses his influence on the band would be minimal. ‘I was nineteen when I left and it was a very long time ago. At the time, Axl was kind of going through something because I had never seen him angry. I’d seen him get angry where someone confronts us and we’re about to fight with somebody but between him and I we had a really great best friendship…We were always together and did everything together. It got to the point where we had done these two shows over the weekend: one was at the Waters Club in San Pedro and one was at the Timbers Club in Glendora…They were fine shows but Axl was really separate from the rest of the band. He kinda showed up when he wanted; didn’t say anything; and was mad that at one of the shows a friend of ours wasn’t on the guest list.’Guns claims that it was the behaviour of Axl Rose that caused him to venture out onto his own with L.A. Guns. ‘It didn’t turn me against him or the band but it made it really not fun,’ he admits. ‘It made it like, ‘Man, what a drag. What a bummer.’ The reality of what happened was that I was living with my girlfriend in Covina and we rehearsed in Hollywood. We were supposed to rehearse Thursdays so after that last gig at the Waters Club everybody said, ‘I’ll see you Thursday’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, OK”…We were going for a year before that went down. Also I would have never known of Phil if it wasn’t for Izzy. When we were living together, Izzy turned me onto Girl and that’s where Phil came from. So the reality of the two singers in my life were given to me from Izzy.’