Guns N’ Roses

Think of stadium rock in the 1980s and one band instantly springs to mind: Guns N’ Roses. Spurred by an egotistical frontman - and three indisputably excellent albums - the band rocketed to stardom and a life of sex, drugs and rock and roll. As with so many bright stars, the Gunners burnt out almost as quickly, enjoying only five years at the top. Their hedonistic lifestyle defined them, but, ultimately proved to be their undoing.

A product of the Los Angeles rock scene, Guns N’ Roses was born in 1985 as the amalgam of two existing bands: Hollywood Rose and L.A. Guns. Hollywood Rose singer Axl Rose and rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin teamed up with L.A. Guns guitarist Tracii Guns, bassist Loe Beich and drummer Rob Gardner. A flyer advertising their first show at The Troubadour nightclub, on 26 March 1985, displayed the new name after reportedly rejecting the names Heads of Amazon and AIDS. The band played several shows around California with fluctuating line-ups. Beich was replaced on bass by Duff McKagan and after Guns and Gardner failed to show for several concerts, guitarist Slash and drummer Steven Adler replaced them.

On 6 June 1985, Guns N’ Roses played the Troubadour with the line-up that would take them to stardom: Axl, Slash, Izzy, Duff and Steve. Two days later, the band played in Seattle, hitch-hiking to the gig after their van broke down, getting paid just $50 and being seen by only 13 people.

The band lived together on Sunset Boulevard, broke and surviving on cheap wine and biscuits, in what they referred to as The Hell House. They kept writing songs and performing, supplementing their sets with covers by Aerosmith, Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones. By late 1985, the band had written 14 original songs, including early versions of the soon-to-be hits 'Welcome to the Jungle', 'It’s So Easy' and 'Don’t Cry'.

On 10 October 1985, 'Paradise City' was performed for the first time at the Troubadour. The band found their natural image straight away - hard-drinking, drug-taking, frenetic rock and rollers - as demonstrated by the message on the flyer to their first show of 1986 - "Get Yourself Together, Drink Till You Drop, Forget About Tomorrow, Have Another Shot. Happy New Year! From the boys who brought you the most chaotic shows of 1985."

The band’s energy was starting to pay off and they were getting noticed by record label talent scouts. A scout for Geffen Records, Tom Zutaut, saw the Gunners at the Troubadour and told other agents the band was awful so he would have more time to pursue them uncontested. Axl told a female talent scout from Chrysalis records the band would sign with them if she walked naked down Sunset Boulevard but when she failed to show, the band signed with Geffen in March 1986, receiving a $75,000 advance.

Guns N’ Roses continued playing around Los Angeles at bigger and bigger venues including the Roxy Theatre and Whisky a Go Go. In August of that year, the band got serious and recruited manager Alan Niven. Slash kicked the drugs and the band started recording their first album.

Geffen knew a smaller album was needed to whet public appetite and sustain interest while the band worked on the main album. A purpose-created Geffen label called Uzi Suicide Records released a four-track EP called 'Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide' on 16 December. The EP contained a cover of the Aerosmith’s 'Mama Kin', a cover of Rose Tattoo’s 'Nice Boys' and two tracks from Hollywood Rose – 'Move To The City' and 'Reckless Life'.

The Gunners started 1987 slowly playing only two shows in Hollywood. In June, two singles - 'It’s So Easy' and 'Mr Brownstone' – were released and the guys made their debut in Europe playing three shows at London’s Marquee. By all reports, the first show was a disaster, with the drunk British crowd pelting the band with debris until Axl threatened to leave the stage.

On 21 July 1987, Guns N’ Roses released their first album: 'Appetite For Destruction'. The album sold slowly until label owner David Geffen personally persuaded MTV to put 'Welcome to the Jungle' on late-night rotation. The album’s controversial cover - a depiction of a woman who has been raped by a robot that in turn is being set upon by a multi-fanged flying monster - drew complaints and withdrawals from some record stores. The cover was changed to a cross with the band members’ faces as skeletons at its points and Axl in the centre.

The band followed a relentless touring schedule for the rest of 1987, playing with The Cult and opening for Motley Crue and Alice Cooper and touring briefly in the UK again. Album sales exploded in 1988 with 'Appetite for Destruction' hitting number one in August. The Gunners released another album of acoustic songs and older material, 'G N’ R Lies', which reached number two but caused controversy with some of its racist lyrics.

The band was famous and rich but plagued by problems with heroin which Axl spoke publicly about. In 1990, the band fired Steven Adler, whose drug addiction was preventing him from recording their new album. He was replaced by Matt Sorum. In September 1991, the band released two albums on the same day: 'Use Your Illusion 1' and '2' which entered the charts at numbers one and two. The Use Your Illusion tour lasted 28 months and was mired in controversy. At one concert, Axl attacked a fan who was recording the show with a video camera, and then cancelled the show which caused a riot. Izzy Stradlin, now sober and drug-free, left the band in 1991 due to differences with Axl. A 1992 show in Montreal also ended in a riot after the band cut their set short. In 1992, the band won an MTV music award for their hit ballad 'November Rain'. The tour ended in Buenos Aires in July 1993.

Later that year, the band released the album 'The Spaghetti Incident?' but it did not sell well. Cracks appeared in the band and no new material was released for five years. Slash, Sorum and McKagan left the band in 1996 and later teamed up with Stone Temple Pilots members to form Velvet Revolver. Axl was the only remaining member of Guns N’ Roses left and, with a band of new recruits, he began work on a new album in 1998. The album, 'Chinese Democracy', has still not appeared despite the band touring sporadically in support of it for the last nine years and making several promises that its release was imminent. Several of the songs on the new album have leaked on to the internet but have met with mixed reviews. Geffen released a best-of album in 2004, though Axl tried to stop its release with a law suit. The composition of Guns N’ Roses seems to fluctuate with Axl’s mood swings but its current members are Axl, Dizzy Reed, Robin Finck, Chris Pitman, Richard Fortus, Tommy Stinson, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal and Frank Ferrer.
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