Early days (1985–1987)
Guns N' Roses was
formed in Los Angeles, California in March 1985 by Hollywood Rose
vocalist Axl Rose (born
William Bruce Rose, Jr. on February 6, 1962 in Lafayette, Indiana)
and L.A. Guns guitarist Tracii Guns (born
Tracy Ulrich on January 20, 1966).
Rose recruited friend and Hollywood Rose's rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin
Jeffrey Dean Isbell
on April 8, 1962 in
to join the band, and Guns recruited former L.A. Guns members Ole Beich
(born in 1955 in
Esbjerg, Denmark and died in 1991)
and Rob Gardner for bass guitar and drums respectively. Soon after
the formation, Beich was replaced by Duff McKagan (born
Michael Andrew McKagan on February 5, 1964 in Seattle, Washington),
and guitarist Slash (born
Saul Hudson on July 23, 1965 in England)
and drummer Steven Adler (born
on January 22, 1965 in Cleveland, Ohio)
filled in for Guns and Gardner, after they failed to show up at a concert
the band was to perform. In early 1986 Slash and Adler became full time
members of the band after Guns and Gardner were fired for not appearing at
several of the band's performances. The name Guns N' Roses was derived from
a combination of the two bands from which Guns N' Roses was formed.
After witnessing a
Guns N' Roses show at the Troubadour, Tom Zutaut, a Geffen Records
A&R executive, falsely warned other scouts "they suck" so he could have more
time and leeway to sign them. Axl Rose demanded, and received, a $75,000
advance from Zutaut before revealing that he had promised an A&R executive
from Chrysalis that the band would sign with her if she walked naked down
Sunset Boulevard. For three days, Zutaut nervously watched from his office
window for a naked A&R executive before he could close the deal. Alan
Niven was subsequently hired as the band's manager, and the team set out
to record the band's full-length debut album.
Before the first full
album was ready Geffen decided to release an EP to keep the interest in the
band that had to disappear from the clubs scene to work on the album. For
this purpose an "independent label" Uzi Suicide Records was created by
Geffen and on December 16 1986, a four song EP entitled Live ?!*@ Like a
Suicide was released.
Designed to gauge
public opinion of the band outside of Los Angeles, the record contained
covers of Rose Tattoo's "Nice Boys" and Aerosmith's "Mama
Kin", along with two original compositions: the punk anthem "Reckless Life"
and the classic rock inspired "Move to the City", both of which were
co-written by Hollywood Rose's founding member Chris Weber. Despite
having the look and sound of a live album, band members have admitted that
the tracks were actually studio recordings with a live audience overdubbed.
Only 10,000 vinyl
copies of the album were produced, and even though the tracks were re-issued
verbatim two years later as part of the GN'R Lies EP, the original
Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide has been a valuable and sought after
collector's item among fans since the late 1980s.
Rise to fame (1987–1989)
The band's first
album, Appetite for Destruction was released on July 21, 1987. In the
US, "Welcome to the Jungle" was issued as its first single with an
accompanying music video. Initially, the album and single did not perform
well, but when Geffen Records founder David Geffen was asked to lend
support to the band, he obliged by personally convincing MTV executives to
play "Welcome to the Jungle" during their after hours rotation. Even though
the video was initially only played one time at 4 a.m. on a Sunday, rock and
punk fans took notice and soon began requesting the video and song in
"Sweet Child O' Mine"
was the album's second US single co-written by Axl Rose as a poem for his
girlfriend and future wife, Erin Everly. Due to the growing
grassroots success of the band and the cross-gender appeal of the tune, the
song and its accompanying music video received heavy airplay on both radio
and MTV, and became a smash hit during the summer of 1988. "Welcome to the
Jungle" was then re-issued as a single, with new pressings of records and
tapes and new artwork. The UK re-release was backed with an acoustic version
of "You're Crazy", recorded much earlier than the one featured on the G
N' R Lies EP.
By the time "Paradise
City" and its video reached the airwaves, the band's touring success and
fame had catapulted the album to #1 on the Billboard charts. "Welcome to the
Jungle", "Sweet Child O' Mine" and "Paradise City" were all top ten singles
in the U.S. To date, Appetite for Destruction has sold over 27
Guns N' Roses began
opening shows for major acts, but as their fame began to take hold, a world
tour in support of Appetite for Destruction was scheduled. The band
traveled across the United States, and in spring 1988 were invited to the
notorious Monsters of Rock Festival at Castle Donington in Leicestershire,
England, where they shared the bill with groups like
KISS and Iron Maiden. At the start
of the Guns N' Roses set, the capacity crowd of over 100,000 began jumping
and surging forward. Despite Rose's requests that the crowd move away from
the stage, two fans were trampled to death. The media largely blamed the
band for the tragedy, and reported that the band had continued playing even
when there were dangerous crowd conditions. In fact, the final report on the
Donington incident filed by the head of security at the venue noted that the
band had not been aware of the extent of fan injuries, had immediately
halted their set when requested to do so, and had attempted to calm the
crowd. Nonetheless, events such as these during the Appetite for
Destruction tour earned the group the title of "the world's most
The band's next
release was G N' R Lies in 1988, which reached #2 in the Billboard
music charts and sold 12 million copies. The album included the four Live
?!*@ Like a Suicide recordings on one side and four acoustic songs on
the other. The song "One in a Million", which included the words "niggers"
and "faggots" among other such profanities, led to controversy in which
critics accused the band, and specifically Axl Rose, of racism and
homophobia. Rose responded by saying the claims were unfounded, particularly
considering Slash himself is half black. He stated that by the term "nigger"
he was referring to low-lifes in general and did not mean to offend anyone
from a specific country or of a specific racial heritage. He went on to
explain that the song reflected racial and prejudicial problems within
society, rather than promoting them. Rose also cited that he idolized gay
singers like Freddie Mercury and Elton John. The band had
played gigs alongside the all-black group Body Count, and lead singer
Ice-T said in his book The Ice Opinion that Axl had been "a
victim of the press the same way I am".
After the release of
G N' R Lies, Slash and McKagan appeared on the nationally televised
American Music Awards, visibly intoxicated and using profanities. The
members finally took steps to deal with their addictions after Rose
threatened to end the band if they continued with their heavy drug abuse. He
even spoke publicly about the situation, specifically the heroin addictions,
while opening for The Rolling Stones
at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1990.
Fame and fortune (1990–1993)
In 1990, Guns N'
Roses returned to the studio to begin recording their most ambitious
undertaking yet. During the recording session of "Civil War", drummer Steven
Adler was unable to perform well due to his struggles with cocaine and
heroin addiction. While the band had played "Civil War" with Adler live once
with no problems, his difficulties in the studio caused the band to do
nearly 30 takes. As a result, Adler was fired in July 1990, and was replaced
by former Cult drummer Matt Sorum (born
Matthew William Sorum on November 19, 1960 in Mission Viejo,
few months prior, keyboardist Dizzy Reed (born
Darren Arthur Reed on June 18, 1963 in Hinsdale, Illinois)
became the sixth member of the group when he joined as a full time member.
The band fired their manager, Alan Niven, in May 1991, replacing him with
With enough music for
two albums, the band released Use Your Illusion I and Use Your
Illusion II on September 17, 1991. The tactic paid off when the albums
debuted at #2 and #1 respectively in the Billboard charts, setting a record
as they became the first and only group to date to achieve this feat. The
albums spent 108 weeks in the chart and sold 35 million copies.
Both prior to and
after the release of the albums, Guns N' Roses embarked on the 28-month-long
Use Your Illusion World Tour to support them. It became famous for
both its financial success and the many controversial incidents that
occurred at the shows.
The Use Your
Illusion World Tour included a Slash guitar solo incorporating The
Godfather theme, a piano driven Axl Rose cover of "It's Alright" by
Black Sabbath and an extended
jam on the classic rock inspired "Move to the City" where Rose showcased the
ensemble of musicians assembled for the tour.
Many of the
successful performances during the tour were equally matched, and often
overshadowed in the press, by riots, late starts and outspoken rants by
Rose. While the band's previous drug and alcohol issues were seemingly under
control, Axl was often agitated by lax security, sound problems and unwanted
filming or recording of the performances. He also used the time in between
songs to fire off political statements or retorts against music critics or
On July 2, 1991, at
the Riverport Amphitheater in Maryland Heights, Missouri, just outside of
St. Louis during a performance of "Rocket Queen", Rose jumped into the
audience and tackled a fan who was recording the show with a video camera.
After being pulled out of the audience by members of the crew, Rose said:
"Well, thanks to the lame-ass security, I'm going home!", slammed his
microphone on the ground and left the stage. The sound the microphone made
caused some fans to think he shot someone, so Slash quickly told the
audience, "He just slammed his mic on the floor. We're outta here." The
angry crowd began to riot and dozens of people were injured. The footage was
captured by Robert John, who was documenting the entire tour for the
band. Rose was charged with having incited the riot, but police were unable
to arrest him until almost a year later, as the band went overseas to
continue the tour. Charges were filed against Rose but a judge ruled that he
did not directly incite the riot. In his defense, Rose stated that the Guns
N' Roses security team had made four separate requests to the venue's
security staff to remove the camera, all of which were ignored, that other
members of the band had reported being hit by bottles from the audience and
that the venue's security had been lax, allowing weapons into the arena and
refusing to enforce a drinking limit. Consequently, Use Your Illusion's
artwork featured a hidden message amidst the Thank You section of the
album insert: "Fuck You, St. Louis!"
During this time,
rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin quit the band due to a combination of being
upset with Rose's management of the band and differences between Slash,
Sorum, and McKagan due to his newfound sobriety. He was replaced by Los
Angeles based guitarist Gilby Clarke (born
on August 17, 1962 in Cleveland, Ohio).
During many shows throughout the tour, Rose introduced Clarke and had him
play "Wild Horses", a Rolling Stones
cover. In late 1991, Rose added a touring ensemble to the band which
included a horns section and several background vocalists.
In 1992, the band
appeared at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, performing a two
song set. Slash later performed "Tie Your Mother Down" with the remaining
members of Queen, while Axl Rose
performed "We Will Rock You" and duetted with Elton John on "Bohemian
Rhapsody". When they returned to the U.S. for the second leg of the Use
Your Illusion Tour, Queen guitarist Brian May opened the shows
with a band that included Cozy Powell on drums.
Later in the year
they went on the mini-GNR-Metallica Stadium Tour with American heavy
metal band Metallica. During a
show in August 1992 at Montreal's Olympic Stadium, Metallica frontman
James Hetfield suffered severe burns after stepping too close to a
pyrotechnics blast. Metallica was forced to cancel the second hour of the
show, but promised to return to the city for another show. After a long
delay, during which the audience became increasingly restless, Guns N' Roses
took the stage. However, the shortened time between sets did not allow for
adequate tuning of stage monitors, resulting in musicians not being able to
hear themselves. In addition, Rose claimed that his throat hurt, causing the
band to leave the stage early. The cancellation led to another riot by
audience members, reminiscent of the rioting that had occurred in St. Louis
one year earlier. Rioters overturned cars, smashed windows, looted local
stores and set fires. Local authorities were barely able to bring the mob
under control. This can be seen on video in
A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica.
The Use Your
Illusion Tour is also notable for the many videos the band released to
support it, including "Don't Cry", "November Rain" and "Estranged" - some of
the most expensive music videos ever made. The hit ballad "November Rain"
became the most requested video on MTV, eventually winning the 1992 MTV
Video Music Award for best cinematography. During the awards show, the band
performed the song with Elton John accompanying on piano.
The historic tour
ended in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on July 17, 1993. The tour set attendance
records and lasted for 28 months, in which more than 200 shows were played.
The show in Buenos Aires marked the last time original members Slash and
McKagan as well as newcomers Clarke and Sorum would play a live show with
On November 23, 1993,
Guns N' Roses released a collection of punk and glam rock covers entitled
"The Spaghetti Incident?". Despite protests from Rose's bandmates, an
unadvertised cover of the Charles Manson song "Look at Your Game
Girl" was included on the album at his request. Years later, Rose said he
would remove the song from new pressings of the album, claiming that critics
and the media had misinterpreted his interest in Manson. However, as of
2008, the song is still on the album. The Spaghetti Incident? did not
match the success of the Illusion albums (it sold 5 million copies)
and tension increased within the band.
Axl Rose began work
on a new album of original material in 1994, but none of the material has
ever been released. Gilby Clarke left the band, and was replaced with
Paul Tobias. That same year, the band recorded a cover version of The
Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" for the movie Interview with
the Vampire. Slash was infuriated when he heard the song's final mix and
discovered that Tobias' guitar had been mixed louder than his. This would be
the last recording by the original version of the band, and five years would
go by before any new material came out under the Guns N' Roses name.
Slash then drifted in
and out of the band for the next couple of years, beginning a side project
called Slash's Snakepit. In August 1996, the band returned to the
studio, even though McKagan and Sorum were simultaneously touring with their
side project Neurotic Outsiders. Eventually, only Slash and Rose were
left alone to continue working. During this period, Slash commented in an
interview, "My relationship with Axl right now is sort of at a stand still."
In 1996 and 1997
Slash, Sorum and McKagan all left the band for good, leaving Rose as the
only remaining charter member of the band. Slash, McKagan and Sorum later
formed rock supergroup Velvet Revolver with former Stone Temple
Pilots frontman Scott Weiland and guitarist Dave Kushner.
1998, Axl put a new version of the band together and returned to the studio.
This version of the band has been touring and recording sporadically ever
since. The new band's membership has changed frequently, but its core
members have included guitarist Robin Finck, effects man Chris
Pitman, and bassist Tommy Stinson (formerly of The
Replacements)— as well as Paul Tobias, drummer Josh Freese and
longtime Guns N' Roses keyboardist Dizzy Reed.
The New Guns N' Roses (1999–present)
In 1999, the band
released one new song, "Oh My God", which was included on the soundtrack of
the film End of Days. The track featured additional guitar work by
Dave Navarro and Gary Sunshine, Rose's personal guitar teacher.
The song's release was intended to be a prelude to their new album, now
officially entitled Chinese Democracy. Geffen also released Live
a collection of live performances from various concerts during the
Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion tours. The album
sold 2 million copies. Also in 1999, during an interview with Kurt Loder for
MTV, Axl said that he had re-recorded Appetite for Destruction with
the then-new band, apart from two songs which he had replaced with
"Patience" and "You Could Be Mine".
In 1999, guitarist
Robin Finck departed the band in order to rejoin his former band, Nine
Inch Nails, on tour. In 2000, avant-garde guitarist Buckethead
joined Guns N' Roses as a replacement for Finck. Josh Freese was replaced
with Bryan Mantia (formerly of Primus). Robin Finck returned
to Guns N' Roses in late 2000, to complement Buckethead on lead guitar.
The revised lineup
finally made a public appearance in January 2001, with two well-received
concerts, one in Las Vegas and one at the Rock in Rio Festival in Rio de
Janeiro. The band played a mixture of old hits as well as new songs from
their forthcoming album.
The new lineup played
a further two shows in Las Vegas at the end of 2001. In 2002, rhythm
guitarist Paul Tobias left the band because of his frustrations with life on
the road. He was replaced by Richard Fortus (formerly of The
Psychedelic Furs and Love Spit Love). The band then played
several shows in August 2002, headlining festivals and concerts throughout
Asia and Europe. They made their way to New York for a surprise appearance
at the MTV Video Music Awards in September.
In 2002, the band's
first North American tour since 1993 was organized to support Chinese
Democracy. However, the opening show in Vancouver was cancelled by the
venue when Rose failed to turn up (having remained in Los Angeles), and a
riot ensued. This tour was met with mixed results. Some concerts did not
sell well, while shows in larger markets such as New York sold out in
minutes. Due to a second riot by fans in Philadelphia, tour promoter Clear
Channel cancelled the remainder of the tour.
The band went on
hiatus until they were scheduled to play at Rock in Rio IV in May 2004.
However, Buckethead left the band in March of that year, causing the band to
cancel. Also in March 2004, Geffen released Guns N' Roses' Greatest Hits,
since Rose had failed to deliver a new studio album in more than ten years.
Rose expressed his displeasure with this album as its track listing was
established without his consent and went as far as trying to block its
release by suing Geffen. This failed, however, and the album went triple
platinum in the USA selling 7 million copies worldwide.
In February 2006,
demos of the songs "Better", "Catcher in the Rye", "I.R.S.", and "There Was
a Time" were leaked on the internet through a Guns N' Roses fan site. The
band's management requested that all links to the MP3 files and all lyrics
to the songs be removed from forums and websites. Despite this, radio
stations began adding "I.R.S." to playlists, and the song actually reached
#49 on the Radio & Records Active Rock National Airplay chart in the final
week of February - the first time an internet leak has done so.
On May 5, 2006, Axl
Rose appeared on the Friday Night Rocks with Eddie Trunk radio show
(during an interview with Sebastian Bach) and said that the new Guns
N' Roses album would be released before the end of the year. Later in May,
the band launched a European tour, headlining both the Download Festival and
Rock In Rio - Lisbon. Four warm-up shows preceded the tour at Hammerstein
Ballroom in New York City and became the band's first live concert dates
since the aborted 2002 tour. The shows also marked the debut of guitarist
and composer Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, replacing Buckethead. During the
tour, former bandmate Izzy Stradlin and ex-Skid Row frontman
Sebastian Bach made frequent guest appearances.
Five warm-up shows
before a 2006 North American tour were held in September 2006. The tour
officially commenced on October 24 in Miami. Drummer Frank Ferrer
replaced Bryan Mantia, who took a leave of absence to be with his wife and
newborn child. Coinciding with the tour, the song "Better" was featured in
an internet advertisement for Harley-Davidson beginning in October 2006.
That same month, Rolling Stone published an article revealing that Andy
Wallace would be mixing the final album.
In December 2006, Axl
Rose released an open letter to fans announcing that Merck Mercuriadis
had been fired as the band's manager. He revealed that the last four dates
of the North American tour would be cut so the band could work on
postproduction for Chinese Democracy. He also set a tentative release
date for the album for the first time since the album's announcement: March
On February 8, 2007,
the band played a two-song set at the Rodeo Drive's Walk of Style ceremony,
held on February 8 in Beverly Hills, California. The band, with Chris
Pitman on bass, blazed through "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and "Sweet
Child O' Mine" to close the event, which honored Gianni and
On February 23, 2007,
Del James announced that Chinese Democracy's recording stage
was finished, and the band had now moved onto mixing the album. However,
this proved that the March 6 release date would be impossible to achieve,
and the album once again had no scheduled release date.
On May 4, 2007 three
more tracks leaked from Chinese Democracy; an updated version of "I.R.S.",
"The Blues" and the title track. All three tracks had previously been played
live. Guns N' Roses embarked on the 2007 leg of the Chinese Democracy
World Tour in Mexico on June, followed by dates in Australia and Japan.
The songs "Nice Boys" and "Don't Cry" were played for the first time since
the Use Your Illusion Tour. The tour ended on the twentieth
anniversary of Appetite for Destruction's release date, in Osaka.
During this tour, the band featured Axl Rose, Robin Finck, Ron Thal and
Richard Fortus on guitars, Tommy Stinson on bass, Dizzy Reed and Chris
Pitman on keyboards and Frank Ferrer on drums.
Rose appears as a
guest performer on three of the tracks on Sebastian Bach's album, Angel
Down, which was released on November 20, 2007.
The Chinese Democracy album is finally issued in November 2008. Axl
Rose disappears and doesn't give any interview after the release of the