Axl Rose Joins L.A. Guns (For a Minute)

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Axl Rose & Raz Cue 1984

About two weeks later, I got a call from Mr. Axl Rose himself. He didn’t beat around the bush. Right after a hello, he straight-out asked, “Is L.A. Guns still looking for a singer?”

We met up to have a few drinks and talk about the what’s-what. I pride myself on my negotiating skills, so, poker faced, not tipping my hand, I told Axl about what Tracii said about buying him leather pants. And if that’s what he wanted, we’d keep looking.

Axl scoffed, “I wouldn’t join a band that I wasn’t into even if you bought me a house and car.”

To say I was relieved would be an understatement. I wanted him in the band so bad my wheels ached. Even though Axl wasn’t entirely convinced about Tracii’s stuff being what he wanted to do, apparently Tracii had somehow managed to persuade Axl Rose to ignore his first several Tracii Guns impressions.

I didn’t ask why Rose broke up, just assuming it was because Izzy joined another band. I was curious why he changed his mind about joining the project, and Axl said, “We talked a few times during the last couple of days, and Tracii said he wants L.A. Guns to be more blues-based hard rock, and not the metal crap he’s been doing.”

Axl went on to tell me about how, the night after the rehearsal studio jam while admittedly “wasted drunk,” he left his day planner behind in a phone booth. He said, “My whole life was in that planner, so I quit drinking.” Soon after swearing off drink, Axl went to Indiana to visit family, regroup, clear his head, and decide what his next life-move would be. While there, his folks tried persuading him to move back home by offering to pay for recording engineering school so he might pursue a less risky path of music employment than that of rock ‘n’ roll singer.

Either way, Axl decided to “give it one more shot with L.A. Guns.”

According to him, he gave some serious consideration on taking up the offer to stay in Indiana and enroll in a trade school. He then spoke of an older rocker dude he occasionally saw walking around his hometown, with head hung low and a sad, shuffling stride. Axl described the guy as stylish and charismatic, while possessing an undeniable air of coolness. But Axl saw him as a broken man who never realized his dreams and returned to Indiana with tortured soul to daily regret the decision to give up on his dreams. I have no idea if that person ever really existed, or if Axl imagined what his future would be if he abandoned his own dreams by fleeing back home to mommy and daddy. Either way, Axl decided to “give it one more shot with L.A. Guns.”

I was a super happy gimp, with dollar signs in my eyes, when I said, “I’m glad you finally decided to join. With you, L.A. Guns will be huge.”

Axl and I had always gotten along well, and that day was no exception. Axl was a straight shooter who never held back. It was refreshing to know exactly where I stood, when it wasn’t infuriating. In that regard, Axl and Tracii were night and day. Axl never hid how he felt or what he wanted. Tracii frequently lied through his teeth, while employing manipulative manipulations, and then attempted even more conning just to get what he thought he wanted at any particular moment.

Personality-wise, I felt Axl and I were similar. We both held faith in danger, while encouraging others’ reckless ways. I also lived my life following the template laid out in Van Halen and AC/DC tunes that kept me “Runnin’ with the Devil” along the “Highway to Hell” and eagerly danced the “Sinner’s Swing” while “Waiting Around to be a Millionaire.” From the very first note I was blessed to hear from Axl’s platinum pipes, I knew if I could front a band, he was the singer that I’d hope to be.

I’ve always got music playing in my head, and I broke my fucking neck mere months after learning to play guitar. Paralysis ended my teenaged dream of rocking the world’s stages, all the while sampling a sweet girl in every town along that road. So there I sit, spaz-rocking out and singing full-throated in the car next to yours at red lights. Yes, I’m that guy. It might have you laughing at times. But remember, those who don’t dance should never make fun of those on the dance floor. My whole involvement in the music business was obviously due to me not having what it took to be a performer, so I bought a big boat and tried to sail right up next to it.

The W.A.R. man was not only an outstanding singer and phenomenal frontman, he also possessed an extremely witty and quite a sarcastic sense of humor. A warped worldview, combined with superior intellect, allowed him to get even the obscurest referenced innuendo spit out by your humble gimpy historian. He laughed at my jokes. I’d bet the reason he mostly keeps that shit to himself nowadays is due to the small but loud group of malicious trolls, lurking ever ready to take things the wrong way to fit into their preconceived notions’ narrative so they can bitch, bitch, bitch. You know, the boring, literal fucks of inferior intellect who wouldn’t know a joke if it walked into a bar with a priest, a rabbi, and a satiated Tijuana donkey. But that’s what she screamed! Sadly, for too many folks, the tiniest ripple of perceived hate is the first thing noticed within an ocean of love.

Axl brought several of his Hollywood Rose songs to L.A. Guns and also penned lyrics for a handful of songs that Tracii and Mike co-wrote during Pyrrhus days of yore. But when it came to collaborating on new material, Axl soon grew frustrated with Tracii’s passive refusal to work on Axl’s ideas. He’d sing, hum, and clap-stomp money-melodies with dangerous rhythms, trying to relay his superior ideas to Tracii, who’d then play a totally unrelated riff in a different key and tempo.

After several days’ worth of ongoing collaboration frustration, Axl invited Izzy to the studio to hash it all out and show Tracii the song playing in his brain. About two and a half seconds after Izzy plugged in, their musical communication was clear and evident. Axl sang a melody, and then Izzy said, “Like this?” and got to strumming.

Axl perked up with a happy smile and said, “Yeah that’s it. Now on that part…” It wasn’t long before the two had the whole tune worked out. In about ten minutes Izzy brought to life a song Axl spent fruitless hours trying to communicate to Tracii.

So as he did with Izzy before, Axl invited Slash to the studio to show Tracii some parts, but Slash was not interested.

Izzy was in Rose, with Chris Webber on second guitar. Hollywood Rose had Chris and Slash as axmen. When it came to showing Tracii a lick Slash added to the song “Anything Goes,” Izzy hadn’t heard the part, so couldn’t. As he explained his love for the way Slash played it, Axl got chills, almost like he forgot to breathe. “There’s just a certain way Slash plays that part. I don’t know how to describe it, but it makes the song a million times better.” So as he did with Izzy before, Axl invited Slash to the studio to show Tracii some parts, but Slash was not interested.

This Was Rose [Google Find]
& This Was Hollywood Rose [Google Find]

Axl is a music-first guy, and didn’t like the band Poison. Not even a little bit. Style was also quite important to him. He’d tell of running into the Poison guys while out and about and seeing them in sweats with their hair down. Axl believed that rock ‘n’ rollers “should look the same on stage as in their normal life, or they’re just a poseur.”

One day, I told him, “I don’t know why you hate Poison so much. They’re nice guys.”

Axl scoffed, then broke into song – “Nice boys don’t play rock ’n’ roll.” That’s the first time I heard of Rose Tattoo. Hollywood Rose had covered the song “Nice Boys,” and so Axl sent me on a mission to find the album so L.A. Guns could also do the tune.

The Music Plus near Vine and Sunset had a decent import section, and I was stoked to find a few Rose Tattoo cassettes. On Ole’s suggestion, I also bought a compilation tape. Though it wasn’t the band he had recommended, on the same tape was a group called Girl. Tracii loved that song, “Hollywood Tease,” and wanted to cover it, but Axl wasn’t into it. To this day, I still love Rose Tattoo’s first three records. “Astra Wally” is one of my all-time favorite, fun agro tunes to yell along with. And the line, “All I want from a living is just to be left alone” from “Rock ‘n’ Roll Outlaw” sums up my hopes, dreams and ultimate desires.

While all the gear, fashion, and promotional money destruction shit went on, we were lining everything up for live shows. For L.A. Guns’ debut show, Izzy arranged for them to open for his band, London, at the Troubadour. We’d head over to the club three or four nights a week to pass out flyers and tickets. Promoting is all about the schmooze, so we’d pre-buzz at my place, then hit the Troub for more drinks and the hunting of beaver. After a night of hitting on chicks while passing out promo material, right before two, we’d grab a mess of beer, a 1.75 liter bottle of whiskey, and then head to the Rainbow for a quick canvas before the partying continued well into the morning back at the studio.

Quite often, guys in wheelchairs get special treatment; skipping lines and getting free drinks or drugs from people you just met is not entirely unheard of. But there are a few folks who seem to resent gimps receiving special treatment. Maybe it’s because some crippled fucks are just assholes demanding perks without showing any appreciation for the world treating them slightly less cruel than it does others. When I first met Ron, the Troub’s head of security, his vibe exuded, “you’re not getting any special treatment, you handicapped bitch.” So one night, while promoting the show, trying to “grease the wheels,” I gave him a quarter g of blow. Instead of being satisfied with my “gift,” the next time we crossed paths, he said, “That was good stuff. Bring me some more at sound check and you won’t have any problems with your sound.”

I agreed, but it ate at me until I was steamed. There was no way I was going to give him payola. I’m a generous guy, but if you try to take from me, I will rage with furious anger; an attitude that probably explains most of my alleged road rage incidents. I felt like I had boxed myself in, and spent many hours pondering bad options.

Even while promoting relentlessly, we were getting Axl geared up and outfitted for photos and shows. Wait, we never actually did a photo shoot, because Tracii reasoned that every band had crappy photos of pretty boys posing unnaturally, and he wanted to keep the band mysterious for the curiosity factor.

Fuck Guitar Center! It was Nadine’s only after that.

A few days into his tenure, Axl and I went to Guitar Center to buy a power amp and floor monitors to improve the studio’s shitty PA. While waiting for a salesman to write a ticket for a QSC amp and wedge monitors, Axl wandered over to an electric piano and started attacking its ivories with Elton and Jerry Lee glee. It was so God damned cool that I wanted to get it in the show. But a salesman, in full asshole mode, rushed over and yelled at Axl to stop playing. I yelled back, “Fuck you, we want to buy it!” Before stomping away, he rolled his eyes as if I were lying to him like the first time he ended up with a buddy’s cock crammed up his shithole. Fuck Guitar Center! It was Nadine’s only after that.

When it came to stage clothes, Axl had a completely different sense of style than Tracii and was not interested in a matching leather biker jacket. So we scored a cool, stylish, reasonably priced jacket from a shop on Santa Monica Boulevard, about two blocks from where the Starwood once stood. The next goal – at first I thought he was joking – was leather chaps to wear with a g-string in lieu of pants. Off to the adult store, Pleasure Chest, and its great leather selection. When Axl stepped out of the dressing room, sporting black leather chaps with only a g-string beneath, people noticed. A few, quite possibly gay, employees milled about the area while Axl tried on several different styles of chaps. Cowboy boots, one spur, two pairs of sunglasses, and a Rob Halford-ish leather biker hat completed the outfit.

Oct 5 1984
Izzy Stradlin in London, Axl Rose in L.A. Guns [Courtest of Gavin Barnard & Mark Piotrowski]

The first Friday night of Rocktober 1984, L.A. Guns’ debut went down. Even though Izzy got them on the bill, I also provided London’s Lizzy Gray and Nadir D’ Priest a little incentive by sporting a full-page ad in BAM Magazine. I have no idea what the fuck I was thinking when I let London design the ad, because when BAM hit the stands, it was utterly disheartening to see L.A. Guns’ logo a mere 5 percent of the page. When he learned of the swindle, Axl, with Joe at his side, set off in search of Nadir in hopes of bashing his skull repeatedly upon the nearest hard surface until blood flowed from his ears. The ass whoopin’ was averted when Izzy and Tracii managed to talk them out of it. But I was more pissed at myself for being foolish enough to drop off a nine-hundred-dollar check to the ad department without demanding any approval privileges. Truth be told, London did exactly what I would have done in the reverse situation.

Ron noticed we brought our own suds and yelled, “You fucking idiots, you can’t bring beer into my bar!”

The sound check was at three in the afternoon. We were all enjoying some Michelobs as the gear was being set up, but Ron noticed we brought our own suds and yelled, “You fucking idiots, you can’t bring beer into my bar!” A pretty obvious mistake, because the Troub didn’t sell Michelob. From that day on, we always respected their wishes, and only snuck in Budweiser or Heinekens.

A short while later, Ron pulled me aside and said, “You got that stuff?”

I looked him dead in the eye and spoke sternly. “I ain’t going to give you shit, because then I’ll have to hook you up every time.” Ron just shook his head, grinned, and walked away. As I wondered what he had planned for me, the boys began making awful dyssynchronous amplified noises on stage.

London had a huge draw, and the buzz of once having Nikki Sixx in the act. Our people skills and promotional strategy also brought in a good number of curious rockers and barely legal babes, so at least three hundred people saw London get blown off the stage that night. L.A. Guns’ set list included several original tunes: “Anything Goes,” “Cold Hard Cash,” “Back off, Bitch,” “If You Love Me, Stick to Your Guns,” “Comin’ or Not,” “Bloodshot Eyes,” and “Shadow of Your Love.” They also covered “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” with Axl’s awesome versions still available on demand in my brain.

Rikki, Brett, Bobby, and Matt from Poison showed up to support as well as promote an upcoming show. A few songs in, Axl spoke clear and sincere into the microphone, “I’d like to dedicate this next song to the band Poison. They’re the kind of nice boys a girl’s mother wouldn’t mind if she brought home to dinner.” Then he growled, “Nice boys don’t play rock ‘n’ roll.” And it was on!

A puzzling phenomenon occurred quite often within Hollywood rock clubs. It seemed like no matter how hard a band rocked, while delivering an inspiring soul-searing show, there were always large numbers of dudes standing around with leather-clad arms crossed. Way too cool to even tap a toe, lest someone think they were enjoying the band. I tried to stay professional by acting ambivalent, but the combination of nine rum and Cokes, and the band kicking out some quality hard rock, commanded me to sporadically spaz out and headbang.

I believe the main reason L.A. Guns blew everyone away, unlike the majority of overhyped and heavily promoted bands, is that any band with a young, hungry Axl Rose is better than your band. Probably because your band sucks! Even Ron’s attitude changed. After that night, instead of trying to extort payola, he actually began acting nice and treated us with the respect we always believed we deserved. When we’d go there to promote, he seemed happy to see us. Well, he just didn’t seem unhappy or annoyed anymore. Every now and then, if I was holding, I’d give him a bump. But he never again demanded it.

Tracii’s Fairfax High buddy, Danny, and Joe were the stage crew. While gear shopping, Robbie requested a massive Zildjian gong. He and Joe then went into full-on MacGyver mode to fashion a galvanized pipe contraption as a gong stand to mount at the rear of the drum riser. It took a monkey wrench and about ten minutes to set it all up. Robbie only banged a gong once during the set, but afterward, a frantic search for the misplaced pipe wrench added another fifteen minutes to break it all down. Even though it was super funny how long London waited to go on stage, everyone agreed it was silly the gong stand added so much time to a drum riser designed to be broken down in seconds. So the gong stayed at the studio after the first show.

Axl Rose & Tracii Guns 1984
The Van after a 1986 Repaint

For some reason, Tracii and Joe painted L.A. Guns in huge black letters on the side of my white van. They ran out of paint, so the rolling billboard was only on the driver’s side. If you had to choose just one side as a billboard, that would be the incorrect marketing decision. When they hit me up for more paint money, I told them, “I don’t want to alert thieves to a van loaded full of my expensive gear.” After the show, Joe and I got in a bit of a kerfuffle about my insistence that he and Danny go offload the gear at the studio before coming to the party. But everyone else was actually on my side for once.

Axl was the one who suggested we throw a blockbuster after-show party. He told of seeing forgettable bands with such great after-parties that it had him looking forward to their next gig. I knew a great idea most times I heard one, so while passing out fliers, we let everyone know there’d be a party afterward with tons of free booze. Of course, they’d have to come to the show to find out where it would be. On the way to sound check, I booked a poolside suite at the infamous Tropicana Motel and stocked it with bourbon, beer, blow, and buds: the four fool groups. By paying cash and putting it on a gullible someone else’s driver’s license, it allowed us to party liability free until well into the morning, when the booze ran dry. With so many other motel guests joining in on the party, it was no surprise the cops were never called. Though the desk clerk came by several times to request we quiet down a bit and grab a beer.

With a second great show and another all-nighter after-show rager at the Tropicana Motel, L.A. Guns was generating a strong buzz right out of the gate.

The very next Saturday night, the boys were back at the Troub, opening for another big-drawing band, Ruby Slippers. It was extremely rare for a new band to get a weekend gig at the Troubadour, and entirely unheard of for the same unproven draw of a band to receive second billing two weekends in a row. But we were at the club so often promoting, that when a band flaked about a week before the London gig, the club’s booker, Michael Fell, asked L.A. Guns to fill in. I felt like the best manager/promoter in the city. I had taken a group of guys who, a few months earlier, were playing weeknight gigs in front a handful of friends, got them together into a great band, and exposed them to hundreds of people. Then L.A. Guns set the bar so high, the headliners didn’t stand a chance, because folks realized the band they came to see were also-rans. With a second great show and another all-nighter after-show rager at the Tropicana Motel, L.A. Guns was generating a strong buzz right out of the gate. And not just between my ears.

The Troubadour’s PA was outstanding, powerful enough to keep up with even the loudest band. But a race car is just a fast car, and is wasted with an unskilled operator at the wheel. It seemed like whenever the Troub got a top-notch soundman, they’d get hired away within weeks by some national touring act. Then the club would bring in some schlep that talked a good game, could slide a fader or turn a knob, and worked cheap. Some nights, bands sounded godlike; other shows, all the audience heard were guitars, snares, and crash cymbals while feeling bass thumping their chests. The worst mistake some folks made, after a show mixed by an inferior soundman, was to tell Axl, “You guys were great, but I couldn’t really hear your vocals.” Understandably, Axl’s reaction wasn’t pleasant. I never understood why the fuck someone would say that to a singer who had just gifted a piece of their soul to the crowd.

After I agreed to put a full-page ad in BAM Magazine and do a thousand flyers, Mars gave us a Saturday night opening up for a popular band that I really dug, Savage Grace.

L.A. Guns’ third gig was down south, past the Orange Curtain at a cool little place in Anaheim, Radio City. The club’s manager, Mars Black, and I had hit it off right quick when Tracii and me went there to see a band called Witch. Plus, Mars dug the name, logo, and our love of promotion. After I agreed to put a full-page ad in BAM Magazine and do a thousand flyers, Mars gave us a Saturday night opening up for a popular band that I really dug, Savage Grace. All in all, it was a great night. Mars sported us a case of beer at sound check and was very complimentary the whole time, while treating us with respect. Whenever there, Mars pretty much gave us the run of that place, so of course I always had tons of fun at the club.

After the Radio City gig, L.A. Guns played The Timbers in Glendora. Then they took a break from live shows to concentrate on recording, but mostly because I hadn’t thought to book anything until after those first shows were done. Even though Mars gladly rebooked the band for a Saturday night a month down the road, the Hollywood club’s booking criteria was an entirely different dynamic. There, a club owner or agent didn’t care if a band was great or horse-shit horrible. Even if a band’s image was dressing up like Ku Klux Nazis, lighting kittens on fire, then crushing their tiny, adorable skulls with jack-boots, if you brought people into their bar, you got a premium booking. Though I begged and pleaded, the Troub refused to give the band another weekend gig until they proved a draw, bringing in at least fifty fans to two separate weeknight shows.

According to the Troubadour’s count, only about seventy people used L.A. Guns tickets during those first two shows. But the showroom was packed – several hundred – during the Guns set at both shows. The way the club kept track of one’s draw was to provide blank, free, or discounted admission tickets and we’d stamp “L.A. Guns” on them to pass out as we flyered and schmoozed. Then, when the ticket was presented at the box office, the band got credit for drawing them into the club. The big mistake we made was starting to pass out those tickets far too early. The guys in London were club pros and began their ticket and flyer blitz one week out. Many people told some variation of, “I came to see you guys, but I used a London ticket because I couldn’t find the ones you gave me.” The Troub didn’t give a rat’s ass about any of that shit. Resigned to the fact that dues could not be paid by writing a check, I relented and settled on a Tuesday night a month and a half in the future.

One night, M.I. dude told me I should invest in a band like Metallica instead of L.A. Guns, and I said, “I like Metallica’s ‘Whiplash,’ but that shit’ll never sell.”

My apartment building was overloaded with Musicians Institute students. One M.I. kid living upstairs had great buds for reasonable prices, so I’d head upstairs a few times a week to score some greens. Then a clown named Liberty began selling blow out of M.I. dude’s apartment. That wouldn’t have been a problem, except I was in the habit of getting two hundred bucks a day from the ATM. So I wouldn’t have to share my blow with the five deadbeats living in my apartment, I’d usually party upstairs. Those two were into “real heavy metal” and speed metal, with their favorites being Raven and Metallica. One night, M.I. dude told me I should invest in a band like Metallica instead of L.A. Guns, and I said, “I like Metallica’s ‘Whiplash,’ but that shit’ll never sell.”

Prior to Axl joining the band, L.A. Guns recorded tracks for a two-song demo. All they needed were vocals. Or so I believed. Chuck Rosa, the engineer, became the producer when a five-hundred-buck quickie two-song demo project evolved into a ten-grand four-song EP. Live, the band performed an outstanding version of Elvis Presley’s hit “Heartbreak Hotel,” so we added it to the recording session. For that to happen, another two-inch master tape was required. No biggie, we were all eager for Axl Rose to perform vocals on as many songs as I could afford to record. With room enough for two tracks on the tape, L.A. Guns eventually recorded four tracks. Despite them being highlights of the live show, the band didn’t record any of Izzy and Axl’s Hollywood Rose songs. The EP was set to include “Heartbreak Hotel,” plus three of Tracii and Mike’s Pyrrhus tunes with Axl-penned lyrics and melodies.

Chuck was a competent engineer, well versed in microphone placement, getting drum sounds, signal processors, and sliding faders. But I believe he lacked the big-picture musical vision that differentiates an engineer from a producer. The band had a twenty-four-hour lockout rehearsal space, but he never once suggested the very important practice of preproduction, a process where a band relentlessly fine-tunes all the arrangements, getting songs nailed down so tight that, upon arrival to a recording studio, shit gets knocked out of the park without burning through expensive hours. It averaged forty bucks an hour in the recording studio, but that Gardner studio was seven hundred bucks a month, about a buck an hour. When not at the recording studio, the guys merely rehearsed their entire set a few times, four or five days a week.

Preproduction might have solved a lot of Chuck’s ongoing frustration with Tracii. When the band was laying down basic tracks, Tracii would shred and riff spasmodically during multiple takes upon multiple takes. Chuck repeatedly begged, “Just play me a straight rhythm track. We can overdub all the leads you want later.”

I don’t believe Tracii actually could have played a chord-only-faithfully-follow-the-song-structure rhythm track if his life depended on it. Tracii was trying to be the Jimmy Page from “The Song Remains the Same,” or the Randy Rhodes recording myths in which he had immersed himself. Twenty-twenty money-saving hindsight, I would have had the Malcolm-Young-loving Ole Beich do rhythm guitar tracks while Chuck played bass, then had Ole overdub Chuck at some future point in time.

While recording vocal tracks, Chuck repeatedly barked at Axl to remain still while singing his parts, causing him to grumble some variation of, “I can’t stand still when I sing.”

as Axl peered angrily through the control room glass, Chuck would say something like, “Axl, please try to stand still. All I hear are your clothes rustling and bracelets clanking.”

For Axl to concentrate on remaining still required being in conscious control, which was the polar opposite of how his art was created. Chuck couldn’t see that music transformed Axl; his wanton immersion into rhythm, melody, energy, and emotion of song summoned rock demons not so deep within his soul to channel up past the fire in his belly and enter the world as a roar. Chuck thought the gyrations and rhythmic sway with arms thrashing about made too much noise, thus causing the vocal track to suffer. Several times, Chuck applied the verbal brakes right smack-dab in the middle of a take, and as Axl peered angrily through the control room glass, Chuck would say something like, “Axl, please try to stand still. All I hear are your clothes rustling and bracelets clanking.”

After making it through “Heartbreak Hotel,” when Axl came to the control room, Chuck got on him again. I was actually stunned that Axl stuck around long enough to finish the song. But then he was gone. Chuck started bitching about how we were wasting his time, but I stopped him. “Dude, just let him sing the fucking songs.”

The next time we spoke, I thanked Axl for putting up with the bullshit for as long as he did. We agreed it best he take a break from recording until the songs were done, ready for vocals. I promised to make it clear to Chuck that he should never tell him to hold still, nor stop him mid-song again. If he did, it was okay with me if Axl told him where to go; or even pop Chuck in the mouth if need be.

I’m not complaining about Chuck, only trying to explain the process. I have nothing but appreciation for the man. Chuck Rosa did far more for L.A. Guns than he was compensated for. He hooked us with “spec time” at a few far better studios – hundreds of dollars per hour – for about the same price we paid for Hitman Studios. Because the hourly rate was so good, we – Chuck, too – had to be ready on short notice to hit the studio any hour of the day. If it wasn’t for his connections, and many hours of recording sessions for which he received below meager pay, that EP would have cost multiples more and not turned out anywhere near as good.

Soon after Axl joined the band, I realized his vision was at odds with Tracii’s. Before agreeing to sing for L.A. Guns, Axl had made it clear – with no gray area – what he wanted to do.

Axl remained focused and resolute as to what he envisioned L.A. Guns was all about. Believing I possessed at least a little power about how things were to be, I’d try to persuade outcomes. But eventually, my respect for artists and the artistic process made getting my way not so important. Plus, Axl don’t lose arguments! Soon after Axl joined the band, I realized his vision was at odds with Tracii’s. Before agreeing to sing for L.A. Guns, Axl had made it clear – with no gray area – what he wanted to do. So he would not budge an iota to Tracii’s penchant for changing direction as the wind blew. I’d mostly side with Axl, for the sake of continuity and clarity. And his music was far and away better than Tracii’s.

While Axl was straightforward, with an unflinching vision, Tracii worked every angle and employed every manipulation strategy short of sucking my dick. I often wondered if Tracii thought me a complete idiot. Tracii often tried to get me to agree to something polar opposite of things previously agreed to by telling me I had remembered wrong; and his new idea was what we previously settled upon. I had stumble-jumped into the music business. Little more than a recently bankrolled music fan with a good ear, some negotiation skill, and burgeoning business savvy. So for a time, Tracii received far too much credit for knowledge and experience. While I rapidly learned and adapted to the intricacies of the biz, I began to realize how to tell if Tracii was lying: his lips were moving.

Many band dudes relied heavily on girlfriend sugar mamas, leaving them subjected to some psychotic stripper’s power-mad delusions and demands for treatment far above her station. Axl didn’t play that game, and would bounce whenever the stress level at any given female’s location rose above that dictated by current circumstance. If he hung out with a chick more than once or twice, she was generally pretty chill. As part of his couch tour, Axl crashed out few nights a week at the apartment offices of Raz Productions. He worked at Tower Video on Sunset Boulevard, right across from the Viper Room. In those days, it was still known as The Central, and River Phoenix was still alive. I’d bet Axl got that job for the access it granted him to a shitload of free movies more than for the meager pay. It’s entirely possible cinema was his first love, or a very close second to rock ‘n’ roll. Which is why I’m amazed Axl never acted in or directed movies.

Whenever I picked him up from work, he’d bring along at least two VHS tapes. We watched Scarface, the Godfather saga, or Cool Hand Luke several times. Those were his top three, but Axl also really dug James Caan in Thief, and the movie Breathless, starring Richard Gere. At work, his growing frustration of not being able to locate movies led him to take it upon himself to inventory and arrange all the movies according to starlet, genre, title, and so on. With the task complete, if a movie showed up on the inventory as “in stock,” he knew right where to find it. The Tower Video higher-ups liked his initiative and work ethic so much, Axl was soon promoted to assistant manager; and all because he couldn’t find an Amber Lynn movie. Or was it Ginger?

For me, movies were just mindless entertainment. I rarely considered deeper meanings. But Axl would stay up all night watching the same movie over and over, analyzing every scene and word of dialogue. He saw way more in Purple Rain than I noticed. I was just happy to see Morris Day and Gerome get some screen time. After being up far too late and waiting until the last possible moment to hit the road, I’d give him a hell-ride so he’d get to work on time. No longer able to surf, skateboard, or other thrilling riding activities, driving recklessly was the only extreme sport available to me and the occasional unsuspecting pedestrian. I took chances so memorable that some who rode with me back in the day still refuse to get into a car I am piloting. Axl was always down for an adrenaline rush, and despite traffic, we’d make it clear across Hollywood in an unbelievably hair-raising elapsed time.

With our relentless effort of stickers stuck on every encountered smooth surface, plus posters, flyers, and T-shirts aplenty, it was near impossible for anyone in our target zone not to have been exposed to the name L.A. Guns. The highest visibility promotional item of all was an L.A. Guns billboard on Sunset Boulevard, high atop the Rainbow Bar and Grill. On the day I secured the location, restaurant manager Michael warned me not to expect special treatment just because I rented the billboard space.

We needed to install those signs ourselves, so Joe, Robbie, and Ole pulled them up one by one with ropes, to then be secured with ratcheting straps. Happy that no one tumbled from the Rainbow’s steep slopping roof during the install, we headed inside so I could sport drinks and some of the best pizza available in L.A. As we sat inside the Rainbow, getting buzzed on those potent Long Islands, I offered up a complimentary critique on the aesthetic shortcomings of Joe’s girlfriend. Joe then decided it was okay to grind a lemon into my eyes, and if I’d had a gun, I would have shot the son of a bitch. But all I could do was scream, yell, and throw silverware as he moved out of range from the drink glass I wanted to smash into his fucking face.

Michael dropped by to let me know I was starting out on the wrong foot, and that he didn’t care that I had been assaulted. He repeated his warning from the week before, about not to expect special treatment because of the billboard. So I apologized and once again promised to be on my best behavior.

Axl refused to budge and told him, “We’ve been trying to order for twenty fucking minutes.”

Fast forward a few months to Halloween night. After pre-buzzing at my place while watching half of Scarface, Axl, Ole, Joe, and me headed for the Rainbow. When we requested the big booth in the corner, Michael tried steering us toward a smaller table more suited to a party of four, but relented because more of our friends were expected. We ended up with the shittiest waitress possible, and even though our booth filled up within minutes, a half hour passed and she had yet to take our order. So when Michael came to force our relocation, Axl refused to budge and told him, “We’ve been trying to order for twenty fucking minutes.”

Michael ignored him and waved Blackie Lawless and his party over. I was halfway to the smaller table when I heard a commotion behind. I turned back to see Axl pinning Michael backward over the table, fist cocked, ready to strike a devastating blow to Michael’s left eye. Joe grabbed Axl’s arm just in time to save Michael from some serious orbital damage. Axl didn’t usually punch someone just once, preferring to load up on combos. In a flash, a massive bouncer intervened. Then after Michael moved behind his bodyguard, he bellowed, “Get that fucking punk out of my restaurant!”

After the murmuring faded away, across the room, I saw Ole settling into a booth full of girls. The coolest thing about Halloween in Hollywood was that many girls thought dressing up as a prostitute made a great costume; completely unlike the whores they usually dressed as. I’m reminded of a movie line, where the hooker says, “We’re not whores. We’re prostitutes.” Cop: “What’s the difference?” Hooker: “Whores give it away.” Either way, Ole waved me over. And you don’t have to ask me twice to venture toward a table full of prostitutes. Two tables away from the beaver den, Michael saw me and snapped, “I told you to get the fuck out of my restaurant.”

Even though I pointed out I had already moved to the new table, and my brother saved him from getting decked, Michael didn’t care and sent me packing. As it turned out, I was not allowed back inside the Rainbow for several years. A cool outcome of being kicked out of the Rainbow was that I felt no obligation to return their calls demanding I remove the L.A. Guns billboards from their roof. I only paid for two months, but they remained up there for almost four months before getting moved to the parking lot behind The Roxy. Hell, I paid good money for them signs, so Joe brought them to the studio parking lot, where they sat for several months – long after L.A. Guns were out of that space – until somebody dragged them next to the Sunset Grill, where they resided for several more months. Free advertising rules.

Rainbow Bar n Grill, The Booth on the Corner Left
is Where it Happened [LA Magazine]
Raz & Neighbor Kids 1969

Back to Halloween night at the Rainbow Bar and Grill, I was beyond pissed and grumbling to myself as I rolled my chair out of the parking lot. When I took a right onto the sidewalk, there stood Axl with the body language of one contemplating handi-homicide. I peered angrily toward him and vented some steam of my own, hollering, “I can’t believe you fucking got me kicked out!”

Axl reached for a pair of sunglasses atop his head and fired them past my ear to smash against the wall. Then he yelled, “I can’t believe you’re mad at me after they disrespected us like that.”

I had a completely different perspective. I grew up in the restaurant business, and accepted that V.I.P.s get whatever they tip for. I f-bomb hollered back, prompting him to smash his second pair of sunglasses past the other side of my head, while bellowing even louder, “I quit! Fuck you, and fuck L.A. Guns!” He made it official by removing his leather jacket and tossing it to the sidewalk at my feet.

Red rose on the ground in a street - heartbreak concept

I was utterly dumbfounded and shocked. I thought we were buddies, and had mostly treated him with respect. I could not fathom him quitting over a total nonsense minor disagreement, while smack dab in the middle of recording an EP.

When Tracii heard the news, he told me to apologize to Axl and beg him back, threatening to quit the band if I didn’t do it. Even though I knew my music business success was likely heavily dependent on Axl Rose, I reasoned that I had not even come close to doing anything wrong, so I refused.

So there it is. Axl Rose’s L.A. Guns tenure amounted to less than three months, during which time he performed four shows and recorded vocals for one of the EP’s four songs, a cover version of Elvis Presley’s first number one hit, “Heartbreak Hotel.” Did you know that song was written by Hoyt Axton’s mother, Mae Axton?

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You don’t have to go through your life struggles alone. Go to the corner bar!

“The press is so powerful in its image-making role, it can make the criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal. If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” Malcom X