How to Make Ten Bucks In The Music Business: 1985

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The House in The Valley Forty Years On [Google Map]

My freelance music-business school courses depleted my settlement funds at a pace comparable to lighting up blunts using hundred dollar bills. I invested in the wind and blew through eighty-five grand in six months. Plus, when there’s a dude selling killer blow right upstairs, withdrawing two hundred bucks daily from an ATM is a recipe for financial ruin. By the start of 85, I had a little over ten grand remaining, the bulk of it securing a loan for Ma, of which I could only get a little bit at a time as she paid down her note.

If the six-month-older Raz possessed a time machine, he surely would have returned to the previous summer, smacked a gimp, and said, “Tell Tracii he doesn’t actually have a band to invest in.”

When I informed the guys of their benefactor being broke, at first everyone refused to believe it. They mostly shrugged it off whenever I said, “My money is all gone.” But when the rehearsal space didn’t get paid, and all the gear got relocated to my apartment, they began to think it might not be a bluff. Soon I was evicted from there, too. Likely the biggest shock to the boys in the band, we started driving by McDonald’s instead of hitting the drive-thru. It was official – no free lunch.

Besides being a coke dealer, Liberty was a guitar player in the beginning phase of an axe-to-axe man-crush on Tracii.

I pooled funds with Liberty, the coke dealer from upstairs, and we rented a house near Laurel Canyon and Vanowen in North Hollywood. Before moving in, he and I agreed it would be just us and no roommates. So when Tracii asked if the third bedroom was for rent, I thought myself slick when I said, “If it’s alright with Liberty.” Upon Liberty’s return, he agreed without hesitation when Tracii asked to rent a room. Besides being a coke dealer, Liberty was a guitar player in the beginning phase of an axe-to-axe man-crush on Tracii.

Cokeheads didn’t feel like traveling ten miles away from Hollywood to score blow from Liberty, so he snorted more than he sold. He must have believed his rent would be funded by selling shit to me and the guys. I’m weird; if I don’t have money, I don’t party. And low-budget Raz could only spare funds for a quarter g once in a blow moon. Because I refuse to do shitty drugs, when Liberty began stepping hard on his shit, I scored elsewhere. He went broke so fast that the very first time rent was due, I ate the whole enchilada, minus the paltry hundred bucks Tracii coughed up.

As soon as Liberty’s belongings were relocated to the curb, Tracii kind of sort of soundproofed the vacated room and set up L.A. Guns’ gear. But he was the only one jamming in there, due to Ole and Robbie off attending to their girlfriends’ needs while waiting for L.A. Guns to find its newest vocalist.

In retrospect, I firmly believe Tracii blew up L.A. Guns the second he got a chance to jam with someone he perceived as big time, in the form of bassist Don Costa. Early on, Don dropped by the house a few times so those two could discuss dream-plans. When there’s a guy sitting there describing the sight of eighty thousand fans cheering for his band, it’s tempting to take perceived shortcuts to experience. But it wasn’t Ozzy schmoozing Tracii, plus more than a few folks warned us Don was a flake.

Once Don disappeared, I figured Tracii had gotten it out of his system, and we’d get Mike back so L.A. Guns could hit the road to sell records

Tracii had it in his head he would persuade Axl to sing for a brand-new band, with Tracii, Don, and Tony Richards from W.A.S.P. on drums. I didn’t have to worry about it very long, because after the first few weeks, I never saw Don again. Maybe he cut out upon realizing Tracii did not come in a package deal with a deep-pocketed gimp-manager. Once Don disappeared, I figured Tracii had gotten it out of his system, and we’d get Mike back so L.A. Guns could hit the road to sell records. Tracii remained a steadfast “No Mike.”

[LOOK INSIDE] Tracii Guns’ Notebook, Left Behind in May 1985 – MightCould Be Axl Rose, Too?
Dark beer in a glass and a bottle of beer on a white background
Beer is Food!

I was dismayed and pissed. After months of devoting my every effort toward furthering Tracii Guns’ career, and his band L.A. Guns, all the while sinking several grand into McDonald’s and gear and promotion and studio and drinks and parties and an EP, the band disintegrated before ever hitting the road. I had foolishly believed it possible to secure a percentage of an entity that could be dissolved on the whim of a disloyal prick.

I now know the best way to guarantee promised compensation for one’s effort, and recoup money invested, is to lock an artist into a personal services contract while simultaneously securing as much publishing as their desperate asses will surrender. Had I been willing to contractually ass-rape and manipulate the chemically impaired, ultra-talented musician types I encountered while in the biz, I surely could have made major bucks employing my platinum rule: “Fuck them before they fuck me.”

Less than two months after being pressed, I sat wondering if those boxes of EPs stacked in the living room were relics, if an “L.A. Guns” would ever hit the road to help pay me back while they got famous. To figure out my “what’s next,” I took the Pontiac on a hell ride through the hills, carving up Mulholland, top down, howling along with Aerosmith. About to make a right turn onto Beverly Glen and head back to the valley, I had déjà vu. It was 1979 all over again, with me at that same crossroads behind the wheel of Ma’s Chevy wagon, hearing the commitment I made to myself six years earlier: “In this town, if you want something, you got to take it.”

I realized during the previous few months, I was the one who got taken. I didn’t like it, so I decided right there and then I would try to make it in the music business by being open and honest. – Pause for laughter! – If I couldn’t make it that way, I wasn’t going to make it.

Part of the appeal was the challenge it presented. Lying and manipulating people was far too easy. My stack of cash made me so lazy I almost lost my hustle, but nearing bankruptcy reignited my fire and reawakened my wheeling and dealing chops. I’ve described the previous six months as “business school,” and it truly was a crash course. With my lifelong curiosity of how things work, I had learned tons and made many helpful contacts, all the while building long-lasting relationships. One major insight, alluded to earlier, was that a new band of unknown talent/artists does not require management or investment. First, they must prove themselves as a stable entity with a marketable product; meaning songs people are willing to pay to hear.

When I began working with Tracii, even though he called the project “L.A. Guns,” it was not a band.

It didn’t take me long in the biz to realize songs are the absolute core of the music world. Everything else is just window dressing. Don’t misunderstand. I am fully aware how utterly important artists are. Because without Lemmy’s thumping or Moon kicking so hard it’s felt in your heart, the beat and rhythm mean less than nothing. It’s not hard to imagine the Devil willing to praise Jesus for one more earful of a Janis-wailed siren’s song, or axmen like Jimi who make angels strip and dancers weep, but without a song, it’s like da Vinci painting on air. When I began working with Tracii, even though he called the project “L.A. Guns,” it was not a band. Merely three ultra-talented guys jamming weak “songs,” presented to me as a band. And I was too green to understand the difference.

Even before my change of philosophy, I had always honored my word without fail. Unfortunately, for some, at times an impression was left that I had given my word when I didn’t consider I did. If I thought of a person as my friend, I would be open, honest, and not try to deceive or swindle even in the slightest. But moving away from friend status, I often justified a sliding scale as to what constituted permissible behavior. Once I got to disliking someone, absolutely everything became fair game. My newfound integrity made me realize that if someone was led to believe my word had been given, I must be honorable. I wasn’t a total moron about it; if a person willfully misunderstood my stated objective, then I wouldn’t tax myself trying to staple Jell-O to a waterfall.

Even though I made the commitment to have business integrity, in my personal life, I still played all the angles. From feral to moral is a process. With my stack of cash, I saw no need to steal, but as a broke-ass bitch, I reverted back into a shoplifting fool. My reasoning was “it’s a victimless crime” and “it’s all insured.” Plus, I was sticking it to evil corporate overlords.

I decided that if and when I got more money, I’d invest in me.

Money was ultra-tight for the first six months at that house, but brokenness delivered an awesome side effect: an ability to effortlessly remain rail thin. With ongoing lawsuits in settlement negotiations, I knew the probability was high I’d receive more cashola in a not-so-distant future. I decided that if and when I got more money, I’d invest in me. Most of all, I desperately needed to know who my “real friends” were. After Ole Beich found out my settlement was a mere hundred grand, he was shocked. With sorrow in his voice, he said, “They told me you got ten million. I never would have taken a penny from you if I had known that’s all you got.” Seeing me scrambling to make rent, Ole sold his 74 Plymouth Duster, 318 C.I. V8. And even though he lived elsewhere, Ole gave me most of the cash, thus proving I had at least one true friend.

On any given night, there were at least four others crashing out at the house, yet I paid 90 percent of the rent and utilities. But we were substance communists. If someone had a twelve-pack, then “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” I’d sling a bit-o-weed so we could all smoke free. And when completely cash poor, I’d unload some music gear or whatever unused clutter held value. If all else failed, I’d head to the supermarket to shoplift grub. Our roadie, Carlos, an awesome thief in his own right, also provided many meals courtesy of Hugh’s Market.

There was also a super sweet night manager at Naugles Tacos on Laurel Canyon, Kim, who often gave us an overstuffed bag of leftover fries when they cleaned out the fryers after midnight. It became a staple meal, and we got creative reheating them. My favorite variation consisted of piling free fries onto a baking pan, laying five or six free cheese slices over them, and then dumping out a half bottle of free bacon bits before sending the concoction into the oven till bubbly golden brown. That shit was pretty good and filling. And, like most things, great with beer.

I was very happy she had moved away from three flights of stairs into a ground-floor place, and I could visit to get me some home cooking a few times a month.

Joe still worked at the catering company, and also provided some high-quality grub a few days a week. He mostly crashed at the house, but bounced back and forth between my place and Ma’s new place in nearby Pacoima. I was very happy she had moved away from three flights of stairs into a ground-floor place, and I could visit to get me some home cooking a few times a month. Her new crib was cramped, and I could only make it inside as far as the living room, but the fence was an awesome spot to take a leak. Why is it “take a leak?” Except for the few drops in your underwear, you leave everything behind.

Axl Rose Fresh Ink 1985
Iron Maiden Twisted Sister 1985, I Went to That Kiss Show As Well

It might have been coincidence, but as soon as Mike was out of the picture, Axl began coming around. Neither of us held a grudge about his L.A. Guns days, and most times we got along great. He was welcome to crash out at the house any time he wanted, which he did often. Joe and Axl were great friends, and the three of us would often go out drinking and partying. At times, we’d hit the Sunday $1 BBQ at the legendary Palomino Club, a mile up Vanowen from the house. Sunday mornings saw that honky-tonk sparsely populated with hungover urban cowboys who hadn’t found love even in the wrong place, far too haggard to give a shit about the pretty boys and gimp invading their range. Two bucks for Budweiser, and another buck for as much BBQ one could pile onto a medium-sized paper plate, drew us there every so often. And now, whenever I watch Every Which Way But Loose, I jones for cheap bear and BBQ.

I invited Axl along to the Iron Maiden and Twisted Sister concert at Long Beach Arena. I really wanted him to see Dee Snyder, because a few months earlier, Twisted Sister absolutely blew up the Hollywood Palladium stage during a for-sure top five of my all-time favorite rock shows. Dee Snyder gave one of the most astounding frontman performances I ever witnessed, and owned the audience throughout the show. It felt as though the entire audience were all disciples from the Cult of Dee, and more than willing to riot on his command. The Long Beach show made me aware of the challenges of opening up versus headlining. Twisted Sister still rocked Long Beach quite impressively, but without full use of PA and lights – reserved for the headliner – the performance fell a few notches below their spectacular Palladium gig. I thought Iron Maiden was great. But on the ride home, Axl kept on about how goofy Bruce Dickenson looked with bulky sweat socks pulled up and over his pants cuffs.

military boots near american flag with stars and stripes on grass
military boots near american flag with stars and stripes on grass

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Raz Cue

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