A rollicking account of a paralyzed Gen Xer coming of age in the oft-times sordid Hollywood rock scene of the 1980’s
Axl only had one guitarist in mind. But Izzy expressed a desire to explore all options, in hopes of finding an older, more established musician. Axl remained steadfast and eventually convinced Izzy to at least invite Slash over to talk music, and perhaps those two might play some guitar together. The day after that get-together, Axl happily reported of his plan’s rousing success. Izzy was floored by Slash’s talent, and a quick meeting turned into those two jamming through practice amps in Izzy’s living room for most of the day.
Slash played in Black Sheep at the time, so his gear was already at Wilpower Studios when he arrived for his first Guns N’ Roses rehearsal. Steven Adler was at his side, eager to audition for the vacant drum position. By sheer luck, his drum kit was already there. I thought Steven was the obvious choice to replace Robbie. He knew most of the songs, looked great, and was lightyears more stoked about Guns N’ Roses than anyone will ever be. Something Ole once told me remains stuck in my head after all these years. He said, “If the drummer has a boring personality, the band will be boring.” Ole was making a case for having a charismatic wild man on the skins, and Steven was a wild motherfucker with loads of personality.
It wasn’t an automatic deal that Steven Adler joined Guns N’ Roses, merely an audition. When done, he packed his gear and split. After he hit the road, Joe set up Steven’s kit again so the guys could audition a few other drummers. There was a dude, Chain, who Axl really dug and insisted on hiring. Izzy steadfastly refused to play with him, and almost quit G N’ R over it. At some point, Chain told me, “I don’t think Izzy likes me.”
I said, “It’s worse than that.” To keep everyone calm, some diplomatic maneuvers were employed. All agreed that Steven would play the next show, but G N’ R would keep searching for a drummer.
A week before the first performance of the most fondly remembered Guns N’ Roses lineup, Axl and I went to the Country Club for Slash’s final Black Sheep gig. Except for a few rehearsals, I had never before watched Slash play live. I knew he was good, but in front of an audience, he performed on an entirely different level – cool, aggressively loud, and in my heart I understood every sweet ‘n’ nasty note that sang out from his B.C. Rich Mockingbird with a hundred times the passion of anything I’d witnessed at rehearsals. When Poison’s manager, Vicky Hamilton walked up to ask if I knew who Black Sheep’s guitarist was, I said, “That’s Slash, he’s going to be in Guns N’ Roses.”
She smile-drooled. “I love Slash.”
On D-Day 1985, a crowd just shy of two hundred witnessed the first Guns N’ Roses show featuring Slash and Steven. Those two spent their youth mere miles from the club, so plenty of family and childhood friends attended the gig. It had only taken G N’ R three shows to transform into a standing-room-only band, so the club hurriedly pulled tables and chairs from the showroom as more folks clamored in. Unlike their first few Troubadour shows, lots more folks actively rocked out, danced, and gave full-throated cheers.
The show was lightyears beyond any G N’ R had played before, and it was extremely well-received by the amassed crowd. Tracii and Robbie who? There were a few songs added to the set list. I can’t remember why, if Tracii never learned it or Axl didn’t like the way he played it, but that night, they kicked my ass for the first of many times with a Hollywood Rose tune, “Reckless Life.” I loved it when Axl sounded as though he was shredding his vocal cords on a rusty cheese grater, so that’s one of my favorite G N’ R songs. In another change, “Mama Kin” replaced Tracii’s preferred “Sweet Emotion.” The rest of the set was the usual stuff already in the set list.
If you see pictures of those early shows, Slash played through a Marshall half stack, which I had loaned him. At one point in time, I was Tracii’s biggest supporter and fan. It wasn’t hard to imagine him being pissed knowing that high-school-nemesis Slash was playing through gear he once enjoyed unlimited access to. Add to that, Tracii’s former manager and entire road crew were in G N’ R’s camp. Destined to become a has-been after barely making it, Tracii Guns was technically quite the skilled guitarist, but Slash possessed more soul in his pinkie finger than Tracii could ever dream of imagining. Even if he were locked for a decade inside the Motown vaults with a record player, a thousand gallons of moonshine, and a guitar.
Axl was over-the-moon ecstatic about Izzy and Slash playing together in his band, but still wasn’t sold on Steven. Not just because he was willfully outspoken, mostly a no-no for drummers. Or even his exuberance at times affecting his meter. He also lacked subtlety, much like the golfer who hits a three-hundred-yard tee shot that lands ten feet from the pin, then proceeds to hit a three-hundred-yard putt. Steven had one level: loud. Fortunately, the world loves drummers that pound the motherfucking shit out of their drums. Dynamics are for gay drummers. It was always a blast to watch Steven play, and abundantly obvious there was no other place in the world he’d rather be than behind his kit, jamming with those guys. His energy was contagious, and right from the very beginning, Steven often said, “Guns N’ Roses isn’t a band. It’s a way of life.”
After their first photo shoot, Jack Lue had them looking like rock stars right out the gate. I never doubted that G N’ R would appeal visually to a diverse audience. Both bad and good girls are fascinated by bad boys, and looks-wise, there was something for everyone; Izzy was eye candy to the blue-black, Ronnie Wood, Crüe, Hanoi-type lovers; Slash was for those digging a more dark and exotic look; Steven was for lovers of the “dumb-blond” pretty boys; Duff was for Sheena, who is a punk rocker. And then there was Axl, the tattooed, glamorous, pretty young man willing to battle ten guys at the same time if they dared to challenge him.
Sidetrack: Just in case you wondered, as far as I know, none of those five dudes are gay. But then again, neither am I, though I’m pretty sure my boyfriend is.
I playfully dubbed the new lineup “Gash, Beev, Muff, Sleazy, and Asshole.”
Can’t call him that no more, but there was a time, if I said –”hey, ashul” – quickly, yet quietly, and phrased it a certain way, a future golden god sometimes said, “What?” He’d even grin when you got him. Plus, we all often did the “Is he? No, Izzy,” play on words. I knew for sure that if they didn’t break up, they would get a record deal and probably sell a lot of records. Not just because of looks and attitude, but they also wrote great tunes played more aggressively than any of the pussy stuff littering the clubs and airwaves.
A few days before that first show with Slash and Steven, Axl happily reported of Duff arranging for G N’ R to play a gig in Seattle. By the time they hit the road, it had become a handful of West Coast club gigs, ultimately dubbed the “Hell Tour.” The band didn’t even have a logo yet, so a friend of Duff’s made a flyer for the Seattle gig, consisting of Xeroxed pistols and bullets with show info written in black marker. Still hoping another option might present itself, no one asked Steven to go along until the day before departure. But when they called him up to ask if he would play the shows – SPOILER ALERT – he didn’t hesitate to say yes.
I was unable to attend the “Hell Tour,” and firsthand accounts are readily available, so all I can report are the before and after. Roadie Carlos blew up my van’s engine days before Slash and Steven joined, so it sat in the driveway needing so much work I probably should have just junked it. That meant the band was forced to rent a U-Haul trailer. I still planned on going, with a few of the guys riding along in the Pontiac, but awoke with the flu and burning temperature on an unreasonably hot day. I hoped I’d be well enough by go time, but it only got worse. I felt like shit and a total asshole when G N’ R showed up to my house. I couldn’t come through. Undeterred, band and crew crammed into roadie Danny’s mom’s not-so-new station wagon on a ninety-five-degree day, and seven guys set off hauling a trailer full of gear headed straight for the steep, miles-long grade of the infamous car-killing Grapevine.
Starting with Danny’s car dying less than two hours into their voyage, almost everything that could go wrong did. But when they guys returned home, they spoke in glowing tones of the adventure. Getting ripped off by club owners, followed by swift payback to said club, the hitchhiking, and all the other bullshit could have made the guys feel their band was cursed. Instead, they learned to trust one another like family. Because Steven came through at the eleventh hour, Axl so respected the loyalty and eagerness to put everything aside, hop in a car, and hit the road on a minutes’ notice, any talk of looking for another drummer was done. Five guys in a band departed North Hollywood, and days later, a band of five guys returned.
Overnight, the majority of the band lived in Hollywood. So it made far more sense to rehearse at Nickey’s Love Palace instead of deep in the valley. Upon joining the band, Steven’s kit consisted of double bass drums, two floor and four rack toms, plus far too many cymbals. If a man owns ten wives, eventually he must bang them all. His bandmate’s frequent pleas for Steven to adopt a more minimalist style fell on deaf ears. So during the move to Nickey’s, Joe picked up the kit from Wilpower Studios, but made a pit stop and left several pieces at my house. When Joe arrived to the Love Palace with just enough kit to keep a steady beat, he told Steven there wasn’t enough room in his car. By the second rehearsal, Steven was digging the hell out of the smaller kit, and his other drums remained at my house for ages.
It took me a few weeks to get over the flu. After the first three days, it was primarily extremely painful, phlegmy bronchitis, so I decided to quit smoking (cigarettes). I had always planned on quitting when Marlboros went over a dollar a pack, and that threshold had passed a few years prior. I remained cigarette-free through the entire summer. When I began smoking again, my friends didn’t really care about my health. All they wanted to know was, “Does that mean I can smoke in your car again?”
During one of those flu days, I loaned Axl my car to get to work. He left a Sex Pistols tape in the deck, and when I turned the ignition, my speakers blared, “Fuck this and fuck that. Fuck it all and fuck off, you fucking brat.” I don’t know if he did that shit on purpose – because I wouldn’t allow the playing of punk rock in my car or house – or just a happy accident. But I was sold. I never realized I was a punk. Right up to that very moment, I hated punk rock because, in my mind, you were either a punk or a rock ‘n’ roller. Without a doubt, the whole “rock ‘n’ roll is dead” bullshit was probably the worst marketing strategy ever conceived.
Axl often told me that my wheelchair was “a license to be an asshole.” It was all in good fun? But there’s a lot of truth in that statement. I might have mentioned it already, but I got a mouth on me. Basically a shit-talker with anger-management issues who seldom fears verbally attacking even the most intimidating man. Even the ones I might have thought twice about before mouthing off to before my injury.
Whenever you get a bunch of dudes living in the same house, there will be tension. Especially with a power-mad asshole like me running the crib according to lessons learned from the Stalin school of conflict resolution. The most frequent tensions usually revolved around bathroom access. Although it was cool hearing Axl sing Nazareth at full volume while he showered, at times he’d wake before me then fucking camp out in the only bathroom while I repeatedly yelled through the door to let me piss.
There were instances when Axl Rose could be even more of a dick than Mike Jagosz, L.A. Guns’ second singer. For example, Axl ruined Three’s Company for me, for which I still hold a grudge. It all went down after I expressed my eagerness to change the channel, on account of Chrissie’s pink, frilly nightgown. But Axl said, “That’s the stupidest show ever. Every episode’s plot is someone thinking they heard something and all the misunderstandings based on that.”
Fucking asshole, it was true. Before he said that shit, I loved the show. And then couldn’t stand it. I’m so glad we never watched The A-Team together.
Axl was a mellow manager, so most of his Tower Video coworkers loved him. Right before closing, he would start a booze fund and then send an underling across the street to Turner’s Liquor for large quantities of hooch. Once the doors were locked, they’d all get hammered and count stock until the wee hours. Axl’s team-building exercises led to his dismissal, after getting ratted out by some dick. Within a few weeks, he was so broke he needed to sell his LP collection. It was also a rough financial patch for me, and I didn’t even have enough gas money to haul us to Auditory Odyssey. We piled a wooden crate with about fifty records onto my lap and Axl pushed my chair about a half mile to the shop.
Along the way, Axl told me about his folks not allowing him to listen to rock – only Elvis gospel records – so he’d keep his rock ‘n’ roll records hidden and sneak-listen when they were out. That’s why it really ate at him having to sell such cherished items. After the long trek and hassle, the record store only wanted a few of his LPs, for a lowball price. We were both pissed at the rip-off offer, and also having to haul the ones they didn’t want back home. A few years later, soon after its release, I shoplifted more than twenty AFD cassettes from that store. Doesn’t matter if they’re stolen, it goes down as a sale on the charts.
Within weeks, my lean days were over when the lawsuit for breaking my fucking neck reached a conclusion. Having proven myself not to be trusted with a lump sum, I informed my legal team to negotiate a structured settlement. I ended up getting an income of two grand a month for twenty years, plus a fat check every five years. But the first big check wasn’t due until 1991. Twenty years out seemed like money forever. Until that cash was ten years in the rearview mirror.
Axl made a pitch for me to invest in G N’ R, offering me a percentage of the band’s future earnings. I explained that my settlement was structured as monthly payments, so I didn’t have access to ten or twenty grand for investment. I don’t think he really believed me, but did not appear too mad about it. I never invested a penny in G N’ R, mostly because I was broke. But even if I had investment capital sitting around, I likely would not have allocated too much of it in their direction until I was absolutely sure they were a solid unit. In the first three months of being a band, they had replaced three members. By all outward appearances, the revolving door of band members did not appear it would stop spinning anytime soon.
I was 100 percent certain that if G N’ R stayed together, they’d be huge. But also 98 percent positive they would not last six months. But my number-one reason for not being interested in the slightest to invest in any more bands was due to a regular course of business I witnessed firsthand during my year in the biz. Whenever a local band got signed to a major-label recording contract, at the record company’s insistence, the band immediately cleaned house. Any and all business ties to the past were severed immediately, so powerful businessmen, connected managers, and professional crews could be hired as needed. From a business standpoint, it made infinite sense. There’s far too much money and time invested to let an amateur manager hold a band back, or to allow a bunch of party-buddy, partners-in-crime roadies to remain as bad influences on already bad men.
Despite me not forking over any seed money, everything remained cool between us as Guns N’ Roses gained popularity in leaps and bounds. They were playing everywhere, as well as getting booked onto bills with huge-drawing popular bands. Then, without exception, G N’ R blew everyone off the stage. About a month after their most popular lineup formed, G N’ R played the Stardust Ballroom, opening for London, the Joneses, and headliner The Unforgiven. The crowd was fairly large considering how early they went on – more than three hundred folks. The Joneses were one of my favorite acts, so I watched them and didn’t go backstage to hang with G N’ R until afterward. A few minutes after I arrived in the dressing room, David Lee Roth poked his head through the doorway and told Axl, “I liked the show, man.”
A month later, at the Troubadour, I noticed my Marshall amp was not in attendance. I formed a fairly good theory about why. Izzy had recently figured out a way to monetize his hobby, and soon almost everyone in our circle was into tinkering with model trains. A few of them were making several trips daily to the hobby shack to pick up the stuff needed to keep trains on tracks. It’s not a poor man’s hobby. So when the band’s roadies had to have a new caboose they had their eye on, at times they sold some equipment. One little snag though – it was my equipment.
At first, I didn’t notice shit missing, because after my van broke down, my gear departed in vehicles that didn’t automatically return to my house after a show. Once I realized something was not quite right, I asked Joe repeatedly where my stuff was, only to be stonewalled. After a few weeks of run-around, I demanded all of my property be returned home immediately, and only then did I get the word my shit was “missing.” Train-train! Before we finally figured out roadie Carlos was the fiend stealing gear, I placed a free Recycler ad offering “Marshall 100-Watt Head Modified by Jabco. $100 or Trade for Lionel 408E Standard. Call before 7 a.m.,” and left Izzy’s number.
Once the whole missing gear and cover-up bullshit came to a head, I was super raging pissed off at Joe for being more loyal to other people than looking out for family. Never one to realize when he is absolutely wrong, he got up in my face to violently scream and yell. So I kicked him out of my house. And because he was months behind on rent, he went. Anyone who knew me back then will tell you I threw a better temper tantrum than a schizophrenic four-year-old with a blunderbuss. So after the shouting match, I remained in a superiorly shitty mood and yelled through the door at Axl, “Get the fuck out of my bathroom! I got to piss.” He didn’t dig my tone, so he split with Joe.
That same night, I rolled into the Troubadour bar, and at the table just inside the door sat Jennifer Perry and Vicky Hamilton. Before even saying hello, Vicky gleefully announced, “I no longer work for Poison.”
I congratulated her and said, “You should manage Guns N’ Roses, they’re gonna be huge.”
She scoffed. “No way.”
I told of Slash joining the group and reminded her how much she liked him in Black Sheep. When Vicky asked why I wasn’t managing them, I told her, “My brother’s their stage manager, and working together might prove fatal.”
Even after Joe and Axl moved out and I skipped G N’ R’s shows, I still occasionally hung out with Steven Adler. He was a fun fellow pot-head, got attention from lots of chicks, and I was more than happy with table scraps. About a week after Axl moved out, Slash called to find out what happened, and why I wasn’t at their Troubadour show the night before. He seemed happy to hear that I still loved his band and was not at war with Axl.
Slash worked at a Centerfold Newsstand, right around the corner from Fairfax high, a good job for making business calls and perfectly located for people to drop stuff off or talk band business with him. Over the next few weeks, he called several times and we’d chat for a while, and then, before hanging up, he’d usually say something like, “Raz, c’mon, man. Why don’t you manage us?”
I’d give a variation of my same answer. “It’s not that I don’t believe in you guys. I think if you keep the band together, you’ll get signed. At this stage, you guys don’t need a manager, but if you stay together for a year, I’ll do it.”
I kept to my usual routine of hearty partying, seeing bands, or networking at the Troub’s front bar. One night, when Ratt’s Stephen Pearcy entered, I noticed a joint behind his ear, causing me to jones. I rolled over to request the doobie be sparked, and he said that after checking out a friend’s band, he’d smoke me out. About an hour later, I looked through the bay window to see Pearcy out front signing autographs. I turned away, but when I looked back, he was gone. I was a little annoyed, wishing he had just said no instead of giving the brush off. But next thing I knew, he was at the bar’s doorway, calling out while waving an arm, “C’mon outside, we’re going to spark it up.” Cool dude, never even met him before and he did me a solid.
Ole Beich had gotten himself a job at an upholstery shop right next door to L.A. Guns’ old lockout studio by Sunset and Gardner. One afternoon, I stopped by to smoke him out, and he introduced me to a cool guitarist, J.J. Bolt. His band, Johnny and the Jaguars, practiced, partied, and mostly lived in the former L.A. Guns studio. Johnny, Double-J, Bobby, Sid, and Dizzy were chick-magnet party animals, prowling the wilds of Tinseltown on a relentless hunt for prey. So the band eventually adopted a much more appropriate name, The Wild.
The Wild treated me like a brother, and some of the best nights of my youth were spent at their place trying to convince fat-bottomed girls they had always wanted to do a quad. So much harmless screwball criminality and debauchery went on in or near those studios that eventually the building got bulldozed to make way for Guitar Center’s parking lot.