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SoulMonster

1989.10.DD - Rock Scene - Guns N' Roses: The Shocking Truth (Robert John, Chris Weber)

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1989.10.DD - Rock Scene - Guns N' Roses: The Shocking Truth (Robert John, Chris Weber)

Post by Soulmonster on Wed Apr 11, 2018 7:18 pm

This is the story of Guns N' Roses; or rather, the UNTOLD story. By now we all know about their illustrious rise, their torrid beginnings, their Hyde and Jeckyl-like frontman, and their 'bad boy' demeanor (guise). But is it just that? A pre-fabricated game plan, innovated by one, management, two, record company, and/or three, the band itself? Note what one Geffen staffer said about Guns N' Roses in their original bio/press release put out prior to Appetite For Destruction's on sale date:
"Guns N' Roses? Yeah, they'll make it... if they live long enough."
What am I getting at? Before we begin the saga, I'll say that this is not yet another article aimed at slagging and cutting down the Guns N' Roses hype and mystique. In fact, this here writer/journalist/fan (whatever you want to call me) found it necessary to engage in this lengthy piece in order to clear up some nasty rumors, and to set the hype straight.
The thrust of this article is the stories and opinions of two individuals; one, a former band member, the other, a past and current friend and confidant. Let's let them tell their stories.
Robert John, a Los Angeles native, is currently Guns N' Roses personal photographer, as well as a close friend to the group. He is also one of the most sincere people I've ever met in this business, all of which leads me to believe that this band can't be that 'yucky' for him to want to be associated with them, especially on a personal level.
Robert used to race motorcycles, but an accident cut his future career on the dusty trails short, and hence through the urgings of friend Chris Holmes (of WASP) he pursued his hobby, photography, as a possible alternative.
Robert was more than happy to sit down with Rock Scene to spill his soul for this unconventional piece. He started out by telling us how he connected with the Gunners.
"The way I first met Guns N' Roses was that Izzy was in this local band in Hollywood that I used to work with, and we became friends," he recalls. "Then we lost touch for a while and I ran into him at the Troubadour (an L.A. club - Ed.) one night. We started talking and he said, 'You gotta come down and check out my new band, Guns N' Roses.' So I thought, 'Okay, that sounds cool.' So I went down to their next gig and I thought they were really cool. I had seen Axl before in L.A. Guns, which Izzy's band was opening for one night. He was playing with this little kid on stage (Tracii Guns - Ed.) who had braces and black hair, and then all of a sudden I saw this guy come down from the drum riser and he's in a gray suit jacket, with all this puffed up red hair. He jumped down on stage and he was like a maniac, plus he had this radical voice. I was really impressed so when Izzy told me that this Axl guy was in the band, I really wanted to check them out."
Robert went on to explain how he later became the band's photographer and personal friend.
"Izzy asked me if I would take a few shots of the band and I said 'Sure.' I went down and shot them at a Country Club gig. They wanted to see the photos afterwards and Izzy warned me that Axl was the pickiest. So I brought over a projector and my slides and met with Axl for the first time. We sat down, looked at the slides and he really liked them. He asked me if I would do a group session of the guys so we did, and from then on I've been working with them, cause the whole band was happy with my work."
"I used to go over to the old studio that they rehearsed in, this little pill box place about the size of my bedroom, and one day it was raining real hard and there was nobody there but Axl. They had this loft that they built from wood that they stole from construction sites, and they used to sleep in it and take girls up there all the time. So Axl was just there hanging out and we started talking and before we knew it we had been talking for about seven hours just about everything. We had so much in common, it was great, and we became good friends just from that, just from getting to know each other. Me and Slash, well, I never trusted him back then because he was like this little street-wise kid, and he used to question everything. But I soon realized from the questions he would ask that he was finding out information, which I liked. I thought that was real smart because he didn't want anybody working with the band that was gonna screw them over with money and stuff like that, even though there was no money back then..."
Our second interviewee, and a veritable resource of information, Chris Weber, had a much more in depth look into the group at its humble beginnings as he was a founding member of Hollywood Rose (for anyone who doesn't already know, this was a band that Axl played in when he came to Los Angeles, before he played with L.A. Guns and later went on to start Guns N' Roses).
"Originally, the band was called A.X.L," Chris explained. "Axl was going by Bill Bailey (his real name), Izzy's name then was Jeff Isbell, but I was calling him Izzy. One day Axl got mad and we ended up changing the name to Rose. I don't remember exactly why the change occurred. Then we began playing gigs under that name, and then again we changed it to Hollywood Rose. That was back in '84, I think."
"I met Izzy through Tracii Guns, who was a good friend of mine while I was growing up in school. He introduced me to Izzy, and later on I got his phone number and called to ask if he wanted to get a band together. He said 'Yeah,' and he introduced me to Axl. So I went over to the place where Axl was living, that was over in Hollywood, and I go up to the roof and he was laying down on this... I don't think he had a towel or anything, just these shorts on, laying on this hot tar roof. He had this bright red hair and he was taking in the sun. I could just see the heat coming off of him. He was sweating and I went up and said 'Hey, I'm Chris,' and he said 'How are you dude?' Ever since then we started playing and writing songs together. That's how it happened."
"For a long time, Axl and Izzy were living in my house, so we'd wake up and I'd come up with a guitar riff and Axl would have some lyrics, or I'd come up with the melody lines and we'd show it to Axl and he'd write the lyrics. I think that their songrwriting technique is a lot different now than it was back then. Their influences were a bit more simple like Ramones and Sex Pistols kinda stuff. The song 'Think About You' was written around that time, and I played it with them live. It's much simpler than the stuff Slash writes. I also knew Saul Hudson (Slash) before he joined the band. We were pretty good friends while growing up. We both came from West Hollywood. Izzy and Axl came from Indiana, and I met up with Axl right after that. He played with another guy back then, one who wouldn't let him sing with a higher voice. He always made him sing lower, like the voice he uses on 'It's So Easy.' He never used his falsetto then. When we worked together he used it and I told him I liked it. Ever since then he used it regularly. His voices really started coming into play with the new band."
"We were all just going our separate ways," Chris explains. "We had been playing together for a long time and everyone wanted to do something else. That was around early '85. Then we got back together. I think it was about New Years '86. We played another gig; they made references to that in Rolling Stone that I played with them at Dancing Waters, like a kind of reunion gig. Izzy booked the gig and they didn't have a band so I said I'd do it. But that was basically the end of it -- that was the end of my collaboration with Guns N' Roses."
They did however part amicably, and Chris has nothing but good things to say about the guys.
"I was hanging out with Izzy for quite a long time," he continues, "and we're still friends. In fact, I was going to help produce them. I did in fact produce a demo tape of theirs with Black Randy. He was a punk singer that recently died of AIDS. That was the last time I did anything musical with them, but three of my songs are on their album/EP. And they didn't forget to credit me, so..."
Back then (1985-86) when Robert and Chris worked with the group (or its various respective members), did they think, or actually know, that Axl, Izzy, Slash, Duff, and Steven had what it takes, those essential ingredients, to make it big?
"A lot of times I used to go check out bands, and I'd bring a friend with me," says Robert John. "Like, me and Don Costa were sitting up in the little balcony at the Troubadour when Guns N' Roses were playing, and we literally stopped talking to listen to the band. You know how a band will come off kind of like background music when you're having a conversation? Well that didn't happen with Guns'. Their music caught me. I felt my body moving to it. So I was really impressed by watching them. Their stage presence as well as everything else about them was great."
But why do they think that Guns N' Roses happened? Chris Weber answers this one.
"I think the world needed somebody like them. They filled a niche that needed to be filled. I can't explain what that niche is... bad boy Rock & Roll, or a real good musical thing, or a return to 70's type thing. I don't know what it is, but whatever it was they were exactly what was needed. They didn't do it cause they kissed ass, and they didn't do it because they had a lot of money behind them. They did it because somebody wanted to hear what they had to offer."
Ironically enough, the group themselves never imagined anything quite like the reality of their current situation.
"You know, they never thought they'd sell," offers Robert. "I remember talking to them back in '85, and they used to never think that they'd be big. I told them 'You guys are gonna go platinum, no problem,' and they would go 'No, no, no.' They did it because they loved it. I know that sounds real cliche, but it's the truth. All these little things are the reason why I gained so much respect for the band. The reason why they're so popular too is that the kids see that. They see that they are for real. It's not a big image put on. If you see these guys out in the street, they look exactly like they look on stage. That's why they never really cared about the money. They do it because they want to do it. That's what made them big."
"I think that every band hopes to be big," he continues. "I'm sure they knew they were good, they'd be stupid if they didn't, but I'm sure that this enormous success is a shocker to them. I know from their reactions that they were pretty shocked, and still are in fact."
And speaking of shocking, let's get to the juicy stuff, i.e. the drugs, the sex, the debauchery -- the GUNS N' ROSES BAD BOY IMAGE!!! Is it unfounded? Myth or reality, here are the facts -- you be the judge!
"As far as drugs go," says Robert John, "they have done their share in the past. But I mean, like as far as this thing with Axl doing heroin... the guy has done it like a couple times and that was a few years ago."
Would that be shooting or snorting, Robert? (Pardon my naivete, dear readers, but I had to ask!)
"Shooting," he continues. "But that was a few years ago. This band's always had a bad rep for being a drug addict band, but they're not. I mean, THEY'RE NOT!!! They do drink, I will not deny that, but drinking is socially acceptable. But as far as the drug thing, most of that is hype. God, Axl works out! In fact, when we're out on tour he hardly drinks. He eats right, he sleeps. Basically, when we're out on tour he's no fun. He doesn't do anything but sit in his room until he goes on stage."
"They didn't do any drugs while I was in the band," Chris Weber offers. "There was just a little bit of pot smoking, but no hard drugs while I was in the band. You know, there are a lot of people that are not in the spotlight that live the life of drugs and go out and raise hell and stuff. Just because certain people get into doing certain things, they decide to focus in on them, but what they don't realize is that half the world is doing the same thing that they are. They're not the only ones. There's a lot better things people could cue in on than seeing how bad Guns N' Roses are, and how many times they got thrown out of a club. Especially with all the great music they're putting out."
"They are really just pretty normal people, and all the attention about them being bad is like I said -- people are always trying to look for the worst in others, because it's anti-establishment. It's coming back to what it was like in the 60's, with the rudeness and all that. There was a big lull in the music industry for a while with New Wave and all. No one was getting in trouble and everyone was good and there wasn't a lot to write about. No dirt. Now that the bad boy thing is back in style, that's the way the Rock & Roll media chooses to show it. It's really a fantasy land of doing what you want and being a bad boy, and they're trying to show what Rock & Roll is made of. Sex, drugs and Rock & Roll really go together anyway."
"Realistically, most of the people in the world are doing what Guns N' Roses are doing, but it's not hip to tell about them because they aren't superstars. That's the reason I think the media should lay off a little bit and if they want to talk about drug abuse, talk about the average Joe."
But that's just it Chris, Guns N' Roses are in fact very far from your 'average Joe's.' Although they are pretty talented, I guess having known them myself, I could safely say that they are relatively conventional, down to earth people.
"Axl Rose is very good-natured, and he is very dedicated to his friends," Robert says in describing the group's unmatched frontman. "He'll go out of his way to help somebody, but at the same time he's standoff-ish. Even at the time when they were just popular on a local level, and people were always coming up to them, I didn't blame them for not wanting to meet everybody. Axl is standoff-ish until he gets to know somebody. Duff's very 'Hi, happy to meet you,' that type of person. The whole band in general will feel out a situation before they go into it, and it's the same with meeting people and becoming friends. I think that's very smart. This band is one of the most intelligent that I've worked with when it comes to people and business. I have a lot of respect for them."
"I hear a lot of stuff now about Axl being moody," says Chris, "but when I knew him he was just a nice, pleasant, and caring guy, who would talk and listen to me, and I would listen to his problems. He was real mellow. He took his time on things, and was very meticulous. Izzy was pretty much like that too. He did things perfectly, and always finished them up. He was also quiet and reserved."
"Axl's always been real introspective, growing up in Indiana and all. He explained it to me once that there's really nothing to do down there. You have to stay home, or get drunk and cause shit, knock over people's mailboxes and whatever. There's not a lot to do. When he was drag racing his car and stuff, the cops would get him. He really got down about that. He told me this story about when he first came to Hollywood, a guy pulled off one of those switches where he says he'll carry your money for you, but you never get the money, the guy just takes off with it. So they pulled that on him. He lost his money that time and he really shaped up."
"After that time, he looked at everything from a distance. He picked and chose what was the right thing to do and he usually ended up doing the right thing. He was careful. We played some gigs where we should have gotten money and we didn't, and we kept our mouths shut. We just wanted to play, that was the most important thing to them, the music."
"Me and Izzy went to Mexico one Christmas and we were walking around, and I remember him in his white creepers and purple socks, and cut-offs, running around the rocks on the beach at this Mexican resort. Purple socks, black hair and white skin, with all these tattoos, and he was chasing iguanas. All these straight people were looking at him, but he didn't care cause he was having a great time. He didn't look like anyone else. He was totally different from anyone they'd ever seen, and he was chasing these iguana lizards."
Since Chris did play in a band with various Guns N' Roses members, I asked him if he noticed that they had any weird habits.
"Axl spends a long time in the shower," he offered.
That's it?! The weirdest thing about Axl Rose is that he likes to be clean? Uh-oh, I don't know how the PMRC and various other anti-Guns/Rock & Roll factions are gonna deal with this one. C'mon Chris, haven't you got any more ammunition for them than that? What about their treatment of women? Now there must be something not entirely kosher in their ever lurid sexual pasts!
"Me and Axl had our little romps with girls," he says. "Back then they really weren't degenerates or anything, they had their own little hang-ups. We were struggling for a while. They had an apartment over on Whitley, and we didn't have enough to eat. There was one time we only had a box of rice for three guys and we'd cook it up, but we had nothing to eat it with, so we ate it out of this glass mayonnaise jar, and we had this blue cheese dressing that we mixed it up with. There were cockroaches running around the place."
"We had Izzy's little tape deck, and this girl named Laura came by and she turned us onto Hanoi Rocks and we really got into them. We were the first band to really revive glam in Los Angeles because back then heavy metal and leather and studs were in. It was really big to wear black, spandex, and studs, and we started wearing bright colors and makeup. We were the first band to do that since the '70's, when the last glam bands died out, right before punk. We wanted to revamp it in Los Angeles. In the beginning, we got a lot of flack for it, with our big hair, a million different ways. My hair was white and Izzy's was blue/black, and we had these rhinestone earrings, scarves, pink leather jackets and high-heeled boots. We got a lot of shit, but we were really proud. We went up there and played a lot of hard rocking stuff, a little heavier than Guns N' Roses is now. So we had that glam thing going, and people started catching on to it. We were friends with Poison and they were kinda dressing like that too."
That's it, Chris? See I told you folks, they're 'nice boys.' But let's continue with those stories and oh so fond memories now ensconced in the minds and hearts of Chris Weber and Robert John. Perhaps they may give us even more insight into this quite intriguing and often misunderstood (and misjudged) group.
"I was registering at school, at this community college, and someone gave us this free gift package when we left," recalls Chris. "Axl and Izzy got a hold of it, and as I was driving down the street in my car, everybody was honking and laughing at me. I finally pull over at a stop sign and I look at Axl and Izzy and they're busting out laughing. I get out of the car and there's all these maxi-pads stuck all over it! They were all over my car! That was one thing I remember in particular."
"As far as live shows go, on stage we used to play this song called 'Beat On My Head' about their landlady. She used to yell at us for playing too loud. So we wrote the following... 'The music's too loud, it just beats, beats, beats, on my head.' Axl would sing what she was saying and the second part was a real blues thing, and we'd speed it up real fast and he'd sing it to her. The first part would be something like, 'You've got to turn it down, it just beats, beats, beats. It's going up and you're going out.' And in the second part he's singing, 'Bitch you'd better shut your mouth or we're gonna burn down your home.' Then he continues, 'You can't stop the music we're lovin', we'll kick your ass and put your dog in the oven.' During that song we'd have these girls come up on stage and dance around in bikini underwear. On that particular night our friend Laura was in the audience. During that song there were two girls on stage, Barbie and Pam. Pam was dancing around Izzy, and Barbie was dancing around Axl. This girl Laura, I guess she had too much to drink that night cause she strips off her clothes down to her panties and bra and jumps on stage and starts running after me, and grabbing my butt. I was chasing her with the tip of my guitar. Everyone was laughing cause they knew that she wasn't supposed to be up there. Axl got a kick out of that."
"One night at the Troubadour, Axl was really, really sick, but the audience didn't know it," relates Robert John. "He was going behind the amps and puking, and then coming out and just jamming and kicking ass. He was really red in the face and sick as a dog. I didn't know how he could do it."
"I remember during the Aerosmith tour he took this scooter that the road crew had off stage and rode it across the stage. I thought he was going to go right off the end."
"I think one of the funniest things was during the last show with Aerosmith. They were playing 'Welcome to the Jungle,' and the guys in Aerosmith dressed up in ape costumes. There was a guy dressed like Tarzan, and there was a rope tied to the rafters, and when they started that song, he came swinging down. Then there were apes all over the stage, with bananas. It was great. It was so funny."
These are stories surrounding the most controversial boys in Rock? C'mon guys, either you're lying to us or the press is... Wait a second, I'm a member of the press... (but a clean one at that!) Pretty fishy indeed. Let's see, what else? Have they changed with success? And how do such 'down to earth' guys respond to fan worship?
"You've got to remember that this is a pretty young band," says Robert John, "and they've matured quite a bit in the way they think. As I've said before, as far as business goes, these guys really know what they're doing. Musically, they're still very street. They're probably better musicians, of course, because they've been playing for a longer time, but they still are very heavy. Just real hard core in the way they think and approach things. As far as success and all that, I haven't seen a change in the band at all. I haven't seen any big egos. Sometimes it might seem like they're standoff-ish, but being out on tour, you can't talk to thousands of people every night -- individually, that is. So they get a reputation for being stuck up when they're not. The only thing I've seen them do is grow up. They're living a little better, not having to scrounge and bum money to get something to eat and drink."
"I don't see much change in their music, which I'm glad of. I don't want them to change just to please an audience. But like I said before, clearly they play music for themselves."
And yet, it's funny that it's become so acceptable, I interrupt.
"It's acceptable," Robert agrees, "at least in my mind because it's dealing with reality. A lot of people are singing about how they're in love, etc. These guys are singing about what's really going on, and people that they've met. That's basically what I've always thought the first album was about. It's just reality. It's things that happened to them."
"Axl's always wanted the good things in life," adds Chris. "He's real big on cosmetics, clothes, cologne and stuff, and now he's able to get it. He can have a nice car, although he's always been a terrible driver. Now they can buy stuff they want. Slash is pretty much the same way. I talked to him recently at the Forum club and he's the same guy I grew up with. He came down with Izzy, threw a $20 bill on the bar and told the guy to fill up a glass with Jack Daniels."
"If they've changed as far as attitude and stuff, I haven't noticed, but then I'm a guy that knew them from the beginning. I don't think they would turn on a longtime friend. I remember Axl coming up to my house last year, and we talked for a while. Their album had just come out. He was just like he was when I first met him, except a bit more street-smart. That's what I don't understand when people talk about how moody he is. He never really was that moody, just introspective. Maybe if they understood him more, the times they think he's being moody he's probably just thinking. Or maybe he's upset inside. That's just the way he is, and the way I grew to know him. Don't push him, that's all."
"I think they feel uncomfortable about the worshipping part," says Robert regarding my question concerning Guns' enormous fan following. "They try to be able to talk to as many people as possible, but like I said, sometimes it gets so overwhelming, and the fans will think 'Oh, they were jerks to me.' Well, it's not just that, it's just because maybe that band member had just talked to 100 people before them. You cannot sign everybody's autograph. You just can't. It would be impossible, or you would be doing this every night with everybody in the arena. They do the best they can, it's just real difficult."
"Believe me, they care about their fans. They make the effort. There have been many times that Axl will say, 'Hey man, let's go out into the audience,' and he'll do it, and I'll be going, 'No, no, no,' because I've also done security for the band, and I know what the situation is like. You go out there and you've got 20-40 kids, all of a sudden more rush up. So what do you do? But he wants to sit there and sign autographs."
"One time, we made a total mistake. We were at a bus stop in New Mexico, and he signed autographs for these two little girls at a truck stop. Then we sat down to eat dinner and when we came out there were 200 kids. It's like word of mouth. It was crazy. The police showed up and everything. And he sat there and signed as many autographs as he could, and was talking to the kids. But it got to be bad because we were trying to take showers and get ready to go and they kept coming over and trying to find out what room we were in. But, he does make the effort."
"You know, I've seen him just sit down and start talking to somebody that he doesn't even know and have a complete conversation with them. Slash does the same thing. Duff's real good like that. We'll go to bars when we're out on tour and I'll just sit there all night and watch Duff talk to people. He makes a lot of friends. They go into bars and make friends, because they're normal dudes. They make friends all over the place."
Last but not least, we get to the essence of this thesis. After the money is collected, and the albums are pressed, sure they've sold 8 million, but how long can it last? It would be nice if it could go on indefinitely, but unfortunately NOTHING lasts forever.
Okay, so if they're in jail, or if they're dead of a drug overdose -- their longevity factor is shot to hell, but then I think we made it perfectly clear that this band is not gonna go because someone forgot to use a rubber, or a clean needle, or someone just plain got carried away. No, Guns N' Roses are not stupid enough to let it end on such a tragic note. (It would be kinda poignant and realistic, though, with their image and all, but...) They've tasted the great life (yeah, great, not just good) and have it all. Possessing that much sought after ability: to mesh musical integrity with some cool mean green (and some healthy amount of peer respect to boot). Wow, who said you can't have your cake and eat it too? They certainly weren't referring to Guns N' Roses!
The core of their being is still that one, sometimes fragile, element that was able to coast them through all their sorrows: the music.
Chris Weber brought an additional, and often overlooked, insight into the picture.
"I'd like to think that as long as they stay healthy, they'll have longevity," he says. "I think that if either Axl, Izzy, or Slash leave the band, it will be completely different. You know, Izzy's really an essential part of that band, more than I think most people realize. The songwriting is a big part of it, but Izzy really is essential to what Guns N' Roses is. Everybody thinks Axl is what Guns N' Roses is, but Izzy's the founder of the whole idea. Izzy's the one that wanted to get the big hair, the image, that whole thing going. So, he's really like a major part. He's not just the rhythm guitar player, he's the guy that stuck with it, really pulled the thing from the bottom up."
"I think they'll be around for quite a while," says Robert John, "because of the realism. It's like with Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones. It's this thing about reality with a blues edge. It's the same thing with Guns N' Roses. I don't like to compare bands, but all three of those I mentioned are alike in that they're very real. It all comes down to a blues-based type of thing. Something that you can dance to and lyrics that you can understand, that you can relate to. I think that's what makes a band have longevity."
Well, there you have it. The sex, the violence, the lies, the shocking truth... Just remember folks, sometimes the gospel of life is not always what it seems.

(Editors Note: Chris Weber has recently reformed Hollywood Rose and should have inked a major record deal by now. Stay posted for a story on his new outfit in a future issue.)
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