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2018.11.14 - UltimateGuitar - How I Joined Guns N' Roses and how I was Fired (Gilby)

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2018.11.14 - UltimateGuitar - How I Joined Guns N' Roses and how I was Fired (Gilby)

Post by Soulmonster on Wed Nov 14, 2018 8:20 am

Gilby Clarke: How I Joined Guns N' Roses & How I Was Fired
UG exclusive: "There were so many people that were trying to pull the power of that band apart so that was hard."

I spoke to Gilby Clarke back in 1994 when his first album Pawnshop Guitars had just been released. One of his last comments to me was, “I think GN’R is something that will be around for a long time so if I take a little break for now, I think it’s OK."

We all know that when Clarke left the band - when Axl Rose made him leave the band - that would be the last time he would ever play with Guns N’ Roses but that was OK. He would continue on to pursue a solo career that now includes seven albums, EPS and Best Of Records with an eighth recording due to drop in the spring of 2019.

In advance of that, Gilby has set out to play a series of live dates [see details below].

“I have a new solo album coming out next spring so I’m just kind of getting out there,” Gilby says. “I got offered a little run of shows so I decided to take it and get the blood pumping again. Over the last five or six years, I do gig dates but I don’t do a full-blown tour. It’s mostly weekend warrior stuff and most of it is international. Rarely do we play in the States.

Clarke is a road hog. He has toured with his own bands—Candy and Kill For Thrills—and undertook a mammoth around-the-world juggernaut with Guns N’ Roses. Here he talks about the upcoming record, life inside and outside GN’R and big amps versus small amps.

We actually spoke back in ’94 when your first album Pawnshop Guitars had just been released. Hard to believe it’s been more than 24 years.

Oh, my god. It was amazing at that time because Virgin did a really good job with marketing and promotion. I did a pretty extensive promotion tour doing interviews and performances. Those things just don’t happen anymore. [Laughs] Not for me anyway.

I don’t think that happens for just about anybody unless you’re The Stones or Guns N’ Roses.

If you’re Guns N’ Roses, you don’t do any interviews. [Laughs]

Can you talk a little bit about the new record?

Anybody who knows me as a solo artist, my records don’t really sound that different. Songs on Swag could be on Pawnshop Guitars and songs on Pawnshop Guitars could be on The Hangover. That’s the music I like. I always create a record I would want to hear. I like rock and roll though I guess it’s now called classic rock. I like loud guitars, I like the drums pumping, good melodies and good guitar parts. This record really is like a classic rock and roll record. There are no modern twists but it’s punchy. To me it’s got like Bad Company or early Queen. It’s definitely guitar-drive and I have a couple rootsy songs on there in open G or that Stonesy or country twang to it. No frills or tricks.

You’re going to tour as a trio, which must be entirely different than when you were doing the two-guitar thing with Slash in Guns N’ Roses.

All the bands I was in before Guns N’ Roses, I actually was the only guitar player. When that opportunity came up, I really wasn’t in a position to say, “Hey, Slash. Why don’t we split the solos?” [Laughs] It’s his band and they already had an established sound and were extremely successful.

So you’re very comfortable in a trio.

I like the challenge of a three-piece. A lot of my favorite stuff when I was younger was a singer and one guitar. I’m definitely a better rhythm player than I am a lead player and I think that’s probably the strong part of the set. People always say, “Your band sounds so full for a three-piece” and it’s because we’re taking care of the rhythm in the backbone.

Do you really consider yourself a better rhythm guitarist than a soloist?

I still do. Just like all guitar players, you learn to play lead and when I do my records I’m the lead guitar player. When I first started in Hollywood, my first job was as a session guitar player working all over L.A. so doing lead is just part of being a guitar player but I do enjoy the rhythm part of it. I don’t know if I really have a practice schedule but I always have a guitar in my hand when I’m at home and I really don’t sit there and doodle leads that much. It’s more of a writing process and trying to figure out something new and exciting.

Were you listening to rhythm players like Keith Richards and Pete Townshend?

It wasn’t really picking out a rhythm thing. I never sat down to be a rhythm player but that’s a tag I got from the Guns thing. When I first started, my favorite guitar player was Rick Derringer. I just thought he was the greatest. He was the whole package: He could write songs, he could play guitar, he could sing and the melodic thing in the way he played was incredible.

Derringer was a great guitar player.

For me over the years, the guitar thing came more from the songwriting aspect. When you just mentioned Keith, it was really because of the songs he wrote when he went into his open G period and things like the fuzzbox in “Satisfaction.” It was more about his creativity as a guitar player than as an actual guitar player.

When you got the call from Guns N’ Roses, did you think that was a band that had that type of rock and roll thing you talked about earlier? Did you see Guns as a truly authentic rock and roll band in that same tradition as Bad Company or early Queen?

Absolutely. When I was asked, I joined that band for a lot of different reasons. There wasn’t any negative checks in the box but one of ‘em was because I thought it was a great band. For me, what I was trying to achieve at that time is I really just wanted a loud version of The Rolling Stones and to me that’s what Guns was. They were a loud version of The Rolling Stones.

They were.

They can do an acoustic song like “Patience” and then they can do “Paradise City” or “Out Ta Get Me.” They covered it all and that’s what I liked about bands. If you listen to a Queen record, it’s all over the place. They’re rocking like a rock band but they can be melodic with “You’re My Best Friend” where you wouldn’t even know that’s a Queen song if you didn’t know Queen. All the bands of that period were like that. They were very versatile.

Which is what made those classic rock bands so great.

Nowadays because people are so afraid to step out of their box of selling downloads or whatever the hell it is now that they don’t do that. If you listen to my first record Pawnshop Guitars, it’s like that: There’s some hard rockers on there but there’s a little bit of rootsy, country twang on there and there’s Beatles pop on there because that’s what I like.

And Guns had that?

When Guns gave me that call, I said, “Man, this is a loud version of The Stones. It’s outlaw and it’s real.” It really was a dangerous rock and roll band and nobody knew what was gonna happen. You know what? I loved that. To me that was rock and roll.

How old were you when you joined Guns?

I was 30. I had already had two major label-signed bands before Guns so I had already been out there doing things. It’s funny because Guns came along and I was already in a band that was headlining local clubs and had a major label deal and stuff when they were just starting out.

That was Candy?

That was Candy, my first band and then my second one was Kill For Thrills, which was on MCA.

You weren’t a complete unknown joining a huge band.

Yeah. I had never played a stadium gig before but I had already done arena and theater tours and been on the road quite a few times. I definitely had all that kind of experience.

Was there an actual audition for the band? Were you nervous?

Was I nervous? No. I think the reason for not being nervous is once again I was 30 when I got the call. I had already been out there and knew it was an opportunity besides the amazing chance to join a great rock and roll band. I thought, “You know what? I’m not gonna try to be Izzy. I’m just gonna be myself and play the way I play and talk the way I talk and be who I am. If they like me for who I am then hopefully things will work out.”

That’s the mindset you had going in?

That was a little bit of confidence going into it. There’s a funny story with the very first gig I did with them. The guys were really nervous for me. They were like, “Oh, my god. He’s playing these arena shows. Is he gonna freak out?” While Matt was doing a drum solo, I was sitting in my little booth behind my amp and each one of ‘em came up to me and said, “Are you OK? Is everything good? Is it cool?”

What did you say?

I was actually sitting down eating a pizza. [Laughs] It was halfway through the set and I go, “Yeah, I was just a little hungry. I didn’t realize it was really a three-hour show.” I hadn’t eaten an hour before the show and so I said, “I’m just a little hungry. That’s all.”

There was an audition?

I did go down and play with ‘em a couple times right before but it just kinda really worked out. Slash first called me literally at midnight and said, “Hey can you come down tomorrow and jam with us?” The Illusion records weren’t out yet. They had already done a couple live gigs but the records weren’t out yet. So he goes, “Why don’t you just learn three songs? You just pick three songs.” So that phone call came at midnight and one o’clock the next day I was playing with ‘em. I really didn’t get a chance to sit down and learn ‘em. I basically listened to a cassette in my car on the way. One of the songs I remember was “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.”

Did you ever play with them again?

That worked out and they asked me to come back the next day and then that was it. The next time was really a live show a week later. I only had a week to learn their whole 50-song set.

You said you didn’t try and replace Izzy but certainly you had listened to what he played on those previous Guns records.

Oh, absolutely. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying I didn’t play Izzy’s parts. Izzy’s parts were an important part of the band. I meant I wasn’t trying to be him and imitate him. I took his parts and made ‘em my own. Even Slash said the same thing at the time and goes, “Look, just listen to it and make it your own.” He thought it was important as a musician for me not to just be up there covering it but for me to find my place within the band. He thought it was important and it was. I took the important stuff you wanna hear but I just played it the way I would play it.

Were those songs difficult to learn?

The playing part no but what was tricky and challenging was if you really listen to Guns’ music, what’s unique about it is every time the solo section comes the rhythm part and the music underneath it is a complete different part of the song. In most songs, people solo over a chorus or a verse but not in Guns, man. It’s kinda like that Aerosmith thing where it was a complete new part and there were times in my head [chuckles]—and you gotta understand I learned 50 songs in a week—there were a couple of jumbles in my computer in my head. “Is this rhythm part the one that goes to that song?”

That probably took some study.

My goal was to get onstage and not have any cheat sheets. The only cheat sheet I had was Izzy’s actual cheat sheet for the song “Coma,” this big 15-minute song where the changes are all different. Izzy had a cheat sheet and I go, “Hey, can I borrow that?” I had to use his cheat sheet for “Coma,” which I probably only played once or twice in two-and-a-half years.

You said that all the guys were welcoming of you to the band but in the end, Axl kicked you out of the band and didn’t even tell you.

If there was a negativity about the ending of it, it was just that thing of no real communication. I never heard directly from him. If there was something wrong or something him and I didn’t see eye to eye on, I never got that directly from him. The people in-between had their own agendas so I don’t think they were really representing him correctly and they may not have been representing me correctly.

At that level, everybody has a handler and an assistant and somebody else to do the dirty work. Right?

There were so many people that were trying to pull the power of that band apart so that was hard. I mean Axl and I were on the same freaking page. If you see any footage from back in those days, anytime him and I were onstage together we were laughing. He’d sing a line and I’d make a joke and it would crack him up. We had a great relationship. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and he grew up in Indiana and we probably grew up within a hundred miles of each other. We grew up with the same radio and we used to laugh about that like we knew all the same Top 40 songs in that period we grew up in.

Still, what happened to you at the end of the band was pretty mean.

We had a good relationship but in the ending did we agree? Absolutely not. I didn’t think Guns N’ Roses should have three guitarists in the band. [Laughs] I was pretty stern about it so we didn’t agree but it doesn’t mean I didn’t respect him or care about him and vice versa. He came out to some jams I had over the years and stuff. No, there’s no bad blood. Still to this day, I try to remember the good stuff and not the bad stuff and I always say, “We’re all on the same fuckin’ team.” They care about music, they care about rock and roll and I care about music, I care about rock and roll. I would never ever do anything to tarnish the image of the band. I want that legacy to live on and I want them to make new records. I want it to live.

Then Axl and everybody else in Guns showed up on your first solo album so the breakup couldn’t have been that bad.

No, not at all. But there will always be stuff. You can pick apart little things where people don’t agree with each other and make something bigger out of it. But the core stuff is good and that’s important.

It must have felt good to have Axl and Slash and everybody play on Pawnshop Guitars.

It was great. At the time, it wasn’t what I was thinking. It just ended up that way. We had just ended a two-and-a-half year tour where we were living together for two-and-a-half years. That’s your circle so I was the first one in the studio after that so they were all hanging out at the studio when I was making the record, which says how we did things. To be honest, it’s not like I had a choice with them playing on the record because they were hovering over me all the whole time, hahaha.

Was the size of the Guns N’ Roses tour with all the media and attention pretty unbelievable?

Of course but you adapt pretty quickly when you get in that situation. You gotta understand that for them it was all new to them too. The stadium tour with Metallica was their first stadium tour so we were all in it together at that time. I never looked at it as scary or nerves. I really never ever did. It was exciting is what it was and it was fun.

You knew about the stuff that was going on with the band before you joined?

Oh, yeah. Granted, we got excessive. [Laughs] But we were all young guys enjoying our summer and it just kind of comes with the territory.

The excess never got too excessive?

Well, yes, I mean it did. It definitely did. Everybody was trying to keep it under control. Let’s just say that. Things did get out of hand but once again, I knew what I was getting into when I joined the band and I think that outta control stuff was almost what the public wanted. You’ve got to remember this was the outlaw band like Motley Crue and people loved it.

That is true.

They fed off of it. It’s not like anybody was doing it for those reasons. That really was everyday life. It’s like we didn’t know anything different. It was the faculties we had at that time to deal with that stuff.

The only recording you did with the band was The Spaghetti Incident album of covers. What was that like in the studio?

We did some of the songs while we were on tour and then when we got back, we went into the studio to cut some more. I think everybody knew we weren’t gonna make a record for a while so it was something to get out there while the band was still hot. It was a record of all the music that influenced the band and the influences that made the band who it is. I think everybody had their finger in it like, “Oh, let’s try this song. Let’s do that song.”

What were the sessions like?

For me, it was really natural. They recorded the way I like to record: We were all in a room together. The amps were isolated but we were all in a room together and looking at each other. To me, I still try to do that today because to me that’s the magic of music. I respect Matt as a drummer, I respect Slash, I respect Duff and I want to play better for them. I don’t want them to look at me and go, “Oh, my god. That take sucked ‘cause you suck.”

You did push yourself as a guitarist?

I wanna play better and I know everybody felt the same way. They liked looking at each other playing with the live drums and that’s how we cut it. The only thing for me and I’ve spoken about this before is when I joined Guns, I was a Les Paul, Telly, Marshall guy. JCM800 or a JMP 50-watt I used at that time.

Obviously Slash was using Les Pauls and Marshalls.

Slash is a Les Paul and Marshall guy. He plays with more gain than I do but I had to kind of find my sound within the band. I switched to [Vox] AC30s at one point, which really helped me because the rhythm parts were just a little more percussive. Izzy and I don’t play that far apart in that kind of area where you’re playing accents with another guitar player so I switched to AC30s and it really helped me find my identity within the band.

You used the Vox in the studio?

When we were recording, I used a combination of an AC30 or this old Fender brown Deluxe. It was these small amps made this big GN’R sound. It really helped us find that groove where it was comfortable playing in the studio together.

You kept playing the Les Paul?

I had my Les Pauls, I had a couple Tellys and I played Zemaitis guitars. Tony [Zemaitis] actually made me two Zemaitis electrics I had at that time, which really are the best Les Pauls ever made.

What gear are you using on the upcoming album?

It’s my Les Paul and JMP Marshall on one side and on the other side if it’s not an AC30, it’s the little Fender brown Deluxe. I really do use the same things I always have. You find that sound that works in the studio but it may not have the volume for live. In the studio, it’s a Telecaster, the Zemaitis. I picked up this really nice Duesenberg with those TV Jones pickups in it that sounds really good.

How would you describe your guitar sound?

My sounds are fairly clean. It’s not quite the AC/DC approach and I don’t use a lot of gain when I’m recording the guitars. I like that edge and to me that’s all those records we were talking about like Bad Company and the Faces and all that. Those amps really weren’t that dirty back then.

People always think that Jimmy Page was using Marshalls to record but those guitars were really…

Small but it gave room for the drums to breathe. The Bonham sound was there because the guitars weren’t saturated and they didn’t take up that spectrum.

Guitars being recorded today on hard rock and metal albums saturate the entire track and you can’t hear anything going on.

I do a lot of recording and guys will come in with a lot of saturation and a lot of bottom and the first thing I have to say is, “You gotta watch your bottom with the guitar. Let the bottom be the bass guitar’s job. If you double up with that, it’s gonna take up the whole track and there ain’t gonna be any room for anything.”


That’s where you listen to things like Pantera and even though he’s got a big, heavy sound, it doesn’t overpower everything.

Finally, some questions from the readers. Do you remember the first record you ever bought?

Absolutely and this is a crazy one: Elton John’s Greatest Hits. I don’t know how or why. Unfortunately in my younger days, I was a little bit of a thief but the first record I actually paid for was Elton John’s Greatest Hits.

What is an instrument you can’t play would like to learn?

Oh, easy. Saxophone. I love saxophone. Sometimes when I’m being hired as a session player and I start going into my normal solo, I have to simplify and think, “How would the sax approach this song?” and that really helps me. I’ve tried and I just don’t have the lips.

If you could take one guitar lesson from anybody living or dead, who would that be?

Wow. Jeff Beck. I’m not the hugest Jeff Beck fan but I really respect his approach and how he started and where he is today. He’s one of the greatest.

You can put together your dream band of musicians living and gone. Who would you choose?

Well, that’s really easy: Keith Moon on drums. Bass is a hard one, man. There are so many great bass players. I’d have to say Paul McCartney. I’d have to be playing guitar. Singing? That’s another tough one. It would probably be Robin Zander.

And McCartney could do backup vocals.

Exactly. [Laughs] Funny enough, I’m actually a John Lennon guy but McCartney’s bass lines are just freaking amazing. It’s that thing of making the bass an instrument and not just doubling the guitars.

Do you remember your first guitar?

Oh, absolutely. My first guitar was one of those three-pickup Harmony or Sears guitars with the three metal pickups and six knobs and all that. My first professional guitar was actually a Les Paul Standard I bought.

Why a Les Paul?

Ace Frehley, Jimmy Page, Peter Frampton. That was the era I grew up in. The Peter Frampton three-pickup Les Paul is just the most beautiful instrument of all time.


You got it, man. Take care.

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Re: 2018.11.14 - UltimateGuitar - How I Joined Guns N' Roses and how I was Fired (Gilby)

Post by Blackstar on Wed Nov 14, 2018 12:02 pm

"I didn’t think Guns N’ Roses should have three guitarists in the band. [Laughs] I was pretty stern about it so we didn’t agree but it doesn’t mean I didn’t respect him or care about him and vice versa."

This is a new one from Gilby. He has never mentioned it before.

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Re: 2018.11.14 - UltimateGuitar - How I Joined Guns N' Roses and how I was Fired (Gilby)

Post by Soulmonster on Wed Nov 14, 2018 8:46 pm

[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] wrote:
"I didn’t think Guns N’ Roses should have three guitarists in the band. [Laughs] I was pretty stern about it so we didn’t agree but it doesn’t mean I didn’t respect him or care about him and vice versa."

This is a new one from Gilby. He has never mentioned it before.

So the implication is that Axl already in the early 90s was thinking about adding a third guitarist. It wasn't an idea he came up with later as the UYI lineup started to dissolve. Did he already have Paul Tobias in mind?
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Re: 2018.11.14 - UltimateGuitar - How I Joined Guns N' Roses and how I was Fired (Gilby)

Post by Blackstar on Wed Nov 14, 2018 9:54 pm

I've always thought that the three guitars idea came during the CD era, as even the first CD lineups had two guitarists, and then when Finck returned Axl wanted to keep both him and Buckethead.

It's strange that Gilby hasn't mentioned this before and he does now. I'm not sure if he's referring to the early 90s (the UYI tour). Axl had said in 1992 that they didn't know if they wanted to work with Gilby for the next album and he was thinking about somebody else (he had mentioned Dave Navarro); so it doesn't seem he had thought about adding a third guitarist yet.  I think Gilby is talking about the period after the UYI tour and before he left (mid '94). What I can speculate is that because Slash wanted to keep Gilby and Axl didn't think he was good enough, Axl might have suggested that they added another guy. Or he wanted Paul Tobias as an additional guitarist in the studio (because when Paul was brought in, Gilby was still in the band).

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Re: 2018.11.14 - UltimateGuitar - How I Joined Guns N' Roses and how I was Fired (Gilby)

Post by Soulmonster on Wed Nov 14, 2018 11:51 pm

I sent him an email. He didn't answer my previous email, but I have interviewed him before so who knows....
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