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SoulMonster

1993-04-DD - Interview with Izzy

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1993-04-DD - Interview with Izzy

Post by Soulmonster on Sat Jun 18, 2011 7:34 am

"I missed you yesterday, sorry," a bubbly Izzy Stradlin apologized unnecessarily from Chicago. "We got a new PA in here, and it was one of those things where we got going. We broke at eight o'clock, because I knew we had some stuff to do, but we didn't last five minutes before everybody was back playing again."

There was some justifiable urgency to the rehearsals, as the following night would see the opening show by Stradlin's new outfit, the Ju Ju Hounds, at a small Chicago club called The Avalon, but the fact that Stradlin was unable to drag himself away from practicing to fulfill his publicity commitments indicated something far more significant--and it wasn't rudeness. The man was rediscovering the magic of striking strings and not having the chords hit a stadium wall and bounce back ten seconds later, and the tap of a stick on a snare drum that didn't sound like an explosion. Izzy Stradlin was making music, "his" music, with his identity.

Not that he was ever in need of a character boost. When Guns N' Roses were in Australia late in 1988 a promo shot was taken of the band at a reception to mark the success of Appetite for Destruction. Axl was nowhere to be seen, and Slash played it casual with his hair pulled back. But Izzy, Izzy was pure cool, cigarette dangling in classic Keith Richards mode, decked out in shades, a black hat and a "Never Too Loud" T-shirt from the Aussie group Rose Tattoo, which Slash had given him. Talk about getting in good with the locals.

"I'd like to listen to [Tattoo's] Scarred for Life again," he enthused from Chicago when I mentioned the shirt. "There was a couple of songs on there that I might be able to sing, and I was thinking there's be some killer covers to do."

The Sydney date of that GN'R tour was an interesting character study of both Axl and Izzy. Axl was outraged when he read that openers Kings Of The Sun had said something about the influence of Rose Tattoo on Guns. When he hit the stage, he lashed out savagely at the Kings. Then, later in the night, a member of the crowd began giving Axl some lip, and the singer moved to the front of the stage to try to sort him out. Izzy seemed to sense the potential for big trouble and grabbed Axl's arm with casual reassurance, as if to say, "Forget it."

"I was always pretty quiet, and that band was pretty much...." The thought and his voice faded. "I don't know, I guess in some ways I was sort of a balancing factor between Axl and the rest of the guys at one point. I don't know how it evolved to where it is now. I don't know what goes on with them now. "

Izzy's firm belief in the need to get on with the show was to be frustrated enormously in the years to come. Toward the end of his tour of duty with the Gunners he even traveled separately from his comrades which earned him the nickname Mr. Invisible.
"It was only because it was much simpler," he explained. "Most of the time I got there before the plane did. As weird as it sounds, that was usually the case."

His last show with the band was at London's Wembley Stadium in August 1991, though it wasn't until November that he was a free agent. The decision to split wasn't sparked by any one incident.

"It was a gradual process," he admitted. "Before I left I spoke with Axl for a couple of hours on the telephone, and he made it real clear to me that he was going to be running things, so to speak, and there were some conditions put up that I was going to have go by. He was trying to make it good for me as well, I guess, but at the same time I realized that was it, I was done. The next day I signed my leaving papers. What a relief, too, I gotta tell you. I got tired of it, man. I just didn't understand it anymore. It didn't make any sense to me."

On his own at last, he kicked back in his hometown of Lafayette, Indiana, for awhile, then took a drive around the country, touching down in places like Florida and the Grand Canyon.

"I was just going to ride dirt bikes, man; that's all I had on my mind," he chuckled. "But that got old after a 20 degree below zero temperature change. I started playing guitars again and writing some songs and put this together."

The name Ju Ju Hounds sounds like a phrase from an old Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson lyric, but the band--bearlike guitarist Rick Richards (ex-Georgia Satellites); Izzy's old bass-playing buddy Jimmy Ashhurst (ex-Broken Homes), who helped him pull the band together; and drummer Charlie Quintana--have an impact that probably has those legendary bluesmen quaking in their graves. Just the thought of Rick Richards conjured up visions of the Georgia Satellites' blistering string of Australian dates arrant the time of their major label debut.

"We've got a similar sort of thing going with the Ju Ju Hounds," Izzy explained. "It's a little bit more mixed. We've got a little reggae in there and a little bit of punk rock as well. It's a good mix."

Prior to the band getting together, Izzy was planning to do some writing with Cheap Trick's Robin Zander. The idea was nixed partly because he was in Indiana and Zander was in Chicago, but mainly because he had linked up with Ashhurst and felt the need to smell the inside of a recording studio.

Recording for the Pressure Drop EP and the subsequent Ju Ju Hounds album began in February with a pool of 24 songs. The session was handled in an "if it ain't happening in a couple of takes, forget it" manner. The original material was fresh, with the exception of "Train Tracks," which was first written in 1988 or 1989--but never completed--and rewritten before recording. The results are pretty much a continuation of the stripped-down, bare-bones swagger that started with the Stones and moved through Aerosmith, the New York Dolls and anyone else with a strong sense of swing and grit.

"Yeah, exactly," Izzy agreed. "Things were getting too complicated the way I was going, and there wasn't enough music happening. I don't think I read anything about the recording I did with GN'R on the last albums. The only thing I ever saw or heard about was what trouble so and so had been into or what sort of shenanigans were going on. It got boring. It was like, this ain't what it's about; it's about the music. So with this thing, yeah, we totally stripped it back down."

The album also features a contingent of Stones styled or connected guests. Ron Wood handles a guitar and vocals on "Take a Look at the Guy," which he also penned, and former Faces member Ian McLagan, who played with the Georgia Satellites, guests on organ. Stones' keyboard legend Nicky Hopkins and reggae figure Mikey Dread appear on both the album and EP. Izzy's interest in reggae, ironically, goes back to when the Gunners were poised to make an impact as a flat-out, balls-to-the-wall rock 'n' roll band.
"Somewhere around the mid-'80s, when we were doing the album Appetite, that was when I first started listening to it a little bit," he said. "In the past two or three years it's been one of my major diets. I find it so relaxing, and I just really enjoy it. It's fun to play too. All the songs we did, we can play them reggae. We did a reggae cover of 'Bucket O' Trouble' [the Ramones-like album cut]. Pretty sick."

So, I asked, was there anything that didn't make it onto the album?

"Yeah," he said with a chuckle, "an 18-minute reggae jam of 'Can't Hear 'Em,' a whole reel of tape."

While there is a Stonely essence in Stradlin's solo work, to my mind there are greater parallels at various points with the Heartbreakers, the classic punk swagger-stagger outfit dragged together by the late Johnny Thunders after the demise of the New York Dolls. The hounds oven do a version of Bo Diddley's "Pills" as done by the Dolls on their first album.

For Izzy, punk is far form being just this or another year's model. In his youth he played drums in a punk band called the Atoms. He later switched to guitar and became a skateboard maniac to a blazing soundtrack of all things angry and energized.

"I was just living on that stuff [punk] every day, all day long," he said. "I loved it. I still do. I still love that music."

For these reasons I figured Izzy must have had a lot of his heart and soul wrapped up in the punk covers Guns recorded a while back when he was still with the band.

"I don't know what happened to that," he said.

Did he have much of an input into it?

"I'm trying to think what songs were on that thing."

Wasn't it a Dead Boys song, a Damned song, a Fear song?

"Oh, yeah, sure. Those were all the records and cassettes I had at one point. Yeah, I was into that stuff. I forget how it came about that we recorded it, though, and I don't know what happened, if they're going to put it out or what's the plan."

That concept would appear to be more to Izzy's style than a lot of the stuff on "Illusion I" and "II".

"For "Illusion"?" he said, "That record, for me, had it been my way in a perfect world, I would have done it as a lot shorter and a lot more to the point sort of record."

Apart from the frustration he felt at the trials and tribulations that rocked GN'R during the long period of recording the "Illusion" albums, Izzy, who is far from a slouch in the axe department, also had to battle the complexities of a song like "Coma."

"That was a long song, wasn't it?" he said. "I never did learn that song. What I did is, I had a chord chart onstage for the tour, because there were like 30 changes, and they didn't flow naturally for me. I think that was Slash's song more than anything, because he was more into that heavier, Metallica sort of thing. I think we only played it three times live."

Three shows into the Ju Ju Hounds' Australian tour The General Bourke Hotel, west of Sydney, was packed. Reggae pulsed gently from the PA, and punters in Slayer and GN'R T-shirts mingled with the curious. At 11:45 the Hounds hit the stage and, without the keyboard orchestration that was an element of their studio work, proceeded to peel paint from the walls and skin from ear canals. Pauses between songs were felled with chants of, "Izzy, Izzy, Izzy," and you could tell the guy almost wanted to run behind the amps and pinch himself before throwing one more cooling drink over those at the front. Rick Richards' commanding, overdriven guitar powered the band through Howlin' Wolf's "Highway 49," a blistering version of "Pressure Drop," "Came Unglued," "Cuttin' a Rug" and "Somebody Knocking." The band's reggae element was well represented by "Crackin' Up" and "Can't Hear 'Em," and they probably would have been content to stay in that grove for the entire evening. The inclusion in the encore of the '60s classic "Pipeline" confirmed my Johnny Thunders theories, as he covered that song on his "So Alone" album. The set clicked in at a flat-out hour and fifteen or maybe hour and twenty minutes. Not bad for a man who had been extremely ill a few days before.

"I got sick in London, really, really sick," Izzy explained after the show, a cassette player that filled the room with more reggae sitting on the chair beside him. "I was just run down, I suppose. I'm just kicking it now. I saw a Chinese herbalist. This guy did shiatsu on me and shit. Today he worked me over big time. It's kind of painful actually. I think the whole thing with those guys is that they clean you out and let your body heal itself as opposed to having you eat a bunch of drugs to try to combat what your body would do anyway. It's working. I had some acupuncture, too, in Japan. I'd never tried that before. It was kinda strange."

The previous night someone had grabbed Izzy's hat during the show which is just about as blasphemous as attempting to nab AC/DC's Brian Johnson's skull warmer. The incident began innocently enough--or so it seemed.

"He got up onstage like three times right?" Izzy related. "I was like, that's cool. He's having some fun, he's dancing, showing off for his buddies. The fourth time he got up, he grabbed my hat, and everybody just attacked him. It's my only hat I got on tour, so I figure fuck that!"

Finding the guy shouldn't be too difficult, either, not with hunks of his hair all over the monitors.


"I just grabbed him by the back of the head, because I'm playing guitar with one hand," Izzy continued. "I grabbed him, and all his hair came out and got tangled up in my guitar. It was like a bunch of hay. I felt kind of bad, you know. Fuck, a chunk of scalp hanging off. That must have hurt, man."

Izzy Stradlin is a warm, funny guy, but you can't pick people's fans for them--like the dude who stood next to me during the night's show and told his friends that no one could have as much fun as Stradlin seemed to be and be straight. Fact is, he's clean these days, though his doctor told him to give up cigarettes. The guitarist is a keen surfer, and he commented to somebody that last time he was in Sydney, he didn't even know we had beaches.

"I think some people like to think you're fucked up," he said. "It's kinda romantic, isn't it? 'God, look how fucked up he is! God, they're so good,' you know."

The whole room cracked up, and I was reminded of something Izzy had said when he called from Chicago: "A lot of people say, 'Man, you must have some pretty big balls to step out of the biggest band going.' That feels pretty good, because I think to myself, it's what I had to do. It felt natural. So when people say stuff like that, it makes you feel good."

Izzy Stradlin - doing what comes naturally...and loving it.
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