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APPETITE FOR DISCUSSION
Welcome to Appetite for Discussion -- a Guns N' Roses fan forum!

Please feel free to look around the forum as a guest, I hope you will find something of interest. If you want to join the discussions or contribute in other ways then you need to become a member. We especially welcome anyone who wants to share documents for our archive or would be interested in translating or transcribing articles and interviews.

Registering is free and easy.

Cheers!
SoulMonster

2012.07.21 - Rapidfire 1983 Website - The Story Of The Rapidfire Recordings

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2012.07.21 - Rapidfire 1983 Website - The Story Of The Rapidfire Recordings Empty 2012.07.21 - Rapidfire 1983 Website - The Story Of The Rapidfire Recordings

Post by Blackstar Tue Dec 27, 2022 7:34 pm

This essay was written by Joshua Solomon, Kevin Lawrence's friend and attorney, and shared as a 35-page pdf document on the  Rapidfire website on July 21, 2012.

Transcription:
-------------------

THE STORY OF THE RAPIDFIRE RECORDINGS

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

The story you are about to read and the views expressed within it are entirely the product of my own thoughts, feelings, experiences and research. They do not necessarily reflect those of any of the members of Rapidfire, including Kevin Lawrence. On the contrary, there are points on which he and I do not entirely agree. I must thank Kevin for the freedom he afforded me to speak my own words in my own voice within the realm of his “mini-dictatorship” – a term which will make more sense as you read on.

Also as you read on, there are a few things I ask you to do and consider. Here they are in no particular order:

• In connection with writing this story, I did not speak with any members of Rapidfire other than Kevin, or give them access to drafts. I did not interview any of the non-members I discuss. To the extent that there are factual errors in my telling, I welcome input from the people it concerns. I extend this invitation to Axl Rose, Mike Hamernik and Chuck Gordon in particular.

• Regarding Axl Rose, it is important to note that I have consciously avoided reading about the particulars of his life and the
history of Guns N’ Roses. I know things about both, but I have not read any of the books or other biographical material written about either. I did this to avoid the biases of other authors. I wanted to form and express my own opinions. To the GNR fans, I apologize in advance for anything I may have gotten wrong. Again, I am open to being corrected.

• This story is somewhat long. This was necessary to convey everything I wanted and needed to say on the subject matter. You may want to download the document, and read it at your leisure.

• There are some who may wonder why I chose certain topics and contents. I ask that you please read the entire document
before passing judgment. I also ask you to read and/or listen to all of the reference materials cited. Some require little more
than a glance. Some you should experience in full. But each provides information critical to understanding the Story, and
why I say what I say.

• To those who are still inclined to question my motives or sincerity, I only ask you try to keep an open mind as you read. I am wise enough to know that I cannot argue against opinions.

Now, some important warnings:

Be advised that the legal opinions and information published here should be considered only in the context of this story. It is not my intent to give legal advice, and my representations may not apply to other facts and circumstances, no matter how similar. If you need legal advice please consult with an attorney regarding the specifics of your case.

Also, although certain conclusions are provided regarding the work of Rapidfire and its members, this story does not contain a complete legal analysis of the issues presented. It should not be construed as an admission or binding statement regarding the rights of any of the persons described, or as a license to print, publish or distribute any of the protected properties of Rapidfire or any of its members. All such rights are hereby expressly reserved. Unauthorized use of any and all materials relating to Rapidfire or its members could result in civil and/or criminal actions being filed against you.

Damn. I really hate it when I have to sound like an attorney. Just understand that Axl Rose, Kevin Lawrence, Michael Hamernik and Chuck Gordon all have some sort of legal right or interest in Rapidfire and its recordings. If you have anything that relates to the Band or its music and use it without consent, you’re likely to get your butt sued – and it won’t just be me you’ll hear from. It will be attorneys representing Axl, Mike and Chuck as well. Please don’t do anything stupid.

*

I. Introduction — A Tale About What.

If you are reading this, the chances are you already know what Rapidfire is (or was), and why it is so significant to rock and roll history. Its gestation goes back to the late seventies and a high-school kid who would eventually change his name to Kevin Lawrence. Of course the teeming list of bands created by hopeful young artists over the years is a long one. It is also never ending. For as long as there has been music — since before the days of recorded history — groups of people have assembled to make it. In all likelihood, a new band is being assembled as you read these words. It has happened since the dawn of civilization. It is happening now.

For countless reasons, the vast majority of these bands and the individuals who formed them never achieve notoriety. They end up entirely forgotten, their names and their music forever lost to history. Only a small percentage gain some measure of local success. A smaller subset still may garner national or even worldwide attention. But by far the smallest portion of all transcends the ephemeral nature of even international fame, and finds some sort of immortality — they make it into the historical record. Certain artists and certain bands are remembered not just for the music they made, and not just while they were making it. There are some who become forever etched into the chronicles of our collective musical consciousness.

So, what does any of this have to do with the story at hand? For many, many years no one had ever heard of Rapidfire. Of those who may have heard of it, fewer still were likely to remember it. Irrespective of its merit — good, bad, groundbreaking, ordinary, catchy, boring or spectacular — this was a band that could have died off into obscurity like so many bands do were it not for two simple things: First, on May 25, 1983 it recorded five tracks, thereby leaving a record of its existence. Second, and far more significant, was the fact that the man who performed as lead singer on these recordings was one destined for international fame. Considered by many to be one of the greatest singers of all time, he was the man who would wind up fronting one of the greatest bands of all time, Guns N’ Roses. He was the man the world would come to know as Axl Rose.

So you know, anyone looking for sordid untold tales of the young Axl Rose might as well stop reading now. Axl’s time with Rapidfire was remarkable because it foreshadowed great things to come. It began well. It went well. It ended well. His performances were brilliant. His behavior was professional. I have nothing negative to say about Axl Rose. Even when this story enters the present and I delve into why the world has waited so long for the release of the Rapidfire demos, you will not find me faulting him. Yes, Axl is the reason you haven’t heard them, but I cannot cast blame upon him directly. It is not that simple.

II. Prologue — Me.

With the part that most everyone reading this already knows out of the way, I begin this tale, not with an explanation of the key characters, but with an explanation of myself. Who am I to the story? Why am I telling it? Well, a great deal will become apparent as my presentation of the history of Rapidfire and its remarkable legacy unfolds. To start, a simple introduction is in order.

To many of you reading this, I am just an attorney — Kevin Lawrence’s attorney, to be more specific. This is true, but it does not fully explain my involvement. Although I have some passing experience in entertainment law, it most certainly is not my specialty. Frankly, that doesn’t really matter. The legal issues connected with Rapidfire are rather straightforward and well settled. In the course of telling the story, I will make it clear to everyone just exactly what these issues are, and explain what the law says about how things are supposed to shake out. With a touch of research, any half-way competent paralegal could tackle that task. Actually, no professional qualifications are necessary. Anyone with an average smattering of brain-cells, knowledge of the basic facts and an Internet connection would be able to understand the legalities involved.

The fact of the matter is, I bring precious little to the table that makes me uniquely qualified to talk about the legal issues surrounding the Rapidfire Recordings. What makes me unique, and what spurs my effort to tell this story, has nothing to do with my profession. It has to do with friendship. It also has to do with perspective, and a vantage point.

I have known Kevin Lawrence for more than a quarter century. I have been part of his life — both personal and professional — since he dissolved his band in 1985. When we met, Kevin had just moved on from Rapidfire. It was a closed chapter — or so he thought. We were just a couple of average college kids. We hit it off, became pals, enjoyed the relatively carefree life of youth, and, over time, formed a deep and lasting friendship. As the years passed, other college friends drifted away. My connection with Kevin broadened and deepened. Life went on, and became more complicated. He left music behind, and went into business. I became an attorney. Kevin the businessman hired Joshua the attorney from time to time, but mostly we just remained the closest of friends.

One day, not too long ago, Kevin came to the conclusion that he needed to revisit his past with Rapidfire. He realized that the chapter was not finished — that it had modern relevance. To avoid getting ahead of myself, at this point I will say only that this gave rise to his need for Joshua the attorney. Naturally, I responded to the call. I got involved to help my friend. I stayed involved because I became invested. I recognized the significance of what Kevin was trying to do, and adopted it as my own cause. Here was something of great importance to my dear friend. Also, here was something of historical interest which I could help bring to the world. I am writing this tale because I love Kevin Lawrence like a brother, and want to help him realize a dream. I am also writing this tale because the Rapidfire Recordings are a remarkable piece of musical history, and I want to help bring them out into the light.

I have become the fifth member of Rapidfire — or rather the fiftieth. More on that last bit later.

III. The Beginning — Kevin Lawrence.

Born in Manhattan in 1963 to Susan and Lawrence Schwartz, Kevin grew up sharing his parents’ surname. His earliest memories were of Southern California, where the family moved in 1966. As a result, Kevin has always seen Los Angeles as his hometown. In 1977, when he was about to start high school, the family moved north and settled in Hillsborough, California. It was in this somewhat unlikely locale that Kevin developed his interest in performing, and Rapidfire saw its genesis.

Kevin attended San Mateo High School, where his core group of friends were musicians. The preeminent band at the school was P.R.I., which stood for “Painful Rectal Itch.” Despite the “sophomoric” nomenclature (they actually used the more socially acceptable “Power Rock Incorporated” when the situation called for it), P.R.I. achieved some measure of local success. The band included one of Kevin’s close friends, Greg Steele, who went on to be a founding member of Faster Pussycat. Immersed in such influences, and with a deep and abiding passion for the music of AC/DC, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath, it is hardly surprising that Kevin would delve into music himself.

When he was fifteen, Kevin received a holiday present, which is the dream of so many teenagers — an electric guitar. He had musical ability, and there was no shortage of people to teach him how to use his “gifts” — both inborn and recently acquired. Under the circumstances, one would expect that Kevin would join his pals as part of the high school rock and roll intelligentsia. This is what happened, but not exactly as one might expect. There was a snag, not an insurmountable one, but a snag nonetheless — one which turned out to be of great good fortune, for it was the seedbed from which his own music grew.

It turns out Kevin had talent, but no aptitude for learning other people’s music by ear. He quickly learned to play his guitar, and play it well. But he could not learn to perform P.R.I.’s songs, those of his beloved AC/DC or anyone else’s for that matter simply by listening. The result? He began to compose. He wrote his own music, and built a repertoire of his own making. He created the melodies, and original lyrics to go along. He and his high school buddies did play together, but they were Kevin’s songs. By the time he graduated in 1981, Kevin had written at least 25 original tracks — probably many more. These were the songs that would become the playlist for his own band.

Remarkably, Kevin actually has synaesthesia. He “sees” music in his head. That is how he writes his songs. He literally envisions the elements of rhythm and melody, then translates them to the individual instruments. Oddly, although he can visualize both his own music and that of others in the exact same way, he can only play the sounds he creates. In other words, when he comes up with a riff of his own he can then reproduce it faithfully with his guitar. If he pictures a riff written by Malcolm Young, he cannot play it even though he can see it just as clearly. 1

IV. Rapidfire — The Beginning, The Middle.

As an Angeleno at heart who saw Northern California as a dead end for a musical career, Kevin applied to UCLA for his undergraduate work, and was accepted. After graduating from high school, Kevin headed back to Southern California as quickly as he could. What his parents did not realize at the time was that his “career path” was less about obtaining a college degree, and more about planting himself in Los Angeles where he could pursue his dreams of rock and roll stardom. He arrived in Westwood in the fall of 1981 and moved into the UCLA dorms with his guitar, a full set of original songs and the plan to form a band to conquer the Sunset Strip. This band-to-be already had a name: Rapidfire. Why Rapidfire? It didn’t denote anything. “It just sounded rock and roll. And Overkill was taken by another band.”

Not long after returning to Los Angeles, Kevin came up with another name. He began using his father’s first as his last. In part, Kevin’s choice rested on superficial grounds. He followed a time-honored tradition: Rock stars do not use names like Schwartz, or Hyman, or Weitz. Contrary to Rapidfire, this time there was a deeper meaning. He was distancing himself from the man who raised him. To someone who doesn’t know Kevin, this act probably seems at odds with his goal. It was not. Using “Lawrence” was Kevin’s way of placing an exclamation point on the gesture. It also telegraphed conflict — both with the man who inspired the change, and over the decision to make it.

Once settled at the University, Kevin Lawrence, the rock star, set up shop in Kevin Schwartz, the students’ dorm. He modeled his “business plan” on that of another of his musical influences, Dave Meniketti of Y & T. Meniketti sang lead, played lead guitar and wrote all of his band’s songs. He viewed Y & T as Meniketti’s band — his vision, with the other members there to help him carry it out. Kevin wanted to do the same thing. Rapidfire was his vision. First order of business: Assemble a band.

From the beginning, Kevin wanted Rapidfire to be a foursome. This particular assemblage engendered a symmetry which fit his musical aesthetic. It would be some time before Rapidfire had four members, however.

First to join the lineup was Chuck Gordon. Kevin knew Chuck from junior high school. They had not been friends, but they remembered one another. When his search began, a mutual friend suggested Chuck as Rapidfire’s drummer. Although their styles clashed a bit — Kevin favored Phil Rudd’s basic rhythm keeping, while Chuck was an admirer of Keith Moon’s bombastic noodlings — they instantly clicked. In spite of this apparent polarity of musical visions, these two became the lasting core of the band. This could probably be attributed to two things: They liked and respected one another, and there was no confusion about the hierarchy. It was Kevin’s band. They “played” well together.

For a period, Rapidfire was just Kevin and Chuck. They practiced at Chuck’s house with another friend, a guitarist named Dave Henry. Kevin sang lead, but this was hardly the band he had envisioned. Not only were they missing a bass player, but Dave actually had no interest in being in a band. Rapidfire was a lumpy duo going nowhere. It wasn’t long, however, before they found a proper third member — bassist Mike Hamernik.

Rapidfire had needed a bass player, but Kevin wasn’t actively looking for one. The goal was clear, but the plan was not. A random conversation with a fellow student was all it took to move the process forward. Kevin’s long hair and affinity for AC/DC t-shirts marked him as a musician. It made him stand out on campus, and he became a magnet for others who thought they may have a shared passion. This is what happened with Mike Hamernik. He and Kevin started talking about music. Kevin found out Mike played bass. Mike had a new job. Problem solved. Time to forge ahead.

Although it wasn’t the foursome Kevin wanted, Rapidfire was finally a band. Kevin, Chuck and Mike began to rehearse in earnest, and mounted a search for a lead singer. In these pre-Internet days, the Recycler was just a ubiquitous flop of newsprint found at every grocery and convenience store. It was commonplace for bands to use it to fill the holes in their ranks. Kevin ran an ad for a lead singer in it. He and his band-mates also asked around — always keeping their eyes and ears open. For a time, no one materialized. The threesome kept rehearsing with Kevin singing lead. Before long, they were ready to make their public debut. Impatience prevailed over aesthetics, and the process moved forward again. All they needed was a venue.

In the fall of 1982, Rapidfire played its first public show. Kevin had used a portable cassette player/recorder at one of the Band’s rehearsals to create a crude demo tape. He toted this cassette machine around town in search of a free stage and a ready-made audience — playing his demo for anyone who would listen. Kevin finally found what he wanted at “some horrible bar” called H.J.’s, in North Hollywood.2 Its bartender liked what he heard well enough to let three underage kids take the bar’s stage on a Saturday night. In spite of his far less than enthusiastic description of the place, Kevin’s experience at H.J.’s was apparently transcendent. He describes this first show (in front of a “crowd” of maybe twenty or so bar patrons) as “invigorating,” “enthralling” and “unbelievable.” Kevin’s reality was exceeding his dream in terms of how it felt. His vision, however, remained unrealized. His band was still down a man.

Happily, Kevin’s passion for performing was not a one-sided affair; and the feedback from the audience was part of the rush. Rapidfire was well received by the crowd that night. Kevin felt the connection. It fueled his desire for more, and gave him confidence to pursue it. Unfortunately, being liked did not immediately turn into easy bookings. They continued to shop the act around using that low-tech demo, but the Band’s next gig was going to be months away. It would also be big step up from H.J.’s, and a far more transformative event than any of the guys could have guessed.

When Kevin arrived in Los Angeles, he knew precious little about its music scene. Naturally, he was aware of the clubs on the Sunset Strip and its surrounds. Throughout the 1960's and 1970's, the area had been a destination and a hangout for many of the greatest names in rock and roll. Numerous bands had already permanently etched this portion of the city into the annals of musical history. This is what led Kevin south in the first place. Nevertheless, he didn’t really know what to expect when he actually visited these places; where he’d fit in; what he’d like; whom he’d see. It did not take him long to figure things out.

Kevin’s take on the West Hollywood music scene in the early 1980's was as follows: The people who were into metal hung out at either Gazzarri’s or the Troubadour. Generally, you ended up associating yourself with one or the other. The situation was changeable, but you were essentially either a Gazzarri’s person or a Troubadour person. Kevin initially spent more time at the former, then gravitated towards the latter. He also noticed that there really weren’t a lot of “fans” at these clubs. The people in attendance were either in a band (handing out flyers to promote it and/or checking out the competition), or were trying to find their way into one. His observation: “There was no audience. .. The audience was just the people who wanted your place up on stage.” Not surprisingly, this had an impact on how people interacted. It tended to form the conversation. It’s a good thing it did.

One night in March of 1983, Kevin was hanging out at the Troubadour — just as he’d done dozens of times before. At some point, he decided to get some air. Wearing a black motorcycle jacket, he stepped outside and saw someone familiar. With light hair and a white motorcycle jacket, that evening the guy Kevin would soon know as Bill presented a counterpoint to Kevin’s point. He stood out in marked contrast to Kevin’s dark mop and black leather. Innately drawn to symmetry and balance, perhaps it was this contrast which inspired Kevin to strike up a conversation. He had seen this person around. He had even formed an impression. Kevin recalls thinking that the kid in white leather came off as sort of “cool” and “coy.” But they had never spoken, nor even acknowledged one another. This was about to change.

Axl was smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk in front of the Troubadour when he and Kevin struck up a conversation. In accordance with the norm, the discussion swiftly turned towards the standard topics: Musical interests; band affiliations; instrumental skills; etc. Kevin told Axl he was in Rapidfire, but doesn’t recall a reaction. Chances are Axl had never heard of Kevin’s band. Kevin asked whether Axl was in a band. The answer was no. He followed up by asking what instrument he played. Axl indicated that he was a singer. This got Kevin’s attention. He posed the appropriate follow-up question for anyone claiming to be a singer — “Do you have a PA?” Axl said yes. That was good enough. Kevin invited Axl to come to the next Rapidfire rehearsal.

A few days later, Axl showed up at Chuck’s parents’ house in Encino with his PA ready to take a shot at becoming Rapidfire’s front man. Anyone reading this probably knows that Axl grew up singing, and performing for audiences. Still, one would not think that singing in a church chorus would prepare a person for leading a heavy metal band. Then again, if Axl Rose is any indication, perhaps every aspiring band should be searching for lead singers on Sundays.

Now, it would be nice to be able to say that Kevin and the others immediately recognized the amazing talent that had just walked into their midst. The fact is, the world didn’t stop turning on its axis, the heavens didn’t part, no dazzling light shined down from above. It wasn’t so dramatic, but as the situation unfolded over the coming weeks and months, it was still mighty impressive.

When I asked Kevin about his initial impression of Axl’s singing, he laughed and said, “Well, he was better than I was.” Then he got serious, and continued. “What I knew was, Axl could actually sing -and there were only a few guys on the Strip who could actually sing.” Axl had the stuff. Kevin wrote out the lyrics to a couple of his songs for Axl, and ran through them once himself. When it was Axl’s turn, he pretty much nailed it the first time through. He heard the song a single time — one he had never heard before — then was able to perform it quite passably on his very first try. Kevin hired him on the spot. Rapidfire had a new lead singer. It finally was a foursome. Symmetry achieved — and none too soon. They had an important gig coming up.

Using the same method — the very same tape, in fact — that had landed the guys that first gig at H.J.’s, Kevin had tried to book the Band at various venues, large and small all over Los Angeles. Just before Kevin met Axl, he had received a call from the manager of Gazzarri’s. He had heard the tape, and invited Rapidfire to compete in a “Battle of the Bands” to be held on March 20th. Although he has forgotten the exact date that Axl signed on, he recalls that it was less than two weeks (perhaps as little as one) before the show. This was the Band’s first chance to play at one of the big clubs — the first time the guys would get to perform on a real stage, in front of a real rock and roll audience. They got the gig as a trio. Even the flyer they made and plastered all over the Strip to advertise it showed only Kevin, Chuck and Mike. With just days to prepare, Kevin was bringing in a new man to front his band at its most important show thus far. It’s a safe bet he had seen something pretty remarkable in Axl. If he hadn’t that first day, he was about to.

For the following week or so, the Band prepared for the show at Gazzarri’s. This meant Axl had to learn the melody and the lyrics for at least twenty songs he had never heard before, and perfect his delivery. Kevin often refers to his band as a “mini-dictatorship.” He freely admits that he wanted his songs performed his way, and would threaten to oust anyone who resisted his direction. I don’t know if this made it easier or harder on Axl, but memorizing one or two songs in a week and being ready to perform them live is no small feat under any circumstances. Doing this with twenty songs seems nigh on impossible. Nevertheless, that is precisely what Axl did. Then he did something really impressive — well, all four of them did.

On March 20, 1983, Rapidfire was well rehearsed and ready to take the stage at Gazzarri’s with its new line-up. And take it they did. I hate to toss in such an overused cliché, but they rocked the house. And I don’t just have to take Kevin’s word for this. There is empirical evidence. That night, Rapidfire won the Battle of the Bands. They didn’t just put on a passable performance. They beat all of the competition, and gave the crowd the best show of the night. As the guys were packing up their equipment, Gazzarri’s sound technician came up to them and said he thought they were the greatest group to have come through the Club since Van Halen. High praise, indeed. Naturally, credit for all this goes to each and every member of Rapidfire. Still, one has to marvel at the fact that in his public debut as a rock and roll singer, Axl Rose had taken the gold. When he met Kevin, he was just another wannabe having a smoke outside a club while someone else performed on-stage. Less than two weeks later, he was inside, up on the stage, fronting the number one band in the house.

In the wake of this rollicking success, landing gigs became easier for Rapidfire. The guys played at Gazzarri’s three more times — on April 8th, April 29th and May 28th. At the other end of the spectrum, they also played at a tiny private party. Kevin doesn’t remember the details, just that “some guy” asked if the Band would play at his house one Friday or Saturday night. Kevin’s response was “sure,” so the four members of Rapidfire ended up doing a show in “some guy’s” living room in Westwood for hardly more than a handful of people. It was the one time Kevin and his band performed publicly outside a club or a studio. I imagine it was a first for Axl as well. I wonder whether any of the attendees ever figured out the singularity of what they’d experienced.

Within the short span of less than three months, Rapidfire realized some of its most significant accomplishments, and, arguably, enjoyed the most success it ever would. There is no question that this was when it made its mark. In May, the guys walked into Telstar Sound Recorders in Burbank, and recorded the tracks which gave rise to this story. Also in May, the Band mugged for the camera in a photo session shot by one of Kevin’s friends.3 The photos were taken guerilla-style in the streets and alleys of West Los Angeles in a single day. At some point, the boys all piled into a parked Porsche Speedster. It was just some random parked car appropriated for its looks.

In the photos, you see Kevin, Axl, Chuck and Mike all doing their best rock-star poses. Kevin, wearing Spandex, is hamming it up big-time (for years he was so embarrassed by them, he wouldn’t even show me the whole set). Chuck and Mike are just a couple of shaggy-haired kids in really bad t-shirts making regrettable attempts to grow facial hair. Axl, well, he’s just a kid too — with no tattoos, and very little attitude. He appears quite comfortable letting Kevin be the center of attention. You can sort of see the “quiet cool” that Kevin perceived when he was still a stranger. Perhaps it was just a manifestation of being the new guy.

Being the new guy certainly did not have any impact on the way Axl took to being a part of the Band. The effort he put forth to be ready for Rapidfire’s first performance at Gazzarri’s showed intense dedication and commitment. This was no fluke. Axl was serious about being a rock star. Upon joining Rapidfire, he immediately dived in and began pulling his weight. He made it to every rehearsal. He helped promote the Band by posting flyers advertising their upcoming gigs. He even took it upon himself to make one of them himself (the May 28th flyer is Axl’s work). He was on time for everything, and always prepared. As my introduction made clear, anyone looking for dirt on Axl isn’t going to find it in a discussion about Rapidfire.

Kevin’s strongest impression of his new band-mate was of his professionalism. The guy was dead reliable, and serious about the work. That suited Kevin just fine. Music wasn’t just a hobby for him. Rapidfire was his business.

This shared bent towards professionalism did not prevent Kevin and Axl from having fun with what they were doing. It also didn’t prevent them from spending time together outside of “work.” On the contrary, shared sensibilities probably made it easy for them to get comfortable around one another rather quickly. I’ve never known Kevin to have a large number of friends — only a few close ones. He is not the type to bond instantly with anyone, nor is he particularly social. In the spring of 1983, he made a connection with Axl, however. Their association ended too soon to call it a friendship, but they would hang out and talk — mostly about their shared dream of succeeding in music. At night, they would scurry up the fire-escapes of buildings in Westwood and sit up on the rooftops musing about what they would do when they “made it.” Kevin recalls that Axl’s dreams were modest. He just wanted to buy a really good pair of cowboy boots. If he only knew what lay ahead for him...

Sadly, this association which appeared out of nowhere and grew with such organic ease was not to last. Rapidfire’s show on May 28th would be the last one with Axl singing lead. It ended as smoothly and naturally as it began and progressed.

That night, Axl showed up for the gig in full glam regalia. His hair was teased; his face painted; white leather, now dyed pink. Something had shifted. “Hair-bands” were on the rise. Axl was moving in a new direction. When Izzy Stradlin’ turned up back-stage after the Band completed its set decked out much the same as his pal Axl, the message was clear. As Kevin recalls it, he just turned to Axl and said something like “Well, I guess this is it.” Axl responded in the affirmative. The two shook hands, and parted ways. It was as plain as that — just part of the natural ebb and flow of the scene. No hard feelings. No fireworks. They simply realized they wanted to pursue different versions of the dream. It was an amicable end to a productive relationship. Axl and Izzy even invited Kevin and Chuck to the first Hollywood Rose show — and, they were there.

It sounds almost counterintuitive, but I believe that if things had not gone as well as they did, Kevin might have railed against the idea of parting ways. Because bringing in his first lead singer was so painless and easy, I don’t think he worried much about finding the next one. His experience ran counter to what the future would bring, but he had no way of knowing that. Kevin had no way of knowing that when he shook Axl’s hand that night he was saying goodbye to the last person who would ever stand up at a microphone and wail through Rapidfire’s set-list — other than himself.

V. Rapidfire — The End.

Looking back at it now, I think that the most noteworthy aspects of Axl Rose’s time with Rapidfire are all about timing and coincidence — the brevity of his stay; the chance meeting outside the Troubadour; the fact that the first Gazzarri’s gig was already on the schedule. There is a huge right-time/right-place component that makes a person truly appreciate the significance of chance, and of seizing the moment.

Axl was where he was when he was because he, like nearly everyone else on the scene back then, was trying to find his way to the spotlight. He didn’t need Kevin to get there any more than Kevin needed him. Rapidfire had already taken the stage. Axl’s natural ability and drive made it all but a foregone conclusion that he would get there too. It was just dumb luck that Kevin found him while he was still searching for a way in. Finding one another was fortunate for both of them. It helped each take a step forward. Reaching the stage and keeping your spot on it are two very different things, though. Getting there is actually the easy part.

Nothing about the arc of either man’s career was inevitable. Destiny is a brew of ability and conscious effort, flavored by chance. With all else being equal, success, fame and/or riches will come to the person blessed by good fortune. In the moment, we usually do not realize when Lady Luck has entered the room. She usually arrives quietly, and with little fanfare. What we can and must see are opportunities. Pursuing them does not guarantee success, but not doing so absolutely guarantees failure. Kevin and Axl were both very good at seeing and going after opportunities — and they did not waste any time.

For Kevin Lawrence, not wasting time meant pushing ahead no matter what, and running with anything that was in line with his vision, or brought him closer to it. That is why the demo tracks were recorded that May. His “product” — the thing he wanted to pursue and promote — was a foursome. That is what he wanted Rapidfire to be. As soon as it became one, he made plans to get the Band into the studio. He could not continue to rely on something created on a portable cassette recorder as his band’s calling card, but he wasn’t about to shell out the cash for studio time to capture just him, Chuck and Mike. It was not that a dedicated singer would necessarily alter the sound. It was about symmetry — his aesthetic. In Kevin’s view, marketing Rapidfire without a fourth member was like selling a hot-fudge sundae when your goal was to deliver a banana split.

While I promise not to continue the metaphor, it is important to understand that with Axl in the band Kevin was able to complete his “confection.” It is equally important to understand that it did not matter that it was Axl who filled the empty spot. It didn’t matter who it was, as long as the person could “actually sing.” Although it is a romantic notion to think that Kevin saw something truly special about his new lead singer, and this was the impetus behind getting into the recording booth when he did, the truth is he was just pushing ahead in keeping with his plan. Rapidfire would have been in the studio that May irrespective of who was behind the mike — just as long as it was not Kevin, and whoever it was had a decent set of pipes.

There are some who are probably wondering how Kevin could have been so blind — or rather deaf — to what he had found in Axl. Actually, he wasn’t. I will explain this comment in greater detail later, when I talk about the Recordings themselves. For now, it should suffice to remind you that Rapidfire was Kevin’s mini-dictatorship. He had a very clear, and a very particular concept of not just the form of his band, but also of how it should sound. He maintained firm control over every aspect of Rapidfire. That’s why Chuck never got to emulate Keith Moon on stage. Kevin held no disdain for other people’s tastes, styles or points of view. There simply was not any room for them in his band. This also further explains his peaceful parting with Axl. If you wanted to be in Rapidfire, you did things Kevin’s way. If you were not willing to do that, you moved on. Glam was not on Kevin’s agenda.

After Axl left Rapidfire, Kevin decided to take some time off. UCLA was going on summer break. His band had hit a couple of critical milestones, but he was not entirely satisfied with how things were going. He was sick of school, and Rapidfire was in need of revamping. He decided to stop playing for a few months, and pick up again in the fall. When he did, almost everything was different.

Kevin was not enjoying his experience at UCLA, and wanted to drop out of school entirely. His long hair and leather jackets didn’t blend well with the preppy/new wave sensibilities, which dominated popular culture at the time. In a huge sea of conformists, he felt like an outcast. His mother convinced him to try another school, rather than giving up the notion of college altogether. He ended up at Cal-State Northridge in the San Fernando Valley. There, he re-formed Rapidfire with two new members. Only Chuck Gordon stayed on. He was the only other “regular” member of the Band. The new lineup included Steve Cooper on guitar, and Alan Bram on bass. Unable to find another “guy who could sing,” he took up the leads once again. It wasn’t ideal, but at least it was the format he wanted.

Kevin continued to play gigs in Hollywood, but also out in the Valley at a place called the Country Club. The Country Club ended up becoming the Band’s home base. Initially, he continued as Rapidfire, but soon shifted to calling the group Kevin Lawrence (not the Kevin Lawrence Band — just Kevin Lawrence) in a nod to his “mini dictatorship.” This was less of a calculated decision than it was casual acceptance of exactly what the Band was — an expression of his singular vision. Rapidfire was never truly a “group” in that sense. If you wanted to play with Kevin, you did his songs, his way. No one was ever really afforded the chance to express his (there were no hers) own musical identity. Knowing this, you can actually hear its manifestation in the Rapidfire demos. The fact that Axl Rose is singing is absolutely unmistakable, yet he’s reined in — kept from producing the screeching falsetto which dominated his work with Hollywood Rose. The other consequence of Kevin’s near complete control over his product was the revolving door phenomenon. Remember my much earlier reference to being the fiftieth member of Rapidfire?

The Band continued on as a result of symbiosis. Kevin needed people to play the instruments that made his music come to life, and there were plenty of hungry musicians around who were looking for a way to get up on stage. Once they got there, they usually didn’t stay long. Chuck was the only one who stuck around for more than a few months. Eventually, he decided to move on as well. He had been accepted into a graduate program in architecture, and left for Arizona in the fall of 1984 to pursue a different dream. After that, Kevin Lawrence went through band members (particularly drummers and bass players) “like shit through a goose.” He was searching for someone else who shared his passion and dedication — for someone who was willing to work as hard as Axl had, truth be told. That quest was to prove fruitless. It was also becoming tiresome.

Throughout this period — and in spite of the “revolving door” lineup of his band — Kevin enjoyed a reasonably strong following both in Hollywood and the Valley — often playing for a couple thousand people at the Country Club. One night in 1985 he had had enough, however. Without forethought or flourish he simply called it quits after a particularly well-attended and successful “home” show. He wasn’t necessarily going out “on top,” but he knew that his vision was going nowhere. He was sick of trying to find others to help him realize his dream. He was sick of even needing others for his pursuit. It was time for a major paradigm shift.

As this chapter comes to an end, I have to mention how struck I am when I consider what Kevin and his band-mates accomplished in the spring of 1983. During that tiny three month period, essentially everything that makes the rest of this story worth telling had taken place. Kevin’s path to where he was in 1985 had begun nine years earlier. His primary focus for all that time was music. It wasn’t panning out for him. Nevertheless, he had already managed to secure a tiny place for himself in the chronicles of modern music, even though he didn’t realize it until years later. It had happened in a wisp of time — a mere moment. So easily, it could have not happened at all.

VI. Rapidfire — The Aftermath.

Once the decision to shutter his band was made, Kevin barely looked back. In his last few months performing in his eponymous foursome, he had begun to drift and lose direction. Uncharacteristically, he had conceded to fashion and allowed some glam to creep into his persona. At the same time, he was developing some new musical interests, and drawing inspiration from sources seemingly far removed from his heavy-metal heroes.

For some time, Kevin had been plagued by a growing feeling of disgust that applied to certain denizens of the world in which he thought he wanted to reside. He discovered world of rock and roll was rife with “phonies” — people who claimed they wanted to be stars, but were entirely unwilling to put in the work to make it happen. He grew to despise this subset of the population — a sort of targeted misanthropy. This did not cause his love of music to fade, but it killed his desire to be in a band.

In spite of his waning interest in metal, the songs he had been performing and polishing since high school were to get one last fitful chance at life — one which came from a rather unlikely source. Although it is not particularly well known, Bobby Sherman’s career in music extended beyond being a performer. Among other things, he occasionally worked as a producer. His partner in this endeavor (whose name Kevin does not recall) was a regular at the Country Club, and a Kevin Lawrence fan. He pitched the idea of having Sherman produce and promote Kevin’s music.

Unwilling to reform his band, Kevin decided to make a “solo” record. In the summer of 1985, he stepped into Sherman’s studio to perform his Rapidfire songs for what turned out to be the last time. He sang lead, and played all of the guitar and bass tracks. In spite of his simple tastes in rhythmkeeping, Kevin never developed any ability on the drums, so he called in his old pal Chuck Gordon who was home on break. With Sherman himself manning the soundboard, they recorded four songs. One was a redux of Rapidfire’s signature song, “Ready to Rumble,” which Axl had sung at Telstar just over two years prior. Another was a tune called “Don’t Walk Away.” The other two are now forgotten. Perhaps one day Kevin will find the tape and refresh his memory. It is of little consequence — except perhaps to the musically curious. Teaming up with Sherman turned out to be a dead end. Rapidfire was gone for good. Kevin was to have one last chance to pursue a career in “metal-work,” however.

Not long after Rapidfire’s demise, Kevin heard from his friend, Matt Smith — one of the founding members of Poison. Smith was about to become a father, and was leaving Poison to take up a less risky, more stable career. He thought Kevin could be his replacement, and suggested he try out.4 Kevin actually considered it, but was put off by the “contrived” nature of the band. As Kevin recalls it, the other members had already created the character of C.C. DeVille — right down to the name. I was not able to confirm that last bit, but there is no question that Poison had set upon a formula and were sticking to it. The idea of being the “blonde guitarist with spikey hair” was of no interest to Kevin. Although he actually had a great deal of respect for Poison’s goal-oriented approach, this wasn’t for him. He passed.

Deciding he hated Cal-State Northridge even more than UCLA, Kevin went back to Westwood in the fall of 1985 to continue his education. He coupled his return with a complete shift in musical direction. Kevin’s desire for complete control over his product and his disinterest in performing alongside others dovetailed nicely with the growing popularity of synthpop and the advent of the affordable home studio.

Although Kevin never turned his back on his beloved metal influences, in the mid 1980s, he had found a new muse — Depeche Mode. Seen by the uninitiated and the unsophisticated as just another example of New Wave fluff, Kevin recognized Depeche Mode as something different — something darker and harder than other popular electronica. It was his new AC/DC — smart, well-crafted music which was deceptive in its apparent simplicity. Adding to the attraction was the fact that he could make this sort of music entirely on his own. The personal computer was revolutionizing the way music was made. Kevin set up a studio in his Santa Monica apartment, and began writing and recording a whole new portfolio of music.

It was around this time that Kevin and I met. I never saw Rapidfire on stage. I knew little about my new friend’s time on the Sunset Strip. I didn’t hear any of his heavy-metal recordings until I received a copy of the 1983 demos nearly twenty years later. Kevin’s focus was entirely on his electronic music. For years, I knew “Kevin Lawrence” only as a synthpop act, and a one-man show. Frankly, it was hard to imagine him working any other way. I quickly learned that my pal was a mad-perfectionist, who was not interested in collaborating with anyone on his music. In fact, music was something we rarely discussed. Kevin was as private about his compositions as he was driven to create them. When we did talk about such things, it was only about what he was working on, and what was coming next. It was never about the past.

When Guns N’ Roses blasted into the public eye and rocketed to international fame in 1987, I became aware of Kevin’s prior association with Axl Rose. It wasn’t a major topic of conversation — just something that was worthy of mention under the circumstances. Kevin’s feelings about Axl’s success were what you might expect. He was happy for his former band-mate, but he envied him just a little at the same time. It was not that Kevin wished it had been him and not Axl who had taken the world by storm. He simply wanted the same thing for himself. He certainly was impressed by “Appetite for Destruction.” So was pretty much everyone else. It was a brilliant piece of work which seemingly came out of nowhere. Kevin knew it had not come out of nowhere, of course. I recall that his predominant stance on the subject of GNR’s success was “Axl deserved it.”

At the time, I had no idea that Rapidfire had recorded anything, let alone five tracks with Axl Rose singing lead. Kevin didn’t mention it. I know this because I would have wanted to hear it. I would have asked my friend to play the tape. After July 1987, few who had even a passing interest in rock and roll would ignore an opportunity to hear Rose’s earlier work. Kevin was not ignorant of this fact, but he never mentioned that he owned such a treasure privately or publicly until many, many years after GNR’s heyday. There was a straightforward reason for this: Integrity. Although anyone could see the potential value in the Rapidfire demos — both in terms of dollars and cents, and in terms of exposure — Kevin had no wish to capitalize on Axl’s success in any way. He viewed garnering attention or profit by riding someone else’s coattails as “cheesey.” He wanted nothing of it. If Kevin Lawrence was going to make it in music, he was going to do so by virtue of his own talent and hard work. Sadly, although he had great ability and kept his nose to the grindstone for ten years, Kevin wasn’t going to “make it.” Axl did — he got his cowboy boots. The guy who gave him his first chance to stand in the spotlight never would.

In 1988, Susan Schwartz, Kevin’s mother, was losing a battle with cancer. After a decade of remission, a routine five-year check turned up the worst news possible. The disease was back, and had spread. It was too late for treatment. Her end was near, and there was little to do but wait. Kevin settled in with his mother for the long haul. He didn’t work. He didn’t play. Music and almost everything else took a back seat to family. His mother passed away on August 20, 1989. Kevin had spent most of the preceding twelve months attending to her needs at the expense of his own career.

After Susan Schwartz’s passing, Kevin realized that music didn’t matter to him as much as it once had — the joy and the passion were gone. He also came to a more pragmatic realization: It was time to move on. He was twenty six years old, and had not gotten his big break. He hadn’t achieved any sort of commercial success in music, and he knew that his likelihood of doing so wasn’t going to increase with the passage of time. He did not want to be thirty-something years old, still living in a one-bedroom apartment desperately clinging to the ever-dwindling chance that he would find his way to musical fame and fortune. On the contrary, he viewed this as somewhat pathetic. His picture of the emerging rockstar had an age limit, and he was well on his way to passing it. In a way, Kevin’s aesthetics were once again directing his course. It was time for other things. He said goodbye to music. He sold all of his equipment. He packed away his recordings and all the trappings of his time in the spotlight.

Kevin the businessman was born.

____

1 Over the years, Kevin figured out that he actually could learn to play other people’s songs. The trick was, someone had to show him (with his eyes this time) how it went. This meant he could learn directly from other musicians, but the songs of his heroes were out of reach. I am pleased to report, however, that he did eventually learn to play most of “Sin City.”

2 Interesting side-note: Around this time, another Los Angeles metal band performed at the same venue. On August 29, 1982, Metallica played at H.J.’s. There were other parallels as well. Both bands were formed in 1981, and each grew from one man’s heavy-metal visions. Lars’ success with advertising in the Recycler was far greater than Kevin’s, however.

3 Note to Laure S.: You can contact me via the link on this website. We would like to make sure you’re properly credited - especially if more photos are made public. I did not mention your full name because it isn’t relevant to the story. I can leave it that way, or credit you with every shot. Just inform me of your preference.

4 Another interesting side-note: In another heavy-metal parallel - a much closer one, this time - Slash tried out for this “role” as well. After his stint with Hollywood Rose, but before rejoining Axl in Guns N’ Roses, Slash was looking for work. He and Kevin had a mutual acquaintance in Smith, who made the same suggestion to Slash. He got a bit farther into the process than Kevin did, and was beaten out only by DeVille/Johannesson, who better fit the Band’s style - happily so, it seems. Kevin and Slash also shared similar views on Poison’s image.
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2012.07.21 - Rapidfire 1983 Website - The Story Of The Rapidfire Recordings Empty Re: 2012.07.21 - Rapidfire 1983 Website - The Story Of The Rapidfire Recordings

Post by Blackstar Tue Dec 27, 2022 7:36 pm

VII. Legal Interlude — A Few Relevant Things.

Before I continue the story, it makes sense to take a break at this point and go over a tiny bit of law. I’ve already confessed the sin of being an attorney — Kevin’s attorney, in fact — so I might as well earn my keep and spend a few minutes acting like one. I’ll do my best to keep the yawn-factor down. Fortunately for you (and me, quite frankly), the law that is relevant to the story of Rapidfire is fairly simple and straightforward, and does not require deep analysis. A portion is somewhat technical, but it’s relatively interesting. More importantly, it is actually part of the underlying tale.

It should come as a surprise to no one that the laws which govern the rights of musicians and bands and the music they make can become rather complicated. There are copyright and trademark issues. There are rules regarding ownership, profits, publication, marketing, etc. There are contracts and their interpretation — and all the nastiness that ensues when the parties don’t agree. Even the First Amendment is involved — especially if you invite Tipper Gore to the party. In other words, the music industry is like everything else in our litigation-happy society — a morass of laws, regulations, standards of practice and individually crafted agreements which allow anyone so inclined to hire a lawyer and make someone else’s life miserable under the guise of enforcing some right, or pursuing some remedy.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I don’t want to make it sound like I disfavor having laws, regulations, rules of conduct, and established rights and remedies. It’s just the opposite, I assure you. I think such things are necessary and good (at least when they are well written, clearly understood, wielded fairly, and properly enforced). They serve as guidelines for our conduct — road maps that show us what to do and how. Perhaps most importantly, they act as a framework for resolving disputes. For many, many years when discussing how the law should work, I have said that two competent lawyers who know the law and the facts should be able to figure out how any case is going to shake out, advise their clients accordingly and put to rest any conflict.

Of course, my paradigm is a highly idealized notion — pie in the sky, as a matter of fact. Many — perhaps most — lawyers might agree with my statement, but good luck finding those who would ever consider laying down their swords and use their knowledge and expertise to resolve matters they are being paid to fight over. There’s no money in that — and, to be realistic about it, most clients wouldn’t go for it anyway.

The sick truth about the practice of law — particularly when you get into the realm of litigation — is that it is rarely about fairness, or justice, or doing the right thing. It is about winning, and using the system to do so. Litigation is far too often a game of attrition. The person with the most money wins. This is not just due to the cost hiring counsel, by the way. The more you are willing to spend on your lawyers, the more your lawyers will be willing to drag things out — to pile on the misery. It is a sorrowful thing, but in our legal system the facts are generally extracted only after excruciating effort and the law is only applied at the very end of a long, drawn-out process. Those who lack the wherewithal to reach the finish line will lose, no matter what — irrespective of how right they may have been under the law.

Apologies. It seems I got up on my soapbox there for a moment. I also may have come off as a bit cynical. No apologies for that. In my world, cynicism is the safety valve for the disillusioned — its expression, a therapeutic vent about things we cannot change. It also provides something to look forward to: Being wrong, and happily running into the exceptions to an ugly rule. I am pleased to report that this does happen from time to time. More often than not, the exceptions come from dispossessing the parties of wrong-headed notions and sorting out misunderstandings early in the process — preferably before they “lawyer-up.” It comes from facilitating communication as well. You would be surprised how many acrimonious legal battles found their genesis in the failure to realize a meeting of the minds between people who actually do not disagree.

You may be wondering what this has to do with Rapidfire. Perhaps nothing. Perhaps everything. I’ll get to the punch-line first: Based on the laws and the facts that relate to these recordings, there is absolutely no reason for there to be disagreement amongst the interested parties. Unfortunately, for the most part none of these people has had any meaningful communication in nearly thirty years. In spite of the fact that there is all but nothing to fight about (I swear. Keep reading.), this situation could easily go down the path of the ugly rule. My goal is to lay the groundwork for one of those happy exceptions. My job is made somewhat easier by well-settled, mostly clear-cut law, simple facts and a reasonable client.

To understand the essential legal issues involved, we need to cover just two major topics — ownership rights, and one particular rule which governs how trademarked materials may be used. For the most part, I’ll keep this to an overview without getting into all the whys and wherefores. My goal is to convey the concepts, not to establish their bases. Unless you’re a serious legal-wonk, reading statutes and case law is stunningly boring, anyhow. Frankly, none of this stuff is likely to set your hair on fire, but understanding it will not just help make sense of what comes next. As I’ve already said, it is integral to the story itself.

Delving into the ownership of music can become rather complex. This is not because the basic concepts are particularly difficult, nor is it because the rules are unclear. It is primarily a function of permutations. Music rights come in many forms, and those forms are chopped up into discrete parts that go along with the various ways music is created, recorded, performed, distributed and sold. Just to start, composers and lyricists, if they are two different people, each owns his or her contribution to a song. (For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to the composer/lyricist as a songwriter when they are one and the same.) Next up, songwriters and the musicians who perform their works have different rights to the same piece of music — and it goes on from there. One song can be owned or licensed in any number of manners — each carrying with it its own set of rights — and every one of these may belong to a different person or entity. Getting into the myriad ways this can be diced up, rearranged and split would be cumbersome, to say the least.

Fortunately, acknowledgment of all this complexity will suffice. Most of it applies to what might happen with Rapidfire’s recordings. Understanding their current status is not complicated at all.

The basic rules which apply to musical rights come from copyright laws. Irrespective of how intricate the permutations of ownership and control may become, the right to do anything with a song in any form derives from its source. At the outset, with just a few exceptions (works for hire, for example), the person or persons who wrote the song have exclusive control over what is done with it. Each and every other right, permission or ownership interest associated with a piece of music must be granted by the songwriter(s). Wielding or enforcing this control is not always simple, however. First and foremost, you must be able to establish who wrote the song.

Technically, a songwriter’s individual dominion over his or her work vests the moment the song is written. The key problem in maintaining it is one of proof. Without some record of authorship, you’re going to have a hard time stopping your roommate from reaching the top of the charts with your song, even if he did steal the lyrics and melody by listening to you plinking and warbling your composition through the wall. It will just be your word against his. You need evidence that proves you wrote the song in order to have any hope of enforcing your rights to it.

Copyright protections arise automatically when lyrics and/or melody are transferred from the mind of the songwriter to some tangible form. Scribbling out the lyrics and the melody onto paper or tapping them into your computer will do — as long as you can substantiate when such scribblings or tappings were done. Not surprisingly, audio recordings will do as well. Until these things are created, however, you have little control over the disposition of your art. That means performing it can be risky. I suppose you could always have your other roommate (the one who isn’t a dick) testify on your behalf, but tangible proof is what you really need. Registering a formal copyright is not necessary, by the way. Nevertheless, it is a very wise thing to do. It affords you additional protection under the law.

When it comes to Rapidfire’s songs, copyright protection began to attach (at least as far as the lyrics are concerned) the day Kevin started writing them in his high school notebooks. The tracks recorded with the portable cassette machine were copyrighted the moment he hit its “stop” button. The problem is, unless these things are recovered from some dusty, long forgotten box, not one of them still exists. While the entire Rapidfire playlist remains Kevin’s intellectual property, he lacks these pieces of tangible evidence. As a consequence, they are of no use for establishing or protecting Kevin’s rights as a songwriter.

Lucky for Kevin, he does have something which unequivocally establishes who wrote at least five of Rapidfire’s songs — the studio recordings made that May just over twenty nine years ago. The box they came in says it all on its label: “All songs by: Kevin Schwartz © 1983.” For the record, he also obtained formal copyright protection for them.

Sharp-minded readers may have already identified a potential flaw in my conclusion regarding the ownership of Rapidfire’s recordings. They are Kevin’s because he wrote them, and tangible proof exists. There would not be anything else to consider if he was a one-man band, but he did not create the proof by himself. Copyright law provides protection for performers, not just writers.

So, what rights do Axl, Chuck and Mike have in this situation? To some extent, this is a question which is open to debate. It is not a matter of whether or not they have a protected interest in the Rapidfire Recording. They do. It is largely a matter of degree — to what extent (if any) do they own the Recording, and what rights may they assert.

First of all, it is important to recall that authorship and performance create two separate and distinct rights. The basic rule is that the songwriter retains exclusive control over how or whether a recording is used, irrespective of who played his or her song. The performers, on the other hand, are simply owed something for their services. The upshot of this is that if a songwriter is also a member of the band, he or she is entitled to separate payments for writing and performing a song. How much more a songwriter gets is negotiable. The same holds true for the amounts owed to the performers. From this reality arises one of the primary reasons a written agreement is so important. They provide definitive answers to what can be open questions.

I am truly sorry to say that Kevin and the other members of Rapidfire had little in the way of written agreements, and the ones which were produced are long gone (probably in the dusty box with the first demo cassette). This means that the question of compensation for each individual involved is, at least arguably, negotiable.

Broadly speaking, musical performers are either hired and paid for their services, or they have “a piece of the action,” and share the profits with their band mates. Unless the members of the band agree to some other arrangement, the performance royalties are split equally. In the case of Rapidfire, the portion of the profits designated for the performers would be split four ways. In the former “work for hire” scenario, musicians receive a fixed rate for a performance (paid as a lump-sum or a percentage of the profits). Without a contract, it is not possible to establish with certainty which mode of payment applies to the works of Rapidfire. I can, however, offer some anecdotal evidence to support the notion that Rapidfire was designed to be a work for hire situation.

As I explained in telling the story of the Band, Kevin viewed Rapidfire as a “mini-dictatorship.” It was his band. He called the shots. The others worked for him. At least that’s the way he saw it. I’ve spoken to Chuck about this as well, and he agreed wholeheartedly. In fact, a number of years ago when Kevin was investing a lot of his own time and money into getting the Recordings ready for release, Chuck agreed to formalize this arrangement. He assigned all of his potential rights relating to Rapidfire to Kevin. From Chuck’s perspective, he was giving away nothing. He already viewed the work they had done together as something owned by Kevin.

At first blush, this may sound somewhat unfair. If you haven’t guessed this already, no one who was in the Band has ever been paid a dime as a direct result. Kevin certainly did not pay the other musicians. One should bear in mind, however, that compensation for services does not always come in the form of a paycheck. Experience, exposure, screaming girls, time in the spotlight — all of these things have value, and could have been the extent of anyone’s expectations in terms of consideration for their work. In fact, this concept is supported, at least circumstantially, by what was standard practice for Kevin — having the members of the band sign a release when they left through the “revolving door.” It made sense, Kevin the businessman did not appear out of nowhere. He always had this bent, and he hoped to achieve financial success with Rapidfire. Foreclosing the rights of past members of the Band to its future profits was smart practice. Kevin recalls getting these releases from pretty much everyone he worked with upon their departure from Rapidfire. The only definite exception was Chuck, his friend, who provided one more recently.

In at least one unfortunate sense, any standard practice for Kevin is standard practice; he’s consistent. He’s also a guy who tends not to hang onto things. It’s a minor miracle that the 1983 recordings themselves are still around. Then again, he kept what mattered to him from his Rapidfire period. These agreements (to whatever extent they existed) were mostly hastily hand-written notes. Who knows what they said, or whether they had any legal import. As things stand today, Kevin knows that his bandmates may be owed a portion of the profits that may come from the Rapidfire Recordings. His attorney told him. He is entirely okay with this, and is willing to pay whatever is fair under the circumstances — whatever the industry standard is. Remember I listed having a reasonable client as one of the reasons my goal of creating a “happy exception” was made easier? This is what I meant. Kevin is not the type to just roll over, but he is neither cheap, nor unfair. As long as no one demands something beyond what the facts and the law justify, he will agree to it. Kevin has exclusive command over whether the Recording are released. That does not give him the right to arbitrarily dictate terms to others who may have rights or interests if he chooses to do so. There should be agreement.

As an aside, I want you to know something about my friend — something I could not talk about without his permission. He is my client, after all. If it turns out that the reasonable course is to pay the other members of Rapidfire, Chuck will be treated equally. Kevin will tear up the assignment of rights. Such is his sense of fair play. For him, business is business, and right is right. I respect that greatly.

There are a couple of additional things to note before we move on. I have purposely avoided exploring many of the permutations of ownership to avoid confusion, and because the bottom-line when it comes to the Rapidfire Recordings remains an open issue. It bears mentioning, however, that in limiting my discussion of compensation to the songwriter and performers and (for the most part) sticking to the general rules, I have skipped over some salient points that relate to any final determination as to what is truly fair. One relates to Kevin’s rights, the other to Axl’s.

As to the former, remember I mentioned the vast number of forms ownership rights in music may take. One of these is that of the publisher — the person or company who promotes the music. Another is the recording company — the entity that creates, markets and publishes the recordings. In the U.S. some of the rates for these services are fixed by statute, others are negotiable. In any event, in the traditional model of a recording contract (band gets an agent, signs with a label, makes music and tours), these persons or entities get the lion’s share of the profits.

When it comes to Rapidfire, there is no publisher or record label — at least not as separate entities. If the Band’s recordings go to market, these roles will likely be filled by Kevin, and now that I think about it, by me. In calculating an appropriate split of the profits or royalties, one must take these services into account. Regardless of who is taking on the task, there is no question that zero dollars and zero cents would be generated by the Recordings if no one ever promoted or marketed them. And it does not matter that Kevin may be wearing multiple hats. Because he is doing more than one discrete, compensable job, being paid for each cannot be construed as double (or triple) dipping. For the extra work, he gets an extra slice of pie.

When it comes to the latter, there is something somewhat counterintuitive to consider. In my introduction, I alluded to the fact that Axl’s fame and the monumental success of Guns N’ Roses is the reason Rapidfire’s recordings are of interest. Of this, there can be little doubt. No matter how good the songs are, there is no question that their initial appeal comes from the fact that Axl is singing them. Even if “Ready to Rumble” is destined to be your favorite song, the chances are slim that you would ever have come across it were it not for Axl’s subsequent accomplishments. Under the circumstances, one might wonder whether he is entitled to a larger share of the profits. The answer to this question is “no.”

As I mentioned above, absent some agreement to the contrary, each member of a band shares equally in its profits when it comes to the rights of performers. The bassist and the drummer get the same cut regardless, even if one is a talentless hack and the other is the reincarnation of Keith Moon. The same holds true for the lead singer. Regardless of ability, he or she is just another member of the band. Axl’s undeniable talent does not factor in, nor does his rise to fame. When it comes to the way this business works in terms of compensation, he and Chuck are on the same plane when it comes to Rapidfire.

If this somehow still does not sit quite right with you, consider that Axl’s active contribution to Rapidfire began and ended in 1983. He was good — great, even. But he was no more famous or experienced than any of the other band members. His rights developed then. The subsequent change in the value of his services is irrelevant. Think of it this way: Axl claiming the right to some additional share of Rapidfire would be akin to Jackson Pollock (were he alive today) showing up at your house and demanding a few extra million for the painting you bought from him when he was still struggling for recognition.

By making these statements about Axl’s right to compensation, I am not trying to minimize his importance or suggest that his work is not valuable. I am simply pointing out that he has no special interest in the Rapidfire Recordings stemming from his fame. This being said, he most definitely has very special rights when it comes to Guns N’ Roses — rights which must be respected, and taken into consideration when dealing with Rapidfire. This brings us to the second primary legal topic — the one which actually ended up bringing the Rapidfire Recordings into the public eye.

In addition to copyrights, which cover all forms of original authorship (not just music), there are two other primary ways to legally protect intellectual property — patents, which cover inventions, and trademarks, which cover the unique words, names, symbols, logos, etc. which are used to identify and distinguish goods. A subcategory of trademarks, servicemarks, does the same for services. The second topic relates to trademarks — not one which belongs to Kevin, but one owned by Axl.

Axl Rose owns the registered trademark “Guns N’ Roses.” That means no one may use that name without his authorization. Actually, this overstates things somewhat. There are instances where the same name may be used by different people, as long as it is used to identify clearly different things. Provided the “likelihood of confusion” is not significant, there is no infringement. That’s at least one reason an airline, a tool manufacturer and a plumbing company can all use the trade name “Delta.” In other words, you might be able to get away with calling your combination firearm and flower shop “Guns N’ Roses,” although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.

The “confusion” issue, truly takes us to the core of what a trademark is all about. It is meant to be a unique and recognizable way of identifying something you own. You want someone to associate you with your trademark, and not someone else. You also want to avoid circumstances in which someone uses your mark to create the appearance that you support or are associated with something that has nothing to do with you. Registering your trademark affords you the right to stop unauthorized use. This does not mean that you can stop any and all use by others of something you registered. With the likelihood of confusion as the center around which most infringement issues revolve, there are some well-settled circumstances in which trademarked or copyrighted materials may be used without the permission of their owners. There are exceptions which are considered to be “fair use.”

Fair use is a general term which refers to the utilization of protected material which, by its very nature, does not constitute infringement. It can take on many forms, and (like most things in law) determining what uses are “fair” can become excruciatingly complicated. There are different definitions of fair use which apply to copyrighted versus trademarked materials, and variations on those. The decisions as to what is fair and what is not often come down to minute distinctions which, to a casual observer, would seem entirely inconsequential.

Fair use is a key which opens many doors. Without it, historians, journalists, commentators, comedians — pretty much anyone — would be hamstrung in his or her ability to make reference to the things we see and use every day. Absent fair use, we would lose everything from the amusement of parody, to the drone of advertisers telling us that “according to a blind taste test, Pepsi was preferred two to one over Coke” (or is it the other way around?). Although sometimes the locks it turns can be fiddley ones, without this key the world would be a different place.

Technically, every time I referenced Guns N’ Roses by name in this piece, I am counting on the doctrine of fair use to avoid being sued. As I’ve already implied, the lines which distinguish fair use are fine ones. By no stretch of the imagination am I an expert on this issue, but I will try and give you an illustration of how this can work.

Pretty much everyone in the civilized world (and probably quite a few in the uncivilized world) are familiar with the cover art for GNR’s “Appetite for Destruction.” It looks exactly like this:



Geffen Records owns the copyright to this artwork.5 Under most circumstances, I would need Geffen’s permission to use it. Were I to try to market t-shirts imprinted with this graphic, I could (and almost certainly would) be sued before I could send out the first one. Without getting into the whole “test” which would be used to determine if my use is fair, I can tell you that I am not particularly worried about a summons arriving at my door for reproducing it here. The primary reason is that it is being used for its intended purpose — to identify the image that GNR used on the cover of its first album. For a better understanding of how subtle and intricate this can be, read what the scared rabbits at Wikipedia (my source for the image, by the way) have to say on the subject by clicking here.

It does not take much to get into deep waters when messing about with someone else’s protected work, however. Take the following, for example:



Something like this might be designated fair use as a parody (even though it’s not that amusing). More likely still, I can get away with demonstrating my amateur Photoshop skills because I am using it for non-profit, educational purposes. If, on the other hand, Kevin decided to use either of the images above on the cover of a Rapidfire CD, he would probably be smacked down in an instant — and rightfully so. Certainly pasting Appetite’s cover art on his release would create the impression that GNR had something to do with it, approved it, endorsed it, whatever. A clear violation.

The Rapidfire version probably would not fare any better. Strictly as parody, it is fairly likely that “Appetite for Depression” doesn’t cross the line. The problem stems from the fact that Kevin would be using it for commercial purposes. Although it is quite clear if you read the graphic that this is not a Guns N’ Roses album, let’s face it, the likelihood of confusion here is really high. A not so careful observer could even buy this by mistake, expecting to hear “Welcome to the Jungle” when the disc is played.

Another thing to consider is the fact that the artwork itself (setting the script aside) is identical in both pictures. The various components of an original work may be afforded separate protections. The cross and likenesses themselves could be copyrighted separately. That could mean my “parody defense” wouldn’t hold up because I failed to make the bony fellas look bummed out. Honestly, I would have to read more of the case law to say whether this would actually happen. The point is to illustrate just how infinitesimal the hair-splitting can be. My purpose is also to draw your attention to how seriously a seemingly trivial transgression can be taken when it comes to the laws designed to protect intellectual property. Our right to control what is done with our unique personal creations is treated as almost sacrosanct, regardless of their form. The consequences of violating these rules can be grave. Have you ever wondered why the markings on someone’s t-shirt or baseball cap are sometimes blurred on TV? Often, it’s because someone’s trademark is involved. The program’s producers don’t have permission to show it, and don’t want to be sued — so they break out the pixelator.

The relevance of all of this discourse about copyright and trademark law should be glaringly evident. If Axl Rose’s fame and the tremendous success and notoriety he achieved as a member of Guns N’ Roses is the linchpin of Rapidfire’s significance, how can you market its recordings effectively without running afoul of the rules? How can you illustrate Rapidfire’s pedigree without making reference to Axl’s protected trademark? The answer to the second question is: you can’t. The answer to the first is: Nominative fair use.

Nominative fair use is a particular manifestation of the doctrine which allows one party to use the protected trademark of another to describe his or her own product without obtaining authorization. In order for it to apply, specific criteria must be met. The following three things have to be established:

1. the product or service in question must be one not readily identifiable without use of the trademark;

2. only so much of the mark or marks may be used as is reasonably necessary to identify the product or service; and

3. the user must do nothing that would, in conjunction with the mark, suggest sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark holder.

Check, check and check. Alright, that’s a bit too conclusory — especially given that 2 and 3 refer to things which still could be done wrong. Kevin really ought to consult with an attorney before moving forward... Then again, with these simple requirements so clearly delineated, pretty much anyone could avoid going too far wrong.

When it comes to the first criterion, the Rapidfire Recordings fit the test precisely. The Rapidfire Recordings as a product cannot be properly identified without reference to Axl Rose, and Axl’s significance (at least in this context) is inextricably linked to Guns N’ Roses. They are not a truly marketable commodity as just the digitized demo tapes of some band from the early 80s that no one has ever heard of. In terms of quality, they stand on their own. When it comes to marketing, their value is as the earliest studio recordings of Axl Rose. Period.

The second one, well that provides another reason why Kevin cannot co-opt the cover art from “Appetite for Destruction.” Doing so is not necessary in order to identify what he has. Strictly speaking, mention of the protected mark is only necessary to clarify who Axl Rose is. It is the monumental notoriety of GNR that makes Axl such an important figure. Although most people who would be interested in the Recordings would not need such information, there are some who might not know of the connection. The reference cannot be left out entirely, but it need not be repeated over and over, and it requires nothing more than descriptive text.

Which brings us to the third, and last, requirement. What do I really need to say? Neither Axl Rose, the owner of the protected mark, nor any other member of Guns N’ Roses, past, present or future sponsors, endorses or has anything to do, whatsoever, with the Rapidfire Recordings. Axl was the Band’s lead singer back in 1983. That’s it. I promise Kevin is not going to claim otherwise. If he does, he’s not only infringing on Axl’s trademark, he’s lying.6

Given the labyrinthine landscape one must traverse when sussing out what can and cannot be done with someone else’s protected work, it is awfully nice when one can find some clear guidance. The nominative fair use doctrine does just that when it comes to any commercial use of the Rapidfire Recordings. Nevertheless, I trust I have imparted the understanding that the intricacies of legal interpretation come, in part, from trying to apply existing law to new facts. If I have not stated this before, I am now. We have statutes which set forth the laws, and cases which help us interpret them. Each time a law is applied to a new set of circumstances, it opens things up to interpretation. That is why attorneys always go in search of a “case on point” when preparing an argument. The gold standard is when you find a case that matches the facts presented in yours precisely — the same issues, the same sort of parties involved, etc. Then there is what I would have to deem the platinum standard.

The platinum standard would be when you find a case with the same facts and circumstances as yours, and the party against whom the decision was rendered is the same one you currently have a dispute with. When it comes to nominative fair use, Kevin has a platinum standard case (at least in terms of its holding). It was filed by a company called Cleopatra Records, and you can read the entire decision here.

Because you can read the case yourself, I will not reiterate all of the details. But here are the high-points: Cleopatra Records obtained the rights to five tracks recorded by the band Hollywood Rose — Axl’s band before Guns N’ Roses was formed. Axl and some of the other members of GNR tried to stop Cleopatra Records from releasing the recordings by alleging a likelihood of confusion. The record company took the matter to court. The judge ruled decisively in its favor, citing the nominative fair use doctrine as his justification.

One thing about the underlying facts of the Cleopatra Records case did differ ever so slightly from the situation with Rapidfire. In order to have the right to release the recordings, the record company had to obtain the rights to the songs. All five were apparently co-written by Axl.

At this point, I’m pretty much done with this extended “interlude.” But before I move on, I promised you there was a link between this legal discussion and the underlying tale — and I meant a direct link, not that it was merely relevant.

Cleopatra Records released the Hollywood Rose recordings in 2004. Not surprisingly, this event was newsworthy due, in part, to the litigation it inspired. As a direct result of the media attention, Kevin became aware of what was going on. The thing that caught his eye most was that Cleopatra Records was touting the songs as the earliest studio recordings of Axl Rose. Obviously, he knew that this was not true. It made him angry. He also learned that his former band-mate was trying to stop the release. He did not know why, but presumed it either had something to do with Axl’s ownership/authorship (he hadn’t seen the decision yet), or it was because Axl had a problem with the quality of the recordings — that they didn’t meet his standards. Whatever the reason, Kevin decided to set the historical record straight. He was genuinely peeved about what he initially saw as a deliberate effort to mislead the public.

In August of 2004, Kevin went public with the information about the Rapidfire Recordings. He put up a website to counter Cleopatra Records’ claims, and began to speak with the media. What happened next, he did not expect. Considering what inspired his actions, it could even be construed as bizarre.

_____

5 Note to Geffen’s, Axl’s - all other GNR members attorneys, past and present: Do me a favor. If you don’t want me using these images, look me up on the State Bar’s website and give me a call. I’ll remove them. Don’t send a nasty-gram. Don’t threaten me with legal action. I know I’m within my rights to use them in this context, but it ain’t worth fighting about.

6 I should probably make it clear that “The Story of Rapidfire” is not a veiled attempt at marketing. If there is a commercial use for this essay, it’s indirect and entirely contingent upon what happens next. As I write this, the Rapidfire Recordings are not for sale or available to the public in any way. I am just laying out some facts for the historical record. I am telling a story, and providing information. I am not relying on the protection of nominative fair use. This is “classic” fair use, which affords me a little more leeway.


Last edited by Blackstar on Tue Dec 27, 2022 8:21 pm; edited 1 time in total
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2012.07.21 - Rapidfire 1983 Website - The Story Of The Rapidfire Recordings Empty Re: 2012.07.21 - Rapidfire 1983 Website - The Story Of The Rapidfire Recordings

Post by Blackstar Tue Dec 27, 2022 7:43 pm

VIII. Rapidfire — Re-emergence.

Kevin had not planned on doing anything with the tracks his band recorded in 1983. The original tape was a memento — a personal keepsake from bygone days. Anyone doubting that should consider the decision he had made early on about capitalizing on Axl’s success. Also, in Kevin’s mind, these were just demos which would be of little interest to anyone. In 2004, Cleopatra Records altered that perspective.

Honestly, I do not remember the specific content of the website he put up — nor does Kevin. To the best of my recollection, it was just what one would expect given its impetus. Kevin told the world that the Hollywood Rose recordings were not the earliest example of Axl in the studio. This distinction belonged to the Rapidfire demos. And he announced his intention to make them available to the public. He anticipated some sort of negative reaction from Cleopatra Records — perhaps an “aw, bullshit” response. This didn’t concern him at all. Its misrepresentation of history (whether it was done knowingly or not) was bothersome, and Kevin had the evidence to set things straight. Cleopatra Records was also doing something disagreeable to his former band-mate. Kevin believed he was fighting the good fight.

Whether the announcement had an impact on the sales of the Hollywood Rose recordings is something we will probably never know, but it turns out Cleopatra Records was anything but “disagreeable” to Kevin. At some point, he contacted one of its representatives, who was surprised and intrigued by this new revelation, but not disbelieving. The record company’s inaccurate representation of history swiftly went the way of the dodo. Kevin was even sent a complimentary copy of the Hollywood Rose CD.

To whatever extent he anticipated a “gotcha” moment when Cleopatra Records became aware of the truth, Kevin’s effort fell entirely flat. He did get a reaction, however — a strong one. As naive as this may sound, it was also one he did not expect. He received a cease and desist letter from an attorney who said he represented Axl Rose.

Before I get into the specifics of the letter and all that followed, I am afraid that I need to take you on another detour — a much shorter one than last time.

One thing that many people do not think about when considering the laws governing intellectual property is how one goes about enforcing them. By this I do not mean the mechanics of filing suit, or simply asserting rights. I’m talking about one step back — as in how you go about discovering infringement in the first place. Not all such things are done in a way that garners significant public attention. Also, when you have a popular mark it happens so often and in so many ways that it can be nearly impossible to identify and track it all. Imagine owning the Coca-Cola Company, and trying to follow every unauthorized use of your trademark. That could be, quite literally, an impossible task.

So how do owners of popular and/or particularly important protected materials locate and address the legions of potentially unauthorized uses? They don’t — at least not when it comes to the big players. They employ others, sometimes many others, to do it for them. Even then, things slip through — accidentally, and by choice. Infringement happens on a worldwide basis. Some instances are not detected. Others are not worth doing anything about. You cast as wide a net as you deem necessary and/or practical, then pick your battles.

Guns N’ Roses may not be Coca Cola, but it is certainly a popular and well known mark. Its songs are also in the hands of millions upon millions of people. Even if he had the time, I doubt Axl Rose would sit around Googling “Guns N’ Roses” to see who might be using one of its protected properties without authorization. He has people to do that, perhaps a whole phalanx of them. He has attorneys who make money defending his rights. In all likelihood, they take it upon themselves to keep watch. It’s in their client’s best interest. Theirs as well.

Because this sort of thing is often hands-off for the client, a sort of one-size-fit-all approach may be used. Any and all infringement (or potential infringement) meets with the same response. Standing orders are issued and followed. For this reason and another more important one I will discuss later, it is critical that none of the “reactions” to the Rapidfire Recordings and the possibility of their release be ascribed to Axl himself. I have never heard anything from Axl about any of this, directly or indirectly, which I can characterize as his own thought or position. What I am about to describe should only be viewed as attorneys doing what they believe they are supposed to do.

I first heard about Kevin’s decision to release his recordings shortly after he put up the site (www.theaxltapes.com). He called me from Canada (where he was living at the time) requesting my assistance — but not as an attorney. He wanted me to write the liner notes for the CD he hoped to release. I wasn’t sure if I was the right man for the job, but I happily accepted. Within a day or so, I got another call. This time, Kevin was looking for counsel. He had received a letter you can (and should) read by clicking here.7

There are things I like about law and lawyers. There are things I dislike. As you have already read, I am also willing to make broad pronouncements about both. For the most part, however, I reject stereotypes. When you actually practice law, you realize very quickly that few of your fellows are as polished as their fictional counterparts, or as cartoonishly mean and factious as the popular cliché. Then you get a letter like that, and you are reminded that most commonly held notions do not arise out of nowhere. It was hardly a proper “hello.”

Although I suppose there are exceptions, one’s initial contact with the “other side” generally need not contain overt threats. Groundless ones have no place in legal discourse whatsoever. Most people are not scared by lawyers these days. In part, this is a consequence of gratuitous chest-thumping. If a person has even a basic inkling of his or her legal rights, you do yourself (not to mention your client, and our profession) a disservice by claiming things that are demonstrably untrue.

For the record, Smith (which is not his real name, but we have to call him something) is a perfectly pleasant guy to deal with personally. Our telephone conversations were of an entirely different tenor from what you might expect after reading his letter. It may have been over the top, but it did not presage the quality of our interaction. On the contrary, we quickly reached an interim agreement — essentially that neither of our clients would move forward with what they were “threatening” to do until we at least tried to work out an agreement. You can read my letter by clicking here, but you don’t really need to right now.

One thing I haven’t mentioned about this period is that I was not Kevin’s only attorney. In connection with his other businesses, at times Kevin required help and expertise beyond what I could offer. That included dealing with most of his trademark and copyright matters. Long before, I had referred him to an attorney whose specialty was intellectual property. We’ll call him Sam, because that’s his name (and there are lots of Sams in this world). When it came to addressing the nuts and bolts of Smith’s infringement allegations and assertions of his client’s rights, Sam took the lead. I was brought in to help broker a deal — one that was not about to happen.

Within days of reaching this basic accord with Smith, Sam and I received a letter from an attorney who presented himself as Axl’s Canadian counsel. Click here, and give it a quick read. Talk about gratuitous chest-thumping. Woof.

When I got done laughing, my initial reaction was not to the content. It was to the tone. Perhaps its just the Canadian way, but the letter was so absurdly officious it came off as parody. This was not just an example of the sort of thing that makes people hate lawyers. It reads like it was written by someone who taught himself to practice law by reading dime-store novels about lawyers whom everybody hates — a cliché based upon a cliché.

Admittedly, I could be accused of throwing stones from a glass house. “(M)utually advantageous business relationship” does sound a bit formal and pretentious. Mockingly quoting me in an impotent attempt to prove Kevin had failed to keep his word was inane.8 Coming from a guy who uses “inter alia” in a citation-free letter and bolsters a threat by unnecessarily stating the obvious (all lawsuits include “doe” defendants), it’s ironic. At least he was kind enough to make sure we understood what “legal fees” meant. We might have gotten lost without that clarification. I realize I’m being a jerk, but Jones (yes, another pseudonym — surprise, surprise) was being a bully, and trying much too hard at it. Again, woof.

The next thing which stood out was the number of presumptions, overstatements and actual misrepresentations of fact and law the thing contained. Smith’s letter had similar “problems,” but they came off more as overzealous advocacy. Jones made it sound as if Kevin was the head of a criminal syndicate whose goal was to rob Axl Rose blind, beat him senseless and leave him bleeding at the end of some dark alley. As a response to this dangerous threat, he was going to loose the full force of the Canadian justice system upon Kevin and his “associates.” If only he knew that Kevin’s only associates in this were his three dogs. Cody, Skylar, Dylan — watch out for the Mounties! Oh, and, “woof.”

Despite Jones’ effort to leave us shaking in our boots, his letter didn’t even merit a response. I ignored it, as did Sam. Kevin never bothered to hire Canadian counsel. Sam did provide a substantive response to Smith a couple days later, but Jones wasn’t copied on it. Sam politely disagreed with Smith. He explained that the Recordings were owned by Kevin, not Axl, set forth Kevin’s rights under the fair use doctrine and put to rest the allegations of other purported violations of Axl’s rights. Most importantly, he set forth the legal basis for each of his contentions. You can read Sam’s neatly crafted response by clicking here.

Even with all the meaningless bluff and bluster, the cease and desist letters were nevertheless troubling. What bothered me the most was that all of this posturing was done after the Cleopatra Records decision came out. These guys went off, both barrels blazing, knowing that Kevin could easily be acting within his rights (at least under U.S. law). At the most, he might have earned a warning about painting his picture within the lines of fair use. Instead, he’s told hand over the Recordings or else.

Before the decision was rendered on the Hollywood Rose recordings, it did not necessarily go without saying that Kevin’s efforts were protected as nominative fair use. The case which established the doctrine (New Kids on the Block v. New American Publishing), could be distinguished from what was happening with Rapidfire. The same cannot be said about what happened with Cleopatra Records. For all meaningful purposes, that case was absolutely identical — right down to the way their client fit into the equation. Remember my credo about knowing the facts and the law?

The liberties both attorneys took with the facts added to my concern. Conclusively taking the position that their client owned the rights to Kevin’s songs without backing it up could be seen as harmless puffing. Stating that use of the Recordings was limited to securing work “at live music venues in and around Los Angeles in the early 1980s, and then only with the consent of all members of Rapidfire...” was an entirely different animal. Offering the full benefit of the doubt, perhaps this was just an expansion of Kevin’s assertion that the songs were demos. Nevertheless, the specifics were invented — probably because of what the Court said in the Cleopatra Records case about the use of promotional materials. Some might consider this vigorous advocacy. In most contexts, people would attach a very different, far less virtuous moniker to such behavior. It signaled a willingness to play dirty.

I could continue and pick apart what these attorneys said line by line, but when it comes to the legal arguments, Sam’s letter pretty much tells you everything. You also know the full background story. There is no need for me to prattle on about it. Instead, I want you to consider something else about this situation — something less obvious. The quality and substance of these letters suggest that the attorneys were acting on “standing orders,” and Axl had little if any knowledge of their specific content.

As I already said, I cannot claim to know Axl’s own position on the subject of Rapidfire. I do not know if he even has one. I have heard from these attorneys and others over the years. I have even had fairly lengthy conversations with a couple of them. The impression I have developed is that Axl mostly ignores the issue, even when the topic arises. Despite my uncertainty, I am convinced of one thing: Even if he wanted to stop Kevin dead in his tracks, Axl would not handle it the way Smith and Jones did. I base this on what little I have gleaned from Axl’s attorneys over the years, and some observations about Axl, himself. It is also the second reason not to attribute these attorneys’ letters directly to their client. This is a situation where one should blame the messenger.

Axl gets a great deal of heat over what he does as a result of his reputation. People hear just the “sensational” portion of a story, and presume they are the unreasoned acts of an angry and unbalanced man. This is not only unfair, it’s almost unquestionably untrue. Axl may be difficult, moody and habitually late, but he certainly does not appear to be capricious. More to the point, he does not come off as dishonest — just the opposite, in fact. Blaming him for the things his attorneys wrote or viewing them as manifestations of his demeanor would be a mistake. It would also be unfair.

The foregoing notwithstanding, not only have I never discussed Rapidfire with Axl, I have not spoken with him on any occasion. I have never met him, and probably never will. To the best of my knowledge, he and I have never even been in the same place at the same time. The point is, I do not know the man. Just as importantly — and I am talking to over ninety nine percent of the world’s population here — neither do you. Not knowing someone personally does not equate to knowing nothing about him or her, of course. Nevertheless, it should guide and temper one’s opinions.

Along with fame and notoriety comes attention — some welcome, some not. It comes at the cost of privacy, and often nets a person scrutiny and criticism which is undeserved, or at least misplaced. Imagine if you were judged solely by the things you did which were newsworthy. Worse, imagine what it would be like if much of your everyday life became newsworthy because you were so well known. On top of that, add the sensationalistic nature of the modern media, and our all-access society. With all this in mind, accidentally belching out loud at a five-star restaurant takes on all new meaning.

Even when information is fairly and accurately conveyed, you are only getting a piece of the puzzle. Facts without context are often misleading, regardless of their authenticity. When it comes to the acts of human beings, you must know something about the individuals involved. Even then, circumstances can conspire to defy expectations. Conclusions should be approached with caution. The less you know about the people and circumstances, the more prone you are to forming wrong ones. Even firsthand knowledge does not guarantee that you really know the story.

Despite a general disinterest in the daily lives of the rich and famous, I do not live in a bubble. I am familiar with many of the stories about Axl’s purported bad behavior, fiery temper and disorders of the mind. I take most of it with a grain of salt — a big grain. Largely, this is due to the public’s insatiable appetite for sensational tidbits about its popular idols — the more licentious the better. The media feeds this desire by distorting the facts, and using a pick-and-choose approach when it comes to reporting them. Thankfully, when it comes to Axl, I have a little more to build on than tabloid journalism.

Outside of and entirely unrelated to Kevin, I have one degree of separation from Axl through a handful of people (not counting his attorneys). Two or three of them have known Axl for a long time, and have known him well. How does this inform me? Although it does not come from the media, it is still secondhand information — in attorney-speak, hearsay. For the most part, it merely helps me distill and clarify my knowledge and understanding. It also led me to a circumspect conclusion, derived from a firsthand observation: Axl Rose engenders a certain respect, loyalty and sometimes even love in the people who have known him over the long haul — the ones who were there through thick and thin, and even those he may have alienated. This is not the destiny of monsters, assholes or psychopaths.

Whether the bases for my conclusion arise from Axl’s goodness or greatness (two profoundly different and unrelated concepts), I do not know. I suspect it is a combination of the two. Whatever its origin, it is true, and should be used to color your observations about him. It provides some context. There is something else I believe should color your observations, and it applies to everyone. When it comes to secondhand information, complimentary or positive comments tend to be more accurate and trustworthy than tales of nastiness and misdeeds. This is particularly true when it comes to celebrities.

An ironic polarity exists when it comes to what most people consider to be newsworthy. By and large, positive press is reserved for doing something extraordinary, or for something extraordinarily superficial — physical appearance. There is not much occupying the middle ground. On the other hand, when it comes to the ugly or the bad, the most ordinary deeds can land your already famous mug on the news. People love to watch their heroes fall from grace. The size of the fall does not seem to matter. Often, the reason it happened doesn’t either. Common knowledge about the daily lives and characters of the rich and famous tends to be based upon their least attractive moments, and is further skewed by a lack of background information. The other side of the story, if it is told at all, tends to be forgotten. We end up knowing too much about what a person did, and too little of the why.

The irony of this becomes apparent when you consider what is important in the real world. Character, intelligence, thoughtfulness, reason, beliefs — these aspects are far more relevant to our daily lives than grand accomplishments, or their ability to look good in a swim suit. Having an Academy Award or ripped abs does not make you a decent human being. Yet for whatever reason, doing something wise or thoughtful or exhibiting ordinary generosity will not net a person a headline but tripping on some stairs or getting into a fender-bender or yelling publicly about your dry-cleaning will. The downfalls of our idols sell. Their simple, more noble traits do not. As a result, the positive information which makes it to our eyes and ears through the popular media tends to be more reliable.

When it comes to Axl Rose, there are a couple popular notions which I consider both reliable and useful for putting things in perspective. He is widely heralded as being highly intelligent, and unflinchingly honest. To this list I would add another positive trait — integrity. People may not like or agree with a lot of what Axl says or does, but I do not recall ever hearing him accused of being dumb or dishonest. That does not mean it has not been said, but it is not a common conception. Even if it were, this would return us to the unreliable side of publicity, and the concomitant need for context before judgment.

In order to keep this from becoming an even lengthier diatribe on the evils of the modern media, I will give you an example which took place recently, and also happens to corroborate my impressions of Axl.

As most people reading this undoubtedly know, Guns N’ Roses was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Axl refused to have anything to do with it. Irritatingly, but not surprisingly, much of the reaction to Axl’s decision was angry, insulting, moronic, mean, or just plain ignorant. Blogs were filled with “fuck Axl this” and “fuck Axl that.” The bulk of this can be chalked up to pathetic nobodies venting their empty-headed ire from the confines of their mothers’ basements. Despicably, it went beyond that to people who should have known better. It even found its way into the induction ceremony itself.

For reasons mysterious to me, the insufferably sophomoric members of Green Day were chosen to induct Guns N’ Roses. Billy Joe Armstrong read from a prepared script, while the other two mugged awkwardly before the audience. In his speech, Armstrong made a not-so-veiled reference to an “ignorant farm boy,” and, after some unqualified praise for Axl, added “and you’re fuckin’ crazy,” — mimicking the vocalist’s delivery.9 Armstrong probably thought he was being edgy and cool. He came off as a prick. Judging from the faces of the members of GNR waiting in the wings to take the stage, they were not amused. Assuming I read those faces correctly, there’s an example of that respect and/or loyalty I referenced above.

Armstrong’s presentation was not without redeeming qualities. At least he tried to silence the idiots in the audience who were booing whenever Axl’s name came up. And he did say a number of positive things about the man. Most referenced his monumental talent, but he included something with no connection to musical accomplishments. He paid a compliment with no hint of irony, or backhandedness. He said to Axl Rose “You tell the truth no matter what the cost.”

As much as I hate to give him credit, Armstrong hit the nail on the head with that comment. It seems he did not grasp the truth behind the decision Axl most recently paid the price for. If he had, even that undergrown man-child would not have been taking mean-spirited jabs at one of the people he was there to honor. He really should have grasped it, though — unless he’s illiterate.

When Axl announced his decision not to participate in the induction of Guns N’ Roses into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he released a thoughtful, clear and respectful open letter to the Hall explaining why he wanted no part of the process, and was refusing to be inducted. He spoke only for himself, and begrudged no one from GNR their decision to accept the “honor” or their right to it. It was his personal decision, done with grace and eloquence. My first reaction was to be impressed by his courage to stand by his convictions in what he dubbed a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” situation. It demonstrated his forthrightness and incorruptible dedication to his principles.

Thankfully, not everyone was so clueless when it came to Axl’s decision, or blind to how appropriately he handled it. Many actually understood. Take a moment, and listen to Piers Morgan on the subject by clicking here. I take issue with some of the ways Morgan chose to characterize Axl and his actions. Whether or not he can fairly be called “angry,” a “wild-man,” “crazy,” “untamed,” or an “outlaw,” none of these words applies to Axl’s decision, or the way he approached or explained it. Morgan obviously hyperbolized for effect. I suspect no televisions were harmed as a result of Axl’s reaction. He was spot-on with at least one comment, though. Suggesting that Axl was being disrespectful was, without question, absolute “poppycock.”

At the end of the day, it seems that the enlightened and informed outnumbered the mindless and ignorant on the subject of Axl’s refusal to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Axl himself made this clear in a follow-up letter he wrote not long after the induction, in which he apologizes to Cleveland for snubbing the Hall of Fame. He characterized the response to his decision as “overwhelmingly positive.” The reason for this is abundantly clear. Axl took it upon himself to tell the other side of the story. He provided context.

I strongly suggest you find and read both letters — particularly if the name Axl Rose begets images an “angry wild-man” for you. Do not rely on some commentator and his or her selected excerpts (even mine). Many could not resist cherry-picking and placing their own spin on them. A phenomenon Axl addressed in the second letter by insisting upon it being reprinted in its entirety, or not at all. Read them both for yourself, and reach your own conclusions. And you need not wonder whether they are the work of a slick publicist trying to buff Axl’s image. I have it on good authority that they, in fact, properly exemplify the person behind the persona.

Believing that you can divine Axl Rose’s position or the contents of his mind on the subject of Rapidfire from reading what his lawyers wrote on his behalf is foolhardy and unfair. The iniquity of such attribution is demonstrated by considering the “reliable” things we can sift out of the detritus presented by the media, paying attention to the reasons and intentions behind the actions, and remembering that life-long loyalty does not emanate from a vacuum.

The attorneys’ letters were asinine, meritless attempts at bullying, based on false contentions. None of this matches a reasoned assessment of Axl Rose. Whatever Axl’s position may be, he would not try to bolster it with lies. He’s too smart, too honest and has too much integrity for that. In my opinion, the only aspect of the response to Kevin’s announcement in 2004 that may reasonably be attributable to Axl is timing and decisiveness. To win a fight, hit first, hit hard and do not stop until your opponent is subdued. This applies no matter who provoked it. This Axl knows, I assure you. And in this instance, it worked as it should. Although the opening salvo may deserve mockery and disdain, it did what it was supposed to do. It forced Kevin to rethink his plan.

IX. Rapidfire — The Recordings.

Before moving on and bringing you up to date on the status of Rapidfire, a discussion of the Recordings themselves is in order. I will do my best to avoid editorializing for three reasons. First, I am not a music critic. I know what I like, but I am hardly qualified to provide an educated commentary as to a song’s artistic merit. Second, qualifications or no qualifications, I can hardly be considered unbiased. I believe I can provide a fair opinion, but I am not a neutral, objective listener. Third, and most importantly, too much hype or criticism can affect our perceptions in advance. I find that frustrating, and hope to avoid doing it to you. Appreciation of music is a personal thing, best left entirely to the listener. These songs speak for themselves.

With these provisos, there are still things I can tell you. To begin with, I need to state the obvious. Yes, they do exist. Because they have the remarkable distinction of remaining off the web after being rumored for so many years, some people think they disappeared long ago. Many more presume that they are of questionable quality, and at best are of interest as a curiosity. This is entirely false — and I am uniquely qualified to say so. As I type this, I am literally the only person on the planet who has direct access to the complete set. No one has ever listened to them all in their final form outside my presence. Even Kevin has not heard them in years. They are studio quality. The songs are genuinely good — good enough that I listen to them because I enjoy them. Yes, I do sing along.

When the songs were recorded back in 1983, Kevin considered the demo to consist of just four tracks. “Closure” was initially the intro to “All Night Long.” When people heard it, the reaction was so overwhelmingly positive that it was turned into a separate song. As it happens, it already had a name from “back in the day.” Kevin always referred to the contrasting portions of the piece separately. It was inspired by a breakup. “All Night Long” was an angry farewell. “Closure” was bitter reminiscence. Contrasting musically from the other songs, its name and its nature makes it the perfect way to end the album.

Here’s a brief (pretty much strictly factual) run-down of the songs:

Ready to Rumble: This would have been the title track had the songs been released in the 80s. A “call and response” style rock anthem which was Rapidfire’s signature song. Of the four straight-up hard rock tracks, “Ready to Rumble” is arguably the catchiest, and is the perfect “opener” for the album. In it you will hear the first recorded example of Axl’s signature rising, multi-octave wail. It gives me goose-bumps to this day. Honestly.

All Night Long: Another strong hard-rock tune, “All Night Long” commemorates the age-old rock themes of sex, and the hard to get girl. It also offers a window into Kevin’s “mini-dictatorship.” It seems that Axl preferred to exercise his vocal range, and use his falsetto wail. Here, Kevin kept him entirely in check, insisting on a more toned down delivery. Years ago, Kevin gave an interview in which he said that Axl’s vocals reminded him of Rob Halford’s. My uneducated ear hears that most here.

The Prowler: Probably the most complex song of the five, both in terms of the music and the vocal delivery, “The Prowler” is more subdued than the other traditional hard-rock tracks. It contains a contrasting, almost “deep-purplesque” bridge, bracketed by bass-heavy riffs and preceded by a piercing descending scream from Axl — who adds additional character in the form of a wickedly evil sounding laugh.

On the Run”: Another hard-rock toe-tapper, in “On the Run” Kevin again seems to hold Axl back. You can almost hear Axl straining against his vocal bonds. A solid piece of early-80s metal, the song leaves me wondering what it could have been had Axl been free to use his full range.

Closure”: This is the unexpected treasure in the collection. “Closure” is a simple, unadorned ballad featuring just Kevin’s guitar and Axl’s vocals. Bittersweet and charming on its own, this is where you hear pure, undisguised, unmistakable, Axl Rose vocals. It’s a haunting preview of the voice that would go on to give us songs like “Patience,” “November Rain” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”

More telling than any information I can provide about the songs themselves are the reactions people have had when they heard them. I do not make a habit of playing Rapidfire for people, but over the years, I have done so on a handful of occasions. Without exception, everyone has been impressed with both the production value of the recording, and the quality of the songs.

An old friend from law school, who is also a highly skilled musician, said he would not hesitate to release them as is. A cousin, who is a top music producer with over thirty years in the business, was shocked by their caliber. He had known about the Recordings long before he heard them, but something he presumed to be a low-fidelity novelty didn’t pique his interest. He’d had enough experiences with such things. When he finally listened to them, his comment was something along the lines of “Wow! That’s a heck of a lot better than I could have done back then.”10

By far the most memorable “screening” of the songs was also the least likely. I have rarely played them for anyone who is not somehow associated with the music industry. Friends, colleagues and acquaintances who have a measure of professional interest (usually, to educate me) are the typical audience. I almost never play them for friends. I’m not sure my own brother has heard them, and he’s been friends with Kevin almost as long as I have. With one notable exception, I have never played them for a stranger who was merely curious. That exception came just over a year ago when I had a business meeting with someone I would have to characterize as a Guns N’ Roses “super-fan,” and an ardent admirer of Axl Rose. There was no particular reason to play the songs for him, and he was respectful enough not to ask to hear them. Cognizant of his interest, I offered, then sat quietly while he soaked up this exceedingly rare opportunity, clearly enjoying the music immensely. When “Closure” came on, I happened to look over at him. There were tears welling up in his eyes.

Kevin often emphasizes that the Recording are “just demos.” He is also a rabid perfectionist, and his own worst critic. He is the first to deride his own ability to wield a guitar. He fails to do himself and his music justice. Yes, you can tell that the Rapidfire Recording are “of an era.” No, it isn’t likely Kevin was going to be the next Angus Young. But these things are not the point, and they do not diminish the significance of what Kevin accomplished. He formed a band and created songs which were far better than many those on many albums which were released commercially. These five songs cannot be compared to “Appetite for Destruction” as a debut. Only a handful of albums can. Still, it’s easy to imagine the Rapidfire Recordings being many people’s favorite record of all time had it been released.

Today, the Rapidfire Recordings still stand on their own, but they have even broader appeal. They are a long hidden and nearly forgotten piece of the past, which embodies a tantalizing preview of Axl Rose’s monumental vocal ability, created years before Guns N’ Roses took the world by storm.

X. Rapidfire — Up To Today.

When I introduced this story, I admitted that Axl Rose was the “reason” you have not heard the Rapidfire Recordings, but admonished that he should not be blamed. At this point, I am fairly certain that I have made it abundantly clear why it was “not that simple.” In doing so, I also painted a picture that probably has left you wondering why Kevin hasn’t forged ahead — especially if I am so certain that he’ll be on the winning side of any legal battle over the right to release the songs.

To a certain extent, Kevin’s change of trajectory relates to the massive imbalance of firepower when it comes to litigation budgets. There is also a basic reality applies to every lawsuit that must be factored in. No matter how strong your case is, no matter how good your attorneys are, emerging triumphant is never guaranteed — even when both sides’ budgets are in perfect parity. Any attorney who says otherwise is just plain wrong. Neither explains the current status of the Recordings. Again, the truth is not so simple.

To begin to understand what happened after Axl’s swift hammer-blow to Kevin’s plans, you must recall that prior to learning about the Hollywood Rose situation, Kevin had not even considered releasing the Recordings to the public. Axl’s legal posture was not the issue. Kevin’s own integrity prevented him from trying to capitalize on the happenstance of his former band-mate’s success. Given this, returning to “Plan A” was no skin off his back. It didn’t seem worth the time and energy it would require to force the issue — especially when a significant portion of his original motivation had been wiped out. Kevin’s notion that Axl would appreciate what he was doing had been dashed.

Things quite easily could have ended right there. Kevin had at least corrected the historical record. He maintained a web-presence for Rapidfire. He received some minor press. About a year after his course correction, Rapidfire got its own Wikipedia page. That could have been enough were it not for two essential factors. In going public with Rapidfire, Kevin had let the genie out of the bottle. It had taken on a life of its own. He also had a minor change of heart.

Kevin still reviled the concept of coattail riding, but Guns N’ Roses was no longer at the pinnacle of its success. Releasing the Recordings no longer felt like an attempt to plunder someone else’s spoils. Instead, it had begun to feel a lot more like adding something to a legacy. To some degree, this sense arose directly from the knowledge that Axl’s short history with Rapidfire was remarkable and exemplary, and the product of his work was worthy. He found it difficult to believe that his former lead singer — the person he remembered — would object to the release if he truly understood where Kevin was coming from. In Kevin’s mind, a seed had taken root.

When it came to the “genie,” it took a few forms, but they all can be characterized as public interest.

Since 2004 there has been a steady flow of inquiries coming in about the Recordings. Some come from the press, others from people with business propositions (both legitimate, and highly suspect). But most are just GNR fans wondering if they can hear these “fabled” songs. There are also the blogs and fansites, where the topic of Rapidfire has been discussed, dismissed and its existence questioned. The presence of doubt about the Band nags a little at Kevin. He knows it’s crap, but crap is often used as fertilizer. Fertilizer helps seeds grow.

The upshot was that Kevin never entirely abandoned the notion of releasing his recordings. This left him with a conundrum or two.

His own feelings on the subject notwithstanding, Kevin was well aware of Axl’s strong aversion to people trying to take advantage of his fame — meaning Axl’s personal position on the subject, not his legal one. Kevin empathized, and genuinely wanted to avoid angering or upsetting him. They may not have ended up being close friends, but there also was not a shred of ill-will. He also has great respect for Axl. Kevin can be ruthless in business or when crossed, but he’s pretty much the polar opposite under all other circumstances. He’s a give-you-the-shirt-off-his-back kind of guy.

Kevin believed that Axl would embrace the concept of releasing the Rapidfire Recordings if he could only apprehend and address whatever concerns or objections he might have. Early on, Kevin attempted to ask Axl himself. He sent a letter which went through me to Axl’s attorney.11 We don’t know if Axl read it, or even received it. Rereading the letter today, I can see its flaws. It was supposed to be a personal letter about professional topics. It came off as an awkward, easily ignored hybrid. In part, this was because Kevin wasn’t sure which hat to wear — former friend/band-mate or tough businessman. It was also a consequence of funneling a letter past your attorney. I’ll own that.

Over the ensuing years, Kevin and I have spent countless hours pondering and discussing why Axl might be so adamantly against allowing the Recordings to see the light of day. I have also made a couple more fitful attempts to reach Axl through counsel, and sought advice from a few other sources. The consensus was to go ahead and release them, but the core issue remained — how to move ahead without running afoul of Axl.

If you are wondering why I haven’t reached out through my “one degree of separation,” don’t. Plain and simple, I would not ask that of any of them. More significantly, none of them would do that to Axl even if they were in the position to do so. There may be times when a personal introduction is an appropriate beginning for a new business relationship. This is not one of them — and let’s leave it at that.

The other sticking point faced by Kevin is directly linked to the cost, hardship and risk associated with litigation. It has essentially nothing to do with Axl’s wealth or Kevin’s likelihood of prevailing, however. It has absolutely nothing to do with doubts or trepidation when it comes to duking out the issues I’ve discussed in a courtroom. Neither Kevin nor I would shrink from such a fight. It boils down to a cost/benefit analysis.

The music business has changed significantly within the past fifteen years. With the advent of filesharing, recorded music was hugely devalued. Although things are improving as the industry adapts to its post-Napster, digital environment, file-sharing and other forms of piracy have taken a bite out of copyright protections and the sales of recordings. Matters were even worse back in 2004. Even though the music industry probably should have seen the freight train bearing down, at that point people were still staggering about trying to figure out exactly what had hit it. Even today, putting the songs on the market may not net sufficient profit to justify the cost of any litigation whatsoever. Winning, and doing so swiftly would not matter. And when it comes to Rapidfire, I can make this comment with some direct authority.

Most people know that even the simplest case can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Although you would never know it from looking at my bank statements, attorney’s fees rack up rather quickly. Several years ago, I was given some data about the profits realized by Cleopatra Records in connection with Hollywood Rose. This information is now outdated. It also lacked certain details which left it open to interpretation. I will not cite figures, but I can tell you that even when viewed in the most favorable light, the data do not commend this enterprise. If what I saw reflects the income likely to be attained from selling the Rapidfire Recordings, there is no reason to take the risk.

At this point, one could quite reasonably ask why Kevin does not just post the songs on the Internet, and be done with it — especially if he’s so concerned about history. Don’t try to capitalize. Just lay them out for the world to see. Wouldn’t that be fair use? Wouldn’t that be protected by the First Amendment? Probably. But that would not prevent Axl from suing him over it. We do not know what Axl finds objectionable about the concept. It may have nothing to do with Kevin making a profit. This idea also fails to take into account that Kevin already has a significant amount of time and money invested in his property. He paid for the original recordings in 1983. He paid to have them digitized in 2004. Since then, he has incurred attorney’s fees, maintained a website, had graphics and photos prepared, and incurred any number of small incidental expenses over the years — all in connection with the preservation, protection and presentation of those five songs. Fair use? Yes. Fair? No.

Unfortunately for him, and unfortunately for anyone interested in the Rapidfire Recordings, Kevin is not in the position to make such a gift. If his pockets were overflowing with disposable income, it might be a different story. Then again, doesn’t Kevin Lawrence have as much right as anyone else on this planet to earn a profit from the fruits of his hard work and creativity?

Unless something changes and Kevin is afforded a genuine chance to protect himself both legally and financially, there is little more he can do with his songs. As things stand today, the music recorded by Rapidfire in 1983 will have to remain locked away.

Conclusion — What Now?/Why Now?

Before I end this chronicle, I feel compelled to account for its existence beyond it being a narrative about a band which was nearly overlooked by history. Yes, I told the story of Rapidfire — and in doing so perform a minor service by defining its significance and setting forth its narrative. But what is a band without its music? There is a profound distinction between hearing about a song, and actually hearing one. The former is all but meaningless if the latter never occurs. Explanation cannot replace experience. I may have enlightened you about Rapidfire, but its music remains obscure.

Many pages ago, I confessed my desire to create “a happy exception.” If there is a motive for writing this which extends beyond preserving Rapidfire’s story for posterity and explaining the current status of its recordings, it is unapologetically that. Whether I succeed on this level remains to be seen.

I have endeavored to recount the facts and the law honestly and accurately. The commentary and sentiments interwoven throughout are genuine expressions of what I think and feel and believe to be true. I have little else to offer at this point. To those expecting an announcement of the imminent release of the Rapidfire Recordings, I apologize. I can envision a day when this will happen, but the path to getting there is uncertain.

When it comes to explaining the timing of this tale, I would have to answer the question of “why now?” with the reciprocal “Why not now?” I do not say this to be flippant. It is the plainest truth. Whatever restrictions may be placed on the products of our minds, I have always been free to write this story. And frankly, it is long overdue.

I have received countless inquiries from all over the world asking essentially the same question: “How can I get a copy of the Rapidfire Recordings?” For the most part, my policy is not to respond. This may seem inconsiderate, but there is no short or easy answer to that question — at least not a definitive one. At times, silence is a better answer than an incomplete truth. It is always better than being put off by excuses. I chose the least of three evils. Nevertheless, it has been weighing on me. This is my answer to everyone who has ever asked that question.

As someone who professes to value the truth, naturally I cannot pretend that my timing is entirely random. I hope everyone who reads what I have written is already aware of the significance of the date that this story went public. July 21, 2012 marks the twenty fifth anniversary of the release of Guns N’ Roses’ debut album, “Appetite for Destruction.” I thought it as good a day as any, and better than most.

If I have done my job properly, I have secured at least a small measure of immortality for Kevin Lawrence and the time he spent writing and performing music, no matter what happens with his recordings. Axl Rose and the other members of Guns N’ Roses guaranteed their places in rock and roll history long ago. Nevertheless, I dedicate this work to them as well. Rapidfire was not genesis for GNR. It was not one of its origins. The most I can say is that Rapidfire and Guns N’ Roses share a snippet of DNA. I believe that makes what I have written relevant to both bands. As such, I choose to commemorate this anniversary by shedding a little light on the GNR family tree.

XI. Epilogue - Not The End.

Although I have already written quite a number of pages about Rapidfire and eventually reached the “Conclusion,” my account, quite possibly, is anything but complete. As long as the Recordings continue their sojourn in obscurity, the end to this tale hovers in limbo. Perhaps one day I will have the occasion to finish it. Whether and when that day comes is in the hands of others. As of this moment, Kevin and I have no plans to force the issue. The five songs I described are not available to the public. There is no website you can visit to download them. There are no CDs waiting to be shipped. Then again, that could change.

At this point, I cast the decision out to anyone and everyone who has read my narrative and commentary and has an interest in what happens to the tracks laid down by Rapidfire in 1983. Speak up and speak out about what you would like to have happen. Kevin and I will listen and see what we can do. I suppose “The Story of the Rapidfire Recordings” could be considered my open letter to Axl Rose, and consequently the world - a sort of typewritten analog for shrugging my shoulders and saying “I don’t know. You tell me.”

© 2012 Joshua Solomon

______

7 As you will see, I redacted all of the identifying information from this and the following letters, aside from my name and Kevin’s. Even though I find much of what you will read in the letters repugnant, there is no reason to embarrass the attorneys or the firms responsible for them. Largely, it is the profession that is to blame, not its practitioners. Like it or not “Smith” and “Jones” were just doing their jobs. I should also mention, to the best of my knowledge, neither of them is Axl Rose’s or GNR’s current counsel.

8 Here’s where my letter becomes relevant. If you care to bore yourself further by reading it, you’ll see that Kevin agreed not to release the Recordings, or sue Axl. That’s it. The fussing-about he did with the TM symbol was his own attempt to comply with the requirements of fair use. The photo? Another red herring.

9 To hear all of these things, you must listen to Armstrong’s entire speech. The version which was broadcast on television was heavily edited. You can find the complete version on the Web quite easily.

10 I wouldn’t bother trying to figure out exactly who this cousin is. He’s a distant one, related to me only by marriage.

11 No, you may not see a copy. It was personal.
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2012.07.21 - Rapidfire 1983 Website - The Story Of The Rapidfire Recordings Empty Re: 2012.07.21 - Rapidfire 1983 Website - The Story Of The Rapidfire Recordings

Post by Blackstar Tue Dec 27, 2022 7:48 pm

Unfortunately the cited documents of the correspondence between Axl's and Kevin Lawrence's lawyers have not been archived by the wayback machine and I haven't been able to find them yet.
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