|Guns N Roses Biography from wallofsound.com|
WON'T you come home, Bill Bailey?
That's the question — well, sort of — that Guns N' Roses fans have asked for the greater part of the 1990s, as they await the next move of W. Axl Rose (real name, Bill Bailey), who has all but disappeared in recent years, retreating from his status as one of music's biggest stars to become a near-recluse with what seems to be an appetite for (career) self-destruction. The group, which currently includes only one original member — Rose himself — hasn't released an album since 1993, and only now has turned loose a single new song, "Oh My God," from the soundtrack of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie End of Days.
Rose was born on Feb. 6, 1962, in Lafayette, Ind. He was raised in a strict Pentecostal environment, sang in his church choir, and was forbidden to listen to rock music. At 17 he discovered his natural father was a man named William Rose, who had abandoned his family when his son was 2. Axl began to run afoul of the law with various infractions like shoplifting and public intoxication, and in 1980 hitchhiked to Los Angeles, seeking freedom and notoriety in the world of rock and roll.
Once there, Rose — whose first name comes from a band he fronted in Indiana, or the axle of his skateboard, or the fact that Axl Rose is an anagram for "oral sex," depending on which story you believe — hooked up with another Indiana native, guitarist Izzy Stradlin (born Jeffrey Isbell). The two joined with guitarist Tracii Guns and drummer Rob Garner in a band that was called, successively, A-X-L, Rose, Hollywood Roses, and L.A Guns — finally settling on Guns N' Roses. Guns and Garner departed, making way for two members of rival band Road Crew, drummer Steven Adler, and guitarist Slash (born Saul Hudson). They soon added bassist Michael "Duff" McKagan, and in 1985 released a live EP, Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide, on their imprint label Uzi Suicide, which was funded by Geffen, the major label they had signed with.
Their official debut, Appetite for Destruction, was released in 1987, and Guns N' Roses wasted no time in courting controversy. The original album artwork featured a garish painting of a woman who has been violated by a robot, which the label moved inside the cover as a pre-emptive strike against skittish retailers. Nevertheless, Appetite spawned three Top 10 singles, "Sweet Child o' Mine," "Welcome to the Jungle," and "Paradise City," taking the disc to the top of the album charts and driving it to sales of more than 20 million worldwide. By any measurement, it stands as one of the most auspicious debuts in rock history.
But already some serious rifts had developed within the band. Adler had to be replaced on tour after he broke his hand in a fight, and Rose himself was fired when he refused to show up at a concert in Phoenix. He was reinstated, but trouble occurred again when two fans were crushed to death during GN'R's set at the Monsters of Rock festival in England.
Geffen rereleased the Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide EP, adding four acoustic tracks and retitling the disc GN'R Lies. Among the new songs were "One in a Million," which targets "niggers" and "faggots," and "Used to Love Her," which includes the charming couplet "I used to love her/ But I had to kill her."
Rose is unapologetic, explaining that the songs are honest expressions of his emotions, such as they are. Band members and some fans are equally uncomfortable with the record, but it did yield one hit, the ballad "Patience."
Soon enough, the band became the latest template for bad-boy rock star behavior. Stradlin was arrested for urinating in the galley of an airplane, and Rose went through a whirlwind marriage to Erin Everly, daughter of singer Don Everly. Slash and McKagen accept a trophy at the American Music Awards, but let loose a string of nationally broadcast obscenities in the process. Stories of heroin abuse dominated the coverage of the band, and in 1990, Adler was forced out, reportedly due to his drug use. Next, Rose was arrested for allegedly hitting a woman with a bottle after she told him to turn his stereo down.
In 1991 the group added two new members, drummer Matt Sorum and keyboardist Dizzy Reed. The band hit the road, but trouble followed. In Indianapolis Rose compared residents there to "prisoners in Auschwitz." The singer was ridiculously late to concerts, and his behavior was volatile. In July he started a riot at St. Louis' Riverport Amphitheater by diving into the audience after a camera and angrily cutting the concert short. The brand-new venue was left with $200,000 worth of damage.
In the fall, Use Your Illusion I and II were released as separate albums, and they quickly came to occupy the top two slots of Billboard's album chart, driven by several hits, "You Could Be Mine," "Live and Let Die" (a cover of the Paul McCartney song), "Don't Cry," and "November Rain." The long, lavish video for the latter tune features Rose's paramour at the time, model Stephanie Seymour.
Fed up with Rose's erratic ways, Stradlin quit the band and was replaced by Gilby Clarke. In 1992, over howls of protest by gay activists and others offended by "One in a Million," GN'R performed at a tribute to the late Queen singer Freddie Mercury. In Montreal, there was another riot: During a show where Metallica's set was cut short after James Hetfield was burned by onstage pyrotechnics, Rose walked off the stage after 15 minutes because the sound wasn't up to snuff.
After that, it became difficult to tell tragedy from comedy in the world of Guns N' Roses. Axl split with Seymour, causing a flurry of suits and countersuits; the group released The Spaghetti Incident?, a collection of punk-rock covers, which also contained a hidden track written by mass murderer Charles Manson. As Axl descended into a morass of legal entanglements, the band released only one additional song, a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" on the Interview With the Vampire soundtrack. As the craziness set in, the band began to splinter.
Slash appeared on records by Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan, among others, and formed his own band, Slash's Snakepit. McKagan also recorded a solo album and joined Sorum and ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones in Neurotic Outsiders. Clarke was fired, and Rose, who for a time left the band himself, returned and gained control of the GN'R trademark, eventually dismissing Slash, Sorum, and McKagan. A number of players cycled through the band, including guitarists Zakk Wylde, Robin Finck, and Paul Huge, drum programmer Chris Vrenna, drummer Dave Abruzzese.
The current incarnation of the band — Rose, keyboardist Reed, former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson, and drummer Josh Freese — recorded "Oh My God" with guitarists Huge, Finck, and ex-Jane's Addiction-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro. The accompanying album, however, is nowhere in sight, and over time has gone through a comical number of producers. While the band continues to search for an identity and new sound, however, fans of the old Guns N' Roses will have to be placated with a soon-to-be-released live album, Live Era '87-'93, which will feature tracks from 1987-1993, including a cover of a Black Sabbath song: "It's Alright."
In November 1999 the Los Angeles Times reported that a long-awaited new album would be available in early 2000. Speaking with Guns manager Doug Goldstein, the paper reports that the album will be titled Chinese Democracy, and that the band's current lineup lacks only a lead guitarist.