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GNR origins: Influenced by Accept and more

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In an exclusive excerpt from new Eighties hard-rock oral history ‘Nöthin’ but a Good Time,’ GN’R members and those in their inner circle look back on how the band’s classic lineup came to be.

Guns N’ Roses did not arrive fully formed on L.A.’s Sunset Strip, howling “Sweet Child o’ Mine” with all the might and charisma that made the song a hit in 1988. They only achieved the proper cocktail of sensitivity and machismo after the five musicians in GN’R’s classic lineup found each other in the mid-Eighties. Long before any of them had even dreamt of the songs on Appetite for Destruction, Indiana natives Axl Roseand guitarist Izzy Stradlin were cutting their teeth in the bands Axl, Hollywood Rose, and L.A. Guns. Eventually, they united with guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan, and drummer Steven Adlerunder the GN’R banner and made history, but it was a long road to get there. The thing the musicians remember most about their salad days now is the determination they had simply to book small gigs at the Troubadour and Gazzari’s.


The members of Guns N’ Roses, as well as musicians like Tracii Guns who played in both L.A. Guns and the first GN’R lineup, have now recalled their wild origin story in vivid detail for a new book that chronicles hard rock’s decade of decadence. Nöthin’ but a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the ’80s Hard Rock Explosion, by authors and Rolling Stone contributors Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock, presents an oral history of GN’R’s formation in between chapters on Bon Jovi, Skid Row, Cinderella, Mötley Crüe, and other acts who embodied Eighties excess. In the excerpt that follows, the band, as well as musicians who played in the many tributary groups that led to GN’R, explain how the man they knew as “Bill” came to change his name to Axl Rose and front the most dangerous band in Los Angeles.


Izzy Stradlin (bassist, Shire; guitarist, Hollywood Rose, Guns N’ Roses): The first thing I remember about Axl, this is before I knew him — is the first day of class, eighth or ninth grade, I’m sitting in the class and I hear this noise going on in front, and I see these fucking books flying past, and I hear this yelling, and there’s this scuffle and then I see him, Axl, and this teacher bouncing off a door jamb. And then he was gone, down the hall, with a whole bunch of teachers running after him. That was the first thing. I’ll never forget that.


Tracii Guns (guitarist, Guns N’ Roses, L.A. Guns): Izzy would always tell me, “You’ve gotta meet my friend Axl.” Or, you know, “Bill,” at the time. He would say, “You guys are gonna get along great. He can scream that way you like it and he’s into Nazareth.” He kept telling me he was into Nazareth. And I was like, “Yeah! I like Nazareth!”



Izzy Stradlin: I was seventeen when I came out to California … I grew up in Florida and moved with my mom to Lafayette, Indiana. I started pissing around with a drum set, met Axl, and we hung out a lot. It was nowhere. We decided to put a band together. It was a bad time, being there. The people, the girls, it was so backward. The girls didn’t even know how to dress when they went to gigs! So the prospects were absolutely zilch. Axl and I were into anything that had a hard, loud beat. I think that’s how we managed with all that was comin’ down.


Tracii Guns: I went to see Shire play at the Roosevelt Hotel, and this guy Izzy was their new bass player. He had on a leather jacket and white cowboy boots, with dyed black hair. I could relate to that right away. I just figured he was a Mötley Crüe fan. So right after they got done playing I walked up and said, “Hey man, I’m Tracii.” He said, “I’m Izzy.” And it’s like, “Okay, cool. We’re buddies now!” 


Chris Weber (guitarist, Hollywood Rose): So I brought Izzy up to my house, I know that my mom called him Jeff, and we started to write some songs together. I don’t remember exactly when this was, but I know that [Aerosmith’s] Rock in a Hard Place was out, because I was really inspired by “Jailbait” for [the Hollywood Rose and eventual Guns N’ Roses song] “Anything Goes.” In the very beginning, me and Izzy were listening to that.

Billy Rowe: One album that Izzy used to listen to a lot was Restless and Wild by Accept. And if you listen to a lot of those songs on that record, especially “Fast as a Shark,” you’ll hear where Hollywood Rose and Guns N’ Roses probably got things like “Reckless Life.” And Axl had that whole Udo [Dirkschneider, Accept singer] vibe. You never read this stuff, though.


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