Axl Rose (real name William Bailey) put Guns N’ Roses together in Los Angeles after hitch-hiking from Indiana with old school friend Izzy Stradlin’ (real name Jeffrey Isbell).
Slash (real name Saul Hudson), Duff McKagan and Steven Adler from LA band Road Crew completed the line-up.
The mini-album they first released on their own Uzi Suicide label, Live?!*@Like A Suicide, was re-released at the start of 1987 by Geffen, the label that won the battle to sign them.
The band then scored the opening slot on Iron Maiden‘s US tour but had to leave half way through when Axl lost his voice and guitarist Slash was packed off to Hawaii to sort out his drug problem.
In May, pugnacious Axl got into a fight with members of the Los Angeles Police Department. He didn’t win and was taken to hospital, recovering just in time for the band’s headline appearance at the Marquee Club in London in June.
On the plane trip over, Slash almost set himself on fire when he fell asleep and dropped his cigarette on the seat. When the band received a bad write-up in a magazine, macho Axl demanded directions to their offices so he could piss on the journalist’s desk.
If hard rock had gone soft by the mid-80s, then Guns N’ Roses 1986 debut, Appetite For Destruction, toughened it up again.
On this filthy sounding record, the band sang about sex, not love, and a feral lifestyle in their adopted hometown of Los Angeles.
Stadium rock with a punk sensibility, Appetite had a euphoric pop quality, making these tales of sexual and narcotic misadventure irresistible to old-school rock fans and suburban teens looking for somewhere, anywhere, to escape to.
The rock press raved. Feminist groups protested about the ‘robot rape’ sleeve, the picture of a battered young woman with her underwear around her ankles. Several stores refused to stock the album. It promptly went to the top of the US and UK charts.
With their single Welcome To The Jungle picking up airplay fast, the band toured the US, this time with Mötley Crüe. The tour had to be cancelled when Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx collapsed from a massive heroin overdose, and G N’R flew back to England for their own headlining tour with Fred Coury of Cinderella sitting in for drummer Steven Adler who had broken his hand in a bar-room brawl.
In 1988 the band appeared at the Castle Donington Festival in England. There were problems as the crowd of 107,000 pushed towards the stage. The band had to stop their set three times and play slower songs to calm things down.
When Axl left the stage with the words “Don’t kill yourselves” he had no idea that two fans had actually been crushed to death during their set.
The mega-hit single Sweet Child O’ Mine (1988) was a dedication to Erin Everly, the daughter of Phil from The Everly Brothers. She was Axl’s current girlfriend at the time (they married in 1990).
In October 1989, while opening for The Rolling Stones at the LA Coliseum, Axl fired the rest of the band onstage for “dancing with Mr Brownstone” – meaning they had been messing around with some serious drugs. He announced, “this may be my last gig with Guns N’ Roses”.
Rose filed a complaint against the West Hollywood sheriff’s department in 1990, alleging that he, his wife, Erin, and a friend were sitting on the balcony of his apartment on 31 July when thirteen deputies showed up at his door with their batons drawn. One deputy apparently forced his way in, pushing Erin Rose aside. Though they did not have a search warrant, the deputies ignore repeated requests that they leave.
According to the sheriff’s department, “several” deputies went to Rose’s apartment on a routine disturbance call after neighbours complained about loud music.
In 1991 while Axl and Co were on stage at Kansas City, Rose spotted a fan committing the most heinous of crimes – unlawfully videotaping the concert. An incensed Rose jumped from the stage, diving into the audience below in an attempt to stop the perpetrator.
A riot subsequently broke out among the fans, causing some $200,000 worth of damage, as a result of which a warrant was issued for Rose’s arrest.
Axl fled the scene immediately and managed to evade capture until a year later when he was finally arrested at New York’s JFK airport (pictured at right). Some deft work by his lawyers meant that he was eventually exonerated.
Even before adopting the Axl Rose persona, Bill Bailey was always something of a bad boy. Indiana police had jailed him more than twenty times while he was still a teenager.
Axl Rose (William Bailey)
Slash (Saul Hudson)
Izzy Stradlin (Jeffrey Isbell)
Michael ‘Duff’ McKagan