All images courtesy of Marc Canter
By Andrew DiCecco
The life-changing moment remains vivid in Marc Canter’s memory 46 years later.
On third street, in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles, he parked his motorbike, which was powered by a Briggs and Stratton lawn mower engine, in the parking lot of the Kentucky Fried Chicken before going inside.
Unbeknownst to Canter, a fellow 11-year-old named Saul Hudson spotted the bike walking down third street and Fuller and considered stealing it before recognizing him through the window and thinking better of it.
Though they had never spoken, Canter and Hudson attended the same junior high school, which likely thwarted Hudson’s ploy and provided enough comfortability to ask Canter for permission to ride it.
As it turned out, Hudson lived only one block south of Canter, and the suddenly inseparable pair saw their friendship evolve from carpooling to school to exploring the realm of BMX together. On their visits to the La Brea Tar Pits, Hudson’s superhuman qualities became evident, and Canter began capturing aerial shots of him soaring gracefully through the air after clearing a ski jump or bunny-hopping a trash can.
The two briefly lost touch with one another between the eighth and nineth grade following Hudson’s expulsion from Fairfax High School, and by the time Canter and Hudson reconvened in summer school, a profound change had occurred – music had become their shared passion.
Having grown up watching Hudson excel at everything from BMX and foot races to arm wrestling, Canter knew success was imminent upon learning of Hudson’s newfound affinity for the guitar and formation of his instrumental band, Tidus Sloan, with Adam Greenberg (drums), Ron Schneider (bass), and Louie Metz (bass) in 1981. The following year, Canter decided to document his friend’s musical voyage by photographing each gig and preserving flyers. However, his commendable dedication didn’t stop there.
While Hudson and his bands pursued their dreams, Canter supported them however he could, whether it was with transportation to gigs, funding for magazine advertisements, food, or simply driving Hudson to see an amp he liked.
As the story goes, Hudson eventually transformed himself into Slash, the top-hat donning, Les Paul wielding, six-string icon who has served as one of rock’s most influential and recognizable figures for the better part of four decades.
With Canter accompanying Slash through all of the highs, lows and debauchery commonly associated with West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip in the 1980s, he was able to comprehensively capture Slash’s formative years and Appetite for Destruction era of Guns N’ Roses in epic detail.
Recently, I spoke with Canter – owner of Canter’s Deli and author of Reckless Road: Guns N’ Roses and the Making of Appetite for Destruction – to learn more about his latest venture, The First 50 Gigs: The Making of Appetite for Destruction, an audio/visual deep-dive into the infancy of Guns N’ Roses and how the Appetite for Destruction lineup ultimately came together, as well as some of the history surrounding one of rock’s most iconic bands.
I’m thoroughly enjoying your latest Guns N’ Roses deep-dive, The First 50 Gigs: The Making of Appetite for Destruction, Marc. With this comprehensive and fascinating look back at how the Appetite for Destruction lineup came together, I’m sure the Guns N’ Roses faithful share my appreciation. What inspired this project?
So, twelve or thirteen years ago, we put together Reckless Road: Guns N’ Roses and the Making of Appetite for Destruction, and at the time we did it, we knew we were always gonna have a second part to it somehow; something that goes a little deeper, that we can use the internet for somehow and put audio or video. During the pandemic, Jason [Porath] called me and said, “You know, since I’m working from home and everyone’s at home and we have free time, now we can reach a few people that we weren’t able to find thirteen years ago. Let’s see if we can do some sort of podcast. Instead of just putting a ten-minute blurb of what they had to say in the book, you can have them on for an hour or forty minutes, or however long you need. You could do a part one, part two; you could put bonus episodes and have little tidbits.“
This is so random, but we tracked down a roadie for Poison, his name is Paul [Lipke]. We used to trade Aerosmith things because I was friends with him back in 1984. Paul remembers that [Slash] audition and remembers how they played “Lord of the Thighs.” It was random; they did the Poison songs, and they were just jamming on whatever. Then it was time to do the guitar solo, and Slash made eye contact with [Paul] and he kind of looked down at the guitar case, and Paul knew that meant, “Give me my slide.” He dug in there, opened the little pouch, got the slide and tossed it to him just in the nick of time where he needed it. That is information that nobody would dream exists anymore. It’s little things like that that give you a little bit extra to the story. We didn’t have Rob Gardner the first time around; he was the original drummer for L.A. Guns and Guns N’ Roses. It’s not that he didn’t wanna do it, we just missed him. We couldn’t find him. We found him about a year after the book came out and we did a small interview, but we never really did anything with that interview. There’s just a lot of good information that got buried and nobody knows how to dig it out.
I wasn’t there when Guns N’ Roses first started; I was hanging with Slash, I knew Axl, but I didn’t make it to those gigs until Slash joined. But what I’m saying is, I remember the time. I remember Izzy and Tracii Guns coming to Canter’s and sitting at the counter and working on melodies and lyrics. Tracii lived, like, two blocks from here. I remember those first days of Guns N’ Roses basically based on what I’m telling you, but then you get it from the perspective of Rob [Gardner], who was actually in the band and made that decision not to stick with the band and to leave when Tracii left. You really get a good documentary. It’s a documentary and then some.
Because there are so many ancillary figures involved in the formative period of Guns N’ Roses, how did you structure your plan of attack, so to speak, and determine who to include and omit this time around?
Well, we got the guy from London, Nadir D’Priest, because I remember when Slash first joined Hollywood Rose and Izzy exited really at the same time as Slash joined. But Slash wasn’t replacing Izzy; Slash was replacing Chris Weber. But Izzy bolted at that same time. Maybe he wanted Tracii – I’m not sure where Izzy’s thoughts were – but he joined London. Then after Izzy was out of London, I remember Slash and Steven [Adler] were in London for like three or four weeks. And I knew that Nikki Sixx was in London. So, I figured, “You know what? London had three of the Appetite for Destruction members pass through that band. So, it’s worth talking to Nadir to see what he might have to say about that.” So, you start to think, “Who can help us?” Even if it’s just something that we didn’t get the first time when we did the book. You have more room for that.
Even me; when I was putting together that book, my thoughts were always, “Once it’s designed, I’ll look at it and I’ll add some texture to it.” And it never happened, because we interviewed a bunch of other people; the roadies; the girlfriends; Tom Zutaut [A&R] and Mike Clink [producer, engineer]; the guys that mixed it. So, when you add that all up – and you add up all the original band members from Slash’s first band, and everyone has something to say – there was no place left to add anymore text. So, I didn’t get to do it. Now, as we go through the shows, which we haven’t even gotten there yet – the first season ends pretty much at Hell Tour – I have a lot more to say about each show. So, as we go through the shows, I can then do what I planned on doing in the first place and try to give it a little more texture and information. Like, what was going on at the time when they debuted “Welcome to the Jungle” or “Paradise City.”
Also, there’s so many other things that aren’t in the book. Like Slash barely remembered this – I saw him a couple of weeks ago – and first he said he didn’t remember, then he said, “You know, I vaguely do remember that.” Paul Stanley called Slash when he was seventeen and interviewed him to join KISS when Ace Frehley left. But Paul doesn’t even know this, ‘cause all Paul knows is that he called some kid; he had no idea the kid was Saul Hudson. And how did he get that number? Because Slash was working at a Hollywood music store, and the owner saw that in between no customers, Slash would plug into something and noodle around. So, the owner saw that Slash was extraordinary, and when he found out that KISS was looking for a guitar player, he recommended Slash. So, Paul Stanley called him, but Paul knew he was only seventeen, and that could be a problem legally. I’m not saying there aren’t musicians that are underage – there are – but touring with KISS can be a liability. You don’t know what could happen with a seventeen-year-old kid. So, Slash made it through the phone interview, but they never took a look at him. They never had him come down, learn a few songs, and see what he had. Had they done that, Slash would have probably been in KISS and Guns N’ Roses may have never happened. That’s the joke of it. So, it worked out. Paul Stanley was asking, “Would you be able to tour? Are your parents cool with that? Could you record?” He was asking him the right questions, but he just never got to the next level and Vinnie Vincent was hired, and that was the end of that. There are stories like that that got lost and never made it into anything. They’re interesting stories. There’s a number of them, and they’ll come up as we get to the gigs.
How can interested parties find the podcast?
I know it was on Patreon; I don’t know where it is now. Jason, my co-author, is really the one spearheading that and controlling that. They have meetings every Wednesday; I have not been involved in those meetings. And that’s basically on where it’s gonna air, what should they do, what episode are they working on, and when are they gonna release something. My job is to gather the people that might have something good to say, then participate in the interviews and shoot the shit with them. I’m not involved on the backend of it. I should have the answer to that, but I don’t. They’ve changed it like two or three different times, and I don’t know where they’re at at this moment.
Editor’s note: In addition to Patreon, The First 50 Gigs: Guns N’ Roses and the Making of Appetite for Destruction is available on all major podcast platforms, including Apple, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.
Before we dive into some Guns N’ Roses history, I wanted to take a moment to recognize Canter’s Deli, a Los Angeles landmark. Can you tell us a little bit about the history of Canter’s and how it pertains to Guns N’ Roses in its early stages?
Canter’s has been around for four generations. It started in 1924 in Jersey City, and then after the Depression, they kind of folded and four of the Canter brothers moved to California, in east L.A., and they started Canter Brothers. Around 1948, my aunt was twenty-three years old, and she moved to the Fairfax district, and she opened Canter’s on Fairfax with her husband and some partners. About five years later, my grandparents retired from Canter Brothers, moved to this area in Fairfax and became partners – sort of in retirement – to help out. They would do cashier and my grandfather was making pickles. He wasn’t working eighteen hours a day like he used to, but retirement mode for someone that came from that generation could mean ten hours a day. [Laughs]. You know, that’s old school people.
We’ve been on Fairfax since 1948; we’ve been opened 24 hours probably since ’53. The 50s showed a lot of movie stars coming in because Hollywood is the place where most movies were made, and the city was pretty much done nine o’clock at night – couldn’t even go to a supermarket – so, like it or not, there was like two or three restaurants opened 24 hours and we were one of them. So, we got a lot of celebrities. When Elvis played the Pan Pacific Theatre, I think it was 1959, he came to Canter’s afterwards. When people say, “Who was the biggest celebrity that ever came in here?” You wanna say [Barack] Obama ‘cause the president is probably the most recognized person in the world, but in my opinion, Elvis was – Elvis was in the building. That’s all you gotta know. [Laughs]. We had Reagan when he was an actor; we never had him as a president. We had Nixon as the president; we had Kennedy as the president. We had Eisenhower, but I don’t know if he ate here; I think just walked through and was campaigning and shaking hands.
In the early 60s, like maybe ’64 – I wasn’t born yet, I was born a year later, but my dad tells me what was going on – there was a hippie movement. By ’65, you had The Byrds and all those psychedelic early 60s bands; Bob Dylan. It really was a big scene through, probably, ’69. You had Jimi Hendrix, you had The Doors – Jimi Hendrix used to sit at five o’clock in the morning and hang out with my grandfather, who was a cashier at the time. He would sit at the first booth with his manager and talk about whatever strategies they were working on. Jimi Hendrix knew my grandfather. I wish I was a fly on the wall, and I could go back to those times and see that. My dad was too busy working and didn’t care about music. There’s a lot of good stories with Frank Zappa coming in and starting a table with a bunch of friends, and then at some point leaving, but the table would be revolving of musicians who would come in and sit at the Frank Zappa table. And then he’d come back like eight, nine hours later for something and that table would still be going, just with some different people. So, it was kind of a revolving table of musicians, where you had the old Jewish people filling up the place, and then you had – as my dad called it – the beatniks.
There’s a good Neil Young story, which I read in Rolling Stone Magazine not too long ago. Five, six, sevens years ago. He met Stephen Stills in Canada in 1965 or ’66, or somewhere around there. Neither one of them were obviously famous yet, but they clicked. So, Stephen Stills said, “If you’re ever in Los Angeles, find me. We’ll make some music.” So, of course, Neil Young, he had a hearse that he drove all his equipment in, and he headed to Los Angeles looking for Steve Stills, and couldn’t find him because he didn’t know Los Angeles was as big as it was. And he didn’t have his phone number or anything; he just had to look for him. While he was killing time, he needed to make some cash, and he decided he was going to taxi patrons from Canter’s Deli to the Sunset Strip for a dollar a ride. He did this for a good while, actually. He gave up on Stephen Stills and was on his way to San Francisco, literally. He was all packed up and ready to go, and he bumps into Stephen Stills on the street! So, he never made it to San Francisco, stayed here, and put together Buffalo Springfield. So, in some kind of a weird, twisted way, Neil Young was our Uber driver for, who knows, six months or so. Later on, I had a friend that’s about seventeen years older than me – so he was a teenager in the 60s – and he said he’d come to Canter’s all the time, especially at night. He said there was always a hearse parked right in front, and him and his friend used to joke about it and say, “You eat at Canter’s, and they have a hearse waiting for you when you die.” They had a running joke about it. When I met this guy twenty years ago, he’d tell me this story, and I’m like, “Yeah. Okay. That’s great. Whatever.” Then I see this article with Neil Young and I put two and two together that it was Neil Young’s hearse! And the reason why it was always here is because he was here fifty percent of the time and on Sunset Strip fifty percent of the time, taking people back and forth.
When musicians or celebrities come in, they don’t hide in the corner; they don’t have bodyguards. They just come, they eat, they go up to the cashier, they pay their bill and leave. It’s very subtle. They feel comfortable here. You know, Mick Jagger was here a few years back, and he hadn’t been here in a long time, but he had a documentary crew following him for the day. Everywhere they were going, they already had it approved that they could film Mick Jagger. Well, they were going from one destination to another, and they happened to be driving on Fairfax. And [Mick] saw Canter’s and he said, “Stop, I wanna go in there.” They were panicking because they were supposed to follow him, but they didn’t know if they were allowed to walk in with a camara and film him eating. So, they came in first, they left him in the car, and they said, “Hey, we have Mick Jagger, he wants to come have something to eat, but we need to film him because we’re documenting him for a whole day. Can we do that?” I wasn’t here, I was at home, and the cashier calls me and says, “They wanna know if they film Mick Jagger. Should we let them? I said, “Let me think about that…yes! You should let them!” And then I came down and said hello.
I’d been there for forty years, and I’d never seen him until then. I bet you, probably in the 60s, the handful of times they came out here, had a gig somewhere, or whatever, they hung out at Canter’s at the end of the night. Actually, I know it for a fact because the Chambers Brothers – Willie Chambers still plays here – and the Chambers Brothers were a band that the Stones looked up to in the mid-60s. Willie Chambers told me that he used to bring the Stones there to eat. I’m willing to bet you that [Mick] just drove by and said, “What a trip. I haven’t been in that place 30-40 years.”
Now, as far as Guns N’ Roses history in Canter’s, well, that’s simple: Slash ate here as a kid, before he even knew me, because his parents were sort of hippies and they lived near Laurel Canyon. Then when I met him in the fifth grade – we were about eleven – obviously, I’d take him there to eat. Later on, he worked here, doing some oddball jobs for me, probably in ‘83ish. Then in ’85, when that Appetite for Destruction lineup got together, they didn’t have money in their pockets. So, when it came time to eat, they would come to Canter’s or sometimes I’d take them to Tommy’s. I don’t know if you’ve ever had Tommy’s, but it’s a chili burger; it’s open 24 hours day. The price was right, and the food was good, so they ate here a lot. They took their first publicity photo here when they came back from Hell Tour. I didn’t take that photo; Jack Lue did. Jack Lue was a friend of mine and he’s the one who taught me how to shoot. He would always do the photoshoots for like flyers and stuff like that. And he taught me how to shoot for live music once in like 1982. Once I did that because he wasn’t gonna be at a gig; it was Eddie Van Halen at The Roxy, who was gonna play with Alan Holdsworth. It was actually an Alan Holdsworth gig, which we knew that Eddie Van Halen was gonna do one song with. Jack was gonna be out of town, so he showed me how to use his camara and said, “Go shoot the show.” And I liked the results, so I took my sister’s camara and I started taking pictures. But I never did off stage photoshoots; I only did the live shots. Whenever Slash played a gig, I’d shoot it. People always say, “Well, the shot at Canter’s, how did you not take that photo?” I’d say, “Because I didn’t do group shots.” They needed a flyer. I don’t do flyers. I mean, sure, I can take a picture, but what if it didn’t come out right? I don’t know how to set the lighting. I wasn’t a technical photographer; I was more of a director. Like, I could look through the viewfinder and know when to pull the trigger, but I didn’t necessarily know the different rules on what kind of film to buy for regular pictures, outdoors, or indoors or whatever. I only knew concert lighting because that’s the only thing [Jack] showed me. Sure, I snapped a few pictures of the band backstage or whatever, but it was just loosely done; it wasn’t professionally done, But still, there’s a lot of history behind that photo because the look in their eye – they just came back from Hell Tour and suffered a little bit – so not only were they good musicians that were fit for each other, which they already knew that after the first gig, after the second gig, they now are blood brothers because they suffered together. And they had to deal with that stress, so it kind of bonded them a little further. You can see the look in their eyes that they knew that that was it; that they found each other and they’re gonna stick it through.
When you were eleven years old, you formed a friendship with Slash. How do you remember your initial introduction?
Well, actually, the first time I met him, he claims he was trying to steal my motor bike. It was actually called a minibike; it was a frame with a Briggs and Stratton lawn mower engine in it. I was at the KFC, which was three blocks from where I live, and also, [Slash] lived a block away; I didn’t even know it at the time. He was just walking down third street, it was third street and Fuller, and he saw this motor bike and wanted to ride it and was thinking maybe he should take it, but then again, he looked inside, and he said, “Oh, I know that guy from school.” He recognized me, but we had never spoken before. So, he said, “Hey!” And I go, “Oh, hey. What’s up?” And he goes, “Hey, can I ride that?” I said, “Yeah, sure.” That’s how we became friends, and then we found out that he literally lived one block south from me. So, we became friends, we carpooled to school together, then at one point, we started doing BMX together.
We lost touch for about one year between the eighth and nineth grade because he got kicked out of the junior high school I was in and went to another one. We didn’t have cell phones back in those days, so, out of sight, out of mind. He was sort of gone for a year, and then I saw him in summer school the following year, and we bumped into each other, and he was wearing a [Led] Zeppelin shirt and I was wearing an Aerosmith shirt. At the time we were hanging out, we didn’t really listen to music; we rode bikes and caused havoc in the city. Now, he could see I was into music, and I could see he’s into music, and he said he’s playing guitar and he’s in a band. And right away I knew that it was gonna be good. So, my mom came to pick me up and I said, “Nah, I’m gonna go with him.”
I went with him to his rehearsal, and I already knew Adam Greenburg because I knew him from the seventh grade at John Burroughs Junior High School. Right away, Slash played, and he blew my mind. From that point on, I knew that he was gonna make his living playing guitar, and I just somehow made it my job to make sure that he had the support to get to the next level. Whatever it took to drive him to Santa Ana to look at an amp or to look at a guitar or help him out with some guitar strings every now and then. When he started get in Guns N’ Roses, I helped him with a little cash for flyers, hats, band magazines, and maybe a banner behind the stage. I kicked in a little money for their demo tape. Just little oddball things to make it a little less stressful, and to make sure more people showed up to gigs, because the more people that show up to gigs, the bigger the buzz. And the bigger the buzz, the record companies start sniffing around – which is exactly what happened.
In your book, Reckless Road, you include a photo of a flyer from Slash’s first band, Tidus Sloan. What were the origins of that band?
Well, what I remember – going into Adam Greenburg’s garage that day after summer school – was [Slash] was playing a B.C. Rich Mockingbird and he had a Sunn amp. They were doing cover songs – “Heaven and Hell” – and a couple Aerosmith and a couple Zeppelin songs. They made have had one or two originals; no singer. The guitar sound he was getting was so rich and so thick, and it was so right on the button; Tony Iommi could have been sitting there going, “Wow, this guy is doing me justice and playing the song properly.” He knew the guitar solos note-for-note. But not only note-for-note; he had the attitude of how it’s supposed to be played. It was the right feel to it and the right tone, which was very impressive that he was able to do that at such a quick rate; he’d probably only been playing six months or eight months or whatever. Then when they did blues jams and stuff like that and he was improvising, the guitar sound and the notes that he used to play sounded like Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix or someone that is just wailing away and eating your spine up. You just knew that he was superhuman in that way. One of the special ones.
The first time he had a Les Paul was at the Street Scene [Festival]; September 28, 1985. He got it three days before that. That gig, I remember, it was just different. Slash, of course, was good and you knew he was good, but something all changed; it was changed that gig with that Les Paul. That was just like the final touch – actually, the final touch was his top hat, which came later – but the final touch of his sound and his image as far as what he looks like as a guitar player with that Les Paul.
Back to Tidus Sloan, you know every time they played a party – they never played a club – I would always save the flyer and I would record the gig. Some of them I were at, I didn’t take pictures because I wasn’t shooting yet, but the ones after June of 1982, that’s when I started taking photos. I started in April. So, then I started documenting him with photos. Now, I was documenting Slash when he was riding bikes – I used to have hundreds of photos – I seemed to have lost most of them other than one or two or three of them. We used to go to the La Brea Tar Pits and there was a ski jump there and I’d lay down on the grass and he would fly right over me. I’d get pictures where it almost looks like he jumped off a cliff – like, you can’t see where the bottom is – it’s just Slash flying in the air. And him bunny-hopping over a trash can, and he was able to get his bike up onto a ping pong table. Now, kids today do that easily, but back in 1978, Slash was pretty radical. When we were doing BMX riding and he’d go off a jump in a race, there’s flashes in the audience going off. Those people taking pictures, they didn’t have any connection to Slash, but they just saw something radical. So, other people were aware that this guy is good that didn’t even know him.
He was fast. When I say fast – on his feet. Like, if you raced him the length of three houses, he’d beat you by a house. To me, he was bulletproof, you know? His artwork was phenomenal; his BMX was phenomenal; then he started doing music, and that was phenomenal. So, you just knew wherever he ends up, it’s a good thing to have Slash in your band.
Tracii Guns and Slash were adversaries at that time, though they would subsequently become inextricably linked. Do you recall how that rivalry initiated?
So, apparently Tracii had been playing for, like, six years by the time Slash was like playing six months. Tracii knew all the covers from Zeppelin – Tracii was a big Jimmy Page fan. So, we went to a party once in Los Angeles – just a house party – and the band was Pyrrhus, which was Tracii and Rob Gardner was the drummer; I think the bass player’s name was Danny. There was no singer, and they were knocking out Zeppelin songs. And Tracii had it down; even Jimmy Page would have given him two thumbs up. He played the guitar really low; it was a young Jimmy Page. And not only that – he was ripping it up; he was shredding it. Now, of course, he wasn’t playing originals, but he was shredding the Zeppelin stuff. And I looked at Slash and I’m like, “Wow.”
I didn’t know there was a rivalry already before this, because the junior high school that he went to was Bancroft Junior High School. So, Tracii was already in bands way before Slash even thought of what a guitar was. So, when Slash started doing that stuff and he’d show up with a guitar, obviously, Tracii was the competition. When Tidus Sloan first got together, Pyrrhus was their competition. They were rivals. Actually, a couple of times, they played parties together. So, they were always trying to out-do each other.
It’s kind of strange that nit came to a turning point where Tracii was in Guns N’ Roses – you know, Guns N’ Roses started because Axl was in L.A. Guns – and it only lasted two gigs and they broke up or whatever. That was in the fall of ’84, so by January, the dust had settled from whatever their differences were, and they were talking again. But they both knew that they couldn’t join each other’s band, because if Tracii had joined Hollywood Rose, then Axl would have been in charge. And Tracii didn’t want that. Then if Axl had joined L.A. Guns, really, it’s Tracii’s band, so the last say-so would be Tracii, and Axl didn’t want that. So, they knew that, and they were smart enough to say, “OK, let’s try something. Let’s do a side project, and it will be a combination of both of our bands, and we’ll all be in charge. It will just be a band we started and don’t have to take it seriously. We’ll just see what happens.” That’s how Guns N’ Roses started, as a side project for Axl and Tracii. So, of course, since Tracii was involved, Rob [Gardner] was involved, but they had been together for years already. At least since ’81, or ’82.
So, now, Guns N’ Roses is working it, but Tracii and Axl are going at it on something and Tracii doesn’t wanna go up north for the Hell Tour. Actually, Rob didn’t really wanna go up north either, but Tracii was the first to quit. They asked Rob to stay – they were perfectly happy with Rob – but Rob just didn’t wanna do it, so he left. But the funny things is when he left, he never played with Tracii again. I just found this out recently. I always thought that he stuck with L.A. Guns for another year or two before eventually parting ways. When L.A. Guns finally made it, they had a different drummer. But the last time they played together was in Guns N’ Roses! I was shocked to hear that. So, Rob always has that thought, “Well, what if I had stayed?” Because they didn’t say, “Well, Tracii’s out. You gotta go.” They said, “Stay. We need you.” They were perfectly happy with Rob, and it would have worked. It would have been a little different because Steven had his own little thing to it. So, Rob is probably kicking himself in the head, but you never know how that sliding door works; he could have become a junkie; he could be dead; maybe he wouldn’t have the life he has now. So, everything works out one way or the other. Sometimes if you’re trying to go back and change something, everything falls apart.
It’s widely known that Slash auditioned for Poison in 1985 to replace Matt Smith, but since Matt and Slash had a mutual respect for one another, I’ve wondered how they first became acquainted. What was the connection?
Paul told me that the first time they met was at Madame Wong’s West. When they first got here from Pennsylvania, the first thing they did is go to see a gig, and they happened to go to the gig that Hollywood Rose was playing. They didn’t go because Hollywood Rose was playing; they just happened to show up that night and they saw Hollywood Rose. Maybe there was a band playing after that they were interested in, who knows. But right away, Matt took a liking to Slash, and after the gig they talked and they shook hands or whatever … “Hey, I’m in this band Poison. We just got here…” So, that’s how that meeting started.
Then, the next thing I know, Hollywood Rose is together – this was maybe two months later – and Poison hit the ground running. They were all the sudden headlining gigs, like, within a month. There was a gig at The Troubadour, and Matt wanted Hollywood Rose on the bill. So, somehow, they contacted Hollywood Rose because of Matt. Matt probably called Slash – they probably exchanged phone numbers – and said, “Hey, we’re playing The Troubadour. We want you guys with us.” So, Hollywood Rose did play one gig with Poison, and that’s because Matt wanted them to.
You already know, Matt’s girlfriend got pregnant, and he wanted to go back to Pennsylvania to start a family. He liked being in Poison, but he had to make that decision – he reached that fork – and so he obviously decided to leave the band, but he wanted Slash to replace him. His heart was still in the band – he wanted them to be a good band, he wanted them to make it – so he picked the best guy he knew, and that would be Slash. But Slash wasn’t quite there on the same music level, because Poison was more pop rock, and Slash was more of a hard rock, blues guy. Sure, Slash could pull it off, but when he got that offer, he didn’t wanna join. I said, “You have to join them, because you’re not doing anything! Hollywood Rose broke up, you’re not doing anything, and if nothing else, they probably have a record contract and they’re selling out The Troubadour. It’s a steppingstone. Maybe you’ll get spotted in there.”
He didn’t really wanna do it, but I sort of twisted his arm a little bit, and I drove him out to a gig that Poison was doing and still had Matt in the band, but Matt knew he was leaving; it was in Radio City, which is Anaheim. It’s gone now; the club burned down like a year later. I was sick; I got food poisoning, so I was in the car. I didn’t go in, but Slash went in with his girlfriend and I waited for them the whole gig. They came out and he had a lot of mixed feelings about that; he didn’t like that they’d shoot silly string and say, “Hi, my name is this, my name is that.” He said he wasn’t gonna go up to the microphone and say, “Hi, my name is Slash.” He said, “It’s not me,” but I still made him go down to the audition. He auditioned, but I think he fumbled the audition on purpose. He learned the songs, he jammed with them, but I think they saw that he wasn’t really into it. Then as he was leaving, the next guy in was C.C. – and he saw C.C. coming through the door – and he said to himself, “That guy will get the gig, because that guy looks exactly the part, and it fits him like a glove.”
Did Slash ever give you an opinion of Matt as a guitar player?
No, but he liked Matt. He liked Matt a lot. I never really asked him his opinion on Matt, but he thought Matt was cool. I remember that. He thought Matt was cool.
Before graduating to playing the area’s premier venues, like The Troubadour, The Whisky, or The Roxy, many bands of that time started out playing backyard parties. How would you describe those backyard parties? Set the scene for me if you could.
The backyard parties were basically high school parties. It’d be your high school and maybe another high school, unless it was a band that came from another high school. So, they would bring their crew. There would be a keg, and eventually the cops would come because it was too loud and break up the party. But there were a handful of those going around; there was probably six, seven, eight of them going through a year between ’81, ’82, and ’83. Maybe someone’s birthday party in the Hills, Tidus Sloan would play it, or another band would play it also.
The funny thing is, nobody ever had a singer. Actually, that’s not true; Tracii’s band eventually had Mike Jagosz. But at the time Tidus Sloan or Road Crew – oh, that’s not true, Road Crew eventually got a singer – but when they were playing those backyard parties, they didn’t have a singer yet. When they had a singer, it was in a rehearsal studio, and they had two or three parties in the rehearsal studio. So, those the cops weren’t coming to, and those weren’t a big, giant thing; it was, like, twenty people coming to see them do a little showcase. And it was all people that they knew and went to highs school with, basically.
There was one that was at Curly Joe’s studio that Slash tried to promote and collect $2.50 a person. Pyrrhus was on that gig, and Warrant, and Road Crew. That was a promoted gig, and that was a bunch of people I’d never met, because each band promoted it and the three bands had three different crowds of people. So, everyone there got to see all three bands, and when that happens, that’s how you learn about another band.
The Troubadour’s not like this anymore, now they pack six bands in there, it’s pay to play – you gotta sell $800 worth of tickets or whatever their number is – but back in ’84, ’85, ’86, there were three bands a night. So, they say the headlining spot is the best spot, but in my opinion, the best spot was the middle spot because you’re gonna see the crowd that just came to see the band before them; they’re gonna stick around and they’re gonna find you. And the people who show up a little early to see the band they really came for after you is gonna see your set. So, your best chance at making new people learn about you is to play the middle spot. So, the ten o’clock spot was always the best spot; it was a nine, ten, and eleven. Sometimes there was a twelve on weekends.
Before joining Guns N’ Roses, Slash was briefly a member of Willie Basse’s band Black Sheep. Black Sheep proved to be a breeding ground for ace guitar players, including Paul Gilbert and Mitch Perry, and it’s also my understanding that C.C. DeVille and Tracii Guns were among the hopefuls for the gig that ultimately went to Slash. To the best of your recollection, walk me through the sequence of events that led to Slash replacing Tracii for that Troubadour gig in ’85.
So, Slash had joined Black Sheep – I forgot how that all came together – but the interesting thing is that Willie Basse, the leader of Black Sheep, had a little studio. And Guns N’ Roses, without Slash – Guns N’ Roses I, we’ll call it – were rehearsing in that studio and [Willie] was recording them, so he knew who there were, but somehow found Slash. I don’t know, maybe Slash answered an ad in a band magazine like the Music Connection – I’m not sure exactly how that went down – but all I know is that all of a sudden, Slash was in Black Sheep. I would drive him to rehearsals, and I would drive him to the gigs, so I’d sit through those rehearsals. It was heavy metal, and his heart wasn’t into it, but he was physically able to do it. Slash could do that fast stuff; it’s not hard for him to do. It’s not who he is, but he could do it. They played only one gig. The thing is, that gig was May 31st, and Axl and Izzy were already communicating with Slash that Tracii’s out and they got a gig booked at The Troubadour, and they’re going on this little tour, and they wanted him. And Slash was like, “Ah, maybe. Right now, I’ve got this gig. Let me see what happens because we’ve rehearsed for this gig, I’m with this band, and I’ve gotta do this gig at the Country Club.”
So, that night at the Country Club, Axl and Izzy did show up. They were supporting Slash; of course, they wanted him to leave Black Sheep and join their band, but sometimes you’re better in person then on the phone … “Hey, can you come join us?” In person is a little more personable. But after that night, the next day, he left Black Sheep and he did a rehearsal with them in Silverlake. Five days later, they played their first gig.
Black Sheep was the same thing as Poison, as far as I’m concerned, because it was something that Slash didn’t really wanna do that I said, “You have to do it until something better comes along. If you’re out there playing, someone is gonna find you. And if you can get yourself on a record somehow, it’s a steppingstone. Someone’s gonna hear you, or find you, or know of you.” My goal was to get Slash recognized, and I figured it didn’t matter how he did it, but he definitely knew he wasn’t gonna do it on his own. He’s not gonna go on the street and play guitar and get recognized. He’s gotta be in a band somehow, and Poison was a good band that was up-and-coming and getting big crowds, and Black Sheep was a band that had been around for a while – maybe not as big as Poison – but they were still doing well. And they might’ve actually had a record deal at the time; not a big record deal, but a record deal is a record deal.
My two favorite songs on Appetite for Destruction are “Welcome to the Jungle” and ‘Rocket Queen.” “Welcome to the Jungle,” debuted on July 20, 1985, at The Troubadour and “Rocket Queen” debuted two months later, also at The Troubadour. Do you have any recollection of how those songs came together?
I wasn’t at the rehearsal for that; all of the sudden it just showed up. They said they had a new song, I saw it on the setlist, and they played it. I remember it was like, “Wow, that is a good song.” Sometimes you have to hear something a couple of times; there’s a lot going on when you’re at the show, you’re shooting pictures and juggling a bunch of things at once. You’re not really understanding what you’re seeing sometimes. But I remember I’m like, “Wow, that’s a good song. That has a good hook to it.” Then after the gig – I recorded the show – so I put the tape in my car, and I played it. I kept rewinding the tape and playing just that song. It was mind-blowing. The guitar solo is the same you hear on the record; Slash, it’s not like he wrote the guitar solo – he just winged it at rehearsal. It was his spot to throw in a lead, he winged it out, and somehow, he remembered what it was. That night, he remembered what he did, it worked, and he played it again. And so, it ended up on the record.
Same with “Rocket Queen.” Every solo in “Rocket Queen” is the same way as it was the first time he played it. What came to his head worked, he remembered it, and played it again the next time it was time to play it. “Rocket Queen” was another song that blew my mind, and that was on September 20th – that was two months later. Next came “Paradise City,” which was basically a month after that. So, they were knocking out songs, and these songs were produced pretty much how they are on the record. You knew that this is it; this lineup of the band is knocking out phenomenal material on their own without anyone helping them; no producers directing them or arranging for them. They came up with the songs, arranged it, produced it, and played it.
When I first saw them, they already had “Don’t Cry.” That was played while Tracii was still in the band. It was written by Izzy and Axl, but still, Tracii played on it. Then, of course, Slash put his own solo; he had no idea what Tracii’s solo was. He didn’t hear it on the demo, they just taught him it at rehearsal. Then when it came time for his slot to play lead, Slash ripped out that lead. The same lead you hear now on the record is the same lead they had at the first time they played it at the Stardust Ballroom. The reason why I say the Stardust Ballroom: that was the first good recording I got; I didn’t get a good recording of it at The Troubadour. My microphone in my jacket, in my little tape deck, wasn’t in all the way, so it recorded it from inside my pocket. So, it was muffled, and you could barely hear it. When I realized that didn’t work, I never really listened to that gig; there’s really nothing to get from it, other than the fact it’s special because it’s their first gig. But the second gig they did – it was really the third gig because the second gig they did was in Seattle, which I was not there – but the second gig that I saw was at the Stardust Ballroom, and that’s the one they took that flyer at Canter’s for. And that one I got a really good recording of the whole show, and “Don’t Cry” was an instant hit as far as I’m concerned. You had four levels of Axl’s register on there and an awesome guitar solo that makes you feel good when you hear it. It fits the song perfectly. Slash, to me, reminds me of a cross between Michael Schenker and David Gilmour. He can do the really cool stuff and he can do the slow stuff. Either way, he’s gonna get ya.
Once the classic lineup was stabilized, how long did it take for Guns N’ Roses to gain traction and establish a following?
Well, the first gig had probably about thirty-five of their friends and girlfriends. And the band already had a small following from being around from two months before that. Maybe a few fans of L.A. Guns were still there, thinking Tracii was gonna be there. There were like thirty-five people in the crowd. The next gig at the Stardust Ballroom, they were opening up for a bunch of bands. I remember Slash had to sell like 50 tickets, so there were probably fifty people that we knew there. The other people that were there were there to see the other bands. It wasn’t a big crowd. They probably came later and missed the Guns set. The area by the stage was pretty empty. In fact, I took group shots, but you didn’t want it to look like there was no people in the crowd, so it was hard to get the right angle, ‘cause you could see there’s like three people watching the band up close. Then they played their third gig in Los Angeles at Madame Wong’s East and I swear to God there was five people there; that’s it. Their girlfriends. Nobody else. They played for nobody.
But the next time they played The Troubadour, which was July 20th, we had a little band ad and that made a difference. That show had like a hundred people. And The Troubadour was smart; they mixed them with good bands that were like Guns N’ Roses. So, that crowds mixed well. We placed an ad for that, we placed an ad when the played The Roxy with St. Valentine, which was basically Warrant; it was Jani Lane’s band. Of course, they weren’t famous yet, but still, that’s who that was. I remember The Roxy was pretty much sold out, so that was their first big crowd. But it wasn’t necessarily sold out because of them; it was sold out because it was a well-promoted gig for the bands that were playing. But going back to The Troubadour, the first sold out gig that Guns N’ Roses played – and we did full-page ad for it – was November 22, 1985. And from that point on, they never looked back.
The gig after, they did a gig at the Music Machine, and that was not sold out because the Music Machine was not a popular club. So, there was only a certain amount of people there; there might have been maybe 40-50 people there. But then when they played The Troubadour again on January 4th, it was sold out. Then Vicky Hamilton came smelling around and she decided that she was gonna manage them and then she promoted a gig at The Roxy, and that was sold out. And soon after that they got signed. So, the crowds grew because the word got around that that was a good band. Guns N’ Roses was looked at as a band. There wasn’t one particular person leading it.
Slash and Axl collaborated on some of rock’s most iconic songs. How did they complement one another?
They were a perfect chemistry. That came out when they started writing together, and Axl’s voice influenced Slash to play differently. The guitar solos in Guns N’ Roses are some of the best ones. I talked to Slash about that once; he even said he’s influenced by Axl’s voice. It influenced him to put something down that goes with that and decorates that. Like together, they put together “Estranged.” That happened years later, but really, nobody worked on that besides Axl and Slash, and that’s a masterpiece. Slash wouldn’t have done that without hearing Axl’s voice on that. So, they worked off each other well.
Shred guitarists dominated the better part of the 1980s, often making it difficult to distinguish one from another. However, when Slash arrived on the scene, he essentially heralded a new era of guitar players, which foreshadowed the inevitable changing of the guard. What is your view of Slash’s salient impact?
It was definitely a shredder scene. Slash slowed things down and he put Les Paul back on the map. Les Paul should give him stock in the company. Jimmy Page did well getting kids to buy Les Paul’s in the 70s, but that sort of died down after 1980 came and hooked around the corner. Even Jeff Beck had the Les Paul, and that influenced Joe Perry to get the Les Paul. You saw guitar players with a Les Paul and you got influenced and you wanted one. But the Les Paul was as good as dead by ‘82. Punk rock killed the Les Paul. Speed metal came along and there was no such thing as a Les Paul. Slash brought the Les Paul back and influenced guitar players. But Guns N’ Roses also influenced bands because after Guns N’ Roses left Los Angeles and took off and never looked back, there were hundreds of bands who tried to do what they did, and look like them, and try to sound like them. You could try to look like them, but you’re not gonna sound like them, or sing like them, or play like them. You could only go so far with it. They were influences.
But what’s interesting is, Slash used to play a wah-wah pedal when I first met him and do a killer version of “Dazed and Confused.” That wah-wah pedal eventually broke, and that was the end of that. So, for three of four years, Slash didn’t have a wah-wah pedal and didn’t attempt to get one. He didn’t ask me for it, but I bought him one – it was either for Christmas or his birthday, but I think it was his birthday in ‘86 – either way, he didn’t touch that wah wah pedal until “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Brownstone” came out. So, if I got it for his birthday, it like was a month later.
I saw “Sweet Child O’ Mine” being written, actually. Not from the very first note, but I saw them rehearsing it and arranging it at Burbank Studio. They were signed, Tom Zutaut wanted them to record a couple of more songs before it was time to record. They disagreed; they thought they had enough to go in, but Tom wanted one or two more songs. So, they were rehearsing at Burbank Studio and also rehearsing to get a little tighter, so that it won’t waste money in the studio and they’ll record in a couple of takes rather than taking up too much time making mistakes. But somehow, they wrote ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and like I said, I watched them sort of rearrange it. Then all of the sudden, I’m at The Whisky – and I never really heard them go through it in full – I guess maybe when I was there it was forty percent done, and by the time that gig came, which was probably a couple of days later, somewhere along the way they worked it out and finished the arrangement and it was a hundred percent done. Well, when they played it that night at The Whisky, the wah wah pedal comes out, and that lead – the same lead that’s on the record by the way, from the first time they played it at that gig – and then they played “Mr. Brownstone” which also had the wah wah pedal. He didn’t ask me to buy it; I just bought that wah wah pedal because I remembered he was good on one and maybe he could use it. And he sure put it to good use.
One of the best things I’ve ever seen Slash do – and there’s many things I’ve seen him do that are great – but the one that I can really say I’m proud of is he did two Jimi Hendrix tributes, both with members of Jimi Hendrix’s past bands. I believe one they played “Red House” and the other they played “Hey Joe.” And one was in England, right around the time Velvet Revolver was around, so it was probably like 2005. He did one with Boz Scaggs and Steve Winwood did the other. Anyways, both of them, it’s just like if Jimi Hendrix was looking down, he would just say, “That’s a cool cat. I like it.” He just rips; he just improvises and rips. What makes him special is the guitar solo that he threw on it. Slash’s influence, especially with Guitar Hero, and his image, and his sound, and his guitar playing, I think out of everyone in the band, Slash has probably been the biggest none to influence people to become musicians.
The Appetite lineup was made up of five dynamic personalities, yet the chemistry was unparalleled. In your opinion, what made it so cohesive?
I’ll tell you what made the Appetite for Destruction lineup work so well; there’s a couple different factors. Around that time, the music industry needed a good kick in the ass. All five of those musicians grew up on 60s and 70s music and we knew that that was a thing of the past and it was gone. There was some punk music, too, that they grew up on, and even the punk scene wasn’t doing so well in ’84 and ’85. That kind of vanished after ’82. So, they were influenced by good musicians and good bands, but also, they knew how to work on each other. If you tried to take the members of Guns N’ Roses and say, “I want you to divide up their values into a hundred percent,” it’s physically impossible to do that because you’d have to say Axl is at least fifty percent and you’d have to say Slash is like fifty percent. Well, where does that leave Izzy, Duff, and Steven? Izzy’s like at forty percent, and Duff’s close to it – like thirty-five or forty percent – and Steven’s at least twenty percent. If you add that all up, you’re getting two-hundred percent or something close to it. We brushed on this earlier; Slash’s guitar solos were influenced by the sound of Axl’s voice. So, if you don’t have Axl’s voice, you don’t have that lead. But then again, where did the song come from? Did Izzy start a song and then Slash ripped it up a little bit, like “My Michelle?” It wasn’t someone brought a song to the band, and they somehow completed it; they changed it into what it became. They all kind of took a bite out of it, you know? Having the right lyrics and the right melodies, you had a lot of that coming from Izzy and Axl together, who were both geniuses working on lyrics and melodies.
It also has to do with how they were living, because they didn’t have money in their pockets. Duff might’ve been doing some telemarketing and Slash had an oddball job at Tower Records or something, but in the end, they didn’t really have money in their pockets. They were scrounging. So, when you’re living that way, you’re writing about what’s going on. They’re living in this little rehearsal studio that’s the size of a hamster cage, and sometimes living there – if they could find a girl or someone’s car to sleep in, they would do that – but if not, if they struck out, they ended up back at the studio and they slept there. It wasn’t meant to sleep there, there was no bathroom there; they’d have to go to Denny’s or go pee in the alley or something for a bathroom. It was putting them in the cage like that, and in that environment, knowing that the music industry sucks right now – so you had the aggression of they’re not happy with the music that’s around – they’re perfectly fit musically-wise, and you gave them material to write about because they’re living it. “Out Ta Get Me,” the cops are chasing them. “Nightrain,” they’re on Sunset Strip promoting a gig and they were there at The Rainbow, and they’re gonna walk down to The Troubadour to hand out some flyers for their next gig. They stop at Turner’s Liquor Store to buy a dollar bottle of Nightrain, and they’re all taking swigs off this Nightrain because it’s all they could really afford. And they’re kind of fooling around as they’re walking down Doheny to The Troubadour and they’re kind of making up lyrics, “I’m on the Nightrain.” All of a sudden, there’s a song. So, they’re living that life. If they weren’t doing that, the song doesn’t exist.
Later on, the band makes it, they’re selling records, they’ve got a little bit money in their pocket – now they have their own apartments. I’m not saying they’re millionaires, but they have their own apartments. They’re living a little differently. They have little, tiny recording studios or four tracks. So, Izzy’s writing songs and submits them to the band, and the band works on them and then they end up on Use Your Illusion. I’m not saying the songs weren’t good – they’re fine – but they lose the way they were putting music together once they got off the streets. Let’s say they went another six or seven months before they got signed, they would have had another eight or ten songs that would blow your mind just like the other songs did. The reason why it didn’t happen is because they were taken out of that environment. So, what made it work was, like I said, you have the right chemistry of musicians that clicked, and they were put in the right environment – living like animals in a cage – and they were angry about what was going on in the music industry at the time. So, it was them saying, “This is what music should sound like.” And they did it.
As Appetite gradually garners worldwide acclaim in the summer of ‘87, you remain rooted in Los Angeles rather than document the journey as you had done previously. In retrospect, what was it like watching your friends finally breakthrough and attain success?
It was interesting. They first went on tour with The Cult – I did see them play here with The Cult – even though they did probably three or four months with them. I didn’t go to any other shows. I remember they were in Canada, and Geffen would send me the itineraries so that I knew where they were, and I could call the hotel and talk to Slash or whatever. I was always documenting all of this, and all of a sudden, I’m not able to document it. When MTV started playing “Welcome to the Jungle,” I was proud to see that. It was so good and then it kept going on from there. Then they had that gig at The Ritz, and MTV put that on MTV, and that kind of blew the roof open for them. By the time “Paradise City” came out, they had already conquered the world. The world knew who they were. I always knew, obviously, the music was good – I knew that from hearing the music – but would they have the right tools to get it out there to everybody?
What I learned later on from touring with The Cult, and Alice Cooper and Mötley Crüe were whenever they played an arena, the next day, record sales would spike in that city, and eventually they made it to 200,00 copies by maybe February of ’88. Geffen was ready to have them start recording a new record, and Tom Zutaut was like, “No. You gotta get this onto MTV. They’ve sold 200,000 underground. They didn’t get radio play – maybe KNAC – but really no one else. And they did it by touring.” David Geffen pulled a favor at Viacom and got Guns N’ Roses on MTV, but they didn’t wanna play Guns N’ Roses because they didn’t wanna promote it and lose sponsors, and they heard bad rumors and they just weren’t gonna go there. But as a favor, they would play “Welcome to the Jungle” at 5:00 in the morning New York time/2:00 AM Los Angeles time. And it was gonna be a one-time deal, “We said we’d do it. Here it is. Goodbye.” Well, they did it and the switchboard blew up, asking, “Who is that? Play it again.” And like within two days, they were in top-ten rotation. And within a few weeks, they were selling a couple hundred thousand records a week because of that. That was a special time.
It was fun for me to be at Giants Stadium when they filmed “Paradise City.” I only went there because Deep Purple was on the bill and they were touring with Aerosmith, so I had to go see that; I didn’t even know they were gonna shoot “Paradise City” there. But to see that crowd go crazy for them, it makes you feel good; it’s like you’re proud of your child who just became the president of the United States. I remember seeing them on the cover of magazines and it was like, “These are my friends. They pulled it off.” I always thought they’d have a gold record; I didn’t realize they’d sell a hundred million records.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is the Senior Editor for vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.