An Interview with Steve Darrow of Hollywood Rose

Feature image credit: Marc Canter


By Andrew DiCecco
adicecco@vinylwriter.com

The earliest stages of Guns N’ Roses were described to me as a “convoluted, incestuous, and confusing” carousel of musicians swapping in and out of various incarnations and bands, akin to a perpetual game of musical chairs.

The quintet closest to that which evolved into the classic Appetite for Destruction lineup was New Hollywood Rose, which included Axl Rose (vocals), Slash (guitar) Izzy Stradlin (guitar), Steve Darrow (bass), and Steven Adler (drums).

In my efforts to piece together the origins of Guns N’ Roses, former Kerry Doll bassist turned New Hollywood Rose recruit Steve Darrow offers his perspective and early impressions of the lineup that soon would become a worldwide sensation.

Andrew:
Before we revisit your tenure in relation to the storied beginnings of Guns N’ Roses, let’s rewind things back to the beginning for a moment, Steve. What was your earliest introduction to music?

Steve:
Well, I was from a musical family, so since I can remember, there was music/rock around in our house. So, unlike most families, where kids had to rebel to get into rock ‘n’ roll, it was natural. Especially once I got into playing the drums. My upbringing was somewhat similar to Slash’s in a way actually, but not quite as Hollywood. We lived about thirty miles east of Hollywood most of the time. My dad was a lifelong musician and played with many bands from the early 60s up until he passed away in 2020. He was a quite sought-after sideman, as well as solo artist, in the late 60s and 70s. My uncle as well was a well-known sideman, and he played in a psychedelic band with my father in the late 60s called The Kaleidoscope. Then Uncle Dave went on to back up lots of 1970s California mellow rock superstars like Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder, Dolly Parton, and many others. So, like Slash’s parents, my family was in the music business in some way or another, and we had all kinds of crazy musicians, artists, etc. around the house since I was a little kid. I was going to concerts/Love-Ins/Festivals etc. with the family since before I could walk.

Andrew:
What prompted you to make the switch from drums to bass?


Steve:
I always knew how to play a few guitar chords and bass a little bit before I played drums, but never took guitar lessons or anything. Drums came much easier for me as a kid. It seemed like more and more, I was helping to write songs and riffs for the bands that I was in as a drummer. Helping add chords and arrangements, etc, like Duff [McKagan], I played drums in punks bands before the GN’R era.  

I played in bands since age thirteen: The Asexuals (with a teenage Rozz Williams of Christian Death as lead singer), and The Decadents during high school (myself and future Hole/Mazzy Star bassist Jill Emery and future Divine Horseman/The Volebeats guitarist Peter Andrus). We played L.A./Orange County/San Francisco gigs with bands like Dead Kennedys, Social Distortion, The Adolescents, etc, then The Super Heroines towards the end of high school; they were a female-fronted, sort of punk-metal-goth crossover band that had a few LPs out. When I initially joined the band, it was as a second guitarist, but then within a week or two, the original drummer quit, so it seemed logical that I just stepped in as a new drummer. Plus, the lead guitarist didn’t really want a second guitar anyways. [Laughs]. 

As far as the transition that led me to play with the Guns N’ Roses guys, I had auditioned for what people would now a “hair metal” band. A very early 80s glam-sleaze-metal/hard rock band called Kerry Doll. They had been around for a while and were headlining lots of the Southern California clubs at the time in the early-mid 80s. Along the lines of the early Mötley Crüe Too Fast For Love era, but they went a little farther into the shock-rock vein, which appealed to me more so than the music. They were holding auditions for a replacement bassist and drummer. I had originally wanted to audition as a drummer, just like I did for the Guns N’ Roses guys, but they had gotten a decent drummer that they had just auditioned but still needed a bass player. So, I said “Yeah, I’ll give it a try. I can play as good as most Nikki Sixx wannabes!” So, the next thing I knew, I was a full-on hair metal bass player, in a band with all these older metal/power pop guys – oh, and one girl (the guitarist).

The band was headlining most of the gigs, so I just went along with it and was all of a sudden playing these decent clubs all over Southern California in a flashy shock rock band that was spitting blood, setting off flash bombs, setting things on fire, dousing the audience with confetti and fake blood, etc. It was like a low-budget W.A.S.P. or a really low-budget Alice Cooper/KISS type of stage show. The singer, Kerry, came onstage inside of a pink coffin! They were headlining over bands such as Candy, PoisonLeatherwolf, Lizzy Borden, and even Slayer opened for us one night in Hollywood.

The lead singer Kerry knew Axl and Izzy a little bit just from the club scene in L.A. and liked the way they looked. But at that point, Kerry Doll was a pretty established band, and Axl and Izzy were just trying to get off the ground. A few times during my time with Kerry, he could choose opening bands to play at gigs we were headlining. A few times they said, “Who can we get to open for us that is cool, but won’t give us attitude about being an opening act?” Several times, I suggested getting Rose or Hollywood Rose or A.X.L., or whatever they were calling themselves at the time. A few times we asked them, but they still didn’t have a complete band, so they had to decline. But I know at least once or twice they opened shows for us. One of the main gigs I remember was, I believe the last gig I played with Kerry as a bass player. It was at Madame Wong’s West in Santa Monica. The club was two stories and had a stage on each level. So, you could have six to eight bands playing on one night. The bands with a bigger draw would play upstairs, and the newer, local bands would play downstairs. This night, Kerry was actually the headliner and there was a band who was just visiting from the east coast for the first time who opened – they were called Poison.

Kim Fowley brought them out to L.A. from Pennsylvania for a week or two, and was taking them around to meet all the sleaze rockers and music business people in Hollywood and was trying to get them a record deal. And, of course, pushing to produce the band if they did get a deal. He was hyping them as the next KISS meets New York Dolls meets Cheap Trick! Poison played their set to a pretty empty room, then another band played, then Kerry was the headliner in the upstairs room.

Simultaneously, downstairs on the smaller stage was a band called Pyrrhus, which was actually the first incarnation of L.A. Guns before the name change. After them, the band Rose played, which of course was the precursor to Hollywood Rose, with a guy named Andre playing bass that night. A few other local bands played that I can’t remember. But it was crazy to think that at one club – in one night – you had baby versions of Guns N’ Roses, Poison, and L.A. Guns all opening for Kerry Doll. I kept going back and forth between the two rooms to watch my friend’s bands play downstairs. I actually got dressed and hung out in their dressing room downstairs – a little teeny, dirty corner room – even though upstairs, our band had a pretty nice full-size dressing room with mirrors, showers, and a bathroom. It was just more fun hanging with Izzy, Axl, and their chicks at the time. That was the first time I met Tracii Guns, too.

But the way I actually got in the band Hollywood Rose, was Rose (pre-Hollywood Rose) opened up a gig for Kerry, and after the gig, Izzy basically told me I was going to be their new bassist! They weren’t excited for me to join as a drummer a year before, but once they saw me in a bass player role, they seemed to change their tune. I figured I could be in both bands simultaneously, as Kerry did better gigs, but Izzy, Axl, and Co. were more fun. But I was replaced in Kerry Doll shortly after, and the timing worked perfectly to join full-time with Izzy and Axl.

Andrew:
Do you remember the first time you saw Izzy? My understanding is that it was at a club.

Steve:
I don’t actually remember where it was that I saw him first, but it was probably a club. I remember occasionally seeing him just walking around Hollywood, waiting at the bus stop, or riding in the back of a car before we actually were introduced. I actually spotted him in the crowd at a Judas Priest concert in about 1982-83 at the Long Beach Arena, the Screaming For Vengeance tour I think. Out of all the tens of thousands of people in the crowd, [Izzy] stood out. There were probably thousands of dudes and chicks wearing leather jackets that night, but he was the only one painted bright Pepto-pink, and his hair was dyed jet black like Nikki Sixx or Johnny Thunders. Not too many of those guys with that look back then at arena metal gigs. A few years later, there were tons of them.

Image credit: Marc Canter

Andrew:
Were you aware of Izzy prior to seeing him at the club that night? What were some of his early bands?


Steve:
I was aware of him, but never knew what band he was in or if he even was in a band. Later, after I knew him for a while, I found out that he had played drums with a few punk/death rock type bands when he first moved to L.A.: The Atoms, from Pasadena, and then Voodoo Church. Then he was in the band called Shire as a rhythm guitar player or bassist. They were definitely more in the straightforward early 80s hard rock/AOR metal vibe, kind of Scorpions-ish.

Andrew:
It was through an ad in The Recycler that you first connected with Izzy. What inspired you to reach out?


Steve:
Well, I was fresh out of a band that I had been very serious about for a few years and still looking for another band to join. I was pretty burnt out on the underground punk-type scene that I had been playing in for years. Aside from constantly listening to Black Sabbath, I was listening to a lot of old 1970s glam rock and hard rock and New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands, as well as finding out about some newer bands. I had the first few Hanoi Rocks albums and was hearing about bands in Europe similar to them that looked really cool and extreme, but slightly different than what was going on in Hollywood like Mötley Crüe, W.A.S.P., Ratt, etc.

The Recycler ad I saw really stuck out, even for those days. It said something along the lines of, “Young drummer and bassist wanted for extreme glamour, hair, flash, make-up supergroup. Must be into Hanoi, New York Dolls, Aerosmith, Crüe, Duran Duran, and Vogue Magazine – Call Jeff.” So, that looked interesting and shocking – except for the Duran Duran part. [Laughs]. 

Andrew:
For those who are unaware, how resourceful was The Recycler in those days, Steve?


Steve:
It was actually very resourceful. It was a weekly newspaper that was all classified ads. it started out free, then slowly started selling for a quarter, then $.50, then $.75. But you could buy a car, you could rent an apartment, you could hire a babysitter, or buy/sell live animals. Just about anything. There were a lot of ads for show biz gigs, too, like actors/musicians wanted, as well as used music equipment. So, all the low-budget musicians, like us, checked The Recycler quite regularly, either to buy and sell guitars and amps or find band members. Mötley Crüe actually found Mick Mars in The Recycler, as well as others who probably never would admit that they met through this silly little newspaper.

Andrew:
Walk me through the sequence of events that led to you joining Hollywood Rose.


Steve:
Well, as mentioned before, I just answered the ad in The Recycler, initially. Not knowing that the person Jeff who I was talking to, was that guy that I’ve seen around town for the last year or two mysteriously. It actually took a bit of time to connect with Jeff, a.k.a. Izzy, because unbeknownst to me, he wasn’t really living anywhere and didn’t have a phone number. The number in the ad was just for an answering service, where he would check his messages occasionally from a pay phone.

Once he did call back, after a few games of phone tag, we spoke on the phone briefly, and he asked me all kinds of questions before even mentioning getting together in person to audition. He asked very specific questions, like, “How long is your hair? What color is your hair? How much do you weigh? How old are you? Do you have a pair of black pants? What bands are you into? Do you have a car? Have you heard of Hanoi Rocks? Do you mind wearing make-up?” Stuff like that, then, later on, talked about musical direction once the important stuff was out of the way. 

So, a few weeks went by, and we played phone tag again a few times. I was still living in Pasadena at my mom’s house, and Izzy and Axl were staying in Hollywood with different people all the time. So, between their erratic living situation and me getting erratic phone messages from my mom, it took a little while to connect. But in the end, we agreed to meet and exchange cassette tapes and listen to tunes. I think since they didn’t know who I was from the bands that I had been playing in previously, they needed to see me in person to determine if I was an old fat hippie, a nerdy San Fernando Valley metal head, or if I was the dream drummer that they were looking for. Izzy and Axl were actually staying in this little one-room apartment in the Hollywood Hills, but it was actually a converted tool shed or small storage garage next to a large house that somehow or another they rented briefly.

A block north of the Coconut Teaser club off of the Sunset Strip, I borrowed my mom’s car and drove out there to meet them. As soon as I pulled up in front of this garage/apartment that they were staying in, I saw an open door it’s right off of the street and looked inside the door, and there was that weird guy with the black hair and the pink leather jacket that I’ve been seeing all over town. [Laughs]. So, at first, it was just Izzy and me in this little room. We started talking, sort of breaking the ice, as it were. Then after about fifteen or twenty minutes, a door in the back corner of the room opened, and this guy named Bill came out and Izzy said, “This is our singer, Bill.” Bill said quietly, “Hey man, how’s it going?” And then just sort of sat down and quietly listened to Izzy and I chat. 

Izzy played me a cassette of the demo tapes on a boom box that they had recorded previously at Mystic Studios. So, I guess these would be the infamous Rose demos with Chris Weber playing lead guitar and Johnny Kreis on drums. Some of the early tunes like “Shadow of Your Love” and “Reckless Life,” but the very fast, metal-ish versions. I thought it was pretty cool, but it sounded nothing like what I expected, which was kind of cool, I thought. After hanging out for an hour or two, I had to leave, and we decided to try to plan a jam/audition with the three of us to see how we played together. Since their pad was so small and nobody lived in a real house where we could play loud, their plan was to rent a cheap rehearsal room for an hour and just blast out some songs.

They wanted to see how I played drums, so Izzy rented a little cheap rehearsal room just south of Hollywood for an hour, which actually probably cost about ten bucks. This was a lot for them (and me) in those days. Plus, none of them had cars, so Izzy had to ask a girlfriend to pick him and his amp/guitar up in her car and drive him there. I loaded my drums into my mom’s small Toyota and picked up Axl, and he rode with me and my drums all the way to the rehearsal studio. He had to carry a drum on his lap in the front seat. But I didn’t get the gig as a drummer; it was a year or so later after I started playing bass that Izzy basically told me I was going to be the new bass player. And that was that.

Andrew:
From a visual and sonic perspective, what was Izzy and Axl’s vision at that time? Did that coincide with your vision?


Steve:
Visually, it was just Izzy, looking like Izzy, and Axl, who was developing his image. His look wasn’t quite complete yet, but he was working on it. Axl’s image was somewhere in between what he looked like in the first “Welcome to the Jungle” video when he got off the bus with his bell bottoms, chewing on a piece of straw, crossed with what he looked like on stage in the video with his big, teased hair and tight jeans. Axl seemed a bit more tame-looking when he wasn’t on stage or going out to a club, whereas Izzy was pretty much the same 24/7. Axl wasn’t even called Axl yet…still Bill.

Sonically, it was all very fast and simple punkish-bluesy thrash rock. It wasn’t speed metal, but it was a very sped-up, heavy rock. Basically, like a cross between Motörhead or early Accept, but simplified rock ‘n’ roll, with Nazareth/Aerosmith-type vocals on top and double bass drumming. Musically, it was just Izzy coming up with the chords/songs, and Axl’s lyrics, so it was a lot less complex than what you heard on the first album. It was close enough to what I wanted to do musically that I thought it was a cool, new project to try. Plus, those guys were fun to hang with most of the time and seemed very driven to succeed.

Andrew:
Did you ever end up jamming with Izzy in that first iteration? If my timeline is correct, Hollywood Rose disbanded shortly after your joining.


Steve:
Yes, I jammed with Izzy numerous times. The first “audition” jam (1983 or ‘84 at the latest) that I just mentioned was actually the last time I played drums with him. Basically, after the audition, they didn’t really like the way I played drums, even though I had been playing for a while. They were looking for something much simpler and more straightforward, which confused me at the time, given the influences that we talked about. It wasn’t my drumming style. In reality, they wanted to find someone who played like a cross between The Ramones meets Aerosmith. Later, once I started playing bass with them, we were still not sure who is going to play lead guitar. They had been playing with Chris Weber on and off, but it wasn’t really what they wanted, and they were secretly keeping their eyes open for a perfect rockstar lead guitar player. After a few jams, nothing really happened, and I didn’t really hear from them for a few weeks. Then Izzy mentioned a guy who had gone to Fairfax High School, who was interested in trying out as a guitar player and he had a friend who was a drummer. They wanted to get together and see how it worked out. Rumor was that this guitar player could play any Aerosmith song, which was all that Izzy and Axl needed to hear. The drummer was Adler, obviously.

Andrew:
You jammed with the Appetite lineup (minus Duff, obviously). Approximately how many jams did you have with that configuration, and how varied was that sound compared to the sound captured on Appetite?


Steve:
Well, I did jam with them in that lineup, as well as a previous one and a later one. It’s all quite convoluted, incestuous, and confusing if you’re trying to follow along on a timeline. But after the initial jams/auditions with Slash and Adler (as well as Axl, Izzy, and myself), they decided that this was the new, solid lineup. Izzy quickly booked another rehearsal at the same studio for the following week, but once everyone showed up at that rehearsal the next week, Izzy was missing. No real explanation from him or anyone. One of the classic, “Where’s Izzy?” moments, but very early on, I guess him and Axl had gotten into some other disagreement during that week, and Izzy decided he didn’t wanna do it anymore. A few weeks later, I asked Izzy what was up, and he just replied something like, “Axl is too serious sometimes. I just can’t be bothered with it anymore.”   

But we carried on with the rehearsal without Izzy and it still sounded fine, and you could tell Axl was actually pleased with the sound and the lineup. Basically, we had never played with a guitar player good enough to be the only guitar player in the band and still have it sound good and full. Slash and Steven had learned all the old tunes that Izzy and Axl wrote, and Slash was slowly starting to show us some of his songs, riffs, ideas, etc. that he had laying around. In hindsight, most of those riffs ended up on the Appetite album or on Slash’s solo stuff in some form or another.

But that lineup of Hollywood Rose played quite a few gigs around town over the course of a year or so, just not very consistent. Like, we’d have a few gigs in the summer and then nothing for months. I did a few jams with Izzy later on as well, but usually just auditioning other people (that didn’t work out) or rehearsal-type jams.

Andrew:
Where would the band rehearse?

Steve:
Anywhere they could. [Laughs]. The first few jams I did with them were at a cheap rehearsal studio in South Hollywood, then once Slash joined, we pretty consistently rehearsed at a studio right across the street from Hollywood High school called Programmer; later, it became known as Fortress. I think it’s still there. But nobody had any money or jobs at the time, so for any of us to come up with fifteen bucks for a three-hour rehearsal was kind of tough. So, Slash would book the graveyard shift at Programmer, from midnight to 3 AM, and it was a few dollars cheaper. So, we’d be blasting away late at night when everyone else was either asleep or out at a nightclub. We played at several other studios around Hollywood, too; Shamrock on Santa Monica/Western among others. Before I was in the band, they sometimes rehearsed at Chris Weber’s house in the Hollywood Hills.


Andrew:
How do you remember your first show with the newly minted Hollywood Rose? 


Steve:
It was cool. I think we were so concerned about our high-energy onstage presence, that the music was probably even more frantic and thrashy than we had planned. I do know that it was actually Slash and Steven’s first real club gig ever. They had only played private parties or school gigs with Road Crew/Tidus Sloan in the past. I didn’t find that out until years later. I do remember Steven being very nervous before the set, even more anxious and energetic than usual. He actually had to jog around the block outside of the club before our set to let off some steam and jitters. That’s just the way he was. I was pretty much concerned about lifting my gigantic bass amp on stage and not ripping my stage clothes!

Andrew:
What did Slash’s aesthetic and gear consist of at that time?

Steve:
Slash’s aura was much simpler than what we know him as now. You could see his face, for one thing. [Laughs]. His hair hadn’t quite grown out so crazy yet, and there was no top hat (or any hat for that matter) in those days. He was into wearing moccasins on stage and he didn’t even have a Les Paul yet. He played a nice USA B.C. Rich Warlock that he bought while working at Fairfax Music Store. It was a pretty expensive guitar for a kid to have back then. He had a few nice Marshall amps at the beginning but traded them in to get sponsored by Risson amps, who were an upcoming amp company from Orange County. They were just starting to endorse some 80s Sunset strip guitarists, people like Mick Mars, Lita Ford, etc. But I don’t think Slash’s Risson days lasted too long. Maybe a year.

Andrew:
How would you describe the dynamic between yourself, Axl, Slash, and Steven during those shows?


Steve:
Was pretty explosive onstage, actually.  Axl and I especially always had a crazy dynamic that would just happen as soon as we started thrashing through some of the old songs onstage, even in rehearsal in the middle of the night. We would start on opposite ends of the stage or the room and run as fast as we could towards each other to the opposite side, and then sometimes we’d crash, and sometimes it was epic. We dubbed it “The Programmer half-Pipe.”  [Laughs].

Since I hadn’t been playing bass for very long, I was not that tight or competent and was definitely making up for it by having a crazy stage presence. Since I’d been playing in punk bands previously, it seemed quite normal for me to freak out onstage, but a lot of the established Hollywood metal/hard rock guys had a different way of acting on stage, more like Eddie Van Halen or Robert Plant or something like that. Slash actually loosened up quite well and started doing his moves more and more. He was a little conservative on the first few gigs but that’s to be expected. Also, Steve and I had a pretty good rapport, since I had played drums for so long. I used to lean over and grab his cymbals during songs and we had a little bit of a routine down. We interacted a lot. Hard to explain. Probably seemed silly, but it was cool.


Andrew:
Once Izzy joined London, what measurable changes did you observe in Axl’s leadership and direction?


Steve:
Well, quite a bit actually, but it wasn’t really extreme yet. He just seemed a little more levelheaded and driven. Less flashy or schmoozy than Izzy. Iz had a way of charming anybody he talked to and was able to handle the business/social part naturally. I think the first thing I noticed with Axl is that he was looking to change the image and direction just a bit, make it a little more street rock-metal oriented and less glamour/flash. He’s still dug Hanoi Rocks, Crüe, and those bands, but was fine going for more of a denim and leather Thin Lizzy/Nazareth type image and slightly less glam. 

The first time I (or maybe any of us, sans Izzy) witnessed any personality issues, was before a gig at Madame Wong’s East in L.A.’s Chinatown. Everything seemed fine the day before, and even at sound check in the late afternoon the day of the show. We had planned on taking some photos of the band hanging out in Chinatown after soundcheck, but before the show, a friend of Slash and Marc Canter‘s named Jack [Lue], was a photographer and had a good camera. He wanted to do some legitimate band photos with the new lineup. But Slash put on a flannel shirt as part of his stage photo image outfit. Axl sort of freaked out over that. He thought flannel was much too ordinary or something. Even though he had decided that a less glamorous image for the band was the way forward, a flannel shirt was just too, I don’t know, working class? Lumberjack? I think Slash just wanted to wear something like Joe Perry wore on the Aerosmith Live Bootleg record cover, but Axl wasn’t having it. So, he just got up and walked away and disappeared into the busy streets/alleys of Chinatown, which was pretty crazy back then. It was in a very crowded and somewhat dangerous Asian neighborhood in downtown L.A., before the gentrification.

He didn’t show up for a long time, maybe one or two hours. And afterward, he was very sullen and moody. He even stated that he “didn’t need this,” he didn’t need a band, he could move back to Indiana and go to recording school or something like that, and do something important with his life if Slash, or any of us for that matter, weren’t on the same page as him. But I’m sure he didn’t really mean that, and it was probably the last thing he wanted to do at that point in his life. But after a few hours, it was all over, he settled down, we played the gig and it was excellent. But there were only about four or five people in the room; Tracii Guns, my girlfriend (now wife), Marc, Jack, and the bartenders. So, not many people would know how excellent it was.

Image courtesy of Steve Darrow

Andrew:
Tell us about some of the clubs in which the band cut its proverbial teeth and the concept of “pay to play.”

Steve:
We played both Madame Wong’s West and East a few different times; The Troubadour twice. Back then, The Troubadour was kind of like glam metal headquarters, so for a new band, getting a gig there was a big deal. I remember once we got the first Troubadour gig, it was not a great night, but everyone was excited. Slash’s girlfriend at the time even gave every band member a red rose with a card saying, “Congratulations, you finally made it to The Troubadour.” Pretty funny in hindsight, but very sweet of her. 

The second time we played The Troubadour, halfway through our set, the power got turned out on us. During the show, Axl had accidentally kicked over a cocktail glass that was sitting on the stage and it broke and hit the floor. Nothing too serious, and basically an accident, but the stage managers at The Troubadour flipped out and decided that Axl had done it on purpose and was destroying their property, so they turned off the power and told us to get off the stage. The only thing you could hear was Steve Adler’s drums by themselves. Axl said something nasty to the bouncer after they told us to leave the stage. The bouncer turned around and was coming towards Axl with steam coming out of his nose, so Axl turned around and ran off the side of the stage, where there was a little door that led into the alley behind the club. He ran as fast as she could for about a block, thinking that the bouncers were going to come after him and kick his ass. [Laughs]. He didn’t show up again until the next band was already onstage playing, probably an hour later, and didn’t set foot back in the club. But of course, he made a big deal out of it and was steaming over the incident and getting very punk rock in his attitude. He was ready to boycott the Troubadour, its staff, and all this other stuff. At that point, nobody cared, but if it had happened just a year or two later, they would have cared.

Pay-to-play is a phenomenon that is still going on in the L.A. club scene (probably other places, too), but didn’t start until the 80s when there was an onslaught of new bands that wanted to play at legendary clubs in Hollywood; IE: Troubadour, Whisky, Roxy, Gazzarri’s, etc. Basically, if you were in a band that was new or didn’t have a guaranteed audience or following that could fill the club with paying customers buying drinks at the bar, you would have to pay a fee before you could book a show at selected clubs. Especially on the weeknights. So, if there was a club that booked four bands to play on a Tuesday night, the first three bands would have to pay for what they called pre-sale tickets and the cost of two drinks, usually between $7.50 to $10.00 a piece, and usually about fifty to one hundred and fifty of these tickets. So, most of these bands would actually end up paying the club anywhere from $200 to $1000 a piece to guarantee them a slot on the bill. The headliners usually didn’t have to pay and could actually make a few bucks on a show like this. So, if you opened the show on Tuesday, they would pay $300 to the club and you would make your money back, only if you had forty or fifty people who paid to see you and bought two drinks each. If you only had ten or twelve people show up, then you would lose your pre-sale fee, but the club would still make money. But let’s say that same band did draw a decent crowd and had some paying customers – that band could then play second on the bill on a Wednesday night in the future and still have to pay a pre-sale ticket fee but would move up a notch on the bill; IE: second instead of first.  And if that band did good on the second time they played, then they could possibly headline a gig on a Tuesday night a month later. Vicious circle.

But most of the bands didn’t draw as much as the clubs required, so, therefore, lost money on most gigs. It still goes on today. It’s just a matter of supply and demand, as there are so many bands dying to play live in Hollywood but only a few clubs, so they can use these tactics and get away with it.  It’s been going on for decades.

Andrew:
How do you remember the New Year’s Eve show in ‘85, which I believe was at Dancing Waters in San Pedro?


Steve:
That was interesting. Very mysterious at this point in time, because there are no photos or videos from that gig – or even that particular version of the band. Izzy, after leaving the band London, decided to try to resurrect Hollywood Rose since it had been dormant for a while since Axl had been playing with L.A. Guns and Izzy was in and out of London by then. 

A friend of mine, John, had a band that was going for kind of a Hanoi Rocks type image, and they lived in San Pedro, which was about forty-five minutes south of Hollywood. Dancing Waters was the only real rock/metal club in San Pedro, and they had local as well as some Hollywood bands play there occasionally. John’s band was playing on New Year’s Eve and asked Izzy if his band wanted to play on the bill that night. Izzy said, “Yes.” Since there was no real band at the time, Izzy called me, and we basically threw together a few quick rehearsals with some of the old songs and a few new ones, just to have a set to play this one New Year’s Eve gig. We had asked Slash to play lead guitar – at first, he agreed – but then found out that he had to work that night at Tower Video on the [Sunset] Strip. It was New Year’s Eve and Tower stayed open till midnight, so there was no way Slash could get away from work to do the gig. He was a pretty responsible worker back then. [Laughs].

So, eventually, Izzy asked Chris Weber to play, and he did. Not sure if we had planned on getting Steve Adler to play or not, but we ended up using Rob Gardner, who was in L.A. Guns at the time, and later played in the first version of Guns N’ Roses after the name change from Hollywood Rose, when Tracii was briefly playing guitar. 

It was an odd period, since during the downtime most everyone, except me, had started getting into harder drugs, and it was pretty obvious that drugs were more of a priority than before. Izzy was living with a young stripper, and she came out and danced on stage while we played, which was pretty cool. She danced with GN’R a few times later on as well. That was the first time that the song “Don’t Cry” was ever played live. They had just written it earlier that week, and nobody but Izzy and Axl knew the chords, so we just sort of faked it on stage. Nobody was really expecting to hear a ballad in the middle of the set – including me. I hauled everyone’s gear in my old 1965 Dodge Van down to the gig. And I got in a car crash on the freeway on the way down to San Pedro. No injuries, but it was scary and would have really messed up the whole night if I didn’t make it. But I did.

Andrew:
This is a crucial moment in history, as it turns out, and something I’ve long wondered about is how exactly did the band dissolve? It appears as though you got squeezed out.

Steve : 
Yes, kind of got squeezed out. But what everyone has to understand about the early days of GN’R is that they actually broke up and reformed probably once or twice a month. It’s just the way it was. They always parted ways temporarily, and then eventually came back as if nothing had happened. It seemed to be like that for probably the first few years, even after getting signed. So, the band had dissolved several times before I had even played with them – and who knows how many times after I was out of the picture – so it’s hard to say how it actually ended up.

But in my case, I wasn’t fired, and I didn’t quit; it was somewhere in between, kind of a gray area. I just assumed that it would be another temporary breakup and that in a month or so, we’d all get back together and start over again and carry on. Maybe with a different member or two, but it didn’t end up that way for me. There was one other mystery fill-in bass player that played a Troubadour gig, opening for Poison, that I had actually booked for the band months before, but I didn’t end up playing that show. But it was before Duff joined. 

Andrew:
Do you remember where you were when Appetite became a worldwide phenomenon? Did you harbor any initial bitterness or resentment?


Steve:
I don’t remember particularly where I was, but I do remember when all of a sudden, they were on MTV a lot – like way more than anyone else at the time – even bands that have been around for a long time and we’re huge. Just seemed like “Sweet Child O’ Mine” was on a constant loop on MTV, which ruled back then. That was a little odd for me but figured maybe it would be sort of a one-hit-wonder type of situation like so many other bands of that era. But it wasn’t a surprise at first, only because I still heard news/gossip about GN’R around town and we had a lot of the same friends still. They were playing clubs in Hollywood, just like they did before, but the crowds were getting much bigger. They started opening for bigger acts in the time between getting signed to Geffen and when the album was actually released. So, they got some higher profile shows in that year, opening for people like Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, etc.

I actually saw the 1986 Alice Cooper show in Santa Barbara with GN’R as the opening act. That was a major debacle for them. Axl decided to show up almost an hour late. Later on, in their career, he could get away with doing stuff like that. But at this point, they were lucky to even be asked to play with somebody like Alice in a big concert hall. It ended up pretty embarrassing. Axl never even went on stage. Their roadie, Ronnie (Ex Road Crew bassist), came out and tried to sing a few songs and I think Izzy tried to sing one, but you could tell it was pretty embarrassing for them. They were asked to leave the stage after about only a few songs. Everyone thought that was probably the end for them. But it wasn’t and they got the last laugh.

As for bitterness, well who wouldn’t be a little bit? Fifth Beatle syndrome, but a few decades later. But I don’t regret any of it and don’t let it bug me. I still like the guys and keep in touch with a few of them. I most likely would have left the band on my own eventually, if I stayed. I don’t deal with personal/band turmoil very well. I have never made one single penny from GN’R, then, now, or anytime in between. Never been paid for an interview, book/magazine, or video appearance related to GN’R. But I’ve done a bunch. I’ve never had any kind of advantages or got any gigs/perks in the music business from playing with them. I’m still here trying to get by as a musician. It would have been nice to have made a bit of change back in the day, buy a house or something, and not have to struggle to pay rent. But there are other musicians out there less fortunate than I, so it could be worse.

Image courtesy of Steve Darrow

Andrew:
After Hollywood Rose essentially evaporated, what happened next? What did you end up doing?


Steve:
Well, believe it or not, I’ve been playing the whole time, but obviously not on the same level as them. I took off a good portion of the 1990s, as music was going in a very strange direction then, not just because grunge had wiped out hair metal; I actually appreciated [grunge] in the beginning. But everything else musically at that time was just not my cup of tea. I did various gigs, recordings, fill in’s, etc. Tribute bands in the late 90s-2000s were really the only way to play rock ‘n’ roll in L.A. in that era. So, I played in a few. I started getting much more in the archiving/collecting/dealing of rock ‘n’ roll history and memorabilia in that era as well, just prior to the internet happening. So, I become a source for odd niche rock and film-related material in those days – source material for magazines, books, documentary films, MTV, etc. Now you can Google, YouTube or eBay anything. 

Andrew:
Thanks for the time, Steve. Before we wrap up, I’d like to give you an opportunity to discuss your current band, Sister Midnight.


Steve:
Cool. Well, Sister Midnight evolved actually as a side project from my other current original heavy rock/metal band, Sonic Medusa. The band wasn’t playing live as much, and other members had to take extended breaks from the band to play with other bands or deal with other things in life. Even before lockdown-2020.

Sister Midnight is basically a fun cover song recording project for me to fill time, where I can cover a lot of obscure songs that I’ve been a fan of for years but was never able to bring into Sonic Medusa, or any other original band I was playing with. Basically, some bucket list songs that I’ve always wanted to play that didn’t get much interest from anybody else. It’s been a cool experience because I have learned much more about recording, both analog and digital, and how to emulate songs and tones from different artists/producers who originally made these songs. Also, I am able to dive into some instrumental soundtrack songs from some of my favorite films from the past that have incredible soundtracks.

I’m playing all the instruments on everything so far. I get guest singers for different songs that I cover; male/female/heavy/soft, etc. I just put out one song at a time every few months, rather than record a full album worth of songs and then do nothing for years after. Everyone’s attention span has gotten ridiculously short in the last few decades, including my own. So, one song at a time is more than plenty for most people to digest. But I have a lot more that I wanna do, involving different styles with different guests, in different languages, etc. So, hopefully, people will stay interested and I’ll be able to keep pumping out obscure songs for a while.

Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is the Senior Editor for vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at adicecco@vinylwriter.com.

2 thoughts on “An Interview with Steve Darrow of Hollywood Rose

  1. Very cool read ! From start to finish! I felt like these were the simple but very interesting questions to be asked! Would like to read much more.

  2. Good read, with a lot of interesting background and other information that I wouldn’t have thought to ask myself.
    Thanks Steve

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