The ups n' downs of Guns N' Roses

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Guns N' RosesImage source, Rex Features
Image caption,
Appetite for Destruction remains the biggest-selling debut album of all time

It's official: Slash and Axl Rose are going to perform together as Guns N' Roses for the first time since 1993.

The rock band will headline the Coachella music festival in California in April - although it is still unclear whether original members Steven Adler, Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagan, will also be part of the line-up. [Update: The band have now confirmed that McKagan will take part in the reunion]

Once the most feared band in rock, they were raw, ugly and chaotic. But they also had a sensitive side, as heard on their breakthrough hit Sweet Child O' Mine, written for Rose's girlfriend and later wife Erin Everly, daughter of Don Everly.

Rose has remained the only constant in the band's chequered history, which was marked by drug abuse, in-fighting and accusations of homophobia and misogyny.

Image source, Rex Features
Image caption,
The band made their first trip to the UK in 1986


William Bruce Rose was born on February 6, 1962, in Lafayette, Indiana. Sexually and physically abused at a young age, he was an outcast at school but found solace singing in the church choir.

He moved to Los Angeles at the age of 17, changing his name to Axl Rose (an anagram of oral sex) and forming a band with schoolfriend Izzy Stradlin.

The band had several name changes - Rose, Hollywood Rose and LA Guns - before finalising its line-up with Slash (top-hatted guitarist Saul Hudson, originally from Stoke-on-Trent), Duff McKagan (bass), and Steven Adler (drums).

They made their live debut at the Troubador, in a show billed as: "A Rock 'n' Roll Bash Where Everyone's Smashed" and honed a sound that was equal parts metal and punk.

Following a disastrous 1985 tour (they ended up hitch-hiking to Seattle after their van broke down) they rallied on the independently-released EP Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide, which led to them being signed to Geffen Records.

Image caption,
Slash claims that Welcome To The Jungle was written in just three hours


Guns N' Roses debut album, Appetite For Destruction, killed off 1980s hair-metal in one swift flourish - even though the band themselves, sporting bandanas and cowboy boots, hardly broke the mould.

It remains the biggest-selling debut album of all time, shifting more than 30 million copies (including 18 million in the US), although it got off to a slow start, making its chart debut at number 182 in 1987.

The band's hectic touring schedule delayed a follow-up, so their earlier EP was given a re-release, with the addition of four acoustic tracks, under the title GN'R Lies.

Rose came under fire for the closing track, One in a Million, which used both racial and homophobic slurs. The album's sleeve-notes anticipated the controversy, with Rose writing the song was "very simple and extremely generic" - but the band were publicly criticised by Tipper Gore and talk show host Arsenio Hall.

Their behaviour continued to make headlines - with Stradlin accused of urinating in public on an aeroplane, and Slash swearing on live television during the American Music Awards.

Meanwhile, the band missed several deadlines for their next album, eventually delivering the mammoth double-disc set Use Your Illusion I & II in late 1991.

It topped the charts, but the band seemed to have succumbed to the excesses they set out to destroy, with bloated songs full of showboating guitar solos - not to mention the nine-minute video for November Rain. Asked to explain the plot last year, Slash said: "You know what?! To tell you the truth, I have no idea."

Image source, Press Association
Image caption,
The band's exciting and unpredictable performances were a calling card


For years, Guns N' Roses made a virtue of their hedonism - but the cracks began to show in a televised concert which proved to be drummer Steven Adler's final appearance with the band.

The group turned up to the Farm Aid benefit show in April 1990 after a six-month break from the stage, at a time when Adler's addiction to heroin and cocaine was spiralling out of control.

He had been having trouble keeping time during recording sessions for Use Your Illusion, and the problems persisted on stage. As they began their second song, Civil War, Duff McKagan had to clap his hands to show the drummer the tempo.

Adler claimed sabotage - saying he had never rehearsed the song with the band.

"I believe their strategy was to make my playing sound like this," he argued in his autobiography. "By branding me as an ill-equipped, crappy drummer, they'd be armed with a sound reason for kicking me out."

Image source, Rex Features
Image caption,
The extensive Use Your Illusion tour took its toll on the band

Slash's own account was more callous. "We weren't really concerned for Steven's health as much as we were pissed off that his addiction was handicapping his performance and therefore the rest of us."

Whatever the reason, the disastrous show resulted in Adler being evicted from the band. Conversely, Stradlin quit in 1991 after kicking drugs, finding the rest of the band's behaviour intolerable.

"Once I quit drugs, I couldn't help looking around and asking myself, 'Is this all there is?'" he told Rolling Stone.

He was replaced by Kills For Thrills guitarist Gilby Clarke, and the band staggered on through the Use Your Illusion Tour - with Rose's increasingly erratic behaviour and disregard for stage times leading to riots and violence at several venues.

When the tour finally ground to a halt in 1993, the band issued a lukewarm covers album, The Spaghetti Incident?, which seemed hackneyed and dated compared to Nirvana's Nevermind, which had rewritten the rock rulebook as effectively as Appetite For Destruction had, six years earlier.

With Slash and Rose disagreeing over the direction for the band's fourth album, the group fell apart in 1997, with McKagan the last to jump ship.

"I went out for dinner with Axl and I told him, 'Enough is enough. This band is a dictatorship and I don't see myself playing in those conditions. Find someone else,'" he told Kerrang in 1999.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Guitarist Buckethead became a mainstay of the Guns N' Roses line-up in the 2000s

The wilderness years

Rose recruited dozens of musicians to perpetuate the Guns N' Roses brand - including Dave Navarro, Tommy Stinson, ex-Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck and his childhood friend Paul Huge.

But the only new material to surface was an industrial metal track called Oh My God, which appeared on the soundtrack to the Arnold Schwarzenegger film End of Days in 1999.

Meanwhile, Slash and Stradlin achieved moderate success with their solo albums, and Adler kicked his drug habit and wrote a surprisingly frank memoir. McKagan, meanwhile, returned to his pre-Guns N' Roses group 10 Minute Warning before enrolling in Seattle University and becoming a financial expert.

In 2002, Slash and McKagan reunited with drummer Matt Sorum (Adler's replacement) and Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland for the "supergroup" Velvet Revolver, who released two top 10 albums and won a Grammy Award.

After years of being branded a recluse, Rose resurfaced in 2000 with a new line-up, including a guitarist who wore a giant KFC bucket on his head and went by the moniker 'Buckethead'.

They toured around the world, while Rose tinkered with a new album, tentatively titled Chinese Democracy.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Axl Rose was branded a recluse in the late 1990s but emerged to perform several sold-out tours

Chinese Democracy

In 2005, The New York Times published an article headlined: "The Most Expensive Album Never Made". It detailed Geffen Records' farcical attempts to get Rose to deliver Chinese Democracy - which, by that point, had racked up costs of $13 million (£8.9 million).

The money didn't all go towards guitars and recording equipment, noted journalist Jeff Leeds. On one occasion, "Buckethead announced he would be more comfortable working inside a chicken coop, so one was built for him in the studio, from wood planks and chicken wire."

The effort obviously paid off - because three short years later, Chinese Democracy was released.

The list of personnel reflected the record's prolonged gestation. The credit list for one song - the Bond theme-esque There Was A Time - ran to 33 lines on the CD booklet. A total of six people played guitar on the track. Two of them got solos.

Nonetheless, Rolling Stone called it "a great, audacious, unhinged and uncompromising hard-rock record", while The Telegraph called it "a remarkable and often exhilarating album."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Matt Sorum, Duff McKagan, Slash and Steven Adler joined each other on stage when Guns N' Roses were inducted to the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2012


Hopes of a reformation have always seemed dim. "Personally I consider [Slash] a cancer and better removed," said Rose in 2009.

Rose's former bandmates didn't hold him in higher regard. "He's insane, that's it," said Adler. "I swear to God, he's a nutball."

But rumours of a rapprochement surfaced last year when Slash told US TV show This Morning that the "tension ... has dissipated".

"We don't have all those issues anymore," he added. "There's not a lot of controversy. It's something that's more perpetuated by the media than anything."

Over Christmas, Guns N' Roses teased a reunion via a cryptic update to their official website; while a trailer showing concert footage (although not the band itself) was played before select screenings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The reunion was finally confirmed by the US music festival Coachella, which announced Guns N' Roses as headliners this coming April.

Fans are excited but wary that the capricious Rose could torpedo the comeback... He has already pulled out of a TV appearance to promote the band's resurrection.