I Just Wanna Surf
The quiet one from Guns N' Roses, Izzy Stradlin, is in Australia touring with his band, the Ju Ju Hounds. He's fit, he's healthy, he's survived the circus - and he wants to go surfing. John Tingwell hopes the surf's up.
BY JOHN TINGWELL
HOT METAL MAGAZINE; NOVEMBER 1992
Big thank you to Blackstar for allowing me to upload these.
Original can be found here
"Hey John, I'm sorry I missed you earlier but we got a PA system here tonight and everybody just went nuts cos we could hear ourselves. So we didn't wanna stop cos of this groove we got into. Were all a little nervous you know, cos we got our first gig comin' up in a coupla nights. God man, it's so exciting."
Former Guns N' Roses rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin sounds for all the world like a dorky juvenile mid-way through a frantic present opening ritual on Xmas Day. However, once this former member of the World's Most Dangerous Band' settles down, he's amiable, polite, humorous, cool and just about anything else you'd expect him not to be. Why? Perhaps he's rediscovered life and really digs it. Perhaps for the first time in many years ho's suddenly found out that being a person is more worthwhile than being somebody's idol. Or a record company's meal ticket. Izzy feels he can now do what he wants to do - which is all he's ever wanted to do.
"Izzy Stradlin's last gig with Guns N' Roses was a biggie. He "kinda knew" the concert at Wembley Stadium in August 1991 was going to be his last, though he also knew that if he was allowed some time he'd be okay. For those who followed the band's 'on road' tales, his eventual departure should not have come as a mammoth surprise, because Izzy had been distancing himself from the other Gunners for quite a while.
When they were on tour he would travel separately and on his own, opting for a private tour bus which also carried his beloved dogs. Particularly towards the end, Izzy would also travel with his other passion, an imported (and very heavy) Italian trials motorcycle. While Axl, Slash and the rest of the posse would party on into the wee hours, Izzy would head back to his hotel room to get an early night. Either that or he would pack up his gear and move on immediately to the next city.
In November '91 Izzy Stradlin finally left Guns N' Roses. It was mainly his choice, though he also admits that his departure was very much fuelled by certain restrictions and ultimatums the rest of the band (Axl and Slash in particular) had given him. These amounted to: Play the game as we want you to play it, Izzy, or reconsider your position with the band. He reconsidered his position.
He must be getting awfully sick of talking about Guns N' Roses by now. "Well... I mean, I gotta leave some of it alone because there are still some unresolved issues with those guys. But it's natural, everybody's gonna wanna know what happened."
Naturally everybody's going to want to know; Izzy's departure saddened some, angered others and was as newsworthy as Ozzy leaving Sabbath, Blackmore dissolving Deep Purple, or Kylie leaving Neighbours. When asked recently in American Rolling Stone magazine why Izzy left, Axl said: "To got a clear answer, you'd have to ask Izzy. My personal belief is that Izzy never really wanted something this big."
Axl also made it clear that both he and Slash were surprised he left, but more telling is the fact that they were angered by his exodus. Obviously Izzy was a valued member of the band and perhaps the reason Axl and Slash seem to be talking to the press at the moment is because Izzy has his band happening, including a world tour. Are they worried, now that Izzy is talking to the press, that their stories won't match up? If they are they needn't worry too much; Izzy's not about to say anything too drastic.
"Just over a period of time," says Izzy in a slow, lazy drawl, "it became obvious to me that I needed to change something in my life. Me leaving the band was the change I needed. It was a big step, but man, it was for the better. Now that I can look back on it, being in Guns N' Roses was complete insanity. Don't get me wrong, there were some great times I had with that band. We had some good gigs and t think some of our songs were okay... I really liked being in G'N'R when you could go grab a beer in some bar after a show and hang out with the guys without being swamped by a thousand 'new friends', you know?
"Towards the end we had to send our runners and security guys to go get our beers while we were barricaded in some hotel room, and that ain't living, it's not a whole lotta fun. I think these days Axl even has somebody to open the beer can for him. I don't know, I'm joking of course, but it got a lot like that. Those guys, especially Slash and Axl, are being protected from the outside world now. Even if they wanted, the powers controlling the band wouldn't allow them to go grab a beer in a local bar."
Izzy in no way resents Axl or Slash for his treatment at the end of his G N' R days. He is, however, a little disappointed that Axl should write off his 'solo' work with Ju Ju Hounds as "Izzy doing his Keith Richards thing".
"Axl only seems to say bad shit about me," Izzy retorts. "I don't know why he does. Maybe he was Just having a bad day. I haven't seen or heard from those guys in a while. I spoke with Slash in New York not so long ago. We talked for like two hours and it was great."
How do you feel now, a year after you left Guns N' Roses?
"I feel great, man. All the pieces fit and everybody's right Into It. I've got some real good people working with me and I've gotten letters from fans saying stuff like, 'Wow, man, what are you doin'? I can't believe you left the band.' There have been some really good, supportive letters.' The pressure's off, there's no time to lose. Not only is the G'N'R pressure off, but his drug and alcohol dependency is well and truly a thing of the past. He's been clean for three years now, but still doesn't fully trust his wilful demeanor. He seems to shudder when he tells me how he used to get up in the morning and the first thing he would reach for would be a bottle of Scotch.
Perhaps Guns N' Roses back then could've been described as the last of the Sex, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll bands. Chemical dependency within the ranks got to such a feverish pitch that Axl felt it necessary to publicly humiliate certain members of the band for their continued abuse of heroin. Izzy wasn't exempt. He was abusing cocaine, heroin and alcohol like tomorrow was a thing only bank tellers woke up to.
"It got to the point where it was just fuckin' me up. Kicking it all was a slow process, it didn't just happen overnight. Rather than kicking smack medically I chose to go cold turkey - and roan, that's a hard thing to go through. It took a month or more and, like they say, it's a day to day thing. I can't say, 'Okay, I'm not gonna do that again.' It took weeks before I could stay straight for more than a few days. First it was a month, then two months and then it got a little easier, but it's an ongoing thing where you gotta remind yourself how tucked you felt before.
"The thing is, dependency didn't slow my output but it sure affected what was comin' out, mast Even when I was tucked up beyond belief I was writing lots of music, but now when I go back and listen to it I go, 'Oh man, that's dark, that's black, that's grim!' A lot of it I just can't listen to now. It was a state of mind I was in and I don't wanna be reminded of it."
It would be difficult, however, not to be reminded of that state of mind Izzy speaks of when it was largely the product of your last job, which lust happens to have been with one of the world's biggest and most publicised rock'n'roll bands. "They're on the TV all the time, man! There's no gettin' around that one. It's a weird thing, it's like, 'Wow man, I used to bo in that band.' Then I think to myself, 'Gee, I'm glad I'm not at that riot any more.'"
So 'that riot' has subsided and Izzy still has to field questions about it. What Izzy loves talking about most, though. is his new band, Ju Ju Hounds, which, as he proudly says, came together very naturally. The band's formation was as uncontrived as the music it delivers; pure rock'n'roll with traces of punk and, funnily enough, reggae. Already the band has released an EP, Pressure Drop, and en album called Ju Ju Hounds is to be released in Australia very soon to coincide with a club tour.
Almost immediately after he lett Guns N' Roses, Izzy packed up his guitar and turned to his non rock'n'roll passion; trials, or endurance motorcycle riding. He involved himself in a semi-professional circuit which pretty much took him around the United States. He also started surfing again and for about a week seriously considered relocating to an island so he could just surf and ride bikes. "I didn't play any music for like a whole month until I tripped over my guitar and thought, 'Shit man, this is what I like to do, this is where it all started'."
Ju Ju Hounds began materialising when Izzy hooked up with longtime friend and bass player Jimmy Ashurst, formerly of Broken Homes. Basic demos were recorded once they'd found drummer Charlie Quintana. Izzy, however, wanted another straight rock'n'roll guitarist to bounce off and so Ashurst suggested Rick Richards, formerly of the Georgia Satellites. "I'd always been a fan of his work,' says Izzy, "and it's a real gas playing with him now. He's such a great player.
"Rick and I both have this instinct for the two guitar thing - more than anyone else I've ever played with [are you reading this, Slash? J-Ed]. It's one of those things that either works or it doesn't. With Rick it does, and I knew that in the first 10 minutes I played with him."
One of the many pluses to came out of life with GN' R was that Izzy got to meet his rock'n'roll idols, the Rolling Stones. As a result ho's new friends with both Keith Richards and Ron Wood - indeed, there Is a Ron Wood-penned track on the album called Take A Look At That Guy.
"Oh, man... that was the biggest kick of all, working with Ronnie. We sing a duet on that song and people have said that they can't tell the difference between our voices. We both played slide guitar on the solo pan too. Man, I've been a big fan of the Stones since way back... It was just the most exciting thing in the world to play with him. We tracked that song completely live. He was into it, we were into it and that's just the way it should be. Ronnie's about to do a solo tour and he asked us if we would support him, so that's on the cards."
So does Izzy still see himself as a fan?
"Oh sure! Even with G'N'R I always telt that we were just another band and we just happened to sell a bunch of records. That's cool, but the whole reason G'N'R started was because of other bands like the Stones, The Ramones, the Sex Pistols and so on. If I hadn't heard all of that I'd probably be a filing clerk in Indiana some place. I never listen to G'N'R music. I always listen to other people's records."
Now the guy who was once described as the Gunner who wised up is out front, singing and playing guitar in his own band. than That's some transition, and it's a transition Izzy neck is euphoric about.
"Even with G'N'R I'd chose to sing two or three songs a night, that's when there wasn't an hour of drum or guitar solos. Ju Ju Hounds is a lot more fun because I like singing and I'm singing 15 songs with the band."
One thing is made startlingly obvious by the self-titled album - Izzy still knows how to rock. He's a natural and he's written and recorded one of the most refreshingly unpretentious rock'n'roll albums since, perhaps, very early Guns N' Roses. And for the first time in possibly hall a decade, Izzy Stradlin can play his songs where he feels they should be played - in clubs and pubs. I can't wait man. Playing in clubs was where the real excitement of playing came from in the beginning. That's where it all started and you can't afford to forget that. Big stadium gigs can be good, but if the band isn't working as a band it's a real drag. And that's what was happening for me towards the end of my time with GN'R - it just wasn't working. Man, I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying starting all over again. This is where it's at, man."