THE MAN WHO QUIT GUNS N' ROSES
When IZZY STRADLIN' left The World's Most Dangerous Band, he quit the wrangling, quit the drugs, and quit LA. In Copenhagen recently to complete his first solo album, 'Ju Ju Hounds', Izzy spoke candidly and for the first time about his shock departure to PAUL ELLIOTT...
BY PAUL ELLIOTT
KERRANG! MAGAZINE ISSUE 408 - SEPT. 1992
The boy crossing the street outside Copenhagen's Webers Hotel, a Guns N' Roses patch on the back of his jacket, would barely recognize Izzy Stradlin' today.
Stradlin' sits on a low sofa in one of the hotel's simply furnished rooms. His hair, lighter and browner, is knotted into dreadlocks, his skin is lightly tanned.
Stradlin' looks healthy, happy and relaxed; happy to be out of Guns N' Roses. So what was it that finally made Izzy quit the biggest rock 'n' roll band in the world?
"I was sick of it," he sighs heavily, his voice lazy and dry, "just completely fed up with it. It didn't feel like it used to, something wasn't happening that used to happen for me.
"I took some time off after the Wembley Stadium gig in August 1991. All through October and the first half of November I was riding motorcycles back in Indiana (Izzy grew up in Lafayette, and has since returned to live there). I ride trials bikes, where you go over rocks and logs, obstacles. I did that for almost two months straight.
"In November I went back to LA, and there were some conditions and terms put to me which pretty much made the decision to quit the band real easy for me. I just thought, this is not acceptable - so that was it.
"Since then, I've talked to Slash once, about a week ago in New York, and, uh, the last time I saw Axl there were a lotta harsh words - from him - so I kinda left it alone. I called him once after that, we talked for about a half hour, so I'm kinda waiting for him to call me back to discuss the things that we haven't really resolved.
"There was so much going on, so much happening, and when you step out of something like that it still keeps moving, like a tornado. When I stepped back out of it I felt really relieved."
Axl Rose's image suddenly appears on the TV screen that flickers silently in a corner of the room. Izzy rises, a wry smile on his face, and switches the TV off.
"Wherever you go in the world, you're gonna see the band's videos or pictures," he shrugs, "so it's not like it's ever completely out of my mind. There was a point where I missed it for a while, so I just started writing again around December, putting this new thing together."
Izzy's new thing is a solo record titled 'Ju Ju Hounds', released in October, preceded by an EP, 'Pressure Drop', that's out in two weeks. He's also planning a European club tour with the band which cut most of the album and EP: guitarist Rick Richards (ex-Georgia Satellites), bassist Jimmy Ashhurst (ex-Broken Homes) and drummer Charlie Quintana.
Izzy talks in depth about those records and his new band in next week's Kerrang!, but first there are questions to be answered about the old band. For example: do you feel you were pushed?
"Yeah," he nods, "somewhat. I don't want to get into it too deep; a lot of it's personal stuff. I don't wanna say anything that's already been said about me, you know what I mean? There's been a little shit talked from their side, but I just gotta plow it off and say, 'That's how it is with them, it's nothing new'.
"When I was told how the future was gonna be in the band, I thought about it for a long time that night, and when I woke up the next morning, I knew what I was gonna do that day. I decided to leave.
"I never really thought about leaving the band till the last tour we did. I didn't feel it was fair to a lot of the people coming to the gigs to go onstage two or three hours late. That's just not right. That's the way Axl is and the way he works, but it's not right for me, and I don't think it was right for the fans either. Stuff like that kinda got to me after four months on tour. There's a lotta pressure, I suppose, but the bottom line is, if you gotta be somewhere and there's something you gotta do, you do it. That's how I see it.
"When we were playing the gigs, a lotta times it was a case of, how long's it gonna be before Axl comes back onstage? It's a pretty big stage, and you're going, 'Anybody see which way he went?'. Then you see a bunch of roadies running... And the old filling-in with a blues jam and a drum solo shit get sold when it's on a nightly basis. It wasn't every night, but y'know...
"I don't wanna talk down on these guys because a lot of the stuff that we did as a band was great, some great music, and God knows we had a lot of fucking crazy times, good times. I'm really proud of some of the stuff we did. Now it's 1992, and who knows where it goes from here. I just had to say, 'I'm stepping aside at this point'."
Before quitting the band, Stradlin' expressed dissatisfaction with Guns N' Roses' much-delayed 'Use Your Illusion' albums. He even admitted that he couldn't remember how to play Slash's song 'Coma' because it had too many chord changes!
"It was crazy," the guitarist shakes his head. "The last record we did was too many songs for me to remember really. I had a hard time with 'Coma', it wasn't so much my style. Those albums I found very frustrating. I think there's some good songs on there, but the process was extremely, extremely slow. Again, that's the way Axl wants to do things.
"I like to get the stuff done and carry on. If you start picking everything apart, analyzing, it's pointless, a downward spiral - and next thing you know, months have gone by, or a year. It took us a long time to get those records out, I don't even remember how long."
The days began even before the recording of the 'Use Your Illusion' albums, when drummer Steven Adler was kicked out of the band.
"I took it pretty hard when Stevie was out of the band," Izzy's face tenses. "It was pretty upsetting, cos I was watching Stevie trying to get himself together, and it was kinda hard seeing somebody trying when they're not really ready for it. Weeks and months were going by, we were in that old dilemma; it had been two or three years and we didn't have a fucking album out, we gotta move.
"I actually spoke to Steve probably a month ago - against the advice of the legal system, the attorneys, all that fucking bullshit. That part of the business, that part of the band, is such a load of shit - it seems it fucks up so many good things. But I talked to Stevie; I'd heard he wasn't doing so well, and it was a trip talking to the guy, cos I hadn't talked to him for what must've been a year.
"He was a good-natured guy; I hope he can get it together. He was never malicious, he never tried to fuck people around, he was just happy playing his drums. In some ways he's a little naive, I guess.
"I just tried to offer a little support, y'know? I just talked to him for a little bit. He was a good drummer. He wasn't a virtuoso, a Neil Peart from Rush or something, but he's a fucking damn good rock drummer, he's a good guy, and he's funnier than shit on the road.
"I was always laughing when I was hanging out with Stevie. Some of the shit he'd pull, you'd just go, 'No fucking way'! One time we were in New York: I was rooming with Stevie and due to overbooking, we got a huge $500-a-night suite. We had this big room so we had a big party... and two days later we're still up!
"Stevie's a hairy guy, he's naked, his fucking eyes are red and swollen like goggles, and he's walking around when the maid comes in. The look on this lady's face, man - it just freaked the shit out of her, this fucking red-eyed ape guy!
"He was funny. I hope he gets it together. I told him to get a real job, clean himself up and start doing studio work or something.
"He was saying that he just really missed playing. All these lawsuits," Izzy groans, "it's just so fucking ugly, y'know? I guess it's inevitable..."
Izzy can empathize with Adler, having struggled to kick drug habits of his own.
"We left Hollywood as dirtbags," Izzy recalls, "the band that everyone was betting would crash 'n' burn the first week out. We were gone almost two years, and suddenly we were so popular in LA, everybody loved us, everybody had something they wanted to sell us. The drugs came easier, everything. Fuck, one day I was sitting in my apartment, fucked out of my head, and I go, 'Man, I gotta step back to some reality'.
"I think going back to Indiana woke me up from my haze, point blank. I was still drinking a lot, still getting twisted, but it helped me get away from the drugs and that sorta bullshit lifestyle; every night the clubs and the parties and the drugs, just pointless stuff. That shit got old.
"I managed to stop drinking and using drugs for a month or two, and you get all this anxiety, this energy, which you don't know what to do with. I put some of the energy into bikes, skateboarding..."
Izzy roots through a pile of magazines on the floor to pick up a stack of photographs of himself and his Swedish girlfriend Anneka on 'boards at a nearby skate ramp in Copenhagen, talking all the while as he leafs through the pictures.
"From January, the only thing I've really been doing is playing guitar. I put the bikes away because I found myself getting into music probably more than I ever have. I go through phases of playing guitar and riding motorcycles, like I went through phases of just snorting and smoking.
"The hardest thing about kicking coke is the fucking anxiety. It lasted for what seemed like an eternity. I remember two weeks when I didn't really sleep, and it takes months for your body to begin functioning naturally again. I had a harder time with coke than smack. I kicked smack but would keep starting up again, and the times I'd go cold turkey with no sort of medication; that's bad, but you can get through it. The coke I found to be more evil, a real fucker."
He chuckles: "I'll be getting strip-searched at Heathrow if you print this!
"Coke is more socially accepted than smack, but I haven't been around it for a long time. I haven't even been around any people using it, cos as soon as you stop using that stuff, you suddenly start looking differently at the people you hang out with.
"For years, I never knew any other way to live. I suppose when you're a kid you do, but as you start fucking around with that stuff, it seems normal. I feel better not using it; it fucks me up.
"There was a point in LA where I wouldn't go outside without a gun. I was carrying a pistol all the time, and eventually I think that works on you too. It's fucked, it's no way to live, and when I realized, I said, 'I gotta get out of here before it gets too fuckin' crazy'."
Guns N' Roses came close to breaking up in October of 1990.
From the stage of the LA Coliseum, where the band were supporting the Rolling Stones, Axl announced that GN'R were finished, prefacing 'Mr. Brownstone' with the suggestion that "certain people in the Guns N' Roses organization should get their shit together and quit dancing with this man". 'Mr. Brownstone' was Axl's piece on heroin addiction.
For Izzy, this was a time of mixed emotions.
"I got a call from Axl on the morning of the first Stones show. He said, 'I'm sorry, these gigs aren't gonna go, I quit!'. But we managed to get through 'em. That was a weird time for me. Playing to 50,000 people with the Stones is as good as it gets, but the Monday after the last show I had to be up at 8am to meet my new probation officer. That was after I got arrested on a plane.
"It's a federal offense if you fuck up on an airplane. I was outta my mind, there was a queue to the bathroom, and I was going, 'Well, I'm either gonna piss in my pants or piss on the fucking rug'! Everything was real quiet on the plane after that.
"I was happy I'd pissed, I was completely numb, drunk, and of course when we landed, the police were there. I was also carrying a nine-millimeter pistol, but when my bag finally got to LA it was gone.
"That probation officer was an okay guy, they're pretty fair people, but it made me realize that it doesn't matter how fucking big your band is, when it comes down to the legal system, you're just the same as anyone else."
Izzy Stradlin' got pretty fucked up in Guns N' Roses, but he's doing fine now.
In next week's issue, Izzy talks of Guns N' Roses' feud with Kerrang!and slams the band's infamous press-control contract. He also lifts the lid on his debut solo album and EP, and explains why he didn't want to join The Black Crowes. Read part two of this exclusive Izzy Stradlin' interview only in Kerrang!.