IZZY RECOUNTS HIS EXPERIENCES WITH GUNS N' ROSES
BY CESAR MARTIN & J.M. VIDAL BUCHS (interview portion)
POPULAR 1 MAGAZINE; NOVEMBER 1992
Translated by me
Thanks to Margalida for helping out
Photos by: George Chin & Cesar Martin
Exactly one year ago, on November 1st, 1991, we relayed the news that Izzy Stradlin left Guns N’ Roses. Despite knowing the problems that existed between Izzy and the rest of the group, the information took us all by surprise. They had just released two “Use Your Illusion” albums and Izzy wrote some of the best songs, who could’ve imagined that he would choose that exact moment to leave the band? The future was full of questions, both for GN’R and for Stradlin. It was hard to imagine Guns without Izzy covering the rear, and many of us found it difficult to imagine the idea of him contemplating facing a solo career with all that is implied (to speak with the press, to lead a band, etc.). After 12 months, everything is clear with respect to Izzy: He did what he had to do, form a good rock n’ roll band, and jumped on the road; and with regard to Guns N’ Roses, the situation is still as confusing as ever, according to the latest news, Axl wasn’t satisfied with the band’s last tour and plans to leave the music world to become an actor.
If you analyze the Guns N’ Roses phenomenon, you’ll find that they haven’t reached that legendary status just for musical reasons. The attitude played a decisive role. But most importantly, what made them so special, was the union (or the clash) of five different personalities. The schizophrenic and the bad temper of our beloved W.A.R, the innocence of the endearing Steven Adler (known for many years as the David Lee Roth of the group), the punk attitude of Duff, the decadent image of Slash, the Richards and Perry of our day, with his hair always covering his face and a bottle of jack in tow, and to complete the picture, the invisible member, Izzy Stradlin, the only Gunner that never gave interviews and lately he didn’t even travel with the band on the tours. Together they formed a Molotov Cocktail. But you know, nothing is eternal, and the success, the pressures of the industry, the drugs and the personal egos ended up ruining this union. First fell Steven, and later it was Izzy who threw in the towel. The thing with Steven was inevitable, his addiction with drugs had made him too heavy of a burden for the group and to continue with him, GNR wouldn’t have been able to finish those records nor would they have been able to do a world tour; It wasn’t for nothing since Steven is still a drug addict at the moment and he was recently fired from Road Crew, a band that he formed with Davy Vain, and now it is simply called Vain.
With Izzy, everything was very different. In his case, things could’ve been fixed. Axl and Slash should have treated him more tactfully and let him work at his own pace. Izzy didn’t want to deal with the pressures of a superband: he hated to make videos, he didn’t want to travel on the band’s plane, etc. and that infuriated his bandmates. In my opinion, they should’ve given him more freedom, as the Beach Boys did with Brian Wilson, because after all, the important thing was that Izzy wrote material and performed with the band, everything else had a secondary value. Who cares if he didn’t appear for the clip of “Don’t Cry” if later he can be seen singing “Dust N’ Bones” and “14 Years” live? Unfortunately, Axl and Slash insisted that Izzy should become more involved with the group’s motions and that ruined everything. Slash was furious when he organized the first rehearsal with the wind section that would accompany them on the second half of the tour and Stradlin didn’t appear. And the same thing happened to Axl when his old friend from Indiana didn’t show for the filming of the “Don’t Cry” video and the final segment of “You Could Be Mine”. Izzy, on the other hand, felt hurt because it seemed like all of a sudden he didn’t have a voice or vote within the group, the “big decisions” (money and creative control) were always decided upon without consulting him. He wasn’t very satisfied with the production of “Use Your Illusion”, nor with the complexity of some of the new themes (“Coma” in particular) and what tormented him the most was Axl’s attitude at concerts; Izzy couldn’t stand that the shows started three hours late and that on occasion they would only stay 15 or 30 minutes onstage because of the singer’s hysterical outbursts. He tried more than once to propose to Slash that they should rehearse instrumental songs so they could continue playing on stage if Axl decided to disappear and leave 30,000 people hanging, but his idea never happened.
The separation, according to what was learned later, was more turbulent than what was said at the beginning. When they were preparing the kick-off of the second half of the tour, Axl and Slash explained to Izzy what his new position would be in the band (the rules that he had to follow, the commitments that he had to follow) and that very night the guitarist made the decision to leave Guns N’ Roses. Later he had a conversation on the telephone with Axl that lasted four long hours and in which the vocalist tried to convince him to reconsider his position. Apparently, they didn’t agree and opted to part amicably. However (and here comes the ugliest part of the story), according to Slash’s version, Izzy spoke bad about him and Axl behind their backs, and he told Duff and Matt Sorum that he was fired from the band and that they didn’t give him an opportunity to defend himself. And afterwards he immediately met with the band’s lawyers to try and find out aboutGN’R’s financial situation. Finally (also according to Slash’s version) Izzy met with Axl one day, he addressed him without knowing he was aware of all of his movements, and told him to go to hell.
The funny thing is that Axl seems to have another version, more sentimental, of the separation. According to the singer, they both maintained that famous four-hour conversation, they definitely didn’t get to the separation, and days later, while he was doing a photo shoot with his girlfriend Stephanie Seymour for an interview in May of this year, they communicated by phone that Izzy announced his definitive departure, and that he couldn’t prevent releasing a couple of tears during the session (!!!). Izzy instead says that everything ended with the phone call. In any case, what is clear is that allowing Izzy to escape was not a very smart move. Recently, a journalist reproached Axl about it. He casually rubbed it in Axl’s face that Guns N’ Roses was only a few steps away from becoming something similar to Steely Dan (and he’s right, the day that Duff leaves, the feel of the band will be lost). The singer went off on a tangent declaring that he and Slash are big fans of Steely Dan.
Izzy’s replacement for the tour, apparently wasn’t a big problem. They recruited yet another damn mercenary and went on with him. But judging from his latest statements, Axl doesn’t seem to have been able to get over the loss of his former colleague, which is logical if we consider all the things that they experienced in the past. The anecdotes can be counted by the dozens: Izzy was the one who consoled Axl when the idiots of Lafayette would call him “ladylike” (there's a rumor that he tattooed his arms so that no one would ever confuse him for a girl again), Izzy was also a guinea pig with him at UCLA (They were paid 8 dollars to smoke cigarettes nonstop for an hour, while the students observed the effect that tobacco had on their bodies). Those things theoretically unite people. What experiences has Axl shared with people such as Dizzy Reed, Gilby Clarke, or Matt Sorum? For that reason, it’s difficult to understand why the vocalist took his tyranny to the breaking point. Although you have to thank Axl for his remarks that caused Izzy to go solo. Specifically, he said that with the separation the world had probably landed another good band and that he had the same desires as anyone to hear what Izzy would do with his new band.
Rock N’ Roll, Pure and Simple
There are some statements made by Mike Patton that can help us understand Izzy’s decision to leave Guns. Shortly before Faith No More withdrew from the American tour with Metallica and Guns N’ Roses, they commented: “The good thing about this tour is that in the end we’re able to collect our things and leave. The other two bands will have to live with it”. Izzy simply didn’t want to “live with it”, he was fed up with big stadiums, hysterical fans, limousines, absurd controversies… he was only interested in playing Rock N’ Roll, and that’s what he’s going to do now. While Guns continue to accumulate scandals (this time Axl almost fought Kurt Cobain at the MTV Awards Ceremony), he limits himself to touring clubs with his band. In his new adventure, he is accompanied by Alan Niven (the GNR manager that was fired for no reason by Axl mid-’91) and an excellent band composed of ex-Broken Homes Jimmy Ashhurst, the veteran drummer Chalo Quintana, and one of the leaders of the missed Georgia Satellites: Rick Richards.
To present his first solo releases (the EP “Pressure Drop” and the LP “Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds”), Izzy performed in a small club in London, the Mean Fiddler, and the next morning, in his hotel room, he finally gave us the ‘view we’ve been pursuing for years (by the way, this is the third time a member of GNRspoke with Popular 1: in ’88 Ray Bonici interviewed Axl for the magazine, and in June of the same year, as you’ll remember, we published an interview with Slash). This opportunity is historic, if he didn’t leave Guns N’ Roses, we never would have been able to interview him. Apparently, Izzy never wanted to talk with the press while he was a member of GNR because he wasn’t very clear about the future of the band and preferred not to compromise anything by announcing things that were later changed by Axl at the last minute. Now on the contrary, he carries the helm and can speak without fear of making a mistake. It’s strange, so many years we hoped to talk to him, and now not only is he answering our questions, but he’s also posing for our cameras without a care in the world. It was insane. We presented ourselves with a questionnaire of more than 50 questions and I was hoping to use up two entire camera chargers. In the end, the question was halfway finished and I had to settle for four or five photos, but it was worth it. The concert was as intense as we expected. To give you an idea, it was like a cross between the unforgettable performance offered by Johnny Thunders at the Studio 54 in Barcelona in the late 80’s and a show by Keith Richards and his X-Pensive Winos. Classic rock n’ roll, reggae, hard rock, and some blues. Before the show we tried to imagine what Guns N’ Roses songs he’d play. JMa betted on “Think About You” (?), I would’ve settled for “Dust N’ Bones”. But no, Izzy preferred to stay with all of usand not play a single GNR chord. The catalog was based on his new songs (almost all the LP and the EP) and versions such as the New York Dolls’ “Pills” or the legendary Surfaris’ “Wipe Out”. Neither did I get it right with Rick Richards. I was certain that Izzy would let Rick make us, the handful of fans who haven’t yet forgotten the Georgia Satellites, happy and would play “All Over the Cryin’” or “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, although I’m not going to complain, it was Rick who sang their version of “Pills”!
Izzy, of course, barely spoke during the show. He prefers to concentrate on his guitar and lose sight of the world. The best part, in my opinion, was the accelerated, Clash-style version of Toots and Maytals’ “Pressure Drop”, and that even allowed some guys in the front row to start moshing, one of them knocked over Izzy’s microphone. And the only time that the level went down a bit was when he hit us with the reggae “Can’t Hear ‘Em” (I’m sorry but I fucking hate reggae, despite the fact that it was more bearable out of Izzy’s mouth). By the way, Izzy’s recent passion for the Rasta Brothers is starting to become worrisome, in every interview he talks about it, and while we were taking photos in the hotel, he put on the soundtrack of “The Harder They Come” as background music, a movie starring Jimmy Cliff. I have nothing against people who listen to reggae, but I would have liked to see Izzy obsessed with country or the blues. In short, putting these small considerations aside, the concert was extraordinary. I’ll leave you with JMa. and the interview. Enjoy.
Izzy recounts his experiences with Guns N’ Roses
White House Hotel, Albany St. Regent’s Park, London. The most rock and roll-y representation of the Popu*, a few meters from room 695, where the man who said “enough” to Axl Rose is staying at the British capital. We impatiently wait our turn, and finally we see before us: Izzy Stradlin, in what is one of the most important moments of our career in this magazine.
After giving him the latest issue of Popu (n. 228), Izzy surprises us by telling us that the language he understands other than English is Spanish…
“I studied Spanish in Indiana, in high school; also, in Los Angeles many speak Spanish, I’ve lived there for seven years and I often hear the language.”
“Do you know any Spanish?”
“Mi… Paquito… comprende, you know what I mean?”
Very good, I think to myself, I’ll not use Spanish in this interview. Izzy, we want to congratulate you for your concert last night, a very good combination of punk and reggae…
Thank you very much.
At the end, you said, “See you next month”. Will you perform in London in a month?
“Yes. We start the European tour in a month.”
Will you come to Spain? There’s many people waiting to see you there.
Yeah, I really want to go. Really, the tour should’ve started in Spain, then go up Europe through Spain, then Germany… I never played in Spain (with Guns, it’s understood), although I have been to Ibiza a few times, in Formentera… but I never played there, I was just on vacation.
My first question is, do you think that Guns N’ Roses should do the same music that you are doing?
Everyone in the band should decide what will be done. I mean, I prefer this kind of music, what I did the other night, obviously. For me, it’s simple rock n’ roll, nothing complicated, without too many chords, just a few.
It’s basic rock n’ roll.
Why was there a little time elapsed between the release of your EP “Pressure Drop” and the album “Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds”?
What happened was when we were making the record, we recorded 22 or 23 songs for the album, we used 10 for the record, so 12 were left out. I was talking with Alan (Niven), my manager, and I told him that we would like to go out and play for a little while, he stayed there for a few minutes and asked me why don’t we do an EP with four songs to start with, and I told him “Go ahead!” We started to record the album in February, and by March and April we already had material and I wanted to go out and play somewhere.
Do you have enough songs to tour on?
And if not, you can always count on versions like “Wipe Out”, which you finished yesterday’s concert with.
Yeah, “Wipe Out” was yesterday’s best song to me.
Because as soon as we started to play it, I saw all the hands raised, everyone knows that song.
The Surfaris still work…
A few weeks ago, you said, “when I was in the Bee Gees, umm, I mean Guns N’ Roses…” That comment appeared in Rock and Folk. Was that a joke?
We were talking about Guns, and what I really meant is that I’m happy that I was in Guns N’ Roses and not in the Bee Gees. That’s how it really was. I wanted to say that I came from a rock n’ roll band and nowhere else.
At the beginning of Guns, you were the leader of the group. Did you find it difficult to find places to perform?
I never was the leader, in fact. I was the member that gave balance, so I didn’t take care of it, for me that felt better.
You played the drums in Indiana. Do you still play them? Who plays the drums in “Ju Ju Hounds”?
I keep playing the drums, I still like them. I don’t play them on the record, I played a little at first, but Charlie (Quintana, Izzy’s drummer) came to the studio and told me that I was doing a terrible job. (laughs)
Clearly, he’s a professional drummer.
Yeah, clearly. He is the one that recorded the drums.
For a while you and Axl practiced in the garage of your house in Lafayette, Indiana. Can you tell me what songs you played?
We did covers of Angel City, one of the Ramones, and we tried to make covers of Aerosmith, but we never got to do it.
I was a drummer, for me it was easy, but the guitarist that we had at the time, was more into Led Zeppelin and Rush. Axl and I, we preferred to play Ramones or Angel City stuff, hard rock stuff, but with a different vocal style.
Do you remember the time in Huntington Beach?
Yeah, I had an apartment, I lived there for… mmmm… for a while, I can’t remember how long… but it was the first time that I saw Axl on the West Coast. It was the place we moved to in the beginning.
What do you remember about the Troubadour, the first club that you played at?
The Troubadour is in the center of Los Angeles. I was in a punk band. I arrived in Los Angeles on a Sunday and by Wednesday I was already in that group. I had just arrived from Indiana, and I had no idea what was going on (laughs); for four nights I rehearsed with them, I had a car, a Chevrolet Impala and that’s why I became the roadie, and in my car, rode all the equipment, drums, instruments, it was a very big car. We arrived at the Troubadour, there was a punk concert; at that time in Los Angeles, people wore Cherokee haircuts (note: mohawks), I, on the other hand, had waist-length hair, I came from Indiana (laughs), and the guys from my band came out of the dressing room like women, so I said to them “What is this about!” (laughs) No one told me anything! We could only do six or seven songs, people from the audience got up on stage, hit the singer and broke the guitarist’s hand, they destroyed the equipment and I said, “We’re leaving!” The police arrived. It was quite exciting, it was one of those things that makes you say “Uaauhh, so that is what happened!”.
A good memory.
Your first concert as Guns N’ Roses took place on March 16, 1987 at the Whiskey a Go-Go, with “What’s That Noise?”, by the SOD as the introduction theme before you appeared…
Yes. Who made that song?
The Stormstroopers of Death (S.O.D)
Right. Are they still called that?
I don’t know. Scott Ian was in the group and they had an album called “Speak English or Die”.
Right, right. Axl chose that song, he went buzzz, buzzzz; and everyone in the room wondered “What’s that noise?” (What’s That Noise?).
Do you remember if there was any audience in the Whisky a Go-Go? Did anyone go see you that first time?
I remember having some good concerts at the Whisky, at the Roxy… but I don’t remember most of the concerts, I drank too much (laughs), I forget everything. But I do remember that theme, and when it started, everyone wondered what it was…
What about Vicky Hamilton? We know a little about her, she was your manager…
The police were after Axl and Slash. We returned from the studio to a kind of house without neighbors. We lived in the hallway together with two or three other bands. The police had told us that they were going to beat the shit out of us when they got ahold of us. So, we went home, it didn’t have a door, and we told a friend of ours, Robert John, photographer, that had a big Cadillac, “Robert, you’re our roadie now” (laughs). We loaded the equipment in the car and we left that place in an hour. And Vicky Hamilton offered to help us.
Was it difficult to deal with her?
We never signed any contract, she got places to hire us to perform, in the Roxy and other places like that. She was doing things for us and we were going to work for her. Some of the things she said she would do never happened, so we just stopped working for her. She ended up suing us.
It was said that it was for a million dollars.
In the end, it wasn’t that much. She took thirty or forty grand, I don’t remember. I remember the moment she sued us, I asked myself “Why are you suing us?” I couldn’t believe it. America is like that, lots of people sue each other, it’s horrible, man. In Amsterdam, the other day, I saw how a boy on a bike was hit by a motorcyclist, the cyclist got up and when the biker asked how he was doing, the boy told him that he was fine and not to worry. End of story. In America, the biker would’ve began to rant: “Man, I’m going to notify my lawyer, oh! I can’t walk, fuck, my neck hurts, fuck, shit.”
Yes, it’s pathetic.
They’ve said things about you like you were selling drugs in Los Angeles, is what they say true?
No, I never sold drugs, yes, I did take drugs for a long time, but I never sold drugs. What I did was sell things that belonged to me to get drugs.
Without money, you used to party and you had many women. How was that possible?
They bought us the drugs (laughs). We all lived in a small room together. Stevie (Adler) appeared with a woman, and when he said that she had an apartment... we all went to live with her. That kind of thing, y’know.
How did you meet Tracii Guns?
I met him in Los Angeles, I don’t remember exactly what happened… I lived with Axl, they threw us out of where we lived and Tracii Guns came to my house one day and told me “Hey, if you want to come and live at my house…” He lived with his mom, in a small house in Fairfax, that’s a Jewish area in Los Angeles. I told myself, “I don’t even know this guy!” But I went to live with him for a couple of months and that’s how I met him, that’s how I met him in the beginning. I played with him in a band, too.
In the band Hollywood Rose.
Yeah, it was a short thing, I don’t know why.
I believe that he had an argument with Axl and he left.
Yeah, something like that…
Do you still drink Nightrain or Thunderbird (cheap wines from Los Angeles)?
No, haha. In fact, I don’t drink at all. I don’t drink alcohol. I had a really bad time. It wasn’t good. I was out of my head. Sometimes, I would get up and leave the house naked. I had enough.
Paul Stanley was going to produce “Appetite for Destruction” and even intended to rewrite some songs…
Yes, he wanted to rewrite “Paradise City” or “Jungle”. We were driving back from Tijuana, and we brought back three or four bottles of Tequila, I don’t remember. We met him and he told us that he wanted to rewrite some songs, so (Izzy acted out the unmistakable gesture of someone who was drinking) we started to drink tequila and burp in front of him. Slash got to say something to the press. We didn’t let him produce anything. (laughs)
How did you feel when “Appetite” arrived at number one?
I was surprised, man. It was pretty exciting while we were on tour. We had been touring for six or seven months, and none of us had any kind of root. Nobody had apartments, nobody had a house. We didn’t even have a penny. David Geffen arrived one day and told us “Your record is number one. You are going to make a lot of money”. Someone said “Uaau!” Six more months passed. I was already tired after touring for 14 months, man. When we finished touring, I managed to get an apartment two days before the tour ended because we were already in Los Angeles with Aerosmith or someone else… When the tour ended everything was different. People who before, could care less about us, now came and said, “Hey guys, how are you doing?” It was kind of confusing, you came home and you asked “what changed? …of course, the album.” And the people when we went down the street, told us “how are you? Will you give me 10 bucks?” (laughs). One day, I met a guy who was doing something for MTV, I met him in a hotel; he told me he was in Ronnie Wood’s band. I told myself, “hey, everyone is my friend!” I was a big fan of Ronnie. I didn’t see that guy again for a week, he had given me his name, and that of his manager. One day, the guy showed up at my house, he got comfortable and drank all my whiskey, my vodka, and everything else. I received a phone call from the management company… and I told them that he was with me, I gave them his name… and the company told me “who’s that… never heard of the guy!” I came around at that moment… at that time I drank a lot and that made me lose my mind…
On one occasion, Rick Nielsen, from Cheap Trick, invited you to a party and it was said that you kicked him in the balls. Is this true?
Absolute shit. (laughs). That’s absolutely a lie. I saw Rick Nielsen about 19 days ago in Chicago, I always loved Cheap Trick, they are one of my favorite bands since I was a kid. No, that’s not true at all. It was something that appeared in the Rolling Stone magazine totally twisted and the rumor got bigger. When I saw him in Chicago, I was preparing the new album and I came up with a new song. He was also remixing their old album “Live at the Budokan”, what they were doing was taking songs from that concert, like “California Man”, “Southern Girls”, “Oh, Caroline”, “Auf wiedersehen” …, all of those good songs that they played then and remixed them. He played three of them for me and I was stunned, those songs that are ten, twenty years old and they sound as good as the first time they were made. They’re all good guys.
But was there a party?
Yes, a great party, the only thing that happened was that at the end of it, we all ended up face down on the road. That’s the only thing that happened. (laughs)
What happened with Vince Neil?
That asshole punched me in the dark (Izzy means that Neil punched him in the face when he was about to go on stage and the lights blinded him. The cause: a problem with the girlfriend of the Mötley Crüe’s singer). What happened, happened. Maybe one day we’ll meet again.
And you’ll hit him back.
I’ll ask him how he’s doing. (malicious laughter)
Despite your differences with Neil, are you a fan of Mötley Crüe?
No, I was never a fan of those guys.
You met Clint Eastwood on the set of “The Dead Pool”?
Oh! That was amazing. I was nervous. First, we were in a group, with Stevie, drugged up, totally hungover, early in the morning waiting in a cemetery and I told myself “What are we doing here?” A big black car appeared, two guys came out, which I guess must be Clint Eastwood’s managers or bodyguards or something like that; while we wondered if he liked our album or not, and what we were doing there… he approached us and simply told us “great album!” (laughs) and he left, it was really intense, shit.
He was intimidating.
Yes, he’s very tall, big.
Taller than you?
Yes, yes. Of course, you would imagine Clint Eastwood as you would imagine anyone killing people with a gun. He told us “great album”. When we left, I tried to imagine the scene of Eastwood listening to our album… “Come on, turn it up! “Welcome to the Jungle” … (laughs)
You spent 36 hours in a coma on a trip to Japan…
How do you know about that? (laughs). I slept a lot. That was a point where I drank a lot, I don’t remember anything about that flight, it’s strange. Next Monday, I’m going to find out what happened. I took 18 Valium before the flight, way too many, I slept all the way to Japan. I woke up and was in the waiting room. I guess that Slash told me we arrived. He helped me get off the plane. This Monday I’m going to Japan again.
Promotion and concerts?
What was it like to work in the studio with Guns? Did you appear with some idea and…?
Normally, I would bring in ideas and songs, before we rehearsed them, we played them directly and put them aside until Slash contributed his part. It took a long time, so I went with my bike to do motorcycle trials. Motorcycle trials are big in Spain, Jordi Taré…
Jordi Tarrés, champion of the world.
Yes, very big. I love watching those guys ride. I did trial in Indiana, but nothing like them, he’s in another class.
Dammit, they’re pushing up to finish. We can tell them that it’s the last question. Steven Adler says that he was forced to take drugs while in the group by Axl.
Lies. When I met him, he showed me some of the stuff he was taking. But I will say to end this is that Stevie is a great guy, I wish him the best. I’ve talked with him once in the last three or four months.
How did Axl try to convince you to stay in Guns N’ Roses? It’s said that he talked with you on the phone for four hours.
Let’s say that what he did say didn’t make any sense. (laughs). I didn’t understand what he wanted to get out, but, whatever it was, he didn’t accomplish anything.
So much for the interview. Next, Izzy puts in a Jimmy Cliff tape in a portable cassette radio that he had in his room, while César took care of the photos. At the end, he thanked us for the magazine. César took advantage of the last second to ask Izzy if he liked Elvis Presley.
No, honestly not that much.
We would have been talking to Izzy for hours. We said goodbye with a “See you in Spain, Izzy”.
J.M. VIDAL BUCHS
*Popu is the nickname for Popular 1 magazine.