LIFE AFTER GUNS N' ROSES
With the release of his album, Izzy Stradlin finally breaks his silence
Nearly a year after his stormy departure from Guns N' Roses, Stradlin launches a new band and explains what went wrong with the old one.
BY DAVID FRICKE
ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE - OCT. 29, 1992
This summer, former Guns n' Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin finally saw his old band mates in concert for the first time since he left the group - on TV. Like many of his neighbors in Lafayette, Indiana, Stradlin coughed up twenty-five bucks to watch G n' R's live pay-per-view broadcast from Paris on June 6th. Looking back on it now, he's still not sure exactly what he saw.
"It was really bizarre, like an out-of-body experience," he says, a bit hesitantly, over coffee and cigarettes in a high-rise Chicago hotel room. "I didn't really recognize them all together. They had horn players and harmonicas and girl singers. Of course, I was Gilby for the night [a reference to his replacement, guitarist Gilby Clarke]. It was weird, you know?
"I was happy to see that they carried on without me," he continues. "That's all I would hope. Those guys . . ." Stradlin's voice trails off, and he gazes out the window, as if hoping to find the rest of the sentence written out for him on the choppy turquoise waters of Lake Michigan.
Actually, Stradlin confesses, he didn't watch the entire Paris broadcast. After it was over, "I put on some tapes of my new stuff," he says, "And it felt good."
Stradlin's debut solo album on Geffen Records, Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds, and the launching of his new group of the same name mark the end of the thirty-year-old guitarist's extended retreat from the music business - and the business of his old band in particular - following his stormy, highly publicized departure from Guns n' Roses in November 1991. He made no official statement of his own at the time, and he has maintained a conspicuous silence on the subject, even in the face of several impassioned public rebukes by singer Axl Rose.
Until now. Stradlin's return to action as a singer and bandleader with Ju Ju Hounds- an infectious, Seventies-flavored groove-fest that rocks like a three-way pile-up of Exile on Main Street, Aerosmith a la Rocks, and punked-up Desire-era Bob Dylan - has forced his hand. But when he does talk about his final months with Guns n' Roses and the showdown with Rose that precipitated his exit, Stradlin takes pains to do so in an honest but neutral manner that suggests he's long since wrung himself dry of anger and regret.
"I don't have any communication with them," he says matter-of-factly. "I don't know what they do anymore. About the most I know about them is when I watch CNN once in a while: 'Oh, shit, Axl got arrested again.'
"Still, I like to think that those guys are all my friends," he adds. "It's not like I never want to see them again. The channels are very much open."
As he tells it, though, his last days with the band were mostly full of static. Making the Illusion albums was no picnic. By Stradlin's count, Guns n' Roses rehearsed and recorded the material for the albums three times. During that three-year period, Stradlin kicked both drugs and alcohol, and he wrote or co-wrote many of the albums' best songs, including "Dust n' Bones" and the frenetic "Double Talkin' Jive." But as the Illusion sessions dragged on, Stradlin's friendship with Rose - which went back to their days as Jeff Isabelle and Bill Bailey, fellow teenage tearaways in Indiana - started to unravel.
"I tried talking to him," Stradlin says, "during the Illusion albums: 'If we had a schedule here, come in at a certain time. . . .' And he completely blew up at me: 'There is no fucking schedule.'
"There was one song on that record that I didn't even know was on it until it came out, 'My World' [the closing song on Illusion II, written and sung by Rose]," Stradlin continues. "I gave it a listen and thought, 'What the fuck is this?' "
Stradlin concedes that the growing estrangement was partly his own fault. "I had to let go of certain aspects of it," he says. "I didn't feel my opinions were really being taken seriously anymore." When Guns n' Roses finally hit the road in May 1991, Stradlin traveled between shows in a separate tour bus. He failed to show up for the shooting of the video for "Don't Cry", saying now that the million-dollar cost of the clip was a pointless indulgence: "I didn't have any say in it, and I didn't want to be in it."
Push finally came to shove in the fall after G n' R completed the first European leg of the tour. Stradlin says he confronted Rose and the band with some changes he felt had to be made "for the sake of the livelihood of the band." One of them was ending the chronic lateness of the shows. Stradlin even went so far as to propose that the responsible party should be fined. That was the last straw.
"It was really fucked that it even had to come into play, to base something like that on money," Stradlin grumbles. "But the reality was that it was bumming me out, to be waiting there because someone else is late. It's just not fair to the audience, to the other band members. And the crew! When you go on three hours late, that's three hours less sleep they get.
"I expressed my feeling to Axl," he continues, "and the very next night on MTV I saw that I was going to be replaced by the guy in Jane's Addiction. So I took that as an indication that I'd really pissed him off."
Stradlin insists that he never wanted to quit G n' R and pursue a solo career. "But Axl made it clear that he was going to do things his way, and there was no space for debate," he says. "So I had to make it clear to everybody that that was the end of the line for me." Two days before Thanksgiving, Guns n' Roses officially announced that Izzy Stradlin had left the group.
Stradlin promptly dropped out of sight. He spent a couple of therapeutic weeks on the road - driving to the Grand Canyon and surfing in the Florida Keys before settling back down in Lafayette. He eventually started writing songs and called on an old friend, bassist Jimmy Ashhurst of the late L.A. band Broken Homes, to help him form a band. Former Georgia Satellites guitarist Rick Richards and drummer Charlie "Chalo" Quintana, a member of Bob Dylan's road band, got the nod, and Ju Ju Hounds was finished in record time, at least compared to Stradlin's Illusion experience. The entire album was mixed in only fourteen days.
Ju Ju Hounds is not Use Your Illusion III or Appetite for Destruction Revisited. As a songwriter, Stradlin has backed off from the venomous paranoia of "Double Talkin' Jive," and his voice, a shaggy blend of nasal Dylan and mumbling Keith Richards, is a more modest beast than Rose's virtuoso wail. Yet the spunky garage-band verve - part saw-toothed Stones, part bulldozing Sex Pistols - is genuine and intoxicating. In the chorus of "Train Tracks," a greasy Mott the Hoople-ish rocker about Stradlin's teenage days in Indiana, when he'd smoke pot by the railroad tracks, you half-expect him to break into a bit of Keith Richards's "Happy".
For added authenticity, Stradlin even roped in a few of his heroes - including pianist Nicky Hopkins, Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood and ex-Faces organist Ian McLagan - to play on the record. "I wanted to try and get it to sound like some of my favorite albums," he says without apology. "Exile on Main Street is a staple of my diet. I've always had a copy hiding somewhere, wherever I would go." The possibility that some critics will suggest that Exile beats neo-Exile any day doesn't faze Stradlin at all.
"You expect the worst and hope for the best," he says, laughing. "With G n' R, we used to take a flogging all the time. There was always somebody hacking on what the band did. It got to the point where you'd go, 'So what?' You won't catch me yelling onstage about somebody who wrote a bad review. If they do, they do. That's life."
Stradlin's immediate plans call for him to hit the road with the Ju Ju Hounds. But aside from continuing negotiations over his financial settlement with G n' R, there is very little of the band in Stradlin's life now, although he did meet briefly with Slash over the summer. "I would have rather met with Axl," he admits. "But I guess Slash was 'designated diplomat.' He was as apprehensive as I felt, so it felt pretty good. Then the next thing I heard was on MTV in Europe: 'Izzy's forgiven, and he's doing a reggae album.' So I don't know what it actually accomplished."
Stradlin has only talked to Rose once since he quit G n' R, right before the band went back out on tour in December 1991 with Gilby Clarke. "I was kind of bumming'," he recalls. "It was a pretty harsh reality, sitting back in Indy. I called him up, said, 'Hey, you still pissed off?' 'No, I'm not pissed off.' Things were okay. But then time went by, and he got pissed off again.
"I just think of him as Axl, a guy I've known for a long time. I know the good and bad of him. Sometimes I really get worried that the authorities are going to get ahold of him and make it bad for him. I've been through the system a few times myself, and I came to the conclusion that - what's that old song? 'I fought the law and the law won.' With him, yeah, I do worry."
Izzy Quits Guns n' Roses
After weeks of indecision, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin has officially quit Guns n' Roses.
In a statement released by Geffen Records just after Thanksgiving, vocalist Axl Rose attributed the split to the fact that Stradlin and the band were "going in separate directions."
"He's not really into touring or video or anything like that," said Rose. "Slash and I are the ones figuring out the direction Guns n' Roses is going in, and Izzy's not really a part of that anymore.
"Izzy and I have been together for fifteen years," Rose added, "so it's kind of a shock to my system."
According to Rose, guitarist Gilby Clarke of Kill for Thrills, who often crossed paths with Guns n' Roses during their early days on the Hollywood club circuit, will replace Stradlin for the second leg of Guns n' Roses' tour, which was slated to resume on December 5th in Worcester, Massachusetts. Rose says that no decision has been made as to whether Clarke will record with the band. Noting that few rock bands remain intact with their original members, Rose said that Guns n' Roses is "evolving."
"We're happy where we're going," the singer said.