ROSES, RUMORS, AND RICHES
HOME TOWN BOYS CALLED ROCK SAVIORS
BY DAVE BANGERT
JOURNAL AND COURIER; MAY 26, 1991
Welcome home Lafayette's favorite rock 'n' roll prodigal sons.
Lafayette natives Bill Bailey and Jeff Isbell return to Indiana Tuesday and Wednesday night for two shows at the Deer Creek Music Center near Indianapolis.
If you don't know Bill Bailey or Jeff Isbell's names, chances are you weren't living here when they pummeled the Billboard charts with their debut album in 1988.
Try W. Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin - Bailey and Isbell - of Guns N' Roses on for size. Hardly the portraits of the All-American boys, the once fresh-faced boys shown in the 1978 Nautilus yearbook are being called the rock saviors in a world of chart-dominating dance and techno-pop music.
Far from the days at Jefferson High School, Rose and Stradlin roll in on the second stop of Guns N' Roses first-ever, guitar-crunching headlining tour.
With them, they'll drag the rumor baggage that's well rooted in the Lafayette community. What you believe is your own business.
After two years of controversy, two albums that hit the top five simultaneously, a lineup change and the praises of major music critics, Guns N' Roses is expected to stomp the summer concert competition into the dirt.
"This is as close as you're going to get to the REAL THING, capital letters. They're no blow-dry band," George Boes, owner of Track Records in West Lafayette, said. "They're loud, they're obnoxious and they sell out their shows."
Nick Judy, 24, of Lafayette, said: "There are a few bands I'd like to see more - maybe Pink Floyd - but they'd be in the top three. These guys are just something you've got to see."
The last time Guns N' Roses played this area was at Farm Aid IV, a 70-plus band extravaganza at the Hoosier Dome in April 1990. They didn't disappoint the rock 'n' roll crowd that sat patiently through a day of Willie Nelson and softer counry acts before the boys hit the stage that evening.
Serpentine at the microphone, lead singer Axl Rose swaggered across the Hoosier Dome stage like. heavy metal Marlboro man, with his battered cowboy hat, worn boots and torn jeans. The GN'R boys stampeded through an electrifying two-song set of unreleased material.
A trademark parting thank you complete with the f-word probably didn't stain the ears of the rockers screaming for more, but threatened to crrack Grecian Formula's control of Farm Aid simulcast host Dick Clark's hair.
So goes with Guns N' Roses. Greatnesses followed by controversy from America's mainstream.
Whether it's fights with neighbors, drug problems, threats of a breakup, questionble lyrics or urinating in an airplane, controversy and Guns N' Roses have been synonymous.
And whenever Axl and Izzy come to town - or even close - the rumors and sitings light up the switchboard at Lafayette radio stations.
Axl played with my band. I saw Axl driving a brown Mercedes convertible on the Harrison Bridge. Izzy's building a castle east of town. I saw Axl in a blazer near Jeff High School. I saw Axl and Izzy eating at Shoney's.
Well, did they pay? How well did they tip?
Want to know the truth? Good luck. After all of the bad press, Axl, Izzy and the rest of the band aren't talking.
So you wanna know about a rock 'n' roll star?
SPIN magazine, a strong supporter of Guns N' Roses in the past, chastised the band in its most recent edition for its tight interview policy. GN'R is asking the media to give the band the final say on every article and interview. THere's even a contract to enforce the policy.
Spin, refusing to buy into that, included a copy of the contract in a do-it-yourself Guns N' Roses interview kit for all of you willing to try.
As for Lafayette connections, Axl and Izzy's friends and family have either moved to L.A. or are keeping quiet, saying they respect the band's request for privacy.
"Axl's a great guy," Monica Gregory, owner of the Rock Vault, 514 Main St., said, "He's always been artistic and works hard for everything he's got. That's about all I'd like to say."
Some of the rumors are for the most part true.
Axl Rose spent an evening at Nick's in the Levee Plaza in 1989 and got up on stage with Ma Kelley, a regular band at Nick's.
"He was just at the club and I went up to him and asked him if he wanted to sing with us," Troy Seele, guitarist with Ma Kelley, said. "We played 'Mama Kin' by Aerosmith. He got up and sang and left. It was great."
That night, Axl Rose signed an autograph for Carolyn Potts Padget, the sister of Ma Kelley's lead singer, Terry Potts. Axl signed it to his "Little Sister."
"I was surprised he remembered me," Padget said. "We used to joke and he'd call me his little sister. He signed that in my yearbook. That was years ago. I don't know Axl Rose. I know Bill Bailey."
Padget said she remembers Bailey as someone who cared about her problems when she was a freshman in high school. Bailey was three years older. She would go to his grandmother's house behind the Frozen Custard and hang out with him, or he'd pick her up in his car and they'd drive.
"He talked about, 'I'm going to L.A. I'm going to make it,' " Padget said, "He always been a little bit of a rebel. He always said, 'I'm going to get out of here one day, all this small-town stuff.' You may not like what he does or what he stands for, but you have to admire his determination."
Padget said she hasn't followed Bailey's career and doesn't try to contact him.
"I'm sure he's got a lot of people who come up and say, 'Remember me? I was your best friend,' " she said. "There's a real soft spot in my heart for Bill."
Leave me alone
Axl Rose hasn't been too subtle when he talks about his hometown.
In a 1989 interview, he told Rolling Stone that he tries to lay low when he comes to visit his family.
"People I used to go to school with, people that used to hate my guts, want me to invest money in this and that. People say ... 'Axl thinks he's too cool to party with us.' But those people never wanted to party with me before," he said. "The people who are offended by this comment are the ones who should be."
He sent an acid letter to the Jefferson High School Class of '80 reunion committee after embers tried to contact him about a 10-year reunion. He told him he never was part of the class and that they should destroy his address.
Bailey dropped out during his junior year at Jeff High School.
He told Rolling Stone that he didn't want to 'read books, sing songs, draw pictures of things that didn't stimulate or excite me."
Gary Branson, Bailey's high school choir teacher, said he remembers Bailey wasn't really into classical choral arrangements, show tunes and pop-rock songs the class sang in sophomore Boys Ensemble.
"He was an interesting kid who wanted to write new songs on the piano instead of what we were trying to do," Branson said. "I only had him for one year, so I don't have any insights into what he's doing, except that he's rich."
Out ta get me
In the same Rolling Stone interview, Rose told about his hassles with Lafayette police. He said detectives on the force were out to get him. He said he had to leave before he faced serious jail time.
Police Chief Tom Leach said Rose was exaggerating.
"Lightweight all the way," Leach said. "We had some real heavyweights back in those days. To tell the truth, when I heard the name, I had to say, 'Bill who?'
"This is one of those times when we're going to tell you that someone wasn't so bad."
Bailey spent some time in the Tippecanoe County Jail, according to county records. He spent a combined 10 days in jail as an adult over a period from July 1980 to September 1982 on charges ranging from public intoxication to battery. He also was arrested four times as a juvenile.
Oh, won't you please take me home
Lafayette fascination with Guns N' Roses may not be all that far reaching.
"It's great that they're from here, this great rock 'n' roll band. But this is a very earthy community and most people just don't care," Boes said.
Just ask his grandfather, Sheldon Pershing.
Boes tells the story about he time his grandfather - a pillar of the community, former county agent and farmer - sold his country home to Izzy Stradlin, rhythm guitarist in one of rock's hardest crunching bands.
The house on County Road 200 North, near 400 East, was built in 1847 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Greek or Federal Revival style home was built by Henry Ely, one of the original settlers of Fairfield Township.
Boes said his grandfather and grandmother, Geneve Pershing, needed to sell it in 1989, but his family got nervous when they found out who the perspective buyer was.
"My family thinks the house is a family jewel," Boes said. "My mom called and asked, 'What's a Guns and Roses?' My dad asked whether we should sell. I said, 'Does he have cash?' "
At the closing, Izzy Stradlin came into the Stallard & Schuh offices in downtown Lafayette and sat across from Sheldon Pershing.
"Here he came with this fat, his face was gaunt and pale. He had the dangly earrings, a diamond in his nose," Boes said. "To you and I, your basic rock situation. But to grandpa, it looked like he just landed."
After the deeds were signed, Pershing turned to Stradlin and said, "You ought to get something to eat. Now that you've got that house, get out and walk along that road, go fishing out back, get some sun."
Boes said, "He meant it. He just didn't think he looked well."
Tippecanoe County Sheriff Dave Heath said there has been a burglary at the house - a guitar and stereo equipment were stolen and later recovered. Other than gunshots one night - "That made the neighbors a little nervous" - Heath said everything's been quiet at the house.
"He's a great neighbor," Boes, whose parents live about a quarter-mile away, said, "He's never around."