Guns N’ Roses might as well have been called Cannons N’ Ashes. The band hit radio and MTV so hard with their debut album, Appetite for Destruction, it was as though they had been shot out of a cannon. Decades later, when G N’ R seemed to be done for good, they found a way to rise from the ashes. In this Throwback Threesome, we’re looking back at the group once called “the most dangerous band in the world.”
L.A. Guns + Hollywood Rose = Guns N’ Roses
The name Guns N’ Roses was a combination of two other band names. Lead singer Axl Rose and rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin founded a band with guitarist Chris Weber called Hollywood Rose in 1983. Rick Mars, Johnny Kreis, Steve Darrow and Andre Troxx played with them during live shows. Hollywood Rose recorded a five-song demo in 1984. However, after a number of lineup changes, which included Weber and Kreis being replaced by future G N’ R members Slash and Steven Adler, as well the departure of Stradlin, the group disbanded the same year.
Hollywood Rose reunited for a New Year’s Eve gig in 1985. Axl Rose, Izzy Stradlin, and Steve Darrow returned, but L.A. Guns founder Tracii Guns replaced Steve Weber. Former L.A. Guns drummer Rob Gardner also joined them for the reunion show. In March 1985, Hollywood Rose merged with L.A. Guns to become Guns N’ Roses. But that lineup didn’t last long.
Just two months later, Guns, Gardner, and bass player Ole Beich left Guns N’ Roses. Tracii Guns, who re-formed L.A. Guns with new personnel, was replaced by Slash. Gardner and Beich were replaced by drummer Steven Adler and bassist Duff McKagan respectively, forming the iconic lineup of Guns N’ Roses. The Hollywood Rose legacy did live on, however, as a number of their songs were included on some of G N’ R’s albums.
Appetite For Self-Destruction
The new lineup rehearsed and toured relentlessly. Guns N’ Roses caught the attention of several major record labels and signed with Geffen Records in March 1986. The band withdrew from their club gigs and went into the studio to record their debut masterpiece, Appetite for Destruction. Released in 1987, “Welcome to the Jungle” was the album’s first U.S. single and had an accompanying music video. It’s hard to believe now but David Geffen had to personally convince MTV to begin airing it. Once they did, the audience response was immediate.
Guns N’ Roses toured extensively for 16 months in support of Appetite for Destruction, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Subsequent albums G N’ R Lies, Use Your Illusion I, and Use Your Illusion II also sold well, despite the inner turmoil that was tearing the group apart. With sky-high success came incidents of violence, substance abuse, and other controversies which, as Rolling Stone documented, began before Guns N’ Roses had recorded anything. They had become their own worst enemies. By 1991, both Steven Adler and Izzy Stradlin were gone. The band’s next release, 1993’s The Spaghetti Incident?, was their worst-selling studio album. It was composed entirely of covers of older punk and glam rock songs.
Is This The End?
Following the disappointment of The Spaghetti Incident?, the band entered a period of frequent lineup changes and sporadic activity. Talk of another album surfaced in 1994, but Slash left in 1996 after years of tension with Axl Rose. Duff McKagan become a father and decided to resign from the band in 1997. With Rose as the only original member left, many fans wondered if that was it for the group and it certainly seemed that way. Finally, in 2008, Guns N’ Roses release its sixth studio album, Chinese Democracy.
Despite debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, and being certified platinum, Chinese Democracy did not meet U.S. sales expectations. G N’ R wasn’t its old self. Over the next several years, Axl Rose toured as Guns N’ Roses with a revolving cast of musicians. Duff McKagan played on a few gigs and showed up for the band’s induction ceremony into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, as did Slash and Steven Adler. Axl did not. Then, a genuine rock & roll miracle occurred. In 2016, it was announced that Slash and McKagan were rejoining the group on the Not in This Lifetime… Tour.
In 2020, Guns N’ Roses announced the We’re F’N’ Back! Tour. The pandemic pushed the start date back to 2021 but G N’ R has sold out venues all over the world since then. The current leg of the tour includes a stop at Spectrum Center on August 29, 2023, their first concert in Charlotte since 2019. The band also released a new single this year called “Perhaps.” It’s good to have them back.