Guns N' Roses formed in L.A in 1985. The classic lineup as signed to Geffen Records in 1986, consisted of vocalist Axl Rose, lead guitarist Slash, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Steven Adler. Today, Axl Rose is the only remaining original member, in a lineup that comprises Use Your Illusion–era keyboardist Dizzy Reed, lead guitarists DJ Ashba and Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, lead and rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus, bassist Tommy Stinson, drummer Frank Ferrer and keyboardist Chris Pitman. The band released six studio albums, accumulating sales of more than 100 million records worldwide, including shipments of 45 million in the United States, making them one of the world’s best-selling bands of all time.
A year after its release, Guns N' Roses' debut album Appetite for Destruction (1987) reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200, on the strength of the hit "Sweet Child o' Mine", their only single to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album has sold in excess of 28 million copies worldwide, including 18 million units sold in the United States, making it the best-selling debut album of all time in the U.S. The success of their debut was followed by the eight-song album G N' R Lies (1988).
The twin albums Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II (1991) debuted at No. 2 and No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and have sold a combined 35 million copies worldwide, including 14 million units sold in the United States alone. The cover album "The Spaghetti Incident?" (1993) was the band's last studio album to feature Slash and McKagan. After more than a decade of work and many lineup changes, Guns N' Roses released the long-awaited album Chinese Democracy (2008) which, at an estimated fourteen million dollars in production costs, made it the most expensive album to ever be produced in music history. It debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 but underwhelmed industry expectations, despite mostly positive critical reception.
Guns N' Roses have been credited with reviving the mainstream popularity of rock music, at a time when popular music was dominated by dance music and pop metal Their late 1980s and early 1990s years have been described as the period in which they brought forth a "hedonistic rebelliousness" reminiscent of the early Rolling Stones,[a reputation that had earned them the nickname "The Most Dangerous Band in the World". The band's classic lineup, along with later members Reed and drummer Matt Sorum, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, their first year of eligibility
Guns N' Roses was formed in March 1985 by singer Axl Rose and rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin of Hollywood Rose, along with lead guitarist Tracii Guns, bassist Ole Beich, and drummer Rob Gardner of L.A. Guns.The band coined its name by combining the names of both previous groups. After only a short time, during which they reportedly played just two or three shows, Beich was replaced by Duff McKagan, while Guns' lack of attendance at rehearsals led to his replacement by Slash. Gardner quit soon after and was replaced by Steven Adler... Stradlin had previously played with Slash in Hollywood Rose, while Slash had played with McKagan and Adler in Road Crew.
In June 1985, just four days after the lineup was finalized, the band embarked on a short, disorganized tour of the West Coast, from Sacramento, California, to McKagan's hometown of Seattle, Washington. The so-called "Hell Tour" cemented the band's first stable lineup, with McKagan later commenting, "This trip had set a new benchmark for what we were capable of, what we could and would put ourselves through to achieve our goals as a band."
Through their increasing presence on the Hollywood club scene—playing such famed bars as The Troubadour and The Roxy—Guns N' Roses drew the attention of major record labels. They were signed by Geffen Records in March 1986, receiving a $75,000 advance. In December of that year, they released the four-song EP Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide, designed to keep interest in the band alive while they withdrew from the club scene to work in the studio. The EP contained covers of Rose Tattoo's "Nice Boys" and Aerosmith's "Mama Kin", along with two original compositions—the punk anthem "Reckless Life" and the classic rock-inspired "Move to the City."
Although billed as a live recording, the four songs were taken from the band's demo tapes and overdubbed with crowd noise. Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide was released on the Geffen subsidiary UZI Suicide, with production limited to 10,000 vinyl copies.
Guns N' Roses' debut album Appetite for Destruction was released July 7, 1987. The album underwent an artwork change after the original cover design by Robert Williams—depicting a surrealist scene in which a dagger-toothed monster vengefully attacks a robot rapist—was deemed too controversial. The revised cover was a design by Bill White, a tattoo artist, who had originally designed the artwork for a tattoo Rose had acquired the previous year. The artwork featured each of the five band members' skulls layered on a cross. Rose later insisted that the Gold and Platinum plaques issued by the RIAA be set using the original cover art, which can be found in the booklet of the CD release.
In 1990, Guns N' Roses returned to the studio to begin recording their most ambitious undertaking yet. During the recording session of "Civil War", drummer Steven Adler was unable to perform well due to his struggles with cocaine and heroin addiction – his difficulties in the studio caused the band to do nearly 30 takes. As a result, Adler was fired on July 11, 1990, and was replaced by drummer Matt Sorum, who had played briefly with The Cult, and whom Axl credited for saving the band.
In response to an interviewer's suggestion that replacing Adler with Sorum had turned Guns N' Roses from a rock 'n' roll band into a heavy metal one, Stradlin responded, "Yeah, a big musical difference. The first time I realized what Steve did for the band was when he broke his hand in Michigan. Tried to punch through a wall and busted his hand. So we had Fred Coury come in from Cinderella for the Houston show. Fred played technically good and steady, but the songs sounded just awful. They were written with Steve playing the drums and his sense of swing was the push and pull that give the songs their feel. When that was gone, it was just...unbelievable, weird. Nothing worked. I would have preferred to continue with Steve, but we'd had two years off and we couldn't wait any longer. It just didn't work for Slash to be telling Steve to straighten out. He wasn't ready to clean up."
A few months prior, keyboardist Dizzy Reed became the sixth member of the group when he joined as a full-time member. The band fired their manager, Alan Niven, replacing him with Doug Goldstein in May 1991. According to a 1991 cover story by Rolling Stone magazine, Rose forced the dismissal of Niven (against the wishes of some of his band-mates) by refusing to complete the albums until he was replaced.
With enough music for two albums, the band released Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II on September 17, 1991. The tactic paid off when the albums debuted at No. 2 and No. 1 respectively in the Billboard charts, setting a record as they became the first and only group to achieve this feat until Hip-Hop artist Nelly accomplished the same with his simultaneously released albums Sweat and Suit, which broke the long-standing sales records set by Use Your Illusion I and II. The albums spent 108 weeks in the chart.
Guns N' Roses accompanied the Use Your Illusion albums with many videos, including "Don't Cry", "November Rain" and "Estranged" – some of the most expensive music videos ever made. The hit ballad "November Rain" (No. 3 US) became the most requested video on MTV, eventually winning the 1992 MTV Video Music Award for best cinematography. It is also the longest song in chart history to reach the Top Ten, clocking in at 8:57. During the awards show, the band performed the song with Elton John accompanying on piano.
Both prior to and after the release of the albums, Guns N' Roses embarked on the 28-month-long Use Your Illusion Tour. It became famous for both its financial success and the many controversial incidents that occurred at the shows, and is still currently the longest tour in rock history.
On July 2, 1991, at the Riverport Amphitheater in Maryland Heights, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis, during a performance of "Rocket Queen", Rose noticed that a fan was filming the show with a camera. He asked the venue's security to take away the camera, and after a few seconds decided to take it himself, jumping into the audience and tackling the fan. He had a heated confrontation with the fan before physically assaulting him. After being pulled out of the audience by members of the crew, Rose said, "Well, thanks to the lame-ass security, I'm going home!", threw his microphone to the ground and stormed off stage. The angry crowd began to riot and dozens of people were injured. Footage was captured by Robert John, who was documenting the entire tour. Rose was wanted by the police for inciting the riot, but police were unable to arrest him until almost a year later, as the band went overseas to continue the tour. Charges were filed against Rose, but a judge ruled that he did not directly incite the riot.
In his defense, Rose stated that the Guns N' Roses security team had made four separate requests to the venue's security staff to remove the camera, all of which were ignored, and that other members of the band had reported being hit by bottles launched from the audience, while the security staff was refusing to enforce a drinking limit. Consequently, Use Your Illusion's liner notes featured a hidden message amidst the Thank You section: "Fuck You, St. Louis!"
Rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin abruptly quit the band on November 7, 1991, after a repeat of the St. Louis incident nearly unfolded during a concert in Germany. Stradlin cited a combination of Rose's personal behavior (Rose frequently delayed the start of shows by hours at a time) and his mismanagement of the band and difficulties being around Slash, Sorum, and McKagan, due to his new-found sobriety and their continuing alcohol and substance addictions.
Axl Rose originally wanted Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro to replace Stradlin, but Stradlin was eventually replaced by Los Angeles-based guitarist Gilby Clarke, whom Slash credited for saving the band. During many shows throughout the tour, Rose introduced Clarke to the audience, and Slash and Clarke would then play "Wild Horses", a Rolling Stones cover. In late 1991, Rose added a touring ensemble to the band which included a horns section and several background vocalists despite the rest of the band's refusal. Izzy Stradlin has since produced eleven solo albums, more work than any other single member of Guns N' Roses had produced.
In 1992, the band appeared at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, performing a three-song set. Slash later performed "Tie Your Mother Down" with the remaining members of Queen and Def Leppard vocalist Joe Elliott, while Axl Rose performed "We Will Rock You" and sang a duet with Elton John on "Bohemian Rhapsody".
Their personal set included "Paradise City" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door". When they returned to the US for the second leg of the Use Your Illusion Tour, Queen guitarist Brian May opened the shows with a band that included Cozy Powell on drums. Axl had originally wanted the grunge band (and labelmates) Nirvana to open their Use Your Illusion Tour, but frontman Kurt Cobain refused. Cobain also bagged Guns N' Roses, which infuriated Rose, and started off one of his biggest feuds, other than the ones with his band mates.
Later in the year, they went on the Guns N' Roses/Metallica Stadium Tour, with American Metal band Metallica. During a show in August 1992 at Montreal's Olympic Stadium, Metallica frontman James Hetfield suffered severe burns after malfunctions with a pyrotechnics blast. Metallica was forced to cancel the second hour of the show, but promised to return to the city for another performance.
After a long delay, during which the audience became increasingly restless, Guns N' Roses took the stage. However, the shortened time between sets did not allow for adequate tuning of stage monitors, resulting in members of G N' R not being able to hear themselves. In addition, Rose claimed that his throat hurt, causing the band to leave the stage early.
The cancellation led to another riot by audience members, reminiscent of the St. Louis riot, that had occurred one year earlier. Rioters overturned cars, smashed windows, looted local stores and set fires. Local authorities were barely able to bring the mob under control. This can be seen on video in A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica. On MTV's rock-u-mentary about Metallica, the band spoke about this tour and how they learned from Guns N' Roses "what not to do" as a band.
In December 1994, Guns N' Roses released a cover recording of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil". The song appeared in the film Interview with the Vampire, as well as Fallen, on the movie's soundtrack and was also released separately as a single. It is the final Guns N' Roses single to feature Slash on lead guitar, Duff McKagan on bass, and Matt Sorum on the drums. It also featured Paul Huge on rhythm guitar. Huge's presence on the track and in the band created great tension between Rose and Slash, because Slash disliked Huge and felt he had no place nor the 'chops' to fit in G N' R.
The recording of "Sympathy for the Devil", as well as tension between him and Rose, led Slash to quit the band officially in October 1996. He was replaced by Nine Inch Nails touring guitarist Robin Finck in January 1997, who signed a two-year contract with the band in August 1997, making him an official member.
Slash's departure was followed shortly thereafter by Matt Sorum, who was fired in April 1997 and then by bassist Duff McKagan, who resigned from the band in August 1997. As such, all of the members who had taken part in the recording of Appetite for Destruction (aside from Rose) had departed from the band. Multiple views have been presented on the departures by various band members (current and former). 1994 was the last year Rose held a press conference or performed until 2001 with his new cast. Rose's only performance in 1994 was a duet with Bruce Springsteen on a cover of The Beatles song "Come Together". An actual break-up of Guns N' Roses never occurred, as new players were brought in as the old ones left.
McKagan was the last of the Appetite lineup to leave, resigning as bassist in August 1997, being replaced later that year by Tommy Stinson (formerly of The Replacements).
Sorum was replaced by Chris Vrenna for a short time in April to May 1997, followed briefly by Pod, and finally by Josh Freese in the summer of 1997. By the end of 1998, a new version of Guns N' Roses had emerged: many musicians have come and gone from the new band, but the core group has included Rose, Stinson, keyboardist Dizzy Reed and multi-instrumentalist Chris Pitman.
Geffen released Live Era '87-'93, a collection of live performances from various concerts during the Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion tours. The band owed Universal/Interscope a live album, which was primarily assembled by Duff, who at the time was still a partner in the band.
ALLEDGED CURRENT LINEUP
EX - GUNNERS
Izzy Stradlin, Tracii Guns
Ole Beich, Rob Gardner
Duff McKagan, Slash
Steven Adler, Matt Sorum
Gilby Clarke, Paul Tobias
Robin Finck, Josh Freese
Buckethead, Bryan Mantia
Appetite for Destruction (1987)
G N' R Lies (1988)
Use Your Illusion I (1991)
Use Your Illusion II (1991)
"The Spaghetti Incident?" (1993)
Chinese Democracy (2008)