Excerpt From Duff McKagan's New Memoir, Part I: Guns N' Roses Finds Their Identity, Somewhere Between Metal And "Cow-Punk"
McKagan and Slash at the Troubadour. The picture is undated.
In It's So Easy: And Other Lies, Duff McKagan recounts GnR's rise to fame as well as his descent into addiction. Read more from Duff on our sister blog Reverb, where he is a weekly columnist. The below excerpt picks up after the band returns from a fateful trip to Seattle.
Our first gig back in L.A. was on June 28, 1985, at the Stardust Ballroom, out east of Highway 101. They had a club night called Scream. It had started as a Goth night; Bauhaus and Christian Death were the most popular acts the DJ played. We were at the bottom of a four-band bill and had to go on stage at 8 p.m. The next show was on the Fourth of July at Madame Wong's East, a restaurant in Chinatown that hosted a lot of punk-rock shows at night. Guns played second on a four-band bill that night. Only three people showed up for our set, including Kat and West.
The gig at Madame Wong's was like many of our first shows in that we were booked alongside punk bands. Early in our career we played shows with Social Distortion, the Dickies, and Fear. I guess at first we must have been perceived as that--punk. But the cool thing about our band, and what set us apart from the beginning, was that we couldn't be pigeonholed.
Sometimes this could work against a band. If you weren't punk enough for the punk-rock set, or metal enough for the heavy metal crowd, you risked ending up without gigs. But with the addition of Slash and Steven, we somehow seemed to capture the best of both worlds. In the right setting now, Axl appeared both more punk and more metal than the whole L.A. scene put together.
The glam scene across town seemed like a private club with some mysterious secret handshake. We got a few gigs with rising glam bands, but it was clearly a mismatch. Rather than treat it as an opportunity to mix things up, insiders in the glam scene made sure to rub our outsider status in our faces.
The Sunset Strip scene was all coke and champagne, and we were definitely from a different place. The people who came to those shows were a bit scared by us, too. We meant what we were doing; it wasn't safe or choreographed or pretend badass in any way. We also went through a period where we played a shit-ton of gigs with Tex & the Horseheads and other cow-punk bands, but we weren't an easy fit in that scene, either.
All the while we eyed the Troubadour in West Hollywood. Most bands started there in an opening slot on a Monday or Tuesday night. If and when you began to draw an audience, you could earn a chance to move up the bill, maybe even to a headlining slot, and you could shift to more desirable days of the week, and finally to weekend gigs.
The Troubadour was always packed on weekends. If you could manage to headline there on a Friday or Saturday night, well, that was an indicator of real potential: some weekend headliners got signed to major-label deals out of the all-important "Troub." For now we were a little too dirty to get even an opening slot on those coveted Friday and Saturday night bills. We would have to start at the bottom and get there on our own.
One of the staples in our early sets was a tune called "Move to the City," which was eventually recorded for our Live! Like a Suicide EP. We always heard that song the way it was recorded--with a horn section. And sometimes, even at the smallest venues, where we could barely all fit in the backstage area, we put together a few brass instruments to come onstage for that song. I recruited my brother Matt, who played trombone, to be part of the horn section. The first time he played with us, he looked out from the backstage area and said, "Where is everybody?"
From It's So Easy by Duff McKagan. Copyright (c) 2011 by Duff McKagan. Reprinted by permission of Touchstone Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.