The Unsung Songwriters Who Helped Make Appetite for Destruction a Classic
One is buried in a cemetery in Lancaster, while the other lives in a two-bedroom, Spanish-style home with a big backyard off Pico Boulevard. They’re the only two people to receive co-writing credits on Guns N’ Roses’ debut album, Appetite for Destruction, besides the five band members immortalized as skulls on the cover art: singer Axl Rose, guitarists Izzy Stradlin and Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Steven Adler.
West Arkeen co-wrote “It’s So Easy,” the most dangerous song on Appetite, hard rock’s most dangerous album. Chris Weber co-wrote the sleazy boogie of “Anything Goes.” Neither song is as iconic as “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Sweet Child O’Mine” or “Paradise City,” but they're key reasons why Appetite has sold more than 18 million albums since its July 21, 1987, release — and why, 30 years later, Guns N’ Roses’ reunion tour fills stadiums.
These are the stories of how those two songs came about — and what happened to their co-creators after GNR became the biggest band on the planet.
Weber was 16 years old when friend and fellow guitarist Tracii Guns, later the “Guns” in the earliest incarnation of Guns N’ Roses, introduced him to Stradlin in the Rainbow Bar and Grill parking lot in 1983. Weber and Stradlin spent the next two hours talking about bands and listening to Hanoi Rocks and New York Dolls tapes in Guns' truck, then decided to start a band of their own. “Izzy was like the coolest guy I’d ever met,” Weber says now. “He could have said that we would play country music and I might have been into it.”
Stradlin’s friend from Lafayette, Indiana, was still going by Bill Rose when he started singing with Weber and Stradlin. Their band was originally dubbed AXL, then Rose and eventually Hollywood Rose. Rose and Stradlin began living with Weber at his parents’ Hollywood Hills house on Edwin Drive. Weber’s parents were often out of town and Weber, Rose and Stradlin would invite whatever rockers were still hanging outside the Rainbow at 2:30 a.m. back home to party until sunrise.
Early on, Rose sang mostly in a lower register. Around the house, though, Rose frequently sang along to Nazareth’s “Hair of the Dog” in a high snarl that Weber says “was so special that it was like, ‘You’ve got to do that all the time.’”
The three musicians wrote songs in Weber’s bedroom at the back of the house. Weber would come up with riffs and chord changes, while Stradlin had a gift for coming up with guitar parts that enhanced the composition without overstuffing or simply doubling. “His stuff was like another song,” Weber says of Stradlin’s playing. “If you just listened to it by itself, you wouldn’t be able to tell what song it was. It’s pretty awesome, actually. Not many people do that.”
Weber was listening to Aerosmith’s latest album Rock in a Hard Place a lot, which inspired the chromatic riff on “My Way, Your Way,” eventually known as “Anything Goes.” For new Hollywood Rose songs, Weber and Stradlin would record guitar parts on a cassette player. Rose would listen to the tape for a day or so and write lyrics, then they’d all run through it together. Weber says the band may have played “Anything Goes” for the first time at a January 1984 gig at North Hollywood venue the Orphanage: “It was really loud and aggressive and kind of took people by storm.” (Unlike the later GNR version, which had different verse grooves and lyrics, the Hollywood Rose original was fast all the way through.)
In 1984, Rose, Stradlin, Weber and drummer Johnny Kreis cut a five-song demo, paid for by Weber’s father, at Mars Studios. Hollywood Rose didn’t have a bassist at the time, so Stradlin and Weber played bass. Twenty years later those tracks, including “Anything Goes,” were released as a Hollywood Rose album called The Roots of Guns N’ Roses, via L.A. label Cleopatra Records. The album included remixes by Gilby Clarke, who replaced Stradlin as GNR's rhythm guitarist in 1991. “It had a more metal approach to it. It almost reminded me of early [Judas] Priest, if anything,” says Clarke, calling from his San Fernando Valley studio Redrum Recording, where he’s cutting a new solo LP. “I was surprised at hearing how good it was. And I’m not talking fidelity quality, but they really sounded like they had something as a band, which is the hardest thing to do."
Vicky Hamilton — who would later manage Poison and Guns N’ Roses, a period chronicled in her 2016 memoir Appetite for Dysfunction — booked Hollywood Rose at Dancing Waters, a large, venerable San Pedro venue with a water feature behind the stage. Hamilton says compared with GNR later, Hollywood Rose’s music “was a lot more punk-rock in feel,” and as lead guitarist, Weber was a “straight-ahead rock guy” with “more of a Hollywood sound” compared with Slash's bluesier approach.
The Dancing Waters show, Weber says, was his last gig with Hollywood Rose. The group splintered soon thereafter.
A bit later, Weber says he played bass at a couple Guns N’ Roses rehearsals in the Valley with Axl, Slash, Izzy and Adler. “I don’t know if Duff was in the band and he just wasn’t there at the time or if they didn’t have somebody yet.” Weber had been friends with Slash since their Fairfax High days. Around the age of 18, “I slept over at his family’s house a lot and we’d drink vodka and play guitar.” Weber briefly considered asking to join GNR on bass but relocated to New York instead.
Weber was living in Minneapolis when Appetite blew up. Since he was credited as an “Anything Goes” co-writer (the band also thanks the Weber family in the liner notes), Weber started getting calls from publishing companies and labels, so he moved back to Los Angeles and started a new version of Hollywood Rose. The band wrote new material in the vein of “Move to the City,” the excellent, grimy track he co-wrote with Stradlin that GNR recorded for 1986 faux concert album Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide and later repackaged on 1988's GN’R Lies. Weber also received a co-writing credit for Lies track “Reckless Life,” an early version of which appears on Hollywood Rose's 1984 demo.
Record deals offered to Weber’s post-Appetite Hollywood Rose seemed low to him, so the project faded and he moved to England. In the late ’90s, he returned to the States and revived his careeer when his new band U.P.O. scored hits with their Soundgarden-meets–The Cult songs “Godless” and “Feel Alive.” Though he's proud of his tunes Guns N' Roses recorded — especially his favorite, "Move to the City" — achieving success with U.P.O. meant more to him “because that had nothing to do with Guns N’ Roses.”
After playing a few local Hollywood Rose gigs about three years ago, Weber stepped away from music. He and his wife, Katie, have two young daughters and he now works as a therapist, working with individuals dealing with depression, substance abuse and other issues. He has a nice Martin acoustic guitar he plays around the house, improvising a few lines or playing some classic-rock riffs. And his old Les Pauls are ready, “in case the next gig comes up.”
Having a song on Appetite hasn’t been the financial windfall for Weber one might imagine. “I didn’t write any of the hits, so I’m not really making any radio money,” he says. Still, he's grateful for the opportunities Appetite afforded him. “People know my history, so that got me into bands,” Weber says. “I think if I was a shitty guitar player, though, I wouldn’t have ended up staying in bands.”
Understandably, it took him years before he could listen to Appetite objectively. “To be a songwriter on a record that comes out and not be in the band, it’s just kind of a weird thing. But after I left they put in a whole lot of work.”
Author Chuck Klosterman, whose 2001 debut book, Fargo Rock City, remains a smart, entertaining analysis of ’80s hard-rock and glam-metal, says Weber’s songs sound built for the stage. “And maybe this is what this guy brought to the band,” says Klosterman, who recently released the pop-culture anthology X. “This idea that he had songs [where] you could easily transition them from sitting around writing it, to playing it in front of people.” While Klosterman feels Appetite classic “Paradise City” never sounded quite as good live as on record, “When you listen to material that [Weber] wrote it’s almost the opposite.”
Axl Rose considered West Arkeen to be the sixth member of Guns N’ Roses. Arkeen was a 5-foot-2 songwriting machine. As an infant, he suffered from craniosynostosis, a birth defect in which the skull grows irregularly, often constricting brain growth. It required an operation that left an ear-to-ear scar over the crown of his head.
Around 1964, Arkeen’s parents divorced. The father got custody of West and older brother Abe, resettled in San Diego and opened a pool hall called the Silver Cue, while the family’s two sisters, one younger and one older than West, remained with the mother. Abe says their mother was a “non-factor” in the brothers’ life and this was the root of West’s later substance-abuse issues.
“We were abandoned at a very critical time,” Abe says today. “When you’re a child of abandonment you do one of two things: You either explode at the world or you implode. My brother was an imploder.”
West Arkeen, left, and brother Abe Arkeen celebrating West's graduation from Hilltop High School in 1978
Courtesy Abe Arkeen
Around the age of 14, Arkeen suddenly wanted to learn how to play guitar. His father bought him a cheap acoustic and after one lesson West taught himself the rest, soaking up Jimi Hendrix and Earth, Wind & Fire records. Abe, now a documentary filmmaker living in Santa Barbara County, recalls that “West was on that acoustic guitar constantly. He just had a gift.” Arkeen relocated to Los Angeles around 1982 and worked as a house painter for a day job, which often left flecks of dried paint in his long blond hair.
Wendy Lou Gosse was sunbathing on the roof at a friend’s Hollywood apartment the first time she met Arkeen. It was 1986. The Wisconsin native was 19 and studying at Long Beach’s Brooks College, and had come to up to L.A. for the weekend to visit. “We immediately took to each other,” Gosse says, “and he started driving down to Long Beach to visit me. And this is before any of the Guns N’ Roses songs, before [Appetite] was released.”
They dated for the next nine years, and she has fond memories of their various L.A. apartments where “to sit down on the couch you’d have to move some guitars.” They’d go out to see bands at local clubs and bring friends back to jam and write, sometimes deep into the next day. Arkeen’s musical influences around this time included guitarist Tommy Bolin, B.B. King and The Beatles.
Arkeen told Gosse he and McKagan had written “It’s So Easy” together. Before reaching its now-familiar brutality, it “was more like a hippie la-la song,” she says. “It had a twang to it, and Axl’s the one that made it more rock & roll.”
In McKagan’s compelling 2011 memoir, also titled It’s So Easy, he writes about meeting Arkeen upon moving to an apartment on El Cerrito Place in Hollywood, where Arkeen was his next-door neighbor. Funk legend Sly Stone lived on the floor above. According to McKagan, “It’s So Easy” was written at the El Cerrito apartments — as were bittersweet ballad “Yesterdays” and trippy rocker “The Garden,” two more Arkeen GNR co-writes eventually released on the Use Your Illusion LPs.
“I believe West’s bluesy style affected the songs GNR wrote independently of West," Abe says, "and conversely, they affected West’s writing style. It was a symbiotic relationship.”
Arkeen was into alternative guitar tunings, a technique legends such as Jimmy Page used to develop distinctive sounds. In McKagan’s memoir, he writes that Arkeen showed him open-E tuning and “without open-E tuning, ['It's So Easy'] wouldn’t have existed.” (Neither Abe nor Gosse knows exactly who contributed what to “It’s So Easy,” as far as lyrics and arrangement, and McKagan, through a representative, declined L.A. Weekly's request for comment.)
Gosse recalls Rose buying Arkeen a voice-activated recorder as a gift around 1987, which helped him remember material better and accelerated his songwriting. For scheduled songwriting appointments, he’d bring out a notebook. Whoever came up with each line would write it down in their handwriting, “so there would be no question of who wrote what when it came time to figure that out,” Gosse says.
Away from music, Arkeen loved to read Stephen King novels and draw charcoal portraits. “Amusement parks were a big thing,” Gosse recalls. “He’d wake up whoever was there partying from the night before, ‘Hey, let’s go to Disneyland!’ West loved roller coasters.” He also wielded a wicked sense of humor — Abe recalls an entire Grauman's Chinese Theatre audience laughing at a West wisecrack during Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. “He had that rare quality of cutting through the façades of Hollywood phoniness,” Abe says.
When Appetite was released, Arkeen and Gosse were living in a tiny apartment at Bronson and Franklin. Her bank job income barely covered essentials — they didn’t even have a car, although McKagan would often loan them his old green clunker, until Slash lost the vehicle. (She still has a key to it.) After Appetite eventually broke big with the success of “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” she says it was McKagan who explained to Arkeen — “he’d been wondering why he wasn’t making any money with a song on a hit record” — that he needed a publishing company to get paid. GNR helped set up Arkeen with a Virgin Records publishing deal.
Besides the songs on Appetite and Use Your Illusion, Arkeen also had a hand in several unreleased GNR songs adored by hardcore fans, including “Crash Diet,” “Sentimental Movie” and the ballad “Just Another Sunday,” one of Gosse’s personal favorites. Arkeen particularly loved writing with Rose, Gosse says. “After Guns got famous, [Axl’s] time was more limited, but they had an understanding between the two of them and a mutual respect on a writers’ level.” Abe recalls West traveling to New York to hole up with Rose for a songwriting session at the Mayflower Hotel, during which actor Sean Penn befriended West. Another time Rose casually showed up at Arkeen’s Franklin apartment while Abe was there: “Axl was totally cool and relaxed. We just talked about Jack Nicholson.”
Hamilton has fond memories of watching Arkeen play guitar at the Coconut Teaszer with McKagan and Stradlin as part of GNR bar-band side-project Drunkfuxs. “You could just tell he lived for that moment," she says.
In 1991, Damon Johnson, a guitarist from Alabama who has played guitar with Thin Lizzy and Alice Cooper, met with Arkeen in a Nashville hotel room to write songs, a session set up by Virgin. There, Johnson found a collaborator much different from the affable, slick Nashville songwriters he’d been meeting with: a chainsmoking, leather jacket–and–snakeskin boots–wearing rocker. During a break they drove to a record store. After Arkeen discovered Johnson had never heard Neil Young’s entire After the Gold Rush album, he bought the disc, unwrapped the plastic and handed it to him, saying, “Don’t come back to my hotel room until you’ve listened to this record top to bottom. Twice.”
Johnson, who went on to pen songs recorded by Stevie Nicks and Santana, says that moment “might have saved my career. West is singlehandedly responsible for putting me on a different path, my thoughts and ideas about lyrics. He was very special.” Arkeen co-wrote two tracks on the 1993 debut album from Johnson's band Brother Cane, including the swampy epic “Make Your Play,” which became the group’s concert centerpiece.
West Arkeen at a mixing desk
Courtesy Robbie Metaz
After Arkeen’s Appetite money began rolling in, he bought a new black Corvette, paid for in cash. Abe says, “He was like many people that are 24, 25 years old. If I said, ‘Hey man, here’s 300 grand.’ Boom. What do you do? You’re going to go out and blow it. And plus, he liked to party too, unfortunately.” Their father’s 1988 death accelerated West’s chemical dependency. Chris Weber remembers hanging out at Arkeen’s place a couple times and says he "always had a guitar in his hands" but also "was always super-high. But there was a lot of drug use back then and I was doing it just as much as everybody else."
When Guns N’ Roses began touring as The Cult’s support act, they invited West out. The label insisted he had to perform some sort of job, so he was paid $300 a week to place water bottles onstage for the band. GNR’s then-manager Alan Niven says that following the tour’s final date in Louisiana, “I have an indelible memory of him on the band bus riding from New Orleans to L.A. in a pink nightie and cowboy boots. Great style.”
“He loved that tour and talked about it for the rest of his life,” Gosse says.
Although Arkeen was obsessed with songwriting, he badly wanted a band of his own. “But it just kept falling apart,” Gosse says. “Finally, when he got it together, it was The Outpatience.” The band's lone album, Anxious Disease, featured contributions from Rose, Slash, McKagan and Stradlin, and was released in Japan in 1996. In early ’97, the band began shopping the LP to U.S. labels.
On May 30, just weeks before Appetite’s 10th anniversary, Arkeen was found dead at his Fruitland Drive residence in Studio City. According to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, the cause of death was acute heroin, morphine and cocaine intoxication, an injection overdose ruled an accident. He was 36.
Arkeen spoke to Abe and Gosse on the phone the night before he died. He and Gosse, who was in Wisconsin visiting family, had broken up but were still on good terms, she says. “He told me he still loved me and I said, ‘I love you, too.’ And he said, ‘I just wanted to hear you say that.’” Abe, working as a teacher at the time, recalls West playing a new song for him over the phone and making plans for Abe to visit that weekend. West had also recently called him from a hospital burn ward. “I’ve heard a lot of rumors, but all I know is he got torched really badly,” Abe says. “The sad thing is that they gave him a prescription opiate to deal with the pain. And he had kicked drugs."
Some of Arkeen’s “friends” made off with his guitars, home recordings and lyric notebooks. Gosse tracked down some of his analog tape reels from a San Diego pal, and brought them to Arkeen’s older sister, at the sister’s request. “The understanding was they were going to make copies and give [the tapes] back so they could have copies. But they never gave them back and never made copies and then we didn’t speak anymore. I regret doing that to this day.”
Arkeen’s funeral was attended by hundreds, including McKagan, Abe says. “Duff was gracious and kind, sympathetic and respectful, as were all the members of GNR at my family's loss. They lost a close friend and I a brother. It was 100 times worse than burying our father. West was wild and crazy, but he had talent from God, and like a lot of artists, they just burn out.”
West Arkeen's gravestone in Lancaster
Wendy Lou Gosse
The gravestone in Lancaster bears Arkeen’s signature adieu: “PEACE, PARTY, C-YA.” GNR dedicated their Live Era ’87–’93 double LP in part to Arkeen’s memory. Abe, now owner of Arkeen's intellectual property, believes if West were still alive, “His career would have gone in a lot of directions. He told me he wanted to write a rock opera on Broadway, he wanted to do soundtracks for films. He had a vision of what he wanted to do in the business. The problem was his chemical dependency destroyed the vision. That’s a tragedy.”
Attending one of Guns N’ Roses' shows at Dodger Stadium last year, Gosse was thrilled when the band opened their set, as they have the entire tour, with “It’s So Easy.” “I’m sure West knows and I’m sure he’s honored.”
“What’s wonderful is GNR is revived and my brother’s music is still out there affecting people,” Abe says.
Gosse is now a massage therapist and interventionist. She keeps a wooden chest of West mementos in her Hollywood home: clothing, photos, old guitar picks and a couple demo cassettes. Asked which of West’s GNR songs is their favorite, Abe and Wendy both cite the heartfelt, nostalgic “Yesterdays.”
“Yesterdays was what I shared with West,” Gosse says. “Everybody has yesterdays, you know?”
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