Yesterday we ran our first excerpt from Guns N' Roses founding member Duff McKagan's new memoir, It's So Easy: And Other Lies, which recounts GnR's rise to fame as well as Duff's descent into addiction. Read more from Duff on our sister blog Reverb, where he is a weekly columnist.
Our early gigs were practically empty. Often the few people who were there had come to see the band playing after us. People would throw cigarettes at us and spit on us. Not that it was meant as an I-hate-you thing; people were just rowdy and having fun–that was the way some of the L.A. punk venues were back then. We got used to being treated poorly by everyone–audiences, promoters, clubs, and fellow musicians.
As soon as Guns began to play regularly in L.A., we started up a phone and mailing list. We obsessively made sure people who came to shows signed up–well, actually, what we did was send stripper friends out into the audience and have them convince people to sign up. Obviously we had to write good songs and play well live to get a bigger audience. On that front I already knew we had the components we needed. But the mailing list really worked for us–within six months we had a thousand names with contact info for each. Other bands had mailing lists, but one of the secrets to GN'R's success was how much time and effort we spent building and maintaining ours. We knew we had to make it on our own, and after our Seattle road trip, failure was not an option with this crew.
The established rock clubs in Hollywood at that time had devised a brutal system to ensure themselves against low attendance. By instituting “pay to play,” they shifted the financial risks of the nightclub business downstream to the musicians. A club would require an act to pre-buy, say, thirty tickets at ten dollars a pop. At that point the club didn't care anymore–their money was already in the can. The band would have to sell those tickets on their own to recoup their money.
The problem for us was getting together the initial balloon payment. Rich Hollywood parents could loan their kids' bands money, but we didn't have that cushion. That's where Slash's best friend Marc Canter came in–Marc was the unsung hero of GN'R. Without him, I don't know how we would have done half the shit we did at the beginning.
Marc believed in our band from day one. His faith was such that, in addition to photographing us, he was willing to front us the money to buy the tickets that allowed us to get shows in the pay-to-play clubs. We paid him back once we sold the tickets. We were relentless about calling the names on our list. At first we had to hustle really hard just to pay Marc back, but we grew our fan base faster as a result; as our mailing list
expanded, it was easier and easier to sell tickets to our shows. Of course, we also had to borrow money from Marc to buy stamps.
We made cool flyers and, in addition to sending them to people on our list, we posted them all over the city. We always posted flyers as a band, at night. The first time I discovered Night Train wine was on one of these epic nocturnal flyering campaigns–which were best accomplished while drinking from a brown paper bag. Afterward I was happy to find that the liquor store around the corner from our storage space also stocked it. At $1.29 a bottle, Night Train instantly became a band staple; we started piecing together the song “Nightrain” a week later while rehearsing before another flyer-posting outing.
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.