I’m a hoarder. I like keeping hold of everything in my life, tangible and intangible. I have calendars going back to middle school with one-liners for whatever I did every day.
Flicking through my week-on-a-page Filofaxes from 1988 and 1989, there are weeks where the word “Dizzy” appears so many times in a row, it looks like I was suffering from serious vertigo. The Dizzy in question is actually Dizzy Reed, who for more than a quarter of a century has been the keyboard player for Guns N’ Roses. He's the longest-serving member of the group next to Axl Rose, and the only one with whom Rose never seems to have conflict.
At the time of the aforementioned calendar, however, Reed was a member of local Sunset Strip favorites The Wild, a group that lived up to its name. Between its five members, The Wild knew pretty much every female who frequented rock clubs within the boundaries of Los Angeles County — myself included. And if you met one of them, you became friends with all of them. So that's how I became friends with Dizzy Reed.
Almost daily, for two years running, I got a call from Dizzy with an invite to either hang out in the studio or to join him and his band in a myriad of nightlife activities, from frequenting the Cathouse and Bordello to occasional The Wild gigs. These invites were extended in the spirit of friendship with no ulterior motive. Dizzy was always respectful, always inclusive, always nice. He offered to play the piano for my mother time and time again. We went to matinees to watch Heathers and Beaches. He cried at the latter while we ate Junior Mints that we squished flat first.
Despite all Dizzy's kindness, eventually I wanted off The Wild’s never-stopping merry-go-round. I didn't drink or do drugs and had no interest in becoming anyone’s girlfriend. A month’s holiday in the U.K. during my summer vacation from college allowed me to phase myself out. Oct. 4, 1989, was the last time I saw Dizzy, when he told me he had finally joined Guns N’ Roses after a prolonged courting by Rose.
Twenty-seven years and 15 days later, I am face-to-face with Reed again. His eyes have not changed at all. Still clear and blue and friendly, he doesn’t hide behind impenetrable shades, as so many people in his position would. I arrive to our meeting armed with a stack of pictures from the late ’80s and copies of those Filofax pages, to remind Reed that at one time, for him, joining Guns N’ Roses wasn’t the no-brainer it would seem to the outside observer.
“The first time I saw Guns N’ Roses, I thought, ‘I want to be in that band,’” remembers Reed, who almost (but not quite) blends in on the noisy outdoor patio of a Studio City bar where he used to have a Thursday-night residency. “But I was immersed with what I was doing with The Wild. We were family. We were brothers. We moved out here together. We went through hell and back together. I had to make myself believe that joining Guns N’ Roses was the right thing to do.”
Early on, The Wild and Guns N’ Roses were studio neighbors, living side by side in storage-turned-rehearsal spaces on Gardner Street off of Sunset. At first, the plan was for Guns to “borrow” Reed for Appetite for Destruction shows. But then he got into a car accident, broke his hand and couldn’t play. Guns N’ Roses carried on with their meteoric success, but whenever they ran into each other, Rose would remind Reed that they were going to need a keyboard player, and to be ready.
While Reed was squatting in an empty apartment in 1989, he got an angry phone call from Rose, who was annoyed at how hard a time he was having getting hold of him.
“I explained to him, I don’t live anywhere. I don’t have a phone. I’m living on people’s couches, just like you used to,” says Reed. “Within a couple of days, I got another call saying, 'Congratulations, you’re in Guns N’ Roses,’ and I was on a salary.”
It wasn't long before Rose put him to work. “I was down at A&M tracking basics for the Use Your Illusion albums during the day. I didn’t have a car, so I would take a cab out to the Valley to some studio out there late at night to record stuff for The Wild, help them finish their record. … I wanted to do whatever I could to help them. Guns N’ Roses didn’t know — maybe until now.”
It wasn’t love at the first sight of Reed for the rest of the band — Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and soon-to-be-fired drummer Steven Adler — all of whom he had known for just as long as Rose. In fact, for his whole first year with the group, everyone — the band, the management, the record label — treated Reed as a passing idea of Rose’s that would eventually go away.
“Being a keyboard player in a guitar-based world is not an easy thing,” Reed admits. “You’re always trying to prove yourself. I wanted to add to the music — even if that meant not playing on a song. I take what I do very seriously and, over time, everyone saw that, from the crew to the producers.”
One of the catalysts to Reed’s acceptance, interestingly, was the changing of band members. But the constantly revolving door of musicians does take its toll on him, even if his attitude is simply, “It’s just drama in the workplace. No matter who is playing in the band, we work really, really hard to make it work. When [Rose] picks up the microphone, it becomes what it is: Guns N’ Roses. If you don’t believe that, you don’t have to be there.”
Even when the much-hyped reunion finally came to pass, Reed took it in stride. “When I walked into that room and saw Slash and Duff, it was like 20 years ago. I had stopped thinking about them, but we said ‘Hey’ and just started playing.”
He doesn't take his longevity in one of the world's biggest rock bands for granted. “There are so many fans over the years that have expressed their appreciation for me sticking with the band. That always makes me feel really good about what I’m doing. And now, I’m at a point where I can’t do anything else. What am I going to do? Start over?”
With his groups The Dead Daisies and Hookers & Blow on hiatus, Reed has been working on solo material. He finished tracking 12 songs eight years ago and got them mixed eight days ago, with an eye on a January independent release on iTunes — unless some record label wants to take that responsibility off his hands, which he is open to.
There has never been an issue with Reed working on his own music or with other musicians as far as Rose is concerned. Rose, in turn, can count on Reed’s unwavering loyalty. “If there’s ever any rift, I’m going to take his side,” Reed says frankly. “It’s not even a matter of agreeing or disagreeing. You can formulate all this stuff in your head and get worked up, but I know if I ask him about anything that doesn’t make sense, when he explains it, it sets everything straight.
“Axl’s the one that presented me with this gig,” he adds. “It was his idea. He gave me this opportunity. He could fire me tomorrow. I try and give him my best, my all, all the time.”