Guns N’ Roses is an American hard rock band from Los Angeles, California, formed in 1985. When they signed to Geffen Records in 1986, the band comprised vocalist Axl Rose, lead guitarist Slash, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan, and drummer Steven Adler. The current lineup consists of Rose, Slash, McKagan, keyboardist Dizzy Reed, guitarist Richard Fortus, drummer Frank Ferrer and keyboardist Melissa Reese.
Guns N’ Roses’ debut album, Appetite for Destruction (1987), reached number one on the Billboard 200 a year after its release, on the strength of the top 10 singles “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Paradise City”, and “Sweet Child o’ Mine”, the band’s only single to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The album has sold approximately 30 million copies worldwide, including 18 million units in the United States, making it the country’s bestselling debut album and eleventh-bestselling album. Their next studio album, G N’ R Lies (1988), reached number two on the Billboard 200, sold ten million copies worldwide (including five million in the U.S.), and included the top 5 hit “Patience”. Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II, recorded simultaneously and released in 1991, debuted at number two and number one on the Billboard 200 respectively and have sold a combined 35 million copies worldwide, including 14 million units in the United States. The Illusion albums included the lead single “You Could Be Mine” (also featured in the film soundtrack for Terminator 2), covers of “Live and Let Die” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, and a trilogy of ballads (“Don’t Cry”, “November Rain”, and “Estranged”), which featured notably high-budget music videos. The Illusion records were also supported by the extensive Use Your Illusion Tour, a world tour that lasted from 1991–1993. “The Spaghetti Incident?” (1993), an album of covers, was the band’s last studio album to feature Slash and McKagan before their initial departure.
Work on a follow-up album stalled due to creative differences between band members; by 1998 only Rose and Reed remained from the Illusion-era lineup. After a decade of work and several lineup changes, Guns N’ Roses’s long-awaited sixth studio album, Chinese Democracy (2008), was released. At an estimated $14 million in production costs, it is the most expensive rock album in history. It debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, but undersold industry expectations despite mostly positive critical reception. Slash and McKagan rejoined the band in 2016 for the Not in This Lifetime… Tour, which became the third-highest-grossing concert tour on record, grossing over $584 million by its conclusion in 2019.
In their early years, the band’s hedonism and rebelliousness drew comparisons to the early Rolling Stones and 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, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, its first year of eligibility. Guns N’ Roses have sold more than 100 million records worldwide, including 45 million in the United States, making them one of the best-selling acts in history.
In 1984, Hollywood Rose member Izzy Stradlin was living with L.A. Guns member Tracii Guns. When L.A. Guns needed a new vocalist, Stradlin suggested Hollywood Rose singer Axl Rose. Months later, Guns N’ Roses was formed in March 1985 by Rose, rhythm guitarist Stradlin, along with L.A. Guns founders lead guitarist Guns, drummer Rob Gardner and bassist Ole Beich. Guns recalled the formation of the band in a 2019 interview, stating: “Axl got into an argument with our manager and our manager fired Axl but we all lived together so it was all really weird. So, that same night he got fired we started Guns N’ Roses and I called Izzy the next day and said ‘Hey, we are gonna start this new band called Guns N’ Roses, do you want in?” It was as simple as that, no paint or cocaine involved.” The band coined its name by combining the names of both previous groups; initially it was the name of a label they were going to release music on. Rejected names for the band included “Heads of Amazon” and “AIDS”. Their first show, promoted as “L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose presents Guns N Roses”, was on March 26, 1985. After this show, Beich was fired and replaced by Duff McKagan. Around this time, the band planned to release an EP with “Don’t Cry”, a cover of “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Think About You” and “Anything Goes”; the band demoed the songs during their first radio interview. However, plans for the release fell through, as Guns left the band after an argument with Rose leading to his replacement by Rose and Stradlin’s one-time Hollywood Rose bandmate, Slash. Gardner quit soon after and was replaced by another former Hollywood Rose member, Steven Adler. Slash had also previously played with McKagan and Adler in Road Crew.
—Original guitarist Tracii Guns
The band’s “classic” lineup was finalized on June 4, 1985 when Adler and Slash officially joined. After two days of rehearsals, the band played their first show with the lineup on June 6, 1985. Two days later, the band embarked on a short, disorganized tour of the West Coast, from Sacramento, California, to McKagan’s hometown of Seattle, Washington. The band drove in a separate van and had to abandon their gear when both vans broke down on the way to Seattle, forcing them to hitch-hike up the coast and back home to LA with only their guitars. The so-called “Hell Tour” settled 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 the band’s increasing presence on the Hollywood club scene – playing famed bars such as The Troubadour and The Roxy – Guns N’ Roses drew the attention of major record labels. The group signed with Geffen Records in March 1986, receiving a $75,000 advance. They had turned down an offer from Chrysalis Records that was nearly double Geffen’s, due to Chrysalis wanting to change the band’s image and sound and Geffen offering full artistic freedom.
In December of that year, the group released the four-song EP Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide, designed to keep interest in the band alive while the group withdrew from the club scene to work in the studio. The EP release was designed to sooth over the label, who felt the band didn’t have enough songs to record an album. The EP contained covers of Rose Tattoo’s “Nice Boys” and Aerosmith’s “Mama Kin”, along with two original compositions: the punk-influenced “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.
Seeking to record their debut album, producer Spencer Proffer was hired to record “Nightrain” and “Sweet Child o’ Mine” to test his chemistry with the band. The band eventually recorded 9 songs during these sessions, including “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Don’t Cry”, “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Shadow of Your Love”. The band then recorded demos with Nazareth guitarist Manny Charlton, (which were released in 2018). Paul Stanley of KISS was considered as producer, but he was rejected after he wanted to change Adler’s drum set more than Adler wanted. Robert John “Mutt” Lange was also considered, but the label didn’t want to spend the extra money on a famous producer. Ultimately, Mike Clink (who had produced several Triumph records) was chosen, and the group recorded “Shadow of Your Love” first with Clink as a test. After some weeks of rehearsal, the band entered Daryl Dragon’s Rumbo Recorders in January 1987 to record their debut album. Two weeks were spent recording basic tracks, with a month of overdubs. The drums were done in six days, but Rose’s vocals took much longer as he insisted on doing them one line at a time.
Guns N’ Roses’ debut album Appetite for Destruction was released July 21, 1987. The album underwent an artwork change after the original cover design by Robert Williams, which depicted a surrealist scene in which a dagger-toothed monster vengefully attacks a robot rapist, was deemed too controversial. The band stated the original artwork was “a symbolic social statement, with the robot representing the industrial system that’s raping and polluting our environment.” The revised cover was done by Andy Engell, based on a design by tattoo artist Bill White Jr., who had 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.
The band’s first single was “It’s So Easy”, released on June 15, 1987 in the UK only, where it reached number eighty-four on the UK Singles Chart In the U.S., “Welcome to the Jungle” was issued as the album’s first single in October, with an accompanying music video. Initially, the album and single lingered for almost a year without performing well, but when Geffen founder David Geffen was asked to lend support to the band, he obliged, personally convincing MTV executives to play “Welcome to the Jungle” during the network’s after-hours rotation. Even though the video was initially only played once at 4 a.m. on a Sunday, heavy metal and hard rock fans took notice and soon began requesting the video and song en masse. The song, written in Seattle, was about Los Angeles. The music video took place in New York. According to Rose, the inspiration for the lyrics came from an encounter he and a friend had with a homeless man while they were coming out of a bus into New York. Trying to put a scare into the young runaways, the man yelled at them, “You know where you are? You’re in the jungle baby; you’re gonna die!” The song was featured in the 1988 Dirty Harry film The Dead Pool, starring Clint Eastwood, and members of the band had a cameo appearance in the film.
“Sweet Child o’ Mine” was the album’s second U.S. single, a love song co-written by Rose as a poem for his then-girlfriend Erin Everly, daughter of Don Everly of the Everly Brothers. Due to the growing grassroots success of the band and the cross-gender appeal of the song, “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and its accompanying music video received heavy airplay on both radio and MTV, becoming a huge hit during the summer of 1988 and reaching the top of the charts in the U.S. Slash later commented, “I hated that song with a huge passion for the longest time, and it turned out to be our hugest hit, so it goes to show what I know.” The song was released in Japan as part of the EP Live from the Jungle, which also featured a selection of live recordings from the band’s June 1987 dates at London’s The Marquee, the group’s first shows outside the United States. The song is the highest charting Guns N’ Roses song, and is the band’s only song to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
After the success of “Sweet Child o’ Mine”, “Welcome to the Jungle” was re-issued as a single and reached No. 7 in the U.S. By the time “Paradise City” and its video reached the airwaves, peaking at No. 5 in the U.S., Appetite for Destruction had reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200. To date, the album has sold in excess of 30 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, in addition to being the eleventh best-selling album in the United States.
Guns N’ Roses toured extensively in support of their debut album, embarking on the 16-month-long Appetite for Destruction Tour. In addition to headlining dates in Europe and the U.S., the band opened North American shows for The Cult, Mötley Crüe, and Alice Cooper throughout the second half of 1987. During the 1987 tour, drummer Steven Adler broke his hand in a fight, and was replaced for 8 shows by Cinderella drummer Fred Coury. Bassist Duff McKagan missed several shows in May 1988 to attend his wedding; Kid “Haggis” Chaos from The Cult filled in. Don Henley of the Eagles played drums for the band during the 1989 AMA show while Adler was in rehab.
The band proceeded to tour the United States, Australia and Japan, while serving as opening acts on North America shows by Iron Maiden and Aerosmith. Tim Collins, Aerosmith’s then-manager, remarked, “By the end of the tour, Guns N’ Roses were huge. They basically just exploded. We were all pissed that Rolling Stone Magazine showed up to do a story on Aerosmith, but Guns N’ Roses ended up on the cover of the magazine. Suddenly, the opening act was bigger than we were.”
Guns N’ Roses’ second album, G N’ R Lies, was released in November 1988. It included the four recordings from the band’s 1986 EP Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide as well as four new acoustic tracks. “Patience”, the only single, reached number 4 in the U.S., while the album reached number 2. The album cover, a parody of tabloid newspapers, was modified after initial pressings to remove the headlines “Wife-beating has been around for 10,000 years” and “Ladies, welcome to the dark ages”.
The song “One in a Million” raised accusations of racism and homophobia. Rose denied that he was a racist and defended his use of the word “nigger”, claiming that “it’s a word to describe somebody that is basically a pain in your life, a problem. The word nigger doesn’t necessarily mean black.” He cited the rap group N.W.A. and the John Lennon song “Woman Is the Nigger of the World” as other examples of musicians using the word. Several years later, Rose conceded that he had used the word as an insult towards black people who had tried to rob him, and because the word is a taboo. In response to the allegations of homophobia, Rose stated that he considered himself “pro-heterosexual” and blamed this attitude on “bad experiences” with gay men.
During a November 1987 show in Atlanta, Rose assaulted a security guard and was held backstage by police, while the band continued playing with a roadie singing. Riots nearly broke out during two August 1988 shows in New York State. At England’s Monsters of Rock festival, held that same month, two fans were crushed to death during the group’s set by the slam-dancing crowd. During the first of four October 1989 dates opening for the Rolling Stones at the L.A. Coliseum, Rose announced that the shows would be the group’s last if certain members of the band did not stop “dancing with Mr. Brownstone”, a reference to the band’s song of the same name about heroin. Events such as these helped earn Guns N’ Roses the moniker “the most dangerous band in the world”.
In 1990, Guns N’ Roses returned to the studio. Adler was briefly fired over his drug use, but was reinstated after signing a contract in which he vowed to stop taking drugs. During the recording session of “Civil War”, Adler was unable to perform well due to his struggles with cocaine and heroin addiction, and caused the band to do nearly 30 takes. Adler claimed at the time he was sick from taking opiate blockers to help with the addictions. He was fired on July 11, 1990, as a result, and later filed a lawsuit against the band. In 2005, he recalled:
Doug Goldstein called me into the office about two weeks later. He wanted me to sign some contracts. I was told that every time I did heroin, the band would fine me $2,000. There was a whole stack of papers, with colored paper clips everywhere for my signatures. What these contracts actually said was that the band were paying me $2,000 to leave. They were taking my royalties, all my writing credits. They didn’t like me anymore and just wanted me gone. That’s why I filed the lawsuit – to get all those things back.
Martin Chambers of the Pretenders and Adam Maples of Sea Hags were considered as replacements. Jussi Tegelman, from local band Havana Black, assisted on drums in studio sessions before a permanent replacement was found. The position was filled by drummer Matt Sorum, who had played briefly with the Cult. Slash credited Sorum with preventing the band from breaking up at the time.
In response to an interviewer’s suggestion that replacing Adler with Sorum had turned Guns N’ Roses from a rock ‘n’ roll band to a heavy metal band, 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 … 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.”
A few months prior, keyboardist Dizzy Reed became the sixth member of the group when he joined as a full-time member. Reed was previously bandmates with Sorum in Johnny Crash. Guns N’ Roses band fired its manager, Alan Niven, replacing him with Doug Goldstein in May 1991. According to a 1991 cover story by Rolling Stone, Rose forced the dismissal of Niven against the wishes of some of his bandmates by refusing to complete the albums until he was replaced.
The band released the recordings as two albums, 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, making Guns N’ Roses the only act to achieve this feat until hip hop artist Nelly in 2004. The albums sold 770,000 units (Use Your Illusion II) and 685,000 units (Use Your Illusion I) in their first week, and spent 108 weeks on the chart. They have sold a combined 35 million copies worldwide, including 14 million in the United States.
Guns N’ Roses accompanied the Use Your Illusion albums with many videos, including “Don’t Cry”, “November Rain” and “Estranged”, some the most expensive music videos ever made. The ballad “November Rain” reached number 3 in the US and became the most requested video on MTV, eventually winning the 1992 MTV Video Music Award for best cinematography. At 8.57, it is also the longest song in US chart history to reach the top ten. During the awards show, the band performed the song with Elton John accompanying on piano.
Before 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. The tour had 192 dates in 27 countries, with over seven million people attending concerts. It is considered the “longest tour in rock history”. The Use Your Illusion World Tour program included a guitar solo from Slash based on The Godfather theme, a piano-driven cover of “It’s Alright” by Black Sabbath, and an extended jam on the classic rock-inspired “Move to the City”, where the group showcased the ensemble of musicians assembled for the tour.
On July 2, 1991, at the Riverport Amphitheater in Maryland Heights, Missouri, outside the city of St Louis, Rose discovered that a fan was filming the show with a camera. After asking the venue’s security to take away the camera, Rose jumped into the audience, had a heated confrontation with the fan, and assaulted him. After being pulled from 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 the stage. The angry crowd rioted, injuring dozens. Footage was captured by Robert John, who was documenting the tour. The police were unable to arrest Rose 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, which were ignored, and that other members of the band had reported being hit by bottles launched from the audience, while the security staff refused to enforce a drinking limit. As a result, 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, his mismanagement of the band, and difficulties being around Slash, Sorum, and McKagan due to his newfound sobriety and their continuing addictions. Stradlin later commented, “Once I quit drugs, I couldn’t help looking around and asking myself, ‘Is this all there is?’ I was just tired of it; I needed to get out.” The band had three weeks to find a replacement or cancel several shows. Dave Navarro from Jane’s Addiction was considered, but according to Slash “he couldn’t get it together”. Stradlin was eventually replaced by Los Angeles guitarist Gilby Clarke, whom Slash credited for saving the band.
At many shows on the tour, Rose introduced Clarke to the audience, and Slash and Clarke would play “Wild Horses”, a Rolling Stones cover. In late 1991, the band added a touring ensemble, including a horn section and backing vocalists. In 1993, Clarke broke his arm in a motorcycle accident during the tour, and was replaced for several weeks by Stradlin.
In 1992, the band performed three songs at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. Because of the controversial song “One in a Million”, activist group ACT UP demanded that the band be dropped from the bill and urged other artists to shun the group and the crowd to boo it. Members of Queen dismissed the activists, with lead guitarist Brian May stating: “People seem so blind. Don’t they realize that the mere fact that Guns N’ Roses are here is the biggest statement that you could get?” Slash later performed “Tie Your Mother Down” with the remaining members of Queen and Def Leppard vocalist Joe Elliott, while 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 the band returned to the US for the second leg of the Use Your Illusion Tour, Rose had wanted the grunge band Nirvana as the support act, but lead singer Kurt Cobain declined.
Later that year, Guns N’ Roses embarked on the Guns N’ Roses/Metallica Stadium Tour with heavy metal band Metallica, supported by Faith No More, Motörhead, and Body Count. During a show in August 1992 at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, Metallica’s lead singer James Hetfield suffered second-degree burns to his hands and face after malfunctions with pyrotechnics. 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 and the band members could not hear themselves. In addition, Rose claimed that his throat hurt, causing the band to leave the stage early. The cancellation led to another audience riot, in which 10 audience members and three police officers were injured. Police made at least a dozen arrests related to the incident.
The pyrotechnics incident and riot can be seen on video in A Year and a Half in the Life of Metallica. In a segment on the video, Hetfield mocked Rose and read his personal tour rider, making fun of various items on the list. Rose responded by addressing the crowd during a later concert, labeling Hetfield a racist for his decision to pull Body Count from the tour, called him a “stupid little cocksucker”, and denigrated the rest of the band. On VH1’s Behind the Music documentary about Metallica, Hetfield stated that “We couldn’t relate to Axl and his attitude.” Other members of Metallica and Rose stated that the groups were not friendly.
In mid-1993, former drummer Steven Adler’s lawsuit was settled out of court; Adler received a back-payment check of $2,250,000 and 15% royalties for songs he recorded.
The Use Your Illusion tour ended in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on July 17, 1993. The tour set attendance records and lasted for 28 months, in which 194 shows were played. The show in Buenos Aires marked the last time that Sorum and Clarke played in the band, and the last time Slash performed with the band until 2016.
Initially, the band planned to release an EP of covers in 1992 or 1993, but decided to record a full album. Their fifth studio album, “The Spaghetti Incident?”, a collection of punk and glam rock covers, was released on November 23, 1993. Stradlin’s guitar parts were rerecorded by Gilby Clarke. Many of the tracks were recorded during the same sessions as the Illusions albums, which were originally intended to produce 3 or 4 albums. McKagan sings on many tracks and Hanoi Rocks frontman Michael Monroe appears on “Ain’t It Fun” as a guest vocalist. Slash described the recording as “spontaneous and unpainted”. The title references an incident Steven Adler had in 1989; while the band was temporarily staying at an apartment in Chicago. Adler stored his drugs in a refrigerator next to the band’s takeout containers, which contained Italian food. McKagan explained that Adler’s code word for his stash was ‘spaghetti’. In his lawsuit against the band, Adler’s lawyer asked the band to “tell us about the spaghetti incident,” which the band found amusing and used as the title of the album. The album debuted at number 4 on the Billboard charts, and sold 190,000 copies its first week.
The album includes a hidden track, a cover of “Look at Your Game, Girl” by the murderer Charles Manson. The track was kept secret and left off advance tapes sent to reviewers. Band manager Doug Goldstein stated: “There is a bonus track on the album, but Axl wants it to speak for itself … It wasn’t done for the critics or anybody else. It was a bonus for the fans.” The inclusion of the song caused controversy, with law enforcement and victims rights groups expressing outrage. Rose said: “The reason we didn’t list that song on our album is we wanted to downplay it. We don’t give any credit to Charles Manson on the album.” The band considered removing the song from new pressings of the album. Label president David Geffen stated: “I would hope that if Axl Rose had realized how offensive people would find this, he would not have ever recorded this song in the first place. The fact that Charles Manson would be earning money based on the fame he derived committing one of the most horrific crimes of the 20th Century is unthinkable to me.” Slash mentioned that the song was “done with naive and innocent black humor on our part”. Rose stated he would donate all performance royalties from the song to a nonprofit environmental organization. According to Slash, that the group intended to remove the song before learning that royalties would be donated to Bartek Frykowski, the son of Wojciech Frykowski, a victim of Manson during the Tate Murders. Geffen Records released a statement mentioning that the label’s share of royalties would be donated to the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau. Rose can be seen wearing a Manson shirt in the video for “Estranged” and during a concert in Milton Keynes, England, in 1993. Rose explained wearing the shirt as “trying to make a statement” because “a lot of people enjoy playing me as the bad guy and the crazy. Sorry, I’m not that guy. I’m nothing like him.” Years later, Rose said the song would be removed from new pressings of the album, claiming that critics and the media had misinterpreted his interest in Manson; however, it is still featured on pressings of the album.
Between 1994 and 1996, the band sporadically recorded new material. Slash stated that most of this was written by Rose, but in 2008, Rose wrote on the band’s website that Rose was allowed very little input. According to Matt Sorum, in 1996, the band had recorded seven songs, with seven more in the writing stages, and intended to release a single album with 10 or 12 songs in spring 1997. Sorum said that It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere, the debut album from Slash’s band Slash’s Snakepit, “could have been a Guns N’ Roses album, but Axl didn’t think it was good enough”.
In May 1994, Gilby Clarke said work on the next Guns N’ Roses album had ended. He described the incomplete album as “not as sophisticated as Illusion, but not as wild as Appetite.” It was described by McKagan as consisting of “up-tempo rock songs” with “no ballads”. In 2002, Rose said the guitar work Slash had recorded was the “best playing done at least since Illusions.” Rose said the material was scrapped due to the lack of collaboration between band members. He told USA Today in 2012 that he did not write any music “for years” in the mid-1990s because of criticism from Slash, McKagan, and ex-fiancee Stephanie Seymour.
In January 1994, Rose inducted Elton John into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and that night performed a duet with Bruce Springsteen on a cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together”. It was Rose’s final public performance for six years. Also in 1994, all of the members of the band at the time contributed to Gilby Clarke’s debut album, Pawnshop Guitars.
In December 1994, GN’R released a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”. The song appeared in the films Interview with the Vampire and Fallen and was released as a single. Entertainment Weekly stated that the ‘note-for-note remake works up a decent lather but seems utterly bankrupt’. It is the final GN’R track to feature Slash on lead guitar, McKagan on bass, and Sorum on drums. The song also featured Rose’s childhood friend and Hollywood Rose collaborator Paul “Huge” Tobias on rhythm guitar. Tobias’s presence on the track and in the band created tension; reportedly Slash had ‘creative and personal differences’ with Tobias. A 2001 interview revealed Slash told his bandmates in September 1996, “I’m going to confront it. Either Paul goes, or .”
The music was going in a direction that was completely indulgent to his friend … And another factor is this guy that Axl brought in and told us, ‘This is our new guitar player’ … There was no democracy there. And that’s when Slash really started going, ‘Fuck this. What, this is his band now? or something?’ … It was ridiculous. I’d go down there to start rehearsal at 10, and Axl would show up at four or five in the morning. That sort of thing was going on for a couple of years.
Gilby Clarke’s contract was not renewed and he was gone from the band by 1995. Slash stated in his book that Rose fired Clarke without consulting anyone, claiming he was a “hired hand”. Clarke was not involved in the recording of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’: “I knew that that was the ending because nobody told me about it. Officially I was in the band at that time, and they did that song without me.” Clarke mentioned that before the final show of the Use Your Illusion Tour, Rose told him “Hey, enjoy your last show”. Clarke later sued the band over the use of his likeness in Guns N’ Roses Pinball.
In August 1995, Rose legally left the band, creating a new partnership under the same name, later saying “I’d left and formed a new partnership, which was only an effort to salvage Guns not steal it.” Slash commented in his autobiography, “I didn’t really know what else to do after Axl sent a letter saying that he was leaving the band and taking the name with him under the terms of the new contract. After that we tried to put it back together.” Rose reportedly purchased the full rights to the Guns N’ Roses name in 1997. Slash claimed he and bandmates signed over the name under duress: “Axl refused to go onstage one night during the Use Your Illusion tour in 1992 unless the band signed away the name rights to the band. Unfortunately, we signed it. I didn’t think he’d go on stage otherwise.” Rose denied the claim, saying “(it) Never happened, all made up, fallacy and fantasy. Not one single solitary thread of truth to it. Had that been the case I would have been cremated years ago legally, could’ve cleaned me out for the name and damages. It’s called under duress with extenuating circumstances.”
In 1996, Rose, Slash, McKagan, and former member Izzy Stradlin guested on Anxious Disease, the debut album by The Outpatience, featuring GN’R collaborator West Arkeen which would be the last material the four classic era members worked on together. The recording of “Sympathy for the Devil”, coupled with tension between Slash and Rose, led the former to quit the band officially in October 1996. Rose sent a fax notifying MTV of the departure, and Slash responded: “Axl and I have not been capable of seeing eye to eye on Guns N’ Roses for some time. We tried to collaborate, but at this point, I’m no longer in the band.” Slash stated, “Axl’s whole visionary style, as far as his input in Guns N’ Roses, is completely different from mine. I just like to play guitar, write a good riff, go out there and play, as opposed to presenting an image.”
Slash was replaced by Nine Inch Nails touring guitarist Robin Finck in January 1997. He signed a two-year contract with the band in August 1997, making him an official member. Finck was originally recommended by Matt Sorum to Rose a year earlier as a possible second guitarist to complement Slash. Slash’s departure was followed shortly thereafter by Matt Sorum in April 1997, who was fired by Rose after getting in an argument about Tobias’s inclusion in the band. Sorum later stated Tobias was the “Yoko Ono of Guns N’ Roses”. McKagan was the last of the Appetite lineup to leave, resigning as bassist in August 1997. McKagan had recently become a father and wrote about his decision to leave in his autobiography: “Guns had been paying rent on studios for three years now—from 1994 to 1997—and still did not have a single song. The whole operation was so erratic that it didn’t seem to fit with my hopes for parenthood, for stability.” An actual break-up of Guns N’ Roses never occurred, as new members were brought in as the old ones left.
Rose auditioned multiple potential members, including Chris Vrenna, Zakk Wylde, Dave Abbruzzese, Michael Bland, Joey Castillo and Failure drummer Kelli Scott. Rolling Stone reported in April 1997 that the lineup of Guns N’ Roses was Rose, McKagan, Tobias, Finck & Vrenna. Dizzy Reed’s roommate and friend Sean Riggs participated with the group as a studio drummer sporadically during these years, receiving writing credits on “Oh My God”.
Josh Freese was ultimately hired to replace Sorum on drums, joining in the summer of 1997. After being recommended by Freese, former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson joined in 1998, replacing McKagan. By the end of 1998, a new version of Guns N’ Roses had emerged: Rose on lead vocals, Stinson on bass, Freese on drums, Finck on lead guitar, Tobias on rhythm guitar, Reed on keyboards, and multi-instrumentalist Chris Pitman.
Geffen released an edited single disc version of the Illusion albums in 1998, entitled Use Your Illusion. In November 1999, the label released Live Era ’87–’93, a collection of live performances from various concerts during the Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion tours. Former guitarist Slash described the selection of songs of the album as a “very mutual effort”, further adding “the live album was one of the easiest projects we all worked on. I didn’t actually see Axl, but we communicated via the powers that be.”
A new Guns N’ Roses album had reportedly been in the works since 1994, with Rose the only original member still in the band. Moby was reported to be producing with Guns N’ Roses in 1997, with work that sources described as “sounding different from the sound you know … definitely electronic influenced.” Mike Clink, who had previously produced every Guns N’ Roses album, was also attached to produce in May 1997. In April 1998, Moby was replaced by Youth, and the album was still in the writing stages. In July 1998, journalist Neil Strauss indicated that an ‘electronica influenced’ album by a new Guns N’ Roses lineup was due in 1999. Rolling Stone stated that the label planned for the album to be released in late 1999. By August 1999, the band had recorded over 30 songs for the album, tentatively titled 2000 Intentions. September 1999 saw Youth being replaced by producer Sean Beaven, known for his work with several industrial bands.
In November 1999, during an interview with Kurt Loder for MTV, Rose said that he had re-recorded Appetite for Destruction with the then-new band, apart from two songs which he had replaced with “Patience” and “You Could Be Mine”. During the interview, Rose announced the title of the upcoming album Chinese Democracy, stating:
There’s a lot of Chinese democracy movements, and it’s something that there’s a lot of talk about, and it’s something that will be nice to see. It could also just be like an ironic statement. I don’t know, I just like the sound of it. (The album has) a lot of different sounds. There’s some heavy songs, there’s a lot of aggressive songs, but they’re all in different styles and different sounds. It is truly a melting pot.
Band manager Doug Goldstein stated in November 1999 that the band had ‘almost finished’ recording the music, and the album was due out some time in 2000. Later that month, the band released a new song, the industrial styled “Oh My God”, which was included on the soundtrack of the film End of Days. The track featured additional guitar work by Dave Navarro and Gary Sunshine, Rose’s personal guitar teacher. Rose claimed that former members Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum had ‘failed to see the potential’ of the song and had no interest in recording or playing the piece.
In August 1999, guitarist Robin Finck departed to rejoin his former band, Nine Inch Nails, on tour. In March 2000, avant-garde guitarist Brian Carroll, more commonly referred to as Buckethead, joined Guns N’ Roses as a replacement for Finck. Also in March 2000, drummer Josh Freese left the band, being replaced with Bryan “Brain” Mantia (formerly of Primus). Mantia, a childhood friend of Carroll’s, had previously worked with Buckethead in several bands, including Praxis. Robin Finck returned to the band in late 2000, to complement Buckethead on lead guitar. Queen guitarist Brian May and former Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker worked with the band in 2000. With the album nearing completion in mid-2000, Baker convinced Rose to re-record the entire album, causing further delays.
In an interview with Rolling Stone in February 2000, Rose played several songs of the upcoming album to reporters, including “Chinese Democracy”, “Catcher in the Rye”, “I.R.S.”, “The Blues”, “There Was a Time” and “Oklahoma”. Rose mentioned that part of the delay of the new album was him ‘educating himself about the technology that’s come to define rock’, stating that “it’s like from scratch, learning how to work with something, and not wanting it just to be something you did on a computer.” Rolling Stone described the album as “Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti remixed by Beck and Trent Reznor. Rose mentioned that the expense of the record would be negated by the recording sessions yielding multiple albums, including a record that is “more industrial and electronica-influenced than Chinese Democracy”. At that point, the album had gone through multiple producers, including Youth, Moby, Mike Clink, Roy Thomas Baker, Eric Caudieux. At the time, Sean Beavan was producing, but Caram Costanzo and Axl Rose became the final credited producers on the album. The album had been completely re-recorded several times with varying musicians and producers. In a 2001 interview, Rose described the album as having “all kinds of styles, many influences as blues, mixed in the songs” and said that it was “not industrial”.
Describing why he continued using the Guns N’ Roses name, instead of labeling the upcoming album an ‘Axl Rose solo album’, Rose stated “It is something I lived by before these guys were in it. And there were other people in Guns n’ Roses before them, you know. I contemplated letting go of that, but it doesn’t feel right in any way. I am not the person who chose to try to kill it and walked away. It’s not an Axl Rose album, even if it’s what I wanted it to be. Everybody is putting everything they’ve got into singing and building. Maybe I’m helping steer it to what it should be built like.” Also in the interview, Rose attributed the breakup of the old lineup to drug addictions and ‘an effort from inside the band to destroy him’, stating “There was an effort to bring me down. It was a king-of-the-mountain thing,” and that he “needed to take control to survive”. Rose also described the dissolution as “a divorce”.
Jim Barber, a former A&R executive with Geffen stated that the new album “reminded me of the best moments of Seventies Pink Floyd or later Led Zeppelin. There’s nothing out there right now that has that kind of scope. Axl hasn’t spent the last several years struggling to write Use Your Illusion over again.”
Eight years after the previous Guns N’ Roses concert, the band made a public appearance in January 2001 with two well-received concerts: one in Las Vegas and one at the Rock in Rio Festival in Rio de Janeiro. The band played both songs from previous albums and songs from then-unreleased Chinese Democracy. During the band’s Rock in Rio set, Rose made the following comment regarding former members of the band:
I know that many of you are disappointed that some of the people you came to know and love could not be with us here today. Regardless of what you have heard or read, people worked very hard (meaning my former friends) to do everything they could so that I could not be here today. I am as hurt and disappointed as you that unlike Oasis, we could not find a way to all get along.
The group played a further two shows in Las Vegas at the end of 2001. Former guitarist Slash claimed that he tried to attend a show and was turned away at the door by security. Due to his frustrations with touring, rhythm guitarist Paul Tobias left the band in 2002 and was replaced by Richard Fortus (formerly of The Psychedelic Furs and Love Spit Love). Fortus is good friends with and had previously collaborated with bassist Tommy Stinson, who recommended him for the position. Producer Roy Thomas Baker was fired in February 2002. Drudge Report reported in June 2002 that Chinese Democracy was scheduled for a September 2, 2002 release.
The band then played several shows in August 2002, headlining festivals and concerts throughout Asia and Europe, including Pukkelpop, Summer Sonic Festival, and The Carling Weekend. At the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards on August 29, 2002, Guns N’ Roses closed the show in a previously unannounced performance, playing “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Madagascar”, and “Paradise City”.
In November 2002, the band’s first North American tour since 1993 was organized to support Chinese Democracy, with CKY and Mix Master Mike joining. However, the opening show in Vancouver was canceled by the venue when Rose failed to turn up. According to Guns’ management, “Axl’s flight from L.A. had been delayed by mechanical troubles”. A riot ensued. This tour was met with mixed results. Some concerts did not sell well, while shows in larger markets such as New York City sold out in minutes. Due to a second riot by fans in Philadelphia when the band failed to show up again, tour promoter Clear Channel canceled the remainder of the tour. Rose later mentioned in 2006, “There are reasons that I have not spoken more about that have been extremely complicated and are not legally resolved behind the scenes to this day and could have possibly jeopardized the future of Guns N’ Roses.” Rose then apologized to the city of Philadelphia when playing there in 2012, adding “I’m not saying I’m innocent”.
—Opening band CKY
The band went on hiatus in 2003. While on hiatus on September 1, 2004, baseball player Mike Piazza leaked a previously unheard track, “I.R.S.” on the Eddie Trunk radio show. The band management heard about the nationwide leak, and obtained a cease and desist order for all stations that had a copy of the track. The band’s hiatus continued until it was scheduled to play at Rock in Rio Lisboa in May 2004. However, Buckethead left the band in March of that year, causing the band to cancel. Buckethead reportedly left the band because of the “inability to complete an album or tour”, according to his manager. Rose claimed “the band has been put in an untenable position by guitarist Buckethead and his untimely departure. During his tenure with the band, Buckethead has been inconsistent and erratic in both his behavior and commitment, despite being under contract, creating uncertainty and confusion and making it virtually impossible to move forward with recording, rehearsals and live plans with confidence. His transient lifestyle has made it impossible for even his closest friends to have nearly any form of communication with him whatsoever.”
That same month, Geffen released Guns N’ Roses’ Greatest Hits, since Rose had failed to deliver a new studio album in more than ten years. Slash and McKagan joined Rose in suing Geffen to stop the release of the album, which was compiled without authorization from any current or former band members. The lawsuit was thrown out and the album went triple platinum in the US, eventually going on to be the third longest charting album in the Nielsen SoundScan era. McKagan and Slash also joined Rose in an unsuccessful effort to prevent the release of The Roots of Guns N’ Roses.
By 2005, Geffen had taken Chinese Democracy off of its release schedule and pulled funding, stating “Having exceeded all budgeted and approved recording costs by millions of dollars, it is Mr. Rose’s obligation to fund and complete the album, not Geffen’s.” Around then, manager Merck Mercuriadis stated that “The ‘Chinese Democracy’ album is very close to being completed”. According to a 2005 report by The New York Times, Rose had allegedly spent $13 million in the studio by that point. Mercuriadis rejected the budget claims made by the New York Times article and claimed that the newspaper’s sources had not been involved with the project for “six to nine years”. The $13 million makes the album the most expensive rock album ever produced.
In February 2006, demos of the songs “Better”, “Catcher in the Rye”, “I.R.S.”, and “There Was a Time” were leaked on to the Internet through a Guns N’ Roses fan site. The band’s management requested that all links to the MP3 files and all lyrics to the songs be removed from forums and websites. Despite this, radio stations began adding “I.R.S.” to playlists, and the song reached No. 49 on the Radio & Records Active Rock National Airplay chart in the final week of February.
In August 2006, Slash and McKagan sued Rose over Guns N’ Roses publishing and songwriting credits, which Rose’s lawyer claimed were due to a ‘clerical error’ while changing publishers.
After a recommendation by guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani, guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal was contacted by keyboardist Chris Pitman in 2004. After sending demos and jamming with the band, Thal officially joined Guns N’ Roses in 2006, replacing Buckethead. Thal made his live debut with the band at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City on May 12, 2006, the band’s first live show in over three years.
Five warm-up shows before a North American tour were held in September 2006. The tour officially commenced on October 24 in Miami. Drummer Frank Ferrer replaced Bryan Mantia, who took a leave of absence to be with his wife and newborn child. Ferrer had previously worked with Richard Fortus in the Psychedelic Furs and Love Spit Love (and had been a member of several other bands, including The Beautiful). Coinciding with the tour, the song “Better” was featured in an internet advertisement for Harley-Davidson in October 2006. Keyboardist Dizzy Reed stated that the release was an accident, with two versions being made—one ‘experimental edit’ featuring a demo of “Better” and one with “Paradise City”. The ad with Better was mislabeled and inadvertently uploaded online for a day before being replaced by the intended ad with Paradise City. That same month, Rolling Stone published an article revealing that Andy Wallace would be mixing the final album.
In November 2006 shows in Portland, Maine, were cancelled, with the band claiming it was “due to limitations imposed by local fire marshals”. Rose later apologized in a statement, stating “We have chosen to take the public heat for these events in order to have another shot at the future today with a new album.”
In December 2006, Rose released an open letter to fans announcing that Merck Mercuriadis had been fired as the band’s manager. He revealed that the last four dates of the North American tour would be cut so the band could work on post-production for Chinese Democracy. He also set a tentative release date for the album for the first time since the album’s announcement: March 6, 2007.
On February 23, 2007, Del James announced that the recording stage of Chinese Democracy was finished, and the band had now moved onto mixing the album, mentioning “After some delays and scheduling difficulties, things appear to be moving along.” However, this proved that March 6 release date would be impossible to achieve, and the album once again had no scheduled release date. In a December 2007 interview, Sebastian Bach claimed Rose had planned to have the album released by Christmas 2007: “I know Axl was very serious about putting something out before Christmas. He was talking to me about it. He was talking about finishing liner notes.” Bach also said that Chinese Democracy’s delay might be because of business problems: “I think there’s a lot of business shit that goes on with him. It’s just not as easy. It’s a little more complicated than people think.”
Also in February 2007, the ‘final’ version of “Better” leaked online to positive reviews. On May 4, 2007, three more tracks leaked from Chinese Democracy; an updated version of “I.R.S.”, “The Blues” and the title track. All three tracks had previously been played live. Guns N’ Roses embarked on the 2007 leg of the Chinese Democracy World Tour in Mexico in June, followed by dates in Australia and Japan. The songs “Nice Boys” and “Don’t Cry” (appearing as an instrumental Bumblefoot solo) were played for the first time since the Use Your Illusion Tour. The tour ended on the twentieth anniversary of Appetite for Destruction’s release date, in Osaka. During this tour, the band featured vocalist Axl Rose, Robin Finck, Ron Thal and Richard Fortus on guitars, Tommy Stinson on bass, Dizzy Reed and Chris Pitman on keyboards and Frank Ferrer on drums.
Rumors arose that Chinese Democracy had been handed over to Geffen Records, but had been delayed because the label and Rose could not agree on the marketing of the album in early 2008. Eddie Trunk also claimed Geffen might have the album: “I hear the new GNR CD is actually done, but the delay in release is not the bands issues but the label. There is so much money tied up in this record that in todays business it will be virtually impossible to be profitable, meaning the label might want to sell it off but can not find a buyer since nobody buys CDs anymore. Problem might not be Axl this time around and might keep this CD in limbo for more years to come. Hopefully it gets resolved.” However, in a February 2008 interview with Classic Rock Magazine, Rose’s manager, Beta Lebeis, debunked Trunk’s suggestion and stated the band is “in negotiations” with the record label, and the album had been finished since Christmas 2007.
On March 26, 2008, Dr Pepper announced a plan to give everyone in America – except the band’s former guitarists Slash and Buckethead – a free can of Dr Pepper if the band released Chinese Democracy before the end of 2008. Rose stated he was “surprised and very happy” about the announcement, adding, “As some of Buckethead’s performances are on our album, I’ll share my Dr Pepper with him.” With the announcement from Guns N’ Roses regarding a release date in November, Tony Jacobs, Dr Pepper’s Vice President of Marketing for Dr. Pepper, announced a free soda coupon campaign for 24 hours on Sunday, November 23, 2008. However, due to “heavy volume” on the server throughout the entire day, it was impossible to submit for a free coupon.
On March 27, 2008, the day after Dr Pepper’s announcement, the band members announced that they had hired a new management team, headed by Irving Azoff and Andy Gould. The band later condemned Dr. Pepper for the failed promotion. In a letter to Dr Pepper, Rose’s lawyer Alan Gutman said “The redemption scheme your company clumsily implemented for this offer was an unmitigated disaster which defrauded consumers and, in the eyes of vocal fans, ruined Chinese Democracy’s release.” Rose’s lawyer also demanded that the company make a full-page apology that would appear in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. In a 2009 interview, Rose stated he specifically told his lawyers it was a non-issue and was taken off-guard by their actions, believing they should be focused on the record release.
Amidst industry rumors in April 2008 that a release was coming soon, nine tracks purported to be from Chinese Democracy were leaked to a website on June 19, 2008, but were quickly removed due to a cease-and-desist letter from the band’s label. Six of the leaked tracks had surfaced previously in some form, while three were new. The leaked songs were more fleshed out than previously heard tracks. On July 14, 2008, Harmonix, in conjunction with MTV Games, officially announced the release of a new song from Chinese Democracy, called “Shackler’s Revenge”, through the new game Rock Band 2. The entire album was eventually added to the game as DLC in April 2009. The song “If the World” debuted October 10, 2008, playing in the end credits of the Ridley Scott film Body of Lies.
In late August, speculation about the impending release of the album resurfaced, further fueled by separate reports from both Rolling Stone and Billboard about a November 25 release date as a Best Buy exclusive. This was finally confirmed October 22 when band management, Best Buy, and Interscope Geffen A&M Records officially issued a joint press release confirming the much anticipated release of the album in the US on November 23 as a Best Buy exclusive. Several days before its official release, the band streamed the entire Chinese Democracy album on the group’s Myspace page. The album was streamed over three million times, breaking the Myspace record for most streamed album ever.
Chinese Democracy, the band’s sixth studio album and its first since 1993’s “The Spaghetti Incident?”, was released on November 22, 2008, in Europe and Australia, in North America on November 23, 2008, and in the United Kingdom on November 24, 2008. The album had an estimated $14 million in production costs, making it the most expensive rock album to ever be produced in music history. It debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 but undersold industry expectations, despite generally positive critical reception.
In an MTV phone interview with Kurt Loder in 1999, Rose said he and the then-new band had recorded enough material for a double album. In an informal chat with Rolling Stone magazine in February 2006, Rose stated the band had 32 songs in the works. While appearing on various fan message boards in December 2008, Rose stated several working titles of songs for a possible future album. Among the working titles were: “Elvis Presley and the Monster of Soul” (“Soul Monster”, formerly known as “Leave Me Alone”), “Atlas Shrugged”, “Seven”, “The General”, “Thyme”, “Ides of March”, “Berlin” (formerly “Oklahoma”), “Zodiac”, “Quick Song”, and “Down by the Ocean” (co-written by original member Izzy Stradlin). During the chat, he mentioned the bridge of “Soul Monster” as the band’s “most Black Sabbath” moment, and referred to it as “the meanest section of anything I’ve sung to date.” In a 2007 interview, Rose’s close friend Sebastian Bach stated “The General” had a “heavy” sound with “screaming vocals” and also said it was the sequel to the 1991 classic ballad “Estranged” from the album Use Your Illusion II. Bach also remarked that Chinese Democracy would be the first installment in a trilogy of new albums, and that Rose had told him the third, as yet untitled, album had been slated for 2012, although the year ended without seeing a release past Chinese Democracy. The initial plan for Chinese Democracy in 2001 was to record two albums, release Chinese Democracy, tour for a year or two, then release the second album without having to return to the studio.
Former drummer Bryan Mantia mentioned working on a ‘club remix’ of “Shackler’s Revenge”, stating that Rose planned to put out a remix album of songs from Chinese Democracy. Guitarist DJ Ashba has said that the next album is being discussed, stating that the band “has been throwing around a bunch of ideas” and joked that the next album “won’t take as long” to release. On April 20, 2011, Ashba said in an interview at the Revolver Golden Gods Awards that Guns N’ Roses have been “working on new songs every day”. In an interview with Triple M Melbourne’s The Hot Breakfast, Ashba talked about songs Rose has written, stating: “Axl has a lot of great songs up his sleeve. He probably has three albums worth of stuff recorded. The stuff I’ve heard … I’ve been up in his hotel room many nights and he just sits down at the piano and plays. I’m like ‘this is amazing, people have to hear this song’ and he’s like “ah, this is something I’m tinkering on’.”
On February 6, 2009, Rose gave his first interview in nine years when he sat down with Billboard’s Jonathan Cohen. Rose said that there was no chance that he would ever agree with a reunion with Slash:
What’s clear is that one of the two of us will die before a reunion and however sad, ugly or unfortunate anyone views it, it is how it is. Those decisions were made a long time ago and reiterated year after year by one man.
Rose was, however, open to working again with Stradlin and McKagan (both of whom he has worked with since the interview took place):
I could see doing a song or so on the side with Izzy or having him out again. I’m not so comfortable with doing anything having more than one of the alumni. Maybe something with Duff, but that’s it, and not something I’d have to really get down into, as I’d get left with sorting it out and then blamed on top of it. So, no, not me.
In early March 2009, industry insiders speculated Guns N’ Roses would launch a summer stadium tour, which eventually would become the Chinese Democracy World Tour 2009/2010. Later that month, the band announced that DJ Ashba would be the new lead guitarist, replacing a departing Robin Finck, who rejoined Nine Inch Nails. Ashba had previously played with former drummer Steven Adler in BulletBoys in 1998.
In June 2009, it was reported that manager Irving Azoff had been ‘fired, then re-hired, then fired’. A year later, Azoff’s company Front Line Management sued Rose, claiming he “violated an oral agreement to pay 15% of earnings, or nearly $2 million, from a lucrative concert tour”, seeking $1.87 million in unpaid fees. Rose filed a $5 million counter-lawsuit against Azoff, saying that Azoff sabotaged sales of Guns N’ Roses’ comeback album and lied about a potential “super tour” with Van Halen, a band managed by Azoff, as part of a plan to force Rose to reunite with his estranged former band members. Rose said in his suit that Azoff failed to promote his 2008 album, Chinese Democracy, and deliberately mishandled concert dates, “forcing Rose into a position where he would have no choice but to reunite with the original members of Guns N’ Roses for a reunion tour.” Rose claimed that Azoff “violated the consent decree by coercing and bullying artists to do what he wants” and that “Upon realizing that he couldn’t bully Rose and accomplish his scheme, Azoff resigned and abandoned Guns N’ Roses on the eve of a major tour, filing suit for commissions he didn’t earn and had no right to receive.” The lawsuit was settled “to the mutual satisfaction of the parties” in 2011. Several years later, Guns N’ Roses’ management, led by Rose’s former personal assistant Beta Lebeis and her family, stated that previous tensions led to an ultimatum of “no more managers”.
Guns N’ Roses headlined the Friday night at Reading Festival 2010 and closed Leeds Festival two days later. Guns N’ Roses was 58 minutes late coming on to the stage, and because of a curfew issued by Reading Council the band’s set ended at midnight. The band was therefore not able to complete its set, but nevertheless attempted to play “Paradise City” without amplification while the audience sang along. Rose orchestrated fan frustration toward the organizers, telling fans that the group would not play at the Leeds Festival. However, two days later the band played the final night of the Leeds Festival, coming onto stage 30 minutes late, and cutting part of the encore, with Rose stating to the crowd, “We come here to play for you but the cops and the promoters wanna fuck us in the ass. We would like to play a few more songs for you but we’ll just play one.” During a concert on September 1, in Dublin, the band was over an hour late arriving on stage. Rose stopped the band in the middle of the second song, “Welcome to the Jungle”, after multiple bottles were thrown on stage, warning the crowd “One more bottle and we go home. It’s up to you. We would like to stay. We want to stay. We want to have some fun.” After another bottle was thrown, the band left the stage during the fourth song of the set. The band returned to the stage an hour later to finish the show.
Former bassist Duff McKagan joined the band on stage for the first time since leaving the band on October 14, 2010 at The O2 Arena, in London, England. He performed four songs with the group: “You Could Be Mine”, “Nice Boys”, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, and “Patience”. The appearance was said to be a spur-of-the-moment decision, as he and Rose happened to be staying in the same hotel. Rose told the audience, “There was this guy at the end of my hallway playing all this loud music and shit. What the fuck? Oh — it’s Duff!”. McKagan later joined Guns N’ Roses on part of its tour for two Seattle shows in December 2011, as well as having his band Loaded open for Guns N’ Roses.
Guns N’ Roses performed at Rock in Rio 4 on October 2, 2011 during heavy rain, playing “Estranged” for the first time since 1993. Guitarist Bumblefoot stated that due to the conditions, it was the “worst concert he’s ever been a part of”. Two months later, during a performance in Nashville, TN “Civil War” also made a return after an eighteen-year absence. On November 10, 2011, Rose gave his first TV interview in years to Eddie Trunk, Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine of That Metal Show, discussing his whole career and the band’s future. Izzy Stradlin once again joined the band for a surprise performance at a wedding in Saint-Tropez, France in July 2012. Also in July 2012, the band toured Israel for the first time since 1992. NME reported that year that the band’s tour security said they had been instructed by Guns N’ Roses’ management that anyone wearing a Slash T-shirt not be allowed into the tour venue.
On December 7, 2011, it was announced that the classic Guns N’ Roses lineup was to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with several other acts, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Faces. Commenting on his Twitter, Rose stated “I’d like to thank the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame and our fans. This is your victory”. Commenting on the induction during his That Metal Show interview he said “I don’t know what it means in terms of me with the old band and the old lineup,”… “If we were to be invited, I don’t know what they would ask of me. It’s up in the air.” Slash also commented, saying, “Thanks for all the R&RHF mentions, It’s quite an honor to be inducted. Cheers! Iii|; )” He went on to say, “I have no idea how that’s supposed to go. If Axl, Duff, Izzy and myself start communicating, it could go one way. If we don’t, God knows.” In an interview, Dizzy Reed supported the hypothesis of the classic lineup reunited in the Hall of Fame, saying, “I know that all the original band is going to be there. I don’t know exactly what’s going to go down. It’s one of those things I’m sure will all come together and be really cool. Honestly, we haven’t spoken about it. I don’t know when or why or how to bring it up.”
On April 11, 2012, Rose released an open letter to “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Guns N’ Roses Fans and Whom It May Concern”, saying he would not be attending the induction. Rose stated, “I respectfully decline my induction as a member of Guns N’ Roses to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” and called it a “complicated and awkward situation”. After the ceremony, Rose released a statement on the band’s Facebook page apologizing to the city of Cleveland (where the ceremony took place) and detailing reasons why he did not attend, stating “I still don’t exactly know or understand what the Hall is or how or why it makes money, where the money goes, who chooses the voters and why anyone this board decides who, out of all the artists in the world that have contributed to this genre, officially “rock” enough to be in the Hall?”
On April 14, 2012, former Guns N’ Roses members Slash, Duff McKagan, Gilby Clarke, Steven Adler and Matt Sorum all reunited at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The group performed “Mr. Brownstone”, “Sweet Child o’ Mine”, and “Paradise City” with Alter Bridge and Slash’s band vocalist Myles Kennedy in Rose’s absence. Slash mentioned in an interview that “All things considered, I don’t think any of us wanted to be a part of it initially, didn’t think any of us were going to go. It was a thorn in everybody’s—well, at least a thorn in my side—because I was busy doing other stuff. When it finally came down to the wire at the very, very, very last-minute—I’m talking about the 11 hours and 30 seconds mark—Axl had pulled out.” In the same interview, Slash mentioned the prospects of a reunion, stating “It’s not even something I like to dwell on. I don’t even like to make comments because you end up with quotes that sometimes exacerbate the issue. I’ve got other things going on. I’m very, very proud—endlessly proud—of everything the band stood for and everything that’s gone on with it.” Slash then stated in a July 2012 interview that ” will ‘never reunite'”. In a later interview, former drummer Steven Adler stated that Matt Sorum would not take part in a potential reunion unless Adler was involved. Duff McKagan said in 2015, ” could happen, and it could not. And I think it would be wonderful, one day, if we reconciled, first and foremost. That alone would be cool.”
In early 2012, the band announced shows in the United States and Europe, titled the Up Close and Personal Tour. The shows themselves varied considerably in comparison to the previous Chinese Democracy Tour. All of the North American shows took place in smaller-scale clubs, rather than a large arena or stadium. All pyrotechnics were removed from the shows. The European leg of the tour began approximately one month after the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
On August 13, 2012, the band announced a residency at The Joint in Las Vegas entitled “Appetite for Democracy”, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the band’s debut album, Appetite for Destruction, and the fourth anniversary of the album Chinese Democracy. On November 21, 2012, the band’s performance in Vegas was taped in 3D, and was screened across theaters in 2014 before being released as Appetite for Democracy 3D on July 1, 2014. In October 2012, Guns N’ Roses performed an acoustic set at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit show. The performance was widely panned by critics, and Rose claimed an onset of strep throat hampered his vocals. The band launched a South American tour in early 2014, including playing in Brazil and Portugal. For several shows, former bassist Duff McKagan rejoined the band to fill in for Stinson, who had previous commitments to touring with The Replacements. The group headlined the Revolver Golden Gods awards show, with McKagan on bass, on April 24, 2014. During the ceremony, Rose was awarded the Ronnie James Dio lifetime achievement award. After the show, Fortus reiterated the band was working on material and mentioned the possibility of releasing new music within the next year.
From May 21 to June 7, 2014, the band returned to Las Vegas for its second residency at The Joint, titled No Trickery! An Evening of Destruction.
Guitarist DJ Ashba discussed a potential follow up to Chinese Democracy in a 2012 interview, stating “I’ve written and demoed up probably about 12 songs, I think. And some of them has heard, some of them he hasn’t yet. But I think when we get a little bit of time off, we’re gonna hopefully all get together and piece together what we think is gonna be the next best thing.” Richard Fortus mentioned the band heading to the studio to work on the album, hoping it would be completed by the end of 2012. In October 2012, Rose mentioned that the follow-up to Chinese Democracy would not take as long to be released, stating, “All the guys are writing, and we recorded a lot of songs over the years. We’ll figure out what we feel best about. Chinese was done in piecemeal with one person here and one there at different times.”
In August 2013, a new song titled “Going Down” was leaked online. The track features bassist Tommy Stinson on lead vocals, with Rose providing backing vocals. Bumblefoot confirmed the song to be legitimate on his Twitter. Spin described it as “a country-tinged, mid-tempo lighter-raiser with lyrics about how “you’ve got nothin’ good to say / Keep your mouth shut.”
In an interview in June 2014, Rose commented on upcoming plans:
We recorded a lot of things before Chinese was out. We’ve worked more on some of those things and we’ve written a few new things. But basically, we have what I call kind of the second half of Chinese. That’s already recorded. And then we have a remix album made of the songs from Chinese. That’s been done for a while, too. But after Vegas, we’re going to start looking very seriously at what we’re doing in that regard.
Reed mentioned that the next album was ‘close to being done’ in July 2014, adding it was “just a matter of picking out which songs will be on it” and that the band had a “shitload of songs, enough to make up another record or two”. Later that month, Fortus discussed the band working on new material and taking a break from touring. A year later, Fortus discussed a potential 2016 tour and mentioned that the next album “should be out” by then. Reed responded by saying “When will it come out? We just don’t know yet. Only Axl knows, and he’s very secretive. Be patient.”
On July 27, 2015, guitarist DJ Ashba left the band, citing his commitments to his family and other band, Sixx:A.M. Ashba released a statement saying “I have reached a point in my life where I feel it’s time to dedicate myself to my band Sixx:A.M., my adoring wife and family, and to the many new adventures that the future holds for me.” Several days later, music journalist Gary Graff reported that a ‘confirmed source within the band’ had told him that Ron Thal was no longer in Guns N’ Roses and had left after the 2014 tour. No official announcement from Thal or the band was made regarding his status. Tommy Stinson then left the band, citing personal reasons keeping him unable to tour. Frank Ferrer clarified the status of the band in mid-2015, saying “Guns still exist … a lot of moving parts, and there’s a lot of things in the works … everything is moving forward.”
On December 29, 2015, several days after a Guns N’ Roses-related teaser was released to movie theaters, Billboard reported that Slash was set to rejoin the band and a “reunited” lineup will headline Coachella 2016. Rose was set to appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live! the following week to talk about the future of the band, but his appearance was cancelled due to “unforeseen circumstances”. Guns N’ Roses was officially announced as the headliner of Coachella on January 4, 2016, with KROQ reporting Slash and Duff McKagan were rejoining the band. The Coachella festival confirmed via press release that McKagan and Slash were rejoining.
On March 25, 2016, the band announced 21 cities as part of a North American tour, dubbed the Not in This Lifetime… Tour. The tour’s name is a reference to a 2012 interview in which Rose, when asked about when a potential reunion would happen, responded “not in this lifetime”. A previously unannounced warmup gig at the Troubadour in Los Angeles took place on April 1, 2016. Melissa Reese, who has previously worked with former drummer Bryan Mantia on several projects, replaced Chris Pitman as the second keyboardist after Pitman quit. During the show at the Troubadour, Rose fell off a monitor and broke his foot. Rose was given Dave Grohl’s customized throne that Grohl had used to perform when he broke his leg at a concert.
The band’s first scheduled concerts with Slash and McKagan took place at the newly opened T-Mobile Arena on April 8 and 9, 2016. At the performance at the first weekend of Coachella, AC/DC guitarist Angus Young joined the band on stage (Rose was set to join AC/DC as a touring vocalist). During the band’s show of July 6, 2016, in Cincinnati, former drummer Steven Adler joined the band on drums for “Out ta Get Me” and “My Michelle”. It was the first time since 1990 that Adler performed with the group. Adler was originally going to take part in the April 1 show at the Troubadour, but had to pull out after having back surgery. Adler would later join the band at shows in Nashville, Los Angeles, and Buenos Aires. The tour featured additional guest performers, including Sebastian Bach, more appearances by Angus Young, Angry Anderson, P!nk, Billy Gibbons and Dave Grohl.
Additional legs of the tour were added for Latin America, Asia and Oceania through 2017. Later on, a second North American leg was added for 2017. A 2018 European leg was added in November 2017. In June 2019, another North American leg of the tour was announced, covering smaller market cities and festivals later in the year.
In November 2017, Guns N’ Roses was announced as the headline act at the UK Download Festival in June 2018. In addition, they won Top Tour/Top Draw at the 2017 Billboard Touring Awards. They were nominated for Top Touring artist and Top Rock Tour, as well as Top Duo/Group at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards. The next year, they were nominated again for Top Rock Tour and Top Touring artist. They also headlined the 2018 Graspop Metal Meeting, alongside Iron Maiden and Marilyn Manson.
The tour was a financial success, grossing over $480 million by December 2017 and at that time was listed as the fourth highest-grossing concert tour of all-time. By the end of the tour in December 2018, the tour had grossed $563.3 million, making it the then second-highest grossing tour, behind U2’s U2 360° Tour (Ed Sheeran’s ÷ Tour passed the tour gross the following year, bumping the Not in This Lifetime… Tour to third).
On April 30, 2018, billboards in several large cities, as well as a website (GNR.FM), were spotted with the tagline “Destruction Is Coming”. The website was updated with a countdown clock to May 4, 2018, and a snippet of the song “Shadow of Your Love” playing. Journalist Mitch Lafon stated the campaign was for a deluxe edition of Appetite for Destruction. A video announcement was inadvertently released a day early, detailing the “Appetite for Destruction: Locked N’ Loaded” edition. The box set includes 73 songs on four CDs (49 of which were previously unreleased) and seven 12-inch 180-gram LPs. It includes remastered versions of Appetite, Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide, an EP of B-sides, as well as 25 recordings from the group’s 1986 Sound City Studios sessions produced by Manny Charlton, and two previously unreleased tracks from the group’s sessions with Mike Clink. In addition to the music, the set includes a 96-page book with unreleased photos from Rose’s personal archive, 12 lithographs visualizing each song on the album, and assorted replica memorabilia. “Shadow of Your Love” was released as a single on May 4, 2018, the band’s first single in almost a decade. To promote the release, a previously unseen music video for “It’s So Easy” was released on Apple Music, as well as several promotional singles: “Welcome to the Jungle (1986 Sound City Session)”, “Move to the City (1988 Acoustic Version)” and “November Rain (Piano Version, 1986 Sound City Session)”. The box set was released on June 29, 2018 to universal critical acclaim.
Rose discussed Slash and McKagan rejoining in a June 2016 interview, stating “It was always looked at as a possibility, but it never seemed right or felt right”. During the interview, Rose also reiterated his intention to release new Guns N’ Roses music in the future. Slash later commented on the tour, telling Aerosmith’s Joey Kramer in an interview with WZLX that “We all were pretty positive (the reunion) would never happen, so it’s still sort of blowing our minds. … But everybody’s really getting along great and I think everybody’s come a long way, and it’s all cool.”
Guitarist Richard Fortus discussed the band’s plan to make new music in a July 2017 interview, stating that members had been recording individual and collaborative ideas but have yet to head to the studio as a band. Fortus later confirmed the band was working on a new album in a 2018 interview, stating “I think it will happen faster than you think.” In February 2019 both Slash and McKagan stated that an album was in the works. Slash reiterated in January 2020 that “stuff is happening” regarding the new album, blaming “the nature of the industry right now” for delays.
In 2020, the band announced a North American stadium tour, as well as several festival dates, billed as a new tour instead of a continuation of the Not in This Lifetime… Tour.
Guns N’ Roses signed with a major record label within eight months of the band’s inception, and topped national sales charts weeks after garnering late hours airplay on MTV. Appetite for Destruction is the highest-selling debut album of all time in the United States. Peers of the band in the music industry often spoke highly of the band. Joe Perry stated that the band was the first group to remind him of Led Zeppelin. Ozzy Osbourne stated that Guns N’ Roses could have been “the next Rolling Stones” if the classic lineup stayed together. Country musician Steve Earle stated in 1989 that “Guns N’ Roses are what every L.A. band pretends to be”.
The music of Guns N’ Roses is a fusion of punk rock, blues rock, heavy metal, hard rock, and hair metal. The Illusions albums saw the band branching out into art rock, while “The Spaghetti Incident?” saw the group blend hard rock with punk rock. The band has been credited with helping re-popularize power ballads in heavy metal music. Since the group’s 1999 revival, the band has retained hard rock features while also experimenting with industrial rock and electronic rock. In the 1990s, the band integrated keyed instruments (played by either Rose or Reed) into the band. Teddy Andreadis was brought in as an additional keyboardist & harmonica player for the Use Your Illusion Tour, alongside multiple backing vocalists and a brass and woodwind section. Later tours saw keyboardist Chris Pitman (and after 2016, Melissa Reese) contribute sub-bass and synth parts, as well as reproducing the brass and string parts of songs electronically.
A heavy influence on both the image and sound of Guns N’ Roses was the Finnish band Hanoi Rocks (singer Michael Monroe and Rose have collaborated on various occasions). Rose has stated that the band was massively inspired by groups like Queen, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, and Rose Tattoo, and that the sound of Appetite for Destruction was influenced by AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, Van Halen, the New York Dolls, and Hanoi Rocks. The band was also influenced by the likes of T. Rex and the Sex Pistols. Rose’s orchestral-style songwriting on the Illusion albums was influenced by the Electric Light Orchestra, Elton John, and Queen, particularly their album Queen II. Rose cited the influence of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in recording the title track of Chinese Democracy. Rose was heavily influenced by the industrial rock sound of Nine Inch Nails, changing the band’s sound in the lead up to Chinese Democracy. Critics noted influences of Queen, Wings and Andrew Lloyd Webber on some songs on Chinese Democracy.
Guns N’ Roses has influenced many modern rock bands such as Fall Out Boy, Avenged Sevenfold, Mother Love Bone, Buckcherry, Hinder, Manic Street Preachers, Nickelback, Bullet for My Valentine, Fozzy, The Strokes, Sum 41, and Black Label Society.
—Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry.
In 2002, Q magazine named Guns N’ Roses in its list of the “50 Bands to See Before You Die”. The television network VH1 ranked Guns N’ Roses ninth in its “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock” special, and also 32nd on its “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”. Appetite for Destruction was ranked 62nd greatest album of all time in Rolling Stone magazine’s special issue “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Guns N’ Roses No. 92 on its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”. “Paradise City” has also been voted 9th-best “Best Hard Rock Song” out of 100 candidates by VH1.
Guns N’ Roses was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 14, 2012 in its first year of eligibility. The group is one of the world’s best-selling bands of all time, having sold more than 100 million records worldwide, including shipments of 45 million in the United States. The U.S. release of the PlayStation game Mega Man X5 had the names of the game’s bosses changed in honor of the band. Their song “Sweet Child o’ Mine” has the most views on YouTube for a 1980s music video, and “November Rain” has the most for a 1990s music video, becoming the first from that decade to reach 1 billion views.
Several of the band’s members are considered among the best in their respective fields and the world’s most acclaimed—Rose has been called one of the best vocalists of all time, Slash ranked as one of the best guitar players of all time, and McKagan hailed as one of the best bass players in rock by publications ranging from Rolling Stone and NME to Time and Guitar World. Steven Adler was ranked as the 98th’s greatest drummer of all time by Rolling Stone, and later member, guitarist Buckethead, has been ranked among the fastest and most innovative guitarists of all time by publications such as Allmusic and Guitar World.
Guns N’ Roses has also received significant criticism throughout the years. The band received criticism for drug and alcohol use in the 1980s & early 1990s. The long periods of time between albums are another source of criticism. Songs such as “One in a Million” and the band’s cover of Charles Manson’s “Look at Your Game, Girl” were considerably controversial upon release. In addition, some lyrics have been regarded as sexist.
The band has also been criticized for tardiness and starting shows later than advertised. The band’s late appearances and “war” with Reading and Leeds Festivals have been criticized by artists and peers of the group in the industry.
In October 2009, Ulrich Schnauss’s record labels Independiente and Domino sued Guns N’ Roses, alleging that the band had committed copyright infringement by using portions of Schnauss’ compositions in the track “Riad N’ the Bedouins” on the album Chinese Democracy. The band claimed the samples “were provided by a member of the album’s production team who has assured us that these few seconds of sound were obtained legitimately.” Chinese Democracy was banned in the People’s Republic of China, due to perceived criticism in its title track of the Government of the People’s Republic of China and reference to the Falun Gong. The Chinese government said through the media that it “turns its spear point on China”.