ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, FEBRUARY 11, 1994
By Steve Newton
Guns N’ Roses may well be the most popular hard-rock band in the world. It’s certainly one of the most controversial, having made headlines recently with the much-publicized inclusion of an uncredited Charles Manson song on its latest recording, The Spaghetti Incident?
There’s also singer Axl Rose’s penchant for starting riots by ending concerts way before his typically rowdy fans want him to. Add to that the group’s image as a bunch of foulmouthed, booze-addled punks and its predilection for mixing themes of sex and violence—as heard on tunes such as “Pretty Tied Up” and “Anything Goes”—and you’ve got a band with a lot to answer for when interview time comes around.
But when lead guitarist Slash calls from the frostbitten realm of Toronto, I pass up any muckraking queries about Axl-induced riots or psycho songwriters and get right to the important stuff.
What I want to know is why they call him Slash!
“Oh, I was in junior high when that started,” says the 28-year-old rock hero. “I must have been about 13, 14. Do you know who Seymour Cassel is? He’s an actor, and his son was my best friend—he’s still a close friend of mine. Anyway, his dad Seymour always used to call me Slash whenever I’d come over. It was an inside joke at one point, and then all of a sudden people were calling me Slash at school. And now my mom calls me Slash.”
In 1994, Slash’s sharp-sounding name is as widely recognized as that of other singularly titled gents like Sting, Prince, and Hammer. But unlike them, Slash is not a singer—although he did break down and share the mike with Rose on The Spaghetti Incident?’s version of T-Rex’s simplistic stomper from ’73, “Buick Mackane”.
“I won’t do it again if I can help it,” Slash says of his one foray into the singing spotlight. “I only did it that one time because Axl didn’t want to sing it. Beyond that, I’m not the singing type.”
Slash sure is the guitar-playing type, though. In the last few years, his riffs have found their way onto recordings by Iggy Pop, Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Paul Rodgers, Alice Cooper, and Bob Dylan, as well as a CD tribute to guitar pioneer Les Paul, which is fitting, since Slash is rarely seen on stage or video without his paws on a beautiful sunburst Les Paul guitar.
The other ingredients of the rocker’s Joe Perry–inspired look are a lean, bare chest and a mop of outta-control black hair leaking profusely from a tall black hat. And if you look close enough, you’ll probably find a half-guzzled bottle of Jack Daniels lying around nearby as well. Slash seems to exemplify the freewheeling, anything-goes rock ’n’ roll lifestyle as epitomized by ’70s groups such as the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols, the Dead Boys, and Iggy and the Stooges—all of whom the Gunners cover on The Spaghetti Incident?
“We didn’t think about who we were gonna cover on that,” says Slash. “It was just stuff off the top of our heads. Actually, the way the songs came up was, like, I went, ‘Well, I’d like to do this Fear song,’ you know, and ‘I want to do this Nazareth tune,’ so those were mine.
“And then Axl wanted to do the T-Rex song because it was my favourite T-Rex song, so we did it together. And then Duff wanted to do ‘Memory’, and Mike Monroe wanted to do ‘Ain’t It Fun’. So no one put a list of titles on the table. We didn’t really negotiate about the whole thing.”
Slash admits that The Spaghetti Incident? was mainly conceived as a quick fix to tide GN’R’s fans over until the band has completed the real sequel to its two Use Your Illusion releases, which have sold a whopping 27 million copies worldwide since their simultaneous release in September of ’91. The band actually recorded one of the tracks from Illusion II, the provocative “Get in the Ring”, right here in Vancouver, but it didn’t ask either of the local big-shot producers—Bob Rock and Bruce Fairbairn—to get behind the console. Since Day One, the Guns have stuck with Mike Clink, and Slash doesn’t expect the band to change its ways.
“You have relationships with people that relate to what you’re all about,” he says, “and those initial people that you worked with when things were really tough—when no one else would give you a second listen—you’re loyal to them throughout your career.”
Guns N’ Roses’ incendiary rise to hard-rock supremacy started in 1985, when the band came together in Hollywood. Two years later, the group released its major-label debut, Appetite for Destruction, which spawned three top 10 singles, stayed on the Billboard chart for nearly three years, and, at last count, had sold more than 17 million copies worldwide. Slash claims that he had “no fuckin’ idea” the band would scamper to the top of the rock heap so quickly, but says that his mind doesn’t boggle at the group’s astounding success.
“I don’t think anybody has the time to figure out whether it’s mind-boggling or not,” he says with a laugh. “There’s too much going on. And we’re just trying to keep on with being a band, regardless, so that takes a lot of work because there is a lot of outside pressure and a lot of distractions. It’s definitely more work now than it was when we started.”
One aspect of being a Guns N’ Roses member that certainly appears to require hours and hours of attention is the filming of the band’s epic videos for songs like “November Rain” and “Don’t Cry”. But Slash says the clips aren’t really as time-consuming as they appear to be, at least not for him.
“Those videos don’t have a lot to do with me, per se. I mean the playing on the songs that I do is serious, and then I just write my own part for my guitar solo. All the rest of it is Axl getting into the whole story and all that. So I’m not there for the whole thing. But even my own parts, I have to admit, are a bit of a pain in the ass.”
At this point in the conversation, Slash develops a hearty case of the hiccups, which he attempts to stifle with healthy swigs of vodka and cranberry juice. Strangely enough, the thirsty rocker isn’t nursing the trusty 26er of J.D. he’s noted for, which is what he offered this scribbler a sip of backstage at the Pacific Coliseum a number of years back. At that warm-up gig for Iron Maiden, Rose previewed his riot-causing habit of stopping concerts when he threatened to walk off the stage unless the crowd took it upon itself to “make some fucking noise!”
“Well, he’s the lead singer,” says Slash with a chuckle, “so if he stops the show, there’s not a whole helluva lot for us to do. I mean, the last time he jumped off a stage was in St. Louis, and we played while he was out there in the crowd. Then when he came back, he walked off. That’s when we stopped playing.”
If the uppity Rose ever got furious enough to leave the concert stage for good, his bandmates would be hard-pressed to find a singer with the same intensity and gift for stirring up shit. The group has managed to overcome the departures of original drummer Steven Adler (who was fired in 1990) and original rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin (who quit in ’91), but Slash doesn’t take the band’s evolution lightly.
“I’m really close to the new guys,” he says in reference to drummer Matt Sorum and rhythm guitarist Gilby Clarke, “and we’re very tight. It’s a great lineup that we have, but I’m not gonna say anything against the lineup that we had before when it was rocking. It just stopped rocking.”