Rolling Stone 1992
Guns N' Roses With the release of his album, Izzy Stradlin finally breaks
This summer, former Guns N' Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin finally saw
his old band mates in concert for the first time since he left the group
- on TV. Like many of his neighbors in Lafayette, Indiana, Stradlin coughed
up twenty-five bucks to watch GN' R's live pay-per-view broadcast from
Paris on June 6th. Looking back on it now, he's still not sure exactly
what he saw.
"It was really bizarre, like an out-of-body
experience," he says, a bit hesitantly, over coffee and cigarettes
in a high-rise Chicago hotel room. "I didn't really recognize them
all together. They had horn players and harmonicas and girl singers. Of
course, I was Gilby for the night (a reference to his replacement, guitarist
Gilby Clarke). It was weird, you know?"
"I was happy to see that they carried
on without me," he continues. "That's all I would hope. Those
guys...'" Stradlin's voice trails off, and he gazes out the window,
as if hoping to find the rest of the sentence written out for him on the
choppy turquoise waters of Lake Michigan.
Actually, Stradlin confesses, he didn't
watch the entire Paris broadcast. After it was over, "I put on some
tapes of my new stuff," he says. "And it felt good."
Stradlin's debut solo album on Geffen Records,
Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds, and the launching of his new group
of the same name mark the end of the thirty-year-old guitarist's extended
retreat from the music business -- and the business of his old band in
particular -- following his stormy, highly publicized departure from Guns
N' Roses in November 1991. He made no official statement of his own at
the time, and he has maintained a conspicuous silence on the subject,
even in the face of several impassioned public rebukes by singer Axl Rose.
Until now. Stradlin's return to action
as a singer and bandleader with Ju Ju Hounds -- an infectious, Seventies-flavored
groove-fest that rocks like a three-way pile up Desire-era Bob Dylan --
has forced his hand. But when he does talk about his final months with
Guns N' Roses and the showdown with Rose that precipitated his exit, Stradlin
takes pains to do so in an honest but neutral manner that suggests he's
long since wrung himself dry of anger and regret.
"I don't have any communication with
them," he says matter-of-factly. "I don't know what they do
anymore. About the most I know about them is when I watch CNN once in
a while: 'Oh, shit, Axl got arrested again.'
"Still, I like to think that those
guys are all my friends," he adds. "It's not like I never want
to see them again. The channels are very much open."
As he tells it, though, his last days with
the band were mostly full of static. Making the Illusion albums was no
picnic. By Stradlin's count, Guns N' Roses rehearsed and recorded the
material for the albums three times. During that three-year period, Stradlin
kicked both drugs and alcohol, and he wrote or co-wrote many of the albums'
best songs, including "Dust N' Bones" and the frenetic "Double
Talkin' Jive." But as the Illusion sessions dragged on, Stradlin's
friendship with Rose -- which went back to their days as Jeff Isabelle
and Bill Bailey, fellow teenage tearaways in Indiana -- started to unravel.
"I tried talking to him," Stradlin
says, "during the Illusion albums: 'If we had a schedule here,
come in at a certain time...' And he completely blew up at me: 'There
is no fucking schedule.'
"There was one song on that record
that I didn't even know was on it until it came out, 'My World' (the closing
song on Illusion II, written and sung by Rose)," Stradlin
continues. "I gave it a listen and thought, 'What the fuck is this?'
Stradlin concedes that the growing estrangement
was partly his own fault. "I had to let go of certain aspects of
it," he says. "I didn't feel my opinions were really being taken
seriously anymore." When Guns N' Roses finally hit the road in May
1991, Stradlin traveled between shows in a separate tour bus. He failed
to show up for the shooting of the video for "Don't Cry," saying
now that the million-dollar cost of the clip was a pointless indulgence:
"I didn't have any say in it, and I didn't want to be in it."
Push finally came to shove in the fall
after GN' R completed the first European leg of the tour. Stradlin says
he confronted Rose and the band with some changes he felt had to be made
"for the sake of the livelihood of the band." One of them was
ending the chronic lateness of the shows. Stradlin even went so far as
to propose that the responsible party should be fined. That was the last
"It was really fucked that it even
had to come into play, to base something like that on money," Stradlin
grumbles. "But the reality was that it was bumming me out, to be
waiting there because someone else is late. It's just not fair to the
audience, to the other band members. And the crew! When you go on three
hours late, that's three hours less sleep they get."
"I expressed my feeling to Axl,"
he continues, "and the very next night on MTV I saw that I was going
to be replaced by the guy in Jane's Addiction. So I took that as an indication
that I'd really pissed him off."
Stradlin insists that he never wanted to
quit GN' R and pursue a solo career. "But Axl made it clear that
he was going to do things his way, and there was no space for debate,"
he says. "So I had to make it clear to everybody that that was the
end of the line for me." Two days before Thanksgiving, Guns N' Roses
officially announced that Izzy Stradlin had left the group.
Stradlin promptly dropped out of sight.
He spent a couple of therapeutic weeks on the road -- driving to the Grand
Canyon and surfing in the Florida Keys before settling down back in Lafayette.
He eventually started writing songs and called on an old friend, bassist
Jimmy Ashhurst of the late L.A. band Broken Homes, to help him form a
band. Former Georgia Satellites guitarist Rick Richards and drummer Charlie
"Chalo" Quintana, a member of Bob Dylan's road band, got the
nod, and Ju Ju Hounds was finished in record time, at least compared to
Stradlin's Illusion experience. The entire album was mixed in only
Ju Ju Hounds is not Use Your Illusion III
or Appetite for Destruction Revisited. As a songwriter, Stradlin has backed
off from the venomous paranoia of "Double Talkin' Jive," and
his voice, a shaggy blend of nasal Dylan and mumbling Keith Richards,
is a more modest beast than Rose's virtuoso wail. Yet the spunky garage-band
verve -- part saw-toothed Stones, part bulldozing Sex Pistols -- is genuine
and intoxicating. In the chorus of "Train Tracks," a greasy
Mott the Hoople-ish rocker about Stradlin's teenage days in Indiana, when
he'd smoke pot by the railroad tracks, you half-expect him to break into
a bit of Keith Richards's "Happy."
For added authenticity, Stradlin even roped
in a few of his heroes -- including pianist Nicky Hopkins, Rolling Stones
guitarist Ron Wood and ex-Faces organist Ian McLagan -- to play on the
record. "I wanted to try and get it to sound like some of my favorite
albums," he says without apology. "Exile on Main Street is a
staple of my diet. I've always had a copy hiding somewhere, wherever I
would go." The possibility that some critics will suggest that the
real Exile beats neo-Exile any day doesn't faze Stradlin at all.
"You expect the worst and hope for
the best," he says, laughing. "With GN'R, we used to take a
flogging all the time. There was always somebody hacking on what the band
did. It got to the point where you'd go, 'So what?' You won't catch me
yelling onstage about somebody who wrote a bad review. If they do, they
do. That's life."
Stradlin's immediate plans call for him
to hit the road with the Ju Ju Hounds. But aside from continuing negotiations
over his financial settlement with GN' R, there is very little of the
band in Stradlin's life now, although he did meet briefly with Slash over
the summer. "I would have rather met with Axl," he admits.
"But I guess Slash was 'designated
diplomat.' He was as apprehensive as I felt, so it felt pretty good. Then
the next thing I heard was on MTV in Europe: 'Izzy's forgiven, and he's
doing a reggae album.' So I don't know what it actually accomplished."
Stradlin has only talked to Rose once since
he quit GN' R, right before the band went back out on tour in December
1991 with Gilby Clarke. "I was kind of bummin'," he recalls.
"It was a pretty harsh reality, sitting back in Indy. I called him
up, said, 'Hey, you still pissed off?' 'No, I'm not pissed off.' Things
were okay. But then time went by, and he got pissed off again.
"I just think of him as Axl, a guy
I've known for a long time. I know the good and bad of him. Sometimes
I really get worried that the authorities are going to get ahold of him
and make it bad for him. I've been through the system a few times myself,
and I came to the conclusion that - what's that old song? 'I fought the
law and the law won.' With him, yeah, I do worry."