IZZY STRADLIN's out on his first solo tour since quitting Guns N' Roses, and he's finding out that without his erm, unpredictableformer colleagues, gigging, and living, is easy. Backed by a mellow, cool and rockin' band, Izzy hits the UK this week. PAUL ELLIOTT hits Bonn, to find our hero wandering around a hotel lobby... wearing a parka!
By Paul Elliott
Kerrang! magazine - Dec. 1992
Just a few days after Axl Rose was found guilty of assaulting a fan at a Guns N' Roses concert which subsequently ended in a riot, former GN'R guitarist Izzy Stradlin walks freely through a hotel lobby in Bonn, Germany's capital.
Nobody hassles him, snaps a photograph or picks a fight. Even GN'R fans might struggle to recognize the dreadlocked Stradlin in his new parka coat.
There's just Izzy, no bodyguards or crowds. Izzy Stradlin couldn't be happier about walking out on the biggest rock 'n' roll band in the world.
Later that day, onstage with his new band The Ju Ju Hounds in a Bonn hall a little bigger than the Marquee, Stradlin looks relaxed even though he's still getting to grips with the role of frontman. And he smiles now and then, something he didn't do too much of during the last of his six years with Guns N' Roses. At Wembley Stadium in September of 1991, Stradlin stuck close to his backline while Axl howled and buzzed around like a dog chasing its own tail. When Guns' set finished, Izzy was first out of sight.
In Bonn, he talks to the crowd in their native tongue and clearly relishes playing and sharing jokes with the 'Hounds.
"It's cool," he says, "real cool. These gigs have been more exciting than doing stadiums with GN'R on the last tour. All the people are right there - it's an instant, spontaneous response, y'know? It feels real good."
The gigs are of course more low-key than Guns N' Roses' controversial 'Get In The Ring' shows, which is just the way Izzy likes it.
"There's less drama, which I prefer. It's kinda nice, y'know, being able to make plans. It's nice not to get phone calls like, 'This gig's canceled, your drummer just took off'! These new guys carry on, but put it this way, we don't have any babysitters - so if you're gonna drink, you gotta get your shit together and get to the bus on time.
"The first year of getting sober, I got used to watching my friends drink and snort. I haven't been around it lately."
Since Izzy hasn't touched alcohol for three years, Ju Ju Hounds drummer Charlie Quintana retires to his room to drink a bottle of cognac. The Ju Ju Hounds are wiser than most rock 'n' roll bands.
Guitarist Rick Richards plied his trade with the Georgia Satellites for many years, until they lost their record deal and split. Richards was working the bars of his native Atlanta when he got the call from Izzy. He looks like he's seen it all, and spins a great yarn over dinner. Rick also plays a mean slide, and is in many ways the star of the show, knocking out great leads with his obligatory cigarette stuck to his bottom lip. Rock 'n' roll is in Rick Richards' blood.
Charlie has toured with Bob Dylan and enjoys winding up the fans waiting outside the Bonn gig by jumping behind the wheel of the tour bus and threatening to run the punters over, yelling, "I don't need a license - I'm from Texas"!
Jimmy 'Two Fingers' Ashhurst (Which two fingers, you may wonder. "It depends!") used to play bass for The Broken Homes, and was the first person Izzy turned to when he was putting the band and the brilliant '...Ju Ju Hounds' album together. Jimmy seems to be laughing most of the time, although he wasn't laughing when he read Bret Easton Ellis' 'American Psycho' recently!
Currently, the Ju Ju Hounds' live set includes several covers; The Rolling Stones' 'Jiving Sister Fanny', The Faces' 'My Fault', The Maytals' 'Pressure Drop', of course... but no Guns N' Roses songs.
"No," Izzy shrugs. "In Australia, there was a guy in just about every front row yelling for 'Dust N' Bones' or something, and I'm hitting a chord every time they shout, going, 'What?!'."
"I can understand people wanting to hear that stuff - we were gonna rehearse some songs - but in GN'R, I didn't have any singles out. I wrote 'Patience' but I didn't sing it. We just figured, 'Fuck it'."
"I don't miss those GN'R songs cos the stuff we've got now is better - better written, better to play. It's totally freeform; we break things down, extend them. If I come in late on a verse or miss it, we'll just look at each other and Rick'll keep going, do a solo or something.
"It's real good; once the momentum's there, whatever happens, happens. Last night, I couldn't see the setlist and started two songs wrong. We can sound bad!
"In Stockholm, we started with 'Bucket O' Trouble' and everyone was in a different fucking key, man! After the first few bars you could feel your stomach turning; it was bad. I was looking over thinking, I don't know who's in the right key, but when we came to the verse, somehow everyone went back to the right key, the A. IT was just one of those things. Rick's going, 'Maybe we should just do that every night, start it out all fucked-up and then click into the A!'. It happens. You gotta flow with it."
Now you're back on the road, do you miss the drug high, or the buzz of being in GN'R?
"Well, in GN'R I wasn't singing, I wasn't fronting the band, which is a little different. So now, carrying the vocals for most of the set as well as playing has pretty much replaced the buzz.
"Even if you're tired, a crowd can lift you up; you feed on that energy. And when we're not touring, dirtbikes are my fix. When we went back to Indiana for a week off, it was 15 degrees outside, cold, but I rode the bikes with my dog Treader chasing me all over fields and shit! That makes me feel good again, cos when I got back from Australia, where I picked up that flu virus, I was pretty haggard. Riding bikes beats sitting around doing krell or something."
'Krell' is rocker slang for cocaine, inspired by the movie 'Heavy Metal', in which long-trunked monsters from the planet Krell descended to snort the Earth!
"A lot of the time when I was using (drugs), I'd just end up with a guitar, writing or recording some pretty depressing songs. I thought they were good at the time, and a couple are not too bad, but a lot of the shit I listen back to and think, ugh, that's fucking depressing, or I think of the state I must have been in; lips all cracked, been up for five days, voice gone. Once you got going you'd never stop.
"I could stay up for four or five days straight doing krell and smack or whatever, up and down and up and down, writing songs all the time and recording on my eight-track. But give me a bottle of whiskey and send me to a club one night, and I'm the guy in the alley throwing up and rolling around.
"It just didn't work; it just poisons me and I don't know why. I got Indian blood, and my mom says that's why I can't handle liquor, but it's still a thing I did for a long time. Everybody drinks around me now, but it doesn't bother me. I mean, I don't see these guys throwing up in alleys after gigs or falling down steps.
"Most people drink, and for them it's no big deal, but it fucked me up. Now when I look at it, there's like tour life and civilian life. I try to keep two different realities.
"When I stopped using, for the first few months I didn't sleep normal for a long time. Somebody told me it takes about a year for your body patterns to get back to normal. I sleep good now."
Did you at any point continue using drugs simply to feed the creative process?
"Yeah, but there were times when I'd been up for three days working on a song and it still wasn't finished! I heard this one song back, and I'd done, God, five guitar tracks on it, and two or three of the tracks were the same melody played on just one string. And I heard this shit back and I was going, 'Garbage', y'know?
"When GN'R did 'Appetite For Destruction', I hadn't really cleaned up, but I'd cleaned up enough to record during the day, then go out at night and drink and do krell and stuff, sleep in till noon, come back in and record. So during the actual recording I wasn't getting too wasted.
"For the 'Use Your Illusion' albums, I was sober doing those tracks, and it was just frustrating. When you're sober and you gotta be someplace at four, you get there at four, and when other people come in at six or seven, and they're, like, not quite together, you find yourself thinking, why the fuck was I here at four? For the basic tracks on 'Illusions', I was done with my stuff in about four or five weeks. That was easy.
"For the new record, me and Jimmy and Rick and Charlie would be in the studio at noon, so by one o'clock the amps were warmed up and crankin' and we were jammin', and after jammin' for a coupla hours we'd start tracking. We finished up the whole thing, including moving base three times from LA to Chicago to Copenhagen, in four or five months, and we had an album which to me rocks as good as any of the stuff I did with GN'R.
"That wouldn't have happened like it did had I still been using and all that stuff, but at the same time there have been some songs that came out pretty quickly when I was using; sometimes they come out easy."
'Appetite For Destruction', arguably the hard rock record of the '80s, changed Izzy Stradlin's life irrevocably. Izzy's recollections of the album and GN'R's rise to superstar status are hazy. It is, after all, five years since the album was released, and Izzy's hard drug intake at the time was pretty fucking serious!
"I'm real bad at remembering songs, even ones I've done," he chuckles.
"'Paradise City', 'Sweet Child O' Mine'. That was a point where we were on tour with Aerosmith, and David Geffen (founder of GN'R's label) flew out to a gig and he says, 'You guys are rich and famous now'. And we were like, 'We are?! We're still living in a tour bus and in hotels, so what's the difference?'.
"I haven't heard 'Appetite...' in years, but I was pretty happy with what it sounded like back then, and fuck, it sold millions of copies, man!
"With 'Appetite', I just think of seven or eight months of absolutely no notoriety or any real popularity, and then a few Number One singles, and this explosion, and now you're a pop star.
"Well, fuck this, gimme a six pack and a gram of coke and a gram of smack and I'll go write some more songs! Isolation was the next point from there. It was great, but it was a load of bullshit being a pop star, so we just isolated ourselves and ignored that crap. After a few months of isolation, that didn't work either. It was time to go back to the Mid-West and hook up with some old friends..."
So Izzy quit GN'R for peace of mind, and wound up forming the coolest rock 'n' roll band in the world that ain't The Black Crowes.