Are they still Guns n' Roses?: Axl Rose's Hall of Fame diss raises an interesting question

Frontman Axl Rose composes a surprisingly cogent — though, nevertheless, staggeringly wrongheaded — letter declining to participate in Guns n’ Roses’ upcoming 2012 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Our Fred Phillips responds

I refuse to refer to the current lineup as Guns n’ Roses. It’s Axl Rose and Four or Five Other Guys. Dizzy Reed is the only member of the band other than Axl that has any relation at all to the band’s history. For the record, I also refer to most of the Black Sabbath albums of the late 1980s and early 1990s as Tony Iommi and Three Other Guys, too.

I don’t have a problem with bands moving on with a core and some new members. I understand, as Axl said in his letter, that people “get divorced.” I understand that when you’re in a van or on a bus with someone constantly you get sick of them. I understand that people just can’t get along sometimes. Lots of bands have moved on and done it well.

But I can’t stand it when one original member — or even worse, one replacement member — puts together a band and performs under the original name. Regardless of what Axl would have us believe, Slash and Duff McKagan were an integral part of the GnR sound. Hell, Velvet Revolver had more right to call themselves Guns n’ Roses than the current version of the band does. At least they had a core of legacy members.

And you can’t even compare the music between the two versions of the band. I bought Chinese Democracy for 99 cents at Best Buy, and felt like I paid about 98 cents too much.

That said, there are times when a band member is so key that I don’t think the band should continue without them. I don’t consider Rock in a Hard Place an Aerosmith album. Aside from the fact that it’s not a very good record, Joe Perry and Steven Tyler are the heart and soul of the band. No Joe Perry = no Aerosmith. I felt the same when Perry talked about hiring a replacement singer a few years ago.

I think Alice in Chains should be performing under a different name. I realize that it was always Jerry Cantrell’s band, and I actually like Black Gives Way to Blue, but the new version is missing some of its intensity and soul.

As much as I’d like to see the three surviving members of Pantera get back together to do something, maybe as often speculated with Zakk Wylde on guitar, I wouldn’t want them to call it Pantera. Without Dime, there will be something missing. And don’t even get me started on the current touring lineup of Quiet Riot — or Frankie Banali and Three Other Guys.

I wouldn’t begrudge any of those folks what they’ve accomplished, and I wouldn’t want to see the music they’ve made retired. I don’t mind them going out and playing the old songs under a new name, but it’s not the same band and I don’t think it’s right to represent it as such.

Maybe it’s a silly thing to get caught up in a name like that, but that’s the way I feel.

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Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips is a veteran entertainment writer with a love of hard rock and heavy metal. He has written music reviews, columns and feature stories for several newspapers, Web sites and a national wire service, while running a stand-alone site called Hall of the Mountain King in various places and incarnations since 1997. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

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    MORE FROM AROUND THE WATERCOOLER AT SOMETHING ELSE! TOWERS …

    NICK DERISO: Rose’s letter has me thinking about other times when bands have continued on without signature performers. In a broader sense, was it the Beach Boys without Brian Wilson? Black Sabbath with only Tony Iommi? Pink Floyd without Roger Waters? Chicago without Peter Cetera? Deep Purple without Ritchie Blackmore? Fleetwood Mac without Lindsey Buckingham?

    MARK SALESKI: Oh gawd, the current lineup is so NOT Guns n’ Roses. His only “point” is that he’s still an *******.

    NICK DERISO: But does there come a time when a band loses so many members, so much of its recognizable DNA, that it should no longer move forward with its original name? Because I think GNR is there, no matter what Axl says.

    GLEN BOYD: Speaking of Fleetwood Mac without Lindsey, for some of us its more like Fleetwood Mac without Peter Green. Just sayin’…

    NICK DERISO: I thought, at the time, that a return to Pink Floyd’s spacey roots with Gilmour/Wright would be more interesting than it turned out to be.

    TOM JOHNSON: On the other hand, there’s a band like King Crimson, who consists of one persistent, career-long member and a revolving door of others, and yet the identity is very, very strong – you know it’s King Crimson. I think that’s what these other bands think, too – Robert Fripp has defined King Crimson as a way of approaching music, not necessarily a particular set of musicians or even a style of music, and I think Axl is probably thinking along those lines too. He’s not achieving the aim there, of course, nor are most others who carry on under a name, but where do you draw the line?

    FRED PHILLIPS: Good point. There are bands that I expect to have a different lineup with every record they put out — Iced Earth and Annihilator come to mind in the metal world. I don’t always like it, but there’s one guy that is the driving force behind those bands. I guess in those cases I’ve learned to not get used to any lineup.

    TOM JOHNSON: Alissa just told me about how there’s two LA Guns bands touring right now, both of which are insisting they’re the legit band. Neither seem legit, but the one with the original lead singer seems more legit, but then there’s the other band with the guy whose name is in the band name, but some other dude singing. Isn’t this a repeat of the stupid crap that happened with the Motown acts? Didn’t they have splinter groups touring with few real members, or maybe no real members?

    FRED PHILLIPS: The L.A. Guns situation is pretty ridiculous, and I’ve never known what to make of it. Of course, Tracii Guns was part of the very first lineup of Guns ‘n’ Roses, so it kind of makes sense that there’s some craziness there.

    S. VICTOR AARON: To me, it stopped being Chicago the day Terry Kath played Russian roulette. And arguably, the band was already losing its way since VIII, or maybe even VI. As for the subject matter at hand, it’s kind of hard to imagine GnR making it to the HOF in the first place without Slash’s presence in the band early on.

    MARK SALESKI: Thing is, I don’t think GnR should be in the hall of fame in the first place. One OK album, two memorable songs (one of which has become more memorable for being played before 3rd and 4th downs at NFL games), and then some weak piano ballads.

    FRED PHILLIPS: I agree and disagree. I’ll say one great album, two mediocre records and a few other good songs scattered around. But not enough for Hall of Fame, I agree.

    TOM JOHNSON: I’m going to have to dissent. You guys are way too quick to dismiss ‘Appetite.’ Fantastic stuff pretty much from start to finish – maybe save for “Anything Goes,” which I can’t even recall. It sounds almost as razor-sharp today as it did back then, if maybe the big singles feel overplayed. This album deserves a spot, but nothing else they’ve done does – and certainly not the current band (not that they’re hacks, they’re just “The Axl Rose Band.”)

    NICK DERISO: Still, it’s a pity Axl won’t attend. Had all the makings of a Mike Love-style meltdown. Was looking forward to that …

    FRED PHILLIPS: ‘Appetite’ is certainly a Top 10 hard rock record for me, maybe even a Top 5. A lot of the stuff on it, though, I’ve heard too many times over the years, and I rarely listen to it anymore. If I listened to radio, I’d be pretty likely to flip the channel if I heard the opening notes of “Paradise City” or “Sweet Child O’Mine” (which I never really liked that much in the first place, beyond that opening riff.) Some of the deeper tracks, if an album where most of the songs get played can be said to have deep tracks, I still dig. I think the drama with the band and the decade-long wait for something new has kind of soured my opinion, too. Which raises another question, does band drama affect your opinion of the music? In the case of GnR, I think it definitely has.

  • Charlie

    I agree with this article completely. I’m tired of trying to figure out the lineup of my favorite bands before buy their new CD or a ticket to their concerts. To me, The Beatles wouldn’t be The Beatles without any of the Fab four missing from the band.

    The Grateful Dead were one of the few to recognize the importance of one of their more significant members not being a part of things. The started calling themselves “The Dead”, without the Grateful after Jerry Garcia died, and after on of the Bee Gees left us, the 2 survivors renamed themselves “The Brothers Gibb.”

    It all depends on the band and the missing member. Remember when The Doors carried on without Jim Morrison? What a joke!

  • Sherry

    Thanks for the very well written intellectual write-up. I was hoping to find an article of this sort regarding the whole saga of the evolving incarnations of classic bands.

    The current lineup of Guns ‘N Roses, has nothing of ‘guns’ or ‘roses’ in it, with that signature beat entirely missing – Axl Rose, from what I find, modulates his voice to synchronize with the music of the hired band members resulting in a form that sounds nothing like the classic GnR. Velvet Revolver and Adler/Adler’s Appetite instead are a greater manifestation of the classic Guns ‘n Roses DNA, than the band Axl currently tours with; they are constantly re-inventing themselves with new singers and music, while the “new” GnR plays deflated forms of Rocket Queen and November Rain show after show. Even Izzy Stradlin has created new music post-GnR that is really original and a breadth of fresh air.

    Had Axl changed the name of his current band, he’d not only have re-defined the expectations of the old, classic GnR fanbase by creating a beat different from that of the old lineup, but may have also gathered a newer generation of fans along the way.

    Axl appears to channel more of his energy now in composing open letters much like lawyer speak than a musician’s message. He was and perhaps continues being a genius, but that energy is simply not channeled for rock, which is what is hurting music. Rock and roll can be created only off a pure surge of originality and the harmonious channeling of negative emotions into the beautiful art that is music. I’m not impressed with Dizzy Reed’s comments on the new lineup either and they appear to be holding onto that name more like lawyers than musicians – they appear to have forgotten that rock and roll, albeit an unconventional genre of music, is not about a grudge, but attitude; and attitude cannot beget art unless it is re-invented and re-created instead of mindlessly holding on to a legacy that does not even exist anymore.

    It wasn’t really the hall that Axl intended to snub, it was a message to the fanbase of his lack of interest in performing with the old crew. Would he have snubbed the hall had the new lineup been inducted? I do not think so.

    Perhaps this is true of all the other metal bands that you mention as well. Perhaps, this only makes me admire the Steven Tyler, Joe Perry relationship even more now, and how they understand the true meaning of their music and what it takes to keep them going for decades as still one of the greatest. The same with Queen, who all had just as large egos as all the creative souls in a rock band do, but simply knew how to translate all that harmoniously into music.