1992 - Rock World
Izzy Stradlin had it all. The main song-writer with Guns N'Roses, he not only invented a heap of hits for them, he was a great stage performer, belting out solid guitar rhythms with passionate conviction. Was there any more a rock star could hope or want to achieve? Mega-sales, big bucks, loads of adulation and ego massage, sell out concerts in the biggest stadia all over the world. Not to mention all the sex and drugs and rock'n'roll he could handle.
And then he quit Guns N'Roses.
Overnight he went from immortal rock god to...just another guitar player. Back to life, back to reality...From the pampered world of mega-stardom he was back in the world of seedy clubs and dodgy deals.
Yet there was a little more to it than an inexplicable rush of blood to the head. For not only did Izzy turn his back on fame and fortune, he also left behind the heroin, alcohol and cocaine that had become synonymous with his lifestyle at the sharp end of Guns N'Roses story.
Izzy Stradlin knew EXACTLY what he was doing when he walked out on Guns N'Roses. He's started out with his pals in the gutter and he didn't think twice about heading back there.
"Guns N'Roses was pure chaos," confesses Izzy. "The smallest thing could turn into a massive problem. You'd get pulled in one direction and then the other. It was really difficult keeping hold of where you were supposed to be going. What really bothered me was working on 'Use Your Illusion I and II'. It progressed really slowly. Each song kept being taken to bits and analysed again and again and remade and before you knew it was weeks and months had gone by. When we finally finished a song I'd forgotten how to play the others. Slowly but surely, I began to realise that I wanted to have less and less to do with it. When things went on and on I finally realised that I'd have to do something about it."
It wasn't easy for Izzy to split. Guns N'Roses had given him everything, but in his heart of hearts he knew he had to go to preserve his own sanity and self-respect. So he moved back to Indiana where he got himself a place to live and slowly weaned himself off drugs and alcohol.
At first he felt confused and disorientated. He tried to relax by jumping on his bike and cruising around the mid-West in an attempt to sort out his life. His guitar, meanwhile, sat in a corner minding its own business doing absolutely NOTHIN'. It was a very strange time.
"We left Hollywood as street urchins. When we left, everyone was betting that we'd never last and that we'd burn out. We were on the road continuously for almost two years and when we got back we were suddenly really popular. Lo and behold, suddenly everyone wanted to be our friend, everyone wanted to hang out with us. Everyone wanted to sell us something or get something off us.
"Getting drugs was as easy as getting bread from a baker. I just slipped into a totally crazy way of life. I'd spend all night, right 'til the early hours, in bars and clubs or at parties that were always going on. but that slowly got boring and tiresome. There was no point in it. I had to get out of there as quickly as possible back into reality."
In January 1992 he finally put his motorbike back into the garage and started blowing cobwebs off his trusty guitar. The rumours started flying around instantly. One moment he was supposed to be joining the Black Crowes. Then he was meant to be teaming up with the remaining members of Burning Tree. then it was someone else.
"Yeah, I heard all those rumours too," says Izzy. "The thing is that once you've been in Guns N'Roses, probably the world's biggest band, you can't just join another band, even the Black Crowes. And if you've played with a singer like Axl Rose then it's really difficult to get used to another vocalist. I just couldn't do it. As far as Burning Tree are concerned, their drummer played on the last track of the 'Can't Hear 'Em' EP."
So instead of going through the trauma of getting involved with another band, Izzy sat down to write a series of straightforward mainstream rock'n'roll songs. Except that some of them started turning out as reggae numbers.
"I've always liked reggae, I like the way it's so positive. And in the last two years it's gone from me just liking it to a regular love affair. Nowadays I listen to reggae when I want to feel better, when I want to relax, when I feel great, in fact any situation."
At first Izzy didn't even consider forming a band, but Jimmy Ashurst - an old friend and bass player with Broken Homes - changed his mind. "Me and Jimmy have been really close for years and when I didn't really have a direction and was just writing for myself Jim came over and suggested that I should form a band. He also put me in touch with Rick Richards. Rick and I get on really well, that might have something to do with the fact that Rick comes from Georgia and I'm from Indiana."
Rick Richards is more than just a guy from Georgia. He was the Georgia Satellites' main song-writer and guitarist and was quite familiar with what Izzy had been through. Soon after Rick and Izzy got together they were joined by drummer Charlie 'Chalo' Quintana, who'd previously toured with Bob Dylan.
So Izzy finally got rolling again, doing his own thing. Now THAT must be quite an ego trip...
"No! We're a real band," insists Izzy. "I need a band, that creative thing that only comes out when musicians give it their all. the best thing is that it works with us, there's no ego trips, the chemistry really works. The atmosphere is really positive, relaxed, but also exciting because there's always something happening and going on. When we all got together I already had an album ready in principle, just waiting to go, so when the others joined we rearranged the songs, rewrote them and everyone had a hand in the end result."
As the word spread, more and more stars crept out of the woodwork to join the bandwagon - names like legendary keyboard player Nicky Hopkins, Ian McLagan, Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, Mikey Dread and Jah-T were seen in the company of Izzy and the boys. Work on the album began in a studio in Los Angeles.
"While we were recording, two disasters happened that shook L.A. that summer. We felt the earthquake that hit Los Angeles and when the race riots started I only felt secure on the streets if I had a 9mm on me. To be honest, the riots didn't surprise me. It was obvious that it going to happen. The cops' reaction was pure racism and the verdict was pure racism. I knew that verdict would be the fuse for an explosion. Fifteen minutes after the verdict came outta court it all started. That's the way it was. What was frightening was the raw violence. That kind of violence scares me. By the way, what's going on in Europe with all those Nazis? That's also all a bit brutal isn't it? So the Nazis are back, huh? Is it safe to play in Europe?"
Sure, if you're Anglo-Saxon...
"Another thing that happened was that the studio got hit by lightning just as I had the headphones on and was laying down a vocal track. That was the last straw, so we moved out to Chicago."
The work in the studio was markedly different from the way Izzy had worked with Guns N'Roses.
"It was disciplined, but relaxed. We set ourselves times when we'd start and when we'd finish. It worked really well. No stress, no chaos and nice and quiet. When I think about how we worked when I was with Guns N'Roses it was the complete opposite. It was impossible to get organised, there was always stress. It was pure chaos. The simplest conversations or situations would get turned into massive problems. It's only now that I've learnt what a little self-discipline can do. That's how we worked in the studio, we concentrated, we worked quietly and thought everything through first. Everyone knew what they wanted and what they ought to do. It was incredibly creative, friendly and kinda exciting. Nothing could be more different to the way it was in Guns N'Roses. When I look at Guns N'Roses now nothing's changed, they still stumble along on that treadmill. So what? I wish them all the best, I really mean it, but it's just not my kind of thing anymore."
Having taken the slow approach, the guys have come up with a brilliant album. It's rock'n'roll straight down the line, but with fascinating little ideas popping in and out everywhere. And then, of course, there's the reggae. There's also a track by Ronnie Wood - 'Take A Lok At The Guy' from Ronnie's old dolo effort 'I Got My Own Album To Do'.
"We met in Chicago at a playback party for Ronnie's new album. We met, went for dinner and then dragged him into the studio. Ian McLagan knew Ronnie from when they were in The Faces together. It wouldn't have worked if they hadn't known each other. It only took two days to get it all done. I do a duet with Ronnie and the guitar solo is his - he recorded it at four one morning."
So Izzy Stradlin And The Ju-Ju Hounds are off and running with their debut album and it's a cracker, no question. Whether or not they'll manage to scale the dizzy heights achieved by you know who is, of course, another matter, and until they do the ghost of Guns N'Roses will hang over Izzy like a bad dream. You can't escape from the past and whether it's interviews or informal chats with fans, Guns N'Roses will always rear their ugly heads.
"I know that it'll follow me for a long time. Guns N'Roses are just that big. Wherever I go I bump into the band. If I put the TV on there's Axl on screen, if I go into a supermarket you can bet on the way there I'll see posters for their tours. If I put the radio on some Guns N'Roses track will be playing. We had a lot of fun together. I like remembering all the times we had together. Of course there were times when it wasn't all fun, but the good times far outweighed the bad times. Guns N'Roses was an experience that I just had to be part of.