1993 - Metal CD
When you've been a founder member of the world's most talked about, hyped and controversial band, life in the aftermath can seem a little stale by comparison. On the other hand it can also be rather relaxed. Just ask Izzy Stradlin.
The guitarist/vocalist from Indiana made his name, of course, with Guns N' Roses, living, breathing, feeling every last moment of the climb from the poverty of the mid-eighties to the triumphs wrought by the 'Appetite for Destruction' album and thence the two volumes of 'Use Your Illusion'. but with the fame and the considerable fortune also came the enormous problems, caused in the main by Axl Rose's psychological inconsistencies. In the end it all became too much for Izzy. In 1991 he turned he back on life-long friend Axl and abandoned a crucial position in GN'R to pursue his own project.
The result was the formation of the Ju Ju Hounds and the release late last year through Geffen of the band's eponymous debut album, an unpretentious piece of rock'n'roll badinage. And if the 'Ju Ju Hounds' album hasn't exactly made Izzy a household name as a solo artist, then at least he can sleep easily at nights without wondering what new excesses he would wake to find had been perpetrated by Axl and his acolytes.
"We haven't got any Gold or Platimum discs yet for the 'Ju Ju Hounds'," says Izzy from his Indiana home, where he's been relaxing by working on his motorbikes. "but it's done okay, and I'm pretty pleased with the start we've made. We've done an enormous amount of touring, taking in about 17 or 18 countries, mostly doing theatres and clubs.
"For me it's also been fun to travel together with the rest of the band (bassist Jimmy Ashurst, guitarist Rick Richards and drummer Charlie Quintana). With GN'R, things got so bad that I took to travelling between gigs in my own tour bus, with just my girlfriend and dog for company. I only saw the rest of the band onstage. That's the way I wanted it. But with the Ju Jus it was great to be able to spend time in the same room as everyone else without any egos getting in the way. Sure, it can get monotonous being with the same people for so many hours each day, but I found it a refreshing experience."
Yet, despite his relief at being out of the GN'R psycho-circus, Izzy amazingly agreed to return in May to play five dates with the band (including the two gigs at the Milton Keynes National Bowl), standing in for his successor, Gilby Clarke, who had broken his arm. It would seem strange to many that, having been cured of his 'affliction', he would voluntarily re-admit himself to the insane asylum...
"Well Axl was the one who called me and asked if I would do it. I was home working on my bikes when I got the call. I thought about it for a couple of days, and then said that I'd do it for those five dates. Why did I go back? Well, I just saw it as a free holiday, really. I got to go to countries like Israel and Greece where I'd never been before."
But Izzy's return to the ranks was never likely to be made permanent; and he found things unchanged since he'd first walked out.
"We never talked about me returning full-time to GN'R. And, quite frankly, it wouldn't be something that I'd consider in the slightest. Honestly, nothing had changed. Going back into the band was a strange and uncomfortable experience on the whole. It was cool in a way to be able to step back into comething I'd left behind and to judge whether anything had improved, but I just found that it hadn't. It made me realise why I was glad to get out in the first place.
"The band's egos are way out of control. Axl and Slash had the same attitude towards me as they did before I left, and there is a feeling of unreality about them. They lead isolated lives and don't seem to be in touch anymore with the real world. I spent all my time hanging out with the roadies. You know how many times i saw any of the band offstage? Once, that was Slash in London!
"But it was wasier to get up onstage with GN'R and do a two-hour set than to do a two-hour stint with the Ju Ju Hounds. All I had to do with Guns was play guitar on a set of songs I knew already. With my own band, I have the added pressure of singing as well. But if you ask me which one I prefer, there's no contest - the Ju Jus have so much more fun!"
However, subsequent to this handful of dates with GN'R, Izzy has once more found himself the butt of Axl's poisoned tongue. But then he's used to the unpredictable frontman using him as a verbal punch-bag.
"Yeah, it was the same old story with Axl. When he wants something from you he's on the phone being all nice and friendly. As soon as your usefulness has run out he turns on you. He's said some shit about me in the past, and right after I'd done those dates he was back in the media putting me down," shrugs Izzy. "He's an odd guy. But I'm not worried about GN'R anymore. People keep asking me if the band will split up; I don't know and I don't really care. Duff has just put out his own solo album. He sent me a copy and it's...okay. He's put a band together and will tour and I wish him luck. Will he be the next to jump ship? Who can tell anything with that band!
"The only time that I've spoken to anyone from Guns since those dates was when I called Slash a couple of months ago. Steven Adler's law suit against the band has finally come to trial (the drummer is suing for a seven-figure sum, claiming that the band ruined his life, in particular getting him hooked on drugs). I am not involved directly, but I called Slash to find out what was going on.
"The saddest thing about GN'R was that all those I met in the early days with the band, people who used to hang out with us, I came across on the Ju Ju Hounds tour everywhere we went, which was great, but I saw none of them when I did those few shows with Guns. It's as if the band don't wanna know them anymore, because they've become too important!"
Izzy himself faced further controversy earlier this year when the Ju Ju Hounds toured the UK, and support act the Wildhearts were removed from the brief tour after only one date.
Subsequently, the British band made all sorts of claims, including that their removal from the tour had been precipitated by the 'fact' they had blown the Ju Ju Hounds offstage AND outsold them in the merchandising stakes. Izzy takes all of this in his stride.
"Oh, of course they did better than us in Leeds. They wiped the floor with us," he states sardonically. "No, what happened was that I never knew who was going to support us in the UK until I got there. Then I was told it was to be the Wildhearts, whom I had never heard of before. But when I met them I recognised their singer (Ginger) as somebody who had slagged me off in the press a couple of years earlier, which didn't endear him to me. And when I heard their music I realised they were totally unsuitable to support the Ju Jus. The booking agent had made a big mistake. So I had them removed from the bill for the remaining dates. I guess I had a beef with that singer and used their musical incompatibility as an excuse."
But all that is behind Izzy. He's now concentrating on the next stage in Ju Jus' career. they've just finished their first world tour, a two-week Japanese trek bringing it to a successful conclusion; a five-track live EP (recorded in Ireland) has just been issued in Japan, with the possibility of a wider release later in the year ("I'm not sure what the plans are at this stage for the EP"); now the foursome are writing songs for their second studio album.
"The next record will be in the same style as the first - if it ain't broke, why fix it? We haven't booked any studio time yet, but I imagine we'll be in recording during December. I like working over the holiday period. So far we have three numbers ready: 'Never Used To Be', 'Guitars And Guns' and 'Toolin' Away'."
And Izzy has also been in demand as a compositional collaborator.
"Robin Zander (Cheap Trick vocalist) asked me to co-write with him for his solo album, and Steven Tyler (Aerosmith) also contacted me about doing some writing. I turned both of theses offers down, mainly because I thought I'd find it a little strange working with other people. Outside of Guns, I've never really co-written with anyone. But maybe the time is right for me to do something like that. It might be good for me. As for writing again with GN'R...Somehow I don't think so!"
With that, Izzy returns to his beloved motorbikes, happy in the knowledge that he may not be the celebrity he once was with Guns N' Roses, but he HAS acquired genuine peace of mind, as well as a sense of fulfilment and purpose. Rather an astute exchange.