I have heard legend of a time many years ago when the world of Rock and Roll was strong. So strong, in fact, that rock bands would travel this great country of ours to large arenas, sometimes even stadiums, to perform their music for the massive crowds that would gather to see them. Then something strange happened. The world of alternative music and the world of hip hop suddenly took over, dominating the charts and leaving a huge rock shaped hole in the heart of the world’s music scene. These dark horse genres began their reign right in the height of one band’s popularity.
That band was Guns N’ Roses.
GNR had long been viewed as the savior of mainstream rock when things took a turn for the worse. After a multi-year tour, the band suddenly began to melt down with all of the members except Axl Rose going on their merry little way away from what a coworker of mine would lovingly refer to as “a cluster you-know-what.”
To fully understand how much of a mess the band morphed into, I have a quick trivia question for you: How many guitarists have made their way through Guns N’ Roses over the years? If you answered anything less than five, you are insane.
That is why music fans from around the world began to freak at the news that a reunion of three of the original members would take place this year at Coachella. The classic line-up of Guns N’ Roses will be performing for people like myself who were far too young to witness it the first time around.
When the news broke, the first thing I did was immediately launched into a furious Googling of the band. What I found is the single most confusing history of a band’s lineup that I had ever come across. To save the world the trouble that I had come to while trying to piece together the historical significance of this momentous reunion, I have created the ultimate timeline of the breakup and subsequent regrouping of Guns N’ Roses.
July 11, 1990: Drummer Steven Adler was fired due to cocaine and heroin addiction. He would later sue the band over his dismissal. Adler was replaced by former drummer for The Cult, Matt Sorum.
January 20, 1991: The Use Your Illusion tour begins in Rio de Janeiro.
May 1991: Axl Rose refuses to finish the upcoming album unless manager Alan Niven is fired. As does happen in bands, the lead singer gets his way and Niven is replaced with Doug Goldstein.
September 17, 1991: Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II are released. The two albums quickly make GNR the first group to have albums at number one and number two on the Billboard Charts at the same time. Together, the two albums have now sold over 35 million copies.
November 7, 1991: Rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin quits the band after fearing a repeat of a riot caused by Axl Rose earlier that year. That riot took place in St. Louis on July 2 after Rose stormed out of a concert early, causing a riot that left dozens injured. Stradlin was replaced with Gilby Clarke. Stradlin would briefly return in 1992 to replace an injured Clarke, evidently temporarily suppressing his fear of riots in the interest of money.
Mid-1993: Guns N’ Roses settles out of court with former drummer Steven Adler for $2,250,000 and 15% royalties for songs he recorded on.
July 17, 1993: The Use Your Illusion tour ends in Buenos Aires. The tour was one of the longest ongoing tours in history, with the band playing 194 shows in 27 countries.
November 23, 1993: The Spaghetti Incident? is released. This collection of covers is named after a food fight that broke out between Axl Rose and Steven Adler, being described by Adler’s attorney during their ongoing lawsuit as “the spaghetti incident”. All of Izzy Stradlin’s previously recorded parts were replaced by Gilby Clarke before release.
January 1994: Axl Rose inducts Elton John into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. During the ceremony, he performs the Beatles “Come Together” with Bruce Springsteen. This would be the last live performance by Rose in six years.
May 1994: According to Gilby Clarke, there was “no next Guns n’ Roses album”. He would go on to say the album had been scrapped. In 2002, Axl Rose would state this was scrapped due to a lack of cohesion between the band members, successfully earning the title of “most understated statement” of the year.
1995: Gilby Clarke’s contract is not picked up. According to Slash, Axl Rose fired Clarke without the band’s consent. It was reported that before the last show of the Use Your Illusion Tour, Rose told Clarke to “enjoy your last show,” a comment that was viewed in a significantly less friendly light post firing.
February 14, 1995: Slash’s Snakepit, guitarist Slash’s alliterative new band, releases It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere. According to Matt Sorum, this album could have been the next Guns N’ Roses album, but “Axl did not think it was good enough.”
October 1996: Slash officially quits the band after clashing with Axl Rose over the hiring of Rose’s friend Paul Tobias two years prior for a recording of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Slash told MTV that he and Axl had “not been capable of seeing eye to eye on Guns N’ Roses for a long time.”
January 1997: Nine Inch Nails touring guitarist Robin Finck is hired to replace Slash. He signs a contract to become a full member of the band in August of that year.
April 1997: Matt Sorum leaves the band after an argument with Axl Rose over hiring Paul Tobias. Sorum would later refer to Tobias as the Yoko Ono of the band. He is replaced with Josh Freese.
April 1997: It is reported by Rolling Stone that the lineup of Guns N’ Roses is Axl Rose, Duff McKagan, Paul Tobias, Robin Finck, and Chris Vrenna.
August 1997: Duff McKagan leaves the band as he had decided to spend time with his family and had determined that the band was a bit of an erratic mess. He was replaced by former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson.
Sometime in 1997: Axl Rose purchases the rights to the band name allowing Guns N’ Roses to continue despite the mass exodus of its members. According to Slash, this was made possible by the band signing away the name in order to get Rose on stage during a 1992 show of the Use Your Illusion tour. Rose replied saying claims that the rights were signed away during duress “Never happened, all made up, fallacy and fantasy. Not one single solitary truth to it.”
Sometime in 1998: A new version of Guns N’ Roses is unveiled featuring Axl Rose, Tommy Stinson, Josh Freese, Robin Finck, Paul Tobias, keyboardist Dizzy Reed, and multi-instrumentalist Chris Pitman.
April 1999: Robin Finck leaves Guns N’ Roses to rejoin Nine Inch Nails on tour.
August 21, 1999: According to an article in Kerrang!, the band had recorded over 30 songs for an album that would be titled 2000 Intentions.
November 3, 1999: Axl Rose tells MTV that he has rerecorded a completely new version of Appetite for Destruction with his new band, replacing two songs with “Patience” from G N’ R Lies and “You Could Be Mine” from Use Your Illusion II. During the same interview, Rose announces the title of the upcoming album to be Chinese Democracy.
November 23, 1999: Live Era ’87-’93 is released. According to Slash, the selections for this album were a collaborative effort. Before fans could get their hopes up that the two were once again besties, though, Slash did clarify that he never spoke with Axl Rose directly.
November 1999: Guns N’ Roses releases “Oh My God” for the End of Days soundtrack. Rose claims that former members Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum “failed to see the potential” in the industrial inspired song and thus had no interest in playing on it.
February 3, 2000: In an interview about the still unreleased Chinese Democracy, Axl Rose states that the band broke up due to drugs and an effort to “destroy him” by the band’s members. “There was an effort to bring me down,” he said. “It was a king-of-the-mountain thing.”
March 2000: Avant-garde guitarist Buckethead becomes a member of the band, replacing Robin Finck almost a year after his departure. Around this same time, drummer Josh Freese leaves the band, being replaced by former Primus drummer Bryan Mantia.
January 2001: Guns N’ Roses performs in Las Vegas and Rio de Janeiro. Rose tells the crowd in Rio that he is “hurt and disappointed that, unlike Oasis, we could not all find a way to get along.”
Late 2001: While attempting to attend a Guns N’ Roses show in Las Vegas, Slash is turned away at the door by security, likely an attempt by Axl to make Slash also feel hurt and disappointed.
July 17, 2002: A press release is sent out that removes Paul Tobias off of the list of band members, replacing him with Psychedelic Furs guitarist Richard Fortus. This was reportedly due to Tobias’ frustration with touring.
November 7, 2002: The first show of their North American tour is cancelled due to rioting after Axl Rose does not show up to the GM Place arena in Vancouver. The tour would later be cut short after their December 6 show was cancelled due to another riot.
March 2004: Buckethead leaves the band because of the band’s “inability to complete an album or tour.” Not one to allow someone else to have the last word, Axl Rose said the band had been put in an “untenable position” because of the departure. “…Buckethead has been inconsistent and erratic in both behavior and commitment.” The rest of the world was shocked that a guitarist that wears a KFC bucket on his head was neither consistent in behavior nor commitment.
May 2004: Axl Rose, Slash, and Duff McKagan team up to sue Geffen records in order to stop the release of Guns N’ Roses’ Greatest Hits. The album was compiled without the band’s input. The lawsuit was eventually thrown out of court and the album went triple platinum.
May 12, 2006: Axl Rose moves to the opposite end of the human anatomy, finally replacing Buckethead with new guitarist Bumblefoot.
August 2006: Duff McKagan and Slash sue Axl Rose over songwriting credits. According to Rose’s lawyer, they were left off due to a clerical error while changing publishers.
February 9, 2009: Sitting down with Billboard’s Jonathan Cohen, Axl Rose stated he would never reunite with Slash, saying “What’s clear is that one or two of us will die before a reunion and however sad, ugly or unfortunate anyone views it, it is how it is. Those decisions were made a long time ago and reiterated year after year by one man.” Rose did not close the door on working with Duff McKagan or Izzy Stradlin again.
March 2009: Robin Finck leaves the band, being replaced with DJ Ashba.
June 2009: Axl Rose fires his manager Irving Azoff. This would lead to a lawsuit a year later with Azoff seeking nearly $2 million. Rose would claim that Azoff had attempted to force him to reunite with his estranged bandmates in order to start a tour with Van Halen.
October 14, 2010: Duff McKagan joins the band onstage for the first time since leaving. The spur of the moment decision would lead to McKagan playing four songs that night. McKagan would join the band several times in the future and even open for Guns N’ Roses with his band Loaded.
December 7, 2011: The Rock and Roll hall of fame announces that the classic Guns N’ Roses lineup would be inducted. Rumors of a reunion begin to buzz throughout the entire world.
April 11, 2012: Axl Rose writes a letter to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and fans announcing he would not be attending the induction ceremony, calling it a “complicated and awkward situation.” The buzzing of the reunion talk shrivels up and dies. Three days later, the rest of the band would be inducted, performing with Myles Kennedy of Altar Bridge on vocals.
July 2012: While touring Israel for the first time since 1992, the band’s tour security refuses to let anyone into venues while wearing a Slash t-shirt.
July 20, 2012: After receiving a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, Slash declared that the band would never reunite, telling Fox News “I don’t know why everyone is so obsessed – it is not going to happen.”
May 7, 2015: While on CBS This Morning, Slash says “never say never” when asked about a reunion. “Well, we haven’t really talked in a long time,” he would say about Axl Rose, “but a lot of the tension that you were talking about has dissipated. We don’t have all those issues anymore. It’s not a lot of controversy. It’s something that is more perpetuated by the media, more than anything.”
May 22, 2015: Duff McKagan tells WIND-FM that a reunion is possible. “It could happen, and it could not. And I think it would be wonderful, one day, if we reconciled, first and foremost. That alone would be cool.”
July 27, 2015: DJ Ashba and Ron Thai leave the band.
December 29, 2015: Billboard reports that Slash is set to rejoin Guns N’ Roses at Coachella in 2016.
January 4, 2016: KROQ announces that Guns N’ Roses will be headliners at Coachella with Duff McKagan and Slash rejoining Axl Rose. This is confirmed by a Coachella press release.
What does this mean for the future of the band? Will they record a new album? Maybe dozens of albums? Does it mean anything? Aside from the obvious answer that all three of these members love to receive large sums of money, who knows?
By the way, if you guessed 14 guitarists, you are right. Probably. Or not. It is incredibly difficult to keep track of.