REVIEW: Gilby Clarke – Pawnshop Guitars (1994)

GILBY CLARKE – Pawnshop Guitars (1994 Virgin)

I cannot believe that this album came out 20 years ago.  We’d been inundated with GN’R solo albums in recent years, and I had no interest in yet another.  It was T-Rev who urged me to check it out.  T-Rev was a huge Guns N’ Roses fan.  Gilby Clarke was in GN’R for a few years, long enough to make some friends in high places and record this amazing debut solo record before being kicked out by Axl himself. (He was replaced by Axl’s childhood friend and co-writer Paul Tobias.)  Pawnshop Guitars is, of all the solo material recorded by all the ex-GN’R members, the very best of the bunch.

Every single member of the GN’R lineup circa 1994 makes an appearance here: Slash, Duff, Matt, Dizzy, and even the reclusive Axl himself, on a cover of “Dead Flowers”. Rob Affuso of Skid Row, Frank Black, Ryan Roxie and more show up for the party, and it sounds like one hell of a party. The Slash solos are unmistakable on “Tijuana Jail” (a “Radar Love”-esque smoker) and “Cure Me…Or Kill Me…”.  Indeed one wonders why they didn’t just release a bunch of these songs, a bunch of Slash’s songs, and call it the next Guns N’ Roses album.  Alas that never happened.

On this side of the border 20 pesos gets you dead

I don’t think there are any weak songs on Pawnshop Guitars. The influences are varied, but there is a strong vintage flavour.  Whereas Izzy Stradlin tended to channel the Rolling Stones via Keith Richards on his own solo debut, Gilby draws from the Beatles and Stones in equal measure. A song like “Black” sounds like a John Lennon outtake, but mixed with a batch of Joe Perry’s Boneyard Brew hot sauce.  I like Gilby’s lead vocals.  He’s not a power singer but his voice has character that suits the music.  It lends it a glam rock slant.

Other standout songs include the swampy “Skin & Bones” (an acoustic number that would have worked great as a GN’R tune), “Hunting Dogs”, “Jail Guitar Doors”, “Shut Up”…hell they’re all great.   T-Rev talked me into buying this album and it was a great purchase.  I liked it immediately.  Any serious Guns N’ Roses fan would do well to own this, one of the missing links between Use Your Illusion and Chinese Democracy.

5/5 stars

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47 comments

      1. Good EP called Commercial Suicide, had a great cover of Elvis Costello’s ‘Pump it up’. KFT also featured Todd Muscat, who I think was brother to Faster Pussycat’s Brent Muscat. My work here is done!

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        1. That sounds about right. I believe Brent Muscat also did a brief stint in LA Guns. Or Ratt. Or somebody like that. It’s like incest down in Hollywood with these bands.

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  1. Yeah Mike this is a very good album and has stood the test of time. It’s well written and it’s the only Gilby disc I own but you know I was very pleased when I bought It and Cure Me grabbed me right away so I was hooked from than out….
    I still like this one better than the two Snakepit records done by Slash in the late 90s/early00s…
    Good tunes and hey once again I gotta go digging in my cd boxes downstairs and rip this to my iPod thanks to your review!!!!
    Good call……

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      1. Yes! One of my favorites artists. I love it when “rock” fans are well-rounded enough to know who Frank Black is… let alone like him! One of the many reasons why I love this site: LeBrain’s appreciation of music is evident.

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        1. One of my favourites, as well! I’ve even had the GREAT fortune of seeing him in concert two times: once with the Catholics, and the other in the early stages (2nd or 3rd show) into the Pixies reunion tour. Both times, phenomenal. The Catholics show was definitely Frank Black in control, and had a real barroonm feel. He was maybe 15 feet away from me. The Pixies was certainly Black Francis at the helm. ;) To stand there, with the original lineup in front of me, and Santiago’s guitar starts Where Is My Mind and then the man starts singing… I swear, one of the greatest concert moments of my life.

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        2. I’ve only seen Frank twice. He did solo sets both times—just him and his guitar—playing material from his entire career (Pixies to most recent work with Reid Paley). The shows were very, very intimate… and awesome! I couldn’t have been more pleased! Sadly, I never caught the Pixies or the Catholics. Glad you saw both!

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  2. I have this! I love it when I come to Lebrains and I actually own the record you’re writing about! ;)

    Got this and Izzy’s Ju Ju Hounds around the same time, and yeah I hear what you’re saying. I still play Izzy’s record more, but that’s probably just my Stones bias coming through. Gilby’s Dead Flowers is… alright. Axl’s backing vocals are hilarious (and sorta bad).

    Overall though, this record took a while to speak to me. It wasn’t instant love. But I do like it now. As you were right to point out, it’s the component parts that make it worth it. I’m writing this from memory of the record – now I wanna go listen to it again. Think I will!

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    1. Ju Ju Hounds is also great. I give this one the edge for a little bit of diversity, but it’s all taste. I loved Axl’s hilarious vocals, so it’s all in the eye of the beholder!

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  3. This is one of my fave GnR side projects too (also Neurotic Outsiders!). Did i hear someone say…”the four horsemen”!!! One of my all time favourite bands/albums…cant wait! R.I.P. Frankie Starr!

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    1. Hey T-Rev thanks for stopping by! Yes Neurotic Outsides is coming soon, that review is in the works as well. Great side project. It always surprised me that in the 1990’s the solo albums I liked the least were from Slash!

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      1. Slash’s snakepit with Eric Dover on vocals is a solid rock album…many good tunes close to my heart on there…the second album with ??? Dont remember…terrible. But YES…all the other GnR dudes were doing great work in the shadow of the bands breakup. I told Duff to his face, that the Neurotic Outsiders RAWKED…and he looked at me with a side grin and said “cool man, thanks”. A neat moment for me.

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        1. That is a REALLY cool moment.

          I think the first Snakepit was about half a good album…if they had narrowed it down a bit to maybe 10 songs I think it would have been a lot better. There are some killer songs on there (Be the Ball, Beggars and Hangers-On) but also a lot that I didn’t like. Eric Dover ended up in Alice Cooper’s band about 5 years after that, playing guitar with Alice.

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  4. Sounds like there are some great reviews coming! Neurotic Outsiders…four horsemen…maybe some slash…you should do a GnR side project segment!!! Haha

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    1. Four Horsemen isn’t a review (yet) but they have some music included in tomorrow’s review…you’ll see what I mean. It was quite shocking to hear their music in an American action blockbuster.

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    2. Shit ya Neurotic Outsiders is a classic ……first time I heard Nasy Ho I pushed repeat 3 times….what a great rock n roll record,
      John Taylor grew some rock balls for 40 minutes!

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      1. YES!!! I always thought “how did he get mixed up with this lot of rockers but…he and the band fit well. Solid record…agreed!

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      2. SHIT YEAH! Nasty Ho, and T-Rev’s favourite JERK!

        I’m telling ya Deke, I can’t talk about that album without talking about T-Rev playing air drums in my car. T-Rev is a very physical air drummer. He hits the floor of the car with his foot, and slaps his knees hard. He is the only man I know who has had air drumming injuries. T-Rev used to say that the floor of my car had “good bass”.

        Anyway, we were both way into that album, and in the car, T-Rev would air drum along to all the heavy songs. Matt Sorum is great for air drumming.

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    3. Oh and you are already away of the next chapter part 276…something related to that old David Lee Roth video, Just A Gigolo…you got a sneak preview of this one a while ago ;)

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  5. Yeah it’s good to hear others who really dug the Outsiders..it’s too bad it didn’t go huge….man it’s all good form the songs/performances/production ..u name it it’s all there…..Angelina should have been huge….
    Really a bummer there was no followup!

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