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.