Tracii Guns

REVIEW: Hollywood Rose – The Roots of Guns N’ Roses (2004)

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HOLLYWOOD ROSE – The Roots of Guns N’ Roses (2004 Deadline)

Hollywood Rose were one of several bands that eventually morphed into the original Guns N’ Roses. Already on board were singer William Bailey (Axl Rose) and guitarist Jeff Isbell (Izzy Stradlin). Guitarist Tracii Guns (L.A. Guns) was in and out of the band. Drummer Johnny Kreis and guitarist Chris Weber were later replaced by Steven Adler and Slash respectively, who came in together via their old band. It’s a complicated tangle of ins and outs and interchanging members but what’s important is that Hollywood Rose did record a crucial five-song demo in January of 1984. This demo was finally released on CD in 2004 with 10 (!) remixes, and now we get to hear what Guns N’ Roses sounded like as a fetus in the womb!

Unfortunately this CD releases has been padded out by having each song in triplicate. Each track is presented as a) the original demo, b) a remix by Gilby Clarke, and c) a remix by Fred Coury. Cinderella’s Coury, you may recall, sat in with Guns N’ Roses briefly when Steven Adler broke his hand in ’88.

No mercy is to be had on “Killing Time”, an aggressive and ragged assault that foreshadows Guns greats such as “Reckless Life”. It’s similar in construction to “Comin’ Atcha Live”, a later song by Tesla.  Axl is in vintage voice, not quite yet in control, but with all the power at his command. The Guns sound is already present on “Anything Goes”, later modified and released on Appetite for Destruction. The riff, later perfected by Slash, is already present and accounted for, although the verses are very different.  The chorus is a little out of control, yet to be tamed into a singalong melody.  What’s incredible is that the Guns sound was already there, waiting to be properly harnessed and unleashed upon the world.  Izzy and Axl created that sound; it came originally from those two guys.  Slash and the rest of the guys just had to add the finishing touches.

HOLLYWOOD ROSE_0005Track 3 is a Rose/Weber original called “Rocker”.  A sloppy punk metal riff and a killer Axl lead vocal make for a passable tune.  (I would love it if a reunited Guns would one day pull a “Van Halen” and remake these old unreleased songs…one can dream.)  “Rocker” is more metal than you expect from Guns, but it has that sloppy, dangly cigarette vibe that the band embodied.

“Shadow of Your Love” was later re-recorded by Guns N’ Roses as a demo and released on the B-side to “Live and Let Die”.  This is the original “Hollywood Rose” demo however, a more basic bare-bones version of the speed rock classic.  The last demo is “Reckless Life”, better known as the opening track on GN’R Lies.  It obviously evolved quite a bit as a Guns N’ Roses song, because this seems more like a skeleton of the song.  It’s still breakneck fast, but the verse riff isn’t there yet.

These five songs indicated there was a cutting edge band here that needed to be heard.  They could not have had the same success in this incarnation.  They clearly needed Steven and Duff in the engine roof, and Slash laying sticky guitar toffee on top.  The bones were already there, and it’s absolutely historic to hear these early demos of such important hard rock songs.  The impact that they would have, as a foundation for something bigger, cannot be understated.

That said, as songs they still had a little ways to go, and I don’t think we really needed each song three times in one sitting.  I’m not sure why Gilby was involved (except that he was in Guns N’ Roses too, from 1992-1994).  I’ll be damned if I can pick out specific changes he made with his remixes, but most of the songs are different lengths so he obviously did stuff!  Gilby did have Tracii Guns come back to Hollywood Rose and overdub new guitar solos for “Shadow of Your Love” and “Reckless Life”.  These guitar overdubs do succeed in making the demos more exciting than they were.  The Coury remixes are probably most notable for a distinctly different drum sound.

The Roots of Guns N’ Roses by Hollywood Rose is an essential collector’s item for any serious Guns fan.  You don’t want to be without this.  I just don’t think that two complete sets of remixes were necessary.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Spacewalk – A Salute to Ace Frehley (1996)

Part 5 in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Trouble Walkin’?  Click here!

Spacewalk – A Salute to Ace Frehley (1996 DeRock/Triage)

Just in time for the massive Kiss reunion tour came this tribute CD.  There were several versions of this.  I have the second-coolest of the three:

  • Least cool:  Regular domestic 10 track CD.
  • Second coolest:  Import CD (Europe?) with brand new bonus track by Ace Frehley himself, called “Take Me To the City”
  • Most cool:  Japanese import CD with that and Sebastian Bach’s “Save Your Love”

This is one of those tributes made up of a mish-mash of metal musicians, no real “bands” so to speak, although all are great musicians.  Scott Travis plays drums on most of it (lending an awkward Priest-like vibe to the drums), Charlie Benate plays with Scott Ian on “Rip It Out”, and Vinnie Paul of course plays with Dimebag Darrel on “Fractured Mirror”.  (This site has all the information and credits for the CD.  Enjoy!  You’ll notice the backing band is basically Racer X on most tracks.)

I’m good with every track on here except one:  Bruce Bouillet’s version of “New York Groove”.  I’m not into drum loops in general, and although the track has a funky groove to it, it’s just not my bag.  On the other hand, Scott Ian’s cover of “Rip It Out” is Anthrax-worthy.  Frankie Bello’s on bass, and somebody named Zach Throne sings it with Scott.  Zach nails an authentic Ace-like vocal, while Charlie’s relentless on the drums.  The Anton Fig drum solo is almost exact note-for-note.  As is the signature guitar solo.

Gilby Clarke’s “Shock Me” is one of the better tracks. I don’t usually think of Gilby as a soloist, since in GN’R he didn’t solo.  His soloing style is unlike Ace’s, but he performs an original solo of his own that is appropriate to song.  On the other hand I wouldn’t count “Deuce” by Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth) as a favourite.  The vocal (by somebody called Tom Gattis) is a tad overwrought.   Another “blah” tune is “Snowblind”, performed in a too-modern metally sound by Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys) and Snake Sabo from Skid Row.

Ron Young (Little Caesar, the Four Horsemen) has a soulful but southern sound on “Hard Luck Woman”, an odd choice for a Frehley tribute.  Written by Paul and sung by Peter, the original was created for Rod Stewart to sing!  But it’s as good a cover as any, and I don’t have a lot of other stuff of Ron’s, so I’m cool with this.  Jeff Watson (Night Ranger) is on guitar.

We all knew Sebastian Bach would knock it out of the park on “Rock Bottom”, and he does.  “Rock Bottom” wasn’t written by Ace, but he did write the intro, performed here by Russ Parish of Fight/Steel Panther.  Baz is obviously a huge Kiss fan and the song is in great hands, although the solo’s way too modern.  Still, I wish I had “Save Your Love” too.

IMG_00000627Tracii Guns is passable on “Parasite”, but again I think the song is done in a style too contemporary.  Up next is John Norum of Europe, with “Cold Gin”!  (Hey, two songs in a row written by Ace!)  McMaster is back on lead vocals, not my fave singer in the world.  John is a great guitarist, and this version of “Cold Gin” is heavy with fills.  Some go with the song, some miss the mark.

Dime’s “Fractured Mirror” is perfect, even the production and sound of the acoustic guitar is eerily similar to Ace’s original.  Dime may well have been the biggest Ace Frehley fan in the world. Darrell does throw some of his own personality into the song, but I think foremost on his mind was probably playing the song the way he remembered it.  And he does.

Lastly, “Take Me To the City” is performed by Ace himself, with his crack band:  Steve Werner on drums, Karl Cochran on bass, Richie Scarlet on guitar and backing vocals, and…Sebastian Bach is there too at the end!  This Ace rarity is the best of all reasons to track down this CD.  This is Ace back to a hard rocking Frehley’s Comet sound, with an anthemic chorus.  When Baz shows up at the end, it’s icing on the cake (although you need to turn it ^UP^ to catch him in the fade).

I don’t really buy tribute albums anymore, because I find these mish-mashes of somewhat related artists to be a bit tedious.  Still, it’s pretty solid, and definitely worthwhile to fans of bands like Pantera, Skid Row, or Anthrax.  The Ace bonus track is pretty much a compulsory purchase.

3/5 stars

Soon, we’ll also be talking about another quality tribute album with some surprising guests and alumni.  Stay tuned.

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