In this episode we talk with Guns N' Roses drummer Steven Adler who joined the band in 1985 and can be heard on Appetite for Destruction & GN’R Lies. Steven toured the world with the band before leaving in 1990.
For our final interview of Season One, Steven Adler invited us to his home in Los Angeles to talk about his early days with Slash, Marc Canter’s dedication to the band, the first rehearsal of the Appetite lineup, and the infamous Hell Tour. Steven grew up in the San Fernando Valley and became friends with Slash in junior high school. They cycled in and out of various bands between 1984 and 1985 such as Roadcrew and The New Hollywood Rose. In June 1985, Steven was called by Slash to replace Rob Gardner as the drummer for the newly formed Guns N' Roses and completed the Appetite lineup with Axl, Izzy, Duff and Slash. Steven can be heard on Appetite for Destruction and their second studio album G N' R Lies, and he toured the world with the band before leaving in 1990.
2:05-Hear Steven talk about Marc’s involvement with the band and how they wouldn’t have had the success they had if it weren’t for Marc.
3:46-Listen to Steven talk about meeting Duff for the first time.
5:08-Hear Marc talk about the night “Welcome to the Jungle” debuted and hearing it for the first time.
5:23-Hear Steven talk about why he never knew what the lyrics were to the songs until he heard the recordings.
6:09-Listen to Steve talk about the first time he met Slash and Marc.
7:18-Hear about Steven introducing Slash to the guitar.
7:58-Listen to Steven talk about first wanting to be a singer but then being inspired to play drums after seeing Peter Criss from Kiss play and also by seeing London play.
11:56-Listen to Steven talk about why he downsized from double bass drums to just a single bass drum.
16:10-Hear Steven and Marc talk about why Hollywood Rose ended.
18:18-Hear Steven talk about taking a test to join the Navy then soon after getting the call from Slash about GNR looking for a drummer.
22:52-Listen to Steven talk about Hell Tour.
25:18-Hear Steven talk about the bond that GNR had after Hell Tour and what they began working towards.
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Steven Adler, Jason Porath, Marc Canter
Jason Porath 00:02
If you can take me back to that moment that you got the call...
Steven Adler 00:05
I said, "Dude, my bags have been packed for a couple years now, let's go!"
Jason Porath 00:18
Welcome back to The First 50 Gigs: Guns N' Roses and the Making of Appetite for Destruction. This is our final interview of season one and features the one and only Steven Adler. Steven invited us to his home in Los Angeles to talk about the early days with Slash, the dedication Marc Canter had for the band, the first rehearsal of the Appetite lineup, and the infamous Hell Tour. Steven grew up in the San Fernando Valley and became friends with Slash in junior high school. They cycled in and out of various bands between 1984 and 1985 such as Road Crew and The New Hollywood Rose. In June 1985, Steven was called by Slash to replace Rob Gardner as the drummer for the newly formed Guns N' Roses and completed the Appetite lineup with Axl, Izzy, Duff and Slash. Steven can be heard on Appetite for Destruction and their second studio album G N' R Lies, and he toured the world with the band before leaving in 1990. Steven, welcome.
Steven Adler 01:24
Hi, thank you very much for having me. Anything for Marc Canter or Reckless Road, I am there. Actually, Guns N' Roses, when you really get down to the bare basics, we wouldn't have been known by anybody if it wasn't for Marc Canter and his buddy Jack Lue. Love you, Jack.
Marc Canter 01:48
There could be no Guns N' Roses without the rhythm of the drums.
Steven Adler 01:53
Yes, well thank you, the world has found that out.
Marc Canter 01:57
Do you know how many babies were born, were made...
Steven Adler 02:01
...from me? (laughs)
Marc Canter 02:02
...just from Rocket Queen alone?
Steven Adler 02:03
He's the closest person that could possibly ever get to the band. Nobody was as close to the band as Marc. He made everything happen. He would push us, he would say, "Okay, we need to do a photoshoot." We had nobody and Marc, he would just consistently be on top of everything. "Okay, this is the next step. This is the next step." And then we started playing finally and he was there to videotape everything. And here's a question for you, "How many shows did we do before we got a record deal?"
Marc Canter 02:50
Steven Adler 02:51
Marc Canter 02:52
Steven Adler 02:53
I swore it was 12.
Marc Canter 02:55
I'm counting Hollywood Rose.
Steven Adler 02:57
No Hollywood Rose, we're talking Guns N' Roses.
Marc Canter 02:59
I don't know I'd have to go back and look but it was more than 10.
Steven Adler 03:02
Okay, 12 (laughs). I mean, everything came together with the help of Marc and his book, Reckless Road, is the closest you're ever gonna know exactly and reality of the band. There's no book out there, not even mine, but Marc's book, it's everything from the very very beginning.
Jason Porath 03:31
It's not only Marc that was there and really supported the band, it was Canter's where so many things happened for you guys as well. Do you want to tell us about meeting Duff at Canter's?
Steven Adler 03:46
Oh, meeting Duff? Yeah, me and Slash put an ad in the Recycler Magazine and he was the first person to come. And it was a magical thing, we just connected. But Marc was the one who would get us shows and be there filming and taking pictures and just on top of us when we thought, well not me personally, but the other goofball thought, "Eh, nothing is happening." Mr. Canter made everything happen. And he got us shows. Did you get that show at UCLA?
Marc Canter 04:33
No, that was later on. Oh, you're right.
Steven Adler 04:37
That party with the Chili Peppers...
Marc Canter 04:39
Oh, the Chili Peppers, no that was after you guys were signed. But there was a show at UCLA at a frat party.
Steven Adler 04:45
The frat party, that's what I'm talking about.
Marc Canter 04:46
Yeah, the frat party. But that happened, you guys played the Troubadour on July 20th of 1985 and somewhere after the show, somebody was backstage and said, "Hey, you guys were great. Why don't you play our frat party and we'll give you like 50 bucks or 35 bucks and some free beer," or something like that.
Steven Adler 05:05
I'm sure it was 20 bucks and beer.
Marc Canter 05:07
Yeah, and I remember "Welcome to the Jungle" was just debuted that night, that was the hot new song. I heard it for the first time that night. But the next day I got to hear it again and really understand what I was hearing, because you don't really get it the first time you hear it.
Steven Adler 05:23
I didn't even know the words. I didn't know the words to most of our songs till the record came out. Axl never really came to rehearsal. But it really wasn't his fault, because we didn't have a PA so it was basically Duff, Izzy, Slash and myself playing and Axl would just come in at the last second and just blow everybody's mind. I remember when the record came out, I was seeing the words going, "holy shit, this guy's a genius. Why is he such an asshole? Oh, that's why...he's a genius."
Jason Porath 06:04
I want to go back to literally moment number one.
Steven Adler 06:09
I was was riding my skateboard at this elementary school, Laurel Elementary, and Marc and Slash were walking down the sidewalk. Right when I went up the ramp I fell off the ramp right on my head, and they stopped and they both said, "Dude, are you okay?" That was my first introduction to Marc and Slash. And then I met Slash in junior high school like a couple days later, I had one of those things where you grab stuff... ..and I was talking with the teacher, I got her to chase me around the room and I ran into the next classroom and there was a teacher with this young guy with his finger in his face going, "You're gonna be a bum and a loser your whole life." And I instantly stopped and was all, "This is gonna to be my best friend."
Jason Porath 06:48
The claw. Slash credits you with introducing him to the guitar?
Steven Adler 07:18
Yes, my grandmother bought me a cheap, electric guitar, and a little amplifier. And I knew like two chords and like two scales and I put my Kiss record on and just did all the Ace Frehley shit, trying to look like him. He fell in love with that. And then I turned him onto the guitar and that was it. He had his grandmother buy him an acoustic guitar, so then we became walkers of the streets of West Hollywood and Hollywood.
Jason Porath 07:55
Did you give up guitar? And when did you start playing drums?
Steven Adler 07:58
I started playing drums around the same time. But at first I wanted to be a singer. But then I realized really quickly that I can't even speak English, how the fuck am I going to sing. And then I saw I saw KISS play at the Phantom of the Park at Magic Mountain when they were filming The Phantom of the Park. And I watched Peter Criss, I was all, "I have to be a part of that." Then I saw Nikki Sixx in London, actually me and Slash saw Nikki Sixx in that band London. And it wasn't a huge show. It wasn't fire and smoke and all that. It was amazing, it was just raw. And I'll never forget, the drummer had one of those white North drum sets, you know where the little tubes slide, and Nikki had a little black and white striped bass and he looked like Gene Simmons when I saw him. He looked like he was 12 feet tall. And he had this light around him and it wasn't from the stage. And we were all, "Okay, we could do this, this isn't like way out of hand." I mean KISS, being as big as KISS, that was out of hand. Then we saw them, we saw Nikki, I remember Nikki had a drum set and we were all, "We got to be a part of this."
Jason Porath 09:40
Yeah, so not only did you want to play drums but you wanted to live the dream. You wanted to be on stage and you wanted to be up there just giving that to people.
Steven Adler 09:50
The main goal was to be able to get ready to be able to play in front of people and have them go, "This is cool!" So I used to practice at Gardner Park, Sam and Sydney Park, up on top of Mullholland, and I went up to the Observatory a couple of times, and I just set my drums up and practice. All I know is I had to pay my dues and that was having a job, showing that I care enough about being successful in music, and practicing. You know, repetition, practice, repetition makes the master and that's how I always thought about it. The more I play, the more people I play with, the sooner I'm going to find the right guy that I fit in with.
Jason Porath 10:49
To watch the video podcast of The First 50 Gigs, that includes exclusive photos and videos from this episode and the entire season, join our growing community on Patreon and subscribe. So when did you think that you were ready to show Slash what you were capable of while he was in Road Crew?
Steven Adler 11:10
1983 I called Slash up I said, "Dude, meet me at La Cienaga Park." And I went there and set up my drums and he showed up and I just played for him. And I said, "Dude, you ready put a band together?" And he was all, "fuck yeah."
Marc Canter 11:31
At a New Year's Eve party you saw Slash play for the first time when he was actually in a band, when he knew how to play, and you kept pointing at him because you couldn't believe how good he was or how good he'd gotten. And that's basically when you wanted in somehow.
Steven Adler 11:48
I always wanted to be a part of Slash's life.
Marc Canter 11:51
And that's when you auditioned for him and the double bass drums blew him away.
Steven Adler 11:56
Yeah, I had a double bass. The reason I started playing one bass drum is that Slash called me up and said, "Me, Axl, Izzy and Duff got a show in Seattle and a show in Oregon. And I was playing with this other guy, these other guys in Reseda, and my mom or my grandmother said, "Your friend Slash called," she never liked him. I went down to some studio in Silver Lake and I broke my bass drum head when I was playing with the band earlier so I just set up the bass, snare, floor tom, ride and crash and high hats and a cowbell, and everything fell together that day. Because I don't need those drums, this is how it is. Everything I wrote for Appetite and Live was all on a bass drum, a snare drum, a floor tom, one ride, one crash, one high hat, one cowbell.
Jason Porath 13:16
So you simplified.
Steven Adler 13:17
And it worked. I didn't want it to be that way, but once I started playing instantly I was all, "Yeah, this is what I've been needing. I've been needing to get rid of all those other drums and focus on rhythm. And Duff, he came to L.A. when we met him at Canter's, he came to L.A. a guitar player and then we started hanging out at the clubs and going to shows and he realized, there's a fucking million guitar players, but there's only 10 bass players. So Duff's bass playing is more like he's playing guitar. And I learned basically all my music, my rhythms, from playing with a guitar player. So once I started jamming with Duff, it just fell together because he didn't play it boom, boom, boom, he played what the guitar was doing and that gave me the option to play the bass drum for what he's playing. Everything just came together. It was literally fucking magic, that's the only word I could think of.
Jason Porath 14:42
Do you remember when Hollywood Rose came together, when you add Slash joined Hollywood Rose?
Steven Adler 14:52
Yeah, with Steve Darrow.
Jason Porath 14:55
Yeah, it was Steve Darrow.
Steven Adler 14:56
Hi Steve, how are you?
Jason Porath 14:59
There was the first gig that you guys played on June 16th, I think it was 1984, and Darrow said that was your first time playing on stage.
Marc Canter 15:13
When you guys joined together in Hollywood Rose, was that your first time playing live in front of a real audience?
Steven Adler 15:20
Yes. Mine and Slash's....no not Slash's cause he played at Fairfax High School.
Marc Canter 15:27
That's true, but it wasn't a club.
Jason Porath 15:31
Steve said that once you got everything set up, you had to take a few laps around the block to calm yourself down cause it was the first show.
Steven Adler 15:41
No, god, it was like the greatest high ever, being so nervous before you go on, and then once you start playing, it's like, "What the fuck was I so nervous for, this is awesome!" And it was.
Jason Porath 16:00
So how did Hollywood Rose end? You had you, Axl, Slash and Steve, what happened? Do you remember how Hollywood Rose ended?
Steven Adler 16:11
The Rose, The Hollywood Rose, the Road Crews, it was kind of like breaking up with a girlfriend, you know, she catches you making out somebody else and then you'd never fucking see her again. It was kind of like that. It was kind of like, "Yeah, we did this, we did that." And we were all growing so we're all pushing to try and move forward in our careers.
Marc Canter 16:44
What I remember was, I wasn't at that gig because I went to see Aerosmith play somewhere up north.
Steven Adler 16:50
(under his breath) Aerosmith?
Marc Canter 16:50
But Steve Darrow was out of the band and they got this new bass player, DJ or something...
Steven Adler 16:56
DJ...what was his name?
Marc Canter 16:57
I don't remember but I think they called him DJ.
Steven Adler 16:59
I just remember DJ.
Marc Canter 17:01
I wasn't at that gig but after that gig Hollywood Rose broke up. So I don't know if something happened or....
Steven Adler 17:08
No, nothing happened. Nobody said to each other, "Fuck you," or anything like that. It was just like we all woke up in four or five different places and we're all doing our own thing. Just trying to move forward.
Marc Canter 17:26
Axl moved on to L.A. Guns like within a week.
Steven Adler 17:29
Yeah and then what, it all of a sudden became Guns N' Roses. And then you and Slash might have actually joined London or something. We were in London. Everybody was in London! (laughs)
Jason Porath 17:39
Everybody's cycling in and out of bands at that time, Steven. Slash called it an incestuous revolving door of players and bands. Is that how you would describe it?
Steven Adler 17:51
Yeah, basically, it was just, we were just moving. We were just trying everything out that we could, and then finally, like I said, I got that call from Slash that they had the show in Oregon and Seattle.
Jason Porath 18:08
Before we get there. If you can take me back to that moment that you got the call that GNR was looking for another guitarist and a drummer.
Steven Adler 18:18
Okay, I just like maybe two weeks before, went to do a test to be in the Navy. I wanted to travel. I wanted to get the fuck out of the valley, get the fuck out of Hollywood. I wanted to see the world and I failed that test, miserably.
Jason Porath 18:44
You failed the physical test.
Steven Adler 18:46
Not the physical, the mental. Here's a guy, "You're just gonna end up cleaning toilets." And I said, "Eh, it's not gonna work for me." So it was like God intervened and said have Slash call me. And he said, "Dude, we've got a show at The Troubadour, we've got a show in Oregon, we've got a show in Seattle. You want to do it? Tracii doesn't want to do it, Rob Gardner doesn't want to do it." I said, "Dude, my bags have been packed for a couple of years now. Let's go!"
Jason Porath 19:23
So you get the call from Slash, your bags are packed, and you do that first rehearsal which Duff and Slash both said it was like lightning hit the room. After all the moving around and all the bands, whether it was Hollywood Rose, New Hollywood Rose, London, L.A. Guns, when the five of you finally came together, something changed.
Steven Adler 19:49
That was like two years of doing everything we could to grow as musicians. And to grow, you need to play with everybody you can. Before they called me for that, for The Troubadour and Seattle, I had played with like 20 different people. And what was cool about it is the people I played with were young, my age, so they still lived at home. I used to live with these people. I played drums, I lived with them for like a week or two, I jam with them every day, I practice myself every day, and then I move on. Something else would come up. You got to keep moving. You got to keep trying. You got to keep practicing to be the best you can. I don't want to be the best drummer in the world. I just want to be the best that I can be. There's no way I'm gonna be the best drummer in the world. I just want to be me. And I love my playing.
Jason Porath 21:07
To preview the full experience of The First 50 Gigs video podcast that includes exclusive photos and videos from Marc's archive, check out The First 50 Gigs YouTube channel. You'll find the link right here in our episode show notes. So what changed when you got into GNR where you knew that maybe you weren't going to be moving around anymore?
Steven Adler 21:29
Every one of us: Slash, Duff, Izzy, Axl and myself, between The Rose, The Hollywood Rose, we all played with everybody and anybody we could. So we became obviously better players because we were playing with different people who had different styles. And then when we got together in Silver Lake on that Wednesday night, it all came together. All the practicing and playing with different people, it all just finally came together.
Jason Porath 22:09
Well, I think at that time, all of you were looking for a new family. You know, you guys were wandering around enough. Axl and Izzy came from Indiana, you and Slash were wandering Hollywood in the valley, Duff from Seattle. And I think everybody was looking for that feeling of being a family. And I think there was a turning point where you were five guys in GNR that became, after this point, a band with five guys, you actually became that family that you were all looking for. And I think it was Hell Tour that changed everything.
Steven Adler 22:52
Just traveling, we never said, "Fuck it." We were determined to get to two states away from where we were, and we made it. And that makes a kind of a bond that you would think I mean, just that one day of hitchhiking and doing a tour would bond each other for life because it was no easy task. We practiced on Wednesday; Thursday we did The Troubadour; Friday morning at like six we all got into this guy Danny Biral's car and we all drove. We're driving to Seattle, the car breaks down, smoke everywhere in Bakersfield and we were not giving up. So I went and asked this truck driver, I said, "Dude, me and my band have a show in Seattle, can you give us a ride?" And he said, "yeah." So he took us to Medford, Oregon. In Medford, Oregon this Mexican guy and his little kid picked us up on the freeway. It was a low rider truck. So we were all in the back of the truck and the tires were rubbing against you know the rim of the thing and smoke everywhere. So we got out and we started hitchhiking again and these two hippie chicks picked us up. They took us to Portland, Oregon. In Portland, Oregon Duff had his friend (I don't remember his name, it's terrible), he picked us up in Portland and drove us to the show. Probably the worst show that's ever been played in history. And the guy, he promised 200 bucks and he won't give us the money, he said we sucked. And Slash and Axl and Duff held this guy down on the fucking ground, "You give us the fucking money." We got the 200 bucks.
Jason Porath 25:09
When you got back to L.A. did you guys acknowledge that like, "Holy shit, we just got through this fucking insane trip and now we're back in L.A.."
Steven Adler 25:18
We can do anything if we can make it to Seattle, which is two long, long states away, we could do anything. And it just bonded us and then we were just like rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. The more we rehearsed, the better we got, the sooner we could do shows and we could get a record deal and make a record and get a tour bus. That was our main fucking goal was you got to put a record out so you get a tour bus and get the fuck on the road and travel. Because all of us were sick of being in L.A., especially when a lot of our friends, like the guys in Poison and Stryper, they were doing shows, they had a tour bus. We were all, "We know these people, they're douchebags just like we are, if they can do it, we can do it." Everything seemed to work out. Everything I believed in, everything that I worked for, and the people I loved and believed in. I was so blessed. Blessed to be a part of those guys. And I will always love them, no matter how big of assholes they are, I love you (laughs). If it wasn't for Marc Canter, the five of us would not have survived each other. We would not be famous, we would not do anything. Marc is the main pusher of us.
Marc Canter 27:01
I just took the edge off and made sure there wasn't too much extra stress to get to the next gig. It was the little things, it was just little things.
Steven Adler 27:10
It was a little things that turned out to be big.
Marc Canter 27:13
Some flyers, some food, some guitar strings.. ...some rides to rehearsal, whatever, just little thing.
Steven Adler 27:17
That was everything! Little things were everything.
Marc Canter 27:24
Purchasing the ads in BAM magazine because as soon as we started doing that, the shows started selling out. So it definitely brought crowds and then once people saw them, they told two friends and they told two friends...
Steven Adler 27:39
And so on....like that shampoo commercial, "and so on, and so on." Marc was the number.
Marc Canter 27:47
Eventually my goal was to make sure they can get to the next gig until someone could recognize them that could really do something like a record company. And so basically that happened and then they took it from there.
Jason Porath 27:59
But Marc you documented everything.
Marc Canter 28:01
I documented everything cause it was gold!
Steven Adler 28:03
That's what I'm saying, if you want to know the absolute truth about Guns N' Roses from 1985 to 1990, you have to buy Reckless Road. That is the closest of what we were and who we were at that time.
Marc Canter 28:26
Okay, he's gotta go.
Steven Adler 28:29
I love you, brother. I gotta go talk with my business manager.
Marc Canter 28:32
I think we got it.
Steven Adler 28:33
I will do this again.
Jason Porath 28:34
All right, Steven, sounds good. We hope you've enjoyed this episode of The First 50 Gigs: Guns N' Roses and the Making of Appetite for Destruction. To watch the video podcast, access bonus episodes and galleries and buy show merchandise, join our growing community on Patreon and subscribe.