Episode #4: Chris Weber Discusses A.X.L, Rose and Hollywood Rose

In 1983, just as Slash’s band Roadcrew dissolved, guitarist Chris Webe, Izzy Stradlin and Bill Bailey started the band A.X.L., which became Rose and then Hollyood Rose. With his riffs, melodies and sound, Chris contributed to the genetic code of songs heard on “Appetite For Destruction,” “Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide” and “Greatest Hits.” Chris discusses the timeline from 1983 to mid-1984 and chronicles their bands A.X.L, Rose and Hollywood Rose just prior to a shake-up that would lead to the “New” Hollywood Rose that included Slash and Steve Adler.


In 1983, just as Slash’s band Roadcrew dissolved, guitarist Chris Weber was hanging out around the club scene on the Sunset Strip and was introduced to Izzy Stradlin by Tracii Guns. They immediately found common ground in bands like Hanoi Rocks, Aerosmith, and the New York Dolls and shared a desire to form a band and create their own sound. Being a teenager and living at home with his parents, Chris looked up to Izzy like a big brother and took cues from Izzy’s distinctive style, attitude, and riff-based approach to music. Later, Chris met Bill Bailey and marveled at his focus and unique sound. The trio formed a band, calling themselves A.X.L.

After composing songs like Anything Goes and Reckless Life, they felt ready to take their shot on the Strip. They renamed themselves Rose and then Hollywood Rose, and then in January 1984 recorded a demo with five songs to promote themselves to booking agents. That demo become “The Roots of Guns N’ Roses,” released by Cleopatra Records in 2004.

With his riffs, melodies and sound, Chris contributed to the genetic code of songs heard on “Appetite For Destruction,” “Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide” and “Greatest Hits.” Chris discusses the timeline from 1983 to mid-1984 and chronicles their bands A.X.L, Rose and Hollywood Rose just prior to a shake-up that would lead to the “New” Hollywood Rose that included Slash and Steve Adler.

 

Episode Highlights: 

1:25 - Meet Chris Weber

2:18 - Hear about the underage scene at The Rainbow Bar and Grill, and Slash dressing in drag

3:01 - Tracii Guns introduces Chris to Jeff "Izzy" Isbell

4:20 - Izzy introduces Chris to Bill (Axl) and A.X.L is formed

5:30 - Learn about Chris's early beginnings with music and that he never wanted to be a rockstar, he just wanted to play music

7:05 - Hear about the songwriting process with Izzy and Axl

9:00 - Axl finds his iconic sound and we learn about the group's musical influences

11:35 - Chris walks us through the process of how bands were booked in clubs before pay-to-play

15:17 - Izzy and Axl were different than other musicians in L.A., they had an all or nothing mentality towards making it big 

17:58 - The revolving door of bands swings around and shifts the lineup of Hollywood Rose, which includes Chris and Izzy leaving

20:21 - Chris is reunited with Izzy and Axl, along with a few new faces to play as Hollywood Rose at Dancing Waters on NYE

21:57 - Hear Chris discuss his songwriting contributions and how he's a part of the GNR genetic code 

 

 

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Transcript

SPEAKERS

Jason Porath, Chris Weber, Marc Canter

 

Jason Porath  00:00

This was Axl's moment of the making his signature sound.

 

Chris Weber  00:02

He would sing in that register and some of the first times I heard it would send shivers up my spine.

 

Jason Porath  00:10

Welcome back to the First 50 Gigs, Guns and Roses and the Making of Appetite for Destruction. Today, we interview Chris Weber, founding member of A.X.L, Rose and Hollywood Rose, a trio that included Chris, Izzy Stradlin and Axl Rose. Chris contributed the genetic code of Appetite for Destruction with his guitar riffs and melodies that can be heard on songs like, "Anything Goes" and "Shadow of Your Love." When Chris was just 16, he was introduced to Izzy Stradlin by Tracii Guns in the parking lot of the Rainbow Bar and Grill. And it was there that they hopped in Chris's car and listened to cassette tapes of Hanoi Rocks and New York Dolls that defined the style that they wanted to model. Chris talks to us about forming these bands and laying the foundation for what would become Guns N' Roses.

Jason Porath  00:34

Welcome, Chris, thank you for being here.

 

Chris Weber  00:37

My pleasure.

 

Jason Porath  00:37

First of all, where are we in time? And what's going on? What's the scene?

 

Chris Weber  00:43

I've been friends with Tracii [Guns] from high school, and we spent a lot of time together. He did have a band and his band, I think it was Pyrrus at the time, played Fairfax. And I remember seeing them, going, "Man, I'd just do anything just to get playing. So I hit up Tracii occasionally and said, "You want to play?" And he goes, "No, because my bands are a one guitar player band." I was like, "Okay." On the occasion that we would go to the Rainbow, a lot of the time -- and I was 16 and maybe Tracii was 17 -- there wasn't a lot of getting into the Rainbow, which was 21. But there was a lot of hanging out in front. That was kind of its own scene, as anybody from that time could tell you. People would stay around until after closing time, until 3:30 the morning, pairing off and hooking up and going to after-hours and parties.

 

Marc Canter  02:01

You said you had to be 21 to get to the Rainbow if you were a guy, but if you were a girl, you only had to be 18 to get in. One time Slash dressed up as a girl and got in at 18. They didn't even card him. But, we were born in '65, so he would take a pencil, chalk actually, and chalk out part of the five. And we'd take a sharp pencil we'd make that five into a three.

 

Chris Weber  02:28

I remember that. At the Rainbow one of those nights, decked out in my glam attire Tracii came up to me and he said, "Hey, listen, I've got I got this guy I want you to meet. And he's a guitar player." "Tell me about him," I said. "Well, he's this guy..." He was Jeff, who is Izzy, and he goes, "Yeah, he wants to start a band." I was excited. The fact that Tracii was turning me on to this guy, I knew that I was probably serious. We hung out in the Rainbow parking lot in...it was actually Tracii's dad's truck and it had this nice sound system. And we sat there for a couple hours just talking about what the band can be and musical tastes. That's the origins of Hollywood Rose and obviously, soon-to-be to be Guns N' Roses. But initially, it was A.X.L. It wasn't called Axl, it was A.X.L. And, I think that there's a picture; it was either Izzy or Axl who climbed up on one of the billboards at the Sunset and La Cienega at the Peterson building and spray-painted on this white billboard because they hadn't put anything on it yet. It's is a picture of us in front of it. That was the first incarnation of that band. I remember going over to where Axl was, which was this apartment building on Whitley, which is right in the middle of Hollywood, just on the bottom of the Hollywood Hills. On the roof, at the very far end of the roof, I sort of see something. And as we walk closer, across this rooftop in the middle of the -- and it was a very hot day -- I see Axl. He's sunbathing on the roof, on this tar roof, with like a little towel. And Izzy said, "Hey, this is Bill. He's my friend. He's gonna sing." And that was it. That was the origin of that band.

Jason Porath 4:50

So you were still in high school. I think at this time, they were probably a little bit older. What was that like for you? I mean, could you see yourself going from hanging out in the parking lot to actually playing in some of the venues? What was that like for you as a teenager?

Chris Weber 5:08

To be honest with you, I didn't think that far in advance. I really liked playing and music and the gigs were great, but I didn't grow up thinking I want to be on stage and I want to be a famous rock star. I just wanted to play. That was my whole thing since I was nine. I got introduced to music through one of the guys that played with Steppenwolf, and then a couple of other guys from some other bands that were friends of my parents and came into my life and they were sort of mentors and I really was inspired by that. It was really about the music. I didn't really think that far about gigging. But, soon it was "We need a tape because we need to get gigs. We need a demo tape." And that's the only way that you can get gigs.

 

Jason Porath  05:40

Axl and Izzy came out from Indiana to Los Angeles. Did you get the sense that they were more focused or had a mission to make it?

 

Chris Weber  05:50

That's a really appropriate way to describe it. They were driven and they knew where they were going. They knew what that looked like, or at least enough to get it to the next stage. The writing process was interesting. At the time, Izzy played a lot of instruments. His strong points were his style and his songs and songwriting, right? But as far as the guitar playing, I had been playing for years and I was pretty competent. So between his songwriting skills and mine -- I was more riff-oriented listening to a lot of stuff when I was younger like Zeppelin and Judas Priest and bands that were more guitar-driven -- the songs kind of came together with me and Izzy putting them together. We would record them on a cassette tape and give them to Axl. Axl would take them away and then he'd write lyrics over the top. Reckless Life was written that way and Anything Goes was written that way.

 

Marc Canter  06:58

Shadow of Your Love.

 

Chris Weber  06:58

Shadow of Your Love would have been written that way. That's how wrote all the songs. I'm sure that Izzy contributed to it as well. Izzy is really the reason that the band even had anything. I think he was the spark that really made everything work.

 

Jason Porath 07:00

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Jason Porath  07:37

This was Axl's moment of the making of his signature sound. Coming from Indiana, he did have a musical background, he had a singing background. But nobody sings like Axl. Everybody knows who he is as soon as he opens his mouth to sing. He created a signature sound that was different than anything else going on at that time. It would be great to hear from your perspective what that was like, the voice in the making.

 

Chris Weber  08:07

He would sing in that register and some of the first times I heard it, it would just send shivers up my spine. How he got there? I've never listened to any of the songs from bands prior to our band. I know that there's some Rapidfire and some other bands that are out there that he was in. I don't know what he sang like in those. I don't know if it's the same sound. But if it's not, then that would be in line with sort of him doing that around us and saying, "Yes, let's have more of that!" That's my memory of it. I think Izzy would have really had been instrumental in kind of pulling that out of him, or sort of encouraging or at least cultivating it.

 

Jason Porath  08:49

There was a real intention behind what you guys were trying to create.

 

Chris Weber  08:56

A good amount of what was going on was image and style. There was a lot of focus on that in the early band that was...the music maybe came sort of organically without a lot of thought, at least my perspective. As far as the sound was concerned, I know that we listened to a lot of bands that Izzy brought into the mix. We were inspired by a lot of those New York Dolls or Hanoi Rock. They made a big contribution to the sound and then my style which was more sort of a rock style. Again, more Zeppelin or Judas Priest, I think Aerosmith. I pulled that into it and you can hear that in some of the songs that are on my song contributions that are on the records. They've got more of a riff-oriented approach to them. Initially, the EP which ended up being re-released as "Guns N' Roses Lies" has "Reckless Life" and "Move to the City" on it. And both of those -- the guitar parts are sort of riff guitar parts, not just some strumming chords -- was my contribution. I would have been bringing that element into it.

 

Jason Porath  10:09

Let's go back to kind of the evolution of the band. A.X.L. changes its name to Rose, and you start booking some gigs, right? You start taking some promotional shots for your flyers. You guys start kind of coalescing as a real band that's now going to start playing some of these venues.

 

Chris Weber  10:29

Before any of those venues we had to provide a demo tape. That's how any booking agent would hear you. One of the songs I wrote is "Anything Goes," which is on Appetite for Destruction. With "Anything Goes," "Reckless Life," and then a couple of other songs, we went in and we did a demo tape of those songs. The first thing that we did was as just us three -- we didn't even have a rhythm section -- book some time to go in and record those in the studio. And then we did find a drummer, which was Johnny Kries, to play drums on it and I think he came in for one rehearsal. We showed him the songs and he was like, "Okay, I'm ready to go."

 

Jason Porath  11:12

Once you recorded the demo, what did you do with it? Did you start taking it around to the different venues?

 

Chris Weber  11:19

Yeah, basically. The Vicky Hamiltons or that Dale Glorez or whoever the booking agents of the day, some of them work out of the clubs themselves. You go down to the club, you give them the tape, and they call you up, and they say, "Okay, you can do Tuesday, eight o'clock."

 

Jason Porath  11:41

When you guys were starting out, and you were starting to perform as Rose, and then Hollywood Rose, who was top bill? Who was at the top of the food chain at that time?

 

Chris Weber 11:50

WASP, Black n' Blue, Motley Crue, had just broken. They weren't in the clubs at that time, but they would have just been a year before. Hellion. There was lots of rock bands. Ratt was just breaking at that point. If you are a musician, and in the mid-80s, the stuff that people would talk about, at least the levels before people were signed, were the dream of meeting a music industry attorney that can kick your tape to the right people. It was like, "I got a guy in the industry. He's, he's an attorney, he's our attorney, he's gonna get us a deal." Or, "we got a demo deal from CBS," or something like that. All those little small little step-ups created a little bit of a buzz to get to the next level. Lots of bands were big, but nobody was really breaking. Certainly, Motley Crue was breaking, but other than that, there was just a lot of bands that were trying to pivot for the best spots and the different clubs every night.

 

Jason Porath 11:58

When did you feel the momentum was building? Did you get a sense that as you moved from Rose to Hollywood Rose, that there was beginning to be a following, there was the sound that people were gravitating to?

 

Chris Weber  13:16

To be honest with you, I felt so fulfilled just having a band that would rehearse and these guys that I kind of looked up to. I didn't have any brothers and sisters, so Izzy was like my big brother. I really looked up to him. He showed me how to work on how to dress and about socializing. When you're trying to get people to your shows, you got to turn on the charm. Most people were from Ohio or Mississippi or Nebraska and they would just get on a bus or drive in a car and get to Los Angeles. A lot of people did leave their families to make it in Los Angeles. That's where everybody was getting signed. That was more the L.A. scene in the 80s. Although, it didn't end up creating as many bands. There were signed bands that were big. There was a lot of buzz around that. That's where it's certainly the company's headquarters were so you can be seen at least.

 

Jason Porath  14:20

Some people take it more seriously than others. There were kids who came out pursuing the dream, but whether they wanted to take it all the way or not, was another story. There were also people on the street; they really didn't have anything else. They didn't have a family to go back to, they didn't have a job to go back to. This wasn't a hobby. This was like life or death. This was no failure. Right? This was it?

 

Chris Weber  14:48

I don't think Axl was ever going to go back. He was definitely rooted in Los Angeles. That's why I think that they were driven; because of this idea here that there's no going back.

 

Jason Porath 15:01

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Jason Porath  15:19

These first few gigs of Hollywood Rose, talk a little bit about the dynamic kind of what played out across a couple of those gigs. And then it kind of came to an abrupt end.

 

Chris Weber 15:30

I think we probably played one show under the name A.X.L. I think there's even a flyer, it says A.X.L. somewhere. The way I remember it is Axl got mad at something and we're all kind of living at my parent's house for a time, too. It was because we were rehearsing there. [Izzy and Axl] lived up there. My parents were very supportive and gave me some money for the tape, for the demo. But, in any case, there was a bit of a disagreement. And then Axl, he left and said, "Ah, I'm gone. I'm done with this." And, then it was like the dust settled. And he said, "Okay, well, let's do it again." And me and Izzy were never happy with the name A.X.L. "Well, okay, we'll get the band back together. But we got to change the name, we're going to change it to Rose."

 

Marc Canter  16:21

You were talking earlier about how everyone flooded the neighborhood with flyers and passing around flyers and putting fliers over everyone else's flyers. And it all stopped about 20 years ago. All of a sudden, six months later, the city sends you a bill for like, $3,000, because they charge you like $26 for each flyer they removed off of a city pole or anywhere like that. It's a shame because people put their things on the internet now. There was just something about finding the flyer on the floor or seeing it on the wall, pulling it off and looking at it. Everyone really put everything into those flyers. It's just something that's just gone that will never really be the same.

 

Chris Weber  17:05

You would find every band -- five guys in the band -- would be standing out in front of a club with a handful of fliers, each guy passing it to every girl that would walk by and some of the guys would take them to.

 

Jason Porath  17:18

It looks like you played that gig in January [1984] and then the name changed to Hollywood Rose. And you played several gigs from March to May. And then something happened. Something happened where you left the band and the New Hollywood Rose was born.

 

Chris Weber  17:36

I think we just had a falling out. My memory was that Axl joined up with Tracii and did something with L.A. Guns.

 

Marc Canter  17:49

I remember this part of it pretty well. Shortly after that gig, the Battle of the Bands, what happened was Izzy left and went to London, the band London. Axl was working with Slash. And then Steven and Steve Darrow came in and they became another version of the New Hollywood Rose. It kind of fell apart and then became the New Hollywood Rose. Did you ever play any gigs as the New Hollywood Rose, or just Rose?

 

Chris Weber  18:22

Hollywood Rose and Rose.

 

Marc Canter  18:23

After three months of the New Hollywood Rose with Slash and Axl, that fell apart and Axl joined up with Tracii and he was in L.A. Guns for a little bit. And then that fell apart. L.A. Guns got a different singer and Slash was auditioning for Poison.

 

Jason Porath 18:41

We can compare notes because that's what this is about, right? It's about pulling these threads together and trying to figure out how this all happened.

 

Chris Weber 18:54

Jason, I'm the color guy. The stats are not my forte.

 

Jason Porath 18:59

That's okay. This is a collective effort, Chris. What I heard is that after you left, Hollywood Rose held auditions and Tracii Guns auditioned and Slash auditioned. I believe Axl wanted to go with Slash. Tracii Guns didn't make the cut for Hollywood Rose. Izzy protested, and he quit and the New Hollywood Rose lineup was born; which was Axl, Slash, Steve Darrow. And, who was on drums. It was Steven. So Slash brought Steven in.

 

Chris Weber  19:39

I've never seen any pictures of that with Steve Darrow and Steven on the same stage.

 

Jason Porath  19:43

Yeah, we've actually got a couple of gigs documented with them.

 

Chris Weber  19:46

Oh, okay.

 

Jason Porath  19:47

The New Hollywood Rose plays a couple of gigs, but then flash forward six months later, and there's some reunion gig from Hollywood Rose that you participated in.

 

Chris Weber  20:01

That was that New Years-ish date at the Dancing Waters with Steve and Steve Darrow and Rob Gardner played on that one and then me, Izzy and Axl. And we played songs that I hadn't played in Hollywood Rose. They added "Nice Boys," to the set. That's how I had been introduced to that after I had left; as a cover song.

 

Marc Canter  20:29

What about "Don't Cry" was "Don't Cry" played that night?

 

Chris Weber  20:32

I don't remember. I got one picture from that night. Dancing Waters was this interesting old club [that] must have been built in the 20s. You would basically play in front of a manmade waterfall but they weren't using it anymore, so it was all kind of fenced in. It was very odd. It was like something right out of Mad Max.

 

Jason Porath  20:55

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Jason Porath 21:01

Being a part of this history must have some meaning for you; to have been a part of the tapestry of the origin story of the Apatite lineup of Guns N' Roses. You're obviously credited on songs, but there's something special and unique being part of what I'm calling the genetic makeup of that Appetite lineup.

 

Chris Weber  21:33

I didn't write any of the singles or the hit songs. My contribution is in songs that you know, are deeper cuts. People will routinely ask, "What songs did you write?" and, I'll tell them one of the songs and they'll start singing the song back to me. And it's meaningful to them. So that becomes my connection with something bigger. I don't have any other way to describe it, other than it's almost like carving your name in a rock that will be there that everybody gets to see and will be there forever. There's some significance to that.

 

Jason Porath  22:12

You are a part of this history and your fingerprints are on that album. And you are a part of this story. It's a story of an album that has meaning for millions of people across multiple generations. And you are a part of that.

 

Marc Canter  22:30

Well, when I saw that you guys at Gazzarri's, "Anything Goes" grabbed a hold of me. And that was very memorable for me.

 

Chris Weber  22:39

Thanks. There's a comic book, right? One of the first Guns N' Roses...they did a lot of comic books, apparently. You wouldn't know that there was a comic book made. On page two, there's the characters of Slash and Steven looking at Rose playing at Gazzarri's, saying, "We're gonna be in that band," or something like that. When you talk about that Marc, it reminds me of that frame. I have no face, but there's some players on stage. And I'm like, "Well, I'm in a comic book." Because that's that gig that you're talking about. And that's significant. You put your connection to that. I think everybody puts their connection when they talk about a song. It's like, "this is meaningful because of this." And that's also an interesting space to be in, in life, that until I was a father, I don't really have that in any other way. This was meaningful to me, like Marc just said, this was meaningful because I saw it happening live and I remember that. That's a good thing. I have no illusions that I got out too soon and just missed the boat on that. It's because everything just clicked with those guys. That band works because all those guys came together at the same time. My contribution led to something that needed other people to participate in it. And we're all better off for it.

 

Marc Canter  24:14

It was the right people at the right time contributing from different angles, and together with this massive amount of songwriting capability. You just can't really break it down. They all needed to be there to do it.

 

Chris Weber  24:35

A lot of that comes from Izzy's contribution because of his style of playing. If you do a hardpan and a hard left and right, you can hear Slash, but on the other side, you hit this very rhythmic, kind of sporadic guitar playing, which is Izzy and it just totally works. It makes that sound. If you had somebody that was just wanting to get the best guitar and the thing is, "Man, you got to do that again. It's got to be crisp and clear and straightforward." Because it's unique to him, it made that sound that made the difference between him and Slash all that much more significant. It's two really different types of players, not two guys that are playing different parts, but two very different types of players. And I think that's the main reason that that album sounds like that. It's because of Izzy? The look wouldn't have been there. Everybody else of that era was wearing either Spandex or God knows what. We started wearing the Teddy Boy jackets, the bolo ties and the concho bracelets and belts. Izzy was doing it and I just kind of started to do it with him. He did it for money. I just did it because I wanted to do it with him. But making all that jewelry was part of how people, how we, survived, but it ended up being part of the look of the band.

 

Jason Porath  26:04

And then you bring in the funk and the punk that Duff brought from his influences. And it worked.

 

Chris Weber 26:12

It affected people. I think we're all better off for the fact that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant got together. I think we're better off when Steven Tyler and Joe Perry met. And I think that this record is in that because it created something people really grab on to. That group of guys needed to come together in that way; with my contribution and other people's contribution. It had to form with that production team and all the stuff that they went through to get that sound. We're better as a society because we get to listen to that.

 

Jason Porath 26:53

Thank you for your contribution to this album. And, thank you for being so generous with us. We really appreciate everything you've brought to this.

 

Chris Weber  27:02

You're welcome. Thanks for doing it. It's a good project needing to be done.

 

Jason Porath  27:15

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