In this episode we talk with Danny Biral, GNR friend, roadie, and driver for the infamous Hell Tour; a perilous journey to Seattle that forever changed the fate of Guns N’ Roses.
On June 6, 1985, the Appetite for Destruction lineup of Guns N' Roses played the last song of their first gig as a band at The Troubadour in West Hollywood. Slash and Steven were recruited just days prior, after Tracii Guns, the original lead guitarist dropped out of the band by declining Duff and Izzy's invitation to go on a scrappy road trip to the Northwest. Rob Gardner, the original drummer for GNR, followed Tracii’s lead and also dropped out of the band. With the Troubadour show behind them, the new GNR lineup had 48 hours to pack up their gear and jam up the coast.
Danny Biral is our guest today; a friend and roadie for the band and the captain of their ship who commandeered a green Pontiac Catalina station wagon and a stolen gas card for this excursion to the Northwest. What happened on the scorching corridor of the I-5 would change the dynamic of GNR forever and alter the course of rock n' roll history.
In this episode we also break out the archives from Reckless Road and hear from Slash and Duff about the unbelievable Hell Tour adventures from each of their perspectives and how the tour, while difficult, helped solidify the Appetite lineup and bring the five members closer together as bandmates and friends. Was this bonding experience of Hell Tour enough to keep the current lineup together or would they encounter more problems once they returned home from tour? Let’s hear from the brave captain of the Hell Tour ship, Danny Biral!
2:49-Hear Danny talk about his early relationship with Tracii Guns and about the guitar challenge at Fairfax High School that Tracii and Slash competed in.
6:58-Listen to Danny describe Tracii leaving Guns N’ Roses.
8:26-Hear Danny talk about why he decided to still drive GNR to Seattle even though his friend Tracii had left the band.
14:10-Listen to Danny talk about getting ready for the Hell Tour and heading out on the road.
19:14-Hear Danny talk about what happens after the car breaks down and what they guys did.
21:53-Hear a clip of Slash talking about breaking down on the Hell Tour.
22:26-Listen to a clip of Duff talking about getting stranded on the I-5.
23:51-Hear about the roadies getting the car fixed and then Danny accidentally throwing his wallet out the window.
29:35-Hear a clip of Slash talking about finding food for the band to eat on the side of the freeway.
30:37-Hear Slash talk about getting to Seattle and playing the show with The Fastbacks.
31:37-Listen to Danny talk about pulling off the 101 to get some assistance from what he thought was a church near Ashland, Oregon.
36:52-Hear Slash talk about how the Hell Tour cemented the camaraderie between the five band members.
37:50-Hear Danny describe the bond that the band members had after the Hell Tour.
43:28-Hear Danny talk about some of the problems that the band members were having even thought they were getting along as bandmates and becoming successful.
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Jason Porath, Duff McKagan, Danny Biral, Slash, Marc Canter
Jason Porath 00:02
Why did you still offer up to drive the van?
Danny Biral 00:05
You know, when you say Hell Tour, it was hell for for everybody, even for me.
Jason Porath 00:20
Welcome back to The First 50 Gigs: Guns N' Roses and the Making of Appetite for Destruction. It's June 6, 1985 and the Appetite for Destruction lineup of Guns N' Roses played their last song of their first gig as a band at The Troubadour in West Hollywood. Slash and Steven were recruited just days prior after Tracii Guns, the original lead guitarist dropped out declining Duff and Izzy's invitation to go on a scrappy road trip and play gigs in Seattle. Rob Gardner, the original drummer for GNR, followed Tracii out of the band due to loyalty. With the Troubadour show behind them, the new lineup had 48 hours to pack up their gear and jam up the coast. Danny Biral is our guest today, a longtime friend of Tracii Guns and a roadie for GNR, he was the captain of the ship for this excursion to the Northwest. Commandeering a green Pontiac Catalina station wagon and a stolen gas card. What happened on the scorching corridor of the I-5 would change the dynamic of GNR forever and alter the course of rock n' roll history. This is Hell Tour. Danny, welcome to the show.
Danny Biral 01:40
Jason Porath 01:41
Danny was there like all of our guests. Danny was the driver, it was his his wagon that took the band up Interstate 5 towards Seattle. And we're gonna find out what happens on that trip. But before we do, Marc, you mentioned that you and Danny go way back.
Marc Canter 01:59
Well, my history with Danny, it's a small world. Back, like maybe 10 or 11 years old, we ended up in the same Hebrew school together and so I knew him from there. And then he went to Bancroft and Fairfax and so we had a lot of common friends. When Slash and Steven joined Guns N' Roses, then I started seeing Danny again, but I hadn't seen Danny and probably like maybe 10 years before that.
Jason Porath 02:32
Alright, and Danny, you went to Fairfax so you were friends with Tracii Guns, later you were friends with Slash, but you were definitely in the mix, and you were there with him, you were hanging out. Tell us about your your early relationship with Tracii.
Danny Biral 02:48
Tracii lived like a block away from Fairfax so it was easy to ditch school and go over to his house. But we became good friends and I had a tendency at that point in my life, when I got a friend, I'd spend all the time with them. So me and Tracii were together all the time and he taught me how to surf, which was one of the best things that ever happened to me. One of the memorable moments in Fairfax High School was the sort of guitar kind of contest that they had at the school and it was Tracii and it was Slash and, as you pointed out, it was another boy. Tracii was wanting to play a guitar in a very technical way and his hero was Randy Rhoads and so he was always trying to emulate Randy Rhoads either his technique or his sound or his blinding speed, and that's what Tracii was all about. Tracii also had a huge ego, I don't know exactly any other way to put it. And during this guitar challenge Tracii gets up there and he does his thing and if you were a guitar aficionado, you probably would have appreciated the blinding speed. But when Slash got up there, it was like something totally different. He pulled out this Echoplex, and he started playing this long involved melody thing. And for me, it was like, "whoah," up to that point I never really heard something like that before.
Jason Porath 04:42
Did you feel bad for your friend at that point?
Danny Biral 04:45
That's a good question, a little bit I did. One of the reasons why I remember that moment, I think I was attracted to Slash just like everybody else was at that moment.
Jason Porath 05:00
So let's fast forward in time a little bit. L.A. Guns becomes Guns N' Roses, they rebrand themselves. It's Tracii and Rob and it's Axl and Izzy. Izzy decides to bring in Duff to replace Ole Beich, who was on bass. And so Duff represents a whole other dynamic and he's in the middle of these two teams. He gets disillusioned, he doesn't like the way things are going, so Duff kind of withdraws. Axl convinces him to come back and he basically is up front with Axl and says, "I don't think Tracii and or Rob are going to cut it and I think what we should do is come up with this tour to the Northwest and we'll see who has it in them to go all the way with Guns N' Roses." And so he put it to the test, and Duff planned this Shakeout Tour. It was gonna be in Seattle, and then they were going to come down to do shows in Portland, in Eugene, in Sacramento. When the idea was communicated to Tracii, he was like, "I'm not going on this tour, we nothing, have nowhere to stay, we have no money, I'm not doing this thing." So Duff's idea of the shakeout kind of proved true. Once Tracii left for whatever reason, Rob followed him. Despite the band kind of pleading for him to stay, Rob left too. At this time they already had a couple of gigs scheduled, they had one gig at The Troubadour that was scheduled, and then they were gonna go on this tour. So they had a very little amount of time to replace their drummer and replace their guitarist before they headed up to Seattle. So do you remember this time when Tracii left Guns N' Roses?
Danny Biral 06:59
I can tell you that Tracii was really upset. They really wanted to try and get something going. They felt like they weren't getting anywhere, they weren't getting the kind of exposure that they wanted. What I remember, Duff had an idea to go on the road. He came from up there, he was older than us, he had connections. Tracii is younger, barely out of high school, it's not like he had any experience going on the road. It's not like we had any money so doing something like that was a big deal. Tracii just didn't see it, he didn't see how this was going to work. As to Duff's motivations or Axl's motivations, I'm not sure how big or Machiavellian their motivations were at this point, it was just like, let's do that, let's try this, I have an idea.
Jason Porath 08:03
We know that you were the driver for this tour. But knowing that Tracii dropped out and Slash and Steven came in, what kept you in the picture knowing that your friend Tracii had dropped out? Why did you still offer up to drive the band?
Danny Biral 08:22
Me and Tracii had a really huge fight, the kind of fight that ended our friendship. It was kind of stupid, really, but at that point I was already in this sort of band, they literally were not going to make it to a show unless we took all this shit and stuffed it in my car. The very, very beginning like I was it, I mean, I was the guy that lugged all the equipment. They didn't even have enough money to even give me gas money, but you know. This is oddly going back to the Fairfax High guitar challenge. Tracii actually held like a pretty serious grudge against Slash and it started then. And it's not because Slash was better or worse or different, it's just that everybody made such a big fucking deal about it and he had to constantly hear this crap all the time about comparisons to Slash and he hated it.
Marc Canter 09:45
They were rivals in high school anyways. When they were in garage bands they were rivals and they played parties together and there was a rivalry going. And then when Axl joined L.A. Guns, Slash was angry because Slash was working with Axl in Hollywood Rose and didn't want to see Axl work with Tracii. But that happened so that rivalry went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. In the end they both made it anyways, so both Slash and Tracii both ended up making it one way or another.
Jason Porath 10:22
Well and what you have is, during that time, you also have a portfolio of songs, right? And those songs and the following that the bands have, there's a momentum that moves around. So if somebody steps in, and somebody drops out, are they taking advantage of the momentum that was built prior to them coming into the band? So when Slash and Steven swap in for Tracii and Rob in Guns N' Roses, they're the beneficiaries of all of these combined songs that came from Hollywood Rose and L.A. Guns and all this stuff. So we know having talked to Rob Gardner, it was difficult watching that band take off as fast as they did, knowing what was behind them and knowing that they were the beneficiaries of a lot of the work that Rob and Tracii put in. Coming back to the moment, Tracii left, I don't know did you have a relationship at all with Rob, but Rob seemed to really have an allegiance to Tracii and left the band. You were committed to Guns N' Roses as a group. It sounds like you had a big falling out with Tracii. But this road trip was coming up and you were committed. So Slash and Steven come in, they have a rehearsal, they play at The Troubadour. I don't know, where you at that show?
Danny Biral 11:54
I don't remember it that well but yeah, I was.
Marc Canter 11:55
Did you go to their rehearsal by any chance that they did in Silver Lake before that show?
Danny Biral 12:00
Probably, what was the name of the studio? Was it Mars?
Marc Canter 12:04
Well it was in Silver Lake. I keep confusing it with a place in Silver Lake that was run by that guy Nicky Beat.
Danny Biral 12:11
That's where they rehearsed sometimes, it was Nicky's house. The rehearsal studio that they normally could afford, when they had any money at all, was Mars. I vaguely remember the rehearsal as well as the show. At this point, not only did the band have a following, but they did have some help in terms of a musician's tech or roadie kind of thing. Duff approached me to try to sell me on this idea that we take my car and we drive it up to Seattle. I remember this, me and Duff weren't close, so he was acting a little weird for me, he's actually kind of being nice to me and I'm like, what is going on here? And so he's trying to smooth me into this idea that I drive everybody up there. Going back to what I said about Tracii, I was a little scared too. I mean, I was taking on quite a bit of responsibility here. Ultimately, it was Slash that essentially got me to go and was the one who talked me into it. That was more like a friend to friend thing, it's like, "Come on Danny, let's just do this, let's do this, it'll be fun." I mean, I actually had a real job and a lot of times I was like the only guy who had money.
Jason Porath 13:38
You guys don't have a lot of time. The gig was booked for June 8th. They played at The Troubadour on the 6th. So that really meant that you had the 7th and the 8th to get up to that show. So you got your car, I'm assuming this was your car. I think you mentioned you had to take your mom's gas card. None of you had money. You piled all the equipment into the car, can you just tell us a little bit about getting ready for the trip and setting out?
Danny Biral 14:11
I had to essentially steal from my mom in more ways than one to kind of pull this shit together. A little cash, lift her gas card, lie where I was going for the next 42 hours. At that point I wasn't spending a lot of time at home but I still owed her an explanation of where I was going.
Jason Porath 14:34
Where did you tell her you were going?
Danny Biral 14:35
I told her I was just gonna hang out with Slash I'm staying over Slash's, basically is what I told her.
Jason Porath 14:41
So you guys must have gotten the car pretty damn early to get up there and everybody probably didn't go to sleep, right? I mean everybody probably stayed up the night before you headed out.
Danny Biral 14:50
There was a plan, from what I remember, kind of worked out between me and Duff and the idea was we were going to get a start early. The car was not a tip top car, it was a total bomb, it was a 1970-something Pontiac Catalina, it was like 20 feet long, it got five miles to the gallon. It was just a huge car that I had gotten from my boss who I worked for, for like nothing, for like 500 bucks or something. And I was afraid, I didn't know if the car was going to make it with seven guys plus hauling a U-Haul which I had to rig up. I had to rig up the hitch. Some of these older cars, you can't rig up the hitch, like you actually have to literally chain it to your trunk. I got there bright and early, I wanted to get going. I didn't want to drive at night for the for the first leg of this. You know, seven o'clock turn to nine o'clock, which turned into 11 o'clock and I'm like, "really?" I remember Axl holding up the show, most of it, but then it was basically Izzy and Axl holding up the fucking show. Izzy had to take care of number one, the monkey on his back so that always took time. And his girlfriend Desi had a lot of say so in how that happened. Sometime, I can't remember, one o'clock in the afternoon, two o'clock. I can't remember exactly when we finally got on the road. It was hot. I was worried about the car overheating. But we finally got on the road. Yeah, as you can imagine, the first fight was whose tape was going in the cassette which is kind of funny because at that point, we were all kind of listening to kind of the same thing. It's kind of stupid because we had two tapes that we listened to most of the time. There was this Hanoi Rocks tape that Izzy had and there was a Fear tape that I had. I remember Duff at this point was pretty pissed off. I'm looking in the back mirror watching him just sort of staring out the window, he was kind of bummed out that this thing was kind of like turning into a shit show. Izzy was in his own world, you know what I mean? Stevie was the one that was providing sort of the comic relief at this point. We got off and things calmed down and within a short period of time, everybody was happy, everybody's talking, everybody liked the music that was playing. And then it basically kind of happened, you know, like right as we were getting into the Grapevine I felt the transmission started to slip and I was like, "fuck!" I was actually kind of afraid to disappoint these guy and I was afraid that I let them down in some way. So I kind of kept it to myself for a few miles until I was sure what was going on. But sure enough, the car basically just wouldn't go any further.
Jason Porath 18:12
Did it die on a hill?
Danny Biral 18:14
No, it died going up but I had enough just to get up and then I coasted and the funny part is, I didn't really tell anybody what was happening, but we were coasting for a while. We started to slow down, I was like, "Okay guys, we have a problem here, I think we just lost the transmission." And sure enough, I can't remember who it was maybe it was Duff, maybe it was Izzy, they were like, "Fuck Danny, fucking blah, blah, blah, can't get your shit together." I'm like, "Fuck you, it's my fucking car. I was worried about this fucking thing making it up there to begin with."
Jason Porath 18:53
It's the beginning of summer, you're on the Grapevine heading into Fresno, it's probably hot as shit. I'm sure everybody's pissed off. You said at one point the ship had many captains so I'm sure everybody thought that they knew what the solution was to this whole thing. But you guys are stranded now. So what happens next?
Danny Biral 19:14
Yeah, well not everybody, but yeah, everybody had their idea of what the problem was but me driving the car, I could feel it. I knew that I couldn't get it out of first gear...sorry, first gear was gone and it wasn't enough power to get it into second or third gear at this point because we were just too heavy. We tried a lot of different things, stupid things that people who don't know anything about cars try to fix the problem, ultimately to realize that we're fucked. We're literally in the middle of nowhere and we only really had one choice at this point, we had to walk.
Jason Porath 20:02
So you had to walk and you had to walk so that you could at least find something or somewhere to get a tow truck or something to come out, right, that was the plan?
Danny Biral 20:11
I had a gas card which was like a credit card and I had a AAA card, I mean I had prepared for this, I wasn't an idiot. There was just nothing, there was no one, even then, there wasn't as much traffic as there is now, but where we were it seemed really desolate. It's not like cars were whizzing by us at this point. I can't remember whose idea it was, I think it was Slash, it had to be his idea because he was a walker, he liked to walk. He was just like, "Let's just start walking." And they did and I was barely moving the truck, you know, 5-10 miles an hour or whatever ahead of them just looking in the rearview mirror, they looked like a heavy metal band, they dressed like a heavy metal band. So just watching these guys with their peg tight pants and their hair, just walking down the freeway, you can't imagine what people thought looking at this. The remarkable thing is that this went on for miles. I mean, it's not like we walked 100 feet and said "fuck it." I mean, they walked a few miles before finally it was just like, it was too hot, fuck this. And somebody was just like, "Let's hitch a ride up, let's hitch."
Jason Porath 21:39
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When Guns went on its first road trip to Seattle, Duff had booked us in all the clubs he was familiar with from playing in the bands that he was in from up there, which was like the Fastbacks and some other bands. And so he'd booked us gigs in like Sacramento and a couple of gigs in Oregon and a couple of gigs in Seattle. Well, so when we got going, we got as far as Fresno, the car broke down. We took the guitars out of the U-Haul, told the crew guys, "You get the car fixed and meet us up in Seattle." So we sort of canned all those other gigs, we knew it was going to take us a while to get up there.
Duff McKagan 22:25
You know, none of this was familiar to us, being stuck kind of out on the frontier of the I-5, you know. And by the frontier I mean all the rest stops and literally being stuck on the I-5.
Danny Biral 22:42
The deal was that they were going to hitch and me and JoJo, the other roadie in the band, we were going to try and get the car to a gas station or to a mechanic, get it fixed and then follow them up there. That was the plan. Honestly I was surprised, I honestly thought that the argument was going to go the other way, that we were just going to turn around and go back. I think what ultimately sealed the deal is that within a few minutes of them hanging out their thumbs, a truck pulled over and pick them up,like that fast. And it was done, and I was just like, "okay."
So we grab the guitars, we stood on the side of the road. If you try and picture us knowing what we looked like and then picture us on the side of the road with guitar cases wanting a ride, it made visions of "The Hitcher" seem like a cakewalk, you know what I mean? And finally got picked up by a semi and we rode with this, and this is the first time I ever was ever exposed to somebody that lived on speed, and so we were all in the cab with this guy. So there was five of us and a driver and I don't know how many miles we went, but you know, we were just sort of hanging out.
Danny Biral 23:51
And they were gone and we were like, "Okay, we've got to somehow do this thing." And then somehow, because we didn't have the guys and it was getting late now, it was late afternoon and it wasn't so hot anymore, the car started to go and I was getting up to like 40 miles an hour and within a pretty quick period of time we made it to a gas station, it was just about to close and somehow we convinced the guy, "Please, fix the car, do something." He's like, "Well, I can't fix your fucking transmission right, here right now but let's see what I can do." Essentially all he did was he pulled down the transmission filter, cleaned it out, slapped it back in the damn thing drove. He says, "I don't know how long it's gonna last but here you are, you're back on the road." And we were like, "Yeah, okay, we're doing it." And we weren't that far behind. The problem is, like an idiot, I fucking threw my wallet out the window by accident. That made things very complicated. I don't know why I put my wallet in the visor. I just put it up there, I don't even know why I did that. But the sun was coming onto my face and I opened up the visor and my wallet must have went right out the window. I didn't even realize it until we pretty much were out of gas. But I do remember when I flung the visor, so we drove back and I'm sitting there running across the freeway, trying to figure out where my wallet was. Now, I didn't find it, obviously, then finally, we just gave up.
Jason Porath 25:28
You were just like in a constant panic trying to figure out how to catch up with the guys that have now hitched in this, I think it was like an 18 wheeler that picked them up, and they went into the cab. I mean, this is really where the stories diverge, right? They get picked up by by this 18 wheeler, who ended up being a speed freak but at least got them up the interstate. Now you're running around fixing your car, trying to find your wallet, trying to catch up with them. So hopefully, I don't know how you expected to find them, but if you did, they would jump back in and you guys would continue. Is that what you were thinking?
Danny Biral 26:09
I honestly had no clue at this point, the only thing that we knew was where they were gonna be, where the show was. But how we were gonna find them along the way, I didn't really think that was going to happen. We had no way of contacting each other. When you say Hell Tour, it was hell for everybody, even us or me because no matter how carefully I tried to plan this fucking thing, everything fucked up, like everything fucked up. The feelings that I was having at the time were like, "Why the fuck did you even try to do this?" What it brought out in me, was this survival mechanism that I really didn't know that I had. I mean, I think I had like 20 bucks, that went in the tank, that money was all the money I had to get to the mechanic guy. And after that I was broke and JoJo didn't have any money, or he only had a few bucks on him, enough for us to buy candy bars or something. We literally panhandled our way all the way up the coast. And I actually got pretty good at it, pretty fast. Now what was driving me at this point, again, was that I really thought I was letting them down. I really thought I was letting these guys down. Like I'd fucked up twice. I fucked up the car, I fucking fucked up the money. But I was gonna get there somehow, some way I was gonna get them their equipment so that they could actually play. I mean, at least they took their guitars. So they had those but we had the drum kit, the amps, everything else. So unless somebody loaned them all that stuff, they weren't really playing. Me and JoJo were like, "We got to get up there somehow." JoJo was terrible at panhandling, he couldn't do it. I had to do it, he just couldn't do it.
Jason Porath 27:59
So you panhandled your way up and how far did you get?
Danny Biral 28:03
We're traveling north up the five freeway, headed towards Sacramento where we were hoping we might be able to catch up with the guys. Too much time had gone by at this point. Even if we made it up there, we missed the show. Fearing that the car wouldn't make it with the U-Haul with all the equipment I was like, "We got to ditch the U-Haul." Jojo was like, "what?" I'm like, "Yeah, we gotta figure out a way to ditch the U-Haul." And I'm like, "Well what are we going to do? Well, we got to find someplace to lock it up." I literally walked into a hardware store and I stole a lock and chain, not just like a little chain, like a fucking chain and a lock. We were driving around Sacramento at this point trying to find a place to ditch the U-Haul with all the equipment in it and there was it was, City Hall. I'm like, "What safer place than City Hall. Let's do it here." So I chained that thing up to a lamppost in the parking lot and off we went.
Jason Porath 29:19
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I don't know how many miles we went but we were just sort of hanging out and we did stops here and there but we didn't have any money. So we would go into these patches that they had on the side of the road where people were growing, agricultural kind of deals, and we'd steal food out of there, you know? Yeah, onions was one of them and carrots and shit like that.
Duff McKagan 29:55
This old Mexican farmer picked us up in a small pickup and we all got in the back. We had on our guitars and the truck was so beat up and rundown that the bed started rubbing against the back tires.
Marc Canter 30:06
The wheel well?
Duff McKagan 30:07
Yeah and it was smoking and he said, "I'm sorry, I can't take you guys." And we were stuck on the I-5 in the middle of nowhere and we did end up getting a ride but yeah, being just out there, eating onions from the onion fields outside of Bakersfield because we were hungry and like grabbing onions and eating them on the side of the I-5. Pretty cool, pretty cool.
We just kept sort of inching our way up towards Seattle and finally we got dropped off again and some girls picked us up, two chicks picked us up and put us in the back. It wasn't a truck, it was like a pickup with a cab over the top, what do you call the little shell? Anyway, so we piled into there, and they drove us as far as I think it was Oregon. And then one of our friends from Seattle actually came and got us and took us to this house, to this guy Donner's house, who's a good friend of Duff's and then we just partied like crazy. And then the next day we showed up at the venue and we used the Fastbacks' gear and we got up and played our first set. And then they didn't want to pay us for whatever reason and so we cornered the guy in his own office and bolted the door and fucking threatened the guy within inches of his life, and we got paid. And then we got a ride from one of Duff's friends all the way back to Los Angeles and that was about it. A lot of stuff in between, but that's the nuts and bolts of it.
Danny Biral 31:37
Somewhere around Central Oregon or a little bit beyond that we ran into a roadblock basically, nobody would talk to me, we could not get money, like not even a quarter. I wasn't letting the gas go all the way down to zero at this point, I was hedging a little bit, so we had a little bit of gas left but we just couldn't do it. Hours went by and I couldn't get anybody to give me any money. One thing was clear, not only did we miss the show, but even if we got up to Seattle, we had no idea where they were at this point. The decision was to just turn around, just admit failure and turn around. And so we did, and we made it a little bit down, at this point we were on the 101, so it was little easier, but we made it to this place called Ashland and that's where things got kind of weird. I don't know exactly what prompted me to get off the 101 and turn up this road because I don't know if you know what Oregon looks like, but it's just trees, at least along the 101. So sometimes don't even know what direction you're in because there's so many fucking trees. But I turned up this road and oh I remember now I saw a church. I told him I saw something that looked like a fucing church so I pulled up. And I thought, "Okay, yeah, it's a church, this Jewboy is going to take advantage of some good old fashioned Christian charity." It was not a church. I mean, it was a church, but wasn't any kind of church I had ever seen before. We knew it was different because there were men walking around with these long white robes and not really paying much attention to us, just kind of gliding around. And then this guy kind of comes out and starts talking to us and I explained to him what's going on, that we were just looking for any assistance that we could get to get back home. You know, I was trying to just be honest.
Jason Porath 34:02
Everybody was in robe, everybody was wearing the same thing. It was like out of a Twilight Zone movie?
Danny Biral 34:08
Not everybody, but yeah, most. They had robes, they weren't wearing their hoods, their hoods were back. And I remember they had piping down their robes. It was like a cult place, it must have been some some sort of cult religion. To this day, I don't know what it was or who those guys were. All I know is that this very congenial sort of Pat Robertson looking guy was talking to us and asking me all these very personal questions and not just what our situation was, but like personal questions, like probing questions. There was a whole compound behind it. And where we went was this guy's sort of office, which was like his house. Nothing weird happened, we weren't abducted or anything like that, it was just weird. I'd never really seen anything like that.
Jason Porath 35:12
And so they brought you in, they fed you, they probably realized you weren't going to stay. Maybe they wanted to introduce you to their way of life or not, I don't know. But it sounds like you landed in somewhat of a safe place, even if it felt like you stepped into a cult.
Danny Biral 35:31
Whether he got the feeling that we weren't interested or vice versa, he did help us. And he gave us a kind of voucher which we could use at this Exxon station down the road and with that voucher we were able to get a full tank of gas and a little bit of food, and we were able to basically make it out of Oregon. Once we got out of Oregon my luck changed right away and I was able to panhandle again and I was really successful, like I was often making much more than I needed in a very quick time. Just pull over, in less than an hour, 20-30 bucks. I was surprised when I got back was that the guys had beaten us back. Of course, the U-Haul was still in Sacramento, and we were able to retrieve all their equipment so I didn't have to go back there and tell them, "Well, guys, your equipment's all been stolen." So I was able to get back with all the stuff.
Jason Porath 36:36
So you got back, you got the gear, you guys reunited, what was their side of the story?
Danny Biral 36:42
They were surprised that they had gotten back and we weren't there and they actually thought something weird happened to us, at least some of them did. Slash told me that it was a total nightmare.
Having everything that could possibly go wrong, go wrong, and survive it and actually make it to Seattle and do our first show in Seattle. That was like, nobody, I knew could have handled it, and we had the best fucking time. It really cemented the camaraderie between the five of us and that was it, that just set the whole pace for everything.
Duff McKagan 37:12
When we got back from the Hell Tour, from that shared experience of that thing, and knowing that we had each other's backs, at that point we knew we were a band. We knew we were ready just to fuck up L.A., you know. We've now, finally, all of us had a solidified band. And guys we knew had our backs, we had each other's backs.
Jason Porath 37:44
When they got back, I think it was a pivotal moment, I don't know what your thoughts are about that.
Danny Biral 37:50
They were definitely a lot tighter, that's for sure. What was before kind of a group of guys that seemed kind of tribal and separate, now they definitely had experienced something together and they were definitely tighter. The few shows that they played after that, they were a lot of fun. And the band started spending more time together, like not just rehearsing, they started going out as a group.
Jason Porath 38:24
You talked about how these guys left as really five separate individuals, and they went through this experience together, and they came back as a gang. They came back as a band. I know from having interviewed the guys, this was a really defining moment in the band's history in that they wanted to finally stop all of that incestuous revolving door of the changing of the bands. They knew this was it, they didn't want to move around, they found their tribe. But they were all in L.A. kind of trying to figure out where they belonged and who they belonged with and this trip cemented the five of them. They've finally found their surrogate family in each other. And it was about the music, it was about fucking up L.A. with their style and their sound. But it was also about being a gang and being together and being a band. And that was it, there was no going back after Hell Tour. It was a really big moment in the history of the band.
Danny Biral 39:35
One of the things that happened, at least if I'm remembering the conversations that I had with Slash, was that essentially he let these guys in. Like I said, Slash is very separate from everybody else, he thinks differently. So this was different. He had gone through this experience. He became close with Duff out of this experience. He kind of understood Izzy out of this experience. Maybe the opposite happened with Axl, who knows, I think what happens here is that Slash lets everybody in, he actually like befriends the other bandmates.
Jason Porath 40:14
I think what you're getting at is that when adversity hit, people showed their true colors, and Slash was able to see and get to know the guys in a different way. Marc, you talk about this, you talk about that this band needed that adversity to stay together.
Marc Canter 40:33
They had worked with each other in the past, at least most of them and it would work for about three months and then they'd have a fight and then break up and move along. And I think they all just realized that besides the fact they're perfectly fit musicians, they gotta make it work now because they know they're the best musicians to work with. They fit like a glove. And around that time, like Duff was the punk guy, Slash was the blues hard rock guy, Izzy was a Hanoi Rocks guy, maybe Rolling Stones a little bit. Duff was the funky punch to it and Axl was just a drop of everything. And they just worked together, whatever somebody did, came up with a riff that the whole band would jump on it, and it would be a song that they could all agree upon. It wasn't just that, "no, that's my song, this is your song," the band made whatever came up their song, and everyone knew they're making music, they're making something good. So it was a matter of basically just getting to the next gig. They knew that some at some point word of mouth would get around, somebody would pick them up, and they'd get to record their music. And that's exactly what happened eventually, by March of 1986, which was about a year after they got together, they're signed on Geffen. And so, of course, it opened up a whole new road of problems for them, their main goal was to get a record deal so they can get their music out to people. So they were making music for themselves, they weren't writing music for the record company or for the radio, they were writing music that they liked, and what they were influenced on from the 60's and 70's music. In 1985 the music changed, there wasn't really a lot going on. So that was their way of saying now this is what the music should sound like. And since no one else is really doing it, we'll do it. So basically, that was it. That's what made it work, just worrying about what was going to be. Don't think too far in advance, get to the next get, get to the next gig. And at each gig more people kept coming, and we had ads. Everything that was going on was working and word of mouth was getting across that these guys are good. And finally they got to do it. So that's pretty much it.
Jason Porath 43:12
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Danny Biral 43:28
It's true that the band was certainly closer, it's true that the band had settled and they weren't looking for anybody else. But there were still competing interests. Marc, you should never discount the influence of the Rolling Stones. That was huge for them, especially for Izzy. In fact, several of the songs are literally chord for chord right out of Rolling Stones' songs. What I remember was Slash alone a lot writing these songs and Axl separately in his little apartment writing the lyrics and the magic kind of happened when they brought these things together. And it's true, the other three bandmates would pick it up real fast. In some respects, like when that A&R guy Tom came into the picture, even though they were happy and they were certainly getting a buzz, it also helped that they were playing in front of some bands that have big followings, like the one they played with Mötley Crüe. So they benefited a lot from that. They benefited a lot from the bands that they were playing with. From my point of view, this little scene that was happening at the time, Mötley Crüe, Poison, Ratt, they inserted themselves into that moment, it was like the perfect moment in time for them. Some of these bands, to me, were much more polished and Guns N' Roses seemed forever to be like in a disarray. Nobody can get their shit together, that was the funny part about the whole thing is that everybody just could not get their shit together. Duff was aloof. Stevie basically didn't know really what was going on, he kind of just followed Slash's lead. Slash like trying to write song after song after song and that period was really an incredible creative timeframe. The songs that you know, the songs that play on the radio all the time were written in this period. I saw at least three or four of them get strung together just with him. Izzy was a barely functioning heroin addict. Axl was mired in personal/interpersonal relationship problems. I can't remember that guy's name, that weird guy. Axl was constantly getting into fights with some other dude over some other girl.
Jason Porath 46:11
It was a Nadir. Was it Nadir D'Priest?
Danny Biral 46:14
Yeah, I think it was. Yeah, it was him, that guy.
Jason Porath 46:16
From London, he was the lead singer of London. And Steven had his own issues. So what you're really saying to us is that we maybe have this over optimistic picture that they got back from Hell Tour and they were this organized entity that was ready to dominate. And basically, what you're telling us is that even when they came back, yes, this trip may have had an impact on them and it showed up when they played together, but they each had their own separate, non-functioning parts of their life that they were dealing with on a day to day basis.
Danny Biral 46:53
Yeah, I don't want to make it seem like I'm discounting the importance of what you're saying, because it is important, it's definitely important. And after this point, bandmates became friends. And it was that friendship that was able to get them through problems that they were having. The friendships were growing basically stronger than the problems, but the problems were real, and they were heavy, especially the drug addiction part which almost destroyed the band, and eventually did destroy the band. Fast forward to around the time where Tom Zutaut comes into the picture and you're actually getting interest, like nibbles. Record labels are actually showing some interest, Axl is becoming more and more sort of maniacal during this period and he would have these fucking shit fits. Slash woud sometimes literally order me to go in the bathroom where he's locked himself in and talk him off a ledge or something. Like literally right before the band is about to explode into this huge thing, I mean, the writing's on the wall that these two guys are just not compatible. Just as important as this point you're trying to make about the Hell Tour was the time that the record label started showing interest because around this time, prior to the record labels showing interest, the band was going through another crisis and they were breaking apart and the problem was drugs and it was this interest from the record label that kept them together because that was it, that was the prize they all had to work together for this prize. If they had to do another year where the record labels weren't showing interest, I don't know that they would have made it.
Marc Canter 48:54
They got signed, which was good, but then they went down a downward spiral. That little bit of money, that 7,500 bucks that they each got at that time caused more problems than they were having before that. It just got really dark and things got crazy and they thought they could just record a record and they wanted to write a couple more songs and there was three or four months that went by that they were either gonna get dropped, go to jail, or die, or all of the above. So that was a really hard three months say, from May of '86. But after that things, started going in one direction.
Danny Biral 49:31
They had a really good fucking time, because that house was full of women and drugs and they went out every fucking night and they played and they don't have an issue, and they're having a fucking hell of a time. I don't know about you, Jason, I know Marc's not a junkie but you know, it just plays a really big part in this story and you really have to understand that drug and and what it does.
Jason Porath 49:55
A lot of the things that you talked about were things that I didn't expect and I'm really glad to hear that perspective. And I think it adds a lot of color and emotional weight to the story. So thank you for going there with us. And Marc, as always, thank you, and we'll be back with another episode pretty soon. So we'll cap it off here. Thank you guys. 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.