They’re one of the biggest rock bands in music history, with international album sales exceeding 100 million units. And in March, Guns N’ Roses will visit the Hunter. Keyboardist Dizzy Reed was friends with the original line-up since their inception in 1985 and in 1990 he joined the group to add piano tracks to their two monster records – Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II, which simultaneously debuted at number one and two on the US music charts respectively. In this interview with Alive, Reed reflects on his 23 years in one of the world’s largest and most discussed rock groups.
Guns N’ Roses are returning to Australian soil – how many times have you been here?
This will be the fourth time I’ve been there with Guns N’ Roses. [The first trip] was the Use Your Illusion tour, which was ‘92 or ‘93 I think, and what a time it was. We had a week or two off and we all ended up staying way up in Queensland at this town called Port Douglas. We had these condos and there was this little bar and we’d go there and jam every night. It was crazy and extremely fun. It was good to be young, let’s put it that way. The shows were enormous and the people were fantastic and I remember saying to myself, “I can’t wait to come back here.”
What can we expect from your upcoming shows?
The band that we have now is the strongest line-up we’ve had. We’re really starting to click on all cylinders. It’s a powerful rock ‘n’ roll show. We cover the whole spectrum of the catalogue too, so there’ll be something for everyone.
Guns N' Roses released a cover of a Rose Tattoo song, Nice Boys, and that band will be supporting you on your Australian shows. Will it be fun to share a stage with them again?
Oh yeah. They've supported us a few times down there and they're definitely one of my favourite bands, from way back. It's always really cool to have them on the bill.
What is it about Guns N’ Roses’ material that makes it fun to perform after all these years?
They’re just good songs. I joined the band after Appetite for Destruction had come out and become enormous, and I loved that record. I still do. It’s always awesome to be a part of that. And all the other songs too, after I joined the band, they’re just great songs. I can’t think of any that I don’t like playing. We like to keep it fresh, so one night will be different from the next. There’s nothing to me that’s more boring than going to see a band and they just play their entire album from beginning to end.
Are there any tracks that you enjoy performing the most?
Some of the piano-based songs – they’re kind of special, I guess. I enjoy playing Estranged. It’s a beast to play and it’s long, but we started playing that again recently and it kind of takes me back. And the song Civil War is another one, too. It’s the first song I ever tracked with Guns N’ Roses [in the studio] and it’s the first time I heard myself on the radio, so I enjoy playing that.
Do Guns N’ Roses party on tour as much these days, compared to the early days?
I still enjoy having a few beverages now and then, but time will dictate what you can and can’t do. If you don’t adhere to that, then the side effects can be damaging. You’ve just got to go with the flow. Yes, we’re musicians and yes, we’re in a rock ‘n’ roll band and at the end of the day you’re just a human being and you can only do so much. But you can have a few drinks every now and then, and relax and have a good time. There’s nothing wrong with that.
When Guns N’ Roses released Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II simultaneously in 1991, you became the biggest rock band on the planet. What are your strongest memories of that time?
It was definitely a pinch-myself-every-once-in-a-while situation to see if I was dreaming. But it I had known them before they even got signed and Axl had talked about having me in the band from very early on and then to watch them become so gigantic, I was always wondering if it was really going to happen. But he’s a man of his word and when they were ready to start tracking those songs and those albums he called me and I got a phone call a couple of days later from Del James who was putting together the press release and said ‘Congratulations, you’re in Guns N’ Roses.’
When I joined the band they were chartering this jet that we used to fly around on everywhere for those three years. So I toured with a major band for three years and one day I was sitting around with some of the guys in the crew and they were all telling bus stories – stories about things that happened on the [tour] bus. It got to me and they said, ‘Cmon Dizzy, what are some of your bus stories?’ and I said, ‘I’ve never been on a bus.’ But, you know what? I’ve been on a shitload of buses since then. I prefer it these days – I like being on the bus and rolling down the highway.
When you joined the band, did Axl talk to you about what kind of sound he wanted you to bring to the music?
At the time, things were still organic. It was more a case of adding piano. [Axl] played a lot of the piano stuff on Use Your Illusion and he wanted someone to be able to play those parts live. But he also wanted someone to add things to a lot of the other songs, which I did. I didn't really step too far beyond the instruments that we had grown up listening to. So if you listen to the Use Your Illusions, there's a lot of piano, of course, and Hammond organ and some clavinet. Stuff like that.
But later on, with Chinese Democracy, I spent a lot more time exploring with different synth sounds and computer-based sounds and integrating that in with the guitar. But there's still tonnes of piano. I got to help with and write a lot of the string arrangements, which is something I've always wanted to do. It was such a blast to be able to put together something like that and to go and watch an orchestra record it.
It has been reported that Axl has written a lot of new material. When might we be able to hear some?
There’s a lot of material that is in the can and there’s a lot of ideas that we’ve been throwing around. Everyone’s been sending stuff back and forth, and there’s a lot of stuff ready to go. When we’re ready to make that step, it will happen. It will happen quicker than the last album, let’s put it that way.
What’s it like to work with Axl on writing songs?
You know, I can’t really imagine what it would be like to not make music the way he does it. Working with him has taught me a lot. He’s a bit of a perfectionist, I guess. Because of that it always brings out the best in everyone that’s working there [in the studio], and also out of me. You need some tension to make the best recordings you can make. It’s easy to get something that sounds kick-ass and just roll with it and say, ‘Hey, there it is. We’re done.’ But everything should have a second go around – or three – to make sure it’s right. I think Axl’s work ethic has really rubbed off on me.
Are there a lot of misconceptions out there about what Axl is like as a person?
Absolutely. Of course. Unfortunately, in the world we’re living in – especially today – negativity sells. That’s all people want to know about. When you make it to the top of the heap, everybody wants to knock you off. Things have always been like that. The more a person fights that, then the more it gets thrown back at them. If you took anybody and just presented all the negative things about them – a lot of them untrue or exaggerated – then you’re not going to think too highly of that person. So there’s misconceptions, definitely.
Alive has a double pass to see Guns N’ Roses in Newcastle to give away.
For your chance to win, fill out the coupon in today's Mercury and return it to the Mercury's office by noon next Wednesday.
Who: Guns N' Roses + ZZ Top + Rose Tattoo
Where: Newcastle Entertainment Centre
When: Wednesday, March 13
Buy: $199 – $109