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© Paul Hebert/Icon SMI/Corbis
Big budget videos, massive tom sounds and musical trilogies did the trick as the furore leading up to the release of both albums was unprecedented, with many stores around the world opening at midnight on 17 September 1991 to allow the froth-mouthed public to get their hands on the records as quickly as possible.
But the ousted Steven Adler is certain that they could have been even bigger. “Use Your Illusion would have been bigger and better than Appetite…” Adler suggests. “I did all the demo tapes. You hear ‘Civil War’, it’s right where Appetite… left off but after that it’s another band. It was the second Appetite… like Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell II. It didn’t work out that way.
“We all saw how the band didn’t get better by getting rid of me. Some bands do, like Iron Maiden. Paul Di’Anno was a great singer, but Bruce Dickinson is better. He came in and the band got better. When Matt Sorum came in, the band didn’t get better. You don’t f**k with what’s working.”
Despite Adler’s reservations use your Illusion I and II sold more than 1.4 million copies between them within a week and sent the band into a mammoth three-year stadium tour.
Sorum explains: “Those were the days when tours sold records. It wasn’t about making money on the road like it is now. The more we toured the more records we sold. At one point three years into the tour Axl said, ‘We’re at 35 million albums sold. Let’s keep going to hit 40 million.’”
The biggest rock band since Zeppelin they may have been, but Sorum wasn’t getting carried away with his set-up. “I didn’t really have a huge kit. I had a lot of cymbals but I used one rack and two floors. I had a pretty big riser. I remember saying, ‘Well, whatever Tommy Lee’s doing, I’m not going to do that!’ All that flying around in the air. I just set up on a riser.
“We did Rock In Rio and had Judas Priest opening. The tour manager came backstage and asked if we could move our riser for Judas Priest. I said, ‘yeah, sure put your riser out there.’ I go out there and Judas Priest are doing ‘Turbo Lover’ and the next thing I know the drum riser’s going 50ft up in the air with smoke coming out of it! I thought, ‘Oh boy, how am I gonna follow that?!’”
Rock In Rio also saw Sorum venture into the world of eight-minute long drum solos - and today he acknowledges with a laugh that on this front he was well and truly dropped in at the deep end.
“The first solo I did was at Rock In Rio in front of 145,000 people and I didn’t even know about it until on the way to the gig. Axl said he needed to take a break in the middle of the show for his voice and I should do a solo. I’d just joined the band, it was my first show, I’m not going to say no! So I was like, ‘Okay, f**k! I’m going to do a solo.’ Now I’d probably be like, ‘F**k, I don’t know man, let me work on that a bit!’
“I figured when it came time to solo I was playing a massive stadium so what was I going to do, was I going to play fancy or just pummel them? If you watch it on YouTube it probably looks silly but the sound of it coming through a massive sound system was awesome. I was hitting them with double bass drums.
“It wasn’t about showing how many chops I’ve got. It was about being on a massive stage and making everything bigger than life. That’s why I’d stand up and put my arms in the air. It worked. Would I do that now in a smaller place? No.”
Any worries that GN’R’s devoted worldwide following wouldn’t take to the band’s new drummer was quickly dispelled. After all, as he points out, they had little choice.
"I was welcomed right away. I never had anybody give me any s**t. There was a little bit in the press early on but I think it was mainly from Steven coming out with stuff about me. The fans never had a problem.
“I’ve always told the fans that Guns N’ Roses were very close to not being able to continue. If I hadn’t come in at that point I don’t know if they would have been able to continue. Obviously it imploded a few years later but it was ready to implode then. There was already tension in the camp.”