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“My whole life changed in one afternoon at A&M records,” Steven Adler tells us with a pained expression etched across his face. “It all changed in one afternoon.”
That one afternoon, 11 July 1990, saw the drummer ousted from the band that he had helped turn into stadium-filling mega heroes - Guns N’ Roses.
Having enjoyed monumental success with their debut album, Appetite For Destruction, the band had eyes only for world domination and as Adler’s wild lifestyle began to interfere with their ambitious plans he found himself turfed out, replaced by The Cult’s drum powerhouse Matt Sorum.
It was a bitter pill for Adler to swallow. The drummer had co-founded the band back in 1985 and oversaw their rise to the top from behind the kit, his punk-influenced rock chops the perfect foundation for GN’R’s gritty take on flamboyant rock.
Guns may not have fully formed until ’85, but their journey began back in the late ’70s at Bancroft Junior high when budding drummer Adler met Saul Hudson. The latter would go on to become known as top-hatted, axe-wielding riff-spewer Slash, and the pair’s first meeting perfectly sums up the bond they were to quickly develop.
“I had my teacher chasing me around the classroom and I ran into his classroom and his teacher had his finger in his face telling him he’d be a loser and a bum,” Adler recalls. “So I instantly knew we had something in common.”
Juvenile delinquency aside, the pair also shared a musical kinship. Adler explains: “Putting a band together was something me and Slash had wanted to do since we were 11 or 12. We ran into three other guys who wanted to do the same thing. We all had the same goal and desire and the same direction and the same dream. I don’t know what happened to that dream.”
While that dream may have long since dissipated, Adler enjoyed a volcanically explosive ride while it lasted. It’s a journey that was kicked into gear after the drummer spotted a banshee-voiced frontman and charismatic guitarist playing in fast-rising LA band Hollywood Rose.
The duo, Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin, were quickly converted to Adler and Slash’s cause, joining the newly recruited Duff Mckagan to form a band that would go on to shift albums by the lorry-load and pack stadiums worldwide.
“It was magic from the first day,” Adler recalls. “The first song we played in rehearsal was ‘Shadow Of Your Love’ and Axl showed up late. We were playing the song and right in the middle of the song Axl showed up and he grabbed the microphone and was running up and down the walls screaming. I thought, ‘This is the greatest thing ever.’ We knew right then what we had.”
What they had quickly became evident through the Sunset Strip live scene as Guns blazed a trail of anything-can-happen, ‘I was there’ shows.
On those early dates Adler says: “It was like the song ‘Anything Goes’. Whatever happens happens. It never failed for something exciting to happen.”
The fivesome quickly found a rough-and-ready rock sound that took cues from New York Dolls, Queen and Deep Purple and would go on to spawn genuine rock anthems. It was helped along by undoubted chemistry and musicianship, but Adler acknowledges it was fuelled by pure graft.
“We were just rehearsing and we’d work on everything. Me and Duff would rehearse just by ourselves on the rhythm parts. We really cared. When we went into the studio we knew that was our opportunity and we didn’t know if we’d get a second opportunity so we went in and took it for everything it was worth and made the best of it.”