“The thing about Axl was – I was becoming friends with him before I ever heard him sing. He was Izzy’s best friend from Indiana and Izzy was living with me and Izzy always told me he could sing and he was a great singer.
“But I didn’t know until I saw him do a soundcheck. We were all playing together at Madame Wong’s and Axl went up to soundcheck to test his mic.
What did you think?
“I was like, ‘Oh, shit. Wow.’ Then I knew but at that point, I didn’t know if we’d ever actually play together.”
When you finally did get together, you felt an immediate connection with Axl musically?
“It was the same kind of thing Phil [Lewis, LA Guns singer] and I have. It was constructing music and putting these arrangements and parts together and Axl would sit and watch the band rehearse stuff and write his lyrics and stuff down.”
So this was the Guns N’ Roses period?
“We did Guns N’ Roses but we also did LA Guns. To me at that point before we did Guns N’ Roses, our version of LA Guns was just minus Izzy.
“When we brought Izzy in, that became a big part of the writing scenario. Izzy was a quiet guy so he liked to write stuff on paper and show it to you.”
Did you actually sit down and show Axl guitar riffs where he’d come up with melodies and lyrics on the spot?
“I’ve never really been a sit-down kind of guy. The only time I ever sat down with an acoustic guitar and wrote a song with somebody was when I was in Devil City Angels with Rikki Rockett.”
Why did you stop working with Axl to put together LA Guns? What happened?
“I was 19 when I left and it was a very long time ago. At the time, Axl was kind of going through something because I had never seen him angry. I’d seen him get angry where someone confronts us and we’re about to fight with somebody but between him and I we had a really great best friendship.”
You really were good friends with Axl?
“We were always together and did everything together. It got to the point where we had done these two shows over the weekend: one was at the Waters Club in San Pedro and one was at the Timbers Club in Glendora.”
Were they bad shows?
“They were fine shows but Axl was really separate from the rest of the band. He kinda showed up when he wanted; didn’t say anything; and was mad that at one of the shows a friend of ours wasn’t on the guest list.”
Hasn’t that kind of behavior always been a part of who Axl is?
“It didn’t turn me against him or the band but it made it really not fun. It made it like, ‘Man, what a drag. What a bummer.’ The reality of what happened was that I was living with my girlfriend in Covina and we rehearsed in Hollywood. We were supposed to rehearse Thursdays so after that last gig at the Waters Club everybody said, ‘I’ll see you Thursday’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, OK.'”
“I just didn’t call or show up or anything like that. I got a call and they said, ‘What are you doing?’ and I was like, ‘Well, I can’t get there.'”
You were mad?
“I was just having really bad vibes. I blew off Friday’s rehearsal and I knew we had a show coming up at the Troubadour but I knew we’d be fine and I said, ‘Look, man. We’ll be fine. I don’t wanna drive all the way in there and I don’t wanna get in a fight with you.’ Axl was like, ‘No, man. We gotta do this.'”
What did you think?
“He was right. Either you’re all in or you’re not and at that point I just wasn’t. I just went, ‘Man, this is a drag.'”
Did you quit at that point?
“The next week, Izzy called me with Axl and said, ‘Look, we’re just gonna have Slash come and play the show if you’re not gonna show up.’ I’m like, ‘Whoa. Wait a minute.’ As soon as they said that, everything changed.”
You weren’t willing to go as far as having some other guitar player do your gig.
“Right. It was like, ‘Hold the phone a second. Let’s talk about it.’ They were like, ‘He came down and rehearsed half the set and he knows the set.’
“I’m like, ‘Alright. OK, fine. I guess that’s that.’ Axl was like, ‘C’mon, man. Just come down to rehearsal’ and I’m like, ‘Nah. It sounds like you guys know what you’re doing.'”
That’s when it ended?
“I was kinda bruised at that point when they said that because I was like, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ That was that. I remember asking Izzy because he called me the next day to make sure I was still not in.
“I go, ‘It would be really cool if you changed the name. It’s mine and Axl’s name.’ That was the last thing I ever said. Izzy said to me, ‘It’s just a band name,’ and that was that. Amazing, right?”
Unbelievable. How long had you been working with Axl when this all came down?
“We were going for a year before that went down. Also I would have never known of Phil if it wasn’t for Izzy. When we were living together, Izzy turned me onto Girl and that’s where Phil came from. So the reality of the two singers in my life were given to me from Izzy.”
Do you ever think about what it would have been like if you had stayed in Guns N’ Roses with Axl?
“Everything happened so fast. I haven’t thought about ‘What if I had stayed in the band?’ ’cause my immediate reaction is, ‘If I had stayed in the band then Guns N’ Roses would have sounded more like LA Guns.’ You know what I mean?”
Guns would have been a completely different band.
“Yeah. I think the way Slash plays and his tonality with Axl’s voice is way more compatible. When Axl and I play together, unless we’re playing a straight up rock and roll ballad that’s one thing but when I write heavy stuff, it’s heavy.
“It’s very heavy and the thing Guns N’ Roses has always been able to straddle is not falling into the uber-heavy thing. Which I think has really worked out for them and kept them more within the classic rock kind of vibe.”
That all makes sense.
“Had I been in the band, I don’t think Guns N’ Roses would have had the mass appeal. That’s me assuming that Axl isn’t 100% of the reason why people fell in love with Guns N’ Roses but I wouldn’t think that with any band and especially Guns N’ Roses.”
“Because they were all characters. No, I think everything happened the way it’s supposed to be.”
You are inextricably connected to Guns N’ Roses forever.
“Well, that’s my name on there. [Laughs] I won’t ever for the rest of history be able to deny that.”
LA Guns are set to release their 11th studio album “The Missing Peace” on October 13, marking Phil Lewis’ first studio appearance with the band in over 15 years. You can check out the lead single “Speed” in the embedded player below.