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Guns N' Roses: The Real Story Behind Their Reunion

Rehearsal no-shows? Lingering bad blood? Fragile egos? A $3 million-per-night pay day? And where's Izzy?

Axl Rose still lives in the house that sits high above Malibu, where Latigo Canyon Road twists and narrows, and a perilous drop lies just feet from the wheels of approaching vehicles. A hidden gate with a camera-equipped call-box guards the entrance to a four-acre estate. It was here in October 2005, at the entrance to this prime piece of Southern California real estate, that Axl said his ex-Guns N’ Roses bandmate Slash arrived “unannounced at 5am” and made disparaging remarks about Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum and Scott Weiland, who were then his colleagues in Velvet Revolver.

It was the peak of an acrimonious fall-out that meant the ‘most dangerous band in the world’ were now communicating only via their lawyers. The reunion dreamed of by fans seemed as distant as Axl’s mountain-top house. Matters were seemingly put beyond doubt in 2009, when Axl called Slash “a cancer” in a rare interview with Billboard magazine. “What’s clear is that one of the two of us will die before a reunion,” said Axl.

Jump forward to the summer of 2014. Axl and Slash secretly formalise agreements that they will sign off on the mutually written material performed on their respective bands’ DVD releases. In February 2015, Slash tweets birthday greetings to Axl, which suggested a thaw in rock’s most high-profile cold war. The following May he tells the CBS This Morning programme: “A lot of the tension… has dissipated. Over time we all just got sick and tired of the black cloud. The biggest thing that happens when you have a break-up that is less than harmonious is you build up a bad energy because of the distance.” In August, Slash tells Swedish television that he and Axl have met and reconciled. “It was probably way overdue, you know. But it’s very cool at this point.”

As this happens, the Chinese Democracy-era line-up of Guns N’ Roses reaches a natural end with a second residency in Las Vegas. Latter-day members DJ Ashba, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal and Tommy Stinson melt away. With both Axl and Slash on good terms with Duff McKagan, the road to a reunion is clearer than it has been for a decade. 

On January 5, 2016 the news is confirmed in a statement: “Upholding a three-decade tradition of breaking ground, creating trends, and forever changing the face of rock’n’roll, Guns N’ Roses announce the most significant music event of this century. Founder Axl Rose and former members Slash and Duff McKagan will regroup to headline the Coachella Music & Arts Festival (April 15-17 & April 22-24). The performances will mark the first time since 1993 the Gunners will share the stage for what is certain to be an explosive event.”

It’s so easy, right? Like the old song says.

Well, almost.

The Guns N’ Roses reunion was the worst-kept secret in the music industry. To anyone paying attention, Slash’s birthday tweet to Axl suggested a detente, while Duff made his peace with the singer years ago, even standing in for Tommy Stinson on a GN’R South American tour in 2014. But a speculative reunion took several steps closer to becoming reality in December 2014 when Slash announced his divorce from wife Perla Hudson – an unpopular figure in GN’R circles.

“There are lots of reasons to re-form now,” says Arlett Vereecke, the LA publicist who has been associated with the band since their early days. “Axl has been saying it for a couple of years, and basically the main reason is that Slash is available without the attachment of a bitchy wife. Axl has being saying for two years that this year he would put it back together. When that divorce was in the making, it went all forward really fast.”  

There have been some near-misses in the past. In 2008, Scott Weiland revealed to Classic Rock that there was an aborted attempt to reunite the band around their 2004 Greatest Hits album. Black Star Riders/Thin Lizzy frontman Ricky Warwick suggested that Axl wasn’t averse to the idea as recently as 2012, when Lizzy supported GN’R in the UK. “Axl was quite realistic about the possibility of a reunion, saying: ‘Who knows?’,” Warwick tells Classic Rock. “He had fond memories of it. It was always a case of, we’ll see where the road takes us. It was never: ‘Over my dead body’.”

If the reunion was unsurprising, then the timing of it is more so. Alan Niven is the gregarious New Zealander who managed the band during their commercial peak in the late 1980s and early 90s. 

“There is definitely a ‘Why now?’ factor to this,” he says. “Why not next year, when it is the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Appetite? That’s the first question I’d ask. And there would be plenty of promoters asking that too. There are two Coachella shows, two Vegas [before Coachella], shows in Mexico City… But why not have that all in place before there is an announcement?”

Tom Zutaut, the A&R man who signed Guns N’ Roses to Geffen and who brought in Niven to manage them, feels that the chance to play at Coachella may explain the timing of the re-formation. “I can only speculate,’ he says. “You’d have to look at [promoters] Goldenvoice and AEG, sitting there with a festival that last year generated eighty million dollars in profits. When you have that kind of money to spend and your festival sells out regardless of whether you have Guns N’ Roses or not… given that those guys in GN’R might be looking back at filling out stadiums and selling out multiple nights in arenas, versus where their solo careers have taken them.

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