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L.A. Guns: "We weren’t hair metal – we were a dirty, greasy biker band”

In 1995, after four albums and eight years with L.A. Guns, Phil Lewis ran out of ammo and joined Nikki Six. It’s taken 14 years to reunite with his old partner Tracii Guns...

If you’d called a psychic telephone hotline in Los Angeles in the late 1990s, there’s a chance you might have heard Phil Lewis on the other end. The British-born singer was on one of his periodic stints out of L.A. Guns, the band he had joined a decade or so earlier after relocating to California, when a friend asked if he fancied making some easy money. ‘Why not?’ he thought. The fact he knew absolutely nothing about astrology wasn’t an issue. It was just a matter of keeping the gullible rubes who called the premium-rate number on the line for as long as possible.

“I was recording a solo album at the time, and I had my baby girl in the other room, watching her on a video monitor,” says Lewis now. “Every now and then the phone would go, this three ring alarm, which indicated it would be from the psychic hotline. It was real basic psychology. Even though I knew nothing, I was pretty bloody good at it: ‘You’re Leo, Asparagus rising,’ you know.”

Amazingly, his shtick worked. But guilt quickly crept in. “The people who were calling weren’t too bright,” he says ruefully. “I felt like I was exploiting them. I stopped after a couple of weeks.”

Lewis was no Mystic Meg. Yet even if he had been, it’s unlikely he’d have been able to guess the wayward course L.A. Guns would plot over the next 20 years. The band may have helped usher in the Sunset Strip scene of the 1980s, but their career since then has been defined by fallings out, departures, firings and a bitter schism between Lewis and founding guitarist Tracii Guns.

For much of this century, there have been two different versions of L.A. Guns doing the rounds. One consisted of Lewis, long-time drummer Steve Riley and a rotating cast of hired hands, makeweights and ringers. The other was steered by Guns himself and featured, well, much the same. The two versions spent more than a decade warily circling each other, lobbing the occasional barb via the media. This wasn’t the Wagnerian drama of Guns N’ Roses, a band that Tracii Guns himself had co-founded back in the depths of the 1980s. This was a pair of pissed-up old street corner hookers screaming insults at each other from across the road.

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