Guns N’ Roses were a tight gang back in the 80s, but they weren’t averse to collaborating with other musicians – especially ones they grew up listening to, In 1987, the band backed Alice Cooper on a new version of his classic 1971 single Under My Wheels. Four years later, The Coop return the favour by guesting on Use Your Illusion I track The Garden.
Another hero who was allowed entry into the Guns N’ Roses inner circle was ex-Hanoi Rocks singer Michael Monroe. The cult Finnish glam punks, who split in 1985 – the same year GN’R formed – were an influence on their American counterparts, musically and terms of image.
Former Hanoi Rocks singer Mike Monroe would go on to collaborate with Guns N’ Roses on two songs – Use Your Illusion I track Bad Obsession, on which he played harmonica and saxophone, and GN’R’s version of Ain’t It Fun, originally by US punks the Dead Boys, which appeared on 1993’s The Spaghetti Incident? covers album.
Monroe recently spoke to Classic Rock about his friendship with Guns N’ Roses, how his appearances on Bad Obsession and Ain’t It Fun came about and Axl Rose’s strange “voodoo”…
Where did you meet Guns N’ Roses for the first time?
Michael Monroe: “I had heard about them and seen parts of their Welcome To The Jungle, video but I had no idea how famous they were already then. I first met Axl when he happened to stop by the video shoot for [Monroe’s 1989 solo single] Dead, Jail Or Rock’N’Roll in Midtown Manhattan. He had heard a tape of my then-upcoming album Not Fakin’ It and he really liked it. He came up and introduced himself and turned out to be a really nice guy, so we got along great. He liked the song as well as it turned out, so he ended up doing a guest appearance on the video.
“We were both Nazareth fans. It was no surprise to me that he liked them, as I could hear the influence of [Nazareth singer] Dan McCafferty in his singing style. However, he wasn’t familiar with the song Not Fakin’ It, which was a Nazareth cover on my album, so knowing that it was a Nazareth song made him like the album even more.
“I think the next time we met was at a dinner in New York where I also met Slash for the first time and their management. That night me and Slash ended up hanging at my flat downtown in the Lower East Side. And The first time I met the whole band was at a RIP magazine party where they invited me to play the harp [harmonica] and to sing a backing vocal on their cool, fast version of Heartbreak Hotel.”
Did they talk about Hanoi Rocks’ influence on them?
“They did acknowledge that Hanoi Rocks had influenced and inspired them. Axl told me that Izzy [Stradlin’, GN’R guitarist used to tell him, ‘Do your hair like Michael Monroe’. I saw a little bit of that in some of their early photos and the Welcome To The Jungle video. However, Axl has always had his own unique style. They kindly often mentioned Hanoi Rocks in the press too, and they released Hanoi's European album catalogue in the States on their Uzi Suicide label which was really cool of them! Axl said he wanted people to know who and what Hanoi Rocks was.”
How did you end up playing on Bad Obsession?
“They sent me a rough mix of the song and asked me if I would play the harp and the Saxophone on it. I dug the song and said yes, so they flew me to LA for the recording session. When I arrived in the studio they played me some of the new stuff they had recorded, like Live And Let Die, which sounded really impressive blasting out of the big speakers.
“I ended up doing an entire saxophone horn section for Bad Obsession. Slash had very specific idea of how he wanted the harp melody to be, so we worked on it until it was perfectly what he wanted.”
And how did your appearance on their cover of the Dead Boys’ Ain’t It Fun come about?
“Axl mentioned to me on the phone that he was not that familiar with the Dead Boys material, so I made him a tape of their first two albums. I gave it to him when I got to LA for the Use Your Illusion sessions. We were driving around Hollywood in Axl’s car, listening to that tape, and when Ain’t It Fun came on, Axl said: ‘Wow, this a great song! We’ve gotta record this for our covers album. We’ll do it as a duet, you and me.’ He immediately called Slash and said, ‘Let’s get the band together, we’re covering this Dead Boys song…‘
“The recording of the song was magical. Stiv [Bators, Dead Boys frontman, who died in 1990] was definitely there in spirit. When Stiv and me used to record vocals in the studio, Stiv had this ritual in which he placed a bunch of burning candles in a circle around me and had me sing the vocal inside the ‘protective’ circle. So me and Axl collected all the candles we could find in the studio and made a circle of them around us. We were placed facing each other. Then we lit up the candles and sang the song face to face. In some parts Axl even sounds just like Stiv. I remember thinking that they had the same kind of voodoo.
“I didn’t ask for money for doing Ain’t It Fun. So many people saw dollar signs and got greedy when it came to Guns N’ Roses, which I found quite obnoxious. All I asked was to have ‘In memory of Stiv Bators’ in the album credits and to spell my name right. Axl replied: ‘Yes, of course!’ I was so happy that I was able to do this for my late, dear friend, and to raise awareness of Stiv Bators and the Dead Boys. Now millions of their fans could see Stiv’s name and hopefully find out more about him.”
What made Guns N’ Roses so great back then?
“They were for real. They had their own style and were truly rebellious with a ‘don’t give a shit‘ attitude, plus they rock hard, and there’s still and audience out there wanting that.”