It was Izzy's fuckin' band... at least that's my perception.
Iz made the move to the city first. He packed his suitcase and went to lay the foundation of a band. Rattlesnake hide or not, you know that bag was worn and funky, not shiny, like a new Halliburton from Tim Collins.
Iz was the first to take the Night Train out of small town Indiana for Los Angeles. Axl followed Izzy once he was set up in L.A. - an easy move. He then retreated back to Lafayette. Couldn’t hack it in L.A. according to Iz. He was relieved. He told me later he didn’t want to deal with Rose, who he had known since High School.
Axl couldn’t deal with small town Indiana either so he moved a second time, loaded like a freight train with all his baggage. Iz was less than thrilled. So it went. On the third date of the band’s first national tour, supporting The Cult, Izzy knocked on my hotel room door. He brushed past me and flopped on the sofa.
“That motherfucker makes us miserable every fuckin’ day,” he groaned.
Ax was never so fuckin’ easy, but he had that voice, a voice that reeked of Middle American white boy outrage and anger. He had that attitude that championed individualism and every individual. Especially himself.
If that was what Axl brought to the band what did Izzy bring? He brought the Night Train, Mr. Brownstone, he brought the sweet street Jungle groove. When Mike Clink hit the wall, exhausted from the Appetite sessions, a concerned Tom Zutaut asked me to check the recordings.
“Mike can’t fix a mix. Do you think we have it on tape Niv?”
I asked him to send me Izzy’s Brownstone. Michael Lardie and I prepped the sound board at Total Access to do a fast mix. We put the two inch reel up. It was there. The groove, the edge. We were able to cook up a mix in four hours. Clink had got it on tape. We were good.
I first saw Izz on the stage of The Troubadour. He had an effortless offhand grace in the way he handled his hollow-bodied Gibson. He played his rhythm parts with a perfect insouciance, knowing exactly when he should leave a space, syncopate the groove. I have a picture on my wall of Izzy playing with Keef and Ronnie Wood. They not only play like kin, they look like Mama’s kin. Imagine The Stones without Keef.
Izzy had the casual wisdom not to inject himself into the blind obediences of a conformist’s life. As much as a C.C. Deville or a Bon Jovi might have contrived to be rock n roll outlaws, Izzy was to the manner born. His lyrics had an uncontrived, main vein, street vernacular. When Guns were slated to open for Aerosmith Izzy came to me with a concern.
“Niv, this might be a bit awkward, but I used to deal smack to Joe and Steven.”
“Don’t worry Iz, if you don’t mention it I am damned sure they won’t.”
Izzy left GN’R three months after I was kicked aside by Axl. Iz found me, somehow, when I was with The Whites in Winterthur, Switzerland.
“I can’t deal with it anymore,” he said. There had almost been a riot at a Guns show in Germany. Rose had stormed off the stage for some reason, and Izzy was freaked by the idea of submachine gun toting cops breaking heads. He had the jitters.
The binding pressure and exposure of expectation and fame, the anxieties that Rose generated, were not worth it to him. They were burning him down. He was going to quit there and then. He did not intend to play the tour closing show at Wembley Stadium.
“You can’t let the fans and the others down like that Iz. You’re not the bad guy. Don’t be seen as one.”
I reserved and paid for a suite at the Wembley Stadium Hilton where Izzy could chill, away from the backstage area, and wait to see if Axl would turn up. Only when he knew that Rose was at the venue did he join the others for his last performance as a member of the band that was mostly built on his insight, songs and style.
It was Izzy’s fuckin’ band. Izzy was the one I could reliably count on for a position on a decision – his was always the incontrovertible point of view that best served the band. He grounded them with his unimpeachable rock n’ roll stance habitually maintained in his playing and writing. Izzy had provided the cool heart for the hot soul of the band.
When the band was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, Izzy set up a meeting with Axl at a L.A. Hotel. He wanted to get an agreement for the original band to play together one last time - do the fuckin’ re-union there in that moment and then say “thank you, good fuckin’ night.” After waiting for two hours for Axl to show, he drove home to Ojai. No-show Axl had made him miserable one more fuckin’ time.
A band is like a chemical molecule. Not all the elements are of the same size, power or energy, and perception does not always define significance, but remove even the slightest grain and the molecule collapses.
When Steven lost his mind and got himself fired that changed the feel of the rhythm section, the rush was done, but when Izzy left it meant that the band was no longer the Guns N’ Roses that I knew and loved, the band that I was addicted to. It was just Dust n’ Bones - “just fuckin’ gone.”
As I said, if it was anyone’s, it was Izzy’s fuckin’ band.
Alan Niven managed Guns N’ Roses from 1986 to 1991.