In this previously unpublished interview, late Nazareth guitarist Manny Charlton talks about recording the early sessions for the album that would become Guns N' Roses' classic debut Appetite For Destruction.
Manny Charlton is one of the overlooked figures in the story of Appetite For Destruction. Yet the Nazareth's guitarist worked with Guns N' Roses on demos for many of the songs which ended up on that iconic album.
“Tom Zutaut, the A&R man at Geffen who signed the band, contacted me through Nazareth's booking agent,” Charlton recalled from his home in Spain. “Apparently the band were keen to work with the person who'd produced Nazareth's Hair Of The Dog album, as they loved the sound it had. And that was me.
“Tom then flew over to Scotland from LA and brought with him cassettes of GN'R playing live. These were board mixes, but appalling. I couldn't tell whether the songs were any good nor if the band could actually play their instruments.”
At the time, Charlton was in the middle of producing the Cinema album for Nazareth, but agreed to go to LA to see GN'R perform. That did not go down well with the other members of Nazareth.
“They were not at all happy that I was taking time out to check out this unknown band!”
And things got off to a very bad start once Charlton went over.
“Tom and I went to the band's rehearsal room to watch them play. But none of the band showed up. I was unimpressed, and wondered if I was just wasting my time. But Tom was fully committed to Guns N' Roses and very excited by their potential. So I told him that maybe the best way forward was for me to take them into a studio and record some songs with the guys.
“We spent a day and a half in Sound City, one of the best studios around. On the first day, we did six hours and then came back the next day to finish it all off. What I did was record them as live. There were no overdubs, nor multi tracking. It was done in stereo. The band played as if they were doing a gig and I recorded it.
"In all, we did 12 songs. I know they included Welcome To The Jungle, Paradise City, My Michelle, Move To The City, Shadow Of Your Love, Reckless Life and a cover of Rose Tattoo's Nice Boys (Don't Play Rock 'N' Roll)... tracks which fans will know so well these days. But one song they did not have yet was Sweet Child O'Mine."
The track that stood out from this list for Charlton was Welcome To The Jungle.
“This was so obviously a great rock song and I knew it would be the one to hold the whole album together.”
Interestingly, a very early version of November Rain was done, and it stood out for Charlton as a potential classic.
“Axl played it on the piano, and I believed it should have been on the first album. But he told me that it was far from finished and therefore was being saved for the next one. I thought it had all the makings of being a hit single and told Axl it would be a mistake not to include it on the debut. Remember, this was before they'd written Sweet Child O'Mine.”
For the producer, Axl was very much the guiding force of the band.
“He was a pro and definitely the leader. The band didn't have a manager at the time, and he held it altogether. I have to say that despite their reputation for partying very hard, all of the band worked steadily in the studio and focused. They were completely straight in all that time.
“I got along pretty well with all of them. To be honest, they came across as a bunch of kids with loads of cool attitude and clearly up for living the rock star dream to its fullest extent. However, while we were in the studio they curbed all the excesses.”
As a guitarist himself, Charlton was excited by the talents of Slash and Izzy Stradlin.
“They were both great. I have to say the way they complemented one another reminded me of how Joe Perry and Brad Whitford interacted in Aerosmith. They had a special bond, which I could hear in the music.”
These recordings were done in early June 1986, after which Charlton was very enthusiastic about working on what would become Appetite For Destruction.
“I told everybody that I'd love to do it, if it could fitted into my schedule. But I had to go back home to finished the Cinema album. I know they were looking at other potential producers, so it was never certain I'd get the job. However, they never even called me to say yes or no. And the next thing I knew they'd done it with Mike Clink.
“Was I upset? Not really. It wasn't as if everyone knew Appetite For Destruction was gonna be such a massive seller. Nobody at the label or in the band was expecting anything like that level of success.”
Charlton was impressed with the album when he heard it.
“It didn't sound very different to what I had done with them. The songs were essentially the same. But what Clink did was add in a little more polish. And I really liked the way it came across. This proved what I'd believed all along, and that was their material was definitely high quality, as was their playing.”
One final thing is worth emphasising, and that's the size of the fee Charlton got for his work with GN'R.
“I got paid... nothing. No money at all! You have to understand this was a young band from who not much was expected commercially. I did the job as an audition for the possibility of producing the album.
“I think Guns N' Roses covered Hair Of The Dog later in their career (on 1993's The Spaghetti Incident?) as a way of acknowledging the work I'd done with them; it was their way of saying thanks to me.”