In 1994, with Guns N’ Roses on hiatus, Slash and drummer Matt Sorum got together at the guitarist’s home studio, nicknamed The Snakepit. Soon the GN’R duo were joined by a third GN’R member, rhythm guitarist Gilby Clarke. The result was a demo of new songs, with even a little help from bassist Duff McKagan.
However, when Axl heard these recordings, he unilaterally rejected them. So Slash decided to form his own band for a one-off side-project. Matt Sorum remained on drums, and Gilby Clarke on rhythm guitar. In came Alice In Chains bassist Mike Inez and former Jellyfish man Eric Dover on vocals. The result was 1995’s It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere, released by Geffen as from Slash’s Snakepit.
Slash didn’t want his name used, but the label insisted. The album title was the result of a phrase Slash overheard at an airport – an excuse for having the first alcoholic drink of the day – while his brother Ash Hudson designed the striking cover.
Musically, it’s a loose-limbed record that has a lot of heavy guitar-led punk-style pop-rock. Unpretentious and low-key, it doesn’t really have any totally killer songs, but then it was all conceived almost by accident, and was never meant to commercially compete with GN’R.
It sold decently enough – going platinum for over a million sales in America – helped by the fact that there was a tour, albeit one in which neither Inez nor Sorum took part. Into their places stepped ex-White Lion bassist James LoMenzo and former Billy Idol/ Pride & Glory drummer Brian Tichy. However, while Geffen were initially keen to underwrite the costs of the tour, they changed their minds when Axl Rose announced that he was ready to get back into high gear. Sorum diplomatically opted out of touring with Slash, and returned to the Guns N’ Roses line-up.
That was the end of this part of the story: the various band members going their separate ways at tour’s end. However, in 1996, when Slash officially left GN’R, he ended up reforming the Snakepit, but with a totally different team. Joining him this time were vocalist Rod Jackson, Ryan Roxie on guitar, Swedish-born Johnny Griparic – also previously of Slash’s Blues Ball – on bass and Matt Laug on drums.
This time there was an altogether more serious attitude to the band, especially from Slash himself. If the debut album had possessed a lot of songs that were really left to their own devices (co-producers Slash and Mike Clink appeared to have a laissez-faire approach to it), then Ain’t Life Grand was a step or two up.
Producer Jack Douglas clearly went in determined to get the most out of everyone – and it shows. The songs are tighter and tougher, and there’s a real feeling here that Slash was out to create his own niche, not simply rely on a reputation.
From the moment that Been There Lately opens, there’s a vibe here that was missing before. This record has purpose, direction and individuality. Of course, Slash’s guitar is still the fulcrum. But it’s a band, not something to do while waiting for Axl.
Unfortunately, and ironically, Ain’t Life Grand didn’t sell too well. The combination of a switch from a big label to the altogether smaller Koch International, plus the fact that Slash no longer had the cachet of being in Guns N’ Roses probably helped to scupper any hopes there might have been to make this a long-term project.
It all fell apart in the end. But at least it gave Slash something of a springboard for what he would do next with Velvet Revolver – and right up to where he’s at with his own new solo project now./o:p