Guns N’ Roses X-Manager Alan Niven Tell All-Part 2
Alan Niven surrounded by Platinum, Gold & MTV "Moon Man" Awards!
"Axl actually wanted to cancel that (Aerosmith) tour. It was very evident he had a form of stage fright." Niven
By Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge Contributor
PHOENIX — With Guns N’ Roses closing in on a Hall of Fame induction, Metal Sludge is doing a special series looking back at the legendary Los Angeles band. We really got off to a bang in our exclusive interview with former manager Alan Niven, who so far is holding no punches with his memoirs – the good, the bad, the ugly.
We left off in Part One (HERE) with Guns N’ Roses on the brink of stardom – especially dramatic considering the hard-living, talented but troubled fivesome was such a long shot.
Here’s part TWO of our three-part series with Niven, and if you think the first part was gnarly, hold onto your seat. Like a guitar amplifier, we’re just gettin’ warmed up.
METAL SLUDGE: You mentioned Izzy was nodding out at the first band meeting. Never a good sign, Alan. You didn’t consider turning your back on Guns N’ Roses because of drug use?
Let’s take a look at Eric Clapton. He lost years to alcohol, he almost killed himself on heroin. Does that make him any less of a talent? He got through it. Gerry, I could tell Guns N’ Roses was a real rock and roll band. I thought if I could just institute a minimal sense of professionalism …. I don’t know. My wife watches Steven Adler on “Celebrity Rehab” and asks me, “Was Steven like that at the time?” Yeah, but guess what? Jack Russell was worse than all of them.
I mean, look at the Rolling Stones.
METAL SLUDGE: They survived.
Absolutely. I grew up in a time when artificial euphoria was taken in the interest of consciousness expansion. I can see where that has a place, being an artist. My rule is this: Never let anything own you.
METAL SLUDGE: All right, so we left off last time. The band was just trying to make it, and you took them to England.
We went over there, and it was a three-step process. We went over there to play the Marquee three nights as headliners over two weekends, waiting for the press cycle to report on the first show. Then we did two shows the following weekend, and everyone turned out to see what the journalists were writing about, so it worked out well. Then a bit later, we got a tour opening in England for Aerosmith, and that’s when it got interesting.
METAL SLUDGE: Oh?
Yes, because Aerosmith pulled out of doing the tour, not the first time they’ve done that by the way, and that left my strategy high and dry. A very sharp agent, John Jackson, I got a late-night phone call from him, and he had a preposterous idea: Why not come back to England and headline? That was totally ridiculous because I think we’d sold 5,000 copies of (Appetite For Destruction).
We had come to England for the first time in the spring of ’87, the album was released in July of 87, and we were supposed to support Aerosmith in October. So like I said, I thought about it overnight, and I called him back and said, “You know what? If you think we can do a short headline tour, you tell me," and he came up with a five-date tour with a final date at Hammersmith Odeon, 3300 seats. On the back of selling 5,000 to 7,000 units of the record, we went for this headline tour — and we pulled it off. Hammersmith had 3,300 tickets, and we came within 100 tickets. We sold 3,200 tickets.
METAL SLUDGE: Do you remember how much you got paid that night? Metal Sludge is interested in stuff like that.
A reasonable amount for a venue that size. Off the top of my head, I couldn’t tell you. I know the finances are critical, but my focus was always on career development.
METAL SLUDGE: So tell me when Guns N’ Roses really started to take off.
Well, the first thing, we book our first national tour in America opening for the Cult. Everyone in Los Angeles said we wouldn’t last 10 days on the road, that they’d be back home with their tails between their legs, looking for their drug dealers. Surprise, surprise.
METAL SLUDGE: So you were out on the road with them or working from L.A.?
I would do both. As much as possible I’d be on the road, then I’d get back to office. I split my time between the road and the office.
METAL SLUDGE: Did you feel like a babysitter?
That was the responsibility of the tour manager, but I was always aware of the conditions. In the past, I’ve hired a lot of people to watch over them.
METAL SLUDGE: Did their behavior freak you out?
I would say it might have freaked a few people out, but me? Nah. I grew up when the Rolling Stones would piss on the wall of a gas station and they would go, “Hey you can’t do that.” And the Stones would say: “Yes, we can, because we’re the Rolling Stones.We piss where we want to.”
METAL-SLUDGE: Well, looking back now, 20 years later, would you say you had a good time? I mean, you were the manager of Guns N’ Roses, the biggest rock band in the world.
That’s an interesting question. I guess it has been 20 years. It was an incredible privilege to get to the top of your profession, the top of the mountain. But I found out the mountain is actually a myth, an illusion. I mean, being No. 1 in Billboard, what is that going to do for you spiritually or emotionally?
METAL SLUDGE: Did you have peace? Did you have serenity?
I was delighted to be as active as I was, but activity of this kind brings considerable levels of stress. I know moments back in the day, I was very, very stressed. You care for the people you work with. It’s not cut and dry like a typical (business) relationship. It’s more emotional than that. You care about what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with.
METAL SLUDGE: OK, go on.
We toured with the Cult, we toured with Motley Crue, we toured with Alice Cooper. At the end of 1987, we actually had sold more than 200,000 units, and that’s when Eddie Rosenbatt, the president of Geffen, called me up and took me to lunch. He said thank you for a job well done, Alan. He said he thought it was going to be a disaster, but Geffen was in black ink, and then he said it was time to bring the band home to record a second record.
That was going to be it.
I was fucking stunned. I told him, “You mean we’ve sold almost a quarter of a million LPs with no airplay and no MTV, and now you want to throw in the towel on ‘Appetite For Destruction’?” He eventually agreed to keep working on it, and it took all of us to get on MTV. Me, Eddie, David Geffen himself. We took another run at trying to get on MTV. I went to the people at MTV, and I was like, “What the fuck? The band is obviously connecting with people. Why keep doing the easy Euro pop and why not give these guys a chance?”
So MTV put the band on overnight, when you had to use an alarm clock to see the videos. But even in overnight, “Welcome to the Jungle” got a reaction, so MTV started moving it up. By March of ’88, it had gone gold. Then on April 7, 1988, it went platinum. Ironically, that same day, Great White went platinum, and they were playing the Forum that night with Whitesnake. It was my birthday, as well, and that makes that day easy to remember. It was a good day.
Eventually, I had managed Guns N’ Roses from Ground Zero to selling out Wembley Stadium. But don’t forget there were a lot others at Geffen who did great work. We had a really good agent in Europe and in the United States, a really good agent.
Slash & Izzy on the road in Japan 1988
METAL SLUDGE: I thought I remember Guns N’ Roses touring with Aerosmith, that tour was a key turning point for the band. That’s when they really got big.
Axl actually wanted to cancel that tour. He did not want to do it. By that time, it was very evident he had a form of stage fright. He’s a singer, and singers who have to go out there three, four or five times a week, they invest their spirit in what they’re singing. The guitar players have something in their hands. They’re not naked. The singer is out there naked, and sometimes that’s hard to do. Obviously, Axl still has problems with it because he’s still late.
METAL SLUDGE: So what happened?
Well, I empathized with him, but I told Axl, “Look, I signed five individuals collectively as Guns N’ Roses. My responsibility is to the entity, not the individual,” but he called back again and said he just could not do it.
Now, even though there were some days when Axl would scream at me, that kind of stuff would usually just go in one ear and out the other. But this time, he was very quiet and reasoned. I always listened carefully when he was low-key and soft. He said he just couldn’t do it.
So this is what I did: I had been in Vegas for a Great White show the previous weekend, and I brought some dice home from the Aladdin. You know, the big red and white dice. I had been reading this novel, and the main character had this neurosis about making decisions, and the way he surrendered to the decision was to literally throw the dice. So I remembered that book, and I pulled out the dice, and I gathered everyone in the office together, and I said, “Look, I’m going to throw these dice. I’m going to weight it in Axl’s favor, so a one-through-10, he does not do the tour and we cancel.
I threw an 11.
So the next thing I did, I had the rest of the band fly out to Detroit for the first date, all our gear, everything. Axl had no choice, he had to do it. He was really mad at me. He didn’t talk to me for a long time after that.
Izzy takes a nap next to a bag of garbage and a filthy ash tray. Just like at home.
Slash looks more lke Slush after a few days of travel. Dirty socks included.
Duff passed out in a limo/van. Note the ceiling tagged with sharpie pen.
Upon a closer look, it looks like the band said "Thank You Japan" all over the roof
of their limo/van. We’re guessing that was a little extra on the rental fees.
If you have not read part one yet, go do it right HERE
COMING NEXT IN PART THREE: The Hammer Falls
Gerry Gittelson can be reached at [email protected]