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Axl Rose 101: Everything You Need to Know About Guns N’ Roses’ Leader

Chris McKay, Getty Images
Chris McKay, Getty Images

Axl Rose, Guns N’ Roses singer: March 1985 – Present

Guns N’ Roses Discography: Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide (1986); Appetite for Destruction (1987); G N’ R Lies (1988); Use Your Illusion I & II (1991); “The Spaghetti Incident?” (1993); Chinese Democracy (2008)

Non-Guns N’ Roses Discography: Rapidfire, Ready to Rumble; Hollywood Rose, The Roots of Guns N’ Roses.

Pre-Guns N’ Roses: William Bailey was raised in a church family in Lafayette, Indiana alongside his childhood friend, Jeff Isbell. At age 17 he found out that his father was actually his stepfather. The news shook the teenager, who began getting in trouble with the local police.

At age 19, Bailey, now going by William Rose, hitchhiked to Los Angeles. He picked up a job as manager of the Tower Video on Sunset and started gigging with a band named Rapidfire. When that band didn’t go anywhere, he reconnected with his buddy from Lafayette — now going by the name Izzy Stradlin — and the two formed the band AXL, which became the singer’s new nickname (and later legal name).

AXL changed their name to Rose and then to Hollywood Rose. Eventually both Steven Adler and Slash would join Hollywood Rose, too. After that band split, Axl served a brief tour of duty in L.A. Guns before inevitably forming what has become his life’s work, Guns N’ Roses.

Post-Guns N’ Roses: There isn’t really an “after Guns” to Axl’s story. He is the last man standing, the carrier of the torch, the owner of the name. After the Use Your Illusion tour, the original band began to disintegrate, and Axl stayed out of the limelight for several years. Then, in 1999, he resurfaced with a new lineup and a song called “Oh My God” on the soundtrack to End of Days. But despite touring regularly under the Guns N’ Roses name since 2001, attempts to record a new album proved difficult, as numerous personnel changes and Rose’s perfectionism kept the band in the studio.  Finally, after more than 10 years of recording and an estimated $13 million spent, the long-awaited Chinese Democracy was released in 2008.

Right Now: Guns N’ Roses (and thus Axl) appears to be on another hiatus as a result of the twin departures of guitarists DJ Ashba and Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal in the summer of 2015. Those moves prompted a slate of reunion rumors that persists. As for a new studio album, the follow-up to 2008’s Chinese Democracy is allegedly near completion.

Guns N’ Roses Reunions: Axl has made very few appearances outside of Guns N’ Roses, but he did guest on Gilby Clarke‘s ’94 solo album, Pawnshop Guitars. He appeared with Slash on the track “Anxious Disease” on the Outpatient’s ’96 LP, Anxious Disease. Both Izzy and Duff McKagan appear elsewhere on the album, too.

Rose did not appear with the band when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. Onstage reunions between Axl and his former band mates have all occurred on the Guns N’ Roses stage. Keyboardist Dizzy Reed has remained in the lineup since joining for Use Your Illusion. Izzy Stradlin has joined the band onstage frequently since 2006. In 2010, Duff joined Axl’s new lineup on stage at London’s O2 arena. Neither Slash nor Adler have performed live with Axl since leaving the band.

Report: Axl and Slash to Reunite for Guns N’ Roses Tour

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