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Guns N’ Roses A&R Man Tom Zutaut Looks Back on the Making of ‘Appetite for Destruction’

Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

Before they became one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, Guns N’ Roses were just another struggling act — until Geffen A&R exec Tom Zutaut heard something special, fought to sign them and kept on fighting until their debut Appetite for Destruction LP became a hit.

As hardcore GNR fans are aware, Zutaut doesn’t give many interviews, but he made an exception for LA Weekly in a new wide-ranging discussion that looks back on Appetite for its 30th anniversary. And while the general outline of Zutaut’s role in the band’s rags-to-riches story is well known, his perspective all these years later makes for a fascinating read.

For those who aren’t well versed in GNR history — or simply don’t know how much time and money can go into a recording act long before its first album is released — Zutaut’s LA Weekly interview offers no shortage of insights, from his recollections of the 18 months spent working with the group on songwriting before they entered the studio to the very deliberate way they chose and arranged the Appetite for Destruction track listing so the group could “start off punk, to counter hair metal.”

None of it would have been possible without the credibility Zutaut had with label boss David Geffen, who granted his request to spend $75,000 signing the group even though he didn’t believe Zutaut’s prediction that GNR would be “bigger than Led Zeppelin.” So firm was Geffen’s belief that, as Zutaut tells it now, “he never heard the band until the record was released in July ’87, and even then, I don’t think he listened to a track until it went gold.”

That didn’t mean Guns N’ Roses were off Geffen’s radar — particularly after the album finally took off. “After it hit around 10 million in sales,” recalled Zutaut, “he called me and told me: ‘I thought you were out of your mind when you said they’d be the biggest rock band in the world … but you were right.'”

From stories like that to Zutaut’s account of Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite tracking sessions and the battle to get the video for “Welcome to the Jungle” aired on MTV, the feature is never less than an interesting read. And although things ultimately ended badly between Zutaut and frontman Axl Rose, he’s still able to appreciate the career-launching hit he helped shepherd to completion. “This was the last great hard-rock record made entirely by hand,” he argued. “No computer assistance or automated faders. It’s a piece of imperfect art that will stand the test of time because it was made manually on a console. It captured lightning in a bottle.”

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Next: Revisiting 'Appetite for Destruction'

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