Old Habits Rock Hard

If you’re a former rock star recovering from a heroin addiction, perhaps it’s a logical next step to team up with some other former rock stars to form a rock band. After all, once you?ve sold millions of records, it can’t be easy going back to a day job. Thus, in the tradition of supergroups like Audioslave, A Perfect Circle and The Travelling Wilburys, Velvet Revolver was born.

Velvet Revolver had been a rumour since it was announced that everyone but Axl Rose was quitting Guns’n Roses due to his insistence on pursuing electronica and industrial music. Axl was left with the band name, which he’d been given the rights to after he’d threatened to leave during the Use Your Illusion tour. His new version of GNR, with an ever changing line-up of band members, has spent the last nine years and $12 million on the still unfinished Chinese Democracy album. Meanwhile guitarist Saul Hudson (Slash), drummer Matt Sorum, and bassist Michael McKagan (Duff) all pursued different projects.

Slash was always the most recognisable member of GNR, with his long curly hair and trademark top hat winning over the ladies everywhere. During one tour, he was keeping three or four hotel rooms at a time so he could alternate between groupies. Slash has said that his hair and hat were just a way of hiding from audiences so he wouldn?t have to look at them. At one stage he found himself needing to hide from his own bodyguard ? who, in a move that Slash dubbed “very Single White Female” had started dressing exactly like him.

Slash managed to kick his heroin addiction while he was in GNR, but he wasn’t into clean living, securing a product endorsement deal with Black Death Vodka, the logo of which features a skull in a top hat. Perhaps he needed the vodka to drown the memories of his soloing on two songs from Michael Jackson’s 1992 album Dangerous. Slash’s fans were less confused when he formed the platinum-selling Slash’s Snakepit in 1995, which at times also featured his former bandmate Duff.

Duff had originally moved to L.A in an attempt to escape the copious heroin usage that was part of the punk scene in Seattle that he’d been playing in from 1979-1984. GNR was probably the wrong band for him to have joined if he’d wanted to stay clean. In 1990, Axl announced on stage that he?d be breaking up GNR if certain members of the band didn’t stop “dancing with Mr Brownstone”, so Duff took up drinking instead. After eight years of the GNR lifestyle, Duff was hospitalised in 1994 with pancreatitis, and told that if he didn’t stop drinking right then he would die. Having released his first solo album, Believe in Me, the year before, Duff obviously had something to live for, and so he cleaned up his act to the point where he was able to run a marathon in 2001. Fans had another chance to see him looking half dead, however, when he appeared in the TV show Sliders as a rockstar vampire in 1997. Duff formed and played in various bands, included Loaded and The Neurotic Outsiders, which included members of the Sex Pistols, Duran Duran and Matt Sorum from GNR.

Sorum is probably one of the world’s most famous replacement drummers. Early in his music career he was also widely known as a drummer-for-hire, playing in up to ten bands at a time. One of his first recordings was with Tori Amos, on her (extremely hard to find) glam rock album Y Kant Tori Read. In 1988 he got the job of drumming for British band The Cult after their drummer left, and he joined GNR after Steven Adler was fired for refusing to give up drugs. His first show with the Gunners was in Rio de Janeiro, playing to 140,000 people. After GNR broke up, Sorum had a multitude of gigs, including playing on tracks for Slash and Duff’s other projects, touring with The Cult again, and releasing his own solo album in 2003.

In 2002, Slash, Duff and Sorum played a benefit gig and decided to start a project together, which left a vacancy for a singer. Names like Sebastian Bach (of Skid Row and now TV?s The Gilmore Girls fame) and Travis Meeks (from Days of The New) and at one stage even Courtney Love were bandied about, but they clearly weren?t anything like Axl. How to replace the most arrogant man in rock? With one of the most fucked up ? Scott Weiland from Stone Temple Pilots.

STP was formed in 1990 when Weiland met bassist Robert DeLeo at a Black Flag concert and discovered that they were both dating the same woman. The group rode the grunge wave to stardom in the early nineties. While critics claimed they sounded like the poor man?s Pearl Jam, they sold seven million copies of their debut album Core in 1992, and its 1994 follow-up Purple stayed at #1 in the US for three weeks. A year later, Weiland was arrested for the first time for crack and heroin possession and given one year?s probation. Weiland is a man with many problems. As well as refusing to take medication for his bi polar disorder, because it flattens his personality, Weiland also had to deal with Hustler receiving photos of him and Courtney Love in a compromising position, which luckily publisher Larry Flynt refused to print. STP managed to squeeze out another three albums and a Greatest Hits collection in between his stints in rehab and jail, but Weiland caused problems for the whole band, and by their last tour he was trading punches with other band members on stage.

Despite this, Velvet Revolver was happy to take him on board. “Scott’s whole problem is tangible ? it’s just a drug problem. It’s not something completely insane that we can?t understand,” said Slash. Indeed, the video for Velvet Revolver?s second single ‘Fall To Pieces’ even depicts Weiland overdosing and being rescued by Slash.

Weiland had worked with the band in 2002 on songs for the soundtracks to The Italian Job and Hulk although at the time these songs were supposed to be one-off projects. Then in May 2003 he was arrested yet again for drug possession. Although he was ordered into rehab, a judge allowed him to be released to film a video. A month later, he was announced as the official vocalist of the group.

The final member of Velvet Revolver who isn’t as well known is Dave Kushner ? who actually went to school with Slash, and who played in Duff’s band Loaded, as well as being a session musician for various big names. With Slash’s solos being very flashy, Kushner compliments him perfectly by slipping under the radar.

Live, Velvet Revolver plays not just their new songs from their album Contraband, but also some of GNR’s less Axl-y songs (such as ‘Mr Brownstone’) and a couple of STP hits. The connection between the two bands isn’t so hard to see – Weiland says in the official band biography that STP’s hit ‘Sex Type Thing’ was written based on the low vocal of GNR’s ‘It’s So Easy’. Velvet Revolver quickly moved from playing small clubs to gigs of 15,000 people.
“I call it the Evveil Knievel factor,” Weiland told Newsweek. “He filled stadiums, but not because people wanted to see him make the jump. They wanted to see if he’d crash and burn”.

It doesn’t appear that Velvet Revolver will be crashing and burning any time soon. Hitting 40 has apparently had a mellowing effect on Slash ? during one show in Chicago, the audience started chanting “Fuck Axl Rose!” to which Slash merely replied, “Was that really necessary?”


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