KIM FOWLEY TALKS ABOUT GUNS N’ ROSES/THE RUNAWAYS. INTERVIEW BY GERRY GITTELSON (METAL SLUDGE CONTRIBUTOR).
“Guns N’ Roses were the last rock and roll band of the 20th century that meant anything:” Here’s an exclusive Metal Sludge interview with Kim Fowley
By Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge Contributor
HOLLYWOOD – In our continuing Metal Sludge series on Guns N’ Roses in honor of the legendary Los Angeles band being inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, we tracked down Kim Fowley, a famous (and infamous) rock impresario who at one point made a bid for involvement before the band was signed to Geffen.
In a recent Sludge interview, original Guns N’ Roses manager Vicky Hamilton had plenty to say about Fowley (CLICK HERE), and here Fowley takes the opportunity to respond.
No surprise, the always outspoken Fowley pulls no punches.
SLUDGE: Guns N’ Roses just got inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. Your thoughts on the band?
FOWLEY: It was madness, genius, violence and kindness. They lived in the future and were fighting to survive their subhuman presence, but they had superhuman future dreams. They were interesting that way.
SLUDGE: We did an interview with Guns N’ Roses’ first manager, Vicky Hamilton, and she seemed to remember clear as day you offering Guns N’ Roses $25,000 for publishing rights to three of their best songs, including “Welcome to the Jungle”. What’s your version?
FOWLEY: You mean in the apartment on Clarke Street? I didn’t personally offer them any money for anything.
SLUDGE: What the fuck?
FOWLEY: Keep in mind, here was the history to that point: Jenny Price was my secretary, she later went on to do A & R and discovered Jewel for Atlantic and other things. At the time, she was my secretary working in Burbank, while I was living in a suburb near Chicago but I also had an L.A. office.
This was before the Internet, of course. She and David Carr, who had a double degree in music, I used to call and find out what was up in the L.A. club scene. Jenny was a tiny redhead, cute, with the brain of a 50-year-old but she looked 18 but she was 21 or 22 at the time. She raved to me that Guns N’ Roses was god and that I must get involved. I said OK, give me their number.
SLUDGE: OK, I am with you.
FOWLEY: She gave me Izzy’s number. I called and said: “I’m Kim Fowley. Jenny Price says you’re god. She says you’re all right, and I’m interested in working with you.”
I asked him what he wanted and to send me a demo, and that’s when they had a three-song demo. He sent the demo, and the first song was “Welcome to the Jungle.” This was 1985 or so. I called back and said: “This is great.”
Izzy said: “Did you read my demands?” He wanted his own private railroad car like the 1920s with a kitchen and dining room with linen table cloths and that kind of stuff. That was rather unique. Usually they go for the private-airplane thing (laughs). There were a bunch of other demands typical of rock and roll dreams in terms of mansions, cars, girls, jewelry, president of the United States, king of the world. How would you want to live? Those were all on the list.
FOWLEY: I had to check with others besides Jenny Price about the band and what Guns N’ Roses was all about, and when I spoke to Izzy, I told him: “I can’t work with you.”
He asked me why, and I said it was because your demands are astounding and intricate. At the time, I was merely an indy producer doing music publishing and media manipulation, kind of a one-man show in a tiny office. I couldn’t put them on salary or subsidize their lives, I told them, plus I told Izzy: “You guys have radical behavior. Unexpected adventures might spring on me, so I don’t want or need those problems.”
SLUDGE: But that was not the end of it, right?
FOWLEY: No. Izzy says: “You’re weird like us,” but I said, “No, I’m weird in a different way. My weird still has logic and reality governing how weird I can be. You work on it, and I’m stuck on it, dealing with the balance of everyday issues.”
I just didn’t need those problems, and I was referring to alcohol and the psycho-chemical culture because I don’t do drugs and I don’t drink, but these guys were two-fisted drinkers and out there in the drug world, and I didn’t want to be a part of it. I wasn’t interested in that. Izzy said he was disappointed, but I just told him the truth – that I couldn’t afford this and that if he wanted to be on a major label, then he needed a team of people, not just one guy. But I wished him lots of luck.
SLUDGE: Well, at some point you ended up in their living room, or did you not?
FOWLEY: This was on Tuesday, and we talked again on Thursday and the following Saturday. The last day, I was in the bathtub, and Izzy called imploring me to get out of the bathtub because he was having an emergency. I said: “Hey, I already told you I can’t work with you, but what’s the emergency?” It was about three of the guys in the band and probably a mother and a daughter, and there was a big argument of some kind at Sunset and Gardner, where the band lived at the time in this cramped space, and something about the police either coming in or watching the house, blah blah blah. The three Guns N’ Roses guys did not want to be interrogated, so they disappeared.
I called my friend, Dave Libert, who was a manager and an agent in Hollywood. He was quite a guy, a tour manager for Alice Cooper, one of the top guys in the world and very practical. I told Izzy: “Let me call Dave Libert and tell him what’s happening.” Long story short, Dave and another guy, Alan Okun, who was a lawyer, ran over there, figured out the problem and solved it somehow or another.
So later, Izzy calls again to say thanks, then he said it would be great if maybe I could produce the band and help with their career building and merchandise, that kind of stuff. But as a daily type of thing, I couldn’t do it, and I still didn’t want to be involved. Life is too short to go through stress like that, but if I was going to come back to L.A., then maybe.
Well, 30 days later, I did find myself back in L.A. as a consultant and producer for a band – it was the Reform School Girls with a different name. Turns out, Axl Rose was a good friend of the lead guitar player. Back in those days, all the bands, they were all two-fisted drinkers who fought in the street and had stripper girlfriends and thrashed apartments, and if they had died black hair, they were in the forefront.
Anyway, so I am in the studio one day and Axl drops in to visit. He says to me: “Everyone is talking about you and how great you are.” He said someone had offered the band $50,000 but he said no thank you because he thought Guns N’ Roses could get more. Even back then, Axl knew there would be millions of dollars coming in the mailbox one day, and he was right. That’s why when someone had made an offer to help the band, he said goodbye and to have a nice day.
SLUDGE: So now you were interested?
FOWLEY: Well, at this time in L.A., everyone was talking about Guns N’ Roses and how this band was going to be gigantic. I went to Vicky Hamilton’s house on Clarke Street. I told her the band had sent me a demo in Illinois, and that Axl had come to visit in the studio, and we were buddies now. I told them I didn’t have the money they required either short-term or long-term, but by then I had seen them live, and I really thought they were going to be tremendous. I said: “All I can do is get you record-company money. I can’t pay you directly just like I can’t pay myself directly.”
So Axl says, “Well, it’s 3 p.m., can you get record-label people here in this apartment by 6?”
I figured his enthusiasm has got to mean something, so I called Ron Fair at Chrysalis and his assistant, and I called a few others, Capitol and few others, and said: “Hey, you better sign this band by tomorrow.”
The guy at Capital, Dennis, he wrote a letter right on the spot and delivered it to the house, saying he would sign the band based on the demo and their reputation on the street. The band was impressed that I had two record companies interested within three hours, and Axl said: “Wow, Kim, you’re not a bad hustler. You got some guys to come down here, and maybe those guys will pay us and pay you, and we’ll get a record deal and all that.”
SLUDGE: What about Vicky Hamilton?
FOWLEY: Vicky Hamilton was not pleased. I remember her ordering me out of the apartment. She said: “Thank you very much, Mr. Fowley, but I am in charge of this project, and even though you got three different employees from two record companies interested in one afternoon, I have it under control. Where this group of guys is, this is my home, so don’t bring anyone over here. Please leave.”
It was her apartment, she was feeding them, and she was, in effect, managing them, not Libert and Okun, who were my partners on this, and the thing just went by too quick. I said, “Oh well, goodbye and good luck,” and I walked away. I couldn’t continue. I felt bad about it.
Thinking back, maybe it was the worth the struggle had I took it all the way, kind of like a Malcolm McLaren but with a different result. But the other part of me said no, I don’t need these problems.
SLUDGE: That’s a much different version than the one we heard from Hamilton.
FOWLEY: It’s the truth. What did I get? I got my name on “Appetite For Destruction” as special thanks, and I appeared in some books. If I had a fresher memory, maybe I could tell you more, but there were a lot of people in Guns N’ Roses’ corner before they got famous, and I was one of them. They went on to be gigantic.
OK, what happened to Kim Fowley? I had hits before GNR, and after they broke up I had more hits. My career continued in an irregular pattern, but I was always proud of the Runaways and producing the “American Graffiti” soundtrack and publishing Motley Crue and Blue Oyster Cult and co-writing with KISS, Alice Cooper, Steppenwolf, Blue Cheer, Leon Russell. As a writer, I’ve had songs covered by everyone from Led Zeppelin to Nirvana, so I had a career that worked for me, at least, gold and platinum albums. I’ve made a living and been a household word with 53 years in the music business, seven movies being released. I am an actor, too, and I’m in a new movie about the Sunset Strip that premiered at South By Southwest a few weeks ago, and it’s due to be released. Also, I’m a four-time cancer survivor. I’ve had a lot of songwriting publishing income. I’ve done OK.
SLUDGE: The Runaways movie was horrible. Sorry, Kim, but it’s true.
FOWLEY: That’s because it wasn’t a movie about the Runaways, it came from a script from the singer, Cherie Currie. It was her story from her point of view, not the story of the band. There was no rock and roll story. It was more like a night-time soap opera like “The OC” or something. We didn’t know about the family issues that were in the movie. The Runaways is more like an afterthought in the movie. Her dad and mom and sisters and aunts, all that, that’s the back story, the background story. It wasn’t the experience of the Runaways, and it wasn’t my experience.
SLUDGE: Going back to Guns N’ Roses, what was it that made them so special? Surely you have an opinion.
FOWLEY: Their sense of interaction musically. The arrangements were brilliant and rhythmically sophisticated in terms of tone and tempo. The way the songs were set up and architecturally designed, there were some real brains in the songwriting and arrangement dynamics and counterpoints.
SLUDGE: And your thought when you saw the band live?
FOWLEY: They were god. When I saw them live at the Troubadour, at the end, smoke came on, red lights were flashing like a railroad crossing. I don’t remember exactly, but they really made an impression. They were ambitious and knew where they were going. They knew they were going to be No. 1 in the world. There was no hesitation. They were very self-aware.
SLUDGE: So what about the issue of offering to buy their songs for $25,000?
FOWLEY: This is my response: I never even heard “Paradise City” until I saw it on MTV years later, I believe. The other song had a D in the title, I don’t remember exactly. Those were the songs I remember. I did hear “November Rain” a little later, and that was brilliant, but their songs, or buying the rights to their songs, was not discussed that day in their living room at Vicky Hamilton’s apartment. I was not offering money. I was discussing record-company candidates and my credentials. Vicky Hamilton was not a good manager, but she had it in her blood. She is blonde, north European-looking, but the blonde hair and blue eyes, that had nothing to do with anything. She was OK, not a Marilyn Monroe or Jane Mansfield. She wasn’t like a movie actress or a model, but she was a pleasant-looking blonde woman sitting there. As far as threatening her in the laundry room that day is concerned, she went into the laundry room as I exited and said my goodbyes. She was washing their clothes. She was doing GNR’s laundry. I just thought she was too pretty from her perspective to by a laundress washing t-shirts and socks and underwear and jeans. I didn’t block her. She was already in the laundry room. There were no threats, that’s for sure.
SLUDGE: Well, that’s not what she says.
FOWLEY: I’m 10 feet tall and real boney and creepy looking, even on Easter Sunday or eating ice cream on July 4, I’m strange-looking with dagger eyes. Her perception of Kim Fowley, she forgets my own talents, past and future, and that I continued my career.
SLUDGE: Do you think there ever will be another band like Guns N’ Roses?
FOWELEY: No, I think Hollywood has a history, and once you make it, it’s like the bible — if you turn back and look, you turn to salt. You don’t turn around in this city or you turn to salt. Biblically, once Guns N’ Roses became Guns N’ Roses, there was no reason to deal with anyone else as far as appreciating them and liking them. They were too busy with the people on their team, whoever that became on a daily basis, and too busy with their individual careers and lifestyles.
I was just somebody who thought they were good and tried to get involved for three hours once, and then I went about my business. But I do remember the night Axl got his check from Geffen. He walked into the Rainbow while I was eating dinner with a friend and came up to me. He said look at this, and it was a check for $37,500 made out to Guns N’ Roses, a Geffen check. He had it in his wallet. He asked me what I thought about it.
I told him he should buy me dinner, but he said it was the middle of the night, so he couldn’t cash it. I think I bought him a steak or a burger and said: “I’m very happy for you, Axl. Good for you.”
What a strange situation to have no money in your pocket but a check for $37,500. The next day he went to the bank.
Another time, before this, I bumped into Axl and Vicky Hamilton at another restaurant down the street, Ben Franks. I told Axl that night that he was going to make it but to be careful about fame and fortune and to be careful about what you dream about. I thought Axl might be the child of Marlon Brando and Janis Joplin, he looks like the dad and sings like the mom. I never saw Izzy or Duff again, but Steven Adler was always a friendly guy, a hey-how-you-doin’ type of guy at the Rainbow. Slash was always friendly to me, but we don’t hang out.
SLUDGE: Final thoughts?
FOWLEY: Guns N’ Roses were the last rock and roll band of the 20th century that meant anything. They were the last one. I don’t consider Nirvana a rock and roll band. Guns N’ Roses is the last great rock and roll band, ever. No one can take their place. When will there be a new Guns N’ Roses? Don’t hold your breath. It’s like Elvis. Never, I guess.