"Live and Let Die" Former Guns N’ Roses Manager Tells All Part 3
Alan Niven in Australia on tour with Guns N’ Roses 1988
"Live and Let Die": Former Guns N’ Roses Manager Tells All – Part 3
By Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge contributor
PHOENIX — With Guns N’ Roses set to be inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame this coming April, METAL SLUDGE is utterly intrigued by all things GNR.
We tracked down Alan Niven, Guns N’ Roses’ manager beginning in 1986 when the band first singed to Geffen through the “Appetite For Destruction” era until 1991, when Niven was forced out just before the release of “Use Your Illusion I” and “Use Your Illusion II.”
In this, the third part of Metal Sludge’s three-part series with the manager who guided Guns N’ Roses into America’s Led Zeppelin, Niven lets it all hang out. You can read read part one (HERE) and part two (HERE).
But this final chapter, this is like gold. This is all-new Guns N’ Roses news, the likes of which no one has ever heard before.
Compelling stuff. Onward and upward.
Aerosmith members on drum riser with Steven Adler, Axl Rose & Slash
METAL SLUDGE: OK, here we are with part three. Backing up just a bit, we were talking about the Aerosmith/Guns N’ Roses tour, the one that Axl didn’t want to do but you kind of forced him into it, and that caused a rift. Looking back now, when you consider “Appetite For Destruction” really took off following the momentum of that tour, was that the turning point? Was that the key to Guns N’ Roses success?
I don’t know if anything was a turning point. What you have is a progression of history, and what happened is what created the history.
METAL SLUDGE: There was a lot of success ahead, but some tough times ahead, too – the deaths at the Donnington concert, the ex-Jetboy guy Todd Crew OD’ing in New York City, the firing of Steven Adler, the firing of yourself. Can I ask you about some of these things?
METAL SLUDGE: Let’s start with Steven Adler. When you and the band fired him, how tough a decision was that?
Losing Steven was frustrating and painful. But we tried and tried to pull him through. The problem was, he just could not connect to the more intricate material Axl was writing for the Illusion albums. Time and again, Slash and the others would bemoan that he just couldn’t get it, and that he would play the same section the same way twice instead of fixing it.
The bullshit that he was fired for his addiction is just that – bullshit. It was a performance matter. There were other issues between Steven and Axl that certainly didn’t help, and may have been sufficient within themselves to see him go. I will say the band never quite felt the same after Steven Adler was gone. He may not be the best drummer in the world, but he had a great exuberance to his playing when he was “on.”
"Losing Steven was frustrating and painful." Alan Niven
METAL SLUDGE: The deaths at the English rock festival at Donnington, when two fans were accidentally crushed to death. Your thoughts?
Slash put it best when he said that the sense of freewheeling carefreedom dissipated after that moment. It was a heartbreaking day. You don’t go play rock shows for this to happen. Rock and roll is the highest means of celebrating the significance, relevance and vitality of every soul. You don’t want to come home grieving for ones lost.
METAL SLUDGE: What about Axl’s chronic lateness. What were some of the methods you used to try to coax him to show up on time?
Well, like I said, I understand stage fright, and the difficulty of a singer’s consistent commitment to excellent performance. But being late is just plain ill-mannered and rude — to your paying audience. In some situations, it is actually and genuinely dangerous to their safety and well-being at the paid party you are throwing for them.
METAL SLUDGE: What about your general comments about Axl’s professionalism?
Would you want to be on his crew, and have to break down a stage, at 3.30 a.m. and pack it and drive it 200 miles to rebuild it for the next night’s show? I worry that one day some sad accident will occur because of crew fatigue. It’s one thing to reserve the right not to be high-profile, to not pander to the insatiable appetite of superficial media, to be aloof. It’s quite another to put your own people at risk and not appreciate their contribution. Some people have little sense of appreciation and a high sense of entitlement.
But one thing I will say about Axl Rose. He was interesting. He was frustrating and beguiling, but he was never boring.
METAL SLUDGE: Oh, one thing I was wondering about: Was there ever a time when Guns N’ Roses almost broke up before all the success?
Yes, in Phoenix. There was a riot. I sat the band down and said, “Look, I made a commitment to this band, but if you decide on another singer, I’ll stand by you.” They thought about it, too.
METAL SLUDGE: What about a crazy Guns N’ Roses moment that’s never been talked about. Give us something that no one has ever heard about, Alan.
Well, OK. There was this one time, we’re at the airport, at LAX, and Izzy is showing me how he has hidden his smack in a small boom box in the battery compartment. I tell him to get rid of it now! He does. He comes back, he’s standing next to me, and we’re watching the swirl of passengers below – we were in a reserved area up top in the international building – and Izzy collapses. Yeah, he got rid of his shit – he swallowed it. He was “out” the whole flight, according to our tour manager, Doug Goldstein. I had to wait for Axl who did not show up for the flight. When Izzy woke up, he didn’t even know he was in Tokyo. He thought he was still in the Valley. Steven had to nudge him and say, “Does that look like the San Fernando Valley?”
Childhood friends from Indiana, Izzy & Axl share a fun moment on the road.
METAL SLUDGE: So go through your last day with the Guns N’ Roses, the day you were fired. What happened?
I was in the Meadowlands, in New Jersey, in 1991. I got a phone call in the production office. It was Axl. He very quietly said, “I can’t work with you anymore.” I said, “Sorry to hear that. I’ll be back in Los Angeles in two days, let’s go out and have dinner together and talk about it.” That was the last time I ever spoke to him. To this day, we’ve never spoken a word to each other.
METAL SLUDGE: The others went along with it?
They had to. My understanding of the situation was that Axl stated to the band he would not go on tour if I remained as manager. Didn’t give the others much of a choice there, did he?… By this point, Axl was kind of taking over. Let’s look at the first thing he did once I left: He had everyone else in the band sign the name over to him. It was a control move between Axl and Doug Goldstein. They both knew I would never stand for anything like that. Axl never even brought it up when I was the manager because he knew what I would tell him to do with it.
METAL SLUDGE: So what are you saying? Axl and Doug Goldstein had a secret alliance?
That sounds very accurate.
METAL SLUDGE: Wow.
All the prep work for “Illusions” and its tour, all the renegotiations, everything had been done. So I was then dispensable. Simple really. … I effectively sold my rights to all pipeline and future earnings for a fraction of their worth back in 1991. Such was my emotional condition at the time that all I desired was to be rid of all future dealings with Axl and Goldstein.
I did not get contrary or better advice from those whose responsibility it was to make such effort – like my attorney at the time, my accountant at the time. I am probably more disappointed in them in the longterm than members of Guns N’ Roses. Overall though, it was my own decision and thus my own responsibility, and I made it for reasons of emotional and spiritual health. I have not been paid any further monies by GNR since 1991.
I think that both Axl and Goldstein were, at that time, both controlling and greedy. Axl complained all the time that Steven Adler got a percentage of composing royalties. I had recommended that the band have a share-and-share-alike approach to such income — as did Van Halen, Great White, and others – because my observation was that the primary factors that destroyed bands were women and arguing over differential splits of income, especially mechanical royalties. Hence, I would recommend equal sharing of royalties — and not women!
In any case with GNR, Axl got more than anyone else, and Adler got less. The other three got the same: less than Axl and more than Adler. Ultimately, the fracture between Axl and Adler was exacerbated by the two factors that always rupture bands — money and a woman.
Axl Rose, Doug Goldstein, John Kalodner & Slash
METAL SLUDGE: You settled for $3.5 million. How did you come up with that number, and was there a lot of bargaining. Did you start at $5 million or anything like that?
I was emotionally ground and feeling down at that point. My attitude was just give me the check so I don’t have to deal with any of you again. It sounds like a lot, but $3.5 million was much less than I was already due in sales of records, certainly way less. I had an awful lot more money due to me compared to that amount. And by the time you get through with the IRS and with my silent partners, it was not a lot of money, though I never got into it for the money.
I guess I just came up with a number to sell my rights back to the band so I wouldn’t have to chase anyone for commissions. The $3.5 million, I literally just pulled that number out of the air, and it was agreed. We didn’t bother by doing due diligence and doing a forensic accounting. Let’s just say I had more than that in the pipeline, plus there was no sunset clause in our contract, so Guns N’ Roses was getting a bargain, and I was getting a clean break. I didn’t want to chase money and be fighting with people. I didn’t really care.
Guns N’ Roses (minus Izzy/Adler) with new members Gilby Clarke, Matt Sorum
& Dizzy Reed at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards show in Los Angeles.
METAL SLUDGE: Looking back, between Guns N’ Roses and Great White, you were managing two multi-platinum bands at the same time. Did you have a bunch of assistants?
Not at first. I knew there was a problem when I was catching a plane at LAX and passed myself catching another plane. (laughs) Looking back now, I don’t know how I did it. I was entirely on my own till the end of 1987, and by November, Great White had gone gold, and by December, Guns N’ Roses had sold a quarter of a million records. That’s doing pretty well for a one-man operation.
METAL SLUDGE: Do you ever remember another manager trying to steal away Guns N’ Roses?
No, but one time Axl asked Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch to be their manager, they’re at Q Prime, and they were managing Metallica. But Peter had the grace and ethics to say no. Cliff and Peter are good people. In my experience, they’re really good people, and they’re good at what they do.
Izzy Stradlin, Steven Adler, Duff McKagan, Slash & W. Axl Rose as Guns N’ Roses
They went from back stage rags to sold out stadiums & became millionaires!
METAL SLUDGE: Who in the band have you stayed most close with?
Izzy Stradlin. I think it’s self-evident what he thought about me leaving by the fact he left three months after I did. Later, he was involved in The Project that would become Velvet Revolver. I actually had dinner with Slash and Duff one night, and they asked me to get involved as the manager of the project, but for a number of reasons, I thought it was a bad idea. The level of expectations was just too high.
METAL SLUDGE: Oh, one last thing before I forget: Did you ever get in a fight or a physical confrontation with anyone in Guns N’ Roses?
Well, I popped Jack Russell once, and I don’t care who knows that!
Gerry Gittelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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