IT’S SO EASY
METAL SLUDGE EXCLUSIVE: For the first time, here is a detailed interview with Kevin Lawrence, Axl Rose’s first-ever guitarist in a 1983 band called Rapidfire.
By Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge Editor at Large
LOS ANGELES – Axl Rose is among the biggest rock stars in the world with an estimated net worth of $150 million, and meanwhile, guitarist Kevin Lawrence from Rose’s first-ever band called Rapidfire is struggling just like the rest of us, a former internet techie who laid to rest his dreams of rock fame right around the time Guns N’ Roses was skyrocketing in the late 1980’s with “Appetite For Destruction,” one of the biggest-selling albums in history.
But did you know Rose had recorded a five-song demo with Rapidfire in 1983? After a series of false starts that included lawyers going back and forth in addition to a failed kickstarter campaign, the Rapidfire tapes are scheduled to be released Nov. 1 in the form of a worldwide CD and internet streams.
There has been a few press releases about Rapidfire through the years, plus a sample from a couple of songs has more than 100,000 hits on youtube, but in this Metal Sludge exclusive, Lawrence talks for the first time about what it was like to be in Axl Rose’s first band.
Grab a seat, shut the door, and tune in attentively. This is going to be good.
METAL SLUDGE: OK, tell me about the first time you met Axl Rose.
We were hanging out in front of the Troubadour, a club in Hollywood, and he was outside smoking a cigarette. I came out for some air, and he and we just started talking. He was cool-looking, and he asked if I was in a band, and I said, “Yeah, but we’re looking for a singer.” He said he was a singer, and I asked if had a P.A., and he said yeah, so I told him to come audition. He came out, and we hired him on the spot.
I think 19 or 20. I was 19, and he was a year older.
SLUDGE: Was he as good as he would eventually be in Guns N’ Roses, or was his voice still developing?
He was good. Like I said, we hired him on the spot, but who could ever foresee that kind of popularity? I would say he was definitely one of the best singers in the whole Troubadour scene, and we got him.
SLUDGE: Tell me about his personality. What was he like back then?
Very mellow. I knew him as Bill Bailey. I don’t know Axl Rose.
SLUDGE: How long were you together?
Like two months. We played a couple of parties and played Gazzarri’s a bunch of times, and we even won battle of the bands there. We got good very quickly, and then I got us into the studio. I had some money, and I paid for it all. All the songs were already written on sheets, and we taught Axl the melodies, and he was actually a pleasure to be in a band with. We would practice and hand out flyers, and he always showed up on time. He was not the way people would think he would be.
SLUDGE: What about hanging out? Would you have fun and scam on chicks together and that sort of stuff?
Not really. It was more about the rock and roll. He had a girlfriend, and I didn’t, so I was more the one whoring it up back then,
SLUDGE: What were the names of songs you recorded?
“Ready to Rumble,” “All Night Long,” “Closure,” “On The Run,” and “Prowler.”
SLUDGE: Three clichés out of five, not bad.
SLUDGE: Which was the best song?
I would say the two best songs were “Ready to Rumble” and “Closure.”
We were doing regular gigs at Gazzarri’s and stuff, and our image was pretty much early-80s with jeans and spandex and denim and leather and stuff, and then one night Axl showed up with Izzy Stradlin looking like the “Welcome to The Jungle” guy. He had died his white leather jacket pink, his hair was everywhere with like four cans of aqua net, and I was all, “What’s this about?” He said it was his new image. We did the gig and had an amicable chat. It’s not a salacious story. I was like, “This is the direction I want to go, and you can do your thing, and we’ll do our thing,” and we shook hands, and that was it.”
SLUDGE: Did you see again much through the years?
Not really. He hung with a different Hollywood crowd than I did. I don’t want to say the wrong thing, but I wasn’t involved with what he and Izzy where involved with.
SLUDGE: I guess I can read between the lines on that one.
The weird thing was, I saw him like 15 years ago at Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, and he was like, “Hey Kevin,” like we hadn’t missed a beat. People started kind of gathering around, so eventually he said, “I’ve got to go,” but we were always amicable. The only problems we have had were about releasing this Rapidfire CD, but that was all speaking through lawyers, and for all I know, he probably doesn’t even give a shit and barely even knows what’s going on.
SLUDGE: Through the years, were you envious of Guns N’ Roses?
I felt bad, sure, but I was happy for him. I would have liked to be part of it. Slash was a better guitar player than me, but maybe I could have played bass.
SLUDGE: At the time, when Axl left, did you keep going? What happened?
I took over the singing, and we added a second guitar player for a little while, but we didn’t call it Rapidfire anymore. There were a revolving door of musicians, and I ended up moving to the San Fernando Valley.
SLUDGE: Why have you waited so long to release the Rapidfire tapes? Why didn’t you do it when Guns N’ Roses was so huge, or shortly afterward?
I wasn’t out to ride his coat tails. It was just a demo that we did, and to be honest, I didn’t know I still had it. Then one day I was moving, and I opened a box, and there it was. I was like, “Oh man, this is going to be great.” I got it digitized, which was really hard to do from an eight track reel to reel, but I did it and remixed it in a studio.
SLUDGE: Does it sound good?
It does. It sounds fantastic. It really does, and I am my biggest critic.
SLUDGE: Nowadays, when you tell people the story of you were in Axl’s first band, what is the reaction?
Most of the time, people just say “No way.” But I have no reason to lie. My lawyer has kept everything very hush-hush and secret. The reason I never released it back in the day is because it was just wasn’t my thing. I wasn’t part of Guns N’ Roses, and like I said, I didn’t want to ride his coat tails, but when I found it again, I thought to myself: “I have to release this.” You know why? Because it’s more a piece of history, and it happens to be good, too. It’s a piece of history, and anyone who is an Axl Rose fan or a Guns N’ Roses fan, then this is truly a must-have for their collection.
SLUDGE: Oh by the way, did you ever go to a Guns N’ Roses concert?
No, I’ve never seen them.
I dunno. I guess I like AC/DC better.
SLUDGE: Tell me more about Axl. It feels like you’ve been holding back.
Like I said, he was great to be in a band with. He always showed up on time. I had no complaints with him at all. Between all the members in the band, he and I actually hung out the most because the others all had girlfriends.
SLUDGE: Do you have any specific memories at all? Anything the Sludge readers would really enjoy?
I remember Axl and I sitting on a rooftop in Westwood, talking about when we were gonna be rock stars on day, and the one really specific memory I have is he said that all he wanted was just a pair of snake-skin boots. So like I said, he and I kind of hung out in Hollywood, while the other guys all had different lives. He and I were really dedicated.
SLUDGE: What was his favorite food, his favorite place to eat?
God, I don’t remember.
SLUDGE: What about drinking. Did you guys drink much?
Never really knew him to get drunk or really saw him drinking much. I never saw him intoxicated. He always seemed in control. I wish I could give you a more salacious story, but the truth is, he was really business-like. He did gigs, we hung out a bit, he came to rehearsal, and he was always gung-ho. I think he liked being in the band, but I also think that ultimately he wanted to be in a band with Izzy. I mean, even through we were in a band together, we were more like casual friends than best friends.
SLUDGE: Where did he live at the time? In Hollywood or the Valley?
I think he kind of lived from place to place, doing the couch tour or living with his girlfriend, Gina.
SLUDGE: How did Axl get from place to place back then? Did he drive or did he take a bus or get rides?
I think he borrowed his girlfriend’s car most of the time.
SLUDGE: What kind of car was it?
I’m not sure, but I think it was a Toyota Corolla or something like that, a little white cracker-box thing.
SLUDGE: Tell me more about Gina. What was her last name?
Not sure. I don’t remember.
(EDITOR’S NOTE; Her last name is Siler)
SLUDGE: Was she super beautiful?
She was cute.
SLUDGE: What was Axl’s response to the Rapidfire demo? Did he like it?
I don’t think he ever heard it, honestly, because we broke up three days after doing the recording.
When I saw him years later, he was like, “Hey, can I get one of those tapes?” He gave me his phone number, and I called him, but he never called back.
No, I didn’t keep it. Like I said, this was years ago.
SLUDGE: What about pot? Did he smoke pot?
I don’t think so.
SLUDGE: Did you smoke pot?
Yeah, I smoked pot, but never with him.
SLUDGE: By the way, how well did you know Izzy?
Well enough not to get along with him.
SLUDGE: Why? Did you think he was going to steal Axl?
I knew he would try. I knew it was coming. I knew that eventually that Izzy’s plan was to be in a band together with him.
SLUDGE: Tell me more about Izzy, specifically why you didn’t like him.
He was just rude, but I don’t want to dig myself into a hole here. I don’t want to trash anyone. Izzy and I just never became friends. Let’s put it that way.
SLUDGE: Do you have any more details at all about Axl? Anything?
There really isn’t that much more to tell. It was almost like the video from “Welcome to The Jungle,” when he first arrives in L.A., just a farm kid with piece of straw in his mouth. He wasn’t timid, but he definitely wasn’t Axl Rose yet. He was Bill Bailey.
SLUDGE: Was he fun to hang out with? Did you enjoy his company?
I did enjoy his company because he was really professional, a pleasure to work with. We were from different places. He was from Indiana.
SLUDGE: I know, but to me, when you’re 19 years old and in a band together, a guitar player and a singer would seem to know EVERTHING about each other, even things like how much ketchup he puts on his French fries. I guess I just have a different view of what a young band is like.
Well, maybe that’s why we never made it. Maybe you’re right. I would have liked that. I certainly didn’t get that out of the other members, either. Basically, Axl and I would see each other at the Troubadour. That was our social hub, and that’s where we would meet a lot of the time. It was like, “OK, I’ll meet you at the Troub at 8 o’clock to pass out flyers.”
SLUDGE: Was Axl in your house?
Yes, he’s been to my house.
SLUDGE: Where did you live?
SLUDGE: Oh, were you a rich kid?
SLUDGE: Did he ever sleep over?
No, he would just come and hang out and do whatever, then he would head home and we’d meet at the Troubadour or whatever. I guess I don’t have anything that exciting about him, and I’m not going to embellish or lie.But the real truth is, when Axl got with Izzy, they just had a different vibe, and I wasn’t about to get into the shit they were doing.
SLUDGE: Let’s just say it: You mean heroin?
Well, Axl never did heroin in front of me, and I decline to continue this line of questioning.
You know, the first gig Axl and Izzy did together after we had parted ways, I was there at the Troubadour. It was me and my bandmate Chuck and two waitresses in the whole place, and that was it.
SLUDGE: So it was a slow climb for what would become Guns N’ Roses.
SLUDGE: Now just to back up a little bit, you recorded the demo tape on May 25, 1983, and you played a gig on May 28 and broke up after that gig, so there was just three days in between, right?
Yeah, we just decided to head in different directions and split up. He was like, “I’m going to play with Izzy,” and it was totally amicable.
At a place called Telstar in Burbank.
SLUDGE: Who was the producer.
Me. We had an engineer named Phil Singher who just did what I told him to do.
SLUDGE: Did the engineer make it big?
Not that I know of. The only reason I remember his name is because his name is on the demo. It was just a little eight-track studio. The whole thing cost $200.
SLUDGE: Was that a lot of money to you at the time?
Fuck yeah it was, but I wanted a demo. We had a good singer, but he quit, so I never made copies of it.
SLUDGE: By the way, did Axl ever meet your parents?
No, he didn’t meet my parents. My parents never came to my gigs.
SLUDGE: Really? Why not?
My dad was just against the whole thing, and my mom, I think she came one time to one gig.
SLUDGE: Did you resent the fact that your parents weren’t more supportive?
Sure I did. I remember later on, my dad pointed to Axl Rose and said, “See? If you would have just kept on hanging out with him, you would have made it.”
Gerry Gittelson can be reached at Gerryg123@hotmail.com