:http://www.legendaryrockinterviews.com/2012/04/22/legendary-rock-interview-with-guns-n-roses-insider-and-author-marc-canter/Legendary Rock Interview with Guns N’ Roses insider and author Marc Canter
Marc Canter had a front row seat and a backstage pass to the rise of “The World’s Most Dangerous Band” a.k.a. Guns N’ Roses. The band attended his wedding and Slash played at his son’s bar mitzvah. If you’ve read Slash or Steven’s books you’ve probably already heard about how Marc, Slash’s old BMX buddy, created a astonishing backlog of memorobilia, notes, setlists, video and audio of his old pals rise to the top. Talk to Steven or Slash and they will tell you that THEIR jaw dropped when they finally saw the scope of the photos and the “you are there” nature of Marc’s fantastic book, RECKLESS ROAD. It’s over 300 pages of pure kickass, it’s that friggin good. Marc Canter also runs the world famous, historic Canter’s Deli in L.A. and if you ever run into him be aware that he may just have better GNR stories than the guys themselves so make sure to pick up a copy of his book along with having a bite to eat. We were spellbound by Marc’s recollections of the band, his thoughts on the legacy of the guys and the magic he witnessed from the very first day. Read on……Legendary Rock Interviews: Before we get into Guns N’ Roses I wanted to ask you a little about the world famous Deli you run in L.A, Canter’s Deli. How far back does the story on your place begin?
Marc Canter: It started in 1924 with my grandparents and his brothers in Jersey City, New Jersey and then in 1931 they moved to Los Angeles and around 1948 they separated from the brothers and moved to the Fairfax district and simply called it Canter’s and it’s been here in the same location since 1948 and it’s been a 24 hour Deli since 1953. The later part of the fifties was when it really started booming with the nightlife and back then we were the only place open so we pretty much had the market cornered and it would be movie stars from the left to the right on a nightly basis. The Beatles, Elvis and Marilyn Monroe would come in. In the 60s it became a hippie haven, around 66 or 67 it became ground zero during the night and day for the hippies. A lot of people didn’t want to serve them in their establishments but we never had any problem with that and we always served them so, word of mouth grew and it wasn’t a stretch to not only have the kids but the bands like The Turtles and The Doors. According to my dad we would never have any baked goods left in the mornings because everyone would come in high and they all wanted to eat sugar (laughs). He actually had to put in some lights to illuminate the corners of the place because they would find people smoking pot in the corners and we didn’t wanna get in any trouble for that from the cops. Frank Zappa would come in and have a table and it would draw a crowd. Frank would go home and the table would still be hopping and when Zappa would come back a day or so later it was always funny because the table would still be packed but just with totally different people. There was also a story about how Neil Young was making a dollar taxiing people back and forth from the strip to Canter’s deli (laughs). We didn’t know about it then but it was crazy, there would be so many people outside just hanging around on the strip and after the Whisky or those places closed there was really nowhere to go but Canter’s. I bumped into Jeff Beck at the deli and he told me that in the 60s after the Yardbirds would play the Whisky they would always come down because the food was good, we were open and the scene was right. I started working here in 1982 and I immediately started seeing the same thing, musicians, movie stars and all these people come in, eat, walk up to the register and pay the check and go, they don’t make a fuss or make special demands like “I wanna leave out the back door” or bring bodyguards or any of that. It’s all very normal. Honestly, most of the time, the other people eating don’t even notice they were there. I think they’re kind glad, I mean every once in a while you might do a double take and say “Hey, there’s Bono or Johnny Depp” and its not a big deal. Johnny used to come in here all the time and hit on our Deli cashier and she’d be like “No, no, no no not another actor or musician, move on” (laughs). We are also known for a lot of the items on our menu that keep bringing people back, chocolate chip danishes, cheesecakes in the bakery. We make our own pickles and pastrami and corn beef. The Matzo ball soup has baseball sized matzo balls, and that will definitely sober you up after a night of clubbing. We can seat about 400 people and after a big Friday or Saturday night it’s often quite a scene here. We get offers for reality TV shows and stuff because there’s so much going on that is something you’d only see at Canter’s.LRI: So you had this friend who tried to play guitar at some point in the early 80s…..(laughs). I’m guessing there was no top hat in mind at that point….
Marc: No, no top hat (laughs). We were about 11 and he was not Slash, he was Saul. He tried to steal my bike or was thinking about stealing it and saw it parked outside. He saw me, he kind of recognized me from school even though we weren’t friends yet we were both in the same grade, just not in the same class. He thought about it and instead of stealing it he asked me if he could ride it and I said “Yeah” and then I realized he lived real close and we started playing on the playground and car pooling to school and stuff. Right around that time I noticed he had a real talent for drawing. When it came time for school art projects or that thing he would draw these snakes and dinosaurs and they looked like something a real Disney creator would make. He just free handed this stuff and these animals had character, they had smiles and all the details were just perfect. It was clear he was very artistic and able to pick up on things FAST. Same thing happened when we got into BMX racing, when I met him he didn’t know how to ride a two wheel bike and he became like an overnight BMX star, flying off jumps and having all these moves, moves he would later incorporate into stage moves by the way. Back in 1978 people didn’t have those kinds of flashy moves and finesse on BMX like everyone does now but Slash was ahead of the curve as he was with everything it seemed. There was something special or just “good” about him. He always won. We lost touch for a couple years because he got kicked out of the junior high I was going to and had to go to a different one and I didn’t see him for about a year. When I finally saw him again it was around 10th grade and he had already begun playing guitar, by that point he had been playing for about a year and we met up at the new school we were attending High School at and I saw him. He was just about to play his first real gig at a party and he was like “Hey Marc, I’m in a band now” and I found out we both were real into music and liked Zeppelin and Aerosmith and all the same bands. I knew without ever hearing him actually play that it was probably going to be pretty good based on everything else he had tried and excelled at. The first time I came to his rehearsal it was clear that his soul was already pouring out of him when it came time for his leads and stuff and his tone was already spot on and you just knew from hearing and seeing him that it was probably going to be what he did with the rest of his life right then and there.LRI: Okay so we’re talking about his very first band Tidus Sloan right?
Marc: Yes, Tidus Sloan which was a three piece, no singer. The first gig was at a friend’s party and is actually pictured in the RECKLESS ROAD book. They’d rehearse in the drummer’s garage and play parties on the weekends. Some instrumentals and a few originals but mostly like “Jailbreak” and some Sabbath and a little RUSH. Musically they stayed with the hard rock stuff and did that classic stuff rather than venture into punk or new wave. At that point in 82 the punk scene had died for the most part here and the new wave stuff was really taking over and the band wanted no part of that so they really stayed true to the Stones, Zeppelin sort of method. Slash realized that they weren’t going to go anywhere without a singer so they reformed as a band called ROAD CREW and they got a singer and then he realized they needed more than a singer. They needed a really good singer and a frontman as well as someone who could contribute to the writing as far as melodies and vocals. That band fell apart after Slash had heard of this band called ROSE. He wanted to get Izzy and Axl to join ROAD CREW. So at that time you could go see ROSE at Gazarris on the strip and it was only like a buck to get in. Immediately you could tell there was something about the two. Axl was just bouncing and had all this energy and Izzy was sliding around on his knees and playing with all of this energy as well, The music was a little fast, it was like double bass drum fast, almost speed metal stuff but you could see there was something more to it than that. They met after the gig and I guess ROSE was on its way to falling apart as far as their drummer and guitar player and stuff. So Slash and Steven, who was also in ROAD CREW by then decided to join with those two and form HOLLYWOOD ROSE, that’s what they were gonna call it at that point. They picked up a bass player named Steve Darrow and after a week or so Izzy quit. He just up and quit to join LONDON who at that time kind of had a big name on the Sunset Strip and had previously had guys like Nikki Sixx and others in the group. It was sort of a big opportunity for Izzy and he was sort of unhappy about working with Slash or arguing with Axl about the arrangement of a song called “Cold, Hard Cash” or something. I’m not sure but for whatever reason Izzy had a falling out and disappeared and that lineup lasted as a four piece for about a month. At that point they had “Shadow Of Your Love” and “Reckless Life” and “Anything Goes” as well as a couple songs Slash wrote that Axl had put lyrics and melodies to. Steven was still playing double bass at that time so in some ways they still sort of sounded like another speed metal-ish band, probably just a tad better than the ROSE we saw at Gazarris earlier. After a month that fell apart and AXL joined up with Tracii in L.A. Guns.LRI: You oversee 150 employees at Canter’s and you once employed Slash….was he a good worker?
Marc: (laughs). Yeah, he was. The only job he really had at Canter’s was to go over the waitresses papers and it was basically a job I created for him to get him a little pocket cash. When he stopped doing it, the job was eliminated but he was always a good worker. I remember when he worked at Tower Records and he talks in the book about how he was always drinking on the job but I know he really did a good job just like he always did a good job in the band, he always took his job seriously and was never a fuck up. He was an ace at the business end of things as far as the band went and was always working, always on the phone 24/7 and busted his ass to make sure rehearsals and sessions went smoothly and cost effectively. He was really very aware. When they were out on the road, he was busting his ass working and waking up at 8 oclock in the morning to talk to 100 different reporters for press and everything. He was a terminator and there was nothing he would not do in the name of Guns N’ Roses. He’s always been able to handle an extremely heavy workload and multiple jobs and somehow balance everything. I mean, I don’t know how he does it now but he does and he does it well. He’s got the kids and a wife, he’s recording and touring and interviews and guesting on other people’s sessions and he’s just the busiest person I have ever met. That’s the only reason I never see him. I’m lucky if we get together twice a year just because he’s that friggin busy!LRI: I was gonna ask you if you were able to interview Tracii for the book as I understand he has a movie or something coming out and probably has some insight. He is such a phenomenal player.
Marc: I tried because he did play a part in it all but he never responded and a mutual friend asked him in person and he was like “Nahhh, it’s a big Marc Canter cash grab and all this stuff about me and the book not wanting to be involved”. But I KNOW Tracii, I’ve always known him. So then a while after the book came out he came up to me and congratulated me on the book and said it was so amazing because it was really what happened and accurate. He said “”You documented everything that happened and those pictures don’t tell lies”. He told me if I ever needed any help with anything in the future to let him know, I guess he was just misjudging it a little bit. He was also kind of hiding from the world a little bit at that time anyway and didn’t want to really talk about those days. But I always and still am friendly with him although at the time it was a touchy situation me even going there to shoot Axl singing in L. A. Guns. I was documenting and taking pics of everything Slash had done and Axl wanted me to come down and shoot he and Tracii in L.A. Guns. I sort of had to sneak around Slash’s back to help Axl and do that because at that point Tracii and Slash were really rivals. Tracii was absolutely his rival because he also had a band before L.A. Guns called Pyrrhus which was the high school rival to Tidus Sloan. Needless to say Slash would be pissed if he knew I was helping Tracii and Axl but Axl asked me so I did it. In the end it didn’t work out anyway, they played a couple gigs and then Axl split and L.A. Guns got another singer. Slash almost joined Poison at that point who were being managed by Vicky Hamilton. He didn’t really wanna join but he knew it was a good opportunity because they were a big drawing act and their guitarist Matt had gotten his girlfriend pregnant and wanted to go back to Pennsylvania but he and Slash were friendly. Matt liked Slash, he had seen HOLLYWOOD ROSE open a couple Poison gigs and and wanted him to take over in Poison gig. Slash really didn’t wanna do it, he didn’t like the music, he didn’t like the silly string and the image. I told him “Dude, you gotta do it, you don’t have a band, you’ll be able to record an album and it will be a stepping stone to other things” but he still really didn’t wanna go audition. He did go because I basically kept buggin him and I actually drove him out to go see them play this sold out show and convinced him to audition like “Man, look at this” though he clearly wasn’t into it and basically blew the audition. He was not into the music or the image and I guess he made some of that way too clear to the Poison guys. They knew he was clearly adept at the guitar parts and all but when it came down to it they were looking for someone who was really into the whole presentation and willing to play that game. Oddly enough, Slash walked out of the audition and saw C.C. walking in and KNEW without even hearing him play that he was the guy they were looking for, he just was so obviously perfect for POISON. What happened in the meantime was that Izzy and Axl had decided to do a reunion of HOLLYWOOD ROSE with new members but it just wasn’t working out so they had gotten ahold of Tracii whose current L.A. Guns wasn’t working out and they had gotten back together and were playing again in January of 85. They decided to merge the name of Hollywood Rose with Izzy and Axl and L.A. Guns drummer, bassist and of course Tracii and turn into Guns N’ Roses. I actually have the flyer from that first gig and it says “L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose present their new band GUNS N’ ROSES”. They played a few gigs before their bass player quit and they got Duff.LRI: That had to be a pretty pivotal point. It always seemed to me that Duff was from a totally different headspace from the others and his solo albums sort of reflect that.
Marc: It was. Duff had actually auditioned for Slash and Steven’s band ROAD CREW but he didn’t really like the metal style and was looking for something a little more in line with the punk stuff he was into. He liked Slash as a guitar player but he just moved on. Somewhere along the line he met Axl and Izzy, he was living across the street from them and they crossed paths and Duff joined. Right around that time Duff had booked a tour in Seattle and Rob, the drummer and Tracii both quit because they didn’t wanna do the tour, they didn’t understand how they could do it or the living arrangements or something. They didn’t see a clear, stable plan for the tour. They both came from fairly stable homes and environments and just weren’t THAT committed to the concept so they just left but Axl and Izzy didn’t care, they were used to living on the streets or anywhere they could in order to make it. It’s possible that Axl had called Tracii and just fired him, I was friends with Slash so I wasn’t real close to what happened but I know they also had some sort of falling out with Tracii prior to the Troubadour gig and trip to Seattle anyway. Anyway, in the end… They needed a drummer and lead guitarist again so Steven and Slash naturally popped into their heads to do the tour and replace Tracii and Rob. Slash had just joined Black Sheep and was playing with them at the Country Club when the other guys came up to see him and persuaded him to quit. They were like, “we have a gig at the Troubadour and then we leave for a tour of the upper west coast are you in?” and he agreed. I had actually told him not to do it just because I thought it wouldn’t last, I mean I liked Axl and Izzy and what they were capable of but from what I saw every single band they formed fell apart for whatever reason. I just didn’t think it would last and at the time Black Sheep had a following and was a more stable band even if they were a little too metal for Slash. Of course (laughs) he didn’t listen to me and when I got to that first gig at the Troubadour with the Appetite lineup it was clear right away that something was totally different and better. They had gotten rid of Steven’s double bass drum, they either hid it or threw it out and he had no CHOICE but to go single bass. I was at the gig taking pictures and it was a revelation and all of a sudden I noticed you could actually hear Axl without the double bass and everything was slower and had a swing or groove to it with Steven being forced into that style. They had written “Move To the City”, “Don’t Cry” and “Think About You” and they were great. Then they took off for Seattle on the “Hell Tour” as its become known because every single thing that could go wrong did go wrong. The one good thing that came out of that tour was that it went so poorly that they bonded, they were like brothers and had some good gigs on top of it. When they got back they were even tighter and it was even more obvious that they were a perfect match. When they first came back from the Hell tour the first place they stopped was Canter’s Deli because a. They were hungry for food, they hadn’t eaten a real meal in like two weeks and b. they needed a photo shoot for some flyers and some gigs they had booked back here in L.A.LRI: That was when you shot the photo of them in the deli that ended up being the cover of your book?
Marc: Yeah John and if you look at that photo, really examine in it, you can see the look on their face that they had when they returned from Hell. They just knew they had something and that they were on the verge of something great. Right after that on July 20th they debuted “Welcome to the Jungle” at the Troubadour and it was Slash’s riff that Axl just knew exactly what to do with. They started building on gigs, each gig thee crowd would grow a little more. This first gig was like 50 people and then next one was 70 and then 90 or so and you could just see the audience building because whoever saw them would invariably tell a few people, it was a word of mouth thing. All of a sudden Sept. 20th at Troubadour they debuted “Rocket Queen” and then in October L.A. Guns had a gig booked but someone got sick and they had to cancel and someone suggested GNR do the gig in their place. They just showed up in their street clothes and didn’t really take it that seriously but what they did do was debut “Paradise City” which was really cool. They were just always having these fully formed songs new and ready at every gig, most of them with the identical solos you hear on the album. It was really something and not much later in December they debuted “Nighttrain” and meanwhile I am recording all of these shows for them and playing these songs over and over in my car thinking “This is really good”. Two weeks later “My Michelle” shows up in a set and I’m going “Ok, this band is on a roll and seem to doing it effortlessly, this is a Led Zep type band not just some little Hollywood glam band”.LRI: Most bands around that time were really struggling to make it and do all the business of things and it sounds like they really only focused on expanding the songbook.
Marc: Exactly, at least at that point. Nobody was trying to mold them or tell them how to do anything and they were just writing and writing. As an outsider it was hard to see anything that could derail them because they were just a team of assassins and could seemingly do no wrong. I knew that they were on the verge of getting signed or something but I never thought they’d get as big as they got. I thought they’d get to be like an underground band that might get a Gold record or something, I wasn’t forseeing platinum times ten or lear jets or anything.LRI: Axl is a talented singer but always has this reputation of being difficult. What were your impressions of him?
Marc: Axl is very headstrong and he knows what he wants, he always has. The first time I met him, the very first time was at a rehearsal and they were talking about the arrangements for “Anything Goes” and I remember making a comment about it and him just looking over at me, not knowing me at all and basically telling me it wasn’t my business and he didn’t need my opinion or something like that. I was like “Oh, ok, that’s cool man, it was just a suggestion, you don’t have to listen to me, it’s cool”. After that we became really good friends and I never really had a problem with him. I’ve seen him be really frustrated at times with certain situations but he never really took it out on me. I’ve seen him take it out on everyone else and he could be really controlling and like, for instance, when they did their first demo one of the other members wanted to copy it and Axl was like “I don’t know about that” like he really didn’t want it getting around. He wanted to hoard it and listen to it and analyze it to make sure it was right. Axl is a perfectionist to the extreme, it had to be right or not at all. Somewhere along the line he had to start eating some of that and realize he couldn’t control everything. People would tape shows and he might forget a lyric or something and he ended up having to accept some of that on some level. Interestingly, they never argued amongst themselves or fought over how a song would be written though, the songs always just happened and it wasn’t any type of power struggle or control trip in that regard. A lot of the songs would start with some idea from Izzy like “My Michelle” or “Nighttrain” and then Slash would come and punk it out or rock it up, like the spooky intro part of “Michelle” was total Izzy but without Slash we wouldn’t have gotten the harder riff that followed it. Axl would hear these unfinished songs and just know exactly how to work within them. Duff and Steven would then make the songs truly swing and really flesh them out with their ideas. You could say as some have that Axl was the most important because he was the singer but even then I don’t think Axl would agree with that. If you took any one of those guys out of the equation it would have drastically changed all of those songs. It was truly a democracy in the beginning, at that time in 1985 or 1986 they were all on the exact same page.LRI: They are one of those signature bands that really had five captivating personalities and styles to begin with.
Marc: Oh totally. They were a rarity because it wasn’t like one or three things working for them. Some bands it’s a great guitarist or a great singer or great drummer or songs or an amazing live show but with GNR it was the whole package, the sum was greater than the individual parts. They had every element and it fit together like a puzzle. I noticed that the songwriting was so effortless and democratic and that’s what seemed to change. They had a couple songs in 1988 for the LIES album but I think that was when things started to change. It was harder to get music to come out of them and I think it was simply because they weren’t living together like they were. Before that they were all living together in this little storage space that they rehearsed in and their instruments were there and they were just naturally writing like musicians do. It was like “Hey, check out this” and the other guy would be like “Yeah, yeah, you have something but what about if we change this and add that” or say “Well, here’s a thing I’m working on we can put the two together”. After 1987 they all had houses or at least apartments of their own and that dynamic changed because they all had their own little studios in their places and were writing and completing songs on their own. Then they’d submit the song to the rest of the band who couldn’t really do as much with a fully written song as they could when they were working with bits and pieces.LRI: We talked to Steven and he is famous for being really, really energetic and for being so into the whole making it as a rock star thing and the trappings that come with it. He said, “I did drugs because I wanted to do drugs” and he really seemed to personify the “ROCK AND ROLL ALL NITE PARTY EVERY DAY” thing. Do you think there was a difference between the way that Steven partied and the lifestyle or stardom he aspired to versus say his buddy Slash or especially Axl?
Marc: Steven was always a big KISS fan and he saw everything through that KISSvision, he was like a really big kid, like an eternally excited 8 year old. As you know, Paul wanted to produce them after seeing them and Steven was totally excited by that attention but no one else was. None of them wanted to touch that association with a ten foot pole but Steven was in hook, line and sinker. Steven was totally starstruck. As far as the drugs go, that was really Izzy’s doing. He and his girlfriend were the drug addicts and I never really liked him at that point because I was just totally not at all into that whole scene. Slash was always drinking but it was never a problem really. Right around the time they got signed Izzy and his girl Desi’s habits sort of influenced or wore on Steven and Slash and that became an issue. Duff was never going to have a problem with heroin simply because his girlfriend died of a heroin overdose in his arms when he was 15. Whatever Duff did, and I’m aware he did some bad things, I know he would not touch heroin. Axl was even into it for a while and they were all hiding it from me but I would see them all strung out and wanting me to bring them food and I was like “No, I’m not gonna bring you food because you’re blowing your money on heroin”. I would bring them food when they were struggling musicians wanting to spend money on flyers or guitar strings but not when they were signed musicians simply wanting to get high and get a free ride. I was sort of in the odd position of feeling like their mother or something (laughs).LRI: They of course made the universe laugh by firing Steven for drugs and I was just wondering what your opinion was on what he brought to the band or how the band changed after he left. Did he have a certain style that was hard to replace or replicate?
Marc: He did. He had something special and also, this is important, Duff and Izzy were also drummers and they could sort of see things from that drummer’s perspective and really expand on it or in some cases even sit down and play a different part which Steven could then pick up and work from. That’s not to say Steven didn’t write his own stuff because he absolutely did but on a few occasions I did see those guys thinking from that beat perspective. Also, in an Alan Niven interview he said something that really made sense which was that Steven wasn’t really fired for the drugs but more for the fact that the Illusions stuff was so much different and he wasn’t really getting it. It was so 360 from the swing, groove stuff on Appetite and it required less rock and roll and more technical drumming which was more suited to a drummer like Matt Sorum. If you listen to a song like “Locomotive” it sort of makes sense what Niven was saying. It’s almost got this unreal, machine type feel to it. Of course some of those songs like “Don’t Cry” were older and he could have easily performed those but on many of those songs, especially Axl’s ideas, the groove just changed and the songwriting was totally a different beast.