By the late 80's metal had, for the most part, really become a mockery of itself. The best thrash albums had already been recorded and POISON was what was passing as Heavy Metal. I had already moved on to thrash and by that time crossover and punk and hardcore. Where I grew up all the punx, skaters, and metal dudes kind of hung out together, it was a small town. A Friday night over at Dave's might see KISS, SLAYER, OBITUARY, SOCIAL DISTORTION, BLACK FLAG, the EXPLOITED or MOTLEY CRUE take a spin on the turn table as we downed copious amounts of cheap beer. For that matter Saturday nights weren't much different, maybe we hung out in the woods for a while drinking around the bonfire before heading back into town to make it in time to watch the repeat of Head Bangers Ball. It came on twice, back to back, which was really convenient because you didn't have to worry about missing it if you went to a party. Or, you could always set the VCR.
The danger of MOTLEY CRUE had long since faded and, again, POISON was at the top. Hordes of bands copied them and they all looked silly and played wimpy bubble-gum rock. It was shit! Pure shit and I just didn't get it. I liked the early LA bands that gave into the pop/hair/glam metal sound and look such as MOTLEY CRUE, DOKKEN and RATT but for the most part this was just bad and it was primed to implode on itself. There were only a few bands that cut their way through this crap, SKID ROW was one of them.
Like I said earlier there were a lot of shitty bands that aspired to be the next POISON so it was sometimes painful to sit through "the Ball" in search of a SLAYER or NAPALM DEATH video. That was a lot of crap to shovel through but there was needle in that shit stack. The very first time I saw the video for 'Electric Gypsy' I was hooked! These dudes were bad ass. They looked dirty, they had attitude and humor but were also dark...Oh and they had the hooks too. Hell, the one dude even had ALF strapped to his iron horse. So enter LA GUNS to the scene.
Fuck yeah! These dudes were sleazy, they were rockers, they were decked out in black (no dayglow bullshit) had black hair (no bleached blonds) and sported studs and leather. There was a punk rock vibe to their brand of sleazy, LA, heavy metal. They brought a sense of danger that MOTLEY CRUE once projected back to the LA metal scene and sound and were welcomed with open arms by not only the metal dudes I hung out with but even by some of the punk dudes that were open to righteous party music with loads of attitude. Man, if you want proof of any of that watch the video for 'The Bitch is Back'. That took serious balls on the behalf of lead vocalist Phil Lewis as he strutted his stuff on the Hollywood Walk of Fame spitting attitude like venom while tourists and weirdoes looked on in disbelief. That ruled.
LA GUNS proved over their next several albums that they were not one trick ponies. They crafted really strong albums with amazing songs from front to back. Often times a strength can also be a weakness and I think that we had a case of that here. This was like thinking man's glam/sleaze metal, it had way more substance than anything POISON ever recorded and that was what the bubble-gum crowd couldn't quite get a grip on. These dudes were excellent song writers that didn't settle for fitting in with the crowd. Each album took on a life and sound of its own while always being obvious that it was LA GUNS. 'Hollywood Vampires' was incredibly different than the self-titled debut but also very familiar. 'Vicious Circle' took the Gunners to sub-levels of heaviness that was unheard of by any band that came out of that scene. You could get all touchy feely with a song like 'Crystal Eyes' or the crowd pleaser 'The Ballad of Jane', crack a beer to a party anthem like 'Rip and Tear' or bang your head as is up from the dead to tunes like 'Show No Mercy' or 'Facedown'. These dudes were versatile and could roll with the punches. LA GUNS were a different beast and seemed to write music for themselves, some got it, some didn't...What made them strong is, perhaps, what kept the brain-dead masses from understanding and accepting them on larger scale. Maybe the sheeple just couldn't keep up with the twists and turns, creativity is too much for some people. So with that LA GUNS was the most under-rated band to come out of the 80's and never fully got the respect that they deserved.
I've followed the band for the entire length of their career, have most of the albums (I'm missing a covers album and whatever Tracii put out when he was off in his corner whining about getting kicked out of his own band or whatever), even 'American Hardcore' and the hard to find 'Shrinking Violet'. I have seen them live in various incarnations with no less than 4 different singers. Obviously Phil Lewis is the only true voice of LA GUNS but I don't want to t forget about Jizzy Pearl because 'Shrinking Violet' really is a good album. In their various versions I've seen them probably just over 10 times. They were even my daughter's very first concert. When she was 3 they played an outdoor show in downtown Denver that I took her too. She had her ear plugs in and was quite a hit in the crowd. This was Tracii's weird version, but they were still good. Tracii and Jeremy even took pictures with my young daughter. I've seen them play in front of a few thousand and in front of just a bar crowd. They never seem to give many fucks as long as they get the opportunity to rock. And that is what matters. Steve Riley and Phil Lewis have carried the banner for LA GUNS for just about ever and are the real deal. Someone out there is mumbling about ThrashHead giving so much coverage to a bunch of "poseurs" but that is just it man...They don't pose, they fucking rock...for life. Hell, thrash heroes DESTRUCTION are some of the biggest poseurs I've ever had the misfortune of being swindled by. I've never seen as big a whiney bitch as their 7 foot tall singer dude, whatever the fuck his name is...Just because only 150 people showed up to see your sorry ass doesn't mean you can treat them and the promoter like shit. Some dudes have the rock n' roll coursing through their veins and give a 110% percent in front of a zillion fans or 50...They don't care, they want to rock and rock is the law! LA GUNS obey only the laws of ROCK!
So here we are ...It's 2013, LA GUNS just released a new album (I got it on vinyl!), are on tour and just played my town...Shit the man! Life is good.
'Hollywood Forever' is the perfect LA GUNS album and really encompasses all the things that make them LA GUNS. There are balls out rockers like the opening title track, slower darker tracks like 'Burn'...Lets pause here. Phil Lewis vocals on this tune (and the whole god damned album for that matter) are fucking amazing. Do you hear that?! AMAZING! Every song on this album is a keeper, not a throw away amongst them. There are the deep "album cuts" like 'Eel Pie' that they may never play live but killer tunes none-the-less. They don't write just for the singles and then fill in the gaps with whatever shit they can whip up in the studio. LA GUNS writes albums and they have since the beginning. Writing a full and complete album is a dying art. But a method that made sense in the golden years of music. Being able to craft a full album was what propelled bands like the ROLLING STONES, AC/DC, IRON MAIDEN and JUDAS PRIEST. Yes, there was a day when every song on an album kicked ass! This record is truly a gist that keeps giving...With that they also pull off the trick of sounding classic and true to their roots as a band without sounding dated while sounding fresh and alive without sound "nu". The songwriting team of Riley and Lewis can't be stopped. And with Scotty Griffen in on the action things just get better. I shouldn't have to go on...You should have stopped reading now and either left the house to buy the record or downloaded from I-Tunes or Amazon or wherever...
Let's assume you did the latter and are now listening to the album as you finish reading my over excited ramblings of the LA GUNS.
When the news got out that Stacey Blades had left the band people were in shock. He had really made a home and a name for himself and was respected amongst the fans of the best replacement for Tracii. It would be cool for Tracii to rejoin but we all know what an asshole he can be and Stacy just seemed like a nice guy. We had welcomed him in and he became almost as much a part of the band as Tracii ever was. To hear that he left the group had many posting "WTF" on their FaceSpace walls.
So the question was who was going to take his place? Tracii? Kerry King? Ace Frehley? Nope. It was some dude from the SEA HAGS...Hunh? Nevermind...He was out of the band like a week later anyway.
So enter Michael Grant. Who is he? Some dude that had some band awhile back and is apparently a musical genius that plays a whole bunch of instruments...Google him...I did before the show to get some sense of who would be strumming the six string.
So...We get to the club and my press pass fails me. Shit. Luckily I was able to get a hold of Rene and he forwarded me an email confirmation that the dough-headed door guy just shrugged at and waived me in. Score! Once inside I was blown away by the size of the venue (Casselman's – Denver). It was huge and...packed. Shit, there had to be 600 people there. This was a crowd and they were rockers! Unfortunately they would have to sit through several hours of shitty local bands. There are a lot of really good local bands but it seemed like the promoter rounded up the worst bands in the region to put on this bill. God damn! It was a fucking mess. The first band I saw was some rap-metal outfit with this dude that looked like Disco Stu doing the rapping. This was so, so bad...
ROCK N' ROLL JUNKIES is a MOTLEY CRUE tribute band fronted by Vince Neil's son. So basically he pretends to be his Dad for 45 minutes and a pay check. People were asking "why?" but I thought the answer was obvious. "Because he can!" Look...he gets to rock every night, he doesn't have to go to some shitty job every morning. He plays the Vegas circuit and gets paid for partying. Works for me. But...(Why is there always a but?) They weren't that good. He was good. His voice was decent and he had the moves down, he really looked like his Pop. It was the band that just couldn't cut it. For a professional tribute band these guys were a mess. They sounded more like a local bar band that had only been at it for a few weeks and were still trying to work out the bugs in their ode to their heroes than professionals that get paid for doing this. Anyway the CRUE still rocks and everyone knows all the words so it was still a big sing along with horns in the air!
Damnit!!!! After them was some God-awful nu-metal / radio-rock from the Dakotas. I guess if you live in one of the Dakotas your threshold or bar for which to measure levels of coolness against is probably set pretty low considering nothing happens there expect some motorcycle rally once a year. Other than that watching wheat grow that's about as entertaining as it gets. So a band like this might have an actual following there. I'm glad I don't remember their name because I really wish I could erase them entirely from my memory. Yes...They were that bad.
LA GUNS were supposed to go on at 10:30 according the venue's FaceMelter page but at midnight they still hadn't strummed a note. Well I take that back. There were some bass notes being strummed but there was some technical trouble. So finally after 55 shitty opening bands and 15 minutes of bass trouble LA GUNS exploded on to the stage in front of hundreds of enthusiastic fans with the classic track 'Show No Mercy'. People were fuckin' stoked! I was stoked! Joseph and Caitlyn seemed stoked, there was mass stokage being stoked!! Fuck yea! When the crowd is energetic and really into it the bands always feed off of the energy and push ever harder. These guys were on fire! Ol' Michael Grant was a fricken' wizard on the six string and even with having only been in the band for a month (this was his 7th gig!) he owned every song and played them like he wrote them. He might be the best guitar player the band has EVER had. He was an exciting axe slinger to watch as he ripped and tore through classic song after song. When he took his shirt off and flexed his pec's while ripping solos all the girls had their phones out taking pictures! Shit...They played for about an hour and a half and stuck primarily to the first 3 albums and the new one. Surprisingly they didn't play 'The Bitch Is Back' but they pretty much covered every other single from those albums and then some. I mentioned Phil's voice earlier and in the live setting he was even more unbelievable. Like I mean literally so...My buddy and I thought for a minute that he was lip synching so we watched and listened extra close. We were mistaken! That was not the case! It was all him and all diaphragm, larynx, tongue and lips. Phil Lewis was un-fucking-real!
I've always felt a special attachment to this band. Their brand of mysterious, dark and party-hardy, rock and metal has earned them the respect and ability to keep doing what they do. Were there bigger bands in the 80's? Yeah, a few. Where are they now? I don't know but most of them are not still putting out kick ass albums and keeping tour schedules like these dudes. They simply can't...they don't have the talent, the pipes, or the oats that LA GUNS does. Phil and Steve are living their dream and I am thankful that they have invited me to be part of it. HOLLYWOOD FOREVER!!!