Interviewed by Jonathon Freeman-Anderson
Guns n’ Roses is perhaps one of the most well known 80s rock groups of all time. Despite a tumultuous history and an extraordinarily long time between albums, the band fronted by Axl Rose continues to play on. Cycling through a number of musicians, the current line-up has almost completely changed except for two men, the aforementioned Rose, and keyboardist, Dizzy Reed. A band member since the 1990s Use Your Illusion record, Reed is the longest standing and only member of Guns N’ Roses besides Axl to have played along with the original line-up. Since then, Reed has been a guest artist on almost every former member of G N’ R’s solo work while also maintaining his post with Axl. Reed has sustained a consistent rock n’ roll lifestyle for over 25 years and this year, Reed will be inducted into the Rock n’ Roll hall-of-fame for his work with Guns n’ Roses.
While in Florida touring, Reed took a moment between shows to discuss how grateful he is to be living the dream, have this job, and go into the evolution of rock music. In this interview, Reed talks about the “reunion breakup” of his cover band, Hookers n’ Blow, as well as, captures his reaction to the newly formed Rock n’ Roll All-stars super group featuring former G N’ R band-mates Duff Mckagen, Matt Sorum, and Gilby Clarke, as well as, KISS’s Gene Simmons, Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach, and other rock luminaries.
In lieu of Guns n’ Roses returning to the Sunset Strip after 22 years, Reed expects to find it as somewhat of a homecoming. Reed also details his appreciation of the new changes in the music industry and reflects upon the quality and importance of those deep cuts on a classic vinyl record.
How is the tour?
We’re actually in Orlando. We’re off to Miami tomorrow…Orlando’s pretty hot. Chuckles.
Music has become a major part of your life for a long time. What do you do to make music a part of life, but not become your life?
I’ve been really lucky to always have a whole different perspective on it. It’s like once you’ve had a certain amount of success, it’s gone. A friend of mine said the dream sort of died once you’ve had success. Once you do that, it’s a job and then you keep telling yourself you’re lucky to be able to do it for a living. The best part is when you can find that balance. Unfortunately, to be successful and maintain things at this level it has to sort of be all-consuming. I got into music because I didn’t want to have a job. I wanted to do something that was against the grain and against the establishment, but as it turns out, you never actually stop working. Doing this is almost like a 24-hour job. Of course, you have to find things to balance it out when you’re on tour and stuff. Sometimes, you’ll get a lot more time on your hands. I golf, sit at my computer writing, or come up with something creative.
Some say that the style of Rock is dead, that it is not as popular as it used to be. What do you think of that idea?
Rock n’ roll has always been this evolving thing. In the scale of things, in all things creative, really, it’s pretty new. Music’s obviously not new, but rock n’ roll is still fairly new. When I was younger, it was brand new. It wasn’t even accepted. You didn’t hear rock songs on TV shows or a sporting event. It wasn’t really accepted until the 70s and 80s when it sort of became a mainstream thing. When the first rocker generation grew older and had kids, like myself, you had to accept the fact that it’s always changing. It can’t just stay the same. Obviously, it’s more different now than it ever was. I don’t think anyone’s ever been able to foresee what it has become. It’s no longer about how many records you can sell. It’s more about touring now. Obviously, it’s more about the Internet now. You don’t necessarily have to embrace it, but I think that it’s a good thing to be able to accept those changes. All the great bands have been able to do that through time. The ones who don’t…they disappear.
Guns N’ Roses have won the survival of the fittest in many ways. Many bands do not end up playing or touring for this long. Has touring and live performance become more or less important than recording? Tommy Lee and Billy Corgan have said that the era of the album is over and with the Internet, it is now the era of the single.
It would appear the era of the album is definitely over. I think that people are always going to want to see new stuff and you have to give it to them. Especially these days because the attention span of younger and younger people is pretty brief. They’re always hungry for new stuff and that’s cool. Nothing can really replace the live performance. There are bands that have survived solely on touring for years. Acts like the Grateful Dead. Even the Stones to a certain degree haven’t really had a huge record in three decades.
How have you dealt with the challenges that have come with the change in the music industry?
Luckily enough, I was very fortunate to have been tutored and I didn’t really even own a computer until like 1999. I started working with the programs in the studio in ’93 or ’94 and I was lucky enough to have great tutors to show me how to do that. Having that technology and being able to utilize it is probably the most important change in my life to deal with the challenges. It’s amazing to me that anybody can make an album of quality sounding music in their living room. At the end of the day, though, you still have to have a good song, have a way to present that, and be able to deliver that live. So if you’ve never been out of your bedroom you’re going to fall flat on your face, but you’ll find it’s incredible and it’s a whole new way of living. The thing about creating music that I think is the most important is you can do it one of two ways. You can either have the computer clip the song and follow in that direction or you can have a song that you just sit down and play on you’re acoustic that’s strong enough on its own then add stuff from there. I think that’s a very important thing that everybody should understand. That’s probably the single most important thing to me that’s helped me deal with the changes. Also having quicker and quicker access to get in out of different mediums has been a benefit of the technology.
You’ve been with Guns n’ Roses for the long haul. You would be the Lieutenant if it were a biker gang.
Laughs. Yeah, that’s funny because I think a lot of people expect that of me too, but I never really have looked at it that way. Whenever someone else comes in, they’re my bandmate. I don’t flaunt any sort of seniority. I don’t think that way. I can’t really. The guys that I play with now are all so great and a lot of fun to play with every night. During my career, I’ve been in other bands that weren’t much fun to go out and play with every night but these guys are amazing. I’m very very grateful and thankful that I am able to do this for a living. It’s cool.
Now you are being inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. What does it mean to you as a musician to be included into such an honorable group of artists? Obviously, some amazing artists have been inducted and I’m sure there be will more in the future. In that regard, to be a part of that, obviously, I have to look it as special. Many of the people that I grew up listening to are huge influences on me. I don’t know what goes into the whole process of that. I’ve never been a big fan of the awards and what not, but you can’t really deny it. I think the main thing is that it’s a tribute to the fan. For all the fans that have always been there, it’s for them. They’re the one who are gonna go, ‘Fuck yeah! G n’ R is in the fuckin’ hall of fame.’ At the end of the day, they’re the ones that you have to ask if you think anyone should really be in there. If they say yes, than yeah, sure, really it’s for them. That’s the coolest thing. I try not to think about it a lot too cause I don’t want to get all freaked out.
It’s been a long time since G n’ R has played the Sunset Strip. It is going to be a different vibe; the club vibe versus the arena vibe when you guys played last year at the Forum. What do you do differently live in the club setting versus an arena?
I guess the main thing is there are no explosions, thank God. It’s a smaller stage. It’s more intimate and I think what it really does from an outside perspective is it showcases the band and Axl. At the end of the day, we’re a kickass act. The coolest thing for me and I think for the fans is that the people who are going to buy the tickets are the hardest of the hardcore fans. That’s what’s really cool and my favorite part of the shows is really feeling the appreciation from the fans. It makes you want to give back in many ways. I can’t say the shows are more kickass because I want people to like the arena shows. I want them to like them both. For me, it’s definitely more fun. In the arena shows, I’m kind of on an island in the back and that’s fine because I know it looks great to make it work. With a smaller stage, it’s more intimate and I hate to use that word, but it fits. It’s more kickass for everybody that’s there. It’s a definite rock show.
What is different now about the Hollywood scene, the Sunset strip, and your expectations?
I haven’t really thought of it. Hopefully, the shows will feel more like a homecoming. Even though many of the guys in the band now aren’t really from L.A., they’ll probably see the energy. The 1980s Sunset Strip was just such a short area and there were so many bands from all over. When I first moved out there, I remember thinking it’s going to be a long climb to try to get to the top of this, but I ended up joining a pretty kickass band. It didn’t happen overnight. I was out there for a long time. When I got the call from Axl, I was sleeping on people’s couches still. I’ve had a lot of success. The Sunset Strip still has its charm, its charisma. I guess it’s a lot more corporate now, more controlled, more like everything else. It has its history and that’s not going to go away, but that energy kind of left a long time ago. I think it would be hard to start up a whole new scene just in Hollywood now. Some other places around L.A., now, you can harness more of a vibe. Trust me, in the 80s, I don’t how old the people are reading this, but if you were around that decade as soon as you stepped in Hollywood you could just feel it in the air. It was amazing actually. You’d go up on the strip on a Friday or Saturday night and it was just a mass of people. Everyone had the same sort of goal. The dudes wanted to make it and the chicks wanted to be noticed.
For some reason, that reminds me of your covers band, Hookers and Blow, which must be fun to be able to do that as well as Guns n’ Roses.
You know, it is fun, and that’s one of the reasons I started Hookers and Blow because I just wanted to go and do something that basically had no pressure. I wanted just to go out and have fun. Unfortunately, just like everything else it sort of became a little bit too important for some people. Eventually, I just…I had to break up the band. The name lives on, the T-shirts are still for sale, but we did do a reunion breakup show last year in Redondo Beach for our good friends, Julie and Douglas. It was cool. They had a wedding reception and they asked us to get back together, which for them, we did, and then we broke up right afterwards, “a reunion breakup.” You know, there might be some more of those in the future. I don’t know. When I’m not doing G n’ R, I’m concentrating on playing my own songs and working with a few bands that are in L.A. that I think are amazing. I’m working with this band, Delta Rose, from Rosemead who plays the House of Blues from time to time. They’re the real deal, amazing. They’re real young but they have the vibe, the fire, the sound. They have a great singer, great guitar player; all of them are great. I worked with them on their record that they’ve got coming out. I actually took them to Texas with me one time because I needed a band to play my stuff. They totally killed it, amazing. Anyway, so that’s what I’ve been doing other than playing…covers.
It definitely keeps you creative and it must inspire you for new material.
Absolutely, it’s cool to play songs that influence you and turn other people on to it. I still will hear something and go, ‘God I’ve always wanted to learn that piano riff or guitar riff.’ If I have time, I’ll sit down and make myself learn it. It’s important to do that, keep discovering stuff, keep exploring, and it’s easier to do now than it ever has been. You know you don’t have to buy the whole record and 90% of the disc sucks. You can download just that one song that you want to hear. That is what’s cool about today. It’s always hit or miss in this process. Then again, you wouldn’t have those deep cuts by the Stones that may not have been heard unless you bought the record. Live, most of those songs aren’t very often played. You have to always consider the people that are coming out to the shows too. You can’t play too deep of a cut. You can’t do it all for yourself, you have to do it for the fans too.
Are you glad to see the resurgence of vinyl records’ popularity to listen to all those deep cuts?
Yeah, still, nothing sounds as good as a needle on a vinyl record for me.
On March 1, there was an announcement at the Roxy of a Rock n’ Roll All-stars Supergroup being formed and planning to tour Central and South America featuring Gene Simmons (Kiss), Joe Elliott (Def Leppard), Matt Sorum (Velvet Revolver, Guns N’ Roses), Duff Mckagan (Velvet Revolver, Guns N’ Roses), Gilby Clarke (Guns N’ Roses), Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Sabbath), Ed Roland (Collective Soul), Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), Steve Stevens (Billy Idol), Mike Inez (Alice in Chains) Billy Duffy (The Cult), What do you think about that?
They’re all in the same band? All those people?
Wow. Hahaha. You know that sounds interesting. Laughs. You said Gene Simmons. Wow, that’s weird. All those guys are phenomenal musicians and I’ve had the good fortune of actually playing with a few of them. That should be cool.
Would you call it a nostalgic tour?
Chuckles. Yeah, it sounds like everyone will be waxing nostalgic.