The Chinese Democracy Years – 1996: Slash Goes, Duff Remains
The Chinese Democracy Years – 1996: Slash goes, Duff remains.
After the new contract came into effect on December 31 1995, Axl set up shop in a recording studio called The Complex. Apparently, Slash’s relationship with the band was at a standstill for some time since the new contract negotiations began in August ’95.
In early April, 1996, Slash journeyed to Japan for two weeks to play with Nile Rodgers and Chic. On the last night of the tour, on April 18, bassist Bernard Edwards was found dead from pneumonia in his hotel room. The following month, Axl’s mother, Sharon Bailey, died aged 51.
Around July, Axl approached Slash about returning to the fold. Slash says that he was put on a ‘trial period’ as a contracted employee in the new GN’R partnership, and if continued to work with the band beyond that time, the contract would turn into a long-term commitment.
In August, the full band were scheduled to return to the studio to write and record new songs.”We’ll see where it goes,” said Slash at the time. “I haven’t rehearsed with them, or even been in the same room with them, since before the Snakepit record came out.” As Slash remembered it later, the rest of the band showed up to rehearse – but if Axl turned up at all it was after the other members had given up and left at one or two am.
Nevertheless, Axl told MTV on October 30 that: “There will be a new Guns N’Roses 12-song minimum recording with three original B-sides.”
In November 1999, Axl claimed that he’d decided at this point to go back to basics: “I originally wanted to make a traditional record or try to get back to an Appetite thing or something, because that would have been a lot easier for me to do. I was involved in a lot of lawsuits for Guns N’Roses and in my own personal life, so I didn’t have a lot of time to try and develop a new style or re-invent myself, so I was hoping to write a traditional thing, but I was not really allowed to do that.
“So, I opted for what I thought would or should’ve made the band and especially Slash very happy. Basically I was interested in making a Slash record with some contributions from everybody else.”
Slash claimed that Axl was trying “to convince me it was all good, that it was something he and I were doing as partners… I just didn’t go for it.”
“I think that some of the riffs that were coming out of [Slash] were the meanest, most contemporary, bluesiest, rocking things since Aerosmith’s Rocks,” Axl wrote in a press release later. “The 2000 version of Aerosmith Rocks or the 1996 Aerosmith Rocks by the time we would have put it out… I feel that some of the recordings we did in that limited amount of time had some of the best playing that Slash had done at least since Illusions. I was there. I know what I heard and it was pretty exciting.”
It wasn’t to be. Axl’s friend and GN’R insider Del James claimed in 2008 that “Slash came back for some writing down at the studio, totally negative and belligerent, quits the fucking band and then publicly spins it into somehow he got pushed out.”
The presence of Paul Huge was still a stumbling block. As Duff McKagan put it: “Imagine you and I grow up together and you’re my best friend. OK, I’m in Guns N’ Roses and I tell the rest you’re going to join the band. ‘OK, Slash, Axl, Matt, guys, this guy is in the band’. ‘Duff, you got a minute?’ ‘No, he’s in the band.’ ‘Well, no. Everyone in the band has to vote it, Duff, so no way!’ ‘Fuck you, this guy is in the band! I’m not doing anything unless this guy is in the band.’ ‘OK, you know what? We’ll try and play with him, since you’re that much interested in it… ‘Hey Duff – the guy can’t play.’ ‘I don’t care.’ ‘Well that’s not very reasonable…’”
On October 16, Slash admitted, “Right now, Axl and I are deliberating over the future of our relationship… I have only been back in the band for three weeks and my relationship with Axl right now is sort of at a standstill.”
On October 30, Axl sent a fax to MTV, announcing that there would be a new GN’R studio album, but that Slash was no longer in the band. Duff and Matt remained. In December, Duff commented that “everything is going to be cool… Guns is doing a record so of course Matt and I will be in the studio for at least three-four weeks in February…We have song titles, but no album title… As far as the rumour that one person wants us to change, that’s just not true.”
But Axl had already decided that the tracks worked on with Slash had to go: “[The 1996 tracks are] not something I would want to approach (without Slash), because, at the time, there was only one person that I knew who could do certain riffs that way. …That’s the reason why that material got scrapped.”