40 Years Ago: Axl Rose Plays Final Gig With Rapidfire
Axl Rose didn't last long with his initial L.A. band Rapidfire, only stopping long enough to record an early demo before exiting after a few months.
Then just 21 years old, Guns N’ Roses' future frontman had traveled to Los Angeles from his hometown of Lafayette, Ind. Shortly after arriving, he ran into guitarist Kevin Lawrence.
“Kevin was hanging out at the Troubadour – just as he’d done dozens of times before,” Joshua Solomon wrote in The Story of Rapidfire. “At some point, he decided to get some air. Wearing a black motorcycle jacket, he stepped outside and saw someone familiar. With light hair and a white motorcycle jacket, that evening the guy Kevin would soon know as Bill presented a counterpoint to Kevin’s point.
“He stood out in marked contrast to Kevin’s dark mop and black leather,” Solomon added. “Innately drawn to symmetry and balance, perhaps it was this contrast which inspired Kevin to strike up a conversation. He had seen this person around. He had even formed an impression. Kevin recalls thinking that the kid in white leather came off as sort of ‘cool’ and ‘coy.’ But they had never spoken, nor even acknowledged one another. This was about to change.”
“Bill,” of course, was Axl Rose – who at the time went by his birth name, William. Rose and Lawrence joined forces in the group Rapidfire in March 1983 and soon began playing gigs.
“I was with [Rose] his first time onstage,” Lawrence later told Maxim. “He wasn’t what he is now, now that he’s got bodyguards and confidence. He was nervous to go onstage, and he was a little stiff in the beginning but he loosened up eventually.”
Their material fit the era, a metal-ish sound that aligned with what was permeating the Sunset Strip. W.A.R.: The Unauthorized Biography of William Axl Rose described Rapidfire’s songs as “sub-Judas Priest fare.”
The band recorded a five-song demo on May 25, 1983, and Rose played his final show with Rapidfire just days later. The performance took place at Gazzarri’s, a Sunset Strip haunt that hosted many of the era’s upstart acts. A flier from that night notes that Rapidfire played three sets. It also declares: “Music is like sex. Just because you came doesn’t mean you can’t do it again.”
Listen to Rapidfire's 'Ready to Rumble' EP With Axl Rose
Rose showed up at the last minute for Rapidfire's next gig on May 28 with “his white jacket dyed pink, and his hair Aqua-Netted straight up and straight out, like in [the video for Guns N’ Roses’] ‘Welcome to the Jungle,’” Lawrence told Maxim. “The whole band kind of looked at him and said, ‘What the fuck?!’ And I remembered [Rapidfire drummer] Chuck [Gordon] going, ‘You’re not going on stage like that!’ I said, ‘Just leave him alone.’”
Lawrence remembered telling Rose, “‘Let’s do this gig and then kind of see how it goes, but this is not the vision that we have for this band.’ We were just kind of guys rocking out, as opposed to doing New York Dolls glam.”
After the show, Lawrence and Rose had a heart-to-heart discussion. “Izzy [Stradlin] was there,” Lawrence revealed. Rose “came up into the dressing room and he and I talked and we said, ‘Maybe we should part ways.’ I don’t know if I said it or he said it – probably him. He wanted to play with Izzy because they came out from Indiana. We said best of luck to each other.”
Contrary to what has been reported, there is no proof that Slash was in attendance the night Rose played his final Rapidfire gig. Slash didn't discover Rose’s talents until the budding frontman teamed up with Stradlin in Hollywood Rose.
The first time Slash heard Rose “was on a cassette that Izzy brought over to my house,” Slash told Kerrang. “There was all this noise and then there’s this really intense high voice over the top of it. My first impression was that it was very soulful. It had a bluesy, melodic thing to it, which was rare for that type of voice. You didn’t often hear somebody hold that melody together so naturally.”
Slash then “went to see him and Izzy play one time – also at Gazzarri’s,” Slash added. “I didn’t actually realize I was going to see the same person that was on that cassette. They were fucking hardcore on stage. Izzy was doing knee slides and Axl was bashing down. It was cool – like, ‘Fuck.’”
Rapidfire never came close to the fame their subsequent band Guns N’ Roses would enjoy, though their recordings with Rose were eventually issued in 2014 as the Ready to Rumble EP. Lawrence had pushed through legal red tape to have the songs released, only to suddenly die two years later.
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