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20 Years Later: Original LA Guns Singer Paul Black Set's the Record Straight

By Debby Rao, Boston Contributor
Monday, December 4, 2006 @ 8:42 PM


"They took something of mine t

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After 20 years in the music business, the original line-up of LA Guns has reunited and are currently touring the country featuring Tracii Guns on guitar, Paul Black on vocals, Nickey Alexander on drums, and Jeremy Guns on bass.

Many LA Guns fans do not realize that singer Paul Black actually helped co-write a lot of the songs on the debut album of LA Guns on Polygram Records, including "Show No Mercy", "One Way Ticket", and "One More Reason To Die".

In 2005, Paul Black released, LA Guns (Black List), which is a collection of demos recorded in the early eighties, when he fronted LA Guns for three years.

I had the opportunity to witness the original line-up of LA Guns. Paul and Tracii, both have that certain metal punk rock flair that makes for a cutting edge sound in concert. Along with the punk infused rhythm section which includes drummer Nickey Alexander, who also has performed with The Lords of the New Church.

In this Exclusive interview for KNAC.COM, Paul discusses the 20th Anniversary Tour of LA Guns, the current controversy surrounding the two "LA Guns", working with Tracii Guns, what transpired 20 years ago with Polygram Records, and future touring plans of the original LA Guns.

KNAC.COM: Paul, The original LA Guns are currently on a 20th Anniversary Tour. Tell the readers about the original LA GUNS and how the tour transpired.

BLACK: Well Tracii Guns, Mick Cripps, Nickey Alexander and I started the band in 1985. We were going to call the band Faster Pussycat but ended up adapting the name L.A. Guns that was a name that had been abandoned for about a year by one of Traciiís former bands. Raz owned the name, a friend of ours. He gave the name L.A. Guns to us. We wrote songs, played shows, passed out flyers, starved, partied. We lived together and fought together and built up a following around Hollywood for three years. The end result of all that work was a record deal with Polygram, who broke up that original band to put an L.A. Guns of their own together. Mick and Tracii did get to stay and benefit from the record deal and Nickey stuck around for the first record, but we had to battle over credits and compensation so it caused bitterness, which kept us from talking to each other for years. Now we're grown ups. We've kissed and made up and put the bitterness behind us. After all, it's only rock n roll. It is supposed to be fun. We decided to start jamming again and when word got out that we were back together we were offered shows right and left. So now we're on tour.

KNAC.COM: How long is the tour slated to last? What countries will the tour cover?

BLACK: We have already done the U.S. once. Then we toured Argentina and Mexico. Now we're on our second run of the U.S., which will finish on December 16th when we play the Viper Room in our hometown of Hollywood. Then in January we have a European tour. We will be starting in Italy and going to Spain, UK, Istanbul, etc. That tour ends in Greece. I hear talk of other stuff after Europe but I'm hoping to get back to L.A. and stay put for a while. I need to see my son, plus it would be nice to record some new material before going out again.

KNAC.COM: The band will be headed to the West Coast soon. Are you looking forward to playing in the Northwest?

BLACK: Of course. I look forward to playing everywhere. We're on our way to Vegas right now, and then we play a couple dates in California. After Yucaipa and San Louis Obispo we have a long drive to Montana, South Dakota, Idaho, Wyoming, then we cut over to Washington for several dates in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and Spokane. Then back down the West Coast to Portland, Oregon then San Jose, California and finally back home to Los Angeles. Ya know we're from L.A. that is why it is called L.A. Guns.

KNAC.COM: Any particular shows that stand out so far?

BLACK: El Teatro in Buenos Aries was amazing. It was a huge theatre packed with people. The girls were beautiful and the crowd was screaming. You would have thought we were the Beatles or something the way they treated us. I love Argentina. I never wanted to leave. Para to-dos mis amigos. But we have had some pretty cool shows all over. Lately we have locked into a groove where every show has been good yet it is always a little different and never stale because we play off the audience and make them our friends. We did a gig in Jonesboro, NC and had a great crowd. I asked the audience to sit down with me during One Way Ticket. The floor was pretty much stage level anyway. The entire place all sat down with me and I had cute girls on both sides of me and all around me singing like we were at a campfire. We played a show in San Antonio the other night at a place called Tiffany's and it was a huge crowd and they were dancing like crazy so I figured I would try to re-create they same thing I did in Jonesboro. But they wouldn't do it even though I had insisted that the floor was clean because I had mopped it myself earlier. So I told them if you don't want to sit on the floor then come join me on stage. In a matter of seconds they came right up with me and filled the stage. The Bullet Boys joined us too. We all had our arms around each other singing and swinging together. It was like a love-in. Last night in a remote town in Texas called Victoria, I was out on the edge of the stage and all the girls were grabbing my family jewels. Jeremy thought it would be funny to push me off. He shoved me and sent me sailing off the stage. The audience caught me. I was upside down, sideways, right side up, carried all around the room and surfing the crowd and they never dropped me. Just like the old days. They put me back on stage and even put the mic back in my hand to sing. Anyway, those are the things that stick out to me. Rock n Roll is supposed to be fun. When the audience joins in, it's great. I hate it when bands get up on stage and act like you are supposed to worship them. I like to connect with people and include everyone as part of the show.

KNAC.COM: There's some controversy with the two LA Guns that are currently on tour. What are some of the fans reactions to the latest re-union of the original members?

BLACK: It has been really great at all our live shows with the people I get to meet in person. The crowds love us and the fans are so nice to me. There is some controversy if you read the Internet though because the other line up is really upset that the original band got back together. They keep attacking us, especially me. But there is not much they can really say legitimately that could hold any weight. We started this band. They actually dissect my interviews and try to change my story cause they don't like the word getting out. They really like to portray me as a junkie that was so out of it so I couldnít possibly remember what songs I wrote or what transpired with the label and the band. What can I say? I was there and they weren't. I remember everything. They even have street teams putting us down every chance they get with biased reviews. I donít understand it either cuz we donít put them down and weíve invited them to join us for the 20th anniversary celebration. Oh well. Most people donít pay much attention to that anyway and neither do I. Like Tracii told me if you want to get your feelings hurt just read Internet.

KNAC.COM: Now this is actually the first tour of the original LA Guns. How does it feel to be singing some of the hits like,Ē One More Reason To Die," Show No Mercy", and "Sex Action" on this 1st original LA Guns line-up tour ever?

BLACK: It's really cool to go back and revisit some of the songs we played as kids but Iím looking forward to digging out some of the real old obscure L.A. Guns songs that were never recorded and writing some new songs as well.

KNAC.COM: What transpired 20 years ago, and made the Polygram bring in Phil Lewis to replace you? Were you aware of the situation with the record company that was transpiring?

BLACK: Well. I guess I was a little cocky with the label. I kind of had a fuck you type of attitude with them. And I guess you do not do that with major labels when you're an unknown artist. (Laughter) I didn't like anyone trying to change me though and A & R reps like to manipulate even though most of them are complete idiots. They kept telling me to write songs like Cinderella, Bon Jovi, and Poison. It was insulting to me. Why should I follow in their footsteps just because they are successful? I wanted to set trends, not follow them. Ironically Guns N' Roses were the next band to break out of Hollywood and the same type of controversy, which helped to make them famous, was the same reason I lost my deal. Here's the pivotal reason I left L.A. Guns. Izzy and I got busted together. Rumors shot around town that Guns n Roses were going to lose their deal with Geffen. Polygram felt it was time to replace me before signing L.A. Guns to a deal. Phil was a singer that our manager knew and he was more than happy to take my place. I don't blame him. A million dollar deal handed over on a silver platter. I would have done the same thing. Though I wouldnít have wanted to take anyone else's credit. Anyway, the record label is gone now and everything has come full circle with the original line up back together to do some cool rock n roll shows again.

KNAC.COM: You actually helped write most of the songs that helped LA Guns get the record deal. Did the band change your lyrics and rewrite the songs after Phil Lewis joined the band?

BLACK: Yes. Of course I did go along somewhat with what Polygram was asking of me because I really did want the deal. We have been talking to them for a while but they hadn't completely committed. I wanted to make a record though. They took me to a Bon Jovi and Cinderella concert and made me watch. Then afterwards they told me now go home and write some songs like that. That week I introduced the song that clinched the deal for us. Though Bon Jovi had nothing to do with it. It was a song I had introduced in the beginning of L.A. Guns but was rejected by Mick for sounding too much like a Dead Boys song. I simply gave it a different working title and introduced it again. I was showing the song to Robert Stoddard, our other guitarist, when the A & R rep Bob Scorros walked into rehearsal and said,Ē Who wrote that?" I told him that I did and pretended that I was inspired by the great Bon Jovi and he said,"Thats our first single." You definitely have the deal congratulations. I guess I was able to make him feel that taking me to that concert did the trick so he was able to get his two cents in. The song was called "Love and Hate" and we went right into the studio and recorded it for them. I brought the song with me when I played it in Black Cherry but I changed the name to "Bad Side Of Town". But the new L.A. Guns actually released it as their first single on the debut album. I was shocked when I heard it and found they had changed the words of my song without my permission to"Sex Action" I' ve re-written the song yet again and its now called "How Does It Feel To Be A Liar?"(Laughter) Someday I'll probably record the new version but for now I sing it as "Sex Action" cause it's still my music and that is the way it was popularized. I need to make the fans happy and then I'm happy. Other songs like "One More Reason To Die" and "Show No Mercy" I sing with my original lyrics because the chorus is pretty much the same anyway. "Never Enough" is a song I wrote called "Looking Over My Shoulder." It was actually written about the record company, my manager, and my band, who were all keeping tabs on me. Polygram hired two outside songwriters for that song, one to change my lyrics and one to change my melody.

KNAC.COM: Do you think the record company wanted to totally revamp the band into more a metal band versus having LA Guns have more of a punk sound? Was it all about image?

BLACK: I believe Polygram felt they were on a roll and wanted to keep the trend going but L.A. Guns were never really punk. Nickey and I came directly out of the punk rock scene and brought the punk element. Tracii was more into Randy Rhoads, Aerosmith, Motley, and Led Zep so it was a weird mix. It worked though. We wanted him to play more like Johnny Thunders or Chuck Berry or Keith Richards. But Tracii was really able to cut loose and it was hard to hold him back. So it usually fell somewhere in between. Tracii knows how to excite an audience when he plays. He had a lot to do with defining the sound.

KNAC.COM: What song actually got LA GUNS signed?

BLACK: "Love and Hate" was the song that got the deal. It was later recorded for the debut album as "Sex Action." It 's interesting that the "Sex Action" version of this song makes Phil and I co-authors together.

KNAC.COM: What was your reaction to the music industry when this all went down? Were you disheartened to learn that the band you were in for three years, had taken on a whole new image?

BLACK: I was very disillusioned by the music business. They took something of mine that I loved, put a dollar value on it, stole it, and mutilated it. I don't know that the image was all that different. We had already defined a lot of what made the band popular. Skinny, black hair, make-up, leather, scarfs, jewelry. When I left, I think they looked specifically for someone to step in and fill my shoes that would keep up that same image.

KNAC.COM: Did the record company ever try to re-write the history of the early LA Guns, when they were trying to sell this new image?

BLACK: They didn't just try. They did rewrite it. The bio they issued has the band starting in 1987 instead of 85 and lists the line up they signed as the original band. They needed to erase my history.

KNAC.COM: In 2005 you released,Ē The Black List." Was this record released to show part of the history of the original LA Guns? Did you want to let the world know about the early days of the band?

BLACK: Yes. It was a documentary record. I was just documenting one section of my musical career. It has a book inside that tells the story. I am planning on doing it with the Mau Maus and Black Cherry too. I didnít realize that it would be as shocking to people as it has been. The Sonic Boom Sun Down And Yellow Moon record has been getting great reaction also. It's too bad you can't find either album anywhere. We don't even have it with us on the road. There are all sold out as far as I know. A second printing is being done for they Black List record though. Hopefully we will have some copies to take to Europe with us. People throughout this tour have been asking me for both those records and I feel bad that I donít have either record for them.

KNAC.COM: After Phil Lewis joined the band. Drummer Nickey Alexander was also replaced with Steve Riley of Wasp. Did Nickey want to take more of a punk rock route? I know he was also a member of Lords of the New Church?

BLACK: I think Nickey's parting had more to do with a fall out with Phil than wanting to change musical directions. Though I understand that he didn't particularly like the sound of the band after the line up change and felt it had lost its edge.

KNAC.COM: Did you perform with Phil Lewis in LA Guns recently in Los Angeles?

BLACK: Yes, I invited him to sing a song with me at the 20th Anniversary Cathouse show to help kick off the tour and help us celebrate the twentieth anniversary of L.A. Guns. And also to help relieve the tension between the two line-ups by including him. He sang with me but seemed reluctant to talk to me afterward. I asked him to call me cause we probably have a lot to talk about. But he hasn't called me yet. I donít think he likes me anymore.

KNAC.COM: You have a very impressive punk rock history. Tell me about your punk rock roots growing up in the San Francisco area.

BLACK: I first started going to punk shows in San Francisco in 1978 when I was a music student at San Jose State University. I'd see bands like the Dead Kennedys and The Ramones. I still had long brown hair and drove a chopper. It wasnít long before I was chopping up my hair and dying it different colors. By the time I moved to L.A. in 1980 I was fully into the punk rock scene. I put aside all the techniques I had learned in the art of drumming and just beat the shit out of the drums. It was a pure simple art. I met Rick Wilder and Scott Franklin and joined The Mau Maus, which was a cross between New York Dolls and Sex Pistols. It was a great band but we were all too fucked up to ever finish a record.

KNAC.COM: Is the original LA Guns planning on re-writing the history of the band, and adding a new chapter to the original version with a new release?

BLACK: That's the plan. We'll have to see what actually happens. But none of us are really planning on doing this all the time. We're just doing a special run of shows and maybe a record. Then we will take a break and give the name a rest while we do other things.

KNAC.COM: How did LA Guns come into fruition and evolve as a band?

BLACK: We started by just learning and playing cover songs from bands we liked. Aerosmith, New York Dolls, Alice Cooper and Mitch Ryder were some of the ones we played at our first show. After that just the clash of different personalities and influences, experimenting, jamming and seeing what audiences liked and disliked eventually helped us to find common ground and define our own sound.

KNAC.COM: How did you meet Tracii Guns?

BLACK: Mick brought me to Nickey's Love Palace. We jammed on Aerosmith and Alice Cooper songs.

KNAC.COM: Did you ever get to see Tracii perform with Guns N'Roses? After Tracii left GNR, he went on to form LA Guns. Is that correct? Over how long a time period did it take for LA Guns to form?

BLACK: Guns N' Roses used to open for another band of mine, The Joneses. I can't remember if it was Tracii or Slash playing at the time. After he left GNR we put the new band together while I was still playing drums with The Joneses. It took about a week to put a set together and play our first show at Cathe De Grande. We actually have an audio recording of that first show. Tracii and I have talked about releasing that first show on a vinyl picture disc. We also have some old video footage to put out.

KNAC.COM: Without a doubt Tracii Guns has an extensive 80's rock career. How does it feel to be working with Tracii again?

BLACK: I love Tracii and it's good working with him again. The first run around the United States was great. I guess we were in our honeymoon period. It lasted through Argentina. But when we did Mexico I think the road started taking its toll and during the first couple of weeks of this U.S. run I thought we were going to self-destruct. There have been some major blowouts all around with everybody. But somehow we all managed to keep it together and stay professional and keep the tour going. Now it all seems to have leveled out and we all seem to have become a family together and we have put the differences behind and look out for each other. We spent Thanksgiving together and ate turkey and jambalaya with the Bullet Boys.

KNAC.COM: How have you grown musically since the early days? How is this LA Guns different from the early heyday?

BLACK: Not much different except I donít need drugs to get crazy and we have Jeremy Guns on bass.

KNAC.COM: Do you see a resurgence in 80's metal?

BLACK: Well yeah but I don't see it coming back like it was. Something will happen but it'll be different. Right now it's a nostalgia thing just like people have been interested and influenced by the 50s 60s and 70s. Now they're interested in the 80s.

KNAC.COM: How would you describe the heyday of 80's rock scene? What was the scene like on the Sunset Strip back in the day?

BLACK: It was a big party. You could go up to the strip any weekend and the streets were mobbed with people cruising up and down outside and inside the clubs. I could get into any show I wanted but most the time unless it was a cool band I'd hang out outside. That's where all the action was. Girls wore nothing and there were lots of them.

KNAC.COM: What was Axl Rose like? Did you ever get to open for GNR in LA?

BLACK: I meet Axl when GNR use to open for The Joneses. I remember him being a really nice kid. Not the Axl everyone knows today. LAG hung out a lot with GNR and we were always at each other's shows but we didnít play on the same bill too often. I think there was always the dilemma of who would headline. Ha ha. Seems kind of funny now. I think we played twice on the same bill but even though we went on first we considered it a co-headliner.

KNAC.COM: What does the future hold for the original line-up of LA Guns?

BLACK: The future's not here yet so we'll have to wait and see.

KNAC.COM: is their anything us that you would like to say to the fans?

BLACK: Yes. To all my friends who have already come out to see us. Thank you so much for your warm welcome back to the ring and for those who havenít seen us yet, I look forward to meeting you somewhere along the road.


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