The Reason Axl Rose Dropped Brian May From Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Chinese Democracy’
Formed in 1986, Guns N’ Roses is an iconic hard rock band that is still actively making new music for their fans. Although they currently have a different drummer, two additional keyboardists, and a guitarist, the band’s original lineup in 1986 was Axl Rose, Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan, and Steven Adler.
In 1987, Guns N’ Roses released their debut studio album ‘Appetite For Destruction’ and enjoyed remarkable success. In the following years, they released their 1988’s ‘GN’R Lies’ and ‘Use Your Illusion I & II’ albums in 1991. After achieving great commercial success and releasing a covers album in 1993, GN’R then focused on ‘Chinese Democracy.’
In the mid-’90s, Slash, Duff McKagan, and the drummer Matt Sorum left Guns N’ Roses due to creative and personal differences. So, only Rose and the keyboardist Dizzy Left were left in the band. In 1997, they started working with several musicians for the ‘Chinese Democracy’ album. It appears that Queen’s Brian May was also among them, but his musical efforts didn’t make it to the album. Let’s learn the reason why.
Brian May Played Guitar For ‘Chinese Democracy’s ‘Catcher In The Rye’
In 1997, Rose and Reed started working with numerous musicians for the ‘Chinese Democracy’ album. Those musicians included Robin Finck, Paul Tobias, Tommy Stinson, Josh Freese, and Chris Pitman. They then changed their lineup several times, working with Buckethead, Richard Fortus, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, and drummers Brain and Frank Ferrer.
Along with these musicians, Queen guitarist Brian May also made contributions to the album. Among dozens of songs recorded at that time, May also recorded lead guitar for the song ‘Catcher In The Rye’ in 1991. He also performed several other songs.
Axl Rose is quite a perfectionist though, and he wanted to put a great amount of effort into the album. Considering the lineup changes and other issues, the album’s recording process and release took a really long time. When the album was released in 2008, there was no sign of Brian May’s contributions.
Axl Rose Dropped Brian May From ‘Chinese Democracy’ As They Notably Altered His Version
According to Ultimate Guitar, Axl Rose revealed the reasons for this decision in a statement. He started by highlighting that these reasons are not that ‘big’ or ‘in spite to anyone.’ The musician then stated the fans didn’t initially appreciate Brian May since they were focused on Slash’s absence. So, the first reason was that the fans didn’t appreciate Brian May’s efforts at that time.
Following that, Rose revealed that he and the producer Sean Beavan worked on the parts May played and altered them to suit the elements they needed. It seems that they did this to the extent that May didn’t even recognize playing these parts. Therefore, it made no sense to credit Brian May, according to the singer.
As reported by Ultimate Guitar, Axl Rose’s statement was:
“There are a few reasons, and none of them are all that big and definitely not in spite or to slight anyone. First off, obviously, I knew people liked the song, but the Brian appreciation really only showed up in force publicly after we had moved on in Guns. In fact, not many seemed to care, and most comments were aimed at why Slash, in their opinions, should be here. Brian’s solo itself is a personal fave of mine, and I really couldn’t understand, as he’s such a rock legend, why it wasn’t openly appreciated more at the time.
In actuality, all that feel and emotion referred to now had a lot to do with Sean Beavan and me and the parts I chose out of Brian’s different runs, versions, practice runs, etc., to make sure we had those elements in one version. It’s entirely constructed from edits based around one specific note Brian hit in a throwaway take. And though Brian seems to have warmed a bit to it, at least publicly, he was, unfortunately, none too pleased at the time with our handiwork.
I remember looking at Brian standing to my left and him staring at the big studio speakers a bit aghast saying, ‘But that’s not what I played.’ Sean Beavan and I were not in any way trying to mess with Brian, we just did what we do and then try and do our best to stand up for our decisions.”
As seen in a previous The Guardian article, Brian May responded to this upon receiving a fan’s message. He released a statement saying he was not aware of this. Moreover, the guitarist said he was proud of the outcome as he worked hard for the song. May then added that he understands why Axl Rose wants an album reflecting GN’R’s music, and he will keep the tapes private out of respect for Rose.
According to The Guardian, Brian May said:
“Ah… Well, I did not know this! Well, it is a shame, perhaps. I did put quite a lot of work in and was proud of it. But I could understand if Axl wants to have an album that reflects the work of the members of the band as it is, right now. I do have mixes of the tracks with my guitar on, work tapes at the time, but they will remain private, out of respect for Axl.”
You can listen to Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Catcher In The Rye’ below.