The Worst Year Of Guns N’ Roses

Keeping a band together is a challenging task. Whether it’s the departure of an essential member or a release that received a negative reception, it isn’t easy to keep working and move on. In most cases, such events break the spirit of the remaining band members, resulting in tension between them. The band then has to make an important decision — should they continue as a band or leave the music scene?

Guns N’ Roses have been active in the rock music scene for almost four decades. However, it hasn’t always been fun and games for them. Band members struggled with addiction and had creative and personal differences over the years. Looking through the course of events, their worst year began in late 1996, when Slash left Guns N’ Roses. His departure resulted in a chain of events that took its toll on the band’s success.

Between 1994 and 1996, GN’R rarely recorded new music material. Although they intended to release an album of 10-12 songs in 1997, Axl Rose decided not to use the material because he felt the band members weren’t collaborative enough. According to a statement by Matt Sorum, those songs ended up in ‘It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,’ the debut album of Slash’s Snakepit. Besides contributing to Gilby Clarke’s debut ‘Pawnshop Guitars,’ GN’R released a cover of the Stones’ ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ during this period.

This cover ended up being the last music effort to feature Slash on lead guitar, McKagan on bass, and Sorum on drums. Tension arose within the band when Axl Rose’s brought his childhood friend Paul ‘Huge’ Tobias as the new rhythm guitarist without asking his bandmates. Slash had creative and personal differences with Tobias, and he told the rest of the band it would be either him or Paul to leave GN’R.

Axl Rose’s firing of Gilby Clarke in 1995 without consulting anyone and leaving GN’R to create a new partnership under the band’s name got negative reactions from his bandmates. Due to the tensions between him and Rose, Slash left the band in 1996. Following Slash, Matt Sorum also left GN’R after an argument about Paul Tobias. Duff McKagan was the last to leave, resigning in 1997 due to his frustration about the band’s lack of creativity.

By the end of 1998, the Guns N’ Roses lineup was Axl Rose, Tommy Stinson, Josh Freese, Robin Finck, Paul Tobias, Dizzy Reed, and multi-instrumentalist Chris Pitman. With Rose as the only remaining member from the original lineup, the band started working on ‘Chinese Democracy.’ The album was in the works since 1994, and although they announced it was almost finished from time to time, it took GN’R over a decade to release the record.

The delay resulted from production issues, personnel problems, and financial challenges. ‘Chinese Democracy’ saw at least six producers and had countless sessions, which featured numerous musicians, such as Dave Navarro, Brian May, and Sebastian Bach. It ended up being the most expensive album GN’R released, with $13 million in production costs. In the end, even Slash, McKagan, and Stradlin made positive remarks about ‘Chinese Democracy,’ while Axl was far from pleased.

After its release, ‘Chinese Democracy’ debuted at number three on the US Billboard 200 chart and sold 261,000 copies in its first week, way below their expectations. In its second week, the sales dropped significantly, and the album fell from number 3 to number 18 on the Billboard chart. Although it received relatively positive reviews, ‘Chinese Democracy’ reflected Axl Rose’s struggle to keep GN’R together without three of the band’s original members.