Tue, Jul 13, 2004 - Page 16 News List

'I died. I do remember that.'

Slash has seen it all. Fame, women, drugs and a longperiod when the music he made was the farthest thing from cool.But his new band Velvet Revolver is topping charts andproving rock has found some guts once again

THE GUARDIAN , Atlantic City, New Jersey

Velvet Revolver guitarist Slash performs during a sold-out show at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

PHOTO: REUTERS

It probably wasn't Atlantic City that Guns N' Roses had in mind when they wrote Paradise City. The latter was a vision of a debauched rocker's nirvana "where the grass is green and the girls are pretty", but Atlantic City barely lives up to its billing as a tasteless parody of Blackpool.

It's a grim cluster of fast-food outlets and concrete-slab casinos advertising cabaret turns by Wayne Newton or Patti Labelle, and the fabled boardwalk looks like a shopping mall that never got finished because the contractors went bankrupt. Some say the Mob tossed the corpse of union boss Jimmy Hoffa into the marshlands alongside the highway.

Yet this is where Guns N' Roses veterans Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum found themselves on a sultry summer Saturday last month. They're here with their new band Velvet Revolver, in which they're joined by vocalist Scott Weiland (formerly of Stone Temple Pilots) and second guitarist Dave Kushner.

Atlantic City is the last stop on their debut American tour, a string of gigs that kicked off at the Roxy in Hollywood before scorching across the US. They're headlining the first day of a weekend mini-festival at Fantasy Island, which turns out to be a patch of waste ground behind the parking lot of the Borgata casino resort, with Budweiser tents and the kind of amusement stalls where you throw a ball at a target to send a girl in a bikini tumbling into a tank of water.

surprise success

Cynics predicted that Velvet Revolver's alliance of battered ex-junkies -- in Weiland's case, the "ex" part is in rather faint lettering -- would disintegrate before it left the runway. Hence, there was a noise of hats being eaten when VR's new album, Contraband, sold 250,000 copies in its first week, barging the smarmy Usher off the No. 1 slot and trouncing the combined sales of new greatest-hits compilations from Guns N' Roses and Stone Temple Pilots.

"You sort of have to expect no matter what you do that there's going to be this negative thing that comes with it, and people's preconceptions of what you're doing," drawls lead guitarist Slash, making inroads into a bottle of burgundy in the band's dressing room. "God knows I had to deal with it with Guns N' Roses the whole time."

For once, the guitarist has pulled his mass of tumbling black curls back from his face so you can actually see what he looks like. Despite having survived snowdrifts of drugs, lagoons of Jack Daniel's and groupies tumbling out of wardrobes, Slash seems younger than his 40-odd years.

"The kids, the actual fans, were feverishly talking about Velvet Revolver because I think they needed a new shot in the arm as far as rock `n' roll was concerned," he continues, "but then of course there was the buzz from inside the music industry which was, `Oh, Scott's a fucking heroin addict and Slash and those guys are all washed up,' but they all were watching us, y'know? But once we were onstage the only people that really mattered for us were the people who'd bought a ticket."

One mogul who thought he could sniff a phenomenon on the wind was RCA's Clive Davis, the man who shaped the careers of Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston, Alicia Keyes and Carlos Santana (twice), and the only non-performer ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Davis flew to LA and drove out to the band's rehearsal studio, to find out, says Slash, whether they were serious or "if it was just a bunch of elements plucked out from superstar bands and put together as a fabricated fuckin' thing." Davis swiftly concluded that the Revolvers were the boys he wanted, though since we're talking about three-fifths of the biggest-selling rock band since Led Zeppelin, this can't have been one of his most difficult decisions.

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