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L.A. Guns Hollywood Raw

By Mick Stingley, Contributor
Thursday, November 18, 2004 @ 11:56 PM


(Deadline)

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It’s not easy being an L.A. Guns fan.

I have weathered the changes in line-ups; I have enjoyed the changes in musical direction; I have ventured out to see them in clubs, arenas, sheds, and more clubs. I have seen them go on at 7PM and I have stood around all night waiting for them to take a stage by 1AM. I bought all the records… first on vinyl; later on cd. There are something like fifteen cds out now. There are the releases with the classic line-up (by which I mean Tracii Guns, Phil Lewis, Steve Riley, Kelly Nickels and Mick Cripps); and there are the releases with Chris Van Dahl, Ralph Saenz and Jizzy Pearl on vocals. There are two or three collections, one live record, and one “re-recording” (Cocked And Re-Loaded). There were two great records from 2000 – 2002 (Man In The Moon and Waking The Dead) that went, commercially, nowhere. And there is a recent collection of “covers” that Tracii doesn’t even appear on. And there’s about five versions of “Ballad Of Jayne.” FIVE. And now… this. And I’m so fuckin’ psyched!

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The next best thing to a reunion of the classic line-up, Hollywood Raw, (subtitled “the original sessions”), is a collection of songs that would become the self-titled debut on Vertigo/PolyGram Records in 1988. Of course, for L.A. Guns fanatics and Sunset Strip rock-lovers, it is fantastic. This is what the band sounded like, one imagines, in clubs, before the hits, before the videos, big tours and the whole shebang. This is also what Tracii sounded like when he was all of 20. When you hear him shredding and wailing away on this, consider that. (Although do not consider the “instrumental” track included here, which is barely a minute long and sounds like it was a warm-up for another song.)

It should be stressed right away that the quality surpasses the imagination of such an output. Often, when “the early years” of some band finds its way to market, the quality is piss-poor, and only of interest to a collector. The sound quality here is jaw-droppingly good. It’s not mired in slick production, with overdubs galore. This record is called, ‘Raw’ for a reason -- this band was clearly playing these songs in clubs and went right to a studio to lay them down. That’s where the raw comes in, and ultimately, shows what LAG was about, in 1985 and 1986.

This is a double-cd release, with the first disc showcasing 15 songs with Phil Lewis, Tracii Guns, Kelly Nickels, Mick Cripps and drummer Nicky Alexander. According to the meager liner notes on the otherwise exquisite packaging, this was the demo they shopped to record labels before they got signed. The second disc is the original four-song EP put out when the line-up was Tracii and… some other guys. I’ll come back to that later.

The first disc begins with the first of three Phil Lewis compositions called, “Soho” which is packed with sneer and great ballsy guitar. At once, it feels like the major-label debut (hereafter referred to as “LAG 1”), and it also sets the mood for the entire record. The drums seem a little low in the mix, but not to the detriment of any song. Phil’s vocals, here as throughout, find strength in his howling and his occasional braying. It’s too bad this song never made to LAG 1, but helps make this release all the more appreciated as a result.

“Bitch is Back,” “Nothing to Lose,” “Down in the City,” “Electric Gypsy,” “One Way Ticket,” “Hollywood Tease,” “Shoot For Thrills” and “One More Reason” all made it to LAG 1. Here, they are a little faster, a little less produced (check “Nothing To Lose” and “Down in the City”) and years later, may outclass the versions from the debut for a lot of L.A. Guns fans.

Of particular interest is the version of the song “Sex Action.” You’d be hard-pressed to believe that was the original title, as those words never appear in this version, which has completely different lyrics. The most glaring example of how a song can change from inception to completion in “the recording process.” It’s a bit of a disappointment since most of the rest of the songs here are familiar and sound great revved up and stripped down. To hear “Talk about love” in one verse and NOT hear “Sex action” soon after is a let-down. Good thing it got reworked for the debut, these lyrics somehow lack the bite of “How’s it baby? I got the potion…”

Also included is “Winter’s Fool,” which was a B-side I never owned. I cannot compare it, except to say that I dig it as it appears here. It just makes me wish the hell they would have recorded more B-sides, so years later, as now, I would have some cool music to enjoy as an odd collection. It sounds like a New York Dolls tune, and that says an awful lot about where this band was coming from and where they might be going.

“Guilty” is another Phil Lewis composition, and along with “Midnight Alibi,” might have to suffice fans wanting to hear “new” music from the classic line-up. These tunes are pretty good: “Guilty” (slow) and “Midnight Alibi” (rocker) offer what could have been had they scrapped “Cry No More” from the LAG 1. The real treat would be if they move these into future live sets.

The last song is called “Alice in the Wasteland,” and while it might have passed for filler on LAG 1, it stands out as another lost gem, and what might have been. Just a little song lamenting some girl and her problems, but, again, like the other unreleased or never-officially-recorded songs, it ought to be part of the regular set.

The second disc is an EP that was pressed before Phil Lewis joined. There is absolutely no information on this release offering the line-up at the time, except to say, the time it was recorded was 1985. It is pretty rough and sounds cheaply made. The songs -- that is, the music is interesting, and it’s a wonder Tracii never really used any of it, since they’re pretty heavy. The vocalist (Paul Black?) sounds A LOT like Blackie Lawless, which, in this case, is not a good thing. The lyrics are embarrassing and trite, lacking Phil Lewis’ tongue-in-cheek British charm. “Don’t Love Me” is unbearable. “When Dreams Don’t Follow Through” sounds like they were trying to make a Dio ballad after listening to Blue Oyster Cult and seeing W.A.S.P. at Gazzarri’s way too much. I can’t even believe this is L.A. Guns, much less Tracii, but it’s an interesting piece of history, and as a bonus disc only serves to make the listener love Phil Lewis so much more. The song “It’s Not True” is forgettable, except that Tracii turned the riff into “One More Reason” later on. Thank God. The last song, “Something Heavy,” sounds like Tracii was just getting into RATT and Motley Crue with its double-bass drum action. It does sport some stop-start guitar tricks that Tracii would later own. Don’t know if he used the riff again, but it would not have been out of place on “American Hardcore” (which is totally underrated -- listen to “Mine” -- don’t get me started!) but the vocalist just does not embody the sentiment of what L.A. Guns would morph into.

The book on L.A. Guns has not been written yet. Given their history so far, it would be a shame for this band to wither and die amidst more line-up changes and familial bickering. A reunion may not be forthcoming anytime soon, but, in the meantime, there is this. And the best part is, with few exceptions, it sounds as fresh and exciting as the first time you heard L.A. Guns.

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