It's been an interesting ride for original L.A. Guns lead singer Paul Black. Cut from L.A. Guns just before the band landed a recording contract, Paul spent years in and out of courtroom, fighting for his rights. Now, more than 20 years later, Paul is back fronting the band he helped form along with guitarist Tracii Guns. Bring Back Glam! recently chatted with Paul fresh off a major tour stop in Korea. During the chat, Paul talks about his past, the present and the future of L.A. Guns. Transcription follows.
Bring Back Glam!: What was it like, playing in Korea?
Paul Black: It was amazing! The first night we played in Seoul, and it was kind of weird. There was no one in the club – I think it holds 500 people – and, about five minutes before were supposed to go, it was half full, and everyone was sitting Indian style on the floor. By the time we hit the stage, the club was completely packed. It was weird; it seems like everyone waited to the last minute. I guess everyone is really punctual over there. If you go on at 8:30, then everyone shows up at 8:30 to watch you play. The next day we played in Busan (Beach), and when we did sound check it was pouring down rain, and we thought it was really going to hurt the crowd. We went back to the hotel, came back later that night, and when we went on stage, it was a sea of people. I think this was the biggest crowd I’ve ever played to.
BBG: How many people do you think were in the crowd?
Paul: At least 30,000.
BBG: You think Busan Beach was bigger than Rocklahoma?
Paul: Yeah, it was definitely bigger than Rocklahoma. (Editor’s note: 100,000 people attended the four day Rocklahoma music festival last month in Pryor, Oklahoma. Concert organizers estimate at least 30,000 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.) The crowd was completely nuts. When we would play, everyone’s arms would go up in the air at once. Everyone would be jumping up and the down. The whole entire crowd would bounce up and down. When we did ballads, the arms would wave back and forth. They really got into it. L.A. Guns had never been to Korea before. The reception was really great in Korea. They want us back...We’re trying to take a break, but we keep getting sent back out on the road. We’ve been working a lot this year. We’ve just been all around the world. We’re trying to get a small window of time where we can work on a record. Tracii (Guns, founding guitarist) just presented me with nine songs to work on. Guitar riffs, arrangements that he recorded. I’ve got them on my computer, and I’m listening to them constantly, writing lyrics and melodies for them. Hopefully, we’ll find a break where we can rehearse, record some new songs and put a record out.
BBG: Will you have the new record out by 2008?
Paul: Yes. We’ll be working on it by 2008.
BBG: What do some of the new songs sound like?
Paul: Some songs remind me of Alice Cooper. Some songs remind me of Def Leppard. Some songs remind me of Aerosmith. We’ll have to see what the overall thing looks like after the lyrics and melodies are all picked out. After we get into the rehearsal mode, we’ll get the whole band’s input. It could go any direction. Right now, the songs sound really good. It’s going to be a great album.
BBG: The last L.A. Guns album was released on Black City Records. Is that your label?
Paul: Yes, it’s my label that I started to get the songs out. Sun Down and Yellow Moon is the album that I did with Jo "Dog" Almeida of Dogs D’Amour (released under the band name Jo Dog and Paul Black’s Sonic Boom). It’s a bunch of songs we did, kind of in the vein of Rolling Stones, Tom Waite. Very blues rock. My publishing company has always been Black City Music, and we just made it (Sun Down and Yellow Moon) ourselves and it got some really good reviews. Later, Tracii and I talked about putting out all the old demos from when I was in L.A. Guns. Originally we were going to do it with Cleopatra Records, but the offer wasn’t good enough. A bunch of other labels were interested, but they were dragging their feet and taking a long time to get it out, so finally I got frustrated, and I put it out on Black City. I got a lot of good reviews, and good press and it helped sparked an interest in this (L.A. Guns) band. A lot of people didn’t know about me, or Robert Stoddard (rhythm guitar) or Nickey Alexander (drums). Right about the time we took L.A. Guns to the record label, Robert left the band, and then we were down to a four piece. Then I left the band, and was replaced by Phil Lewis. Shortly after the record was recorded, Nickey Alexander was replaced by Steve Riley. The original band was completely replaced by the time the first record was done. They re-did the bios, and made it sound like the band started in 1988 and kind of wrote everyone out of history. When the Black List record came out, it let everyone know about the original band.
BBG: Why did you leave L.A. Guns when you were about to sign a record deal?
Paul: I was the main songwriter, along with Tracii, and I started the band but right about the time we were about to get signed –Guns n’ Roses had just gotten signed – and we all kind of continued to be the bad boys of rock n’ roll. We did a lot of partying, me and Izzy (Stradlin, Guns n’ Roses rhythm guitarist) we’re doing a lot of heroin together. Right before we were getting ready to be signed to Polygram; me and Izzy had gotten busted copping dope. We spent some time in jail. Really, just overnight in jail but we were facing charges and that sparked a lot of rumors that Guns n’ Roses would lose their deal with Geffen over the drug and heroin use. It was very apparent that I was very strung out on drugs and partying a little too much, and it scared our label. Basically our management, a guy named Alan Jones, was friends with Phil Lewis. Alan said that L.A. Guns could have record deal, but "you need to let us put our singer in there." So our management bought a ticket for Phil Lewis to fly over (from England) so he could replace me. Tracii always said that he felt really bad that he didn’t stick up for me, and I guess he felt Phil was filling the job good enough. That happened 20 years ago and its all water under the bridge now. Tracii and I have buried the hatchet and become friends again. It caused a lot of bitterness, because not only was I replaced, but they also used my songs for the first two records, which were really successful. Phil Lewis got the credit for my songs. To this day, he’s still taking credit for my songs. I sued them and got my credit back, but the lawsuit dragged out for three years and I couldn’t sign my new band when I was in a lawsuit with a major label, and it caused bad feelings all around. I think it probably held L.A. Guns back a little too. We don’t know what the future holds for L.A. Guns and this lineup, but we have a tight unit right now. Tracii’s son (Jeremy) is doing a great job on bass. He’s 24 years old. Full of energy, looks great, he’s just like we were back in the day.
BBG: How did you kick your drug habit?
Paul: Right after L.A. Guns, I went through some stuff: losing my band, losing a record deal. Some things happened, and I got arrested. I got sick and wore out and I realized I had to do something. It was within about six month of being out of L.A. Guns I went into rehab, and I managed to stay clean for about a five year period. I was sober pretty much the entire time I had Black Cherry together. The band was really strong, but I ran into political battles because I was suing Polygram Records and my former band. I had a lot of major labels contacting me directly because Black Cherry was selling out clubs and they wanted to sign the band. The labels liked the demos, liked the songs. No one wanted to get involved with Black Cherry while I was suing a major label. The lawsuit took three years. Black Cherry was at a club level, but I couldn’t get past that point because I couldn’t get a record done with them. The band fell apart and I settled the lawsuit in 1990. That’s when labels started calling again. While I was trying to put the band back together, it was a time when grunge was coming in, and glam Metal bands were not getting signed anymore. I think I forgot why I was staying sober, so I started drinking again. I went through a two year period where I didn’t do anything but drink and toward the end I was strung out on drugs again. That was in 1995. There was only one thing left to do: if I wanted to live and have a happy life, I had to get off drugs. So I went into rehab again on April 17, 1995. I quit drugs completely and I haven’t had a drink, done drugs or smoked a cigarette since 1995.
BBG: You say Phil Lewis gets the credit for songs you wrote. What are those songs?
Paul: The very first single from the first record, a song called “Sex Action.” Polygram Records was coming to our shows, and were not committed to signing us. They were looking for a single. I wrote the song “Love and Hate” before L.A. Guns and later Mick (Cripps, former L.A. Guns bassist) rejected it (Editor's Note: an A&R rep for Polygram liked the song and it helped pave the way for a record deal). After I left the band, I think they brought in an outside songwriter, or they gave Phil Lewis permission to mess with my songs, and the lyrics got rewritten and the song became “Sex Action.” The music is the same and the guitar riffs are the same. I wrote all the music. They revamped the lyrics. Other than that, “One More Reason to Die” I wrote. “Show No Mercy” was one I wrote with the band. “One Way Ticket to Love” is a ballad I wrote with Tracii. “Never Enough” was originally a song called “Looking Over My Shoulder.” These songs are all in their original form on our Black List record. When the band got signed to Polygram and they hired a different singer, they (label management) confiscated all the demos and wouldn’t allow them to be released for all these years. We just did it anyway. Me, Nickey and Tracii kind of went through all our cassettes to find the best versions, took them to the studio to have them restored, and that’s what got released on the Black List record.
BBG: So, what’s the deal with the L.A.Guns name?
Paul: The L.A. Guns name is owned by all of us (original members). The guy who actually owned and trademarked the name was a guy named Razz. He was friend of Tracii’s from high school. He had a bunch of money because he was in an accident and in a wheelchair. He actually talked us into using the name L.A. Guns. Originally, we were going to use the name Faster Pussycat. We dropped that name because Razz asked us to use his name. He actually had van that said “L.A. Guns” on the side. We had backdrops and leftover promotional materials from Tracii’s old band that he left a year prior so he could form Guns n’ Roses. Razz wanted to keep the name L.A. Guns. Later, Razz got busy doing other things, so he gave me the paperwork for the name. When I did the settlement agreement with the band and Polygram, I didn’t release my rights to use the name L.A. Guns. All I did was give them permission to go ahead and use the name. When I put the Black List record out I still called it L.A. Guns. Well, “Paul Black’s L.A. Guns” so people would know that this was the original version of the band. Steve Riley and Phil Lewis feel like they’ve put so much of their time into L.A. Guns, they feel like they have a right to use the name as well. I don’t blame them. When you put so much of your life into something, you feel like you have a certain claim to it. Legally, the only people that have a claim to the name are me, Tracii, Mick (Cripps) and Nickey (Alexander). In my opinion, Tracii is the one that’s kept it going all these years. I don’t really participate in the drama…I’m more concerned with playing rock n’ roll and I try to ignore petty attacks.
BBG: So you don’t feel any animosity toward Phil Lewis?
Paul: Well, yeah, he’s said a lot of really crappy things about me. He’s been lying a lot. He’s still taking credit for my work. As a matter of fact, I’ve been giving him the benefit of the doubt. Like maybe he just didn’t know that they were my songs. Now I realize that’s not true. To this day, he’s trying to convince people he wrote those songs. I deserve that credit, and I should have gotten credit for my work. To my face he’ll be nice but since I rejoined the band, he’s been fully attacking me, kind of putting me down, and criticizing my voice and everything else. I don’t feel any need to retaliate. I think it’s real immature and I don’t think it’s a good thing to do. Out of respect for the name L.A. Guns, it’s really wrong for Phil Lewis to be putting down the original members of the band. He’s putting down the people that started the foundation for him. It doesn’t make any sense. I think he’s alienating a lot of L.A. Guns fans… and I don’t feel any need to retaliate.