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Former Guns N’ Roses Manager Alan Niven: ‘Axl Rose Had Stage Fright’

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Guns N’ Roses, regardless of which incarnation, have cycled through several managers throughout their existence. Some of their management teams are more famous than others, like industry powerhouse Irving Azoff, who was sued by Axl Rose.

But Alan Niven is perhaps the most interesting, since the was legendary group’s first manager. He took the gig, reluctantly, in 1986, before the band blew up and held the post until he was fired on the eve of the release of the ‘Use Your Illusion’ albums. He hasn’t spoken much about his former job in the press in the 20 years since his shocking dismissal after all the blood, sweat and tears. Until now.

The fine folks at Metal Sludge managed to get Niven on record for a three part interview, with Part 1 and Part 2 running already.

Niven recounts how he was recruited for the job because no one else would take it. He admitted, “I had done some research on Guns N’ Roses, and no surprise, they were a disaster. I knew what I was getting into: Half the band were smack addicts, and they had already gone through $75,000 in cash with no releasable master recordings. They should have had money but they were dead broke.” Not exactly a recipe for success, especially since Geffen was thisclose to dropping the band from the roster.

He essentially took the job when his friend, Geffen exec Tom Zutaut, emotionally blackmailed him, saying he would be fired if he didn’t get a manager for the band.

When Niven met the band in a So Cal house they were residing in and subsequently caused the property value to plummet by treating it like crap, he dealt with Izzy Stradlin nodding off and Slash feeding white rabbits to his snake to scare Niven. Talk about first impressions.

So why the hell did he take this job?

Niven actually helped turned things around, managing the band from ground zero to selling out Wembley Stadium in England. He spent half his life in the office or on the road, as the band toured with The Cult, Motley Crue and Alice Cooper. Geffen wanted to yank the band off the road after 200,000 units of ‘Appetite for Destruction’ had been moved in order to record a follow up. Niven convinced the powers-that-be to give him more time, and he knew he had to approach MTV and make a pitch. He said, “It took all of us to get on MTV. Me, David Geffen himself. We took another run at trying to get on MTV. I went to the people at MTV, and I was like, ‘What the f—? The band is obviously connecting with people.’ Why keep doing the easy Euro pop and why not give these guys a chance?”

The rest is history.

Niven also revealed that Axl Rose had stage fright, and wanted to cancel the band’s landmark tour with Aerosmith at the time. He also shared an interesting perspective on Rose-as-frontman. Niven said, “He did not want to do it,” about the Aerosmith tour. It was one of the turning points for the band on its quest for superstardom, but things were not hunky dory.

He continued, “By that time, it was very evident he had a form of stage fright. He’s a singer, and singers who have to go out there three, four or five times a week, they invest their spirit in what they’re singing. The guitar players have something in their hands. They’re not naked. The singer is out there naked, and sometimes that’s hard to do. Obviously, Axl still has problems with it because he’s still late.”

We’re itching to read Part III and to learn more details about GNR from those formative years.

Watch ‘The History of Guns N’ Roses’ Video


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