How Guns N' Roses Got Their Name

Although they broke out during a time when hair metal bands were all the rage, Guns N' Roses was a completely different kind of band, and it's fair to say it worked in their favor. Whereas most of their contemporaries focused on the pretty-boy aspect of glam/hair metal, teasing their hair and creating music with strong pop hooks, Guns N' Roses shied away from all of that. They drew equally from punk and classic hard rock, and made their name through a bad-boy image, oftentimes courting controversy in the process. Indeed, it's hard to argue with the success of their late '80s and early '90s albums, as well as songs such as "Sweet Child O' Mine," "Paradise City," "Patience," and "November Rain."

Now it might be a common assumption to say that Guns N' Roses was named after their frontman — after all, Axl Rose is the sole constant in the band, having overseen a revolving door of musicians going in and out, or sometimes right back in. However, it's far from being just as simple as that. In order to understand how Guns N' Roses got their name, we need to go back in time to 1983, a year when there were two separate bands that, at various points, both featured individuals who would soon discover they had an appetite for destruction ...

Before Guns N' Roses, there was Hollywood Rose ...

Hollywood Rose predated Guns N' Roses by two years, and unsurprisingly, featured several people who would make up the latter band's classic lineup. As explained by Blabbermouth, the seeds for the band were planted at the parking lot of the Rainbow Bar and Grill when Tracii Guns (more on him below) introduced guitarist Chris Weber to an Indiana transplant by the name of Jeff Isbell, aka Izzy Stradlin. Soon after, Stradlin recruited an old friend of his from Indiana, Bill Bailey, to sing for the new group. That band was initially named AXL, and that singer named Bill slowly, but surely began to identify himself by his band's name, as Weber later recalled. They would then change their name to Rose (i.e. Bill Bailey's surname at birth), before renaming themselves yet again to Hollywood Rose after they discovered an East Coast band had the exact same name. (Of course, we all know Bailey these days as Axl Rose.)

Throughout its short existence, a host of other musicians would play for Hollywood Rose, including a young axeman named Saul "Slash" Hudson, who you can see in the above photo on the extreme right before he started wearing his iconic top hat. He replaced Weber as the group's lead guitarist, just as his former Road Crew bandmate, Steven Adler, took over from original drummer Johnny Kreis (via Loudwire).

... and L.A. Guns

Prior to the formation of Hollywood Rose, L.A. Guns started out as another early mainstay of the Sunset Strip glam metal scene, and they still exist to this day. One of the band's early lineups featured guitarist Tracii Guns (born Tracy Ulrich) and Axl Rose, with the latter joining up after Hollywood Rose disbanded in 1984. (Their original singer, Mike Jagosz, would later refer to Rose as a "real piece of work," among other unflattering things.) The rest of the initial L.A. Guns lineup included the rhythm section of bassist Ole Beich and drummer Rob Gardner.

With the exception of the band's founder and namesake guitarist, none of those musicians were with L.A. Guns in the early '90s, which was the time they briefly flirted with mainstream success with minor Billboard hits "The Ballad of Jayne" (No. 33) and "It's Over Now" (No. 62). That was because Guns had rebooted his band in 1985 with a brand new lineup. Singer Paul Black, who was later replaced by Phil Lewis, told KNAC that they initially considered calling themselves Faster Pussycat — no relation to that other hair metal act that went by the same name and also had a solitary Billboard Top 40 hit. Instead, they went with the name of Guns' former band, which dissolved earlier in 1985 because they were merging with the guys from Hollywood Rose.

L.A. Guns + Hollywood Rose = Guns N' Roses

So with all that said, it completely adds up — Guns N' Roses was essentially a combination of the names of the two Sunset Strip bands that merged together in 1985. The original lineup featured L.A. Guns' Tracii Guns, Ole Beich, and Rob Gardner, Hollywood Rose's Izzy Stradlin, and Axl Rose, who sang for both groups. As Guns recalled to Ultimate Guitar, the decision was made to combine the two bands since they all lived together and L.A. Guns' future was up in the air after their manager fired Rose during one of their gigs.

It didn't take long, though, before a number of lineup changes had to be made. According to Guns, Beich left the new band because as a metal purist, he was feeling out of step with a group that had taken on a blues-tinged hard rock sound. Gardner also wasn't long for Guns N' Roses, as he allegedly quit because his girlfriend gave him an ultimatum to choose between her or the band, while Guns was likewise out in 1985 — as pointed out above, this would allow him to re-form L.A. Guns with all-new personnel.

With Duff McKagan, Slash, and Steven Adler respectively replacing Beich, Guns, and Gardner, the rest, as they say, is history, as all those changes resulted in Guns N' Roses — originally formed from the ashes of two separate bands — finding their classic lineup and establishing their own identity as one of the biggest rock bands of their era.