Who are Guns N’ Roses?

Guns N’ Roses are an American hard rock band that has sold more than 100 million records worldwide. The classic lineup consisting of five members reached fame in the late 1980s, and the band was most active from then into the early 1990s. The lineup has changed frequently and drastically over the years, and there are currently seven members of Guns N’ Roses. Axl Rose has been the only constant member since the band’s founding.

Known for top ten singles such as “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City”, the band experienced their first breakthrough success with their single “Sweet Child o’ Mine”. As one of the best selling acts in history, Guns N’ Roses, often abbreviated GNR, continues to tour and has been teasing a new album release in 2021.


What is the Origin of Guns N’ Roses?

Guns N’ Roses officially originates from Los Angeles, California, but musical collaborations between the members occurred before the formation of Guns N’ Roses. The meeting of the core members of Guns N’ Roses started with two pairs in two different cities.

The first two to make it to Los Angeles were guitarist Saul Hudson, who would soon after become “Slash”, and drummer Steven Adler. They crossed paths at Bancroft Junior High, struck up a friendship, and formed a band during their time at Fairfax High.

Meanwhile in Lafayette, Indiana, bassist Jeffrey Isbell, who would later take the name Izzy Stradlin, and vocalist Bill Bailey, who would become Axl Rose, formed a friendship inspired by their shared affinity for rock music. Stradlin departed to Los Angeles after graduating high school, and Axl soon followed.

In 1984, bassist Michael “Duff McKagan” arrived at the L.A. scene and by early 1985 he was invited by Stadlin to join a new band formed from the remnants of members of two bands in which he, Slash, Adler, Rose, had been performing. Guns N’ Roses formed as a union between members of the two bands, Hollywood Rose and L.A. Guns, and the name Guns N’ Roses was coined by combining the names of the two groups.

There were many personal changes that ultimately led to the classic lineup of Axl Rose, Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Steven Adler, and Duff McKagan. The band was officially formed with this lineup on June 6, 1985 and soon after embarked on their first tour, Hell Tour. 


Band Members of Guns N’ Roses

  • Axl Rose

    • Founding member
    • 1985-present
    • Lead vocals, piano, occasional guitar and percussion
    • 59 years old
    • Net worth: $200 million
  • Tracii Guns

    • 1985
    • Guitar
    • 55 years old
    • Net worth: $500,000
  • Slash (Saul Hudson)

    • 1985-1996, 2016-present
    • Lead guitar, rhythm guitar, backing vocals
    • 55 years old
    • Net worth: $90 million
  • Izzy Stradlin (Jeff Isbell)

    • Founding member
    • 1985-1991
    • Rhythm and lead guitar
    • 59 years old
    • Net worth: $28 million
  • Duff McKagan (Michale McKagan)

    • 1985-1997, 2016-present
    • Bass guitar, backing vocals
    • 57 years old
    • Net worth: $20 million
  • Steven Adler (Michael Coletti)

    • 1985-1990
    • Drums, backing vocals
    • 56 years old
    • Net worth: $15 million
  • Matt Sorum

    • 1990-1997
    • Drums, backing vocals
    • 60 years old
    • Net worth: $10 million
  • Gilby Clarke

    • 1991-1994
    • Rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals
    • 58 years old
    • Net worth: $5 million
  • Paul “Huge” Tobias

    • 1994-2002
    • Rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals
    • 57 years old
    • Net worth: $5 million
  • Robert “Robin” Finck

    • 1997-1999, 2000-2008
    • Lead and rhythm guitar
    • 49 years old
    • Net worth: $8 million
  • Josh Freese

    • 1997-2000
    • Drums
    • 48 years old
    • Net worth: $1 million
  • Tommy Stinson

    • 1998-2014
    • Bass, backing vocals
    • 54 years old
    • Net worth: $20 million
  • Chris Pitman

    • 1998-2016
    • Keyboards, backing vocals, programming
    • 59 years old
    • Net worth: $4 million
  • Buckethead (Brian Carroll)

    • 2000-2004
    • Lead and rhythm guitars
    • 51 years old
    • Net worth: $8 million
  • Bryan “Brain” Mantia

    • 2000-2006
    • Drums
    • 58 years old
    • Net worth:
  • Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal

    • 2006-2014
    • Lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals
    • 51 years old
    • Net worth: $5 million
  • DJ Ashba

    • 2009-2015
    • Lead and rhythm guitar
    • 48 years old
    • Net worth: $10 million
  • Richard Frotus

    • 2002-present
    • Rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals
    • 54 years old
    • Net worth: 9.75 million
  • Frank Ferrer

    • 2006-present
    • Drums
    • 55 years old
    • Net worth: $1 million
  • Dizzy Reed

    • 1990-present
    • Keyboards, backing vocals
    • 57 years old
    • Net worth: $40 million
  • Melissa Reese

    • 2016-present
    • Keyboards, backing vocals, programming
    • 31 years old
    • Net worth: $2 million


Styles and Themes in the Music of Guns N’ Roses

The music of Guns N’ Roses is a fusion of several subgenres within rock, including punk rock, heavy metal, blues rock, hard rock, and hair metal. The band’s iconic power ballads helped repopularize the style in heavy metal music. They’ve continued to retain their hard rock roots while experimenting with electronic and industrial rock.

The daily life and personal experiences of the band members were inspirations for the lyrical themes of their music. For example, Axl’s encounter with a man in New York inspired the lyrics for “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Mr. Brownstone” is about the band’s heroin problems. “Out ta Get Me” reflects on Axl Rose’s youth and how he was always in trouble with the law in Indiana. Much of their early music and image centers around the “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” lifestyle that was culturally iconic in the mid to late 1980s.



  • Appetite for Destruction (July 21, 1987)

After heavily touring the clubs of L.A, Guns N’ Roses signed with Geffen Records and self-released their EP titled Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide in December of 1986. Their debut studio album was released the next summer and initially did not gain much mainstream attention. However, when the band toured and received airplay the following year, the album became a massive commercial success.

Many of the songs for the album started as solo tracks written by individual band members separate from the band and finished later, such as “Anything Goes”, which had been written by the former band Hollywood Rose. The album appealed to rock listeners with its rebellious punk themes, glam metal aesthetic, and mixture of bluesy riffs with forceful metal playing.

The album Appetite for Destruction topped the Billboard 200 and went on to become one of the best selling albums of all time. The single “Sweet Child o’ Mine” topped the Billboard Hot 100, and “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City” were in the top ten. 

  • G N’ R Lies (November 29, 1988)

Also known as Lies, Guns N’ Roses second studio album was their shortest one, and consisted of four tracks from the EP Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide and four new recordings featuring acoustic guitars. The acoustic songs created calm folk-rock melodies that were a significant contrast from the previous album’s “dangerous energy”.

The album sparked significant controversy with two tracks. “One in a Million” used language suggestive of racism and homophobia, and “Used to Lover Her” was perceived as misogynistic by many critics. Axl denied that he was a racist, claiming to have used the n-word because it was taboo, and in response to allegations of homophobia, said he considered himself “pro-heterosexual” and blamed this attitude on bad experiences.

The album peaked at number two one the Billboard 200 chart and was certified platinum six times. The sole single from the album, “Patience”, reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and is considered by many to be Guns N’ Roses most emotionally direct song

  • Use Your Illusion I & Use Your Illusion II (September 17, 1991)

In 1990, Adler was briefly fired because of his drug use. He signed a contract vowing to stop, but continued to be unable to perform well due to his addiction to cocaine and heroin. As a result, he was fired and replaced by drummer Matt Sorum, resulting in a lawsuit with the band. That same year, Dizzy Reed had also been recruited to play keyboard for the band.

Guns N’ Roses’ next two albums were simultaneously recorded and released in conjunction with the 28-month-long Use Your Illusion Tour. The lead single “You Could Be Mine” was included on the more popular album of the two, Use Your Illusion II. The albums also included GNR’s well known covers of Maul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” and Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”.

The Illusion albums were a stylistic turning point for the band. Their new found musical maturity incorporated elements of heavy metal, punk rock, rock and roll, blues, and classical music. They were GNR’s most political releases to date, with topics of violence, law enforcement, and media bias strewn throughout. Each album also contains at least one track with lead vocals by other members of the band besides Axl.

Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II peaked at number one and number two on the Billboard Hot 200 chart, with the latter being at the top, likely due to it containing the lead single. Many music videos accompanied the releases, including the trilogy of “Don’t Cry”, “November Rain”, and “Estranged”.

Rhythm guitarists Izzy Stadlin left the band abruptly in November of 1991 due to a combination of Axl’s angry behavior and difficulties being around the drug use of other band members. Gilby Clark took his place and the Use Your Illusion Tour continued. 

  • “The Spaghetti Incident?” (November 23, 1993)

On July 17, 1993 the Use Your Illusion Tour ended, having set attendance records within its 194 shows played. The last show in Buenos Aires marked the last time Sorum and Clarke would play in the band, and the last time Slash would perform a show with the band until 2016.

The band’s fifth album is a collection of older punk, hard rock, and glam rock covers including the singles “Ain’t it Fun” by the Dead Boys and “Since I Don’t Have You” by the Skyliners. The title, “The Spaghetti Incident?”, references an incident with Steven Adler from 1989, when he had stored his drugs in a hotel refrigerator next to containers of Italian food; he began to use the code word “spaghetti” for his stash. During his later lawsuit against GNR, Adler’s lawyer asked the band to “tell us about the spaghetti incident”, which the band found amusing, inspiring the title of the album.

The hidden, unannounced track “Look at Your Game, Girl” on the album caused a lot of controversy because it was penned by the cult leader Charles Manson. In an effort to do some damage control, Geffen Records released a statement that the label’s share of the royalties would be donated to the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau, and Slash stated that royalties would also be donated to Bartek Frykowski, the son of a victim of Manson. Although it was the lowest position of any GNR album to date, “The Spaghetti Incident?” debuted at number 4 on the Billboard 200 and was certified platinum in 1994. 

  • Chinese Democracy (November 23, 2008)

In the mid-1990s, the band changed drastically with several lineup changes, the most notable being the departure of Slash in 1996 and Sorum and McKagain in 1997 due to creative and personal differences. The group released a live album, Live Era ‘87-’93, and a compilation album titled Greatest Hits before finally releasing their highly anticipated sixth studio album.

Chinese Democracy had been intended for release in 1999 but had continued to be delayed by personal and legal problems along with Axl Rose’s perfectionism. It is the first GNR album to not feature their longtime producer Mike Clink, but was rather produced by Rose himself with the addition of Caram Costanzo at the end. Costs reportedly exceeded $13 million, making this album the most expensive rock album ever produced.

While retaining hard rock style, this album also expanded into the realms of industrial rock, electronic rock, and nu metal. It was met with success and debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 and was certified platinum. 


Legacy and Influence of Guns N’ Roses

Guns N’ Roses is praised for bringing the bite back to the rock world with their debut release, Appetite for Destruction. Prior to this, hair and glam metal had prevailed and the rock genre was trending toward being more “poppy”. GNR’s rebellious reputation earned them the nickname of “the most dangerous band in the world”, with their gritty sound and hardcore attitude. Many modern rock bands have been influenced by their music, such as Fall Out Boy, Avenged Sevenfold, Black Label Society, and Nickelback.

The raw talent of the members has been recognized over the years in various publications such as The Rolling Stone magazine. Axl Rose’s powerful, unique voice is considered among the best of all time, and Slash is ranked as one of the best guitar players of all time. McKagan is hailed as one of the greatest bass players, and drummer Adler was ranked the 98th greatest drummer of all time by Guitar World. 

The band was also known for a few destructive moments as well. It was not unusual for them to show up late or leave a concert early, and there have been several riots caused by raging fans of GNR shows. Perhaps the most famous of these was in 1992, when Metallica and Guns N’ Roses had been co-headlining together in Montreal. Metallica lead singer James Hetfield suffered a terrible pyrotechnics mishap, forcing the band to end their set early. The fans grew antsy awaiting GNR, who only played for an hour because of problems with Axl Rose’s voice.

Metallica & Guns N' Roses - Montreal Riot TV News Report (1992)

Many of Guns N’ Roses songs have been featured in television and movies. “Welcome to the Jungle” was featured in the 1988 film The Dead Pool starring Clint Eastwood, and members of the band made a cameo appearance in the film. “You Could Be Mine”, the lead single from the Illusion albums, was used in the movie Terminator 2.

The Dead Pool - Funeral Scene - With Guns N' Roses

Guns N' Roses - Terminator 2 - Honda XR Scenes

The band was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012, in their first year of eligibility.


Awards and Notable Nominations

    • 1988 – Billboard Music Award for Top New Artist
    • 1988 – MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist Video with “Welcome to the Jungle”
    • 1989 – American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Single with “Sweet Child o’ Mine”
    • 1989 – MTV Video Music Award for Best Heavy Metal Video with “Sweet Child o’ Mine”
    • 1990 – American Music Award for Favorite Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Artist
    • 1990 – American Music Award for Favorite Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Album with Appetite for Destruction
    • 1992 – American Music Award for Favorite Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Artist
    • 1992 – MTV Video Music Award – Video Vanguard Award
    • 1992 – MTV Video Music Award for Best Cinematography in a Video with “November Rain”
    • 1993 – World Music Award for World’s Best-Selling Hard Rock Artist of the Year and World’s Best Group
    • 4 Grammy Award Nominations


Related Bands

    • Aerosmith
      • A heavy rock band formed in Boston in 1970, Aerosmith was cited as a major influence on Guns N’ Roses. Their style was rooted in blues and rock and incorporated elements of heavy metal, pop rock, and glam metal.
    • Velvet Revolver
      • Also a hard rock band, Velvet Revolver consisted of GNR members Slash, Duff McKagan, and Matt Sorum along with Dave Kushner and Scott Weiland.
    • Skid Row
      • Formed in 1986, Skid Row is an American rock band that encompasses heavy metal and glam metal in their music.
    • Motley Crue
      • Also formed in Los Angeles, Motley Crue is a heavy metal band that started in 1981. They also fall under the hard rock and glam metal genres.
    • AC/DC
      • This rock band formed in Sydney calls their music “simply rock and roll”, but is also categorized as hard rock, blues rock, and heavy metal. In 2016, Axl Rose stood in on vocals for the band for part of the year.