Guitarists Gone Wild
Originally printed in Guitar World Magazine, December 2004
Guitar World salutes more than 20 guitarists who never miss an opportunity to behave badly -- whether they're trashing Christmas trees or feasting on chunks of human brain. Let them be an example to us all!
Why do guitarists behave badly? Probably for the same reason dogs lick their nether regions: because they can. “That’s the great thing about playing in a rock band,” says Slipknot guitarist Mick Thomson. “You can enjoy life without the hang-ups people impose on themselves.” Indeed, short of working for the current Bush administration, you’d be hard-pressed to find another gig where being out of touch with reality is such an integral part of the job description. You can get totally wasted, wreck your cars, urinate in public, screw busloads of groupies and even die in public places, and other people will just shrug their shoulders as if to say, “Well, he plays guitar in a rock band…”
Of course, decadence in the music world isn’t limited to guitarists, just as it isn’t limited to rock and roll. But as drummers tend to get all the press for their destructive antics, we thought it was time to weigh in on behalf of some of our favorite ax men (and women) whose personal capacities for debauchery, degradation and generally disgusting behavior are clearly higher than most. Just don’t try any of this at home.
Dimebag Darrell & Zakk Wylde
Between Zakk’s prodigious beer intake and Dime’s well-documented fondness for his infamous Blacktooth Grin (a shot of Crown Royal topped with a splash of Coke), these dudes have probably each swallowed enough liquor to flood a small Central American country. Put them in the same room or tour bus and things get exponentially out of hand. And if you get caught in the line of fire, you’d better pray you’ll come out of it with nothing worse than a bad hangover. In December 2002, without any advance warning to the two already alcohol- poisoned Guitar World scribes with him, Zakk ended an all-night binge at Dime’s Texas compound by repeatedly slamming an SUV from a local limo service into a large metal Christmas tree on Dime’s front yard. Several thousands of dollars of damage later, the writers staggered out of the trashed vehicle, only to be greeted by a laughing limo driver. “This sort of thing happens all the time at Darrell’s,” he drawled. “It’s okay—he always pays for it.”
Euronymous & Count Grishnackh
These two black metal bozos—the driving forces behind rival bands Mayhem and Burzum, respectively—will be forever linked in Norwegian rock history, not only for their shared role in several church burnings but also because the latter stabbed the former to death in 1993. Before his untimely demise, Euronymous (a.k.a. Oystein Aarseth, who also liked to call himself “the prince of death”) seemed less interested in playing guitar than concocting explosive potions in his home laboratory and whipping up pagan orgies in the basement of Hell, his Oslo record store. When Dead, Mayhem’s lead singer, killed himself with a shotgun, Euronymous cemented his own evil rep by harvesting scattered cerebral chunks from the suicide scene and eating them in a stew of ham, vegetables and paprika. Still, whatever supernatural powers Euronymous may have gained from his odd new diet, they were no defense against Grishnackh (a.k.a. Varg Vikernes), who killed him for being “an inferior musician.”
Christianity and sobriety characterized Cash’s later years, but the Man in Black could raise holy hell like nobody’s business. Back when Keith Moon was still in short pants, Cash had already perfected the art of trashing a hotel room. He and his band would set up a makeshift bar in their hotel hallway, moving all the furniture out of their rooms and back again before the hotel management could bust them. Other times, Cash simply painted everything in his room black, or smuggled in a donkey to keep him company. Arrested in the mid Sixties for marijuana possession and for attempting to smuggle pills over the Mexican border, Cash had no difficulty finding trouble in his own back yard. He once challenged one of his pet emus to a boxing match, and the big bird kicked his ass straight into the hospital.
“I’m the kind of guy/Who likes getting high,” sang Ace on “Ozone,” from his 1978 solo album, and that’s pretty much you all you need to know. (See also the title of his 1989 album, Trouble Walkin’.) The Spaceman always brought a much-needed degree of levity to Kiss, but his fondness for booze and chemicals made him a liability to the band in the eyes of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. Of course, Ace has always been something of a liability to himself, judging by his various brushes with mortality, which include nearly drowning in the bathtub while wasted and totaling his DeLorean while leading the NYPD on a chase down the West Side Highway. Then again, anyone who would don a Nazi uniform and bust into a hotel room where Gene was banging a groupie (as alleged in Gordon Gebert and Bob McAdams’ 1997 book, Kiss & Tell) has a serious death wish.
Country music’s greatest singer may also be its biggest wasteoid, an impressive achievement in the company of such heavy hitters as Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings. In addition to his powerful thirst for alcohol, Jones thought nothing of inhaling entire bags of blow through a plastic soda straw. In one infamous incident, Jones rode his lawnmower to the local watering hole after then-wife Tammy Wynette tried to discourage his drinking by hiding the keys to his 27 cars. In another, a coked-out Jones began a show at a Nashville club by announcing, “My friend Deedoodle the Duck is going to take over this show, because Deedoodle can do what George Jones can’t!” He then proceeded to quack his way through the entire set in a Donald Duck voice.
The rumors about getting his blood switched in Switzerland may not be true, but the man who said “I don’t have a problem with drugs—I have a problem with cops” has done more to further rock and roll’s association with heroin than the Velvet Underground, Aerosmith and Alice in Chains put together. After his last heroin bust in Toronto in 1977 (which was nullified when rumors surfaced that the wife of the Canadian Prime Minister had been seen partying with him and the other Stones), Richards switched to Wild Turkey and cocaine, a combination that would keep him awake for a week at a time. “I was doing a lot of blow,” he says of one nine-day binge, which finally ended after he pitched forward and broke his nose on a home stereo speaker. “Everything was just too interesting for me to go to bed.”
“Throw down your gun/You might shoot yourself/Or is that what you’re trying to do?” Free vocalist Paul Rodgers sang on “Wishing Well,” a heartfelt lament inspired by Paul Kossoff’s overwhelmingly self-destructive tendencies. Kossoff possessed the sweetest vibrato of any British blues-boom guitarist, but he also had a sweet tooth for Quaaludes and heroin that caused him to miss shows and skip recording sessions. His condition worsened after Free broke up in 1972, leading the band to reform a year later in an attempt to bring him around. Unfortunately, the experiment didn’t work, and by 1976 Kossoff was dead at the age of 25 from “cerebral and pulmonary edema.” He died in the middle of an L.A.–New York flight—which must have been really unpleasant for the person sitting next to him.
Steve Jones A self-confessed “pussy hound,” the Sex Pistols guitarist screwed anything that moved— and several things that didn’t. In John Lydon’s autobiography, Rotten—No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, the singer remembers several occasions when Jonesy masturbated into a hollowed- out baguette filled with hot water and raw liver and fed the vile concoction (now garnished with a tangy slathering of man sauce) as a prerehearsal snack to unsuspecting bassist Glen Matlock. “I would turn up, and Steve would say, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve done it again. Should we make Glen a sandwich?’ ” Lydon writes. “I particularly remember how Glen used to love how soft the bread was.”
The mellowest member of Rush—not a particularly rowdy band to begin with—Lifeson (a.k.a. Alex Zivojinovich) shocked the rock world when he was arrested for what police described as “drunken, violent behavior” after a New Year’s Eve 2003 altercation at a Naples, Florida, hotel. The details are still murky, but it seems Lifeson’s son wanted to serenade his wife with a song from the bandstand. When the hotel management refused to let him, words (and shoves) were exchanged, and the police were called. Lifeson—who was zapped four times with a Taser in the ensuing melee—wound up with a broken nose, a couple of nights in the clink and a mug shot to rival Glen Campbell’s.
Plenty of rockers like to pretend they’re outlaws, but how many of them have been officially deemed “a danger to the community” by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, as Courtney Love was this past summer? Love’s most recent album, America’s Sweetheart, received generally decent reviews, but an endless spiral of assault charges, drug problems, paranoid rants and missed court dates overshadowed its release entirely. She’s engaged in plenty of other bizarre shenanigans, as well, lifting her shirt on Letterman, getting naked on the streets of London for a British magazine photo spread (during which she loudly commanded her stylist to “wax my anus!”) and letting strangers suck her breasts in public. “Car crash” doesn’t even begin to describe the situation. Could it be she’s even loonier than we first suspected?