Brian May recalls his “odd” experience recording on-off contributions for Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy

Brian May
(Image credit: Cole Bennetts/Getty Images)

After Guns N’ Roses electric guitar titans Slash and Gilby Clarke left the band in the mid-’90s following the release of Use Your Illusion I and II, Axl Rose and co were forced to call upon a number of stand-in six-string slingers to plug the gap.

Among those were Buckethead, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and Richard Fortus, all of whom featured to varying degrees across the Chinese Democracy tracklist. Another axeman who appeared in a more ad-hoc role was Queen’s Brian May, though his own contributions were comparably less impactful.

For whatever reason, May’s efforts – which were reportedly to be found on Catcher in the Rye – were ultimately cut from the final mix.

Speaking in the latest issue of Classic Rock, May reflected upon the “odd experience” of playing guitar on the album, which was recorded over a nine year-period, and recalled the sporadic, on-off nature of working with Axl Rose.

When asked about his fling with Chinese Democracy, May reflected, “It was an odd experience. I think it was about midway through the whole thing. By that point Axl was pretty much a recluse. 

“He was working in his house, and I was working in the studio at the bottom of the hill with his engineer at the time, and he only rarely came down. Now and again he would call in and get all enthusiastic and talk a lot, and then he’d be gone again. I don’t think any of what I played actually got onto the album.”

It was initially reported in 2008 that May’s involvement with Chinese Democracy would be short lived, with the Queen icon posting a statement at the time that said he “did put quite a lot of work in, and was proud of it”.

“But I could understand if Axl wants to have an album which reflects the work of the members of the band as it is, right now,” May continued. “I do have mixes of the tracks with my guitar on, work tapes at the time, but they will remain private, out of respect for Axl.”

Brian May of Queen performs live on stage at The O2 Arena on December 12, 2017 in London, England

(Image credit: Neil Lupin/Redferns)

May initially recorded his guitar parts for Catcher in the Rye and a number of other tracks in 1999, some nine years before the insanely long-awaited album’s eventual release.

Later in the interview, May went on to say that, after his fleeting Chinese Democracy cameo, he fell out of touch with Rose, and admitted he tends to “be a bit shy and reclusive myself” – a trait that made him reflect, “I regret terribly that I didn’t keep in touch more with Ed Van Halen.”

Visit Magazines Direct to pick up the latest – and 500th – issue of Classic Rock, which features interviews with rock ‘n’ roll’s finest, including Jimmy Page, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne and Geddy Lee.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.