When teenager and amateur photographer Marc Canter set out to document his best friend Saul Hudson’s rise as a rock guitarist in 1982, he never imagined he was documenting the genesis of the next great rock ‘n’ roll band. His friend became the legendary guitarist Slash, and Canter found himself witnessing the creation of Guns N’ Roses front and center. Together with photographer Jack Lue, Canter and Reckless Road: Guns N’ Roses and the Making of Appetite For Destruction documents rare photos of the band from 1985-1987.
The big news from the Reckless Road is the book is being optioned for a movie! We conducted an interview with Marc Canter at the legendary Canter’s Deli on Fairfax, the same location where one of the most famous pictures of early Guns N’ Roses was taken. And now it is time to revisit the Reckless Road and find out more about film now in the planning stages. Read on…
How does the story of Marc Canter and Guns N Roses begin?
MC: Well the story of Marc Canter and Guns N Roses begins in 1976 in the KFC on 3rd and Fuller, where I was in line to buy some merchandise. Saul Hudson (aka Slash) was walking by my motorbike and was thinking of stealing it. Then he looked inside to see who it might belong to and saw me. And recognized me from school. We weren’t friends, he had just seen me like in the yard. We were both in the same grade but not necessarily in the same class. So he decided to just say “Hey, don’t I know you?” and that kind of a thing. So, “hey can I ride it?” and that’s how we became friends. And it turned out he lived a couple of blocks away from me so we carpooled to school together and we just became friends at that point. Shortly after that we started riding bicycles, BMX. And he got really good. He was better than pretty much everyone else. He was winning his races. We knew something was going on because his drawings were really good too, back then, and his art projects. Just doodling around. We started documenting him at first because it was fun to do. Then we lost touch for about a year because he got kicked out of the Junior High that we were going to after grammar school. And caught up again at the beginning of high school. By that time he had been playing about a year.
And we bumped into each other and found out we were into the same types of music. Like Aerosmith, Zepplin and AC/DC. I liked all those, you know all those Hard Rock bands from the 70’s and so did he. So we had a lot in common. He said he was in a band. I went and checked out his rehearsal and I saw right away his talent was coming through now in his guitar playing. So I started saving the flyers from those gigs. Actually, Jack Lue was the one that we’d go to concerts with back in the late 70’s and Jack always snuck his camera in and took really good pictures, we always had good seats. And what really happened was Eddie Van Halen was playing the Roxy, with Allan Holdsworth, we’d heard it through the grapevine that he was his hero. Jack had a lighting gig and couldn’t come to the gig. So he gave me his camera, put a roll of film in it and basically set all the settings to where they should be and basically instructed me what to do. So I shot up one roll of film and got one really good shot. The rest were okay. But that one really good picture was just enough to inspire me. But I didn’t have a camera. I had a little instamatic, one day not too long after that, I’d say a month after that I noticed that my sister had a camera, a Canon A1, a film camera in her closet. That she wasn’t using, so I kind of snatched it. And just as Slash was playing a show at Fairfax High School it was June 4th of 1982. I shot a roll of film and all of them were good. But that was a daytime gig.
That’s probably why they were good. But that even inspired me to believe, now I can do this. So I started sneaking my camera into shows when we’d go and get a couple of bucks for doing that. Meanwhile, every time Slash played a gig or at rehearsal I would document that just because now I know how. So Slash went through a couple of bands and they never found a singer. At one point we heard about this band Rose, the Hollywood Rose at the time. And we went to see them on this battle of the bands night. It was only like a dollar to get in and they only played three songs. Izzy and Axl were in that band and right away you knew Axel had something just by his energy and vocal range. That version of Hollywood Rose was falling apart. And Slash wanted to join up with at least Axl and Izzy and they were looking to get rid of the rest of the guys that were in that band, you know like replace the drummer and everything. Steven Adler came with Slash because he was in Slash’s band Road Crew. So Slash and Steven joined Axl and Izzy and they picked up a new bass player that wasn’t in the gig that night, Steve Darrell. They called it The New Hollywood Rose. But Izzy didn’t even make it to one gig. He quit after one rehearsal to join this band London.
So Slash, Axl and Steven played in Hollywood Rose for about three months, they did about 4-5 gigs then that fell apart. Then Axl immediately joined Slash’s rival Traciii Guns to go into LA Guns. That worked for a few gigs but then Axl got into something with their manager, who was Razz Q, who was backing them. Razz wanted Axl replaced, not because he couldn’t sing but because of whatever problems were going on between them. So – Traciii really didn’t want to get rid of Axl but had no choice but said, you know what? We’ll find someone else and me and you will do a project on the side, start our own record company, write together, that kind of stuff. A few months went by and then all of a sudden LA Guns was falling apart and that’s when Axl and Traciii decided to work together. I think it was more like if I joined your band, you’re going to be in charge – Traciii said, if I join Hollywood Rose, then you’re in control and if you join LA Guns I’m in control so why don’t we just start a new band, side project, we’ll call it a little bit of both and somehow they came up with Guns N Roses.
They played a gig, they used their original bass player Ole Beich from LA Guns, he quit after one gig. They hired Duff, who happened to live right across the street from them. They weren’t sure if Duff was a guitar player or a bass player but they knew he was some kind of musician. So, they said sure because Duff could do either one and he was looking – he knew a little bit about what Axl and Izzy were doing, they looked cool so he joined them. They had a few more gigs and then Duff, who was from Seattle booked a tour to Portland and it ended up being Hell Tour later on but Tracii didn’t want to go up there. Didn’t think the car would make the ride up there. Rob Gardner who – they both came from nice home whereas Izzy, Axl and Duff had lived on streets or people’s cars or someone’s house for a night on their couch. They were used to make it work where the other two were well, what if the car breaks down? Plus, I think there was a little bit of turmoil between Axl and Tracii regarding some songwriting issues, I’m not 100% sure but I knew there was something going on there. They had a gig booked at the Troubadour as Guns N Roses on June 6th, 1985. Slash was in this band called Black Sheep with Willy Bass, more of a heavy metal band. They had a gig at the Country Club on May 31st. So, Slash was working at Tower Video at the time and Axl had worked there before. In fact, Axl is the one that got Slash the job. So Izzy and Axl show up there and say, hey we got a gig booked next week and then we’re going to Seattle. Traciii and Rob are out, you and Steven in? Let’s do it.
He had to make a decision, do I quit Blacksheep. Musically, Guns N Roses would have been much better but would it last? Who knows, because of conflict and personalities, whatever. Blacksheep was at least a big band at the time and may have had a record contract. I actually told Slash not to quit Blacksheep because I thought it would have been a good stepping stone for him, even though it wasn’t his style of music. But, he didnt listen to me. He joined up with Guns N Roses, him and Steven. They played the gig at the Troubadour, which was a really good gig. Everything had changed since Hollywood Rose, because Duff and Izzy hid one of Steven’s bass drums while he was in the bathroom and he comes out and there’s all of a sudden he’s missing parts of his drums and that slowed everything down and gave them the groove. Before, Steven was a double bass drummer and they changed things. So now, I go to see them at the Troubadour on that day and everything has a groove, you can hear Axl. I knew Axl was good, but the music was so loud before and the PA sucked wherever they played so you couldnt realy hear him but you just knew, they used to play “Anything Goes” in those days so when they got to the chorus you could hear Axl could sing, but everything else you could not hear. “Shout Out Your Love,” “Reckless,” “NIce Boys,” it was always really fast. You just knew it was good. Now, it’s all slowed down a little bit, except “Nice Boys” is still fast. Other than that, i can see they got “Don’t Cry” already, even the guitar solo in that is the same of what you hear on the record.
They played that gig, it was a good gig and then they went up to Seattle and the car broke down about 100 miles out of LA and they had to hitchhike and a few different rides, they had no money. They had to steal onions, carrots and crap from farms on the way.
That’s the notorious Hell Tour, right?
MC: Yes it was. So, they finally get there. They play a good gig, but the guy doesn’t want to pay them. They finally throw the guy up against the wall and get $50 or something. A friend drives them back, but meanwhile they suffer for a week or so, together. That kind of bonded them, now they’re not just musicians that fit. They’re now a little bit of blood brothers because they had to stress a little bit to get to the gig. Now they come back here for two reasons. A) they’re starving. They haven’t had a real meal. They ate up there, but still, on the way there was hell. They wanted a meal and a photo shoot too, because they had a flyer booked at the Stardust Ballroom on the 28th of that month. It was probably close to the 20th so the gig was a week or so ahead. Jack Lue was always the one that did the photo shoots for them because he was more skilled, I didn’t know how to set a camera. I knew what things should look like during a live show, but if I would shoot something off stage with a flash, it’d probably be overexposed or underexposed. Today, anyone can do that with a digital camera and you see what you’ve got, but imagine they come for a photo shoot and you develop the film and they don’t have a flyer. But, Jack was a homerun every time. Jack always did their photo shoots. Jack took the picture (the famous Canter’s photo on the book cover), which is their first band photo as far as a group shot, literally sitting down.
If you look at the photo you can see the hunger in their eyes. Of, we know, we just got back from Seattle, we suffered, we played two good gigs. We’re now going to go really do it. We’re gonna get out there, book some gigs and make it happen. At that point, the first song they wrote together would be “Welcome to the Jungle,” that was Slash’s riff and Axl knew just what to do with it and everyone else in the band added their parts. That was the start of them building off people’s riffs and ideas. That was debuted at The Troubadour on July 20th, which was about a month later. After that, a couple of months later they had “Rocket Queen,” and same thing, the guitar solo in all those songs they debuted for the first time is the same as you hear it on Appetite and it’s because Slash would rip one out and it worked, and he’d remember it and he’d play it at all the gigs and it just ended up on the record. It fit, so use it. I don’t know how he remembered it, it’s not like he recorded it and learned it. He ripped one out, it worked and he just remembered it somehow.
They did “Rocket Queen,” which was debuted at The Troubadour on September 29th. They went up to San Francisco to have a gig with Jet Boy and on the way back they wrote “Paradise City” they actually debuted that at The Troubadour on October 10th, which was a gig booked for LA Guns but somebody got sick at the last minute that day and they asked if Guns N Roses could fill in, it was on a Thursday night. They broke out “Paradise City,” even though it wasn’t finished. Some of it had no lyrics in certain places, but they figured, what the hell? There wasn’t too many people at that gig, they didn’t promote it as a Guns N Roses gig. After that Slash picked up his first Les Paul and they played the Street Scene. That was crazy because before that they only played in front of 50 people, 80 people. Now there’s like 2000 people there and the show is supposed to start at 5:30 and it’s 8:00pm – the day was running late. They were playing right before Social Distortion, so the crowd there was not there to see Guns N Roses, they were there to see Social Distortion and they were already getting antsy because it’s three hours late and another band comes on and it’s Guns N Roses. Slash has a Les Paul, Axl’s hair is teased up and it’s like – are you kidding me? They’re spitting on them, throwing food at them and shaking the stage. Doing everything they can to knock them off stage so they can get to the band they want. But, Guns N Rose fought back and won the crowd over after the third song. That’s when I realized, that was my favorite gig to shoot because that’s when I realized that – it was like watching the Rolling Stones to me. They maintained the stage and handled that crowd of about 2000+ people and they didn’t fall.
They stood, and that’s when I realized if they can keep writing songs and stay together, they have all the elements to make it work. They look good, they sound good, they could write and now they can handle a crowd. The guitar playing, there was so much going on. It was just a matter of getting to the next gig, and all I did was help them a little bit with ads and flyers. Odds and ends, guitar strings. Whatever it took to get them to the next gig. Fed them – that kind of stuff. I didn’t help them write songs, that they did on their own. That’s how the story goes, they kept writing songs. None of the songs they wrote disappeared. They all ended up on records. There was no throw away songs. Eventualy they got signed in March of 86. and then they hit the Reckless Road, because that’s when everything started spiraling downward. They had a little bit of money, they each got $7500 from signing that deal and for two weeks they were millionaires in their minds.
How did the movie come about?
MC: Every now and then I’ve had people come to me and say, ah we should turn this into a movie. I agree! There’s things within the book that would make a killer movie, Hell Tour alone would make a killer movie. The story is there, I saw it happen. The detail is so important, I know a lot of the dialog that took place. for example something as simple as them letting their first manager Vicky Hamilton go. What was said to her, how she reacted to the news. There are so many things that went on from just trying to get to the next gig and all the crap in between. I can see Reckless Road as a movie. But there’s always been issues on how much money it would take to do it and the people that have always wanted to do it don’t have the money it would take to do this movie. The publishing alone is going to cost a lot to have the songs. Someone recently came up to me, 3-4 months ago and said, how would you like to see your book become a movie – I have some people that read your book, big people and they’d like to turn it into a movie. How do you feel about that? I said, I’m in! Right now, they optioned the book, now they have to go to the next step and see – they’re working on the sciprt right now and really fine tuning it, but then from there they have to talk to raise the money and talk to the band – there could be a lot of grey area with the music. If they can license the Appetite for Destruction songs, that’d be great but that’s not really necessary for the story except for the part when they’re in the studio mixing the record, it’d be nice to have the actual sound reel from that.
For many years you didn’t see much Guns N Roses music in movies because of all five of them had to sign off on that for that to happen. Axl would always be the one to say no because he didn’t want Slash sharing on any of that and he wanted to bury the old band and continue with the new band. I don’t know the details but a few years back, there was some kind of lawsuit between them going on. I don’t know what the ruling was, but after that, all of a sudden music started appearing in movie soundtracks again. The band worked hard to get where they are today and there is no reason why they should hold back on that kind of thing. They made great music together, If you would have told the band back in 1985 that some day movies are going to want to use your music but most of the time they can’t because the band doesn’t talk to each other anymore and can’t agree on making that happen, they would not believe it.
If I had to take my best guess, I’d say now if someone comes by with a reasonable offer that they have to sell the songs unless there was a rape scene where you don’t want your song “Welcome to the Jungle” in the middle of a rape scene. Reckless Road tells a good rock and roll story. So if the movie gets made, I hope they end up using some of my recordings from those days because I think it would fit what they’re doing better other than the studio recordings. Maybe something in the studio would work well when the band hears playback of what they just recorded. I don’t know, I’m not writing the script, I’m just kind of – the person that looks at what is in the script to make sure they got it right before it goes to the band to look at. Something could be out of the time zone, they might have a detail right but in the wrong order. Or they have something and it was a little off. They really want the band to be happy with it.
What actor should play you and what actor should play Jack Lue?
MC: If I had that choice to make, my story would start with me meeting Slash and how that friendship began and us screwing around on bikes when we were kids, going off curb jumps and fishtailing trash cans over. Stealing chameleons out of the pet store and letting them feed out of the trash, letting them grab a fly out of the trash stick it back in your pocket and go about what you were doing. I think there’s a great story there, and then all of a sudden when you get to the band, it then more focuses on them. But you’re right, I’m there and Jack is there and we’re taking pictures. Even though once the band gets started, it’s more about the band than anyone else, but yeah – I still thought about that, I guess all they’d have to do is – I don’t even care. Anyone can play me, as long as they look like me. They gotta find a picture of me back then when, what I looked like. As long as they got a couple of real cool actors in the movie, they don’t all have to be A list actors. Just a few of them, in this case when you’re trying to make someone look like somebody else, you have to go with who really looks like them. They don’t necessarily have to be an A list actor, but maybe the A list actor will end up being somewhere in the movie, like a roadie or a fan or a girlfriend or someone in the band. I think you really have to focus on more of making the actors look the part. I’m confident that the people that want to do this project would do a great job. I also think it would be cool to make some kind of hybrid with this project. Using old footage mixed with actors somehow.
It won’t wind up being something like Rockstar, or something like that.
MC: Rockstar, they had A list actors but they didn’t get enough of the rights to the music or songs, or anything. It just – some of it was entertaining. But nobody knew it was about Judas Priest, you might have found that out years later so, this has to be about Guns N Roses. There’s no other way around it. It has to go that route.
Do you still do photography today?
MC: No. [laughs] I don’t even have a camera. The closest thing i have to photography, my daughter is actually an artist. She goes to Art School and when she comes back and has all her art she did for that semester, she needs me to take pictures of them to have them digitally. I hang them on the wall, take her camera and get the lighting just right and shoot nice pictures, crop them and make them look like they were scanned in. That’s the closest thing I do to photography these days. She should really be doing that herself. My son was in a band a few years ago and I didn’t even shoot them but I did video tape them. If anything, Jack shot them a couple of times. I’m more into the video anyway, because video collects 60 pictures a second, you’re getting real time there. I will say, there were a few GnR shows that I only did video and I didn’t take pictures, that I wish I would have gone back the other way and taken more pictures. Sometimes there’s more to a picture then there is video.
(Interview by Ken Morton – Photos by Jack Lue)
Editor’s Note: Thank you Jack Lue for the use of these rare and wonderful GnR photos!