How a Backstage Brawl Inspired Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Shotgun Blues’
Axl Rose's dustup with Vince Neil at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards and the ensuing media coverage may have partially inspired Guns N' Roses' "Get in the Ring," but Rose gave the Motley Crue singer his undivided attention on the excoriating Use Your Illusion II track "Shotgun Blues."
A summary for the uninitiated: In 1989, Motley Crue presented Guns N' Roses with the Best Metal Video award for "Sweet Child O' Mine" at the VMAs. While the Crue — who had taken GNR on the road as their support act in November 1987 — were all smiles and high fives as they handed off the trophy to Duff McKagan and Steven Adler, the festivities soured when Neil sucker punched Izzy Stradlin backstage for allegedly assaulting his wife, Sharise, at the Cathouse club in Los Angeles a few weeks earlier.
Both singers traded barbs in the press, with Rose publicly challenging Neil to a brawl in an April 1990 Kerrang! cover story — and later accusing journalist Mick Wall of fabricating his quotes in Use Your Illusion II's "Get in the Ring." (More on that here.) Fittingly, "Get in the Ring" directly precedes "Shotgun Blues," which fans have largely presumed to be about Neil.
The punky, petulant rager is one of the most straightforwardly aggressive songs on the Use Your Illusion set, spiritually closer to Appetite for Destruction than high-minded rockers like "Civil War" or "Breakdown." Rose is the song's sole author, and he plays rhythm guitar on the track in lieu of Stradlin, who had distanced himself from the band during the Use Your Illusion sessions after getting sober. (He officially left the group on Nov. 7, 1991.)
Listen to Guns N' Roses' 'Shotgun Blues'
The "Shotgun Blues" lyrics show Rose at his most wrathful, lobbing schoolyard taunts such as, "You, you can suck my ass / I think you're so low-class." He appears to explicitly challenge Neil to a brawl, too, snarling, "Oh, you want a confrontation? I'll give you every fuckin' chance / With your verbal masturbation / Me? I just like to dance." And at the end of the song, Rose grumbles, "You think anyone with an IQ over 15 is gonna believe your shit, fuckhead? Nothing but a fucking pussy."
It wasn't quite Dylanesque, but it summed up Rose's angry, paranoid and megalomaniacal behavior at the time, and "Shotgun Blues" fit neatly next to Use Your Illusion's other punk-metal screeds, such as "Right Next Door to Hell" and the aforementioned "Get in the Ring." Ultimately, though, "Shotgun Blues" became a slight entry in the Guns N' Roses canon, and it remains one of only four songs the band has never played live.
Rose's provocations rang hollow as well, as his and Neil's grudge match never came to fruition, despite repeated challenges from both parties. But that was never the point of "Shotgun Blues." The song got a reaction — and for Guns N' Roses, that meant a job well done.