Guitarist Gilby Clarke has seen it all. From struggling to make a name for himself (and his bands) in Hollywood in the late ’80s and early ’90s, he eventually found his way onto the stages of the stadiums of the world before launching a solo career that continues to keep him busy these days.
“I remember being around 13 years old and seeing Jimi Hendrix on a poster and just thought he was the coolest guy ever,” Gilby says. “I didn’t own any records at that time but something clicked and I got turned onto the likes of Kiss, Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper.”
Gilby’s teen education in rock ’n’ roll would serve him well in the future. By the age of 16, Gilby was routinely playing live shows, whether they were local dances or parties. Two years later, he relocated to the bright lights of Hollywood, joining the hard rock band Candy before forming the group Kill For Thrills.
“I was in two bands that made three major label records that really didn’t go anywhere,” Gilby chuckles. “Kill For Thrills started doing especially well. Things were starting to happen for the band and then I got the call.”
Riding high on the blockbuster success of their Use Your Illusionalbums, hard rock favourites Guns N’ Roses suddenly found themselves without a guitarist when guitarist Izzy Stradlin unexpectedly quit the band in 1991.
Guns N’ Roses contacted Gilby to gauge his interest in coming onboard to fill Stradlin’s shoes, a decision, which the guitarist says was virtually a no-brainer.
“It wasn’t a hard decision although the guys in Kill For Thrills haven’t necessarily forgiven me for leaving. Guns N’ Roses were one of the biggest bands in the world at the time. The basis of their music was hard rock with a punk rock attitude. The music they were making was exactly where I was going at the time.”
Only a handful of artists reach the stadium level of success where they are performing for potentially tens of thousands of people each night. Having slugged it out “in the trenches” for the decade prior to joining Guns N’ Roses undoubtedly helped give Gilby an appreciation for the amazing opportunity he had been given.
“At the time I joined, I had been in a couple of different bands so I had an appreciation for how hard it was to be successful, let alone at the level that Guns N’ Roses were at. I had made a deal with myself that I was going to enjoy the ride and not take any of it for granted.”
Gilby spent a remarkable few years touring the world with Guns N’ Roses, performing on their 1993 covers set The Spaghetti Incident as well as select tracks on the group’s only live set, Live Era ’87-’93.
Although his tenure with the group was cut short when Guns N’ Roses imploded in the mid-’90s, Gilby was nothing but grateful to have been given the experience, even if it was something that he realized probably wouldn’t ever be topped.
“The great thing about Guns N’ Roses is that we were like a great baseball team; everybody knew their role within the band.
“One of the hardest things for me about having been a part of Guns N’ Roses was realizing that I would never find a singer as good as Axl Rose, a guitarist as great as Slash or a bass player as good as Duff McKagan. Where do you go once you’ve been a part of something as monumental as Guns N’ Roses?”
Not surprisingly, Gilby ventured into a solo career. He issued his solo debut Pawnshop Guitars in 1995, followed by The Hangover (1997),Rubber (1998), 99 Live in 2000 and Swag in 2002.
“It took me quite a few years but I realized that the best feeling I got from music was being in front of my own band and playing the music I am passionate about.”
Between his live shows, production duties for other groups as well as performing on records by Heart and Canada’s Crash Kelly, Gilby says that he has been working on a new solo record for the last decade. While the album isn’t coming together quite as fast as he would like, Gilby says that the cumulative experiences of his career have taught him to value quality over quantity.
“In the past, I always went in and made a record when I had 10 or 12 songs that I considered to be good enough to be put onto an album. I’m happy with my previous albums but I ultimately want to deliver something that is going to knock my other efforts out of the park. As I’ve become more established and gained more experience with my career, I have this tendency to want to pursue my craft to the best of my ability.”
What: Gilby Clarke with special guests Mistreater and The Road Heavy
When: Tuesday, Sept. 9, 9 p.m.
Where: Plan b Lounge, 212 St. George St., Moncton
Tickets $20, available at the door