Although veterans of the Sunset Strip's hair metal scene, L.A. Guns are also known for being one of the two bands (along with Hollywood Rose) that merged in the mid-'80s to form Guns N' Roses. Formed in 1983, the group's first lineup included Tracii Guns and vocalist Axl Rose, the latter of whom eventually left to form his own group with childhood friend Izzy Stradlin. Rose and Guns decided to combine their two bands in 1985, thus creating the earliest incarnation of Guns N' Roses. Tracii Guns handled lead guitar duties for several months before being replaced by Slash; suddenly finding himself without a band, he bounced back by rejoining his old bandmates in L.A. Guns, who'd continued playing shows in his absence under the leadership of vocalist Paul Black.
With Guns back in the lineup and Black writing most of the songs, the band landed a deal with Polygram Records and made plans to record a debut album. Black was replaced by former Girl frontman Phil Lewis before L.A. Guns could enter the studio, though, and the rest of the lineup shifted as well, eventually solidifying around Guns, Lewis, drummer Nickey Alexander, bassist Kelly Nickels, and guitarist Mick Cripps.
In 1988, L.A. Guns released their self-titled debut album, featuring a raunchy, Aerosmith-influenced sound and a number of songs that had been written by ex-member Paul Black. Former W.A.S.P. drummer Steve Riley joined the lineup during the tour that followed, and L.A. Guns quickly returned to the studio to bang out a second album, Cocked and Loaded. Released in 1989 and propelled by the Top 40 single "The Ballad of Jayne," Cocked and Loaded went gold, giving the band a minor stake in the hair metal explosion that Guns N' Roses had helped spark. Released two years later, Hollywood Vampires managed to hold the audience's attention by peaking at number 42. Nevertheless, the guys laid low for four years, waiting for grunge to fade away.
When L.A. Guns released their fourth album, Vicious Circle, in early 1995, they retained a core group of followers but failed to capture the mainstream's attention. It was their weakest-selling album to date and set off a chain of lineup shifts, with Johnny Crypt taking over bass-playing duties, Chris Van Dahl assuming the frontman role, and Guns serving as the band's sole guitarist. Polygram dropped the band in the wake of Vicious Circle's slow sales, and 1996's American Hardcore introduced the band's new lineup but fared no better.
Greatest Hits & Black Beauties, a collection of re-recorded favorites and new material, followed in 1999 after a succession of new vocalists that included Ralph Saenz (on 1998's Wasted EP) and Love/Hate singer Jizzy Pearl. That same summer, the group released a Gilby Clarke-produced collection of new material, entitled Shrinking Violet, with Pearl serving as lead vocalist. For 2001's Man in the Moon (again produced by Clarke), Phil Lewis and Mick Cripps returned to the lineup, joining Guns, Riley, former Pretty Boy Floyd member Keff Ratcliffe and new bassist Muddy. Waking the Dead followed a year later, and founder Tracii Guns left the group to form Brides of Destruction with Nikki Sixx.
Following Guns' departure, Phil Lewis took over as lead singer for L.A. Guns. This iteration of the band would go on to release four full-length albums, Rips the Covers Off (2004), Tales from the Strip (2005), Covered in Guns (2010), and Hollywood Forever (2012). During that time, Tracii Guns was operating under the moniker the Tracii Guns Band with former L.A. Guns members Paul Black and Nickey Alexander, along with Brides of Destruction live bassist Jeremy Guns. To make things even more confusing, Tracii Guns owned the rights to the L.A. Guns name, so between 2006 and 2012, there were two bands operating under the moniker.
In 2016, Guns and Lewis buried the hatchet and performed together for the first time in 14 years. They played a series of live shows which culminated in the release of the aptly named The Missing Peace, L.A. Guns' 11th studio long-player released by Frontiers Records. The album's success prompted Lewis to sever all ties with the Riley lineup, and he and Guns forged ahead to play the Frontiers Rock Festival in Milan which yielded the 2018 live set Made in Milan. The reunion continued in 2019 with another studio album, The Devil You Know, which continued in the similarly metal vein of their previous outing. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Andrew Leahey