photo of Phil Lewis in Rockford IL by Cassie Balazic for mk ultra magazine
The hard rock scene remembers quite well the two competing versions of L.A. GUNS that existed from 2006 to 2012. Vocalist Phil Lewis and guitarist/founding member Tracii Guns became estranged after Guns left the band in 2002 to focus on BRIDES OF DESTRUCTION, thereby leaving Lewis to carry on with the name. Four years later, Guns re-teamed with former L.A. GUNS bandmates Paul Black and Nickey Alexander, first as THE TRACII GUNS BAND, then as L.A. GUNS, the name change influenced by the fact Guns and former drummer Steve Riley jointly own the L.A. GUNS moniker. For the next six years, the two versions of L.A. GUNS would compete for fans’ attention while Guns and Lewis traded perfunctory barbs through the press, a period Lewis now calls “embarrassing” and “the lowest point of L.A. GUNS’ history.”
Guns and Lewis would reunite in 2014 at a benefit show in Las Vegas. Two years later, they announced plans to reactivate their version of L.A. GUNS, but without longtime drummer Riley, who, even with the lineup confusion, remained the longest-tenured member of the band. In another twist to the story, Riley recently announced his own version of L.A. GUNS would be performing at M3 Rock Festival this May in Columbia, Maryland.
In an interview with “Big Will” and “Metal Mike” from Rock Assault Radio, Lewis was asked how his 2014 reunion with Guns came about, leading to the creation of their 2017 studio album, “The Missing Peace”. (Note: This interview took place before Riley announced his M3 Rock Festival plans.)
“Tracii and I fell out in around 2003,” Phil said. “It’s so long ago and it’s so unimportant, I don’t know what it was about and I don’t really care. We spent almost 15 years apart from each other. We didn’t even run into each other. We were never in the same venue — anything — we went completely separate ways. Of course, it was a terrible time when he had his version. We had two versions of the same band out touring at the same time. It’s definitely the lowest point of L.A. GUNS’ history. Just embarrassing. We’re working musicians. That’s how we make our money, that’s what we do. We were just at war. It was something you just had to deal with. It was a very, very long time. I never thought I would even run into him, let alone play in a band with him again. Then I got a call around this time, 2014, from Jason Green, a local promoter in Vegas, who was doing Toys For Tots for a Christmas show. He told me Tracii had agreed to do it with his band and if I’d be interested in getting up and raising some money for the event and doing some proper songs. I could see no reason why I couldn’t and shouldn’t do it.”
He continued: “It was weird, believe me. We played at [Count’s] Vamp’d. We didn’t rehearse. We didn’t even soundcheck. All we did was ‘Over The Edge’ and ‘Sex Action’ and ‘Never Enough’ — stuff we knew in our sleep. I just showed up 10, 15 minutes before he was supposed to go on. Tracii is sitting in the dressing room by himself and he was drinking a glass of milk. It wasn’t milk. It was a White Russian, actually. Honestly, he looked like he was nine year old. He looked like a kid. It was so weird. And to think this guy had been my nemesis. [We were] feuding. He was the person that would wind me up the most. There he was, in the corner, drinking a glass of milk. So we sit down and say, ‘How are you doing?’ We didn’t peel the onion or anything. We just got up and played our couple of songs. It went well. People were blown away. It felt good, I got to say.”
Lewis added: “Playing with him — we have that chemistry. We’ve got that Keith Richards/Mick Jagger [THE ROLLING STONES], Steven Tyler/Joe Perry [AEROSMITH] vibe. We have that dichotomy. Just because we’re partners and brothers doesn’t mean we always get along. [Laughs] It’s real. It felt like my brother.
“All the fighting and feuding and everything, I have to say, if it wasn’t for Tracii, I wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t be having this conversation. I have to remind myself of that a lot. It just struck me: ‘We haven’t communicated, done nothing in over 15 years.’ I felt that was kind of an insult to the fans. It was vain of us because we should be working. We should be making music. It’s not expected. We started playing each other ideas and songs and before you know it, we were making ‘The Missing Peace’.”
Riley recently told “Rock Talk With Mitch Lafon” that he has “no desire” to compete with the other version of L.A. GUNS, which features Guns and Lewis.
“We’re not gonna try to do a hundred, hundred and a twenty-five shows like they’re gonna try to do,” he said. “We’re not gonna try to match them and go out there and do club for club. What we’re gonna do is take M3 as one show and do M3. If something really cool came up, we would consider it. That’s where it’s at right now. There’s no tour booked. There’s no other dates other than M3.”
Guns and Lewis recently completed work on the next L.A. GUNS studio album, “The Devil You Know”, which is due for release sometime in 2019.