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Legal Guns Blazing: 2 Former Bandmates Again Sue Axl Rose

August 26, 2005|Charles Duhigg | Times Staff Writer

For the tattooed members of the band Guns N' Roses, paradise city has become an unwelcome legal jungle.

Former Guns N' Roses members Slash and Duff, otherwise known as Saul Hudson and Michael McKagan, are suing band leader Axl Rose for the second time in less than two years.

The latest complaint, filed Aug. 17 in federal court in Los Angeles, alleges that in May, Rose fraudulently named himself sole administrator of the band's copyrights, jilting his former partners out of their shares of revenue that Hudson and McKagan's lawyer said totals about $500,000 a year.

Guns N' Roses recorded such songs as "Welcome to the Jungle," "Paradise City" and "Sweet Child o' Mine."

This month's suit accuses Rose of "suffering an apparent attack of arrogance and ego" and says "he is no longer willing to acknowledge the contributions of his former partners and bandmates in having created some of rock's greatest hits."

The filing claims that Rose directed the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers to send all publishing royalties to Rose's publishing company, bypassing the band's other partners. The plaintiffs allege that so far, they have been excluded from their shares of at least $92,000 in royalties collected in one quarter of 2005.

But Howard Weitzman, Rose's lawyer, said the singer had asked to receive only his portion of royalties, and that the overpayment was due to a clerical error by the society. Weitzman said Rose had returned the extra funds to the organization. A representative from the society did not return phone calls.

Disputes among successful bands are not unusual, particularly as the passing of time sends royalties spiraling into the millions. Longtime Eagles guitarist Don Felder brought suit in 2001 against fellow band members Don Henley and Glenn Frey, claiming that they cheated him out of album and concert earnings totaling more than $50 million.

Last month the lead singer of Megadeth filed suit against the band's former bass player for allegedly using the group's name in an ad for musical equipment.

But Guns N' Roses, the Los Angeles band that formed in the mid-1980s and quickly became a worldwide sensation, has kept the courts especially busy.

Last year, Hudson and McKagan filed their first suit against Rose. This one alleged that the singer had wrongly claimed ownership of the group's assets after he quit Guns N' Roses in 1995. It also claimed that Rose had blocked Hudson and McKagan from licensing the band's recordings to movie producers, "costing the Guns N' Roses partnership millions of dollars to date." The case is pending.

Rose is the only member of the band who retains the right to perform under the Guns N' Roses name. Hudson and McKagan are now part of the bestselling band Velvet Revolver.

Also last year, Rose briefly joined forces with Hudson and McKagan to try to prevent Geffen Records from releasing a greatest-hits compilation of the band's tunes. They lost that suit, and the album went on to sell more than 1.8 million copies.

A similar reunion probably won't occur again soon, Weitzman said.

"When a band is very dependent on the personality of the group's leader, and that leader chooses to move on, it's not unusual for the members left behind to be hostile and mad," Rose's lawyer said. "If you mention the Eagles, people remember Henley, not Felder. When you mention Guns N' Roses, everyone knows the leader was Axl."

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