When I asked bassist Tommy Stinson about the likelihood of a Replacements reunion, his answer killed two bands with one stone: "About as likely as a f---in' Guns reunion."
The difference, of course, is that Replacements singer Paul Westerberg doesn't still tour the world with a bunch of session musicians and call it the Replacements.
Guns N' Roses, however, still records and performs, even though singer and curmudgeonly iconoclast Axl Rose is the only founding member remaining and has been for nearly 20 years. Stinson, a founding member of college-rock pioneers the Replacements, has now played with GNR longer than he was with the 'Mats.
"Thirteen years now!" Stinson guffaws during our recent interview, laughing at the realization. "That wasn't supposed to happen, but I'm glad it did."
GUNS 'N ROSES
9 p.m. Nov. 15
Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim Rd. in Rosemont
Call (800) 745-3000; ticketmaster.com
For a time, many fans were glad Guns N' Roses happened, too. Formed in 1985, the band -- originally featuring Indiana native Rose, guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Steven Adler -- quickly defined all that was potent about mainstream hard rock, selling nearly 30 million copies of the 1987 debut, "Appetite for Destruction."
But after the double-album whammy of 1991's "Use Your Illusion I" and "Use Your Illusion II," plus a flaccid set of covers in 1993, band members began bailing one by one. Rose restocked the roster with various hired hands and kept GNR as a going concern, sometimes touring while he labored over the now-legendary follow-up, "Chinese Democracy," which didn't show up until 2008.
"By the time I joined," Stinson says, "I walked in going, 'This sounds kinda punk rock what he's trying to do and thinking of doing.' You know, everyone quit, and [Rose] was like, 'I wanna work. I didn't spend 10 years on this to let it go now. F--- you guys! I'm going to keep it going.' I thought that was pretty f---ing ballsy. I said, 'I'm down.' ... I still think it was a good idea."
Stinson knows something about disgruntled players peeling off from a successful band. The Replacements broke up as each member left the stage one after the other in the middle of a concert -- at the 1991 Taste of Chicago.
Likewise, GNR members began leaving during the recording of "The Spaghetti Incident?" covers record. Stradlin had started recording parts for that LP, which were then dubbed over. The revolving door that ensued as others took off included visitations by Dave Navarro (Jane's Addiction), Gilby Clarke (Butthole Surfers), Robin Finck (Nine Inch Nails), Chris Vrenna (Marilyn Manson), Bryan Mantia (Primus), guitarist Buckethead and many more.
The current lineup on stage features keyboardists Dizzy Reed and Chris Pitman, drummer Frank Ferrer, bassist Stinson and three guitarists: Richard Fortus (Psychedelic Furs) and D.J. Ashba and Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal.
"Do I think we're better than the old band? Not necessarily," Stinson admits. "Do we have more fun? Definitely we probably do. It doesn't sound like they had any fun."
Stinson's claims of fun are measured, though -- note the "definitely" quickly downshifted to a "probably." Things are "going really good," he assures, before adding, "for the most part." "We've been having a lot of fun with these shows," he says later, and again adds, "though that hasn't come without its f---ing speedbumps."
Stinson has threatened to quit before. In 2006, he allegedly threw down his bass in anger after Rose denigrated one of GNR's opening bands, the Eagles of Death Metal, which Stinson had handpicked for the tour; Rose called them "the Pigeons of S--- Metal." Stinson later had to release a media statement smoothing things over, saying of his relationship with Rose, "We have no problem communicating."
"It's not like 'The Partridge Family,'" he says now of his status with the notoriously difficult bandleader. But he gives Rose props where he thinks they're due.
"Axl is a great producer," Stinson says. "He doesn't give himself credit for it. Sadly, of course, it took forever to finish the f---ing record ['Chinese Democracy'], but the reason why is because of what he expects out of the band. He likes to actually collaborate with the people he's playing with. He doesn't bring them a song and say, 'Here's my song. Sing it.' It's kind of a strange, old-school, songwriter-producer thing. I don't think he realizes that. He's really good at getting people to write something that inspires him.
"We get along great, we really do," Stinson continues. "It ain't perfect, it's not great every day. We're all cantankerous in our own right. But the reason I've played with him so long is that we do get along."
Stinson has other gigs, too. He's still a touring member of Soul Asylum ("because it's good Minneapolis rock!"), and he recently released a second solo album, "One Man Mutiny" on his own label, Done to Death Music.
Stinson says that there's "a bunch" of GNR material written and still waiting to be recorded -- "some of it worthy of finishing, some of it probably not" -- in addition to 22 songs recorded during the "Chinese Democracy" process that were not included on the album.
What might happen at the Rock Hall of Fame?
Guns N' Roses recently was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Does that mean the feuding former members will actually play nice in the same room together, should they be picked, or -- hold your breath -- perform together for the first time in two decades?
Actually, don't hold your breath.
As recently as a 2009 interview, the band's remaining founding member, singer Axl Rose, said, "There's zero possibility of me having anything to do with [original guitarist] Slash other than by ambush, and that wouldn't be pretty."
A couple of months ago, though, Slash was a little more accommodating. "Of course, you have those thoughts of how it might work in case it does happen," he said of the nomination, "but with Guns N' Roses, there's really no guessing exactly how it will go. I suppose if it happens, everybody will get some sort of ducks in order. But I think the first thing to do is wait and see if we actually get inducted, because you know how unpredictable that is."
Bassist Duff McKagan's reunion thoughts: "I can't picture it," he said earlier this month. ... It's bound to happen, but I'd love to call the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, whoever they are, and say, 'Hey guys, why don't you put this off for another 10 years? Thank you! Thanks for nominating us -- it's great, but how about you put it off for 10 years?'"
Here's an update of where the original band has gotten off to:
Slash -- A Muppet of hair, shades and a top hat, Slash has stayed plenty busy since helping to kickstart GNR. He formed his own side project, Slash's Snakepit, before co-founding Velvet Revolver with fellow GNR castaways Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum plus another loose-cannon singer, Scott Weiland (though Weiland is gone and the band is currently auditioning singers). He's a popular session guitarist -- working with a variety of stars, from Michael Jackson and Rihanna to Alice Cooper and Ol' Dirty Bastard -- and is currently recording a second solo album.
Izzy Stradlin -- The real secret weapon of GNR, founding rhythm guitarist Stradlin formed his own band, Izzy Stradlin & the Ju Ju Hounds, and his since released a whopping 10 solo records of rootsier rock. He was an original member of Velvet Revolver, but opted out early.
Duff McKagan -- Bassist McKagan reunited with GNR a couple of times -- and may do so again. McKagan's current band, Loaded, reportedly will open some GNR shows on the current tour. He recently published a memoir, It's So Easy (And Other Lies).
Steven Adler -- Fired from GNR in 1990 for his heroin addiction, the band's original drummer bounced around some other bands before forming a cover band, Adler's Appetite, with former members of Ratt. His struggle with addiction has been portrayed in some unhappy appearances on reality TV: twice on "Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew" and once on its spin-off, "Sober House."