Sunday, 6 January 2019

L.A. Guns: The 1989 Release Of Cocked & Loaded Kept The Censors Busy!

L.A. Guns - promo poster for Cocked & Loaded 
Originally published in Rave-Up No. 18 (1989)

By Devorah Ostrov

"We better watch this one with a magnifying glass!"

L.A. Guns vocalist Phil Lewis laughs while he imitates the fear and loathing with which MTV inspects the group's videos.

Calling from Texas, where the band is kicking off a U.S. tour in support of its second album, Cocked & Loaded, he continues: "To give you an example, when we did 'Sex Action' [from their eponymous debut LP]... Kelly [Nickels, bassist] has a tattoo on his arm of a girl with big boobs. A guy came down from the record company and was actually serious about drawing in a bra."

Cocked & Loaded
Vertigo Records (1989)
"Rip and Tear," the first single/video release from the new album, has garnered its own share of scrutiny, but not because of tattooed boobs or even the comic violence of the notorious "One More Reason" video. This time it's because of the background scenery!

In the video, the guys play live in front of a set based on a "red-light district," with painted signs depicting tattoo parlors and porno theatres announcing "live nude girls."

When I spoke to Kelly Nickels, he was just as fed up with MTV's time-consuming paranoia.

"Every time we took 'Rip and Tear' to them, they would make us re-edit it," he complained. "They were freeze-framing every shot and making us take out every scene where you can see what's written on the backdrop. Cher can have half her fucking ass hanging out, but we can't show the letter X in sex! But hey, what are you gonna do?"

However, with Cocked & Loaded the censors have a bit more to worry about than just the videos. The album cover — which depicts a nearly nude female cartoon caricature happily straddling a gun — has also raised some eyebrows.

Phil Lewis
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
"I've seen ads in certain magazines which don't show the cover," says Kelly. "They just put the top of the bullet where it says Cocked & Loaded."

"We've had a few reviews which says it's a sexist cover," adds Phil. "But it really isn't. The fact is, she's [the cartoon lady] having a great time! It's not like she's being put under any strain or being abused."

Two factors saved the album cover from certain doom: the art work itself was executed by a woman (Maxine Miller) and the figure, which was initially nude, is now kind of covered up.

"Certain chain stores wouldn't want to carry the album if she were naked," says Kelly, explaining the last-minute addition of the patriotically colored bra and chaps. "K-Mart won't carry it, and you sell a lot of records through them."

Cocked & Loaded is the first album that all five current band members have contributed to, as drummer Steve Riley was still a member of W.A.S.P. when L.A. Guns recorded their debut album.

Originally formed by guitarist Tracii Guns in 1983, by '85 the group's lineup included vocalist Paul Black, bassist Mick Cripps, and former Weirdos drummer Nickey "Beat" Alexander.

L.A. Guns - promo poster
But by the time the band began recording their first LP, Phil Lewis (ex-vocalist for British glam/pop group Girl) had replaced Paul Black, and Kelly Nickels (one-time member of Faster Pussycat) joined on bass. Steve Riley took over from Nickey Alexander shortly after the album was completed.

"Steve joined the day before we took the picture for the back cover," notes Kelly, "and most of the first album had already been written by Tracii, Mick, and the old singer. Phil came in and rewrote all the lyrics, but there wasn't really an emphasis on writing new songs."

Kelly Nickels
RIP Teaser photo
Perhaps it's because the group was finally able to collaborate on the material for Cocked & Loaded (as well as the top-notch production team of Tom Werman, Duane Baron and John Purdell) that makes it one of the strongest albums of the year.

Recording the new album took "a massive amount of work," points out Phil. "The first album was put together very loosely, without that much attention to detail. Cocked & Loaded is much more structured and thought out."

"I think the album came out great," offers Kelly. "It kicks ass!"

Phil agrees. "I'm really, really happy with every song on it," he says. "But what I like most is the way it starts with 'Letting Go,' then it goes into this musical hyperspace, then into 'Slap in the Face,' and then into 'Rip and Tear' — which is so confident. I just love it! It gives me chills!"

L.A. Guns have spent the better part of the last two years on the road, headlining clubs and opening shows for the likes of Cheap Trick (Robin Zander provides back-up vocals on some Cocked & Loaded tracks), Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, AC/DC, and Ted Nugent — who, Phil mysteriously tells me, "supervised the recording sessions in his own special way."

Phil Lewis
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Kelly clearly recalls the group's last club date, the night before they hooked up with AC/DC.

"It was at the Nick in [Birmingham] Alabama," he says. "I can't forget this because there were like 200 people and the floor was covered with sawdust. The next night we played to 14,000 people in Portland, Maine!"

This year, L.A. Guns is once again headlining smaller venues, but they insist it's not the backwards move it seems.

"We'd probably get to a lot more people if we went out with a band who has a Number One album," admits Phil. "But we don't want to be the eternal support band. We don't want to go off on someone else's success; we've got to earn it."

* In Rave-Up #15, Phil Lewis talks about his former band Girl and how he came to join L.A. Guns. Here's a link: