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Reckless Road by Marc Canter is an award-winning book about Guns N’ Roses, the hard-rocking, hard-living group on everybody’s short list of the most influential rock bands of the 80’s.  The story of the band is all about outrageous talent and even more outrageous behavior.  But the story of the photos that document their rise to fame has a Stand-by-Me quality of boyhood innocence and loyalty that truly warms the heart.


Guns N Roses Concert Pictures

Guns N' Roses at the Street Scene first gig slash used a Les Paul September 28, 1985


Marc Canter and Slash were boyhood friends in the Fairfax district of LA.  Marc came from the prosperous, hard-working family that owned Canter’s Deli, a legendary West Hollywood  hangout that stayed open 24 hours and attracted a celebrity-studded, late-nite crowd.  Slash came from a much more freewheeling and artistic background.  His dad created album covers for musicians such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell while his mom designed costumes for the likes of David Bowie.  


His dinosaurs had character


‘Slash lived like two blocks away and we became friends in 5th grade,’ recalls Marc. ‘I noticed he was talented because he always drew really neat art projects.  They were just things like dinosaurs and snakes and jungles with leaves.  But his dinosaurs had character like they were created by a Disney artist.  And he didn’t copy out of a book.  It was all freehand, so you knew something was going on.’  



Slash at Fairfax High School June 4, 1982


Out of school, Marc and Slash careened around the neighborhood on their BMX bikes.  ‘He could do these outrageous tricks on his bike, way beyond anyone else’ says Marc.  ‘He was just a little stronger, a little crazier. You just knew he was someone special.’  One neighborhood daredevil who lacked the nimbleness of Slash was future GN’R drummer Steven Adler.  When Steven took a nasty tumble off his skateboard, Slash scrapped him off the sidewalk and the two became fast friends.  


All that talent poured right into the guitar


When Slash turned his attention to guitar, Marc knew he’d found his calling.   ‘Once he started playing, all that talent poured right into the guitar.  We had no idea he was going to make it big.  But whether he became a studio musician or a guitar teacher or whatever, I knew that was going to be his life.  I started photographing him because it was fun, because he looked good and because he was my friend.’


Guns N Roses Photos

Guns N' Roses debuted "Rocket Queen" at the Troubadour September 20, 1985


Marc had been an avid Aerosmith fan and memorabilia collector as a kid.  He’d spent a lot of time staring at pictures of the band.  When he started photographing Slash in his late teens, he knew next to nothing about cameras and didn’t even own one.  But he had a clear vision of the look he wanted.  ‘I was maybe 19- 20 years old, coming in to work at Canter’s at 6:30 or 7:00 every morning,’ he says. ‘And at night, I’d drive Slash to his rehearsals and photograph him till like 3:30 AM.  I did it compulsively but I never intended to sell the photos.  It was more of a hobby, for my own personal collection and to document.’ 


Guns N Roses Concert Photos

Guns N' Roses debuted "Nightrian" at the Music Machine December 20, 1985


They were the starving musicians and I was the hard-working guy


As the GN’R line-up began to coalesce around Slash, Marc became friends with them all, not only documenting their gigs and rehearsals but offering vital support to the volatile mix.  ‘The guys would come in to Canter’s, and I would feed them,’ he says.  ‘They were the starving musicians, and I was a hard-working guy, kind of the center of gravity.  I wasn’t rich but they thought I was like a zillionaire because I had a job.  I would help them out help out financially a little, buy them guitar strings, maybe pay for flyers for their shows, or a banner to hang behind the drum set or an advertisement in local newspapers.  After a while they didn’t need that because they got strippers to help them.  But for the first year or so it was me.’


Guns and Roses Pictures

Guns N Roses first gig with the Appetite line up at the Troubadour June 6,1985


Musically, the members of GN’R had an astounding, instinctive synergy.  Marc says that every song they wrote in those early years made it on to Appetite for Destruction, the best-selling debut album of all times.  But emotionally, legally and logistically, they were a perpetual train wreck.  ‘It was a crazy road because they were constantly in trouble with the law or the clubs.  There was all kinds of trauma going on just to get to the next gig,’ Marc says.  ‘Either they were hiding from the police or hiding from a girl or had nowhere to live or were just on the run.  It was chaos.  The drinking, I didn’t mind.  But the drugs bothered me.  So they started hiding it.  It was like, Oh, here comes Marc.  Hide it!  I was like their mother.’

Guns N Roses Concert

Guns N' Roses Duff at the Stardust Ballroom August 30, 1985


Marc started photographing Slash in 1982, long before GN’R came into existence.  Once the band coalesced, he was there with his camera at every gig from 1985 until 1987, and at the debut of every new song.  The photos stayed in his private collection until 2007 when he finally decided how he wanted to publish them.  The result is a rock n’ roll documentary that Slash himself calls, ‘F---in’ unreal.  The best rock n’ roll book I’ve ever seen.  And I’d say that even if I wasn’t in the band.’


Slash Guns N Roses Photos

Guns N' Roses "Paradise City debuted at the Troubadour October 10,1985


Guns N Roses Concert Photo

Guns N' Roses first time at the Roxy August 31, 1985


For more about Marc’s photography, the publication of Reckless Road, the recording of GN’R songs and how you can get your framed, limited edition print, read our full interview with Marc Canter below.


Reckless Road Guns N Roses


Reckless Road Book Review


Read The Full Interview


Marc Canter is a great interview.  You ask a question, then sit back and let him riff.  He talks fast, and everything he says is interesting.  Here are his comments about how he photographed GN’R, how they recorded the best-selling debut album of all time, how Reckless Road got published and put online, and how you can get a framed, limited-edition GN’R print to hang on your wall.   


TGP: So when did you start photographing Slash and GN’R?


Marc Canter: I started working with Slash in photography in 1982.  I’d drive him to rehearsals and photograph him even when he wasn’t performing live.  That was way before he met Guns N’ Roses.  When the other guys came in, I noticed that Axl was a talent in his own right.  Each of the other guys in the band had their own character; and they were all fun to photograph.  But it was more of a hobby.  It was just for my own personal collection and to document.  I never intended to sell them but I figured that one day, if he ever does make it, then I’d have some cool things.  


The first G’NR gig was June 6th, 1985 at the Troubadour.  I made sure I didn’t miss any gigs after that, every single gig no matter where it was, or when they were playing, or what I was doing at work, whatever it took, I photographed it.  I documented it compulsively.  That lasted till 1987, two years.  But they only had two gigs in ‘87 because they were busy recording in the studio.  I watched it all unfold one song at a time, from one gig to the next.  I was there every time they debuted a new song.  There are a lot of special moments from those gigs.  And I made sure to document them.


TGP: Technically, it’s not all that easy to photograph a rock concert.  The lights, the crowds, the cramped quarters, the people moving and jumping around.  How much did you know about photography?  How did you work?  What kind of equipment did you use?


Marc Canter: I didn’t know much about photography but I got some tips from my friend Jack Lue who took about 30% of the photos in Reckless Road.  He was the one who used to photograph all the concerts that came through LA. The rest of us would just go and listen.


But one night, when Eddie Van Halen was in town playing the Roxy for just one show, Jack had another job.  So he gave me a camera, and told me to go take some pictures and see how it worked.  The camera was an Olympus with a fixed 50mm lens.  I don’t even remember the model.  Jack told me to wait for the lights to come around.  He said, ‘You don’t want it too dark, and you don’t want blue lights.’  So I got the idea.  I waited for the good times.  I took some pictures, and I liked the results.


My sister had a Canon AE-1 that she wasn’t using, so I kind of confiscated it.  She had a 50mm lens, and I also bought a 135mm zoom and a 28mm wide angle.  I’d go to the show, open the lens all the way and set the shutter speed to 125.  If they weren’t moving too fast I’d go to 60.


I’d wait for the lighting to be somewhat good, then I’d zoom in, focus and take pictures.  I’d take like three or four rolls a show.  I’d say about 25% came out, and of that 25%, maybe 5% were really good.  A lot came out overexposed, underexposed or you couldn’t even see what there was on the film because I didn’t know what I was doing.  But enough of them did come out so I had some gold.


When the shows were dark, I would use a flash but I’d bounce it, send it straight up in the air, at 15 – 20% power, just to give me a little more light, to cheat it a little bit.  The photos don’t really look like flash but it gave me just enough more lighting in the room to grab the image that I wanted.


I never really knew anything about cameras but I did know what I wanted to see through the lens.  I was a good director rather than a good photographer.  I knew I wanted to capture from the ground to the head.  I wanted you to see the feet and the guitar cable hanging down and the little creases at the back of the knees.  Jack Lue would always zoom in.  He’d get more close ups.  I’d get more full bodies.


Remember, I was doing this for me.  I wanted to capture what looked cool, and what looked cool was a lot of group shots of the bands.  I just had a good energy and knew what was going to look good.  Now if I’d gone to school for photography and even taken one class I might’ve made more good pictures.  But that might have messed me up, too.  This was more natural.  I just knew the one thing that I wanted to do.


TGP: So in a way, you were doing with the camera what the band was doing with guitars, improvising, making it up as you went along?


Marc Canter: Maybe, but I felt I had to get it.  I’m a little compulsive, actually a lot compulsive.  It was a challenge, and I had to get it right because I thought it was cool.  But unfortunately, while I was capturing it, even though I was recording audio, I was missing the show.  I was so busy changing film and winding and rewinding by hand.  I guess if I had an automatic winder I would’ve taken a lot more shots.


TGP: Tell us a little about the making of Appetite for Destruction.  According to the web, it’s sold 28 million copies and counting.  Was the creative process as chaotic as their lives?


Marc Canter: In between the chaos, they would write songs.  And what I noticed was when they wrote songs, it was always ready to go.  Every song they wrote ended up on the first record.  They didn’t write a song that didn’t make it.  That’s when I knew we were dealing with a super group like Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones.  It was all produced, ready to go.


When it was time to record, all they did was record.  They didn’t really rearrange or change anything.  It was pretty much self-produced as far as the material.  They knocked out the record pretty quick because it was all written and arranged.


Usually, a producer comes in and starts rearranging things.  Mike Clink, the producer that came in on Appetite for Destruction, simply recorded what they had done and captured it perfectly.  He did what he should have done.  He saw something good, and he was able to capture it the way it was meant to be.  He was smart enough to see they didn’t really need any help as far as writing and arranging.  They just needed someone to capture what they had done in the best possible way, and to keep them in line in the studio so they didn’t get drunk.  They respected him, took him seriously.  They listened to what he wanted.  But all he wanted was for them to perform what they were supposed to perform.


TGP: So how did the book, Reckless Road, get published?


Marc Canter: In 20075, Canter’s was in a book called America’s Great Delis.  The book was picked up by an Internet publishing company called Enhanced Books.  They take books that are already in print, put them on the web, and enhance them with audio, commentary and photos that aren’t in the original edition.  Enhanced Books came out to interview us at Canter’s, and when I heard what they do, the fireworks went off in my head.


I told them that I’d put together a book a little while ago, and it just never got published.  ‘So when it does get published,’ I said, ‘I’ll be looking for you guys to enhance it because I have all this audio from the gigs.’  I went with a small publisher for the print edition.  Each copy has a code so you can go online to and read it from wherever you are and get all the extras like video and photos that are only available online.  While you’re reading, you can hear the band tuning their guitars and going back and forth with the audience.  


I have 43,000 copies stored at Canter’s and my mom’s house and my garage.  I’ve become a distributor and sell them to independent record stores across the country.  I have about 70 stores now and a list of about 800 more to email.  If they sell memorabilia like t-shirts or buttons, I email a package explaining that I’ll sell them the book on consignment.  I send them six books in a display.  


The books do well in the stores that promote them.  They can sell maybe three or four per week.  I have a store in Huntington Beach that sells 16-17 per month.  That’s what I’d like to have all over the country.


It might’ve worked out better if I went with a bigger publisher.  But I’m sure this will work out well in time because the band still sells 5,000 records a week.  There are still fans out there.  It’s just a matter of getting the product to them, and there are creative ways to do that through the Internet.


TGP: How about prints of your photos?  What are you doing with them?


Marc Canter: I make 11x14 prints of portraits from the book, number them from 1 to 100 and, hand-printed on the bottom, I put the date of the gig and maybe what happened that night, or  if there was a new song.  I frame them myself with wooden frames and UV protective glass and hand-cut mattes-- all high-end stuff that would probably cost 200 bucks even if you went to a cheap frame shop.  It takes me about an hour to make one framed portrait.  Then I sell them on eBay for $179 each.  The nice rock galleries sell them for around 600 bucks.


Some photographers hate me because they say I’m ruining their market.  But I also make 16x20s.  Those are more expensive and are intended for people who have a lot of money and want a nice piece of art.


But I want the fans to have something nice to put on the wall even if they don’t have 600 bucks.   After all the fees and materials, I make about $50 per print and it costs me an hour of my life.  But in the long run, I’m making people happy and I like the idea that my photos, my art, will still be hanging on people’s walls long after I’m gone.


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Marc Canter


Great interview!!
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