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John Bradford doesn't seem like a rude guy but he couldn't help but shush his girlfriend when the guitarist initially experienced Guns N’ Roses in 1988 in upstate New York.
“My girlfriend was talking while they were on and I just said, ‘Shut up.’ I couldn't help it,” Bradford said. “Guns N’ Roses were opening for the Black Crowes and they were absolutely tearing it up. I love the Black Crowes, but Guns N’ Roses wiped the stage with them — but it’s not surprising, since GNR was at the height of their powers.
“I’ll never forget the experience of seeing Guns N’ Roses in their prime. That performance had a huge impact on me.”
Where: Riverside Casino Event Center, 3184 Highway 22, Riverside
When: 9:30 p.m. Dec. 31, 2022
Tickets: $25, standing room only; riversidecasinoandresort.com/event/2022/dec/nighttrain.html
Band’s website: nightrainrocks.com/
Just over two decades later, Bradford formed Nightrain, which is a nod to a classic GNR song from the band’s massive breakthrough album, “Appetite for Destruction.” The Guns N’ Roses tribute band, which formed in 2009, primarily focuses on that debut album.
“I would say that three-quarters of the Nightrain set is made up of ‘Appetite for Destruction’ songs,” Bradford said while calling from Raleigh, N.C. “We mix in some of the ‘Use Your Illusion’ songs, but we primarily play the hits and familiar songs. We’ve played deeper cuts, but when we do that, people stand there with that deer in the headlights look.”
Nightrain, which will rock the Riverside Casino Event Center on New Year’s Eve, delivers a two-hour set. The band tends to render the live versions of the songs, so expect some extended solos from lead guitarist Bradford, who plays the Slash role.
“The studio stuff is cool, but we get off on the live GNR stuff,” Bradford said. “My personal favorite songs to play live are ‘Rocket Queen’ and ‘Civil War.’ Both of those songs are different than your typical Guns N'’ Roses songs. Both songs are mean and serious and they’re both extremely dramatic, especially the live versions.”
There aren’t nearly as many GNR cover bands compared with the myriad Led Zeppelin and Grateful Dead tribute acts.
“It’s the truth,” Bradford said. “I used to be in a Zeppelin cover band, Physical Graffiti. I don’t know why there aren’t more Guns N’ Roses cover bands. They’re one of the greatest rock bands ever. I remember seeing them on MTV for the first time and I thought, ‘This band is saving rock ’n’ roll.’ ”
MTV was initially reluctant to run Guns N’ Roses clips. The once-innovative music network played GNR’s anthemic "Welcome to the Jungle" in the middle of the night in 1987, and the response was off the charts. Not long after, the band was ubiquitous on MTV.
“Guns N’ Roses was very refreshing,” Bradford said. “They changed the music scene. The hair metal world was cool, but GNR took things to another level. They brought that down and dirty classic rock feel back.”
Bradford has followed Guns N’ Roses throughout its run, and the same with vocalist Axl Rose. When Rose filled in for AC/DC’s Brian Johnson in 2016, Bradford was down with the substitution.
“It was cool Axl sang with AC/DC, but the funny thing is that our Nightrain singer (Lee Robinson) was up for that gig,” Bradford said. “He was one of five guys they flew in. AC/DC did what Journey did when they looked for a singer. They looked on YouTube and they saw Lee. It’s ironic that Axl got the gig, but it’s cool that we have Lee, who really brings it.”
Bradford never saw Guns N’ Roses after his initial experience 34 years ago.
“How funny is that,” he said. “I’ve kicked myself in the butt for that, but at least I saw them that one time when they were young and at their peak. And now I go out night after night playing their songs with our band, and we love it, since we're playing some of the greatest rock ’n’ roll songs ever recorded.”