Axl Rose

Axl Rose, controversial lead singer/songwriter of '80s hard-rockers Guns N' Roses, is finishing an album that will be the band's first LP of new material since 1991. The disc is likely to sound different from Guns N' Roses in its heyday, since Rose is the only member from that period remaining in the group.

Rose was born William Bruce Rose on Feb. 6, 1962, in Lafayette, Ind. His mother remarried when he was an infant and changed Rose's name to William Bailey, using the last name of her new husband. But when Rose was 17, he found out about his birth father and changed his last name back. His full legal name is now W. Axl Rose (he uses the W. because he says William, his birth father, was "an assh---").

Rose was raised in a strict household and went to a Pentecostal church at least three times a week. He sang in church and taught Sunday school. To escape his rigid home environment, Rose took a bus from Indiana to Los Angeles, when he was 17. Once in California, Rose began to look for his childhood friend, guitarist Izzy Stradlin.

By age 20, Rose had a police record, including charges of public intoxication, criminal trespass and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. When Rose (who began calling himself Axl after a band he once played in) found Stradlin, the two formed Guns N' Roses, creating the name from their two former bands: Hollywood Roses and L.A. Guns.

Rose recruited Englishman Slash — who had moved with his music-industry parents to California when he was 11 — as a guitarist. The band also added drummer Steve Adler and bassist Duff McKagan. Guns N' Roses immediately became infamous on the L.A. rock scene because of their reportedly heavy drug use.

Guns N' Roses released an independent EP, then signed a contract with Geffen Records, which issued their debut LP, Appetite for Destruction (1987). The band built a following opening shows for Aerosmith; MTV picked up the video for "Sweet Child o' Mine," which hit #1 and pushed the LP to the top of the Billboard 200 albums chart. "Welcome to the Jungle" also made the top 10, confirming the return of hard rock on the U.S. record charts after the domination of synth-pop.

Appetite for Destruction eventually sold more than 13 million copies. GN'R Lies (1988) included songs from the band's indie EP as well as new tracks, including the controversial "Used to Love Her" (which featured lyrics about killing an ex-lover) and "One in a Million" (which mocked gays, immigrants and African Americans). Though Guns N' Roses became more controversial than ever, the ballad "Patience" kept them ever-present on the radio.

Guns N' Roses' lineup shifted in 1990, and Rose's three-week marriage to Erin Everly, daughter of one of the Everly Brothers, ended after she claimed he physically abused her.

In 1991 the band was so popular that it simultaneously released two best-selling LPs, Use Your Illusion I, which included the hit single, "Don't Cry" (RealAudio excerpt), and Use Your Illusion II. But Guns N' Roses began to splinter further during a 28-month tour.

The band's most recent studio LP is The Spaghetti Incident? (1993), an album of covers, mostly of punk-rock songs. They angered many with the inclusion of a song by convicted serial killer Charles Manson, which has since been stripped from the LP.

Ensuing years saw Guns N' Roses members pursue solo projects, as Rose stayed away from the music scene. The Seattle-based grunge sound, popularized by bands such as Nirvana, eclipsed the group's brand of excessive hard rock.

In 1999, Guns N' Roses issued the double live Guns N' Roses Live Era '87–93, including covers of Black Sabbath's "It's Alright" and Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."

Rose has been working with a number of musicians, including latter-day Guns N' Roses keyboardist Dizzy Reed and ex-Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson. Rolling Stone magazine reported that the LP, tentatively titled Chinese Democracy, will include titles such as "Catcher in the Rye," "I.R.S.," "The Blues" and "TWAT," an acronym for "there was a time."

Last year, Rose issued an electronica-influenced Guns N' Roses song, "Oh My God" (RealAudio excerpt), on the soundtrack to the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie "End of Days." The band's upcoming LP reportedly will feature additional industrial-oriented material.

Other birthdays on Sunday: Fabian, 57; Natalie Cole, 50; Punky Meadows (Angel), 50; Rick Astley, 34; and Tim Brown (Boo Radleys), 31.