He’s been a member of the Dead Daisies, played alongside The Replacements’ Tommy Stinson and Hanoi Rocks’ Michael Monroe, and has even worked with The Psychedelic Furs and Thin Lizzy. But what Missouri native Richard Fortus is best known for is being a member of Guns N’ Roses, which he joined in 2002. With his signature Gretsch White Falcon plugged into any number of classic Marshall amps, Fortus helped revitalize Guns N’ Roses when he joined and remained a key cog in a stronger-than-ever and firing-on-all-cylinders machine ever since.
Fortus’s stage presence, unmistakable tone, showmanship, and musicianship are harbingers of not only his sound but also the enduring legacy of one of rock and metal music’s finest bands. Moreover, save for Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood or Brad Whitford and Joe Perry, you’d be hard-pressed to find a guitar duo that’s fiercer than Richard Fortus and Slash.
But with that comes great responsibility and a busier-than-ever schedule, not that Fortus is complaining. But to be sure, he enjoys his downtime when it comes his way, and during one of those moments, he took the time to dial in with ClassicRockHistory.com to dig into the albums that changed his life.
When asked where he’d be without these albums, Fortus shrugs, “I think that’s impossible to even fathom for me,” he says. “Very early on, I dedicated my life to music, and it’s hard to imagine what course my life would have taken had I not heard these records.”
Pausing to think on it before further explaining, he says, “Yeah… I can’t even begin to imagine. I guess that’s how I know these are the ones that changed my life. The prize is a lifetime of guitar playing, man. That’s the truth, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Richard Fortus Of Guns N’ Roses – 11 Albums That Changed My Life
# 11 – Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)
When I was about nine or 10, my aunt became a Born-again Christian, and she gave me all her secular albums. That changed my life because she had an amazing record collection. Some of those albums were things like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, all the good stuff. And in there was also the first Black Sabbath album Black Sabbath, which definitely left a mark and scared the hell out of me.
I guess it probably scared most kids, but it was so unlike other music and really not like the other things of its day. So, that record definitely messed me up in all the best ways. I remember sitting there as a kid, looking at the cover, turning the lights down low, and thinking, “Wow… this is just awesome.” So, the first Sabbath record definitely changed my life.
# 10 – Beggars Banquet – The Rolling Stones (1968)
Then we have Beggars Banquet by The Rolling Stones, which was maybe even more impactful than Sabbath’s first record. Songwriting-wise, it was more varied, I suppose. You have songs like “Prodigal Son,” “Salt of the Earth,” and then, of course, you’ve got “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Street Fighting Man,” and “Stray Cat Blues.” All this stuff was frightening in a different way, and I was very drawn to all of it.
# 9 – Wired – Jeff Beck (1976)
By the time I heard Jeff Beck’s Wired album, I was probably 12, maybe 13, and had just started playing guitar. One of my best friends had the album, and he called me one day asking if I had a set of guitar strings, which he desperately needed. He asked if I was willing to track anything, so I said, “Awesome. Give me your Wired album,” he reluctantly agreed. I guess I kinda had him over a barrel [laughs].
But Wired definitely changed my life. It was the gateway to the next phase of my musical journey: more progressive rock, fusion, and jazz-fusion. It led me to albums by The Dixie Dregs, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Pat Metheny; it just got me into that world. I learned every note of Wired, and as a guitar player, that was the first album, along with Santana’s stuff, that really got me.
# 8 – Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan (1965)
If I had to pick one Bob Dylan album, it would be Highway 61 Revisited. As a kid, I actually got into this right before Jeff Beck’s Wired. I checked this record out of the school library back when you could do that with vinyl records. But I checked it out, read about Dylan, and listened to it over and over again, and started to get it. I soon became obsessed with it.
And, man, guitar-playing-wise, Bob Dylan is definitely underrated. In many ways, he was fu*king mind-blowing. I’ve heard stories—and this could be folklore—that he was in the studio and borrowed his girlfriend’s lipstick off the cuff to play slide. Who knows if that’s true, but as a kid, I bought into that, thinking, “God, how is this guy doing this back when he was so young?” It made me feel doomed because he was young when he did that record, but he sounded way beyond his years.
# 7 – Fragile – Yes (1971)
Fu*k, man. It’s hard to decide which Yes record to pick, but I’ll go with Fragile. It was the album that got me into the rest of their catalog, along with early King Crimson, early Genesis, and Jethro Tull. I got very into the progressive stuff from that era, and then I discovered David Bowie, which just melted my brain.
# 6 – Scary Monsters – David Bowie (1980)
Once I discovered David Bowie, I was obsessed with the entire catalog, but Scary Monsters, if I had to pick one, that would be it. It’s probably because it took me somewhere new, meaning it opened a bunch of other doors that were previously closed. And Robert Fripp’s playing on this album is just perfect. It’s awesome. It’s so anti-blues, beautiful, and just perfect. It’s angular, frightening, and sounds wrong, but I just fu*king loved it.
# 5 – Discipline – King Crimson (1981)
Robert Fripp was very important to me as a guitar player. And this later King Crimson album, Discipline, was definitely one that changed my life. That version of the band and that whole era of Kind Crimson with Adrian Belew was so great and totally underrated. And Adrian Belew is yet another player who had such an impact on me. His playing on this album, and in general, is amazing.
All the albums he did with Crimson were great, but Discipline was my introduction to it all. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. It was angry in a punk rock sense—without being punk rock—before I realized what that truly meant. I guess this would have been around the same time that I got into The Clash and The Sex Pistols, and I loved how Discipline melded the musicianship of fusion music with the total anger and rage of punk rock. I loved it.
# 4 – London Calling – The Clash (1979) & Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols by The Sex Pistols (1977)
As far as punk rock goes, it was either London Calling by The Clash or Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols by The Sex Pistols that did it for me. I have to choose a tie here. I heard those two records around the same time, and they made me not want to know how to play guitar anymore [laughs]. From then on, it was more about energy, vibe, songwriting, and passion than pure technical stuff for me.
# 3 – Rain Dogs – Tom Waits (1985)
When I was a kid, man, I never was into the stuff that was popular. I wasn’t into Poison, Iron Maiden, and stuff like that, you know? I just really didn’t vibe with it. I often looked to older music because that’s the stuff I related to more until I heard The Clash, and everything changed. And from there, another record that changed my life was Rain Dogs by Tom Waits. It was a turning point for me as a musician because his approach to the songs was unorthodox.
I just love Rain Dogs so much, and then there’s Marc Ribot, who was a total revelation to me on guitar. He’s such an underrated guitar player. Oh, my God, he was just crazy, man. What he did with Tom Waits, man, definitely was a huge influence on me. It’s an example of how, when I listen to these records, I can hear all these things that intrigued me and led me to incorporate new things into my playing.
# 2 – Paul’s Boutique by The Beastie Boys (1989)
So, Paul’s Boutique by The Beastie Boys changed my life. They were both huge for me. For my money, Paul’s Boutique is the Sgt. Pepper of hip-hop. But it had punk rock roots, and I think that’s why it was so important, as it set the bar for songwriting in a collage-type way.
The Beastie Boys didn’t approach songs in just one sense, and it’s another example of how most of my choices here are part of complete scene changes. I loved Paul’s Boutique for the same reason I loved Fragile by Yes—it turned an entire scene on a dime and went with a new feel and vibe. I loved that. Paul’s Boutique set the bar for what hip-hop music would become.
# 1 – OK Computer – Radiohead (1997)
There are so many albums that I could go with. I really could go on for days, and that’s why this is so hard. But I’ll pick one last one: OK Computer by Radiohead. Again, I love how they melded the punk rock ethos with Yes and King Crimson’s progressive nature while putting another new spin on the whole thing.
That sort of thing just makes sense to me, and when I heard this album, I felt like I knew that one day, it would be important. I just thought Radiohead was awesome, and they inspired the hell out of me. Plus, Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien are insane on guitar. They are both ridiculously talented, and all their stuff is just breathtaking—especially some of Jonny Greenwood’s film scores that came later.
Richard Fortus of Guns N’ Roses: 11 Albums That Changed My Life article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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