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Guns N' Roses, rock 'n' roll

Craig Duswalt shows off memories from his tours with the band

Posted: July 27, 2008 1:07 a.m.
Updated: September 27, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Craig Duswalt displays some of his Guns N' Roses memorabilia.

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Craig Duswalt, 46, of Stevenson Ranch, looks like the clean-cut "boy next door." He has lived the quiet Santa Clarita Valley suburban life of a model dad, professional marketing expert and theater impresario since 1996. Married to wife Natasha, the couple have three boys, Tyler, 8, Ryan, 6 and Hayden, 4.

Until recently, few of his friends and neighbors knew that before Duswalt settled down to suburban bliss he lived the life of a rock star while employed by the bands Air Supply and Guns N' Roses.

For years Duswalt rubbed shoulders with music notables, including Elton John, Bono, Brian May (of the band Queen,) Metallica and Madonna. He remains in contact with many of the stars he made friends with on the road. He's dated Playboy Playmates and is the subject of one of the most asked questions on a popular Guns N' Roses Web site.

Born and raised in Long Island, N.Y., Duswalt was two weeks out of college - having earned his degree in marketing with a theater minor from State University of New York at Oswego - when his life changed.

Air Supply
"I was working at a menial job at the Westbury Music Fair (a 3,000 seat in-the-round performance venue) in Westbury on Long Island where I was a backstage runner for bands and performers who came in to do shows," Duswalt said. "I would always work hard no matter what - in case someone saw me. I knew many famous people came through the doors every night, and you never know who is going to see you shine."

As in all good "boy makes good" stories, someone did take notice - the Australian pop band, Air Supply and its two lead members, Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock.

"The band Air Supply did a show on a Friday night, I picked them up at the hotel, got them coffee, made sure they were comfortable," Duswalt said. "After the second show on Saturday night, I was backstage when Air Supply's security guard, Bob Street approached and asked my salary."

After Duswalt confided he was making $150 a week, Street asked Duswalt if he'd like to quadruple his salary.

"I asked him what I had to do for that kind of money," Duswalt said.

The band was looking for a band assistant for the group's road tour. Duswalt was told the band had noticed Duswalt working and thought he'd be a "great addition."

"The next morning a limo took me to the airport, and I flew to Connecticut to meet the band and that was my first day of a six-year world tour," he said.

As a member of Air Supply's entourage Duswalt was in charge of advancing the shows, making sure the dressing rooms had what was called for in the contract, stocking the bus with food and alcohol and handing out backstage passes.

"I handed out the passes to the most beautiful women in the audience because I was in charge of the backstage parties," he said.

Duswalt worked for Air Supply from 1983 through 1988. However, after six years on the road Duswalt gave up the glamorous life in the band's entourage and moved to Los Angeles where he decided to try his hand at acting.

Fans of the ABC soap opera "General Hospital" may remember Duswalt in a recurring (under five lines) role in Duke's Club.

"I did the acting thing for a while, I did lots of theater in L.A.," he said.

Then the phone rang - Doug Goldstein, manager of Guns N' Roses was on the line.

"He asked if I was ready to go back on the road," Duswalt said.

Guns N' Roses
Duswalt had first met Goldstein when the Guns N' Roses manager became head of security for Air Supply three years into Duswalt's stint with the band.

"I showed him the ropes on Air Supply, then he became the manger of Guns N' Roses," Duswalt said.

Duswalt signed on to be the personal assistant to Guns N' Roses frontman and co-founder Axl Rose.

"I basically managed all aspects of his life, from home to business to his performing life. I managed everything," Duswalt said. "I was the liaison to Axl, anyone who wanted to meet him backstage after the show, including many famous stars, had to go through me. I was in charge of keeping him out of trouble and helping him get ready to do a show."

Among his many duties Duswalt was in charge making sure his dressing rooms and hotels rooms were prepared to his liking and to handling his finances on the road.

"I was all things Axl," he said.

Duswalt worked for Guns N' Roses from 1991-94. He was on tour with the band 1991-93.

During his years with Air Supply and Guns N' Roses Duswalt traveled the globe.

"I've been in every state except Alaska and every continent except Antarctica," Duswalt said.

However, as Rose's assistant Duswalt said they didn't get out very often.

"I've traveled all over Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, South America, Africa, Thailand, Israel, Turkey, all these places and the joke is that I got to see the hotel rooms in all these great cities because I was with Axl 24/7 and we couldn't really go out," Duswalt said. "Every time when we did go out it was a circus with all these people following us, so we usually just brought the entertainment inside the hotel."

While touring with Guns N' Roses Duswalt met his wife, Natasha. He was set up with Natasha, a model, by his sister who had worked with Natasha. He left Guns N' Roses to get married and start a family.

"We moved to Santa Clarita because we wanted a family, and I got out of the music industry because I didn't want to travel anymore," Duswalt said.

However, during his travels with Guns N' Roses Duswalt collected a treasure trove of "swag," memorabilia and entertaining stories.

Duswalt has piles of tour books, tickets from shows around the world, laminated backstage passes, drumsticks, guitar picks, autographed tour programs, photos and CDs and huge collection of newspaper clippings from all over the world.

One of his prized possessions is a double platinum record which is inscribed "presented to Craig Duswalt to commemorate more than 3 million copies each of Use Your Illusion 1 and Use Your Illusion 2."

After Guns N' Roses
In the years since Duswalt gave up his life inside the music machine, he's found the public's fascination with Guns ‘N Roses hasn't waned.

"When people find out that I toured with Guns N' Roses they want to know everything and I decided that there was a little business in this," he said.

Duswalt has launched www.gnrstories.com to share his memories, in addition to videos, photos and updates of all things Guns N' Roses.

The Web site offers exclusive access with a $97 lifetime membership or a monthly membership of $9.97.
"I'm going to interview band and crew members and I'll interview other rock stars and every month I will add new content," he said.

Duswalt was quick to add that his Web site isn't a sordid "tell all" site, but a fun "insider's" look at his time with Axl Rose and the band.

"I was going to write a book, but a Web site I can continually update," he said.

The fascination of Guns N' Roses continues despite a 17 year lapse between Guns N' Roses last album featuring original content. A new album "Chinese Democracy" is reported to be on the way, but the release date is so elusive Duswalt is offering to give away a tourbook from the Guns N' Roses Metallica Stadium Tour 1992 to the person who guesses the correct date of the album's release.

Details of the contest are on the www.gnrstories.com Web site.

Duswalt said the Web site would still be just "another good idea" without the help of Arthur Diener.

"His knowledge of computers is way beyond mine and that is why the site is up now instead of six years from now," he said.

Duswalt knows he's lived a charmed life, but to those who think he's merely been lucky he's quick to respond.

"I believe you create your luck, if you do the right things and work hard good things will happen, but you have to be patient," he said.

Hodgkin's lymphoma
However, Duswalt hasn't had everything go his way. His wife Natasha had a cough for two weeks in October of 2006 and went to the doctor who ordered a chest x-ray because he thought it was pneumonia.

The next day the Duswalts were called to come back to the doctor's office.

"Five hours and five doctors later we went home with cancer, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma (a cancer of the lymph nodes)," he said.

After seven months of difficult chemotherapy Natasha appears to have "beaten" cancer. But Duswalt said Natasha's battle has changed him.

"Material things just are not that important anymore," he said. "We live in a big house and I kind of wish we didn't. It's just a house. We now know it is all about family and spending time with our kids.

Despite the terrifying bout with cancer Duswalt said he feels "blessed."

But he also understands now that life can change in an instant.

"I'm much more vigilant now, everything we do is toward preventing cancer because if you catch it early enough you have a good chance of surviving," he said. "We never thought we'd get cancer, it doesn't run in either of our families, but now the possibility is in our heads and we want to stay healthy for our kids."

Duswalt said despite all his glory days with Air Supply and Guns N' Roses he treasures his life now.

"You just never know what's going to happen, you appreciate each day so much more," he said.

For more information visit www.craigduswalt.com or www.gnrstories.com.

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