Aside from his phenomenal voice Axl Rose was also known for his highly distinctive stage performance, which was composed of various types of movements, the most famous of which was the so-called snake dance. This dance can be seen in many recordings from the beginning of his career, as well as in music videos such as “Welcome To The Jungle” or “Sweet Child Of Mine”.
However, the question of whether Axl was the one who invented and patented these popular movements is one of the enigmas that dates back to the 1980s and is still passed down from fan to fan today. Some of you may have heard something about this, but there are certainly others who have not and who might find the topic interesting.
In 2006, an article appeared on the website melodicrock.com in which a man named Richard Black claimed that Axl actually picked up this famous dance from him, which raised doubts among many fans as to whether he was a fraud who had suddenly decided to cash in on the fame of the great frontman after so many years, or whether the story was actually true.
But before we get to that, let’s see who Richard Black actually is.
Rick Czerny (who later changed his name to Richard Black) is the singer of the band Shark Island, which he founded together with guitarist Spencer Sercombe in 1979 in Los Angeles under the name Sharks. The group existed under that name until 1985 when it changed its name to Shark Island, which it has kept to this day. In those first few years they released two independent albums (without a record label) and became one of the more important bands on the Sunset Strip scene, which was still in its infancy at the time. In the mid-1980s they even became the “house band” at the famous Gazzari’s club, which meant that the band had built a name for itself on the aforementioned scene. However, an official contract with one of the major record labels never came until 1989 when Shark Island signed with Epic Records and released the album “Law And Order” (1989), which was practically their first official big album. As it was still the end of the 1980s and changes in the music industry were lurking around the corner, the band never achieved any major commercial success, like many others from the Sunset Strip scene that appeared on it much later. Unfortunately, Shark Island was not one of the lucky ones.
After that Richard Black joined the supergroup Contraband with Michael Schencker, Traci Guns, Bobby Blotzer (RATT), and Share Pedersen (Vixen), and after the group disbanded, he continued to lead Shark Island to this day. The band even released an album in 2020 called “Bloodline”. Guitarist Spencer Sercombe began working for BC Rich and was one of the people who patented the famous Warlock guitar.
No, let’s get back to the main topic – what’s the connection between Richard Black and Axl Rose, who were actively hanging out, performing together, and simply were part of the scene in the mid-1980s.
In an interview with MisplacesStraw, which was reported by Bravewords in 2020, Richard Black addressed the question of whether Axl Rose stole his stage performance and why he never mentioned the band Shark Island, which had an influence on GnR. We’ll only share key parts, and you can read the full interview.
Richard Black: “For years, I didn’t want to talk about it because from my perspective, it would look like I was trying to ride on someone else’s fame. So I had to stay quiet because I had no choice. Today, after so much time has passed, it’s not even that important anymore. However, I never really liked what Axl Rose was doing…
“I used to be a professional dancer. So, a singer, songwriter, and professional dancer, and at that time, I put a lot of effort into and trained my stage performance, only to have a bunch of newcomers suddenly appear out of nowhere, come off a truck, and practically pick up my stage moves…
“I’ll tell you something that happened at Gazzari’s back in the day. We played there every week, and those shows were packed. It was before the time of mobile phones, but people somehow managed to sneak in VHS cameras and record those shows. One time when I went to Axl’s, who I was hanging out with at the time, I saw that he had about ten tapes next to his TV that had Shark Island label on. So he was recording our performances and probably studying them. Since his band was starting to hang out with Geffen at the time, it was clear to me that if they succeeded, they could claim anything that might not have been originally theirs…
“Honestly, Axl didn’t do any of what I was doing on stage nearly as well. I don’t want to brag, but that’s how it was. It’s also interesting that when they released their first video, Welcome to the Jungle, Axl looked completely different from how he would later look. He was all glamorous with teased hair, and later they took on that Hell’s Angels look. We weren’t like that. I’ve always aimed for that elegant-decadent style….
“So if we look at that video, we’ll see them in that style that was popular on the scene at the time, especially among bands playing at Gazzari’s. Looking at the bigger picture, one could say that they, especially Axl, were chasing that image that was popular at the time, and image was very important at the time, as it is today…”
“And again, it’s silly that I’m talking about this now and it seems like I’m complaining, but after ten years on the scene we couldn’t get a contract. Grunge was already knocking on the door and things were going downhill for bands like us at a fast pace. It was getting late for us, but they (Guns) could have at least mentioned us in some interview, say “hey, we have a friend from that and that band” who influenced this and that… but no. It never happened. After all these years it doesn’t even matter anymore, because who knows why it turned out that way and why it’s good…
All in all, if you Google the words “Richard Black Axl Rose” you will see for yourself how many texts there are on this topic. In the comments below the video on YT, you will also find various things like “the whole West Coast knew that Axl stole Richard’s moves” and so on.
In the end, it’s up to you whether to believe it or not. Or rather, it remains to be clarified whether moves can be stolen, borrowed, or influenced by someone’s stage performance. Our opinion is that it is entirely possible and that there are many such examples in the world of rock music. The question is only where the line between theft and influence is.
Check out the footage from 1985 to see who snekdens better and who influenced whom.”