How Guns N’ Roses Became ‘Big Brothers’ to Melissa Reese
It took several factors to make keyboardist Melissa Reese Guns N’ Roses’ first woman member.
Reese’s talent was unquestioned. A child prodigy, the musician began playing piano at the age of three. By the time she was a teen, Reese had landed several of her original songs in popular TV shows, an achievement that led to further work in film and commercials. Still, when you’re joining a group as tumultuous as Guns N’ Roses, musical chops are just part of the equation; being the right personality match is equally important.
“I remember driving down that freeway and just telling myself not to crash the car,” Reese admitted to Rolling Stone, remembering the moments before she first met the band. It was 2016 and GNR were prepping for their reunion tour, their first to feature Slash and Duff McKagan in more than 20 years.
Reese had been recommended to the band by Bryan "Brain" Mantia, the former GNR drummer with whom she’d collaborated on various projects. Upon arriving at the rehearsal, Reese quickly found some common bonds with McKagan; both from Seattle, they attended the same high school and were massive Seahawks fans. “Duff has his back towards me and he just goes, ‘Sea!’ I go, ‘Hawks!’” the keyboardist recalled. “I jump up and we start chest bumping, and he’s like, ‘She’s in the fucking band! She’s in the fucking band!'”
Slash, meanwhile, was “warm and soft-spoken” when he met the young keyboardist, admitting he’d done his homework before the rehearsal. “He’s like, ‘Yeah, so me and my girlfriend Googled you last night, and you’re so talented,’” Reese remembered. “I felt like I wasn’t even in my body at that point.”
The success of that rehearsal led to an official invitation to join GNR for the Not in This Lifetime … Tour. Their first show would be April 1, 2016, at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Moments before her debut gig with the band, Axl Rose took Reese aside.
“He was like, ‘Look, anybody ever fucks with you, talks shit to you or about you, I fucking have your back,’” the keyboardist recalled, adding that she “didn’t know what I was getting myself into” until after that initial performance.
Word of Guns N’ Roses’ new member quickly swept the internet. Media outlets clamored for an interview, while armchair music critics opined that Reese got the gig due to her looks. She managed to tune out most of those voices, becoming a mainstay in the group for the past four years. The keyboardist also noted that GNR have been nothing but welcoming, despite the band's past history of misogynistic lyrics and behavior.
“Guns is definitely still looked at as this dude’s thing, where it’s a male club and there’s no place for a chick,” Reese explained. “But you could not ask for a better group of dudes. That’s the band itself and everyone we work with. They’re protective of me. It’s beyond just having my back. We’re like a family, and they’re like my big brothers.”
That doesn’t mean she’s been excluded from shenanigans. During a 2018 show in Hawaii, the keyboardist felt someone pull on her hair midway through a song. When she turned around, Rose was standing with a fistful of her blue hair in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other. “I stopped playing and started screaming,” Reese admitted. “[Axl] runs away and I don’t know if he’s taken off a huge chunk or what.”
The antic was actually a practical joke, one Rose had been planning for several weeks. The hair was from a wig, the frontman having searched for the perfect blue tone to make it believable. Reese later admitted the prank was “pretty fucking rad,” once again proving her demeanor’s cohesion with the group.
Speaking of which, the keyboardist was sure to make her place in the band implicitly clear. “I’m a member-member of Guns N’ Roses,” she declared. “It’s always been the case, but I feel like I haven’t been forward enough about it. It’s something that would be good to just, once and for all, get out so there’s no questions.”