CHICAGO — Slash, one of the greatest guitarists in rock history, was in Elk Grove Village this week to promote the new Guns ‘n’ Roses pinball game he helped design with Jersey Jack Pinball, a leading game designer that recently moved its factory to the pinball mecca that is suburban Chicago.
Slash, 55, was looking every bit how you imagine Slash should look — with the hair and aviator glasses and a black bandanna dangling from his back pocket, and a mask so thoroughly decorated with F-bombs he had to remove it for a photo.
A huge pinball buff
Slash, who owns seven pinball machines, says he became obsessed with pinball as an adult, turned on by the artwork, lights and themes. Also, “it’s manual,” he said. “You have to use your own fingers to make it happen.”
When Jersey Jack released its first game, a Wizard of Oz theme, in 2013, Slash said it was “one of the most beautiful pinball machines I’d ever seen.”
According to Jersey Jack owner Jack Guarnieri, Slash reached out to him that year with an idea to make a game about snakes. That didn’t happen, but several years later Slash called Guarnieri and suggested collaborating on a new Guns ‘n’ Roses game based on the band’s reunion tour.
Simulating a concert
The Not In This Lifetime tour, which ran from 2016 through 2019, brought the classic Guns ‘n’ Roses members on stage together for the first time since Slash left the band in 1996. He wanted the game to feel like being live at that concert.
“It was a big reunion after 20 years, and I wanted something to coincide with that whole experience,” said Slash, who worked on the game with Jersey Jack for two years.
The game plays through the 21-song set list, synced with live footage from the concerts that play on a video screen. There are moving spotlights, guitar-pic-shaped spinners, voice-overs recorded by Slash and his bandmates, and a panoply of band iconography, including Slash’s black felt top hat and a screaming Axl Rose surrounded by skulls.
“It’s overwhelming, there’s so much stuff going on,” Slash said after playing the game through for the first time, choosing the song “Coma” to start. “It’s an insane players game.”
Slash, bassist Duff McKagen and keyboardist Melissa Reese did game narration. Band members also recorded sound effects in the right key signatures and tempos to fit the songs and “make the game sound better,” said designer Eric Meunier said.
Guarnieri, who does the licensing for the company, said the access was unprecedented.
The priciest version of the game sold out immediately
Jersey Jack sold its 500 collector’s edition games, which cost $12,500, within two hours of going live Monday. It also is selling 5,000 limited edition machines for $9,500, and the standard game for $6,750.
“It’s our greatest hit,” said co-owner Brett Abess.
Jersey Jack Pinball, founded in 2011, this year moved its headquarters and factory from New Jersey to Elk Grove Village. The Guns ‘n’ Roses game was the first to be produced in the new factory.
The company already had its design team based here and wanted all of the teams under one roof. But also, “Chicago historically is the heart and soul of pinball,” Guarnieri said.
The largest pinball machine manufacturer, Stern Pinball, is located in Elk Grove Village. American Gaming is in Palatine and Chicago Gaming is in Cicero.
Jersey Jack has 80 local employees, including animators, illustrators, electrical engineers and software developers, and plans to hire more as it grows.
Though many arcades have been shut down because of COVID-19 restrictions, families stuck at home are investing in ways to entertain themselves.
Jersey Jack, which already was seeing annual sales growth of about 30% a year, said sales have accelerated this year among people who can afford the luxury.
“People who stayed at home, they didn’t go to restaurants, didn’t go to shows, and they accumulated a lot of money where they wanted to cocoon at home playing things as a family such as pinball,” Guarnieri said.
About 90% of his business is to consumers and 10% to commercial uses.
Pinball has enjoyed a renaissance over at least the last decade, as nostalgia met more technologically and artistically sophisticated games. There are thousands of tournaments every year drawing tens of thousands of ranked players.
Guns ‘n’ Roses was supposed to go on tour March through August of this year, but it was canceled because of COVID-19 and postponed to next year.
Slash has spent the time writing and recording. “It’s been a good period for really getting into creating new stuff,” he said. “It’s been creatively really healthy.”
While he’s been working on “mostly hard rock stuff,” some is unexpected. He recorded a version of the “Love Story” theme song, in honor of director Robert Evans, who died last year and was a good friend. He also has been working recently with guitarist Tom Morello, a founder of Rage Against the Machine.
“I’ve been doing odd things,” he said. “When all this ends you’ll hear a lot of everybody’s reflective stuff.”
Slash’s day of doing press for the pinball game happened to fall on the same day that Eddie Van Halen died. Slash had left his phone in the office and learned the news when he checked it between interviews.
“I’m really devastated right now,” said Slash, who was friends with the guitar legend. “In rock-n-roll he’s probably one of the biggest losses that we’ve had recently.”
First stop: Field Museum
Slash is also a dinosaur buff. So when he arrived in Chicago this week, his first stop was the Field Museum to see Sue the T.Rex.
Slash said he is in Chicago a lot because his girlfriend’s family is here. Another outing planned for the week is the architecture boat tour, a tourist must that he hasn’t done before.
He had no plans to visit his old stomping grounds in Wrigleyville, where the band spent the summer of 1989 partying at Smartbar and what was then Cabaret Metro while recording at a studio on the second floor of that bar.
“Most of the places I would go and hang out are probably off limits,” he said.