Guns N Roses Nightrain -The story behind the song

Guns N Roses Nightrain-The story behind the song

Nightrain was GNR’s homage to one of their greatest influences. The E&J Winery Manufacturers Fortified Wine of the same name. Night Train- which was high in percentage, but more importantly, low in cost. (I’m on the nightrain / Love that stuff / I’m on the nightrain/ An’ I can never get enough!)  The gunners reckless living meant it was all they could afford- even when they had to pay for it themselves.

While the band’s ode to the tipple were improvised over several jubilant walks after a night spent rehearsing, Axl would often advise crowds at shows. “In the liquor store right beside the Thunderbird you’ll find the Night Train, that’ll fuck you up twice as bad as Thunderbird and it’s much cheaper!

Back when the band had little to live on, surviving on charitable handouts from hangers-on, it was the agreeable low-cost Night Train that offered the cheapest buzz available for sale in ghetto stores.

Slash, speaking in his Autobiography about the ‘Bum Wine’ often favoured by vagrants, tells how the song came about wandering along the sleazy atmosphere of Palm Avenue.

That night we were sharing a bottle of Night Train, a wine that is about 18% strong and back then could be bought for less than 2 bucks a bottle. It is the cheapest low rent wine money could buy and we drank it like crazy whenever no one else was paying.

“It might not sound like much but it’s definitely a trip; unless you’ve tried it, you probably won’t understand why we found ourselves improvising the lyrics in it’s honor as we wandered up Palm Ave.”

I can’t remember who started it, but someone burst out with the chorus “I’m on the nightrain!” We all kept going as Axl improvised all the lines in between. “Bottoms up” “Fill my cup” “Love that stuff” and “I’m ready to crash and burn”

However years earlier & rather intriguingly for whatever reason, Slash tells the crowd on their 1988 video recorded live at the Ritz a different story before jamming home the open A Chord intro.

“I’m gonna dedicate this song real quick, I’m not gonna say anything offensive just so that we can make it on TV, this is a song that’s not dedicated to drinking or drug addiction or any of that kind of stuff, this song is basically about a walk in the park, this is something called Nightrain”.

But Duff ‘rose’ McKagan & Steven Adler are more openly honest about the songs meaning by namechecking the drink on this grainy video footage.

“There was a liquor store down the street that sells this cheap wine called Night Train, I would say a buck a bottle, 3 bottles you would be outta your mind wandering down the street naked, probably”…

Near the intersection of Sunset and Gardener, around the corner from Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard, the garage provided scanty space to rehearse let alone live there. It was a small storage space the size made for one car or boxes. The Area was roughly about 12 x 12 ft with just enough room to squeeze in a fusty old couch that had been taken from the street, once belonging to a now dead man. They paid $400 a month for the space and stored away what scanty gear they had. The Garage had no bathroom, no shower, no kitchen, no air conditioning. Izzy described it as a “fucking living hell”.

To quote Slash from his Autobiography. “Our rehearsal space had no business masquerading as a living space because it wasn’t even made to be a rehearsal space”

Their storage/living cum rehearsal room with a corrugated aluminum roll up front opened into an alley where squalid living mixed itself with decadent partying until the sun came up.

Back in the summer of 1985 when rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin rented the rehearsal space for the band, the others would crash there when there was no place else to go. According to Izzy, the new guns abode was actually a step up for them while they still scrounged money and lived hand to mouth.

Guns n Roses rehearsal space sunset & Gardner

The Alley that leads to GNR’s old rehearsal space-Image provided by Google Map Data

All Aboard The Crazy Train

In its cramped confines, Izzy along with the band’s roadies had nabbed some timber from a nearby building site and installed a loft so the band could crash over. Up above this provided space for 3 underfed rockers to sleep above with their gear lying below on the hard dank concrete floor.

Besides the couch and amp stacks was their only other form of furnishing, a stolen hibachi charcoal grill, which even when the dwellers had cobbled together a few bucks for hamburger meat, they sometimes burned Steven Adler’s drumsticks just to cook it.

It was here in the squalid garage that they started to write about the down and out life they’d experienced living on the streets and back alleys of Hollywood. Low times mixed with the evening’s high that was in the form of a dollar bottle of cheap fortified wine- namely Night Train Express or Thunderbird.

We had zero money Duff fondly recalled. But we could usually dig up a buck and go down the liquor store for a bottle of Night Train that would fuck you up for a buck. Five dollars and we’d be gone- We like lived on this stuff.

After Slash had been fired from his job at the newsstand selling papers and cigarettes, he packed up his pet snake & guitar and then took up permanent residence here with Axl. Together with the band, they knuckled down to writing and rehearsing in the garage. It’s here they wrote many of their classics by taking inspiration in their surroundings, The Songs, My Michelle, Rocket Queen & the soon to be titled ‘Nightrain’, sparked into creativity by way of their reckless living environment.

None of them yet had any words for soon to be classic Nightrain, they didn’t know where the song was going and had no subject in mind. Slash pieced riffs together on the sealed concrete floor along with the other six-stringer Izzy. They played Duff what they’d’ done and he, in turn, filled out the rhythm on Bass. It was not until later that the inebriated walk along Palm Avenue would give the song a life of its own…

Quoting Slash from his self-titled book.

None of us had any of the words in mind for this piece of music, but we were very inspired by it and it floated around in the bands conciousness until it found the appropriate vessel, which happened to be a celebration of our favourite drink, Night Train.

Some Night Train Mentionables.

Night Train Express

The night train Express Wine has been described lyrically by Axl as being “Loaded like a freight train, flyin’ like an aeroplane, speeding like a spaced brain” and other such honest references to it’s intoxicating influences, “An’ I’m ready to crash & Burn -I’ll never learn -I’m on the night train”.

17.5 %

Its strength in alcohol percentage is a gut-warming 17.5% ABV. This is more on par with most Ports & Sherries of the fortified wine variety. Definitely not for the for the wine sniffers and pinky finger posers. And any vessel will surely do, As Axl sings “bottoms up, fill my cup!”

Serve very cold

Unlike many of it’s classier contemporaries this wine needs not be brought to room temperature or allowing the wine to breathe and aerate. The Night Train Express is a less forgiving wine unless served only at the recommended temperature of ice cold.

A Citrus wine with natural flavours

E&J Gallo winery could have opted to improve the flavour with artificial colours and additives. But what you get here is more bang for your buck with nothing but only the natural ones to taste.

Night Train wine

The vintage 1989

Not to confuse the year printed on the label, this is just the copyright date & not the vintage of the wine. But indeed, the label does best illustrate how the wine feels after consumption. A speeding train running through your head. A non-vintage wine may mean low quality to some buyers, but remember, you’re getting exactly what you pay for.

Night train limited

Covertly made & bottled by the vintners Gallo, they have hidden away with their association and instead chosen to print the company name of “Night Train Limited.”, which coincidently also comes from Modesto, Cali.


Coming under fire for marketing to those seeking cheap thrills and a low-cost alternative for quick intoxication, Night Train wine has been the point of much controversy. The vino express is also blamed for encouraging vagrancy & public intoxication.

After further investigation finding the wine tasting notes on Amazons listings. It sums it up so succinctly with a touch of tragic comedy. However at the time of this post the product was currently unavailable for personal review.

Amazon Night Train Quote


Rock n Metal 90x90 Logo


  • Igor says:


    Nice story! I had no idea that there is a story behind this song but I am not surprised there is. It is usually the case with rock artists.
    It reminds me of my youth. I used to drink cheep wine too, although it was never called Night Train and I never managed to get to the big arenas to tell about it. How about you, anything that can relate to the story?

    Thanks for telling it!

    • Pete says:

      Hi Igor, thanks for coming aboard the Night Train Express!

      As I mentioned in reply to Sam’s post, I loved the song years ago, but didn’t know what Nightrain was about fully. I used to think the ‘train’ subject was like a metaphor for ‘going off the rails’ like Ozzy’s Crazy Train.

      But I’ve since learned more, then written this post to share about it’s origins -from Guns n Roses early days when the band lived hand to mouth.

      As for me drinking Night Train wine, sure, I will try it for curiosities sake and with an interest to get a feel for GN’R’s experience on the stuff, but I sure as hell won’t be a regular purchaser of this low cost wine or drinking it from the bottle, I’d rather much prefer a nice glass of Cab Sauv!

      Cheers Igor,

      Very best,


  • Sam says:

    Yes, I rode the “Night Train”, many a time, and loved it! I won’t call this good or bad, but true “cross roads” information comes from things like this. I will never condemn! You want the journey, fasten your seatbelt, hold on tight to your soul, let the magic out, and roll!

    • Pete says:

      Hey Sam, Thanks for joining this post today.

      Guns n’ Roses Nightrain was the song written from their personal experience and I definitely don’t condone anyone getting wasted on a bottle of cheap Night Train wine. It’s an honest song, with a subject matter that came straight from behind grimy dumpsters on L.A 80’s hair metal scene during reckless living.

      Many rock songs often carry a gritty story as they are experienced and then interpreted by reflection in the form of song and lyrics, ala’ ‘Nightrain’

      First off, years back when I first heard the song I loved it, simply because of that open A chord intro that leads into the Nightrain riff and with pre chorus. I never knew at all what the song was about until recently, hence the post.

      There is nothing nice about alcoholism or those that are dependant on finding a cheap fix, especially the down & out homeless who are seemingly attracted to drinking low cost bum wine like Night Train Express.

      Considering the dangers of alcohol, It’s up to any individual to make choices of their own and I advise to be fully aware & responsible.

      Taking a journey on the Night Train might be a hellish one way ticket.

      Cheers, Sam.

      Take care now,


  • John says:

    Interesting story I had no idea about this song is about “wine” or whatever that beverage is haha. Guns n Roses was my favourite band when I was a kid and I actually always thought they was singing night rain hahaha Thanks for sharing this story. By the way I have heard GNR is going to do a comeback soon!

    • Pete says:

      Hey John, Thanks for joining this post today.

      Yeah me too, I didn’t know the song ‘Nightrain’ was about getting loaded on cheap ghetto store wine either!

      For me it’s the best track on the Appetite for Destruction record that came out when I was a kid. Reminds me of summer time with crystal clear blue skies, just blasting this track out the open windows when I got home from school. Then ‘Out ta’ get me’ on next was always a delight. Not for the neighbours!

      As for the reunion, this is cool! But for me, it has to be the originals, I want Izzy stradlin back on rhythm & Adler on Drums. No substitutes. Will they record an album together?, that’s the question. Rock n roll really needs a band like GN’R right now, methinks.

      Take care now,


  • Michael Maamari says:

    Wine?? Haha, never would have expected that. I was a HUGE guns n roses fan growing up. Slash was the reason I started playing guitar in the first place.

    It’s really cool discovering the stories behind the band and their songs. Makes you appreciate their music that much more! Makes me want to discover so much more about all my other favourite bands, haha. Thanks for this awesome post and rock on!

    • Pete says:

      Hey Michael, Thanks for the gratitude on this Nightrain post. What I love about some bands are how they add their own personl experience into the mix, & Nightrain was no exception. After striving to find the cheapest, low cost beverage available, it was only a matter of time before the influence of Night train Express would seep into the lyrical content of Guns N Roses. In fact, the whole Appetite For Destruction album is a very honest record. Sort of like a biographical account of their behavior bottled up for public consumption. Anyway, are you looking to the GNR Reunion this year? I hope they bring in the original members and not just some hired hands, here’s hoping Izzy will join and maybe record a new album together.

      Just one thing about Band Stories in Songs, Did you see The Story Behind Iron Maidens Empire Of The Clouds? Also sometime soon I’m going to write a post about The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, so check back for that one.

      Thanks for droppin’ in a rockin’ comment today,

      Take care now,


  • Ashley says:

    That’s really interesting, I had no idea there was a story behind this song.
    I know that songs inspired by a real fact tend to be much more deep and get better with the public (at least that’s what it seems to me), so this could be an explanation for this song’s success.
    I was born much later, but I listen to this song a few times. I can’t say it’s 100% my type, but it’s catchy 🙂

    • Pete says:

      Hi Ashley, Thanks for joining this post today at the end of this busy Easter Holiday.

      Interesting thoughts you just offered there, & so right about how it captures the public’s imagination. On the track Nightrain, the listener can relate to something that’s a real story scribed into song form. I love this ode to the tipple so much I recently bought a Night Train Express T shirt just to get into the vibe. The track exists from those times when Guns n Roses were shameless wrecks on the brink of Rock n Roll stardom which ultimately brought them closer to their undoing. Gn’R would soon be lauded as ‘the most dangerous band in the world.’ So yeah, Night Train, A cheap thrill that can only leave you high n dry!

      Thanks again for being here Ash.

      Take care,


  • Javie says:

    What an awesome story….mostly because the stories always add to the music once you know them. I haven’t really ridden the Night Train but all good rock music, especially from this era are based on good stories and emotion. You have obviously done your research! I always love hearing the backstory. Thanks!

    • Pete says:

      Hey there Javie, & thanks for joining this post.

      Yeah, I love the story, ’cause it’s a real one, and I think the best ones are something we can relate to. However I haven’t gone as far as drinking Night Train Express on a daily basis! I would though, like to order a bottle and find out what it tastes like just for interests sake.

      Actually, this is quite uncanny right now as I respond to your message, because I bought a Night Train Express T shirt just to get into the vibe when I wrote the article, and would you believe it, I’m wearing it now!

      You take care now,

      All the very best,


  • Jeremy says:

    Great post. I grew up on Guns N Roses, and I love reading the back stories of bands. Nightrain was one of my favorite songs. I love all kinds of music but heavy metal is on the top of my list. I’m going to bookmark your site so I can see what more you come out with. Thank you for this information.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Jeremy for joining this Nightrain discussion.
      Yeah, Nightrain was pretty much an honest song about getting loaded on cheap ‘a buck a bottle wine’. Even without knowing the subject matter this is a standout kick ass song from the 80’s. I would say never beaten by any hard rock n roll band as such. What we still need right now is GNR to finish up the reunion tour and get making another rockin album for those that miss ’em, so we can jump aboard the nightrain once again!
      Thanks for chiming in to this one,
      All the very best,

  • Asen says:

    Hello there,

    Jesus, man what a nice website and what a favorite topic of mine!
    I love Guns n Roses and ‘Nightrain’ is among my all time favorite songs.
    I admit that I was in aware of the story but not in so much details.
    It is very funny how they got inspired by an alcoholic beverage.
    I am not surprised, those guys were rocking pretty hard back in the 80 and during the 90’s.

    • Pete says:

      Hey Asen!

      Thanks for joining this post here. What i love about GNR’s Nightrain the most is that it’s honest. They were an honest rock n roll band and the real stories came out in their music. It’s so good to see them back, if not all the members, but it’s a start. I really hope they get in the studio after the current world tour,  and make a kick ass hard rock album.

      Very best. 


  • Robert Rittinger says:

    Just heard Nightrain on the radio. Had to look up the title based on the crazy lyrics. (Yay internet.) Found your post explaining the lyrics. Thanks so much. Now I’ve got to go dig up a G’N’R album or two. Never got into them much cause my wife hates Axl’s snake dancing. But good rock is good rock so I’ll start with this album. Which album should I get after that?

    • Pete says:

      Hey Rob, thanks for checking out this post & leaving a comment here!
      Glad you got some value out of this & dig GN’R’s Nightrain. What a cool song, right? Ha, shame your wife hate Axl’s ‘snake dancing’. Yeah, I agree, he can come off as a bit effeminate!
      Anyways, as you rightly say ‘ good rock is good rock’, I can’t disagree with that. The best album by Guns n Roses by far is ‘Appetite For Destruction’ Then I would recommend Gn’r ‘Lies’ as it’s got those cool acoustic versions and some early live stuff. After that ‘Use Your Illusion 1’ & ‘2’. Take your pick on these, they’re both excellent. You probably might want to avoid the ‘Chinese Democracy’ album! Best stick with the old stuff, trust me it’s waaaay better…
      Thanks again Rob, keep safe & keep rockin’!

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