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.
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”.
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.
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.