Duff McKagan: from Guns ‘n Roses to Duffonomics – and Kings of Chaos

Kings of Chaos: the rock ‘n roll supergroup that has sold over 300 million albums, collectively, descends on South Africa in June. Anchoring the Cape Town leg is Guns ‘n Roses co-founder and bassist Duff McKagan – a Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame inductee whose latest vice is… investment banking!

Duff McKagan, founder of Loaded, bassist for Guns 'n Roses and member of the South African "Kings of Chaos" 2013 tour. Supplied courtesy Loaded and Kings of Chaos SA

Duff McKagan, founder of Loaded, bassist for Guns ‘n Roses and member of the South African “Kings of Chaos” 2013 tour. Supplied courtesy Loaded and Kings of Chaos SA

This interview by Evan Milton originally appeared in the Weekend Argus “Good Weekend” of 2013/06/02

Duff McKagan answers the ‘phone from his California home sounding fit and alert. He’s a man who channelled the excesses during the early Guns ‘n Roses years – allegedly consuming up to a gallon of vodka a day – into an obsession with mountain biking and share-trading, but still gets his kicks from playing to sold-out crowds around the world. It’s a far cry from the man who gave his name to Homer Simpson‘s favourite drink, Duff Beer. Welcome to the jungle, baby.

“Putting together a Kings of Chaos setlist is hit after hit; it’s tough to choose the songs,” says McKagan. “You play your own songs, and you can see the crowd is loving it because it’s the real guy playing it, and then you’re doing ‘Smoke on the Water’, with Glenn Hughes singing; or ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ with Joe Elliot and you’re thinking: ‘This is what it must be like to be in Deep Purple‘, or, ‘Man, I get to be in Def Leppard tonight!’ You’re sitting with Ed Roland thinking about what songs to do, and Collective Soul has had, like, eight No.1 hits in America and four Platinum-selling albums. You forget about that when you just know him as one of your peers, and then you’re looking at the catalogue; a song like ‘Heavy’ or ‘Shine’ – these are big songs, really good songs. It’s a good set list.”

The incarnation of Kings of Chaos that tours South Africa includes eight original musicians from iconic international rock outfits like Guns ‘n Roses (McKagan, Slash, Matt Sorum and Gilby Clarke), Def Leppard (Joe Elliot), Collective Soul (Ed Roland), Deep Purple (Glenn Hughes) and Velvet Revolver (Dave Kushner). Additional pedigree accrues when considering these members’ other bands, like Hughes’ Black Country Communion, Elliot’s Cybernauts and Down and Outz, Kushner’s time with Danzig and songs for “Sons of Anarchy”, and McKagan’s own stints with the likes of Jane’s Addiction and Iggy Pop, and his other bands, Loaded, Walking Papers, Ten Minute Warning and Velvet Revolver. The show has been dubbed as “a two-hour rock ‘n roll masterclass”.

“I like the rhythm section. Historically, we’ve drawn the short end of the stick but, without us, nobody shines.”

   – Duff McKagan, bassis for Guns ‘n Roses, Loaded, Velvet Revolver, Walking Papers, Jane’s Addiction, Iggy Pop and Kings of Chaos

“I’ve done two of these now; we played Kings of Chaos in South America and we’ve just done Australia. and it’s really fun,” McKagan says. “You’re playing with your musical peers where everybody doesn’t want to let anybody down, so you’re playing your best. It’s fresh and exciting on stage, and the shows have been pretty kick-ass.”

I quip that, being the bassist, his role in a supergroup sees him staying on stage while the singers get to hop on and off for just their hit songs: is Duff McKagan getting a raw deal? He laughs, then says, “There have been a few bass players in the show, like with Gene Simmons (KISS) or Mike Inez (Alice In Chains), so sometimes I have rotated. But when I go out on stage, I don’t want to leave. I love being the bass player; it’s my favourite thing to do. I’ve played guitar since I was 12, and sang since I was 12, and that’s just a different thing to do. In Loaded, I took centre stage and did vocals, but in my new band, Walking Papers, I don’t even sing back-up: it’s back to the rhythm section, and I love it. I like the rhythm section. Historically, we’ve drawn the short end of the stick but, without us, nobody shines.”

Duff McKagan, founder of Loaded, bassist for Guns 'n Roses and member of the South African "Kings of Chaos" 2013 tour. Supplied courtesy Loaded and Kings of Chaos SA

Duff McKagan, founder of Loaded, bassist for Guns ‘n Roses and member of the South African “Kings of Chaos” 2013 tour. Supplied courtesy Loaded and Kings of Chaos SA

McKagan is also a published author, with his New York Times best-selling autobiography, “It’s So Easy (and other lies)”, now being made into a biographical documentary. The book chronicles McKagan’s battles with drug and alcohol addiction – and the watershed moment in 1994 when his pancreas burst and he almost died. He survived to recover and became a competitive mountain biker and pursue an interest in business that has seen him form a wealth management firm even as he continued to play bass.

“I was writing a weekly column for ESPN at the time; writing a ton with two deadlines a week and I started writing more personal stories,” he says of the genesis of his book. “It appeared my stories were about how I sunk into addiction, and what it was like in that, and the about my way out. Writing is something that you do, really, as an alone thing, but I was offered a book deal and took one, and we edited the stories. When I read the proofs, it wasn’t really about Guns ‘n Roses, although it came from that time, it was more of a general rock ‘n roll story, but the response still surprises me. I’m not a dumb guy, so of course I knew some people would read it, but it still surprises me that, ‘Ooops, people know some heavy shit about me’.  I didn’t tell the whole story; I kept a lot of the stuff that happened private. But I stand with my chest proud. I’m not afraid to tell what I told – and it was an intellectual challenge to write that thing, and I like good, hard work.”

“Maybe I’ll write another book, a simple ‘How to’ guide called something like, ‘What to do with your dough’.”

   – Duff McKagan, bassist for Guns ‘n Roses and Velvet Revolver, on Playboy’s “Duffonomics” and his financial management company, Meridian Rock.

 

Then there’s “Duffonomics”, McKagan’s financial advice column that started in Playboy in 2009, and the bassist’s reinvention of himself as an investment advisor. “I didn’t come from a family – and most of us don’t come from a family – that taught me anything about financial knowledge,” he says. “You don’t learn about stocks and bonds or banking and interest rates in American schools. When I started making money (he went from a hand-to-mouth struggling band-member to receiving an $80 000 royalty check after the release of Guns ‘n Roses massive debut, “Appetite for Destruction”), I didn’t know what to do with it. Then I got sober at thirty and was in hospital, waking up from this ten year miasma, I guess. I was fearful of a lot of things, and there were people out there who were trying to steal my money. So I got myself into a business school and I started to learn. I caught a bug there, and I really got into it (he went on to earn a business degree and found Meridian Rock, an investment management firm). It’s really valuable to know things like that. Maybe I’ll write another book, a simple ‘How to’ guide called something like, ‘What to do with your dough’.”

Back, though to the then and now: “I’ve got to say I’m a little overwhelmed – in a good way – about coming to South Africa,” McKagan says. “In my whole career, I’ve never been there, and I’ve heard many wonderful things about your country (Kings of Chaos tour promoter Andy Mac tells a tale of being on Table Mountain with Ed Roland after “Symphonic Rocks” when Roland missed a cellphone call from McKagan, and said he’d have to talk to Duff later). If I act like I’m a bit weird, or I’m just looking around, I will be studying you all, trying to get a feel for the place. I’m just excited to be coming there.”

This interview by Evan Milton originally appeared in the Weekend Argus “Good Weekend” of 2013/06/02

Duff McKagan plays with Kings of Chaos in Cape Town on Friday 7 and Saturday 8 July (Grand Arena, Grand West, doors 8pm, tickets R445 – R700 from Computicket.com). On Saturday 15 andSunday 16, Kings of Chaos plays the Sun City Superbowl. More on Facebook.com/KingOfChaosBandDuff-ItsSoEasy.com and Twitter.com/DuffMcKagan.

Duff McKagan / Kings of Chaos interview by Evan Milton in the Sunday Weekend Argus, 2013/06/02

Duff McKagan / Kings of Chaos interview by Evan Milton in the Sunday Weekend Argus, 2013/06/02

Duff McKagan / Kings of Chaos interview by Evan Milton in the Sunday Weekend Argus, 2013/06/02

Duff McKagan / Kings of Chaos interview by Evan Milton in the Sunday Weekend Argus, 2013/06/02

 

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