DUFF McKagan never did hedonism by halves.
As far as rock and roll goes, the former Guns ‘n’ Roses bassist from Seattle has been there, seen that, and definitely got the t-shirt. Hell, he’s even on the t-shirts.
But now he’s ditched the industrial drinking sessions, the excesses and is sticking to just the rock and roll. This month the artist tours the UK with his long-term band, Loaded, with whom he’s been playing for 12 years – the same timespan he was with Gun ‘n’ Roses.
Loaded are touring the UK as part of Alice Cooper’s Hallowe’en Night of Fear.
The tour follows their release last year of The Taking, a 12-track album whose sinister-sounding titles was suggested by real life scenarios, some specific, some universal.
Executioner’s Song is McKagan’s reminisce of his heady days – memories that were unearthed while he was writing his autobiography, It’s So Easy.
“I was writing about my period of insanity, which is what addiction is.
“When you really get honest about your own part in your own life, especially when you’ve come up short sometimes, you go into a little, little place. I think in retrospect I was writing about this when I was writing this record.”
McKagan’s drinking problem caused his hair to start falling out, he had sores on his hands and his bowels were bleeding. His addiction ground to a halt when he was rushed into A and E with stabbing pains and diagnosed with pancreatitis. Years of what McKagan describes as ‘insanity’ had finally taken its toll. And it’s not surprising because the excess of McKagan’s past life is extraordinary. For one show Guns ‘n’ Roses flew to Czechoslovakia to perform and McKagan has absolutely no recollection of it.
Duff’s drinking was so notorious that, back in 1988, a then little-known production company asked the bassist if it was okay to name a beer after him in a new cartoon for adults the company was making. Duff agreed. That cartoon was the Simpsons.
But while these tales from his G’n’R days have become rock and roll folklore, they are in McKagan’s distant past. Now, he’s sober, reasonably sensible and spends his weekends not on a tour bus, but driving his teenage daughter to concerts instead, which made returning to that period all the more difficult.
“I was at that stage of the book and I chose this couch to sit on while I wrote. The couch was in the garage of my friends and it was so uncomfortable – it hurt my back – but it really helped with my writing. It was physically painful and I really had to have an edge.”
“I didn’t anticipate the amount of honesty,” he says. “Life just cuts forward and you try not to think about the past and you try not to analyse it – until you write about it.”
“The more you take off the layers the deeper it goes but it was good for me in the end – I hugged my daughters a little bit tighter after writing it, whether they liked it or not.”
But in spite of having played in 31 Seattle bands as a kid, followed by Guns ‘n Roses, Loaded and Velvet Revolver with former Guns ‘n’ Roses pals Slash and Matt Sorum, McKagan is still searching for the perfect song.
“I think most artists are looking for the perfect song,” he says. “A lot of my peers are still in really relevant bands like Foo Fighters and I know those guys are still looking for the perfect song.
“And we have all these heroes like the Stones and ZZ Top and they’re still touring and they’re still searching for the perfect song.”
“When I was about 18 or 19 I remember hearing, for the first time, Little Red Corvette by Prince – there wasn’t one measure of that song that could have been better.”
And after four decades of searching, McKagan still doesn’t believe he’s found the perfect formula.
“I don’t know what it is yet because I don’t even think I have scratched the surface.
“It’s always better in a band situation because you have five people to draw from.
“I prefer being in a band. It’s always better to get someone else to input and it’s always better to take that input.
“The best bands allow each other to be critical with each other in a trusting way.”