GUNS N' ROSES' DUFF MCKAGAN: How I Became A Bassist

GUNS N' ROSES' DUFF MCKAGAN: How I Became A Bassist

At the 2019 NAMM Show — a convention for the musical products industry that took place in Anaheim, California from January 24-27 — GUNS N' ROSES bassist Duff McKagan participated in a "bass talk" with Fender. Video footage can be seen below. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).

On how he came to play bass:

Duff: "I had an older brother, Bruce, who's a left-handed player. I write left-handed, so I was originally a left-hander because he had a left-handed bass. He taught me 'Birthday' [by] THE BEATLES, which is the major blues scale, basically. That was all I really [knew], but that's enough to get you through a long time. He left the house, and I bought a Gibson EBO bass when I was 13 with paper-route money from the Seattle Times. $125 bucks. I'm sure it was stolen. I got a guitar sometime after that. I was a drummer also at the time. I played somebody else's drum kit and finally was able to scrape together the money to get a drum kit [of my own] when I was probably about 17. So I had a bass; I had a guitar; I had a drum kit.

"The decision was made to save up the money to come to L.A. and try my hand down here. My drum kit was a piece of shit, so I sold that in Seattle. I had some money from work that I'd saved up. By this time, the Gibson EBO, I don't know what happened to that thing... I got a Yamaha bass, and I had B.C. Rich double-cutaway, Les Paul Junior-type of guitar. I moved down here and pawned my guitar a couple of times. It turns out that guitar was stolen from L.A. five years prior to me coming to L.A. The cops came to my apartment and took the guitar away, so all I had left was a bass. I had sold my drum kit; my guitar was taken by the LAPD; and I had this Yamaha bass. That was right about the same time that I met Slash through an ad in the Recycler, and Izzy [Stradlin] had moved across the street. Bass was basically what I was going to play whether I liked it or not. That's all I had, and things lined up for me perfectly that I was going to be a bass player. When GUNS started was when I really started paying attention to bass players."

On finding his sound:

Duff: "The [bass] tone you hear on 'Appetite [For Destruction]' is like a funk sound. I had to find the place to fit between Izzy's thinner guitar, Steven's [Adler] kick and snare and Slash's thicker, all-encompassing guitar and the vocal. That's really important [to] find your space as a bass player... and being comfortable in that space and owning that space, and not trying to outshine anybody else in the band, or on the other hand, don't get taken over by a drummer who just wants to play fills on every break. You've got to massage all that shit together."

On how he came to play Fender basses:

Duff: "If you're a bass player, Fender is the bass that all the greats played. That's the one you want to play. I did not have the money to do that. [When] GUNS started, I had this Yamaha bass [and] an acoustic 2x15 cabinet, which I still have. I don't know what my head was, but I had a sound that cut through. Things happened with GUNS — we started playing more and more in L.A., attracting bigger and bigger crowds, and we were writing what we thought were great songs. Record companies started coming to gigs, and we got signed. It did not happen overnight — I'm just shortening the story — [but] my point [is] we got an advance, money to get gear and tattoos and shit. We rehearsed right behind the Guitar Center on Sunset [Blvd.] in Hollywood, so as a result, you would go around the corner, go into Guitar Center and see the shit you couldn't afford on a weekly basis. This Japanese Fender Jazz Special — this beautiful-sounding white guitar with [a] black neck — was my dream bass. I would play it — I would be that guy who would come into Guitar Center and play the thing: 'He's here again, and he's not going to buy shit.' We got our advance, and Slash and I went out to the Valley to cash the check for the band — our portion of the advance. The bank teller was like, 'That's a lot of money' — $30,000 for us to split to get gear — and they were not going to cash this check for us. They thought we had stolen the check, and they had to call... Anyhow, we cashed the check, got the money and went straight to Guitar Center. I went in and I bought that bass. Finally, I had my Fender bass... That Japanese Fender Jazz Special bass that I originally bought was the only one I took on the road for the 'Appetite' tour."

McKagan recently said that his upcoming solo album will consist of "observational songs" that find him "pointing out out some things" that he has noticed over the course of the last few years of touring.

McKagan began recording the album back in March 2018 with producer Shooter Jennings. The two worked out of Station House studios, located in Echo Park, California, writing and recording in between McKagan's tour with seminal rock band GUNS N' ROSES and the release of Jennings's eponymous album, "Shooter".

The album will be McKagan's musical follow-up to 2015's best-selling book, "How To Be A Man (And Other Illusions)".

Photo credit: Katarina Benzova

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