LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Duff McKagan is a good advertisement for the benefits of drug rehab.
Trim and toned, with a full head of blond hair and a perfectly alert brain somewhere underneath, the former Guns N’ Roses bass player is lucky that he made it to 45.
In the early 1990s, when Guns N’ Roses were arguably the biggest rock group in the world, McKagan participated in the requisite debauchery with his hell-raising bandmates. There are lots of good stories, but he can’t remember many of them.
“I’ve heard great stories of (stuff) I’ve done, told by some pretty fascinating people,” he said in a recent interview with Reuters. “(Queen guitarist) Brian May (said), ‘Hey man remember that time?’ Elton John told me this great story.”
As the band’s punk-rock spirit, McKagan bore an eerie resemblance to Sid Vicious, the former Sex Pistol who died of a heroin overdose in 1979. It looked as if McKagan might go the same way, especially after his pancreas exploded in 1994.
But McKagan cleaned up his act, and quit the crumbling band a few years later.
When it occurred to him that he was a wealthy man with no financial experience, he enrolled for a business degree at Seattle University. He remains a couple of credits shy of graduating, but has put his knowledge to good use. He writes a finance column for Playboy called “Duffonomics,” and expounds easily on the big economic issues of the day.
Rock ‘n’ roll’s version of American personal-finance guru Suze Orman describes his investment style as “old school,” aimed at providing him with a comfortable retirement.
“People probably assume I have a lot more money than I have, and I think that’s true with a lot of musicians who’ve been successful,” he said. “We’ve generated a ton of dough. A ton! But nobody knows exactly how much I’m taking home, or anybody else is taking home.”
His advice for shell-shocked investors? Real estate, and beaten-up sectors such as the Pacific Rim and financials.
But there’s more to life than spreadsheets and textbooks, and McKagan is seeking a third shot at rock ‘n’ roll glory.
After Guns N’ Roses imploded he formed a new band with fellow Guns survivors Slash and Matt Sorum. Velvet Revolver’s debut album sold millions and won a Grammy. The follow-up was less successful, and the band fired vocalist Scott Weiland a year ago amid long-simmering tensions.
With Velvet Revolver on hiatus, McKagan has teamed up with three little-known musicians from his Seattle hometown to resurrect his side project, modestly dubbed Duff McKagan’s Loaded. The band is now touring clubs to promote its new album “Sick” (Century Media Records).
McKagan has swapped his bass for a guitar, and takes on the lead vocals. During Guns N’ Roses concerts, he would often perform an old punk song for the masses, and he sings a wistful tribute to dead punk rocker Johnny Thunders on their 1991 double album “Use Your Illusion.”
With its aggressive riffs, “Sick” inevitably bears some Guns residue, as well as traces of McKagan’s punk-rock heroes like Iggy Pop. The lyrics seem to fall into two camps: either he loves you or hates you.
Before anyone asks, McKagan assures that none of the venomous songs are directed either at Axl Rose, the sole original member left in Guns N’ Roses, or at Weiland.
“I am a grown-up, sort of. I’m not that vitriolic. When they (bad things) happen I try to deal with them as they happen, and exorcise that demon as it goes.”
One song is particularly personal. McKagan got hooked on prescription drugs three-and-a-half years ago, and “Boom! I was off to the races. It knocked me off my feet, man. Guys like me, once you start thinking you’re bulletproof that’s when it gets really dangerous. I learned a great lesson from it. I let myself down. I let my whole family down. It killed me.”
He teamed with his friend Trey Bruce, a Nashville songwriter, to write “Wasted Heart,” in which he pays tribute to his wife, Susan, for saving his “outlaw soul.”
The album was recorded in just nine days for $20,000, but McKagan sees his band as more than a fun diversion. He still lives for that perfect concert, that perfect song.
“Have you ever seen that picture of Iggy standing on top of people? That’s the gig you have every once in a while that keeps you. I’m still kind of a young whippersnapper and I can go out and do it.”
Editing by Jill Serjeant