They weren’t off the plane from Europe for long when the concert trail beckoned again. Guns N’ Roses picked up in America right where they left off, barnstorming concert arenas with a sweat-drenched installment of brand-new rockers and familiar favorites.
Unlike the tour’s first leg, this time devotees could go to their neighborhood record outlet and pick up not one, but two new Guns N’ Roses albums. Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II left warehouses on September 17th. The band’s latest single, "Don’t Cry", appears on both discs; the familiar radio version on I.
Overseas, Axl Rose and his bad bunch left an indelible impression on foreign audiences. Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany all hosted the band, with the tour climaxing in front of 80,000 wild worshippers at Wembley Stadium in London, England. Here, Axl wore a Scottish kilt; his on-stage tirades against the press took on European targets: Sky, Time Out and Kerranq! Magazines were all victims of Axl’s vitriol.
Back in the U.S.A., there were welcome-home presents for the Gunners: assault and property damage charges filed by St. Louis authorities as a result of a July 2nd donnybrook at the Riverport Amphitheatre. And on newsstands everywhere was Steven Adler’s exclusive interview with Circus magazine, with the ex-drummer charging, among other bombshells, that he was fired for standing up to Axl Rose. Guns N’ Roses denied all charges in the story.
Now, in another Circus exclusive, bassist Duff McKagan gives his side of the story, beginning with Adler’s dismissal. According to the bleach-blond bassist, the band gave Adler every chance they could.
"We had recorded like 18 tracks for the Use Your Illusion I record with Steven and it just wasn’t happening," Duff says. It’s a difficult subject to discuss.
"We put him through rehab like three times. I even went to his drug dealer’s house and threatened him with a gun and said, ‘Dude, if you ever...’"
Duff sighs, unable to continue.
He says it was all for the good. Adler’s departure and the addition of new drummer Matt Sorum breathed new life into Guns N’ Roses.
"Matt saved the band," Duff says matter-of-factly. "We were trying out drummers and there was a real low point after finally we had to kick out Steve. And it took us like a year to do it."
"We tried Martin Chambers from the Pretenders and that wasn’t happening, and a few other people. Drummers are the hardest part of the band to find. Especially with this band because it’s like totally a family, so we had to find somebody that’s like a bro." At a Cult concert, Duff found out that Sorum was available, because the Cult wanted to replace the Yank with an English drummer.
"Matt came in and kicked ass," Duff says. "And that put a foot up our ass. It was like, ‘That’s right! We’re a fucking band, man, that’s right!’ It’s like we forgot we were a rock and roll band that could kick ass. And it all came back. It was completely natural."
The addition of Sorum freed up the band so much that inspiration started flowing - that’s why Use Your Illusion is two volumes. And why Duff is making a solo album.
"I got Lenny Kravitz, he’s singing one song. And Sebastian from Skid Row, he’s going to sing on another song. Slash is putting some leads on here and there. And Prince, hopefully he wants to do it. He’s like an inspiration to me as far as songwriting goes, big time. It’s turning out pretty cool. I’ve got eight tracks done, all my tunes."
One song, Johnny Thunders’ "You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory," is dedicated to Thunders himself; the New York Dolls singer/guitarist who died earlier this year. Duff extends the dedication to Andy Wood of Mother Love Bone.
Mother Love Bone is from Seattle, the town where Duff McKagan grew up.
"The Fartz, do you remember that band? I was the drummer. Then we turned into Ten Minute Warning and I played guitar," he recalls, with a slight slur in his voice. Those bands were forerunners of the Seattle grunge movement, at a time when metal bands like Queensryche and hard rockers like Heart ruled.
Duff calls for his vodka and cigarettes, and they’re fetched from his leather jacket by a girl named Renee. He remembers a Fartz concert in one of the city’s lily-white suburbs that turned into a punch-up.
"All these heavy-metal dudes were like trying to kick our ass and we were like, ‘bring it on, c’mon let’s go.’" He says the metal dudes eventually ran away.
He was also in the Fastbacks, and played on that still existing band’s first record and on a Fastbacks cut on the first Seattle Syndrome LP. He was in the Veins, who put out one single, and he founded a band called On The Rocks. Duff once said he was in 31 Seattle bands, variously playing drums, guitar and bass. He says he has a complete list somewhere, admitting that a lot of them were just party hands that played together only once.
Duff grew up in the University District, an area near the University of Washington that’s mostly working class, he was the last of eight kids. His parents were divorced and his mom supported the family as a typist. His real name is Michael, but he’s been called Duff since he was one or two. "It’s an Irish thing," he explains.
He says he hates the nickname "Rose." ‘That’s dead,' he says. "They used to call Axl and me the Rose Bros. So it just kinda stuck. But it’s not my name, ya know?"
Duff was working clubs by the time he was 15, and dropped out of Roosevelt High School (also attended years later by Nikki Sixx, known in the school records as Frank Carlton Serafino Carlton.) "I got great grades and was in the gifted program and all that shit and I learned all I needed to learn. So I got my GED (grade equivalency diploma) and dropped out of tenth grade."
He got a day job working as a cook in a restaurant, playing clubs at night. I saved enough money to move to Los Angeles at 19, with fellow Ten Minute Warning member Greg Gilmore, and looked for a more challenging band to work with. Luck shined on him like the California sun.
"The first hour, I got a job at the Black Angus," he says. A week later, he answered an ad for a bassist in a free paper called the Recycler.
"That was the band with me and Slash and Steven called Road Crew, which was ill fated," he says. "And then I started playing with Axl, Izzy and a couple of other guys, called Guns N’ Roses."
Through Seattle connections, Duff booked a series of West Coast shows for GN’R, starting at a Seattle punk club called the Gorilla Room. A couple of the guys didn’t want to go, so Slash and Steven Adler replaced them.
"We got enough money together to get a U-Haul and we had this old Pontiac," Duff recalls, "and we got a hundred miles out of L.A. and the car just broke down. We were like, ‘Fuck!’ So we grabbed our guitars and, with just the clothes we had on, started hitchhiking. But we got there. We got there like two hours before the gig, after five-million different rides."
That was a turning point for the band, an adventure that forged Guns N Roses into a monster. "That was like a total bonding experience for the band," Duff says. "It was like, if we can get through that, at that early stage, we can get through anything. It was our first gig - albeit we sucked, but it was like, ‘So what? We got to it.’
But only 15 people showed up and the club manager didn’t want to pay the band.
"The guy promised us two-hundred and fifty bucks and only gave us fifty. We threatened to burn the place down and he called the cops and we high-tailed it out of there, after stealing more money from him."
It goes without saying that the rest of the tour was scrapped. A Seattle buddy of Duff’s gave the band a ride back to L.A., where the now-bonded Guns N’ Roses started its march to the top.
So Duff, now that you’re in the biggest rock band in the world, what are you doing with all your money?
"That’s like the least important thing to me," he replies. "I bought some nice things for my mom. I bought a car; I bought a house. But as far as anything eccentric, no.
"The fame and money part of this whole thing are just bullshit to me. It’s great to have money. It gives you the freedom to do what you want. But that’s not what I got into this for. It’s more of a serious integrity thing. We’re a band. We’re in it for the music."