Duff McKagan: The man who went from Guns N' Roses to accountancy

Duff McKagan was once a single drink from death. Now the bassist with the most debauched rock band of its generation is an accountant

"You can ask Duff about sex, substance abuse, Axl Rose and his near-death experience after his pancreas burst. But he can't talk about his fund-management company right now."

If that sounds an unusual instruction before an audience with one of rock's foremost hell-raisers, then Duff McKagan, bassist with Guns N' Roses when the band carved a new chapter in debauchery, is no ordinary rock star.

The Seattle-born musician, 48, experienced the "insanity" of life inside a 100 million-selling juggernaut when Guns N' Roses' 1987 debut album, "Appetite For Destruction", became a global phenomenon.

Trapped on a tour bus with Rose, a volatile, tantrum-prone singer, McKagan responded by indulging in cocaine and drinking half-a-gallon of vodka a day, before switching to red wine (10 bottles daily) when he reluctantly embarked upon a health-kick.

Yet the Duff who strides into the Pall Mall hotel lobby looks the picture of health, as befits a musician who has a new career as a best-selling author and financial adviser to his less numerically-literate, guitar-toting peers.

He delivers his sage advice through his Meridian Rock wealth-management company for musicians.

McKagan discovered his acumen for business when the years of bad living caught up with him in 1994. He was hospitalised with a ruptured pancreas, which left him with third-degree burns, and a doctor's warning that he would die if he had another drink.

"There were a few days in hospital that were just flashing images," says the musician, who has been sober for 18 years. "My mom had Parkinson's and I saw her come in crying, seeing her youngest son on tubes. That turned me around."

McKagan found a new obsession – income tax returns. "I didn't have any work to do and I had files of my personal and Guns N'Roses financial statements for the previous eight years. I wanted to learn how to read these but I didn't trust anybody," he says. "I just got a lightbulb in my head and said 'I want to go to school'. That began my journey, taking accountancy and business classes at Seattle."

Today McKagan uses his experience, relayed in a Duffonomics column for Playboy, to advise bands: "When the record company pays you an advance, it is just that – an advance. And it's at worse rates than any bank would charge you to pay them back. Plus they'll charge you for all kinds of crap you don't ever see."

McKagan balances his business studies with the life of a jobbing musician, touring with his bands Loaded and Walking Papers. An autobiography, It's So Easy (And Other Lies), topped the New York Times best-sellers list, opening up a new literary avenue.

On Tuesday night, he embarks upon his hardest gig yet – presenting the Classic Rock magazine Roll of Honour awards at the Camden Roundhouse to an audience of his peers including ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

"There's no script so I'll just have to improvise," he says. "I'm honoured because those guys in the room are heroes to me so I just want to do those people as much justice as I can."

There could be an awkward moment since the nominees for Band of The Year include the latest version of Guns N'Roses, which Rose is hawking around the world's arenas.

McKagan quit the band in 1997, but despite remaining on good terms with guitarist Slash and other founder members, a full reunion remains a concert promoter's dream. The mercurial Rose is, as ever, the sticking point.

McKagan replicated the band's stadium-straddling success with his supergroup, Velvet Revolver. Now he is more than happy pursuing a downsized music business philosophy which last week brought him to the Yardbirds club on a wet, Wednesday night in Grimsby.

"In rock 'n'roll, we don't sell records at all like we used to," he admits. "Yet the artist still has to pay to make records. So you've just got to get out on tour and be smarter about your merchandising. Bands now charge $50 for a T-shirt, a CD and a meet and greet with fans."

If McKagan has a regret it's that he did not have his business acumen in 1988 when Fox rang to say that they planned to name a beer after him, in honour of his prodigious alcohol intake, in a new animated series.

" I knew nothing about branding yourself then or the royalties off it. I just thought cool, they wanna use my name and boom, The Simpsons was born. Yeah, if I had a nickel for every time… but it's fine."

The 1988-model Duff, hammering out the bassline to Welcome To The Jungle would barely recognise the mountain-biking, sober, happily married father who uses long-haul flights to tap out 4,000 words on a lap-top instead of a line of white powder.

"I don't think I would change anything," he says, even if it means slogging to the Humber Estuary for a gig. "They say 'will you really be there on a wet, rainy night in Grimsby?' Well we were there on that wet, rainy night."

Q&A: Quick queries

Where was the last place you went for dinner?

We didn't have a proper dinner in Grimsby. The chicken salad sandwich from Pret A Manger – that's one of the best foods I ever had.

What was the last album you bought/listened to?

Chateau Brian, Brian James from The Damned's new record

What was the last book you read?

A Battle Of Britain book on my Kindle

What was the last gig/concert you attended?

Last night, the Walking Papers

What was the last sporting event you attended?

Seattle Mariners baseball game

What was the last film you saw?

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower – I went with the whole family, it had some great life lessons for guys my age.

Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette

film
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz