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
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
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.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own