“If you’re going to be a bass player, learn how not to be the front guy.” – Duff McKagan.
A man of many talents, Duff McKagan is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and author. He was the bassist for the American hard rock band Guns N’ Roses for over a decade, from 1985 to 1997. He re-joined the band in 2016 following their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is regarded as a pivotal pillar in rock music.
Duff McKagan joined the Guns N’ Roses, following Ole Beich’s departure, in March 1985 as the band’s bassist. The line-up, consisting of vocalist Axl Rose, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, lead guitarist Slash and drummer Steven Adler, played their debut gig in the same year at The Troubadour. The band released its debut album, Appetite for Destruction in 1987 and with it, became giants of the industry… eventually.
Appetite for Destruction took almost a year to gain commercial success. It was after the band had toured and had received repeated radio airplay with singles such as ‘Paradise City’, ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ and ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ that the album received any kind of mainstream attention. However, it soon made its way into several charts and sold over 30 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling records of all time.
‘Welcome to the Jungle’ was one of the singles from the album that became a fan favourite and helped them gain a reputation as a hard rock band, something beyond the hair metal moniker they had been awarded thus far. If you’re someone visiting Seattle after living in L.A. for quite a while, chances are, you would know exactly what the song talks about considering that was where Axl Rose, who wrote the song, got the inspiration from.
The song consisted of some incredible instrumental accompaniments. The rocking drum beats and the driving guitar track really lifted the vocals to produce the song’s perfect sound. But what married all the elements together was probably that subtle yet ever-present bass backing by Duff McKagan.
McKagan was very particular when it came to how he wanted to present his skills in a particular song. He realised, that when it came to the bass, it was one of those instruments in a song that was certainly necessary but not always the one to be under the spotlight. He understood that it was more important for all the instruments to blend for the music to be great. McKagan said, “I’ve discovered that I did work harder with our drummer (Steven Adler) and came up with the right fills for songs like ‘Out Ta Get Me’ or, ‘My Michelle’ or ‘Welcome to the Jungle’. We didn’t overplay them. So, listening back now, I’m stoked with myself as a young kid. I think to myself, ‘Oh, you did the right shit there!”
Even though we know McKagan said, “If you wanna play bass in a band so you can show yourself off, thinking you’re gonna be in the spotlight, then it’s a wrong instrument for you”, we’re going to keep that aside for the moment and put him under that spotlight and let you revel in chords that were the works of the genius that was Duff McKagan, in ‘Welcome to the Jungle’.