Bassist Duff McKagan Loves New York City and He Would Personally Like To Tell You Why

You may know bass player Duff McKagan from his work in Guns 'N Roses, Velvet Revolver, or Neurotic Outsiders. Next Tuesday, May 19, he brings his band, Loaded, to the Gramercy Theater for their local debut. In honor of this milestone, Duff asked us if he could share some of his New York experiences with you. We said fuck yes.

Duff McKagan contains multitudes
Duff McKagan contains multitudes
photo by Bootsy Holler for Seattle Weekly

By way of introduction, my name is Duff McKagan and I, for most of my life, have played rock n' roll music. New York City has always been a place that the bands I have been in have thrived: whether it was GNR, Neurotic Outsiders, Velvet Revolver, my first ever solo "Duff" gig in '94, or my new band Loaded, the music that I have been a part of seems to strike a chord with this town.

But wait! What is the 'rock guy' doing writing for the Village Voice? Have no fear. For the last year, I have been writing a column at the Voice's sister paper Seattle Weekly, where fellow bassist Krist Novoselic also writes a weekly column. Seattle is where I am from--and where I went back to school after GNR to get a degree in finance. It seems that while I was busy laying waste to most of the Western world's youth via GNR in my 20s, I had also been able to save up some money. I was however, also laying waste to myself and my pancreas lost the fight. I sort of woke up at 30 and realized that if I wasn't going to look after my own dough, someone would come along soon to bleed the rest out of me. Hence my foray into the world of finance--now I even have a weekly financial column where I offer my opinion on economic recovery over at Playboy.com.

But I am not writing to get you up-to-date on my credentials. My new band Loaded is playing the Gramercy next Tuesday the 19, so I thought this may be as good a time as any to remember a few of my most killer times in and around Manhattan. If for some reason, I do not get to a story you were involved in, it is simply because I cannot remember a few of the years in the early '90s and I am quite sure some, er, colorful times were had then. On that same note, if I did you some harm back then, I most graciously hope you accept this tardy apology!

Duff McKagan, wearing a CBGB shirt on the far right, back in the days when you might've run into him at the Scrap Bar
Duff McKagan, wearing a CBGB shirt on the far right, back in the days when you might've run into him at the Scrap Bar

My first time coming out to New York from Hollywood (my GNR homebase) was in early 1987 when we were mixing Appetite For Destruction. I had toured some of the US and Canada with prior Seattle punk-rock bands, but never made it all the way out here. For a guy steeped in bands like the Ramones, Dead Boys, the Dolls, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, just landing at JFK was enough to get my heart pounding. That first cab ride into the city was nothing short of astounding. My rhythm guitarist Izzy and I checked into the Gramercy Park Hotel--then, a sort of shithole--and commenced to walk around the East Village. The further down into the alphabetized streets we got, the more familiar the populace got to us (read: users and pushers). It's a good thing that I really didn't have the money yet to support a habit.

One of the more surreal New York moments that happened to me is when Guns played our two or three night stand at the Garden back in '92. It's important to remember that, underneath it all and no matter how much you dressed us up, that band was made of dudes not too far removed from the street. I was always much happier at the Scrap Bar on MacDougal or in the back hallways of the Limelight than dining at Nobu or hanging out at some chic "beautiful people" hotspot. Well on one of the MSG nights, Donald Trump sauntered into our main backstage room, instantly making himself at home and regaling me with his Donald-esque-ness. Next, Billy Joel came in looking for some Jack Daniel's that he must have smelled all the way from uptown. A few minutes later, the parents of the recently passed Johnny Thunders came backstage with their grandson, a carbon copy of his dad and a sobering, perspective-sharpening moment that I will always remember.

Those shows were famous for not starting until one am or so. I remember people telling me that they would watch the opening band, leave, go to some bar in the Village, get hammered, come back to the Garden, and we still would not be onstage. We paid an untold amount in quadruple overtime to the police officers those nights. That is most likely the reason that to this day, NYPD cops stop me in the street and ask me how I'm doing as they rigorously shake my hand!

I did mention the Scrap Bar, right? Ah, my home away from home--a safely tucked-away hole in the wall for all things debaucherous. I think I lost my in-public virginity here sometime in '89 or '90 ...or was it Slash? (Not, of course, who I lost my virginity to, okay?! You sick bastards.) Anything went at the Scrap Bar and cops just seemed to stay away. I don't blame them, as they would've probably had to take away the whole lot of us, not to mention the staff. I miss places like that.

A few years back, Velvet Revolver formed and the two record labels that were in the bidding for signing us, Atlantic and RCA/BMG, were both based in New York. To be wined and dined in this town is a whole different experience than doing business in L.A. (There seems to be a buzz here when something is happening--even people working at deli counters and hotels appear to know the inner workings of your next business deal or gig.) We signed with Clive Davis over at RCA eventually, basically because he is a true "music guy" and the last of his breed. That same year, when our record Contraband came out, we had a billboard in Times Square for something like 12 months. People would come up to me in Dubai or Dublin and tell me that one of the things that they remember most about their recent New York trip was our mugs gracing Times Square!

Nowadays, I've come to find another whole side to New York that had previously been way outside of my peripheral vision. I now have two daughters and have been sober for a long time. Places like the M&M's store in Times Square, Dylan's Candy Bar, Broadway musicals, and, yeah, Nobu, are my local hangouts now when I am in town with them. When I am on my own, I still find myself wandering around in the East Village, but really only to visit some old friends at Trash and Vaudeville or to marvel at how Alphabet City has morphed into an almost upscale yuppyville with a Starbucks on every corner.

This city holds a place near to my heart and always feels like a second home. For those of you that know of my band Loaded, you also know that in our 10 years of on-again off-again-ness, we have never played here in town. We have been to the South, the United Kingdom, Europe, and Japan, but never New York. We have just put out a new record Sick and are actually making a run at breaking the band here in the States. Manhattan is the one place a band can play and actually spread a buzz around the planet if all factors come into play (i.e. the band rocks, the gig is packed, etc.). Well, we will "rock" for sure...and I know a few people are coming, anyway. My point is that I am really happy to be playing a gig here after a little more than a year. (Has it been that long since VR played Hammerstein?!) Hey, I may even take a trip down to Wall Street and see if I can't knock some heads together while I'm here!

Loaded plays the Gramercy Theater next Tuesday, May 19. Tickets are still available here.


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