The youngest of eight children, Duff McKagan was born in Seattle, Washington in the spring of 1964. His real name is Michael, but his family gave him the nickname Duff at the age of two and it stuck. He grew up rebellious, falling in love with punk and glam rock by the time he was a teenager. His brother Bruce introduced him to the bass, but he did not take to the instrument right away. At the tender age of 16, the Fastbacks hired him on as their drummer, giving him his first shot in the developing Seattle rock scene. He left the band toward the end of 1981 and began playing in countless other punk combos in the area. Most influential was his work with the Fartz, a band that never made it that far but served as one of the primary influences on grunge innovator Mudhoney. While McKagan enjoyed the gigs he was working, he tried his luck in Los Angeles after a few years of playing in the Northwest. Upon moving to town, he met future Guns N' Roses founders Slash and Steven Adler, and decided to form a trio with the others called Road Crew. The band gave them the kind of visibility they craved, but upon meeting Indiana transplants Izzy Stradlin and Axl Rose, the five flirted with the idea of combining their forces, until finally Guns N' Roses became a reality in 1985.
After a self-released EP gained them more attention in the Los Angeles area, Geffen Records signed them for an album in 1986. The result, Appetite for Destruction, would be one of the most important rock records ever released, although it would be hard to tell from the initial impact. The album floundered at first, McKagan even considered going back to Seattle, until "Welcome to the Jungle" became a runaway hit. Guns N' Roses instantly became a huge sensation, and the media ate up their bad-boy reputation and incredible live performances. The whole band let fame get to them, but no member took it as seriously as Axl Rose, who began to shake up the band with his increasingly controversial statements to the media and erratic behavior. Things became serious upon the release of the G N' R Lies EP, which featured a racist rant in the song "One in a Million" that McKagan and Slash both spoke out against in the press. Rose slowly continued to dominate the band, driving out Adler and Stradlin and replacing them with less vocal contributors Matt Sorum and Gilby Clarke. Ironically, McKagan and Slash bonded with these two members strongly, making the distance between Rose and the other members only larger. When the band hit the road for the endless Use Your Illusion tour, the backstage decadence and wild spending became ridiculous, as opening bands would report to the press about orgies and pig roasts.
McKagan was disillusioned with the music he was making, and after contributing songs to Iggy Pop's Brick by Brick, he tried his hand at a solo album. His drinking had gotten wildly out of control, and the resulting Believe in Me was a disjointed and awkward effort that failed to spark the public's interest. When the tour ended, McKagan discovered that his pancreas was in such terrible shape that he had to immediately give up drinking or face almost certain death. After a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," the bandmembers separated to take time away from one another. Thinking that Guns N' Roses was just taking a break, McKagan started working with Slash on the Slash's Snakepit project along with the other members of Guns N' Roses, except for Rose. Sessions for a new Guns N' Roses album continually fell apart, and McKagan started working with the Neurotic Outsiders and several solo projects from fellow and former Guns N' Roses members. As the years began to tick away, Rose finally sent news to the remaining members of the band that they had to stop working on other projects or they were going to be fired. That was the final straw for McKagan, and he separated from the band and joined Seattle punk rockers 10 Minute Warning, a band he had played in almost 15 years before.
Since that point, McKagan has continued to release solo projects -- including Beautiful Disease (1999), Wasted Heart (2008), Sick (2009), and The Taking (2011), the latter two with his group Loaded -- and perform with his fellow Guns N' Roses outcasts, joining the supergroup Velvet Revolver in 2002. Once that group petered out he replaced Eric Avery in Jane's Addiction for their 2010 album. McKagan also married for the third time, becoming a father for the first time in 1999, and managed to get acting jobs on television. He ran a marathon in 2001, right before reuniting with Izzy Stradlin for a tour of Japan. In addition to performing regularly, McKagan has also earned a reputation as a columnist, writing a weekly column for Seattle Weekly and offering financial advice in Playboy. The likelihood of the original Guns N' Roses reuniting looks slimmer every year, but even his brief time with that band will forever give McKagan the notoriety that has made him one of the most recognizable bassists in rock music. ~ Bradley Torreano