Guitar World recently caught up with Duff McKagen where he chats about his humble beginnings.
What inspired you to start playing bass?
I started playing because of my older brother Bruce, who also played bass. I was the last of eight kids, and everybody in my family played some kind of instrument. There were always guitars, basses and drum kits around the house, and because of all the influences I had in my family, I learned how to play everything consecutively. When I began playing bass at the age of 11, it came as naturally to me as learning the drums and guitar had.
What was your first bass?
It was a Gibson EB0t that I bought when I was 13. I was doing a paper route in Seattle at the time and saved up the $100 I needed to buy it off a kid I knew.
What was the first song you learned?
The first song I learned to play on the bass was the Beatles’ “Birthday.” I learned the whole song and eventually played it with my brother Bruce at some gig somewhere. I was 12 and in sixth grade at the time. The first song I learned on the guitar was “The Witch” by the Sonics. They were a garage band from Seattle, which is where I grew up, and anybody worth their salt had a copy of that particular record.
Do you remember your first gig?
It was with a band called the Veins in 1979, and we actually opened for Black Flag. I was just so freaked out at being onstage and having people watching, and I was completely self-conscious. I can’t remember whether it was a good gig or not. I’m sure the sound system was a piece of crap, but you don’t know that when you’re 13 years old; you’re just going for it. That same year I also saw Iggy in Seattle and I saw the Clash play on their pre–London Calling tour. Those gigs were really life-changing events for me.
Ever had an embarrassing onstage moment?
I’ve had too many to count! The most recent one was toward the end of the last Velvet Revolver tour. We were playing in Germany for some odd television station, and it was a live gig. They had a bunch of dolly cameras rolling along the floor, and I kind of forgot that there was one behind me. So I went to move back a little bit and tripped and fell on my ass, and the bass went tumbling out of my hands. The noise from the bass made everything sound like shit. And of course the camera was right on me. Because I have a past with alcohol and drugs, people who saw that performance thought, Oh, he’s getting fucked up again. No, I just fell on my ass, really, that’s all.
What is your favorite piece of gear?
I have two favorite pieces of gear. One is my original white Fender Jazz Bass Special that I bought in 1986 and that I’ve used on every recording I’ve ever done since. The other is a hot-rodded Marshall 50-watt head. I actually wrote a song about it called “Seattle Head.” It’s the best-sounding Marshall head ever. And I own it.
Duff McKagan’s Loaded’s latest album, Sick, was released in April 2009.