“Jerry fights for his leads. He fights his guitar, and by the end – by the time he gets the lead on – it’s like, ‘Wow man, that was a piece of work!’”: Duff McKagan says Jerry Cantrell’s solos do not come easily – and they involve a lot of swearing

Jerry Cantrell and Duff McKagan onstage in 2009
Jerry Cantrell and Duff McKagan onstage in 2009 (Image credit: Barry Brecheisen / Getty Images)

Duff McKagan has described the intense process behind Jerry Cantrell’s approach to guitar solos, with the Guns N’ Roses basis likening the experience to that of a “fight” between the guitarist and his guitar.

Cantrell guests on McKagan’s new solo album Lighthouse on a track called I Just Don’t Know. The record pulls several threads, weaving in older unreleased tracks among new material written during the Covid years at McKagan’s Seattle studio. 

Now, in a new interview with MusicRadar, the bassist discusses several of the guest solos on the record, including contributions from the aforementioned Cantrell (a fellow Seattle resident) and his GN’R bandmate, Slash.

“Jerry fights for his leads,” comments McKagan of Cantrell’s soloing approach. 

“I’ve seen so many different guitar players. Some guys can just come in and [do it]. And, ‘Wow, that’s fuckin’ amazing.’

“Jerry comes in and he fights. He fights his guitar and, by the end – by the time he gets the lead on – it’s like, ‘Wow man, that was a piece of work. I saw your brain working.’”

If anything, the insight makes us like Cantrell’s lead work even more. There’s a popular misconception that killer solos just come easily to big-name players, so it’s always reassuring to hear of a guitar great that has to wring it out of the neck.

“He fuckin’ swears,” says McKagan. “He gets through this thing. I’ve seen him do it plenty of times, and I knew he’d do it on [I Just Don’t Know].”

Elsewhere, in the same piece, McKagan discusses Slash’s lead spot on the track, Hope – one of the songs initially made for a solo release that McKagan’s then-label, Geffen, left on the shelf. 

“That’s a song I did in 1996 at my house in LA, in the Hollywood Hills,” says McKagan. “Slash had come over to my house one day and heard that song… He was like, ‘Hey man, do you want me to put a guitar on this?’ Yeah, for sure! I had an amp set up and I recorded it. This was back in the days of tape, of course, and I was good enough to record him. 

“So, I got those masters back during [Covid]... and it’s a very pretty song. Slash plays thematic things in there. He’s so good at that.” 

Amusingly, McKagan notes that more recent discussions with Slash have revealed the guitarist has no recollection of the session. 

“He doesn’t remember playing the song,” concludes McKagan. “It was during an interesting time in his life!”

To read the full Duff McKagan interview, head to MusicRadar, and for more from Duff, check out our interview where he names the seven bassists who shaped his sound and explains how Prince shaped the sound of Appetite for Destruction.

Meanwhile, Slash has been working on his own “blues-orientated” solo album, due in 2024, which he has described as a spiritual sequel to his star-studded 2010 solo debut – revealing he’s already got a recording with Demi Lovato in the bag.

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Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.