April 18th, 2012 | Published in Stage and Street
By Pete Roche
Duff McKagan riveted the attention of a sold-out House of Blues by reading excerpts from his rock and roll memoirs, It’s So Easy (and other lies) Friday night.
Having arranged a special book-tour gig here on the evening prior to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the former Guns n’ Roses bassist spent ninety minutes taking fans down memory lane.
The tattooed blonde 48-year old read from a chair at center stage, surrounded by a grid of mood-setting votive candles. Four backup musicians accompanied McKagan by performing low-key versions of popular Guns songs like “Paradise City” on acoustic guitar and pedal steel. Even McKagan—who wore reading glasses most of the time—occasionally picked up a guitar and regaled the crowd with song.
Anyone attending the “Punk’s Revue” in hopes of witnessing full-blown electric versions of late 80s hard rock anthems like “Sweet Child O’ Mine” clearly hadn’t known what they were getting into. McKagan and his Guns cohorts saved those sonic blasts for a ripping showcase the induction ceremony the following night, when the band reunited—sans singer Axl Rose—onstage at Public Hall.
Other 2012 inductees included Donovan, Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Laura Nyro, and Freddie King. Several writers and producers were also recognized, like Don Kirshner and Glynn Johns. Alter-Bridge front man Myles Kennedy handled vocals when Guns performed Saturday after delivering acceptance speeches.
McKagan’s multimedia show centered on his journey from Seattle to Los Angeles, where the wild-eyed youth befriended guitarist Slash and drummer Steven Adler. Taking on charismatic singer Rose and co-guitarist Izzy Stradlin, Guns n’ Roses electrified L.A.’s Sunset Strip and found glory with its sensation Geffen Records debut, Appetite for Destruction.
But life in the fast lane wore quickly on McKagan and company. Drinking, drugs, and ego problems drove wedges between the Guns members, and despite a successful follow up—the acoustic-driven GNR Lies—the band started coming apart. Passages from Duff’s biog followed his career trajectory from pill-popping junky to sober, bike-riding, jiu-jitsu practicing Renaissance man.
The bassist spoke of an epiphany he had a couple years back one lazy afternoon at home. He was watching his favorite baseball team on television when his daughters approached, asking to be shown a few chords on the guitar.
“I realized right then I had everything I needed,” said McKagan.
Duff also paid tribute to supermodel wife Susan Holmes, who watched the show from a House of Blues VIP opera box along with neo-punkers Green Day, whose members would induct G n’ R the following night.
Backup musicians included Miles Squires on guitar, Paul Huxtler on pedal steel, and Jeff Rouse on bass. Fellow Guns alumni Matt Sorum (drums) and Gilby Clarke (guitar) also joined McKagan on “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.”
The somewhat subdued yet celebratory occasion came off like a fancy dinner rehearsal on the eve of a lavish wedding. It was clearly a time for looking back—but McKagan also seemed poised and in-the-moment. And when a fan shouted from the balcony during Duff’s anecdote about the time G n’ R received a sheet cake commemorating their first number-one, the bassist jokingly threatened to come up and kick his ass.
“Kidding! I’m kidding!” he said. “Nah, I like you, man! We’ll go have some sheet cake together after this.”