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Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan on What It’s Like to Perform ‘Chinese Democracy’ Songs

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Duff McKagan sat down with Chris Jericho for his ‘Talk Is Jericho’ podcast this week to discuss a variety of topics, including frontman Axl Rose trying out for AC/DC, difficult songs to play and learning Chinese Democracy songs upon his return to Guns N’ Roses.

“It’s great,” McKagan says of playing tracks from the album, which neither he nor guitarist Slash were a part of recording. “Axl, he put a lot into that record. I think Slash and I were challenged with a thing, like, ‘How do we make these kinda ours now?’ Cause we’re gonna play these; we’re gonna take ownership of these. And we went in and learned them and started playing them with [drummer] Frank [Ferrer] and then [guitarist] Rich [Fortus]. Let’s tear these songs down and really know them and then build it up from there.”

McKagan says they know “a bunch” of the songs from Chinese Democracy, but it depends on the set list during a particular show which ones will get played.

Jericho asked the bassist what song is hardest for him to play each night, and he says it’s the little parts are the most challenging, like when the bass comes in on “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” He says, “You can’t f–k that up. Everybody there is listening at that point. You gotta be on.”

Talking about the current ‘Not in This Lifetime…’ world tour and how the set is devised each night, McKagan revealed that Rose is constantly cracking jokes that only the other band members can hear.

“We wear in-ears, right?” he begins. “So most of the time [Axl] is telling amazing jokes. He crushes everybody. You know, I fancy myself a humorist, a jokester, but he crushes me.”

Asked about the frontman trying out for the lead spot in AC/DC, McKagan says Rose was nervous about it, but that, “He killed it.”

“It’s AC/DC and Bon [Scott] is his guy,” he reveals. “He left to go try out and [afterwards] he was like, ‘I don’t know…’ Like, dude – you have it. ‘Oh, I don’t know man, I don’t know.’ We knew he had it.’

McKagan also remembered touring in the early days opening for The Cult and Iron Maiden before Appetite for Destruction finally crashed the charts.

“The Cult crowd was a little more rock and roll,” he says. “Maiden’s crowd were like, ‘Who in the hell are these f–ks’ – you know? [laughs]. But you just go out and do the shows. We were thankful to Iron Maiden  for that tour, but we toured a lot where nobody knew who we were, mostly. On that Appetite for Destruction tour we were out for a year [before it broke]. We’d go to London and the UK and stuff and we were blowing up there. We sold out the Hammersmith Odeon; that’s 2500 people or something right? Then we’d come back to America and there’d be, like, three people up front who’d be like, ‘Yeah, that’s our band’ – that’s our three people!”

He then recalls how, after opening for Aerosmith is when, “It started to pick up.”

“Then ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ came out and it went from three [people] to 30 to 300, all in like, I swear, a couple of weeks,” McKagan says. “Three thousand…’til everybody got there to see us. We had that fresh shiny vibe where everyone had to see us. That was a really interesting time.”

Jericho also asks McKagan why he thinks that 30 years later, Appetite still resonates.

“It’s probably impossible for me, being inside of that, to answer that,” McKagan says. “I can’t see our band like other people see it from the outside. I gotta say, when I went through and played that record before we went into rehearsal a couple January’s ago? I was like, ‘Oh…’ I got this feeling that, ‘Oh – this record rocks.’ You can just hear the energy and that record captured that band really well.”

Looking back on the scene in Los Angeles when Guns came up in the ’80s, particularly the other bands, McKagan says they didn’t want to be lumped in with certain others representative of the region at the time.

“There was other bands — and I won’t name them — but there was just other bands in that scene that we just … oh, like if you get put in the same realm with them, like once Hit Parader were starting to write about it, ‘Do not put us in the same category with those bands,” he says. “We knew who was real and who wasn’t.”

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