Prince’s Continuing Influence on Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan
When fans open the new 1999 expanded edition box set, they’ll see a familiar name in the liner notes. The release includes a message from Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, a musician who has long cited Prince as one of his biggest influences.
By his own account, McKagan estimates that he was first introduced to Prince’s work in the early '80s. “When Controversy came out in 1981, a punker friend of mine in Seattle demanded that I listen to it,” the bassist wrote in a 2011 article penned for Seattle Weekly. Noting that “Prince was unlike anyone else,” McKagan went on to explain that the singer’s next album, 1999, “transformed (his) insides.” “I was going through a tough break-up with my first real long-term girlfriend and was heartbroken,” the GNR bassist revealed. “1999 somehow became my psychiatrist, and I held on to that record for dear life as I slowly got my feet back under me.”
McKagan expressed similar reverence to 1999 in a 2019 conversation with Louder Sound. "A lot of heroin was going through Seattle, and while I wasn't using, a lot of people were getting strung out: my friends, my roommate, my girlfriend, my band,” the rocker explained. “I was heartbroken, man, seeing all this stuff going on around me, and I knew I had to make a decision. Then 1999 came out in 1982, and I just dove into the record.”
While the entire LP spoke to McKagan, there was one track in particular that stood out above the rest. "I loved 'Little Red Corvette,'” the bassist confessed. “It may be the most perfect three-chord song ever written."
Not long after 1999’s release, McKagan made a life-changing decision. He would leave Seattle and head to Los Angeles to pursue his rock dreams. "Everybody has that record that 'saved their life,' and 1999 gave me the courage to stand on my own two feet,” the bassist revealed. “It gave me the courage to leave. I knew my car wouldn't make it to New York, but I knew it could get me to L.A. Somehow it encouraged me to do that on my own, and it was scary, but I knew music was going to be my thing."
After a couple of years in Los Angeles, McKagan hooked up with Guns N’ Roses. The rest, as they say, is history. GNR became one of the biggest bands on the planet, shattering sales records and selling arenas out all over the world.
Even as McKagan enjoyed the heights of rock stardom, the bassist’s admiration for Prince never waned. In 1992, GNR happened to be in Berlin at the same time as Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls tour. Naturally, McKagan went to the show. What he didn’t know was that he’d get the opportunity to meet his idol face-to-face.
“I had no knowledge or hint that I was going to meet Prince that night,” the rocker recalled, “but I was suddenly shown into a backstage room, and there it was, just me and Prince.” Despite his status as a member of one of the most popular rock bands on Earth, McKagan found himself star-struck in Prince’s presence. “I was completely tongue-tied and overwhelmed. I didn't know what to say, and what I did say probably sounded like dumb-ass babble.”
“I mean, how was I supposed to tell the guy that he and his music had gotten me through so much stuff, and that he was maybe the reason I was now in a band that, had he not inspired in me the confidence to move to L.A., may not have happened?,” the rocker went on to ponder. “How was I to really tell him how his music had gotten me through so many rough spots, and helped me to celebrate my triumphs? How? In truth, I don't remember what I said to him at all. Dumb-ass.”
The bassist would venture to see Prince in concert many more times in the ensuing years. After taking his family to watch the Purple One perform during the singer’s 2011 residency at the Forum, McKagan described the experience as “an uplifting barrage to my soul. It was like church, I suppose. It was religious.”
Like all fans, McKagan was shocked and saddened by Prince’s death in 2016. Days afterward, the rocker paid tribute to his fallen hero by performing with Prince’s iconic love symbol emblazoned on his bass.
More recently, McKagan revealed that the song “Feel” from his 2019 album Tenderness was inspired by Prince’s death - as well as the passing of fellow musicians Chris Cornell, Scott Weiland and Chester Bennington. “I don't name them in the song,” the bassist admitted, noting instead that he “gathered up the energy of those four — of the loss, the sense of loss — and it's just a song of... there is a little hope, like, we're going to remember you, and you're still here – these four in particular, and so many more before that.”
As for his involvement in the new 1999 box set, McKagan seems especially excited. The rocker recently took to social media to boast about getting his copy before the official public release.