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Duff McKagan's Loaded

Side bands come about when a musician in a major group seeks another creative outlet. The usual reasons are to try something new or just fill the time between tours and recording. There is also a key message, "I've got a life of my own!"

Teaming with a well-known talent is a double-edged sword. It lets the unknown or relatively unknown musician jump a few steps on the career ladder. The problem is that the side band usually only functions when time permits. To prove the point, Duff McKagan's Loaded had a seven year gap between their "Dark Days" album and the '09 follow-up "Sick."

The youngest of eight in a musical family, Michael Andre (Duff) McKagan was born in Seattle. He started as a drummer playing in local Hardcore Punk bands - an experience that would impact his later work with Guns N' Roses.

Like many others, McKagan headed for L.A. when he had the chance. There he joined GN'R on bass just two days before the band's '85 debut at the Troubadour. McKagan stayed with GN'R through the success and excess (though it's hard to tell which came first) and two divorces, before leaving in '98.

Along the way, McKagan and guitarist Slash became notorious for their drunken appearance on the '90 American Music Awards - where GN'R won two trophies. Slash repeatedly swore and both he and McKagan began laughing uncontrollably. At least McKagan had the sense to keep his mouth shut.

By the time McKagan's tenure with GN'R ended he had developed drug and alcohol addictions. Attempts at rehab failed until McKagan required surgery and was told that he wouldn't live another month unless he stopped drinking - nothing like the specter of death to sober somebody up.

Despite a usually addled state, McKagan was wise enough to take his GN'R royalties and invest them in two Seattle based companies - Microsoft and Starbucks. His investing success led to an interest in finance- earning a degree from Seattle University. And sometime after that, he wrote a financial advisory column for Playboy magazine.

Among McKagan's various '90s projects was the initial attempt at launching Loaded with guitarist Dave Dederer (Presidents Of The United States Of America). The album "Episode 1999: Live" was sold on the band's website.

It seemed ironic that a person battling substance abuse would name his band using a term for being wasted. Or maybe it was a play on McKagan's GN'R past - like a "loaded" gun.

A second effort came two years down the road. There was a club tour but little else. Later that year, McKagan restructured the group adding guitarist Michael James Squires and bassist Jeff Rouse. The album "Dark Days" was the result.

A chance gig with his former GN'R bandmates, Slash and Matt Sorum, led to the formation of Velvet Revolver, with frontman Scott Weiland, of Stone Temple Pilots. This highly-successful group (with the chart topping "Contraband" and "Libertad" albums) kept McKagan fairly busy until Weiland left in '08.

As Velvet Revolver searched for a new singer, McKagan used the hiatus to re-establish Loaded. The band celebrated the arrival of their "Sick" album with a release party in their hometown of Seattle. They performed and signed autographs at the event. The April, '09, show was also the first date of their U.S. tour that was followed by concerts in South America and Europe.

In September, '09, Reading announced his departure. "The pressures of being in the 'Duff from Guns N' Roses' spotlight, while thrilling, has left me unable to get back to the performer I was pre-cancer, and unable to properly provide for my family," wrote Reading in a statement. "This combination has plagued my mental recovery, and I need to take time-now-to focus on these things." Issac Carpenter, a veteran of The Exies, stepped in.

But it looked like Loaded would go on indefinite hiatus when it was announced that McKagan had joined the latest incarnation of Jane's Addiction. But his stay, which included touring the U.S. and Europe and recording, was only five months.

"We wanted to thank Duff for helping us write songs for our new record. We love the songs we worked on with him and the gigs were a blast but musically we were all headed in different directions," said the band statement. "From here Duff is off to work on his own stuff so we wish him all the best."

"His own stuff" included Loaded. McKagan, for his part, said it was always his intention to keep working with the band and they entered the studio in August of '10.

The song "We Win" found a home on ESPN where it was incorporated into the cable sports channel's coverage of the league play-offs series and the World Series.

"The Taking" came out in April, '11, and posted larger first week sales that "Sick" but still far below anything Velvet Revolver or even GNR would generate.
Duff McKagan's Loaded Discography

Studio Albums:

2001 Dark Days
2009 Sick
2011 The Taking

It took Axl Rose 15 years to 'finish' "Chinese Democracy." His former bandmate, Duff McKagan, took half as long to rollout a follow-up to "Dark Days" and the end result is more entertaining.

"Sick" has Punk influences but leans harder on Classic Rock riffs. This is an unpretentious kick-ass album where even the confessional tracks ("I..O.U." and "No Shame") don't get in the way.

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