Terminal City Confidential: Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan reflects on the Vancouver punk scene

By Susanne Tabata
Presented by Bomber Brewing

Presented by
Bomber Brewing

From left to right: Zip, Duff McKagan and Randy Rampage.

From left to right: Zippy Pinhead, Duff McKagan and Randy Rampage.

VANCOUVER — Read no further if you are looking for salacious details on the Guns N’ Roses reunion. There aren’t any.

The last time G’n’R rolled through Vancouver, the intro guitar riffs to “Welcome To The Jungle” were heard from backstage, where Duff McKagan was talking with Ron Reyes and Randy Rampage, who had come to support his band, Loaded. McKagan made a guest appearance later on the stage with Axl Rose. And that was the last time we saw Duff.

Guns N’ Roses headlines day two at Coachella. It’s no secret Slash and McKagan have both rejoined G’n’R, having each quit the Axl Rose-fronted band in the late 1990s. With this news, it’s time to get nostalgic and revisit those Vancouver connections with the former Fartz drummer, who gave this interview for publication in BeatRoute Magazine.

“My first real punk show was when my band, The Vains, opened for Black Flag (Ron Reyes), and The Subhumans in Seattle in 1979 at Washington Hall. Sometime that year I made my first trip to Van to see our heroes, DOA.

Duff McKagan's early days.

Duff McKagan’s early days.

“We’d fake notes from our parents to cross the border. Me and my pals were 15, hence … underage.” It is hard to imagine no Internet or surveillance, but it’s true you could drive across the U.S.-Canadian border with ease and Vancouver would draw Seattle youth because of the drinking age of 19 (not 21), the all-ages venues, band houses, and freedom.

“The [Smilin’] Buddha didn’t check ID. We thought this was the coolest thing in the world! I met Zippy [Pinhead] at this point, and he introduced me to the fine art of drinking Old Stock. We began to be able to crash out at the DOA house off of Georgia [The Plaza]… This was equal to staying in KISS’s mansions or something like that. [Joey] Shithead was super cool to us kids.”

McKagan goes on record again to speak of his heroes of that era – Chuck Biscuits (DOA drummer) and Randy Rampage (DOA bassist). “Rampage and Biscuits were the baddest on the planet. Bar none.“ Of course, he’s talking about the rhythm section in the original DOA. Luckily tracks on Something Better Change and Hardcore 81 are still available from Joey Shithead on Sudden Death Records. And oddly, not recorded by badass producer Bob Rock and engineer Ron Obvious, known for seminal early records made during graveyard shifts at Little Mountain Sound.

“Seattle’s punk scene wasn’t strong,” McKagan says. “Places kept getting shut down, and there was support in Van.” It’s true that the first Vancouver scene was the most prolific punk scene in the Pacific Northwest. Considering the body of work that got recorded on vinyl, cassette, videotape, photograph and film, it is the most well-documented early punk scene in Canada. The ties ran down the coast to San Francisco, through Seattle and Portland — not East-West. San Francisco was the sister city to Vancouver and that’s why Zippy lived there, and Brad Kent (RIP) joined Penelope Houston and her band The Avengers.

McKagan notes there was something else unique about the city. “Vancouver was more in touch with the U.K. scene, so travelling 100 miles north was like being transported to Europe/U.K. back then. The Fastbacks started playing up there a lot in ’80/’81. The Modernettes had just broken up….and there seemed to be a need for Fastbacks style of girl power-pop/punk…Ala Modernettes.”

McKagen was at Hardcore 81, a set of shows at 1036 Richards – The Laundromat – which marked the time when the scene got codified. Shortly after, things really changed. The U.K.-influenced sounds were getting replaced by American hardcore sounds circa 1982. Drugs helped kill the scene. It was also dying a natural death, says McKagen. “Heroin hit Seattle in late ’81, early ’82….Bad, ugly, stupid…killing the scene by late ’83.”

“I moved to LA in ’84 cause that’s as far as my car could go. Played with Biscuits that same month, and then hung out a bunch with Ron Reyes in LA before he moved to B.C. Ron and I were super into Prince, Hanoi, Stones…kind of the direction us first-wave of punkers were going. Punk had turned into suburban punk gang warfare, hardcore by this point. We had all already moved on.”

And then there was Guns N’ Roses.

Today Duff lives “in Seattle again (since ’93) and still consider that early Van scene as my rock ‘n’ roll training ground, and Rampage and Biscuits are still my heroes.”

Susanne Tabata is the creator of the documentary Bloodied But Unbowed about the first Vancouver punk scene and its ties down the coast.

Special thanks to Duff McKagan. Wishing you well on the tour.

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