Some people come into hard rock and heavy metal from unexpected places.
We all know about Glenn Danzig’s transition from horror punk heavyweight to occult blues metal hero, but he’s far from the only rock and roll hero to cut his teeth on three chords and a metric ton of aggression.
Although Duff McKagan has been in the Guns N’ Roses orbit since nearly the beginning, the famed bassist comes from far more simple roots. Growing up in Seattle’s traditionally blue collar University District, McKagan’s brother taught him how to play bass; a skill he refined by playing along to Prince and Black Flag albums.
Although he started out playing bass in The Vains, Duff would transition to drums when he joined power pop band the Fastbacks.
Concurrent to his time in the Fastbacks, Duff got involved in the burgeoning northwest hardcore scene. Switching instruments yet again (this time to guitar), he started a band called The Living with future Mother Love Bone drummer Greg Gilmore.
The Living would share stages with luminaries D.O.A. and Hüsker Dü and record an EP, but they broke up when Duff joined Seattle hardcore legends, The Fartz.
Full of bile and righteous rage, The Fartz were the fastest and hardest band in the region. Lead by vocalist Blane Cook, the first incarnation of The Fartz released an EP called Because This Fuckin’ World Stinks, which caught the attention of Dead Kennedys singer and Alternative Tentacles head honcho Jello Biafra, who released their debut LP World Full Of Hate on the label in 1982. McKagan joined the band on drums later that year and recorded several demos with this lineup.
After a tour with Dead Kennedys, Blane Cook left the band to join legendary thrashers The Accüsed. With new singer Steve Verwolf, Duff switched from drums to rhythm guitar and the band started to go in a slower, post-punk oriented direction.
To reflect the change in lineup and sound, The Fartz changed their name to 10 Minute Warning. In many regards, 10 Minute Warning set the template for the Seattle grunge sound. Although the band recorded an album for Alternative Tentacles, a general lack of funding forced the record to be shelved.
Duff McKagan moved to Los Angeles in 1984 and started a band called Road Crew with guitarist Slash and drummer Steven Adler. The rest is history… kind of.
When Duff moved back to Seattle after leaving Guns N’ Roses in 1997, Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard (who credits 10 Minute Warning as the band that inspired him to first pick up the ax), convinced him to give the band another shot. Verwolf was in prison on drug-related charges, so Christopher Blue was recruited as the new vocalist and 10 Minute Warning was given a second life. This lineup finally recorded a nine track album for renowned Seattle label Sub Pop before disbanding.
As for The Fartz, Blane Cook assembled a new lineup of the band in 1999 who recorded the What’s In A Name? LP for Alternative Tentacles. The back cover of the album features an inscription that reads “Special thanx to Ex-Fartz: Paul Solger, Loud, Tommy Hansen.” It then humorously added, “We apologize for Duff.”