A few weeks after interviewing Ian Astbury, the cosmic soul of The Cult, GLIDE
was able to talk with the band’s so called “nuts and bolts”: guitar player Billy Duffy. Possessing a fun sense of humor, Duffy was excited about the band’s new record Choice Of Weapon
and the tour that was just getting underway when we spoke. But first on his agenda was soccer.You are a major soccer fan. Has that been since you were a child?
I don’t think I’m any more major than a lot of guys from the UK. I mean, it’s a little more different in the US cause soccer is not such a big sport but I’m a pretty big fan. I’m not like obsessed but I did fly back to England to see a game though. It was a monumentally historically important game.How did your team do?
We did well, we did good. We nearly didn’t do good and then we did good in the last minute. It was kind of a fairly historic day. But it would have been a real bad week if it had gone the other way.What made it so important?
Well, it was just to win a trophy, a title, but my team hasn’t won one. If you imagine the Red Sox curse, my team is kind of like that, where we’ve had a curse for a long time and not really won anything until recently. And this is a big thing to win and they had to win this game. If they did it, it’s the first time they would have won it in forty-four years. So I had to go back and be there - my team is Manchester City - and in typical Manchester City style we nearly bungled it, you know. We nearly lost the game that we should have won easily and we only managed to win it in overtime by scoring two goals in actual injury time, which is fairly almost unheard of in soccer; it’s very rare. I almost witnessed a miracle. Me and about 50,000 other people were at the game and there were hundreds of millions watching on Tv around the world cause it’s a very popular sport on Tv, you know. So that’s my little soccer bit.Did you play when you were a child?
Most English kids play soccer at school. That’s all we do. Before I discovered music all I ever did was kick a ball around.Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Manchester in England. I was born in the center of Manchester. My parents moved out to kind of the suburbs of Manchester in the south and I grew up in just a normal kind of upbringing. I liked soccer and I used to kind of ride bikes and go fishing and I played a lot of soccer and that’s the main thing you identify growing up in England. And in a town like Manchester where you have two soccer teams, you’re either a fan of one or the other. It kind of defines you in some respect and my family happens to be Manchester City, which was the blue team, and I grew up pretty much defining myself with that. But then I got into music and punk rock happened and it was like, wow, punk rock, interesting thing, wow, being a guitarist isn’t a fantasy, I could really do this. So punk rock sort of changed my life. I left high school when punk was happening in 1977.When was the first time you picked up the guitar? Was it because of that?
It was prior to that. I picked it up just cause I wanted to. Every kid back then wanted to be a guitar hero, pretty much. It was only like five years after Jimi Hendrix had died. I mean, you’re talking 1975 probably; 1974 or 1975. And just everybody at school loved music, you know, and half the people in school wanted to be in a band. And I wasn’t even the best guitar player in my neighborhood but I got lucky or I worked hard and I made it. But yeah, that’s all I ever wanted to be, really.
I read a book once by a guy called Ian Hunter. He was a singer in Mott The Hoople and he wrote a book called Diary Of A Rock N Roll Star and it was just a very simple tour diary from an American tour where he kind of went on tour and was hanging out with Bowie and Lou Reed and Iggy Pop and doing gigs around America and various things. It was kind of amazing. I just read that book and thought, I kind of like that lifestyle, I could do that. I didn’t want to be a singer, I wanted to be the guitar player, who was Mick Ralphs who ended up being in Bad Company. And I was like, yeah, that’s cool: meet girls, travel the world, have fun, get paid. And it’s like, be careful what you wish for cause that is pretty much exactly what happened to me (laughs)Would you say all these years have been good to you as a musician?
Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely. I’ve been really lucky and blessed and I get a lot of satisfaction out of what I do. So I have no complaints. You could always think The Cult maybe could have been a bigger band, but it also could have been a lot smaller.What was your first guitar and how did you get it?
Every guitar player remembers their first guitar. My first guitar was a black Les Paul copy cause obviously I couldn’t even dream of affording an American made Gibson Les Paul guitar like all my heroes played. But I got a cheap Japanese copy from a guitar store on Deansgate in Manchester. My dad bought it for me and I think it cost thirty-five pounds, which would be roughly, give or take, about sixty bucks, and that would have been sometime in the early 1970’s.What happened to it?
Oh well, you know in those days you couldn’t really get a new guitar without trading your old guitar. I was still in school so I didn’t have a job. I just had pocket money. So that guitar got traded against a slightly better guitar maybe that I managed to convince my dad to buy me or whatever. It’s kind of like cars. You trade in that one and get the next one and you keep trading up theoretically. So that’s how it kind of started for me and it wasn’t that long till I got my first Gibson. I mean, I worked pretty hard and I think I actually got a real Gibson Les Paul by about 1980, I think. So it took me five or six years maybe seven at the most, to go from a cheap Japanese guitar to a real American one.And you are still playing Gibsons.
Yeah, I play Gibsons and Gretschs, primarily, yeah. That’s 95% of my guitars. I have a couple of others but they’re not significant.How many guitars do you think you have?
I don’t know. I’m not a hoarder with guitars. They’re mostly functional but I’ve kind of got a few more lately. The big white Gretsch that I use, we’re going to be making a signature model of that and it’s going to be for sale next year. But I’ve probably got maybe twenty guitars.Wow, that’s not near as many as some of the other guys I’ve talked to.
Oh I’m sure. Like I said, I’m not a hoarder. I’m a reasonably minimalist guy by nature. I don’t like a lot of clutter. I don’t just have stuff for the sake of having it so I’m similar with my guitars. If I don’t really like them or I don’t really play them that often, I usually end up selling them, which sometimes can be a mistake (laughs). But for the most part I also have the same guitar that I bought in 1982. I have a couple of guitars that are very dear to me just for the emotional connection I’ve got with them cause I’ve had them around for so long and to me they’re priceless just because of the attachment and what the guitar and me have been through for the last thirty years.What was it like the first time you got up on a stage and played guitar in front of an audience?
It was just a high school band and all I can remember, and we are talking a long time ago now, they used to let us have one of the classrooms after school and we used to rehearse in the high school and I think my first public performance was literally at a high school dance thing. I think they had invited like local old folks (laughs), one of which lived next door to my mom, I believe. So it’s probably true that my first gig was in my high school in the kind of gym/hall area. Probably like most guys in bands, same deal, but the audience was kind of invited and were all old folks.Who was the first rock star that you ever met?
That’s a good question. I met some rock stars before they became rock stars, like Morrissey. I was in a band with Morrissey before he was in The Smiths. We used to go to gigs together. But the first person I think I met, I think it might have been Johnny Thunders, who used to be in a band called the New York Dolls. At that time he had his own punk rock band called The Heartbreakers who were popular in the UK and he gave me a guitar pick. We didn’t really like hang out but he gave me a guitar pick and he was on the phone, a pay phone, in the lobby of a venue in Manchester, England, and he gave me a guitar pick out of his pocket and I still use that brand of guitar pick now, except that they make them for me in my own color and my own name on them. But it’s the same pick, same weight, same thing. So I think that’s one of my earliest memories of meeting somebody who was kind of like my idol, you know. And I loved all that, the New York Dolls, loved Iggy, loved all that kind of music. I was very big on Bowie, Roxy, Iggy, Stooges, the Dolls, some other stuff.We talked to Ian last month and he told us about some of the songs off the new CD and his philosophies and thoughts on the world situation.
See, he does all that stuff. I’m more the nuts and bolts guy. I’m like the engine room guy. I’m down there with the engine making sure everything is running and doing the maintenance.What about playing the new songs live?
The big acid test of a band is you play the new music live. I know a lot of the audience hasn’t heard much of it because they can only have really heard “Lucifer”, which we kind of released as a teaser track on the internet. You could listen to it for a limited period of time but nobody could download it. And then obviously “For The Animals” has been released as what people would call a single, whatever that means these days (laughs). But now stuff is out and people are hearing it on the radio and on the internet and obviously on YouTube. These days people can see us playing some of the new songs cause we did them at SXSW in March. And the songs went down great so we’re very enthusiastic. You know the last thing you want to do is play songs from the new album and people are like, “Oh dear, play a hit, this is killing me.” (laughs). But that happens. I’ve been in the crowd when bands do that. So we try and mix it up.
We think the new songs are really strong and exciting and I think we’ve made the album that the Cult fans wanted us to make and I think as a result it’s going to be good fun times playing the new songs. It invigorates the band. There are certain songs of The Cult that I never mind playing, like “She Sells Sanctuary” or “Rain”. I could play those songs forever. But there are certain other songs from certain periods that while people might like them, I’m not personally as crazy about playing them. It just depends. So it’s great to have new music and have a tour and a new purpose to go out there. Obviously there will be some old hits thrown in and mixed up in the bag but it should be a fun night out. We’ve got two great opening acts so it’s a nice package. People get good value for money. We’ve got a lead singer who has changed gender in Against Me, so that’s an exciting thing. Never could have a simple tour with The Cult (laughs)Do you have a favorite song on the new record that you’re looking forward to playing live?
I like playing “Honey From A Knife” cause it’s just like the kind of punk rock/rock & roll song. I like playing all of them, really. I mean, “Lucifer” is a bit of a work out for me. It’s very busy on the guitar so I don’t get a lot of chance to kick back and relax. But we got to do that. I like playing a song called “Embers”, which is included on the album package, not on the plain album. But I enjoy playing that one cause it’s really quiet and I get to kind of play some introspective guitar. I really look forward to that every night, like, “Oh it’s coming up, I can take a breather,” (laughs) cause I like loud guitar music as much as the next fellow but for me it’s nice to be able to play that one and actually not be such a punch in the face type of deal.
So is touring what you have planned for the rest of the year?
Well, I think so. We’ve got a few months of it. We should be thankful that people really want to come see us so hopefully we can keep it going for a while. I’d like to come up with a really exciting answer, like we’re all going to get on a capsule and orbit the Earth (laughs) but you make a record and then you go out and play it and you take it to Serbia, you take it to Romania, you know what I mean. And you have to connect with the Cult fans and we’ll be in Portugal, we’ll be everywhere; Australia and New Zealand early next year probably. The usual. It’s what everybody does if you’re lucky enough to be able to go out and play and people want to see you.
I like doing festivals, enjoy the juxtaposition. It’s inconvenient as a musician because you sometimes have to compromise how long you can play and what soundcheck, if any, you get. There are a lot of compromises at festivals but I love playing with different musicians and playing to crowds that might not be Cult fans and seeing the reactions and mixing that up with regular Cult gigs, which is kind of playing the home game, you know. You pretty much know everybody through the door is going to like what you do unless you really suck and we don’t (laughs) so that is usually going to be good. Then it’s a question of how good can we make the night, how special can we make it, and that’s the challenge there. So I look forward to all that stuff. I could take or leave traveling. Flying sucks these days, it’s no fun. I mean, it’s the worst. It used to be fun and I used to look forward to great airports and planes, brilliant, we can have a laugh, it’ll be great (laughs) and now it sucks.Is there anything you would like to say to all your fans who have stuck by you for all these years?
What I would like to say to the fans? I’d just like to give them all a big cuddle. Thanks for being there and one long big group hug. We should have a big Cult cuddle time (laughs). And we have a great new album out. It’s been a couple of years getting it together but I’m excited and hopefully we can keep that energy going. Next week we sit down with Leigh Kakaty and Matt DiRito of Pop Evil.