Guns N' Roses rocker tries new tune as businessman

By | July 4, 2007 at 6:06 AM

With his ragged mane and heavily tattooed wiry frame, former Guns N’ Roses bass player Duff McKagan looks every bit the rock star. But the 43-year-old musician doubles as a savvy investor, overseeing a diverse portfolio ranging from property and stocks to vintage guitars.

While he draws the line at donning a suit and tie, McKagan also runs the business affairs for his new band, Velvet Revolver, which just released its second album, “Libertad.”

“I do everything I can do so this band doesn’t get ripped off,” said McKagan, who subscribes to the online edition of The Wall Street Journal, and constantly checks his BlackBerry for the latest financial headlines.

“We’re the last ones to get paid. We work pretty hard for the money we make.”

With the recorded-music business in a tailspin, due largely to Internet piracy, bands have to be financially creative, McKagan said in a recent interview.

Velvet Revolver’s first release, “Contraband,” debuted at No. 1 in the United States and sold 3 million copies worldwide.

That is equivalent to 10 million copies in the late ’80s, when Guns N’ Roses burst on the scene, he estimated.

That’s a lot of lost revenue, but the situation is not hopeless. Licensing deals for commercials, movies, ringtones and videogames can help make up the shortfall.


McKagan got involved in business after leaving Guns N’ Roses in 1994. He was frustrated by the behavior of singer Axl

Rose, and then his pancreas exploded following years of alcohol and drug abuse. Freshly rehabilitated, the high-school dropout studied finance at Seattle University, enrolling under his real name, Michael McKagan.

He occasionally had to sign autographs for some alert kids, but his cover remained largely intact. He is 15 credits shy of graduating.

Unlike his classmates, McKagan already had plenty of real-world experience. Guns N’ Roses’ 1987 debut, “Appetite for Destruction,” is one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, with worldwide sales of more than 20 million copies. The 28-month world tour for the two “Use Your Illusion” albums released in 1991 played for 7 million fans.

McKagan, who co-wrote such tunes as “Paradise City” and “Civil War,” stashed his money in low-risk Treasury bills.

“We didn’t know what money was,” he recalled. “I didn’t know how to invest in stocks or anything back then. So I just didn’t.”

These days, his strategy is diversification.

“I have mutual funds. I have a lot of individual stocks.

I’m across the board, really well diversified. And then real estate has been a thing for me.”

But rather than “flipping” properties for quick profits, McKagan holds on. He has interests in Los Angeles, Seattle, Hawaii — “wherever I see fit.”

He says he was also an early investor in Google Inc., whose stock has quintupled in three years. But he avoided speculative tech stocks, and certainly did not “freak out and sell everything after the dot-com crash” of 2000-02.

Closer to his heart is the “massive” market for musical instruments. He noted that a 1959 Les Paul Sunburst guitar in good condition is worth $400,000.

He declined to detail his holdings or estimate his net worth. But he’s not shy about sharing his expertise with his wife, Susan, and their two preteen daughters.

“We all played Monopoly last night. Great. Nothing better than that that, the four of us sitting around playing Monopoly.”

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