Why You Should Know Him
To find a guitarist/songwriter that can take blues-rock guitar technique and apply it cleverly to everything from punk to alternative to metal is to find yourself listening to the formidable talents of The Cult guitarist, Billy Duffy. With such classic hits ranging from the alternative rock anthem “She Sells Sanctuary” to the arena rocker “Love Removal Machine” and the classic MTV staple, “Fire Woman,” Duffy delivered the antithesis of neo-classical guitar that was favored by so many other guitar players in the world of hard rock in the ‘80s.
Creating the sound that he is recognized for was something that began when Duffy was 14. As Duffy grew up, he played with a variety of punk bands and in the late ‘70s, he encouraged Johnny Mar (of The Smiths and Morrissey fame) to make his debut joining Duffy in a band, The Nosebleeds.
As the punk movement seemed to die out, Duffy left his old band and joined The Theatre of Hate, during which time he impressed Ian Astbury, singer/guitarist of Southern Death Cult, to the point that they began a new band together. They started off as Death Cult, in a way giving Astbury’s band a final goodbye, but after their initial fame and fanfare, Duffy convinced Astbury to shorten their name to The Cult.
The song that convinced everyone that a new sound had arrived was their debut single, “Sleepwalker,” and from there, things only went up. By 1987, when their third album, Electric, came out, Duffy had helped change The Cult’s sound into a more mainstream metal sound. After the duo helped produce the Beastie Boys’ debut, Licensed to Ill, the two were off, once again, to explore a new musical direction.
In 1988, Duffy moved to Los Angeles with Astbury and there, along with bassist Jamie Stewart, they transformed their style from metal to stadium hard rock when they recorded their pivotal (and Platinum selling) album, Sonic Temple. Through this album, they found a much larger audience, but unfortunately, their next album, Ceremony, was to be the last major success for a while (it also achieved Platinum status) since it arrived just behind the grunge rock musical movement.
On The Cult’s debut song, “Spiritwalker,” as well as other epic songs such as “She Sells Sanctuary,” “Love Removal Machine,” and every other Cult song imaginable, there has only been one guitar associated with Duffy: his trademark 1970 Gretsch White Falcon.
In a recent interview, Duffy spoke of the deep love he has for this specific guitar, “I got my first Gretsch White Falcon in 1981. I love just looking at it,” he says. “I really like the Bigsby tremolo arm; it has this big, sweeping bar. I always thought those skinny whammy bar things were pretty disgusting. Neil Young used to play the Gretsch, and the Stray Cats guitarist, [Brian Setzer] had one so I got a double-cutaway stereo, but it actually sounded like dog dirt when I first ran it into my Fender Twin and the stereo didn’t work. Then I got another one, a single cutaway, and that was it. For me, it became kind of a trademark.”
Though this British guitar hero is a one-guitar man, he has quite the selection of amps to choose from, starting with a Gibson Skylark, followed by a Fender Champs, then a tweed Fender Bassman to a handmade Matchless to a Peavy 5150. Also thrown into the mix are some modified Marshalls [JCM 800s] that have “creamy distortions, not a really metal crunchy distortion.”
Duffy loves his trademark guitar, and he talks about the beauty of it and it’s uniqueness in this video:
Where Is He Now?
Astbury began seeing a downfall with the band’s new style, so after their Ceremonial Stomp tour in 1992, he tried to persuade Duffy to go back to the style they started with on their original The Cult album. Because of artistic differences, Astbury left Duffy and the band in 1995.
After that little incident, the band took a four-year hiatus. In 1999, Duffy reformed the band with Astbury. Things got even better when they received a new recording contract with Atlantic Records and a show during Atlanta’s Music Midtown Festival in May 2001, where over 60,000 people watched them perform, leading up to the release of Beyond Good and Evil.
Their single to promote it, "Rise,” which reached #41 in the US and #2 on the mainstream rock chart, was pulled from radio rotation only a week after the album’s release by Atlantic, which quickly destroyed its relationship with the band as it halted support for the new record. This proved to be another insurmountable setback that drove Astbury from the band and when he accepted an offer to sing for The Doors, it sent The Cult once more into a hiatus.
However, Duffy is a trooper and the continuous hiatuses never stopped this musical genius from letting his passion pour out of him and into the notes that would lead to a musical revolution.
Duffy created a new band, Circus Diablo and they recorded an album with Duffy playing lead guitar and former Cult touring bass player Billy Morrison handling lead vocals as well as bass duties. Former The Almighty frontman, Ricky Warwick, played rhythm guitar and former Cult and current Velvet Revolver drummer, Matt Sorum, also played on the record.
After the album was complete, former Fuel member Brett Scallions became the bassist so Morrison could focus on being the lead singer. Then, Jeremy Colson (formerly with Steve Vai), was brought in to be the band’s drummer. Then with the new band freshly organized, Duffy left in 2007.
Duffy has had many public appearances including an impromptu gig in 2012 where he performed with Sammy Hager and Michael Anthony at Cabo Wabo Cantina for Hager’s birthday in Mexico. He has also appeared multiple times between 2012 and 2016 with the Kings of Chaos.
In February 2016, Duffy celebrated his 10th studio album release with The Cult known as Hidden City. That very same month heralded a ton of excitement for Duffy, stating in a blog release that, “February also saw the start of the ‘Alive in the Hidden City’ dates and over the course of this year it’s seen us play more times than in any year since 2001!!!”
Billy plans to do more shows with The Kings of Chaos until it is time to go back on the road with the Alive in the Hidden City tour.