Player Spotlight – Billy Duffy


“My relationship with Ernie Ball goes back a long way in that I’ve used their strings since forever. In fact, I honestly can’t remember ever using any other stings in all the years I’ve been playing, right since high school. I even said at one point “Does anyone else even make strings?”

A post punk setting on the violent streets of an almost apocalyptic Manchester a true working class hero and master of his craft gracing no apologies with real rock ‘n’ roll attitude to the max.

This editions guitar player is a true innovative artist who was part of that was both genre defining and genre creative , Post punk, rock, goth, metal there is no way to truly describe this artist and his catalogue of music.

A tyrannical iconoclast of a character who very much wears his heart 💔 on his leather sleeve, such procreativity and expression is always turbulent but always real and never less than pure adrenaline. A generational influencer with no intention to influence, his melodies and unique playing style are the backdrop to a generation past and present.

Often imitated but never replicated – Mr. Billy Duffy 🤘 

Photography Credit – https://ernieball.co.uk/thepursuitoftone/billy-duffy

MANCUNIAN POST PUNK

12th May 1961 at St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester a cult rock ‘n’ roll working class hero entered the atmosphere.

Growing up throughout the 1960’s iconic and timeless musical history was embedded into Duffy’s bones. Hailing from solid and true working class roots Billy and his approach to music and creativity has always been raw and instinctive, this signature attitude is what defines him as such an influential musician.

Coming-of-age in the early 1970’s Duffy projected his interest into guitar as somewhat of an impulsive but nature progression.

He generally states his early inspirations to gravitate towards the guitar as the soundtrack to his formative years. Influenced by the music of Queen, Thin Lizzy, The Who, Aerosmith, Blue Öyster Cult, and the early work of Led Zeppelin.

These were the artists shaping the musical landscape of the time and had their indent on the masses. But the turning point for Billy and many others came towards the late 1970’s with the unannounced & uninvited arrival of Punk! 🇬🇧 

New York Dolls, The Stooges, Buzzcocks and The Sex Pistols, as well as AC/DC who many cite as a proto-punk outfit ⚡️ .

A great interview Q&A back in 2014 via Billy’s main site really broke down and fully disclosed his early journey with the 6-string and how his self taught ethos paved the way.

Image – https://www.billyduffy.com

Q. What did you have in terms of guitar lessons? I’ve heard a lot of folk say they just picked up the guitar and that was it but when you read between the lines they were a classically trained guitarist or pianist. Did the punk mentality shine through.? Chris Bray (also asked by Adrian Alden)

Billy: “When I first started with friends in my high school band it was literally jamming and learning off each other. In fact I was in a band before I could actually play!

I learnt chords from The Animals ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and bizarrely the first thing I ever tried to learn to play on guitar was slide which I was terrible at but it seemed to me that it was something that you only needed one finger for!

I originally learnt to play lead guitar by buying a magazine called ‘Improvising Rock Guitar’ which came with a flexi disk on the front of it. I remember that the guitar player was a guy called Pat Thrall and there were two songs, one was a ‘Black Magic Woman’ Carlos Santana type homage and the other was a little more blues rock. 

This is a bit of a confessional now… after ‘Electric’ and before ‘Sonic Temple’ I felt that I wanted to improve and challenge myself so had a kind of ‘lesson’. Up to that point I had just made it up as I went along but at that time I felt that I didn’t have enough knowledge of how lead guitar should be done.

I met a guy called Kurt (who I’m still friends with) who was playing with Steve Jones at the time. He was also a guitar teacher and I went round to his house and I wouldn’t call it a lesson as such but I just wanted to be shown a few things and new ways to approach the guitar. When I suggested getting together to jam I think he was a bit freaked out by it as I was already a pretty successful guitarist at that point. I didn’t want to be so arrogant to think I’d got it all figured out so we just jammed and I learnt some stuff off him.”

https://www.billyduffy.com/stories/ever-question-afraid-ask-part-1/

Pre gig on the Electric 13 Tour. Photo by Mick Peek

THE CULTURE & THE CULT

Never one to stand still or shy away Duffy immersed himself in various bands and projects straight from the word go even before he could play guitar to any considerable level. He’s the type of character to just embed himself in a situation and roll with it.

It was a chance meeting of two visionaries within a similar scene that culminated the formation of an era-defining songwriting partnership.

In April 1983 Billy Duffy crossed paths with a certain Ian Astbury.

Both had been involved in various bands and projects and Duffy was actually involved in a band called The Nosebleeeds with a then undiscovered Morrissey.

Around that time it has also been noted in Mancunian folklore that Billy Duffy was a key inspiration to the now incredibly iconic Johnny Marr. 🎸 

Astbury & Duffy from the ashes of past projects formed a strong and naturally productive songwriting partnership at blossomed with creativity and innovation.

Initially labelled “Death Cult” they transitioned into a fusion genre and were identified as post-punk goth rock.

“According to music critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine, the band fuse a “hardcore punk revivalist” sound with the “pseudo-mysticism … of the Doors and Uriah Heep and the guitar-orchestrations of Led Zeppelin and The Cure … while adding touches of post-punk goth rock”.

In 1985 Astbury said, “Our music is just melodies and guitars. We’re like Big Country and U2, only better!”

Quote – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cult

Image – https://www.sonicboomrecords.com/blog/2019/10/24/staff-picks-the-cult-sonic-temple

The band found their voice and identity and would soon become international bestselling artists.

The music was melodic haunting and most importantly breakthrough in regards to genres and a new wave movement.

Sounds encapsulating many inspirations but not one identity could be pinned down on them and that’s exactly the way they liked it.

Punk ethos throughout and artistic freedom resulted in intense creativity and a back catalogue that is the soundtrack to era.

Of course, personalities as they are, there were many turbulent times within the group and they definitely had their fair share of break ups and make ups.

All this aside the the catalogue of work speaks far beyond politics within the band, regarded by many as one of the most iconic bands of not just the generation but of all time.

It’s this level of status that has cemented Billy Duffy into the world of the unassuming & unintentional guitar hero heroism.

What a track this is !!!! 🤘 

SIGNATURE INFLUENCER 🦅 

“A working class hero who has owned the biggest stages in the world and delivered without mercy. As rock dissolves into a patchwork of ragged styles and fading icons, Duffy holds himself with an integrity, sensitivity and ferocity that few can match. He is one of the greatest living guitar heroes of the 20/21st century, often mimicked, never matched. I have witnessed other players take a step back when he straps on the Falcon, big boys’ rules.”

https://ernieball.co.uk/thepursuitoftone/billy-duffy

Billy has always come across as a really humble guitar player and completely understates himself and his ego. His character as a guitarist is absolutely epic, the tone he gets and the riffs he plays.

His tasteful, melodic playing style really adds depth to the songs and sends the listener into a whirlpool of harmony driven by perfectly gauged use of effects to wash over the message and the sentiment.

Between imagery and sonic performance it’s still hard to this day to truly drop The Cult into a definitive styles and genre.They are very much their own entity. ✌️

Fans and guitar players alike are fascinated and rightfully so!

You can just feel the respect for him as a players’ player here on his Q&A session back in 2014.

Q. Hi Billy do you have a device that you save riffs on for future use because you must have times that are productive. – CTID Andrew Hamilton (also asked by Jesse Sanchez)

Billy: “Yes, that’s exactly how I work. The riffs just come up when they come up and these days I just record them onto my iPhone and name them. I can have 40, 50 ideas, maybe more, just stored on my iPhone but I never sit down and think “right, I’m going to write a riff today”, they usually just come out and I reach for my phone and think “that’s interesting, where did that come from”.

In the past I used a Sony Professional Walkman which was a cassette Walkman that had a really, really good quality stereo mic built in. I still actually own it and I actually stumbled across it the other day in the deep recess of a closet.

So I’d record my riffs onto tape with that and The Cult (like most bands back then) would pass cassettes back and forth. Rehearsals would be recorded on cassettes too.

But times have moved on and The Cult have definitely hit the digital age as now I can email my iPhone recordings to the guys.”

As a guitarist Duffy is considered a real inspiring hero, as with all good guitar icons he has his own signature guitar model which is epically modified to his requirements and is the working man’s Gretsch.

STRING LOYALIST 🎸 

Duffy is very much a working class working man’s guitar player, and even know what he lays down to track is very flamboyant but tasteful.

He has the punk ethic with an artistic new romanticism of Goth perfection.

String choice has always been decisive strong and loyal. Billy puts all his trust and beliefs in the one and only Ernie Ball.

“I’ve been with Ernie Ball since time immemorial, and they’ve got these new power wound ones (Ernie Ball Paradigm). They also make extra-long length ones, for the Falcon, for me, just because the length is incredible, so the D and the G, they go…”

– https://www.guitarguitar.co.uk/news/140868/

Billy Duffy plays Ernie Ball guitar strings

Like many seasoned players Billy shifts between gauges but always sticks to the same brand.

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it I think is the motto here and the right strings from the right brand that you stay true to and have written incredible material on always seems like a spiritual way to keep going. 😎 

“I was like Superman, I was using elevens. Live, we’ve been half a step down since like ’89 I think, we went half a step down because it sounds heavier. I went back to using tens because it was just killing my fingers. In the end I was just like ‘I don’t need to be a hero’, so I just use tens.”

https://www.guitarguitar.co.uk/news/140868/

As we discover Duffy is pretty much set on Ernie Ball Power Slinky gauge but as you can see dips down to the Regular Slinky as required.

He also has custom length sets for the Falcon provided to him personally by Ernie Ball HQ.

“When I’ve posted the pics showing the restringing a few people have asked how I get on with the Falcon being a long scale guitar. Well my “secret” is the “Billy Duffy Custom Length”  Paradigm strings that Ernie Ball make for me.

I still use @ernieball Regular and Power Slinkys too and have done since the 1970s.

@BillyDuffy – Twitter 

So what we’ve discovered from the great Billy Duffy is that he keeps his string choice simple and has open to the new technologies of Paradigm, custom built string lengths to do the job, from a workman’s point of view he just needs to get the tools working to create that epic sound!

Ernie Ball for life! 🤘 

* * * * *

References 

https://ernieball.co.uk/thepursuitoftone/billy-duffy

https://ernieball.co.uk

Bio

https://www.guitarguitar.co.uk/news/140868/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cult

https://www.gretschguitars.com/features/billy-duffy



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