[Photo courtesy of Heather Harris.]
If you hang out on the Los Angeles rock scene long enough, it’s likely that you will make some sort of acquaintance with the man, the musician, the legend, the Bruce Duff. Duff’s high visibility is probably due to his ability to wear so many hats in the music industry including journalist, publicist, band manager, engineer, podcaster, author, and actively gigging musician. It was a crisp, Fall day in Los Angeles when I submerged into the offices that lurk beneath the Federal Bar to find Duff at his 9-5 gig at Knitting Factory Management to see what he’s been up to lately.
A California native, Duff was born in the city of Riverside. His initiation into rock n’ roll wasn’t about the sex and glamour that lead some down that wayward path. Rather, when Duff was around 10, he was at a child’s party when he saw a boy, even younger than him, pick up a guitar and start playing. “He looked like a rock star on television,” he recalls. And so, Duff was off on his journey.
[Photo courtesy of Bruce Duff. Used By Permission.]
Duff started going to clubs and studying musicians in an effort to learn from and imitate bands who were “a year or two ahead of us.” When he felt he had gotten his style down, he started gigging in Los Angeles with his first band The Numbers. “We would bring a bus down,” says Duff. The band had opportunities to play legendary L.A. clubs like The Troubadour, The Whisky, Rock Corporation, and The Starwood. They witnessed the new wave and heavy metal explosion of the early 80s playing alongside bands like The Weirdos, The Dogs, The Skulls, as well as Tommy Lee’s Suite 19, Nikki Sixx’s London, and the original version of Quiet Riot.
While Duff spent a good deal of his night times honing his rock star skills, he was making a living working at a music store. One day, while working there, he was approached by the founder of a local newspaper who had found recent success in a publication that attempted to bond two warring local gangs. It just so happened that he was also a great music fan and was looking to expand into rock n’ roll. He asked Duff to be his editor. The inexperienced Duff readily agreed thinking, “Sure, I have a subscription to Rolling Stone. I can figure this out.”
Things were going well in Riverside, but it was just a matter of time until Duff decided he was ready to get out to the lights of Los Angeles. He moved out with a band member at the end of 1979, but soon found himself with a broken up band, his gear had gotten stolen, and he was selling first aid kits over the phone. No satisfied with his current predicament, Duff started leafing through a phone book when he came across a listing for Music Connection. Now armed with editing experience, he approached them about working there and they said, “Great, here are some things you can cover.”
Duff enjoyed his stint in music journalism and quickly moved from magazine to magazine, but was soon put in contact with a publicity firm called New Image. Ever the go-getter, he thought, “I can do this. Publicity is just taking journalism and flipping it backwards.” He secured his position there bringing in a little band called WASP. After that, it was all uphill as clients like Yngwie Malmsteen soon followed on their coattails. In the days of hair metal, things could not have been sweeter. “I didn’t have to pitch anything. People would just call me,” Duff remembers fondly.
[Photo Credit: Janiss Garza.]
In the meantime, Duff’s work as a musician was also looking bright as he managed to briefly ‘weasel his way’ into his favorite band 45 Grave. He was kicked out when their original bassist wanted back into the band, but the brief stint gave way to other band opportunities including Jesters of Destiny, Masters of Reality, Buglamp, The ADZ, Thor, and The Jeff Dahl Group. Although Duff had a lot of great opportunities with these bands and some landed record deals, none ended up breaking through to becoming household names, and so he settled down with long-time girlfriend Else and committed himself to “working more on producing records, playing around, and enjoying myself and putting out indie rock records [with the bands he’s playing with].”
And, as Duff’s musical career took a turn, it seemed his professional career had come to a crossroads as well. With the end of the hair band era, he was missing the swanky life of a phone ringing off the hook and being flown around the world to do band coverage. He had since moved on to the Knitting Factory, first as a publicist, but then taking on management responsibilities. At the same time, he saw that many of his friends were releasing rock biographies. With a long history in the rock n’ roll industry, Duff saw this as a possible career move for himself but didn’t want to follow the usual route of “cranking out bigger versions of the magazines.”
When Duff was bored while touring with The Jeff Dahl band, he began chronicling his touring adventures on the blank pages of his tour itinerary. He gathered the pages into book form called The Smell of Death and began shopping it. It was eventually picked up by Rare Bird publishing and can be found for sale on Amazon, where it has a five-star rating.
[The Smell Of Death by Bruce Duff.]
Duff seems to have found somewhat of a home at the ‘guitar rock wing’ of Knitting Factory Management where he is looking forward to new records coming out from his artists, Prima Donna and The Two Tens. He is currently playing rhythm guitar with The Street Walking Cheetahs and is looking forward to the release of an all new 30-year anniversary album with Jesters of Destiny, which is due to come out on Ektro Records in February or March of 2017.
When the long-time rock veteran was asked “Is rock dead?” he had this to say:
“It’s dead-ish. It’s like downtown L.A.; you wait around for years for it to come back strong and it finally did. I feel like rock’s pretty healthy, there’s a good fan base out there. I don’t want to sit behind a laptop and program music, I want to have a big amplifier behind me.” And of all the twists and turns of Duff’s career, he says, “If I die and they put the word opportunist on my gravestone, I couldn’t argue.”
To keep up with Duff you can buy his book here.
Listen to Duff’s podcast here.
Check out bands Duff has played with:
Check out some Knitting Factory Management bands:
Marissa Bergen is a Los Angeles-based musician and writer. “Spotlight On Local” focuses on independent underground artists in the hard rock, heavy metal, and punk genres.