Emerging from the violent streets of Manchester during the ‘real’ punk rock wars and rolling into post punk, death rock, hard rock and back. He has played with the best, Morrissey, Jagger, Iggy et al, this kid has done more than most could ever dream. He is peerless, a tyrannical perfectionist and iconoclast. In a world of self imposed savants and virtuosos, he has never been a self promoter leaving that for his live performances and studio recordings.
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.
His melodies and riffs have influenced a generation of players. Everything he has earned has been hard fought. I have watched him thrash his instrument until the blood splattered the virgin white of his beloved Gretsch Falcon, I have witnessed him throw his instrument in the air in a gesture of self-satisfaction after the performance he had just thrown down in front of a sweating, exhausted crowd only to see her crash on her tail and upright herself against his demolished Marshall cabinets, streaming ear crushing feedback.
The Cult have and shall always remain outside. While we live in a culture that celebrates the ‘tortured artists’ who martyr themselves and don’t have what it takes to survive, we rarely pay tribute to those who actually make it to the other side and surpass the fleeting years of self destructive youth. Duffy is amongst that handful who still have the piss and vinegar to rip it up.”
Ian Astbury – January 2013
Growing up in Manchester England…
Born on the 12th May 1961 at St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester. Billy spent his first few years in Hulme before moving to the Wythenshawe area of the City. He first started to play guitar at the age of fourteen and by the late 1970s was swept up as the Punk movement hit the city. In 1977 he featured as guitarist in The Nosebleeds with future singer of The Smiths (Stephen) Morrissey, they only played two gigs after one of which Billy was asked to join a new band, Studio Sweethearts, which was being formed by Mick Rossi of Wythenshawe’s Slaughter and the Dogs.
In 1978 at a Patti Smith gig at Manchester Apollo in 1978 Billy introduced long term pal and fellow Wythenshawe guitarist Johnny Marr to Morrissey, after which they went on to form The Smiths.
In January 1979 Billy decided to move to London to pursue his rock n roll dreams initially with Studio Sweethearts. It was in this band that Billy finally got to get his guitar sound onto vinyl when he played on the single ‘I Believe’ which was released in May 1979. After it became clear that they were not going to make it big time Mick Rossi reformed Slaughter and The Dogs and Billy spent a short time as guitarist in the Andy Blade Group (Andy was the ex singer of punk band Eater).
In 1980 Billy joined the group Lonesome No More, fronted by Koula Kakoulli whose sister was the wife of The Only One’s frontman Pete Perrett as well as the band’s manager. Billy’s second vinyl outing came on their single ‘Turned Insane’ released in April 1981.
At the end of 1981 Billy took up the offer to become the guitarist in the seminal band Theatre of Hate. This gave Billy his first real taste of music success including a tour support slot with The Clash, his first gigs outside the UK and his first time on TV, when he appeared on UK music show ‘Top of The Pops’.
After less than a year Billy had a mutual falling out with Theatre of Hate’s frontman Kirk Brandon and it was agreed that he should leave the band mid tour. It wasn’t all bad, as on this tour Billy became friends with Ian Astbury, the frontman of the support act Southern Death Cult, and ultimately this lead to the two deciding to form a new band together. Capitalising on the momentum already achieved by Ian’s band Southern Death Cult they initially debuted as Death Cult.
After a couple of singles and a series of fantastic live performances had helped raise the band’s profile and build a loyal fanbase, Billy and Ian decided to shorten the band’s name to The Cult. This was first announced to the world in January 1984 by Jools Holland as he introduced the band on the UK TV show ‘The Tube’ as they performed their debut single ‘Spiritwalker’. As early as this single Billy began establishing a distinctive sound with his choice of weapon, a mid 1970s Gretsch White Falcon, a guitar that he’d first bought when he joined Theatre of Hate.
For those about to Rock…
Whilst Billy’s guitar work with The Cult on their first two albums, ‘Dreamtime’ (1984) and ‘Love’ (1985), flirted with goth and ’60s psychedelia, he unleashed his affection for the metal-blues guitar sound of AC/DC and Led Zeppelin on The Cult’s third album ‘Electric’ (1987). Produced by the legendary Rick Rubin this progression into a heavier sound bought in a new larger fanbase particularly in the US.
In 1988 Billy decided to move from London to Los Angeles, where he began work with Ian on the band’s fourth album ‘Sonic Temple’, which was released the following year. This period saw The Cult’s success continue with the band now filling stadiums around the world. With the release of 1991’s ‘Ceremony’ the stadiums and crowds just got bigger and bigger.
Soon after, the Seattle grunge scene shook the world of music and the band responded with the stripped down, raw sound of ‘The Cult’ (1994). 12 years of intense hard work and constant touring finally took its toll and the band broke up in 1995.
By this point in his life Billy’s parents were getting quite old, so to be able to spend more time with them he moved back to England. For a short period in the summer of 1995 Billy played guitar in ‘Vent’, a band formed by his friend, and ex-Wonderstuff frontman, Miles Hunt.
Being back in the UK also meant he could catch up with many of his other old friends including Mike Peters ex of The Alarm. In this time hanging out with Mike naturally the guitars came out and these jams lead to songs which eventually became an album, the eponymous ‘Coloursound’.
New Millenium, gigs, gigs and more gigs…
In 1999 after their break from the band Billy and Ian felt re-invigorated and with the passion back The Cult were once again reborn. Very quickly a new recording contract followed and they began work on the album ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ which was released in 2001 shortly after they performed to 60,000 people at Atlanta’s Music Midtown Festival. This year also saw The Cult appear on the VH1 Storytellers special on The Doors. Ian developed a friendship with the original band members and took up their offer to sing with them on The Doors tour. Billy kept himself busy as he became the father to a daughter, Shiloh in 2002 and continued making music with friends and playing gigs with Cardboard Vampyres, Circus Diablo and Camp Freddy.
After this time apart Billy and Ian got back to working full time on The Cult at the beginning of 2006. After an intense period of gigging, songwriting and recording their 8th studio album ‘Born Into This’ was released in October 2007. More live shows followed including several support slots with The Who but Billy still found time to appear as a judge alongside Sex Pistol’s John Lydon on the TV series Bodog Music’s ‘Battle Of The Bands’.
Billy’s next few years were predominantly spent gigging with The Cult. This period included a tour to promote a remasted re-issue of 1985’s classic ‘Love’ album and featured a sell-out show at London’s Royal Albert Hall where they played the album in its entirety.
2010 saw more dates in United States, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan as well the release of ‘The Capsule EPs’, produced by Chris Goss, the first new songs from The Cult since 2007. This year also saw Billy appear on reality TV again, in the series ‘Married To Rock’ with partner at the time, AJ Celi.
After this long period mainly focused on gigging Billy and Ian spent most of 2011 in the studio working on their 9th album ‘Choice of Weapon’. Initially produced by Chris Goss and then completed by Bob Rock (Sonic Temple, The Cult, Beyond Good & Evil) ‘Choice of Weapon’ was released in May 2012 to critical acclaim from the rock press. In February 2012, Billy’s classic riff from The Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ was used as the soundtrack for a Budweiser commercial in a mashup with Flo Rida aired during Super Bowl XLVI. October 2012 saw the digital only release of ‘Weapon of Choice’ featuring the songs that were ultimately included in ‘Choice of Weapon’ but at a rawer earlier stage of development.
2013 kicked off in January with the launch of Billy’s signature guitar; the Gretsch G7593T Billy Duffy Falcon. Throughout his career Billy had become synonymous with the White Falcon and was honored to be given his own signature version by Gretsch.
July 13 saw The Cult release ‘Electric Peace’, a double disc containing both the Rick Rubin produced original ‘Electric’ album from 1989 and the never released ‘Peace’ album which was the earlier versions of the songs. This was followed by the ‘Electric 13’ tour with The Cult playing the 1987 album in its entirety to sold out crowds in the US. Fall sees the ‘Electric 13’ tour head to UK, Europe and then back to the US and Canada.
In between all the time spent recording and touring with The Cult, Billy still finds time for regular visits back to his ‘home town’ of Manchester where he can catch up with family, old friends and usually see his beloved football team Manchester City.