Billy Duffy first started to play guitar at the age of 14, and by the late 1970s was swept up as the punk movement hit the UK. In 1977, he was the guitarist in The Nosebleeds with (Stephen) Morrissey, the future singer of The Smiths. They only played two gigs, but after one Billy was asked to join a new band, Studio Sweethearts, which was being formed by Mick Rossi of Slaughter and the Dogs. At a Patti Smith gig at Manchester Apollo in 1978, Billy introduced longterm pal and fellow Wythenshawe guitarist Johnny Marr to Morrissey, after which they went on to form The Smiths.
In 1981, Billy became friends with Ian Astbury, the frontman of Southern Death Cult, and ultimately this led to the two forming a new band together. Capitalizing on the momentum already achieved by Ian’s band, they initially debuted as Death Cult. After a series of fantastic live performances, it was decided to shorten the band’s name to The Cult. In January 1984, Jools Holland introduced the band on the UK TV show The Tube, where they performed their debut single, “Spiritwalker.”
As early as that record, 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. The Cult has since produced multiple hit records and singles. In between recording and touring with The Cult, Billy still finds time for regular visits back to his hometown of Manchester, where he can catch up with family and old friends, and usually see his beloved football team, Manchester City.
The first gig I ever did with The Cult was in a club in Oslo called Rats. We debuted the band outside of the UK because we wanted to work on our chops. We thought to emulate Led Zeppelin and play our first shows outside the critical gaze of the UK. In Oslo, they rented me a thing called the Roland JC-160, which I believe was a four 10-inch combo. So that was the first amp I ever used live in The Cult.
I use the JC-120 for my clean sound, and I’ve always used it in combination with a valve amp, l think 99 percent of the time. The chorus itself is really sweet. I experimented: I played the JC-160, and for a while I was using the JC head, because it was easier live, but it just wasn’t the same as the JC-120. And in the end, I just surrendered to the idea that the JC-120 with the 2x12 speaker setup—the way the phase works on the speakers—it’s a magical sound. I think it’s fair to say that all the major bands produced by Bob Rock, like the one that begins with the letter “M” and ends with the letter “A,” get a nice clean sound that’s fairly reminiscent of that, and I know for certain they use the Roland JC-120. It’s just a go-to amp for the clean sound and the chorus effect. As long as you remember to switch the chorus effect on, which one of my guitar techs forgot to do once, and he’ll live to regret that.
— Billy Duffy