By Jeb Wright
Of all the matches seemingly made in heaven, Mötley Crüe’s 12-show residency at The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas is at the top of the list. The over-the-top glam-metal group was seemingly in its natural habitat amid the bright lights, wild nights and anything goes attitude of Sin City.
Except, perhaps, for the quietest member of the Crüe, guitarist Mick Mars, who opened up on all things Mötley Crüe, including what it was like to become the heavy metal equivalent of Elvis.
“The Elvis Presley of Metal, that’s pretty funny,” Mars chuckles. “We are like the metal Rat Pack. We are the very first metal band that has done a 12-day residency in Las Vegas; this set another milestone for Mötley Crüe. Vegas has changed a lot, and rock bands now want to play there. We got lucky, and we got the residency at the Hard Rock.”
Many Crüe diehards figured that Mötley Crüe stayed at the Hard Rock to help out Mars, as it is well known that he suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, a filamentary arthritis that can’t be cured. The disease, with which he was diagnosed decades ago, has greatly limited Mars’ mobility and led to him having hip replacement surgery in 2004.
“I know it is a cool thing we did, but for me, personally, I like to jump on the bus every night and go around and see the whole world,” Mars said.
Mars, who turned 61 on May 4, refuses to let his debilitating disease dictate his life. He even jokes about his physical stature, which has changed due to the illness.
“I am able to keep touring. I have days that are worse than others, and there is always some amount of pain with my hips. There are good days and bad days, but it is more of an inconvenience than anything else,” he says. “I don’t feel sick.
“There are a lot of people that go around that suffer from this type of thing, and they go to their doctor, and he tells them that they will be in a wheelchair. My advice to them is to go to another doctor, because he is wrong,” Mars continues. “There are some things about this thing that I’ve got that are not so cool, but there is one thing that is cool: I ended up bent. I can always see my guitar.”
While Mötley Crüe enjoyed its time in Vegas, the band isn’t ready to become a lounge act just yet.
“We have a lot of things in the works. We want to do more things, like Crüe Fest,” he says.
The days of ‘album-tour-album-tour’ are over, due to the changing and volatile record company environment.
“The music business is really tweaking out and getting weird. I think it is ridiculous what is happening,” Mars says. “I think the future will have to see bands put together really cool packages that will be worth it for people to go see.”
Writing songs for Mötley Crüe remains Mars’ top priority.
“As far as new music goes, I can tell you that I am writing a bunch of new material. Nikki [Sixx] is writing a lot, as well. I am hoping that we will have a new record out by 2013,” he says. “I’m an old-school guy, and everything that I write, I always ask, ‘Will Mötley Crüe be able to play this onstage?’ If the answer is ‘No,’ then I scrap it for Crüe, but I put it away. I have to feel really good about what I’m doing or I go back and start from scratch.”
Mars has had no trouble finding other outlets for his creativity.
“I have written some stuff with James Durbin from ‘American Idol,’ ” he shares. “I’m the only guitar player that he wanted to play on his record.”
And, the rumors are true: Mars is working on a solo project.
“Everybody is saying that I’m doing a blues record,” he explains. “It will be a blues record, per se, but it will be more like how Edgar Winter interprets the blues. It will have a ’70s kind of feeling, but I will be writing in a more current style of music. I want to mix those two styles together.”
Mars would also welcome the opportunity to try other avenues of music.
“Some of the music I have been writing may not be good for a live situation, but it may be good for movies or commercials,” he says. “I wouldn’t mind getting into some television and movie stuff.”
While some musicians seemingly fall into the music business by accident, little Bob Deal (Mars’ given name) began plotting his career when he attended a 4-H fair in Indiana with his mother.
“I saw this country musician play at the fair; his name was Skeeter Bond, and he had on this orange outfit with sequins all over it, and he wore this large Stetson hat and he played guitar and sang,” Mars recalls. “I was 3 years old and I said, ‘That’s what I’m doing with my life.’ My mom cut my hair like Elvis Presley, and by 7 years old, I started picking at the guitar. I had every intention of being who I am today. It didn’t matter how many days, or years, it took, or how many dues I had to pay.”
As he reached his teenage years, Mars expanded his musical repertoire beyond flamboyant country artists.
“I got into surf music, like Dick Dale — I know Dick Dale, and he is a really cool guy. I have to tell you that it is really weird to meet the people that you studied growing up,” Mars confesses.
Surf music gave way to the The Beatles, who Mars, like many others, first saw on Ed Sullivan.
“I said, ‘Oh, this is something different.’ I kept moving on and studying things, and I found the Rolling Stones. I discovered Paul Butterfield and guys like Mike Bloomfield. I just kept moving on and checking out new musicians,” he says.
Mars quit high school and soon found himself in California, jamming with bands. He struggled and was successful, to a point. Finally, as the days turned to months and the months to years, he knew that if he continued down the same path he was on, his dream would never come true. He dyed his hair black, changed his name to Mick Mars and went looking for a group of musicians who shared both his lust for life and his passion for music.
“I was reinventing myself,” Mars confesses. “That particular look for the ’70s was a really good look, but things were changing, and I needed to change, too. I either could dye my hair bright orange or black; either one would have worked. The mustache had to go, as it was totally out of style.”
With a new look and a new name, Mars jammed with anyone who would let him plug his guitar into an amp and climb on stage.
“My plan was to quit playing in stupid cover bands. I used a lot of bands as stepping stones. I had a guy that really believed in me that wanted to put money into the cover band that I was in. I said, ‘No, don’t do that. I will find some other people.’ I put my ad in the paper, and it said, ‘Loud, rude, aggressive guitarist,’ and Nikki saw it and called me. I was playing with him, and then Tommy came in, and that is when I told Allen Kovac, ‘I’ve found a band.’ He had the money so that we could push everything together really quickly. We were really a bunch of hungry kids.”
Mötley Crüe was born, and Mars found himself hanging out with musicians nearly a decade younger than he was. The age difference was not a factor.
“My age wasn’t my age. I was 30, but I wasn’t thinking like a 30-year-old. I was thinking more like a teenager. I was hungry, and I wanted to make it. There were other guys like me who were 30 at the time, and they would tell me, ‘I’m happy just playing clubs.’ Well, now they are happy selling Kentucky Fried Chicken.”
Things progressed quickly for Mötley Crüe, and the band seized the opportunity to open Heavy Metal Day at the US Festival.
“It was very important for us. I believe, if I remember correctly, the guy that put on that US Festival actually went around looking for a new band to open the show. I don’t know if that is fact, or if it is just a legend, but I heard he went around to high schools and clubs and looked for a great new band, and we ended up being that band. The US Festival was the Woodstock of the West Coast; there were over 300,000 people there. It was definitely a huge milestone for us and helped us get noticed.”
With a cool look, a new sound and a batch of original songs but no record deal, Mötley Crüe recorded its debut album, “Too Fast for Love.” The band members sold cases of albums out of the back of their car after gigs, and the album began to get them noticed in the industry.
“For all intents and purposes, ‘Too Fast for Love’ was just a demo for us to try and get a record deal. Tom Zutat from Elektra, which is the record company that, when I was a kid, this is the honest-to-God truth, that both Joe Cocker and The Paul Butterfield Blues band were on, and I said back then that Elektra was the label that I wanted to be on. Elektra ended up being the place we signed. Another record company came in and offered us more money, but Elektra was the label I wanted to be on.”
The band was on the fast track for success. But before Mötley Crüe could take its leap of faith, it needed to do a lot of studio work to fix “Too Fast for Love” before it could be released on a national label.
“We started recording that just a few months after we were together,” Mars recalls. “I think we actually played one time live at the Starwood, and then we went in the studio. I found a studio and Michael Wagener, a friend of mine, recorded it. The guy that was the house engineer screwed everything up, so Michael had to go through it and fix it the best he could. Roy Thomas Baker then entered, and we had to go back in the studio and redo it again. We didn’t redo all of it, we just had to do little parts, and then Roy would fix it all. Shortly after that, we started recording ‘Shout at the Devil.’ ”
With the help of MTV, Mars and the rest of Mötley Crüe became rock stars. They ushered in the glam rock movement that invaded the Sunset Strip for the rest of the 1980s and provided the blueprint for other bands to follow. Mars, however, doesn’t believe that he was important to the scene.
“I really don’t feel like I am,” he admits, “A couple of people have said that to me before, but I don’t think I did anything special. I just did what I did, that’s all.”
Mötley Crüe went on to release the albums “Theater of Pain” and “Girls, Girls, Girls” and became the most popular metal band of the 1980s. Along with the money and fame came a hedonistic lifestyle that took backstage debauchery to a new level. Mötley Crüe’s members became as famous — if not infamous — for their sexual exploits, drug intake and outlandish behavior than their music.
For Mars, it was all in a day’s work.
“Any kind of publicity is good publicity. If we were in the newspaper, then I didn’t care what it said. Led Zeppelin were the same way. Their reviews were really bad, and they had tons of stories about how they behaved offstage. Guess what? Led Zeppelin was in the papers, and they became huge. It never bothered me what people thought of me.”
Living the wild life 24/7/365 is something most rock musicians have tried to do; nearly all have failed. For Mötley Crüe, everything changed in December 1987, when bass player Nikki Sixx was declared clinically dead of a heroin overdose, brought back to life with an injection of adrenaline delivered directly into his heart —which eventually led to the writing of the song “Kickstart My Heart.”
“When Nikki overdosed, I really didn’t know what to say to him,” Mars recalls. “I just said, ‘Well Sixx, that was a really good move.’”
The repercussions were not just physical.
“Our tour manager told us, ‘You get to call up the people in Europe and tell them that you have to cancel all of the tour dates because Nikki overdosed.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God; what am I going to say to them?’ I was already upset, because here is my bass player who OD’d and all I could do was tell him, ‘Dude, don’t do this sh*t. You’re going to get really hooked on this sh*t, and it’s going to get bad.’ ”
The band members’ outlandish behavior and accompanying consequences have been well documented. From sex tapes (Tommy) and substance abuse (Nikki) to brushes with the law and tragic deaths (Vince), Mötley Crüe’s members have paid huge personal prices for their success. Despite the craziness, or perhaps because of their survival of it, the band rebounded in 1989 with the release of the album “Dr. Feelgood,” the most successful of its career. Mötley Crüe’s members have gone on to careers outside of music, as well, authoring books and starring in reality TV shows (and as unwilling Internet sex stars) — all of which have marked them as iconic rock and rollers.
But as the least flamboyant and least publicized member of the group, Mars remains a bit of a mystery. When asked why he hasn’t made as many headlines as his band mates, Mars adamantly states, “I don’t believe in my own hype. I don’t need to have a tremendously huge ego and I don’t need to thumb my nose at people. That, to me, is total bullsh*t. I am a guy who loves to write and play music, and that is what I have been doing.”
Mars is the leader of the band, a fact to which he only begrudgingly admits.
“In a way [I am], but it is more like being a silent partner. Look, I love music but I do stay on top of the business end, because it is a business. I love writing music, traveling and getting paid to see the world, but you have to keep your eye on what is going on around you. We depend on each other for our livelihood. The guys have all done solo things, but nothing has come close to being what Mötley Crüe is for all of us.”
What’s next for Mötley Crüe? Who knows. One thing is for sure: Whatever the band does, it will be bigger and better than what came before. One project that has been under way for several years is a major motion picture based on the band’s best-selling memoirs, “The Dirt.” While nothing has been officially announced, Mars reveals that the band is in talks to make the book into a movie.
“It will be coming out as a movie. I don’t know exactly when, but we’ve talked to directors and producers, and it is in the works. It will happen,” he says.
When asked who would play Mick Mars, the soft-spoken guitarist reflects for a moment.
“If I really had my choice, and I could afford the guy, then I would pick Gary Oldman. I think he could pull me off,” he says.