Tales of Rock – How Sunset Strip Shaped Glam Rock and the 1980’s

The west coast of America has been a hotbed of hard rock talent over the years – many of whom were hellbent on self-destruction. Classic Rock takes a walk on the wild side with Van Halen, Poison, Mötley Crüe, and more.

Loosely translated, Los Angeles means the City Of Angels. But it’s been called many things in its time: a city of dreams; a city of destruction; Guns N’ Roses even famously immortalized it as Paradise City. And all these descriptions are entirely apt to one degree or another.

Over the years Los Angeles has seen its fair share of both angels and devils, and many of them with a shared passion for rock’n’roll. It’s a city without a center, a fragmented place held together by freeways and thruways, full of misfits and larger-than-life characters.

It’s the way it’s always been. And probably the way it always will be.

From the early 50s scene of surf bands that eventually morphed into the heady music that The Doors’ Jim Morrison turned into an art form in the 60s, LA’s Sunset Boulevard has always appeared on the radar as the ultimate place for misbehaving rock stars to congregate.

Fondly (or sometimes not so fondly) referred to as Sunset Strip, it’s the mile and a half of avenue that links Hollywood with the moneyed, upmarket neighborhood of Beverly Hills. If you’re looking for a definition, the Strip’s unofficial boundaries run to Crescent Heights Boulevard (to the east) and Doheny Drive (to the west). But what’s so special about this little corner of Paradise City?

Well, this section of wide-avenued west coast America houses a huge percentage of the famous rock clubs you’ve ever heard or read about in rock folklore: The Whisky A Go-Go, The Cathouse, The Roxy… It’s also the home of Sunset Strip Tattoo, the place where any self-respecting established (or wannabe) rocker goes to get some serious ink into their skin. They’ve all gone under the needle there, from Mötley Cruë to Guns N’ Roses to Billy Idol to nouveau wannabe bad boy Robbie Williams.

Blink and you miss it, but you’ll find it nestling among hotels across the road from the famous Hyatt House Hotel – the place nicknamed The Riot House in the 70s for all the right reasons. The Hyatt House was the place where all the rock stars would gather when they passed through town – everyone from Led Zeppelin to The Who.

Televisions got thrown through its windows; motorcycles were be ridden indoors; inappropriate acts took place around the pool. Little Richard lived there full-time. Blasting out and causing all sorts of chaos in the late 70s, Van Halen was the ultimate home-town heroes, arguably the first in a rash of party-hard rockin’ rollers that spawned the LA scene of the 80s. Four guys who lived life to the max.

 

Although Van Halen frontman, David Lee Roth was a transplanted New Yorker, he soon morphed into the ultimate California boy – the male equivalent of the good-time party girls he sang about with such enthusiasm in the Beach Boys song he co-opted in later years, California Girls.

Arriving in Los Angeles in the mid-70s, ostensibly to go to college, Roth soon hooked up with brothers Alex and Edward Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony. And upon the release of their debut record in 1978, things kicked off. And Los Angeles was always the starting point.

“It’s like, anything you desire you can find here – whatever your vice, whatever your sexual ideals. Whatever somebody else can’t do in his nine-to-five job, I can do in rock’n’roll,” a delighted David Lee Roth told Rolling Stone years ago. “I guess what I’m saying, man, is that I’m proud of the way we live. Not so much because of the records we sell or the money we make, but because of the party we’re going to have afterward to celebrate all that.”

Parties were on everyone’s agenda back then. It was all down to who could throw the wildest, most out-of-control bash. This was long before rock musicians got wise and healthy and had nothing stronger than mineral water and fresh fruit on their backstage tour rider. And Van Halen’s parties were known to be among the best in the business.

To that end, David Lee Roth was the first rock star to enlist the help of a full-time ‘Entertainment Officer’ while his band was out on the road. The parties were huge, with no shortage of beer, Jack Daniel’s, and girls. And for Roth girls were the most important ingredient.

“Most of what I do is because of girls. If girls didn’t exist I wouldn’t have this job, I wouldn’t bother with music. I wouldn’t even bother with breakfast,” Dave told Classic Rock. “My fantasies were always the girl next door. We started to see evidence of the professional groupie in the early eighties and, alarmingly, these girls bore a striking resemblance to Mötley Crüe. For me, the best groupies were the homecoming queens who were out on a lark; the preacher’s daughters out for a wild night.”

The wild nights were coming thick and fast. Roth and the rest would have their fill of girls, drink, and dope, and go on to play another day.

While the main ingredients of Van Halen’s parties of the late 70s and early 80 consisted of mostly booze and girls, other musicians were arriving in Los Angeles hell-bent on a far more destructive journey.

Steven Adler had lived in Los Angeles since he was 12 years old. By the early 80s he was still at school, but realizing that his ambitions were leaning towards music. Adler was a drummer, and one of his friends at school was a misfit kid, born in England. His name was Saul Hudson. Today we know him as Slash.

“We’d dip school nearly every day,” Adler told Classic Rock’s Mick Wall. “Me and Slash would walk up and down Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards, and each day we had this thing where we’d take a different type of alcohol and we’d walk up and down, up and down, and what we’d be talking about was how we’d be living when we were rock stars.

“It was like this dream that I always knew would come true. We’d go out and meet older women, who would take us back to their Beverly Hill’s homes. They’d give us booze, coke, they’d feed us, really.”

Slash and Adler lived the street urchin life until they got it together enough to team up with some friends to form a band. They hooked up with a band called Hollywood Rose, which had a frontman called Axl. The rest, as they say…

Another band that seemed to personify the hedonistic glamour of 80s Los Angeles was Poison. Four larger-than-life characters who were transplanted from the east coast – all big hair, Day-Glo clothing, and big songs about girls, sunshine, and parties.

“We didn’t want to be anything other than ourselves. We wanted it all – the cars, the girls, the fame, the money… Music had kind of sucked. It had no energy. But we were young and we were into the whole rock star ideal, and that’s what we pursued,” frontman Bret Michaels recalled in 2001.

“And in LA, the girls are amazing looking, you know,” Michaels continued. “If you were from Pennsylvania, it was just amazing! It was hot, and there were all these guys trying to get their thing going too. I mean, we’d have our flyers and we’d be handing them out on the street, and Axl Rose would be there too, and he’d be like, ‘Hey come and check us out, we’re called Hollywood Rose…’ It was just a great time, really.”

It seemed that all the bands plying their trade on Sunset Strip were somehow inextricably linked; it’s possible to play a twisted version of Six Degrees Of Separation – the parlor game that seeks to prove that any two people can be linked through various means, however nebulous – with any recognizable LA band.

But for the LA set, the links are solid. Just consider a few of them: GN’R’s Slash nearly ended up in Poison; Tracii Guns of LA Guns played with Axl, and gave his surname to Axl’s new band when Hollywood Rose imploded; Mötley Crüe and GN’R are linked thanks to a feud; Nikki Sixx played with Tracii Guns in Brides Of Destruction.

The link between Mötley Crüe and Ratt is stained with blood and steeped in tragedy. Both bands began their rise to the top at around the same time. Both bands had nailed the Hollywood bad-boy image – all tattoos, ripped jeans, preposterously big hair, and a snarling air of danger that seemed to precede everywhere they ended up. Crüe bassist, godfather, and spiritual leader Nikki Sixx seems to embody the idea of the quintessential LA rocker.

Tattooed, street-smart, and effortlessly exuding cool. Nonetheless, he is not without his battle scars – after all, on one fateful night in 1987 in LA (where else?) Nikki died. Upon returning from a fraught tour of Japan with the Crüe, Nikki chose to stop by his heroin dealer (the same guy who also dealt to Robbin Crosby of Ratt); having narrowly avoided being thrown into a Japanese jail following a bottle-throwing incident that took place on Japan’s world-famous Bullet Train, he needed to cut loose.

But what happened to Nikki on that dealer-visiting night isn’t exactly what he had in mind. Getting high is one thing, killing yourself is another, as Nikki recalls in the band’s infamous autobiography The Dirt.

Nikki: “He rolled up my sleeve, tied off my arm, and plunged the Persian into my veins. The heroin raced to my heart exploded all over my body, and in an instant I was blue. I lost consciousness. When I opened my eyes everything was a blur of light, color, and motion. I was on my back, moving through some kind of corridor. Sounds wooshed in and out my ears, unrecognizable at first until a voice slowly emerged out of the white noise: ‘We’re losing him, we’re losing him,’ it said.

“Above me, everything was bright white. I looked down and realized that I had left my body. Nikki Sixx – or the filthy, tattooed container that had once held him – was lying covered face-to-toe with a sheet on a gurney being pushed by medics into an ambulance.”

Nikki ‘died’ for two minutes but remarkably lived to tell the tale.

It wasn’t just the drink and the hard drugs that Mötley Crüe enjoyed. Unsurprisingly, girls played a big part in their formative years (and also much later); their documented on-the-road groupie shenanigans are nothing short of outrageous.

Nowadays they might all be married/attached and ‘responsible’, but for a long time, it was almost the polar opposite of that. For their huge MTV hit Girls Girls Girls, the Crüe employed some of the Strip’s finest, er, strippers to add a certain je ne sais quoi to the video that was shot to accompany the track.

“We’ve always liked underdogs, as human beings. Strippers are some of the hugest underdogs in the country,” Sixx explains – as if any explanation is necessary. “They have beautiful bodies, they’re a guilty pleasure. Husbands say to their wives: ‘I would never go…’ But the stripper business is worth billions per year. We always loved them.

“It was the ultimate place to go and hang out with beautiful women, drink and do drugs. That was the perfect evening. We’d start off at Tommy’s place, have a couple of shots of Jack, and off we’d go. It was sort of a free time.

“And the video represents that sense of freedom and youthfulness. The great thing is, that song will always be played as long as there are strip joints, man.”

With all the bands that were hanging out in the small clubs that littered Sunset Strip, there were always petty rivalries and worse ready to rear their ugly heads, and they often did.

The most infamous of all is the spat that developed between Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe. It’s a case that still hasn’t been resolved to any great degree today. And yes, it involved a girl. Vince’s wife, in fact.

The story goes that Crüe singer Vince Neil’s wife Sharise had been hanging out in a club, and GN’R guitarist Izzy Stradlin started hitting on her. Things escalated and ended with Neil punching out Stradlin backstage at the MTV Video Music Awards. That’s how the feud began.

Subsequently, a vicious war of words between the two factions raged in the pages of rock magazines, culminating in an invitation from Axl to Vince to meet for a fistfight in the parking lot of Tower Records on Sunset. The showdown never happened. But, according to Neil, the offer is still on the table.

“After Axl chickened out a half-dozen times,” Vince stated, “I went on MTV with a message for him. I said that if Axl wanted to fight me then he should do it in front of the whole world. We’d go three rounds, and then the world would see who the pussy was. But I never heard from Axl. Not that day, not that month, not that year, not that century.”

Bitter feuds were not limited to inter-band rivalry, either. Fights were beginning to break out within bands, usually triggered an excess of one substance or another.

Before their 1999 re-formation, Poison was well on their way to self-destruction, as Bret Michaels confessed to Classic Rock. “CC [DeVille, guitarist] was getting fucked-up and I was drinking,” he said. “He’s high, but I’m drunk. We were having rows, he slammed me, I slammed him. I ended up in a fistfight with my best friend – this was my best friend. We kept having really stupid arguments – stuff like his guitar was too loud for me to hear myself sing.”

While Poison has managed to iron out their internal difficulties, the camaraderie that might have existed in the past between fellow Los Angeles bands is not present anymore, as a posting by Nikki Sixx on the Brides Of Destruction website made clear when it was hypothesized that Brides would join a Kiss tour that Poison was currently on.

“No way in fucking hell would we [Brides Of Destruction or Mötley Crüe] ever, ever tour with a fucking band like Poison.” Sixx wrote. “We have had talks with Kiss and I told them very clearly that we would not do the tour if they used Poison. That would be the death of us. I will not be attached to that kind of fake bullshit.”

Of all the LA bands that have suffered, though, Ratt really picked up the bum hand when life’s cards were dealt. For much of this century, two versions of the band have existed, playing the retro circuit of America, but the excesses of the 80s have taken their toll. The various factions have been in and out of court, and in 2002 guitarist Robbin Crosby succumbed to Aids.

But now, twenty years into a supposedly sanitized new millennium, it’s come full-circle, with Guns N’ Roses returning to the stage and Motley Crue booking a huge reunion tour in the wake of the success of the movie version of The Dirt. Hell, GN’R might even release a new album.

Only in Hollywood, eh?

 

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California Dreamin’ – 1982 to 1984 – Karen – Old Western Style – Part 1

It all began when I walked into the Rainbow Bar & Grille on Sunset Strip to watch TV and grab a drink. (We couldn’t afford a TV back in those days.) I heard Lemmy from Motorhead drinks here so I figured I’d stop in. Every time I went there I was always hoping to see him there, sitting at the end of the bar drinking whiskey and playing the poker machine.

I had just come from working in the studio nailing down some tracks for a demo my band and I were working on. I wasn’t happy with the production and knew I had to clean up my lyrics.

I walked in to this bar and I saw one of the most beautiful women I had ever had the fortune to lay my eyes on; she was a tall, slender blonde sitting at one of the often empty tables laughing and smiling with her friends. During the day?

Naturally, from the moment I sat down I couldn’t stop looking in her direction. My eyes kept wondering, and my mind kept telling me that I should get up and introduce myself to her. As I watched the game I continued to muster up the courage to go talk to her. I’m 19 and even though I’m in a band, I suck.

Still no Lemmy.

After 4 innings of the baseball game on TV, I finally mustered up the courage to talk to her. Then, as I turned to get up from my seat I noticed that she was absent and her friends had also gone. My heart immediately sank to the depths of my stomach. I had missed my chance, and I probably would never see this woman again.

Then the most amazing thing happened.

As I returned my gaze, and saddened heart to the television behind the bar, I felt the sensation of soft hands on my face, and then immediately thereafter the softer lips. My eyes had closed at the touch of her hands to my face, so I couldn’t see her, but somehow I just knew it was her. I went with it, and kissed her as passionately as a man could kiss a woman he had never spoken to, and to my delight when I opened my eyes it indeed was her. I couldn’t believe this was happening! I’m blinking my eyes, my mind trying to process this impossible moment.

“What’s your name, dear?”

“Karen.” she whispered.

“You’re the guy with the black guitar in that band that played at the Troubadour last friday night, Right?”

“Umm… yea. I’m Chaz.”

After the kiss, I asked the young lady if she’d like a drink. She declined the offer to my amazement, and to paraphrase her response, she didn’t want me to buy drinks because she wanted me to know that what happened later was a result of her choice, and not because I bought her drinks.

“Okay…. Okay.”

We sat at the bar talking for a while. By the time we decided to leave the bar we had indulged in a several shots of whiskey, and a few hours of banter.

I had walked to the bar that day, so we decided to head to her house in her car. By this point, we were both pretty intoxicated so being the chivalrous man I am I offered to drive. (Idiot)

I was driving down Sunset when I saw the ominous glow of red and blue lights approaching from the rear. Was my time with this woman going to be cut to a short end by the officers in that car? I quickly decided that I was going to beat this case right here and right now. I pulled the car over to a gradual stop, rolled my window down about half an inch, and waited for the police officer to approach.

He came to the window and asked for my license and registration. This smoking hot baby fumbled through her glove compartment and retrieved the registration. She then handed it to me, and I offered it and my license through the crack in the window

“Here you go officer.”

He left to do what cops do, and it was then that I noticed that the girl had a glass of beer between her legs. I quickly instructed her to drink the entire beer and put the glass under her seat. (I didn’t even realize she had a drink in her hand when we left the bar!)

When the officer returned he told me that he suspected I was drinking, and asked me to get out of the vehicle. I did as commanded, and soon I was a competitor in several olympic events that nobody ever wants to participate in.

After the competition had ended, and I ended up winning the gold in the foot lift and count, the closed eyed nose touch, and the night light follow the officer told me that I was free to go. I don’t think I had ever been happier! Well except for about two hours before when that girl sitting in the passenger seat of the car I had been driving first laid hands on me.

But, before I got back in the car, the officer asked me to do a breathalyzer test without consequence to determine if I should get back in the car. I was skeptical, but I did the test. I blew a .09, and the officer was amazed, but he let us leave on foot after we locked the car up.

We began walking and once we had made it around the corner we broke up into hysterical laugh and started running towards her home.

To be continued in a couple of hours…

 

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California Dreamin’ – 1982 to 1984 – Dillon – The Girl That Just Couldn’t Hold It

I’ve told many people this story, and while I tend to find it rather funny, not a single person I’ve told can come up with a more ridiculous and awful experience.

We were each around 18-19 years old.  A friend of mine worked at a local arcade, and that’s where I met Dillon.

She lived about a half hour away and was in Los Angeles with a friend to do some shopping. We started to hang out and, of course, fell madly in love with each other. A few months later, I was still living at my apartment  but I kept a lot of my stuff at Dillon’s Mom’s house. I’m surprised Dillon didn’t get pregnant. Seriously. You’re going to let an 19-year-old boy hang at your house while he’s dating your daughter and you work all day? I must be sterile. Needless to say, things were going fine until…

One afternoon, we were having sex, and I smelled something foul. Not quite sure what it was, I asked her if she could smell it, too.

“Nope.”

Back to the pogo stick. After finishing, she rolled off, and I began to get up. Until I saw it. A mess of brown funk on my apple bag.

“What. The. Fuck. You fucking shit on me?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Well, what the fuck is that?”

“Maybe you shit on yourself.”

(Anger rising, nausea increasing.)

“My asshole is on the other side of my body.”

(Hurling is imminent, running to the bathroom.)

After showering for about a week, I went home. A few days passed with zero contact between the two of us — she would call, I would avoid the situation. Until she decided to call my house at three in the morning.

“You better come and get your shit out of my house or it’s going out with the trash tomorrow.” Define irony: The girl who pooped on me telling me to get my shit out of her house.

My buddy and I headed over there, blissfully unaware of the insanity that awaited.

We pull up, and she’s standing at the door, salivating. She runs out of the house, spewing a deluge of obscenities and insults toward my manhood. My buddy and I begin to load his car with my belongings. Neighbors are waking up, turning on their porch lights and wondering what all the screaming is about. I was in hell.

At one point, I had a suitcase with clothes in it, and after carrying it to the car, I put it down to rearrange some things in the trunk. She seized the opportunity to go max-crazy by picking up the suitcase and hurling it down the street like a discus. Unsatisfied with her weak toss, she followed the suitcase down the avenue, picked it up a second time and once again heaved it further away from my friend’s car. Mind you, she never stopped cursing my existence while this mini-Olympics unfolded.

Then, things went berserk.

She ran into her house, screaming and crying and completely losing her shit. Her poor mother just stood there, watching the madness unfold.

I was outside at the time, but I watched her through a window in the kitchen as she opened a bottle of pills and took a swig. My friend sat in the driver’s seat of my VW minibus, pleading with me to just get in the car so we could leave. I should have listened.

Not only did she down a mouthful of pills, but she grabbed a big knife and came blasting through the screen door toward me. All around the mulberry bush I ran, being chased by an insane 18-year-old girl who wanted to filet me. Thankfully, she lost her footing and fell down, allowing me a tiny crevice of freedom. I hopped into my van, and we sped off towards sanity and safety.

I never went back to her house for the rest of my stuff and didn’t hear from her for quite some time. I found out through mutual friends that she had, in fact, tried to kill herself with the pills and ended up in the loony bin at the local hospital.

A few months later, I got a call from one of my former co-workers. After chatting for a few minutes, he asked me if my story of defecation was real.

“Of course it is.Why would I lie about some girl pooping on me?”

“I was just wondering, cause a buddy of mine says that he banged Dillon at a party, and she apparently did the same thing to him.”

Sounds like someone needs a new O-ring.

Poor thing…

 

 

California Dreamin’ – 1982 to 1984 – Party in the Front

Me on the left. (F# Major)

This was early ’80s, in L.A. We were a five piece rock/pop group, and I played guitar. The bar was rather large, with guest/band rooms upstairs and a “special event” room behind the main bar. There’d be comedians, male & female “dancers” and such back there. This particular week the bar had female dancers in that room. We were playing our regular, routine show on a pretty dead Wednesday night. Big difference that night was most if not all the girls from that back room were sitting there watching us. Nothing better to do, I guess. I could always pull talent from that willing pool of women.

Like a lot of bars, this one also held drawings for various door prizes. This night was no different.

We’d played a couple sets, and our singer (Later left the band. Too much into nose candy) announced that anybody holding a ticket should get ready for the drawing. He’s standing there, holding the glass jar with the tickets in one hand, and his mic in the other, when the bass player, Frank nonchalantly walked behind him. Frank suddenly turned, grabbed the singer’s spandex pants and yanked them down to his knees. No undies. The singer, standing there with his junk hanging out, looked down, slowly turned, and kind of shuffled off stage, behind the mains, where he put down the glass jar and his mic, then pulled his pants back up. The girls out front were dying. Indeed, the entire room was laughing so hard even the bartender had tears in his eyes.

The singer came back on stage with his mic, and said “okay, that was different…” He looked at Frank, the bass player and told him “…I’ll kill you later…” and we proceeded to finish the set, and the rest of the night. The singer was a really funny guy (I say “was” because he’s dead now) and an incredibly good sport. Interestingly, he slept with most of those girls as a direct, or indirect, result of that “incident”. (Well done, sir!)

This one’s for you, buddy. 40 years on, and we still talk about, laugh at, and miss you.

 

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California Dreamin’ – 1982 to 1984 – Sarah – That Girl With The Idea

As I awoke with piercing pain in my head became apparent, I was wearing nothing but a sombrero and some short shorts I owned.

Why was this happening to me?

Where was I?

And what had happened last night?

My buddy Frank was lying down right next to me passed out. I shook him to wake him up. He woke up slowly and sluggishly not without putting up a fight.

So I slapped him.

He woke up with a drugged and tired look. He asked why he woke him up. I told him all my concerns and what had happened to me.

He first told me we were at Sarah’s house in Venice for a little kickback with her and her friend. He had been a few places that night but ended up there at the end of the night.

He then asked if I remembered about the dare Sarah gave me.

I said no, so he filled me in.

We had all been daring each other to do stupid stuff and Sarah with her great ideas had decided to make me take 7 shots of putrid tequila consecutively; and then do a strip tease for her.

By this time I was already pretty buzzed and by that seventh shot I was having trouble thinking or staying up straight.

I started to take off my clothes and they cheered me on.

By the time I was only in my briefs I grabbed a nearby random sombrero. I guess my inner Mexican was screaming for the sombrero even after all the alcohol I took.

Then he proceeded to tell me they all took shots and were all around the same state as me. We all started to dance and I guess I tried to climb an imaginary stripper pole I thought was there and I fell and knocked myself out.

They laughed and proceeded to take shots and dance till they all passed out on top of me. We both laughed at the story and then went on to try to find some aspirin, water, and most of all, where everyone else was.

 

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