GUITARIST MICK MARS DISCUSSES MÖTLEY CRÜE, LITIGATION, HIS LEGACY, AND HIS FORTHCOMING ALBUM, “ANOTHER SIDE OF MARS”
Andy Greene of Rolling Stone has written a feature article on Mötley Crüe guitarist Mick Mars. Portions of the column appear below.
..Today happens to be Mars’ 72nd birthday. He’s seated on a couch in the living room of his Tennessee mansion, draped head to toe in black, with his thin black hair protruding from the back of a newsboy cap. His skin is so pale it looks almost translucent. About five feet away are 10 enormous Marshall speaker stacks and studio-quality microphones that he’s been using to record his debut solo album. “I don’t feel a day over 71,” he jokes as I greet him.
His phone has been buzzing all day with birthday wishes from family and friends, but he hasn’t heard a word from his three bandmates. Mötley Crüe are in the midst of a nasty legal battle following Mars’ decision in October to retire from the road after spending last summer on a reunion tour alongside Def Leppard, Poison and Joan Jett.
Mars has alleged in court filings that the band used this as an excuse to remove him from the group he co-founded 42 years ago, denying him what he sees as his share of future band proceeds. In the legal proceedings, he’s also accused his bandmates of miming to prerecorded tracks on the tour, and they’ve turned around and said Mars was the one faking it onstage, since, they say, he was unable to remember the songs or play them properly. The case has just started to work its way through the legal system, and emotions remain hot.
“When they wanted to get high and f–k everything up, I covered for them,” Mars fumes. “Now they’re trying to take my legacy away, my part of Mötley Crüe, my ownership of the name, the brand. How can you fire Mr. Heinz from Heinz ketchup? He owns it. Frank Sinatra’s or Jimi Hendrix’s legacy goes on forever, and their heirs continue to profit from it. They’re trying to take that away from me. I’m not going to let them…”
…Mars was never a perfect fit for an Eighties glam-metal band. He’s a decade older than his three bandmates, and had way more love for blues-rock bands like Ten Years After and Bad Company than the glittery groups like KISS and the New York Dolls that the others worshiped. “There was a lot of really good stuff in the Seventies,” Mars says. “I wish I could have [been successful] then. I would have been a better fit. But I missed that boat…”
…Once Mars teamed up with [bassist Nikki] Sixx and drummer Tommy Lee. He was finally in a band with outsize ambition, chops that matched his own, and a firm commitment to original music. Thinking back to an alternative name that White Horse dreamed up years earlier, he named them Mötley Crüe. (Sixx added the umlauts.)
Mars also found a financial backer to help them cut their first songs, and successfully lobbied for them to fire original singer O’dean Peterson after just a few weeks, feeling he wasn’t quite the right fit. “I remember the first time I saw Vince Neil,” says Mars. “He was maybe 19; this skinny blond kid all decked out in white leather. He looked cool as hell. I was like, ‘I don’t give a shit if that kid can sing or not. Look at the girls! Sex sells.’”
Looking back on his Crüe career, Mars says nothing matched the euphoria of that first year, when the band burst out of the club scene and recorded future classics like Live Wire and Too Fast for Love. The music drew equally from punk, glam, and metal, creating a distinctive, hybrid sound. “That’s when I was the happiest,” he says. “It’s like climbing up the old ladder instead of stagnating in a stinkin’ club. You could feel it and see it. Everything was new. Everyone was like, ‘I haven’t heard stuff like this before.’”
Unlike many metal guitarists of the era, Mars was never showy and disdained shredders. “He had such a great tone,” says John Corabi, who joined the Crüe as a vocalist in 1992 after Neil left the band, and remains close to Mars. “He was into guys with amazing tones like [Mountain’s] Leslie West and Jeff Beck. To Mick, it was about kicking you in the chest and having this ungodly sound. He was a scientist when it came to sound. And he wasn’t just 10 years older than his bandmates, he was 10 years wiser.”
But once MTV embraced them and they started playing to tens of thousands of people a night, things got complicated. His three bandmates dove into the rock & roll lifestyle to absurd degrees, and deep divisions surfaced within the group. When they toured with Ozzy Osbourne in early 1984 — a famously debauched pairing where the Crüe watched the singer drunkenly snort a line of ants (“I saw it myself,” Mars says) — Osbourne bassist Bob Daisley says he wandered onto the Crüe bus one night and saw them discussing a plot to fire Mars. “I said to them, ‘You’ve got a chemistry there, Mick Mars is part of that. Don’t f–k it up,’” Daisley recalled in 2021.
Mars believes the story, though he claims the band never threatened to outright fire him. “They didn’t have the balls,” he says. “But one day at rehearsal they went, ‘[Osbourne guitarist] Jake E. Lee would look good right here.’ I went, ‘I’m the guitar player in the band. Nobody else needs to be there.’” (Sixx says that both of those stories are “100 percent false.”)…
…But even at the peak of the band’s success, Mars was rarely on firm financial footing. “Lumps of cash did come,” he says. “But I was married twice and broke three times. One was before the band formed. Two was the first wife, and three was the second wife. They drained my bank accounts. I lost my house. I lost cars. I lost guitars. I lost everything.”
It’s arguably why he looks back at the Dr. Feelgood era with bitterness, even though it produced five hit singles and catapulted the band to superstardom. “We could have toured that for at least a year and a half,” Mars says. “We did nine months and I was like, ‘No! I’ll just say that somebody was sick in the band.’ When that tour was cut off, I was so disappointed.”
Sixx sounds genuinely baffled by this take. “Nobody in the band got sick,” he says. “We were all clean and sober, and we toured for a long time behind that record until it was probably time to stop touring. These are things that have never been said to us or management. Why would he not share these thoughts with [us] ever?”
According to Mars, if he never brought it up, it was due to his extreme aversion to conflict and absence of any offstage relationship with the band. He says Sixx last visited his house during the Dr. Feelgood era. “He’s only [ever] visited me two or three times at the most,” Mars says. “Tommy came over once, and Vince just came over once, even though he lived around the corner from me in Venice Beach. It’s just the way we worked…”
…“This Is A Song I wrote called Killing Breed,” Mars says. “It’s about narcissists that keep you pinned down and make you feel crazy…”
…The music from his upcoming album, Another Side of Mars, is darker and more aggressive than anything in the Crüe catalog. A quick glance at song titles on a whiteboard in his studio — Broken on the Inside, Alone, Lonely in Your Grave, Loyal to the Lie, Decay, Fear, Memories, Erased — reveals his bitter frame of mind when penning the lyrics during the band’s meltdown.
Mars refuses to explicitly say if the “narcissists keep you pinned down” quote is a reference to his Mötley Crüe bandmates, but he can’t mask a sly smile. Still, it’s hard to walk through his nearly 12,000-square-foot home and think he’s anything but proud of his Crüe accomplishments. The walls are coated with gold records, vintage Eighties concert posters, and a framed copy of the Oct. 21st, 1989, Billboard 200, where Dr. Feelgood sits at Number One.
It was the pinnacle of the band’s success. Grunge hit a couple of years later, Neil quit, and the band tanked when it toured with Corabi to support a dead-on-arrival 1994 album. “We went from arenas to 1,200-seat clubs where you had to walk through the crowd to get to the stage,” says Mars. “I thought we’d made the greatest record we’d ever done. And did I feel cheated? Yes, I did. If we’d done the Dr. Feelgood tour long enough, I wouldn’t have felt cheated.”
They reluctantly reunited with Neil in 1997 to record Generation Swine, and Mars says he was squeezed out of the decision-making process at this point. Corabi, who stuck around for the first few months of the reunion era, backs up Mars’ claims. “They had no respect for Mick,” he says. “Mick was just the grumpy old bastard to them. [Nikki and Tommy gave] Mick shit about his finances and the girls he dated. He’d been dealing with over 20 years of this.”
Generation Swine comes up about 10 different times throughout my two days with Mars, mostly unprompted. It’s a quarter-century in the past, but the trauma still feels fresh and raw. “I don’t think there’s one note that I played,” he says, wincing. “They didn’t want my guitar to sound like a guitar, basically. They wanted it to sound like a synthesizer. I felt so useless. I’d do a part, they’d erase it, and somebody else would come in and play.”
When they went back into the studio to cut New Tattoo a couple of years later, with Randy Castillo on drums in place of Lee, Mars says he was denied a chance to participate. “I didn’t write any of those songs, since I wasn’t invited,” Mars says. “I think I got one lick on that album.” (Sixx disputes this: “Mick played lead guitar, rhythm guitar, and any other guitar that’s on that record,” he says. “And Mick is a guy who wrote some pretty cool riffs, but he’s not a songwriter. And everyone forgets Mick’s health during this time. This is during the period that he had disintegrated into opiate addiction.”)
On 2008’s Saints of Los Angeles, which is the most recent Mötley Crüe record to date, both sides agree that D.J. Ashba handled much of the guitar work, uncredited. Sixx says they had little choice. “Mick was struggling to play his parts,” he says. “So there’s [a] mixture of D.J. and Mick, and we would always make Mick the center focus unless, of course, he couldn’t play his parts or remember his parts…”
…Shortly before the band’s 2005 reunion tour, Mars moved out of the house and underwent hip-replacement surgery. “He moved into my house,” Sixx says. “I took him to doctors, and I actually had to spoon-feed him since he was so f–ked up…”
…[When the band retuned to] the road in 2022, claiming their 2019 Netflix movie, The Dirt, rejuvenated a groundswell of interest they couldn’t ignore. “When the movie came out, I knew what was going to happen next,” Mars says. “I resigned myself to the fact that I had to go on tour again, but I was pretty much done.”
Seven years away from tour buses, airports, and hotels — not to mention his bandmates — was enough to convince Mars that he never wanted to return to the road. Prior to rehearsals, he told the band this was his last tour. “I said, ‘You guys, I’m not retiring,’” Mars says. “‘Do you want to do a Vegas residency or record new music? I’m there. You want to do a one-off? I’m there. I just can’t do the world anymore.’”
His AS had progressed to the point where he was no longer able to move his head from side to side, and he’s permanently hunched over. He’s at least three inches shorter than he was in high school. “My spine is now one solid bone,” he says. “It feels like there’s a 40-pound cinder block tied to my forehead with string at all times, pulling it down.”
He got through every show — he agreed to play only 12 shows, but it stretched to 36 — in a state of near-constant agony. (By this point, his spine had essentially been ground in the shape of a question mark.) But watching videos of himself in that diminished form was somehow even more painful. “I look like a skeleton,” he says. “I hate seeing that on video. But I refuse to use a cane. I refuse to use a wheelchair. If I can’t get up there myself, I’m not doing it. I don’t like the way I look, and I feel very awkward seeing myself onstage like that.”
The press release went out on Oct. 27th, 2022. “While change is never easy, we accept Mick’s decision to retire from the band due to the challenges with his health,” Neil, Lee, and Sixx wrote in a statement. “We will carry out Mick’s wish and continue to tour the world as planned in 2023.” The absence of any Mars quote was suspicious, and fans learned the full story on April 6th, 2023, when Mars filed a lawsuit against the band, alleging they had illegally ousted him from the group and cut him out of future profits from all seven of their corporate entities. The 29-page filing is a stunning document, highlighting many of the worst moments in the band’s history and painting Sixx, Lee, and Neil in the most negative light possible.
“Two of the members (not Mars) were addicted to heroin for much of their careers, and one has had a continuous, severe alcohol addiction,” reads a typical passage. “Another band member (not Mars) was placed on probation repeatedly for a series of violent incidents, and was ultimately convicted of felony spousal abuse for repeatedly kicking his wife while she was holding their 7-week old baby.
“If Mick made these claims in an article or letter, he’d be opened up to liability in a lawsuit,” says Crüe manager Allen Kovac. “But in California, anything in a legal pleading is protected from defamation laws. This just isn’t a real case. It’s a ploy for media attention. If it was a real case, he would’ve made the request in arbitration, and he would’ve gotten these documents anyway because we have nothing to hide.”
The part of Mars’ filing that generated the most attention involved Sixx’s bass playing on the 2022 tour. “[Sixx] did not play a single note on bass during the entire U.S. tour,” it states. “100 percent of Sixx’s bass parts were nothing but recordings.”
The group responded with sworn declarations from seven crew members claiming that Sixx did indeed play live bass, and that Mars often forgot the songs or simply played them incorrectly. Mars doesn’t deny that he sometimes struggled onstage, but has a more nefarious explanation for it. “I was sabotaged musically so they’d have an excuse to get rid of me and bring in another person,” he says. “The feed of guitar into my in-ear monitor was horrible. It would break up, and nobody else’s seemed to break up but mine. And then they’d switch to prerecorded crap from rehearsals, when I was just relearning the songs. They did it to make me look bad.”
“That’s insanity,” Sixx counters. “Why would we do that to our fans? It’s really heartbreaking that Mick and his representatives are lying to the fans while we were trying to protect his legacy. Dude, we love the f–kin’ guy. It’s really scary, [him] being in this complete hallucination. When Mick came into rehearsals, he couldn’t play guitar properly. He just couldn’t pull it off, so we have to use tapes and cover it up. He was the only person in the band on tape.”
The band describes Mars as senile and confused, but I saw very little evidence of this during our time together. There were brief struggles to remember a word or song title, but Mars was sharp, funny, and focused, telling stories from decades past in vivid detail. He moved up and down the many staircases in his home without assistance. He’s certainly frail, and he rarely stood for more than a few minutes at a time, but he seems in complete control of his mental faculties.
Little of this matters, though, when it comes to the major legal question at hand, which comes down to whether or not the band members can unilaterally remove Mars from their LLCs and deny him money. They point to a 2008 band document all parties signed that states that “in no event shall any Resigning Shareholder be entitled to receive any monies attributable to live performances (i.e., tours).”
The Mars camp counters that he’s not a “resigning shareholder,” but merely a member who can’t commit to touring. “If Jeff Bezos decides that he doesn’t want to be an employee of Amazon anymore, he still has his shares,” says Mars attorney Ed McPherson. “Nobody takes that away from him. I don’t understand why these people can think that because Mick doesn’t tour, he doesn’t own his shares.”
“There’s a document that Mick signed,” says Crüe attorney Sasha Frid. “If you’re resigned from touring, you don’t get to participate [in the profits]. You don’t get to sit home in any corporation and collect a paycheck when you’re not out there touring and making your contributions. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
While Mötley Crüe record new songs and tour Europe with John 5 on guitar, Mars is seeking out a record label to release Another Side of Mars, but don’t expect to see him take it on the road. “I’m done touring,” he says. “If somebody really, really wants a one-off, or a couple of nights, I would probably do it. But all that travel stuff and planes … I’m way over it.”
Money is hardly an issue since the 2022 tour grossed $173.5 million, and Mars netted a quarter of the Crüe’s cut. And midway through playing me selections from his solo album, an email arrived in his inbox that put a huge smile on his face. “I sold my publishing!” he excitedly says. “The deal was just finalized. Now I can relax and don’t have to worry about anything…”
Read more at Rolling Stone.