Mick Wall’s Best War Stories

Mick Wall is one of the most famous rock writers of his generation. A contributor to Sounds and Kerrang! in the 70s and 80s, he also worked as a PR for Thin Lizzy, and was editor of Classic Rock. He was also, famously, dissed by Axl Rose in the Guns N’ Roses song Get In The Ring.

Wall has written a number of acclaimed rock biographies in recent years – on subjects including Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Metallica and AC/DC. His new book, Getcha Rocks Off, is a personal memoir of a career in which he lived the rock’n’roll life to the full.

Getcha Rocks Off is packed with war stories from a golden age of rock, and insights into the stars that made that music. Here are the highlights: the good, the bad, and the ugly…

Iron Maiden
Wall wrote many rave reviews of Iron Maiden albums in the 80s. He also wrote the official band autobiography Run To The Hills. But in Getcha Rocks Off he is scathing in his assessment of one band member. “Maiden’s singer was a pompous oaf named Bruce Dickinson. He never talked to you, but at you. It was not uncommon to signal for help whenever he had been babbling at you for too long. The man had talent, no doubt, but no one knew more than Bruce exactly how much talent. You were lucky to know him.”

In the late 80, Wall was in Los Angeles, and fully exploiting the hospitality of a band he couldn’t give a toss about. The band was Ratt, whose early albums had sold millions in the US, but whose career had peaked. At famous rock’n’roll hotel the Sunset Marquis, Ratt guitarist Warren DeMartini was playing the band’s new album to Wall. But the playback session quickly turned into a three-day cocaine binge in which they were joined by Slash, Lars Ulrich and a coterie of “chicks” and various other hangers-on. “The Ratt album was just my ticket to ride,” Wall said. “I’d happily give it five stars in return for this.”

Thin Lizzy
While working as PR for Thin Lizzy, Wall was introduced to heroin by the band’s leader Phil Lynott. They were in the dressing room at the world famous London rock club the Marquee. Wall says he “recoiled in horror” when Lynott laid out the lines of smack. This was, he says, “taking a leap of unfaith into full blown rock star hedonism, replete with its nastiest habit”. But Lynott told him: “I don’t offer this to just anybody.” So Wall took a good snort, liked how it blew his mind, and later that night bought his first £10 “baggie” of the brown stuff.

Lemmy Wall once asked the Motorhead mainman about a famous story that he believed was urban myth. It was said that Lemmy had consulted a doctor about his addiction to speed, and the doctor had told him not to stop taking the drug because the shock to his system would be so great that it might kill him. “Yeah, it’s true,” Lemmy said. “My blood had evolved into some sort of organic soup – all kinds of trace elements in it.” Wall asked if Lemmy cut down his drug intake following this diagnosis. Lemmy’s reply was typically dry. “I haven’t cut down so much as centralised.”

Metallica When Metallica were riding high in the early 90s with The Black Album, drummer Lars Ulrich had turned into a caricature of a flash rock star. This is something that Lars himself has freely admitted, but Wall’s portrait of him in this time is brutally funny. “Lars said he felt more like he was in Guns N’ Roses now than Metallica,” he recalls. “He even got a white leather jacket like the one Axl wore in the Paradise City video. Everyone took the piss – James Hetfield most of all – but Lars just didn’t seem to notice. Or care. He was fucking more strippers than Motley Crue, riding around in limos bigger than the ones Led Zeppelin used to. And if you didn’t like it, well, fuck you very much.”

Don Arden The late father of Sharon Osbourne, and former manager of the Small Faces, Black Sabbath and ELO, Don Arden was the most feared men in the music business. He was nicknamed the Al Capone of Pop. Mick Wall was the writer of Arden’s autobiography Mr. Big. And during the many interviews that went into the book, Arden proved that age had not mellowed him. Recalling an expose on him by reporter Roger Cook for BBC Radio Four, Arden said of Cook: “I’d still kill him if I ever met him. Kill him slowly, with his wife watching, if I could.”

Def Leppard Steve Clark, guitarist and founding member of Def Leppard, died in 1991 at the age of thirty. The official cause of death was cited as an overdose of codeine, but Clark had for many years battled alcoholism. Wall says that he and Clark bonded during the last tour that the guitarist played with the band in 1988. What they bonded over was booze and cocaine. Wall describes Clark as a desperately sad figure, with low self-esteem, and claims that Clark felt misunderstood by Leppard singer Joe Elliott. “Steve seemed to view Joe’s lack of understanding as a personal betrayal,” Wall says. Strong stuff. Joe will certainly have something to say about that…

Ozzy Osbourne Wall was once invited to the Ozzy and Sharon’s Buckinghamshire mansion for a Sunday dinner cooked by Ozzy. Yes, really. When Wall arrived, Ozzy was in the kitchen, peeling carrots and shelling peas. He was also sober – and supposedly on the wagon. But when Sharon popped out of the house for a while, Ozzy immediately began drinking. His chosen tipple was white wine, in a pint glass. Two or three of them he gulped down in a matter of seconds. By the time dinner was served, Ozzy was plastered. “Five minutes into the meal,” Wall says, “Ozzy’s head very gently lowered itself on to his plate until it came to rest in the peas and potatoes. Ozzy began to snore, the gravy bubbling noisily around his nose.” Wall asked Sharon if Ozzy was all right. “Fuck him,” she replied. “Pass the carrots, please.”

David Lee Roth At the height of Diamond Dave’s post-Van Halen solo career, Wall interviewed the singer following a gig in Massachusetts and an after show party at which Roth and his entourage had been entertained by naked dancing girls, one of whom had treated Wall to a lap dance. In a backstage room, the interview was fuelled by dope, cocaine, several cases of beer and a bottle each of Jack Daniel’s. “What resulted,” Wall says, “was the most fun, if willfully deranged interview I ever conducted. When we emerged from that room nearly twelve hours later, it wasn’t just the next day it was the next dimension.”

Axl Rose The feud between Wall and the famously volatile Guns N’ Roses singer was made public in 1991 when Get In The Ring was featured on the band’s album Use Your Illusion II. But Wall says that Axl went further than simply insulting him in a song. He claims that in the late 80s, in the bar of the Sunset Marquis, Axl threatened to kill him. The pair had fallen out after Axl had said in an interview with Wall that wanted to beat up Motley Crue singer Vince Neil. Then Axl had heard that Wall was writing a book on Guns N’ Roses, and according to Wall, Axl told him: “I don’t care if it says we’re the greatest band in the world. I will track you down and I will kill you.” Wall has since written a book on GN’R and a biography of Axl. And he’s still above ground.

Getcha Rocks Off: Sex & Excess. Bust-Ups & Binges. Life & Death on the Rock ‘N’ Roll Road by Mick Wall is out now.

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”