Born in California on February 8, 1961, vocalist Vincent Neil Wharton was the final member to join Mötley Crüe, in 1981. Three years later, at the height of the group’s fame, Neil served 18 days in jail for the vehicular manslaughter of his passenger, Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas ‘Razzle’ Dingley.
Sacked by the band in February 1992, he launched a solo career, then returned five years later for what appeared a final pay day that turned into a final decade.
Exactly how tough was it growing up in Compton, California?
Kids were getting shot for their shoes. I witnessed murders. It was pretty crazy, but back then I thought everything was normal.
How did becoming a father at 17 years old affect your life?
Obviously I wasn’t ready to be a father. My parents pretty much raised my son.
You’ve said that high-school buddy Tommy Lee “got lucky” on the day he enticed you to join this “lame” band, whose demo brought you to the point of laughter and vomiting.
There was no Mötley Crüe, not even the name, at that point. And I was in a really good band [Rock Candy] so I turned them down. They got another singer.
Two weeks later I got into a fight with my band, so I called Tommy and asked if there was still a vacancy. He said no. But a week later they got rid of the singer. And the rest is history.
Early on in your career, David Lee Roth took you under his wing. What sort of advice did he offer?
I don’t know if David really liked our music, but he was always around because we had eighty-per-cent girls. Most of his advice about record deals, distribution and the saving of money went in one ear and out the other, to be honest, but it was admirable that he would take the time to do that.
The perception is that Nikki Sixx is Mötley’s business brain, Mick Mars the heart that keeps the music pumping, with Tommy Lee remaining through a combination of reluctance and obligation. Is there truth in those observations?
Nikki does like to portray himself as the business mind, so let him do that. Let him do whatever he wants, I don’t really care. Mick is absolutely the group’s musical heartbeat.
There are definitely times when Tommy doesn’t want to be in the band. There are times when I don’t, either. It happens when you’ve been a part of something for thirty years.
And how does Vince Neil fit into all of that?
I’m just the singer. Good or bad. I’m the guy at the front.
How do you rate yourself as a vocalist?
My voice has gotten better as the years roll by. I sing better now than I ever have, which makes me very happy.
Apparently you only read read a couple of chapters of The Dirt.
The main reason is that I’m dyslexic. It’s hard for me to read. And write.
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You have vineyards, tattoo parlours and a luxury air charter service… It looks like you have more business acumen than many people would think.
People think of me as this laid back Californian surfer guy, which I am. But I look at business like making a record: you have an idea, you put it on paper and you nurture it. Some artists enjoy making records. I’d rather open another restaurant.
Do you admire the shameless business attitude of Gene Simmons?
Gene has great ideas and gets things done. You see him doing Doctor Pepper ads and selling coffins [laughs]. I don’t know that I’d go that far myself, but you’ve got to admire the guy.
How long did it take to get your life back on track after the death of your daughter, Skylar, in 1995?
It took years. I was in rehab eight times that first year. I went to Palm Springs in California and played golf by myself twice a day, every day. Then I checked myself into to Betty Ford, leaving all my clubs, clothes and stuff behind.
Three days later I was back at the hotel, the rehab hadn’t worked but my golf was getting pretty good. I slept with her blanket for a year-and-a-half. Doing charity work, signing cheques, really helped to straighten me out.
Have you seen evidence of the good done by your foundation in her name?
Absolutely. Only the other day I bought television sets for the cancer wards of a hospital, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Do you think there’s a god?
I don’t believe in religion, but I’ll see Skylar again. I’ve seen her since she passed away. I know that she is somewhere else.
Do you have a grasp on the meaning of life?
It’s about enjoying the moment, because nothing lasts forever, but it’s also about giving something back.
The interview was originally published in Classic Rock 151.