Michael Monroe on Axl Rose, Lemmy and how Mötley Crüe killed Hanoi Rocks

Mike Monroe
(Image credit: Kevin Nixon/Classic Rock Magazine/Future via Getty Images)

Michael Monroe is a true rock ’n’ roll lifer, with the scars and stories to prove it. In a new book from DJ/podcast host/writer Matt Stocks, the former Hanoi Rocks frontman shares tales of his friendships with Axl Rose, Lemmy and Dead Boys frontman Stiv Bators and explains why the car crash which killed Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle also meant the death of the cult Finnish glam rock band.

Monroe first met Axl Rose in New York in 1989 when the Guns N’ Roses frontman gatecrashed Monroe’s video shoot for Dead, Jail or Rock ’N’ Roll to tell the singer that he was a huge fan of Hanoi Rocks. The two men bonded over a shared love of Scottish hard rockers Nazareth after Monroe explained that the title track of his 1989 solo album Not Fakin’ It was a Nazareth cover, and Rose ended up guesting in the video for Dead, Jail or Rock ’N’ Roll. “A mutually beneficial, and truly great friendship started from there,” remembers Monroe.

“We got along really well, and he was a really nice guy, and even though it’s Little Steven [Van Zandt] who sings backing vocals on Dead, Jail or Rock ‘N’ Roll, I asked Axl if he wanted to come up and do a couple of takes with us for the video. He said, ‘Sure.’ And as nice a guy as he was, he let us use the footage for the video, which got me a little more fame, and maybe I got him a little bit more street credibility in return.”

“Axl and I had many great conversations over the years. He’s highly evolved, very spiritual, and we talked about some pretty heavy stuff. He’s a really interesting personality, and he’s very smart. He’d always call me up whenever he was in New York, and we’d go out to dinner, and he was never late - he always a gentleman. I have nothing but good things to say about him.”

During the recording of Guns N’ Roses epic Use Your Illusion double albums, Rose invited Monroe to Los Angeles to play harmonica and saxophone on the Gn’R song Bad Obsession, which ultimately also led to the two singers duetting on a cover of the Dead Boys’ Ain’t It Fun on Guns N’ Roses’ 1993 covers album The Spaghetti Incident?”

“He told me over the phone that he’d never heard the Dead Boys before,” Monroe recalls, “so I made a tape of their first album [Young Loud and Snotty] and the best of the second album [We Have Come for Your Children], and we listened to the tape in Hollywood, driving around in Axl’s car.”

“That was when he first heard Ain’t It Fun. He was like, ‘Wow! We have to do this song - we’re doing a covers album next.’ They [Guns N’ Roses] were already working on ‘The Spaghetti Incident?’, and I suggested that we did the song as a duet, in memory of Stiv Bators - which we did. And it became the first single off the album.”

“Axl really sounded like Stiv when he sang on that song, too. After we’d finished recording the vocals, there was a piano in the studio, and I was sitting there playing it. All of a sudden, The Rolling Stones and Kiss pinball machines behind me started going off by themselves. When I got back into the control room, I asked Axl, ‘Do those pinball machines ever go off by themselves?’ He said, ‘Oh, no. Never.’ I said it must’ve been Stiv getting his wings, like in It’s a Wonderful Life: ‘Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.’ Axl said, ‘That must be the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard anybody say about anybody else.’

“Stiv Bators is one of the best kept secrets in rock ‘n’ roll,” Monroe adds. “I always felt a spiritual connection to him. When Hanoi Rocks was breaking up after [drummer] Razzle died, I moved in with Stiv in London in 1985, and we lived together for a year before I moved to New York. Johnny Thunders moved in with us as well. There was definitely never a dull moment.”

“God bless Axl for putting ‘In memory of Stiv Bators’ on the [‘The Spaghetti Incident?’] record sleeve. I didn’t want any money for my involvement in the song; I just asked that they mention Stiv Bators on the album, to honour his memory, which they kindly did.”

Referring to the break up of Hanoi Rocks, Monroe admits to Stocks, “Hanoi Rocks died with Razzle.”

The English drummer, born Nicholas Dingley, was killed on December 8, 1984, when, having joined intoxicated Mötley Crüe frontman Vince Neil on a trip to a Los Angeles liquor store, Neil’s Pantera sports car hit an oncoming vehicle, killing the drummer instantly. Convicted of vehicular manslaughter the following year, Neil served just 15 days in prison for Razzle’s death.

“That was the end of the band,” says Monroe. “What we had with Razzle was really special, you see. Then Sami [Yaffa] also left, so all of a sudden we didn’t have a drummer or a bass player. It was just me, Andy [McCoy], and Nasty [Suicide], and they were all the way down there and I was all the way up there. There was no connection anymore. To me, the most important thing was to end and maintain the integrity of the band.”

Monroe also reveals that, following Razzle’s death, Lemmy offered him Motörhead’s services as his backing band.

“He said, ‘You know what, mate? We’ll back you up.’ And he offered to have Motörhead back me up as a band because he was so upset about Razzle dying. I was like, “Woah. Do you know how much that means to me?” Talk about honour. I was so young and baby-faced back then, I’m sure his fans would have eaten me alive. But what a big heart he had. And always so consistent; always the same wonderful, lovely guy. I was very lucky to have known him.”

For the full-length version of this interview with Michael Monroe, check out Life In The Stocks, Volume 1: Veracious Conversations with Musicians & Creatives by Matt Stocks, which is available to order now via Rare Bird

Alongside this conversation with Michael Monroe, the book, set for publication on  December 15, contains interviews with Steven Van Zandt, Laura Jane Grace, Machine Head’s Robb Flynn, ex-QOTSA/Kyuss man Nick Oliveri, Frank Iero (My Chemical Romance), Clem Burke (Blondie) and many more.

Matt Stocks is the host of the Life in the Stocks podcast, a former presenter at Kerrang! Radio and Scuzz TV, and a writer for Metal Hammer and Classic Rock.

Matt Stocks

(Image credit: Rare Bird Lit)
Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.