During glam metal’s glitter-dusted heyday, Sunset Strip clubs like The Whisky A Go Go, The Cathouse and The Roxy seemed like the centre of the musical universe, locations for a non-stop party where careers were made and broken in-between pool parties and wet t-shirt contests.
It was incestuous, with band members jumping from one group of hopefuls to the next before settling where they were most suited. Slash from Guns N’ Roses almost ended up in Poison. LA Guns guitarist Tracii Guns played with Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin in Hollywood Rose, and with Nikki Sixx in Brides Of Destruction.
In such circumstances, where bickering and bad blood are commonplace, it’s no wonder bands frequently came to blows, and Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses are forever linked thanks to such a feud.
The story began on The Strip. Mud-wrestler, model and Girls Girls Girls video star Sharise Ruddell was Motley Crue singer Vince Neil’s wife, and at a night out in 1989 – while Neil was away on a white-water rafting trip in Idaho – she was allegedly assaulted by Stradlin.
“I was at The Cathouse and Izzy was hitting on me,” said Ruddell. “He was all fucked up. I told him to get his hands off me because I was [Vince’s] wife. Then he grabbed my shirt and pulled it down. I slapped him across the face, and he karate kicked me as hard as he could in the stomach. He knocked the wind out of me. And everyone saw it.”
Neil decided to take revenge at the MTV Awards, held at the Universal Amphitheatre in Universal City, California, on September 6 1989. Guns N’ Roses were there to collect the inaugural Best Heavy Metal Video prize for Sweet Child O’ Mine – an award presented by Motley Crue – and Axl Rose sang Free Fallin’ and Heartbreak Hotel with Tom Petty. And with the rest of Motley Crue waiting in a limo outside the venue, Vince Neil lurked inside, waiting for the right moment.
Guns N’ Roses then-manager Alan Niven recalled what happened next: “Afterwards, we’re walking off the brightly lit stage into the darkness to our left, and suddenly Vince comes running over and popped Izzy in the face.”
“When Izzy walked off stage, looking like a cross between Eric Stoltz in [the movie] Mask and Neil Young, I was waiting for him,” wrote Neil in The Dirt. “All the blood rushed into my fist and I decked him. He fell to the ground like a tipped cow.”
Neil doesn’t go into much detail about what happened next, and you can understand why, as Tom Petty revealed.
“Our sound guy, Jim Lenahan, was walking off the stage with us, and Lenahan was like, I don’t even know this Izzy kid, but he’s with us, so he decked Vince Neil,” he recalled. “Izzy was getting a lot of black eyes in those days. I think he already had a black eye before Vince hit him.”
“I grabbed Vince and put him very quickly on his back on the floor,” said Niven. “My left hand was around his throat and my right hand was cocked and ready to smash his nose, and I actually had a fleeting moment of intelligent thought where I went: ‘If I do this, this is not going to be good,’ so I let him up.”
“I was on the side of the stage when Vince punched Izzy,” then-Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach remembered. “Vince’s gold bracelet flew off his wrist as he cracked Izzy. It was a big chunk of gold. Vince was huffing and puffing, and I was like, ‘Dude, I’ve got your bracelet.’ He’s like, ‘You can have it, man.’ In the day, if somebody said something bad about your band, you were obliged to punch him. It was considered totally appropriate.”
It was then that Axl Rose did what was appropriate, and stuck up for his bandmate.
“Before we reached the exit, Axl came snarling after us like an overdressed Doberman,” wrote Neil. “’C’mon, motherfucker. I’m going to fucking kill you!’ he yelled at our backs. I twirled around. His face was sweaty and twisted. ‘Let’s fucking go!’ I said to him, and I meant it. He looked at me and squeaked like a little bitch: ‘Just don’t fuck with my band again, okay?’ And he walked away.”
It didn’t end there. A vicious war of words between the two factions raged in the pages of rock magazines, with each party taking turns to insult the other. It culminated in an invitation from Axl to Vince to meet for a fistfight in the parking lot of Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard, but the rumble never happened. According to Neil, the offer is still on the table.
“After Axl chickened out a half-dozen times,” Vince said, “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.”
Axl, it’s never too late to accept the challenge.