June 14, 2016, 7 p.m.: The documentary Mötley Crüe: The End is screening in a number of American movie theaters, representing a final bow for the band Mötley Crüe. The Los Angeles group was one of the first to join the wave of glam metal – sometimes also called hair metal due to the voluminous locks sported by musicians of this genre. And what better place to show off their lustrous manes than LA’s Sunset Strip? We decided to investigate what has become of the old glam metal haunts mentioned in Mötley Crüe’s songs.
“This is the last time you’ll see the four of us. Back in 1981, you got four teenagers roaming the streets of Hollywood – eating, drinking, smoking, fucking. And here we fucking are, 34 years later.” It’s fair to say that this statement, made by Vince Neil – singer of the band Mötley Crüe – during the band’s farewell concert on December 31, 2015, in Los Angeles, sums up the group’s image pretty well. Exuberant hair styles, clothing and make-up with the provocative and licentious attitude to match, all accompanied by MTV-friendly hard rock – this was the winning formula that shot hair metal, and Mötley Crüe, to fame and glory in the 1980s. With its gig venues, bars and strip clubs, the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles quickly became the favorite hangout of glam metal groups. We decided to chat to three very different LA bands today to find out what has become of the places mentioned in Mötley Crüe’s songs. Isis Queen, singer from the Barb Wire Dolls – a grunge punk band from Crete who relocated to LA; David Childs, accordion player in We The Folk – a group that is rediscovering Los Angeles folk music; and Moses Gonzales from Satanic Johnny – an experimental LA metal band – share their experiences.
Whisky a Go-Go
Barb Wire Dolls: The very first night we landed in Los Angeles, we had dinner at Canter’s Deli with Rodney Bingenheimer – the legendary DJ of the KROQ radio station. Rodney, who is regarded as “the Mayor of the Sunset Strip”, told us how playing at the Whisky A Go-Go makes musicians become part of rock history. Bands as influential as Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, The Doors, Motley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses plus all of the greatest punk bands have graced that stage. The family that founded the Whisky a Go-Go still owns it, so it still has the same vibe. The owners also own the Rainbow Bar and Grill where Lemmy, the singer of Motörhead, practically lived.
We The Folk: We’ve had a few friends play at Whisky a Go-Go. It remains a historic venue, and it still has prestige. I have never been, but it’s a popular place to see good bands.
Satanic Johnny: It’s an awesome place. I’ve been going there since high school; we played there several times. Kids in the metal scene are going there… It’s a good place to just hang out and listen to good music.
Barb Wire Dolls: We only played one show there because it doesn’t really have the hard rock or punk vibe it had in the late 70s and into the late 80s. It’s mostly soft rock indie bands now and – even though it’s still so legendary – it’s not rock ’n’ roll enough for my tastes. I can’t stand soft indie rock, which is all hipsters. But I think that someday this venue will return to its other roots and be as important as it once was.
We The Folk: I went to the Troubadour for the first time in 2014 to see Snarky Puppy play. The Troubadour hosts a wide variety of musical acts. I’ve also seen Puddles Pity Party there, which was quite different from Snarky Puppy. And we’ve been playing there recently! It is a small venue for the bands that come through – it has a max capacity of 500 people and there is a working bar in the back of the room. The stage isn’t large, either. But all that adds to the intimacy of the Troubadour. And it is very recognizable when driving past because of the big letters on the front of the building.
Satanic Johnny: I never got to play there, but hopefully someday I will. When Guns N’ Roses reunited this year, this is where they gave their first show. The venue hosts different kinds of music now, but on the metal nights the metal vibe is definitely still there.
The Body shop and Seventh Veil
Barb Wire Dolls: We’ve hung out there and we also played in a few other strip clubs. I don’t think they are still a haunt for metal bands – they go to the other strip clubs like the Jumbo’s Clown Room. I’m sure these places haven’t really changed since the 1980s, but there aren’t that many “young” Vince Neil’s riding Harleys to go there anymore. They all got old and fat and stopped being wild!
Satanic Johnny: Oh man, I haven’t gone to The Body Shop in a long time! It’s a really cool place – it looks exactly like a Mötley Crüe video. And it’s right next to the clubs. Metal bands still go there, but I’m sure all kinds of people do too, we’ve all had those nights… The Seventh Veil I’ve only been to one time. It’s way too overpriced and the girls aren’t even good-looking.
The Sunset Strip
Barb Wire Dolls: It’s where rock stars are born and where they are seen every night – either on stage or watching a band play live. It has inspired three great music movements that changed the world. The first one took place in the late 60s when bands like The Byrds added electric guitars to the then-popular folk sound. This movement then evolved until the apparition of glam metal in the early 70s. Then the second movement happened in the late 70s with the first wave of LA punk, when bands like The Germs, X, Black Flag but also the Ramones, Blondie, The Damned and the Stooges were playing at the Whisky A Go-Go. And then, of course, in the late 80s hair metal reigned king. There was nowhere more pumping and wild than the Sunset Strip in the 80s!
We The Folk: The Sunset Strip is host to many venues, including the Roxy Theatre, the Viper Room, Whisky a Go-Go, and House of Blues. A favorite memory of mine on the Sunset Strip would actually be attending a Sunday Gospel Brunch at House of Blues while I was in high school – great gospel music, great food. There’s always a lot happening on the Strip!
Satanic Johnny: I love it, it’s my favorite place to go. Of course, it’s a lot more diverse than during the 80s; it used to be pure metal, rock and glam rock. It’s changed – you don’t see those bands on television anymore and a lot of people are into that DJ, dubstep and rap stuff. As a musician, I respect all genres of music. But, of course, I do miss this era. But you still have the vibes of rock and metal on the Strip. I’m not saying the passion is dead, but we don’t support the scene like we used to. A lot of us just gave up. But I wish that we would unite and support local music more.
Photo: Ken Lund
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