By the Way

Motley Crue, Mickey Raphael and the great heavy metal lie

For years, I was led to believe something about Motley Crue’s album “Theater of Pain.” It was the great heavy metal lie.
For years, I was led to believe something about Motley Crue’s album “Theater of Pain.” It was the great heavy metal lie. Courtesy

Oh, to be young and dumb.

I’ll always remember the summer of 1985. I was 14, not yet old enough to drive. I spent that summer hanging out by our pool and mowing yards. I mowed a few yards and washed dishes at a catfish house on Fridays and Saturdays so I would have money to buy things — important things. And what could be more important to a 14-year-old boy in 1985 than music?

That was a rhetorical question, but the answer is “nothing.”

My friend David and I waited eagerly that summer for June 21 to roll around — that was the release date for Motley Crue’s all-important (at the time) third album, “Theater of Pain.” Those were the days before internet, social media or even MTV for those of us who lived in rural North Mississippi. We got our rock information the old-fashioned way — from Circus and Hit Parader magazines, which also had fold-out posters of our favorite bands and song lyrics. Again — this was important stuff.

Ah, Motley Crue. O all of the hard rock to which we were listening — RATT, Ozzy, Van Halen, Quiet Riot and Def Leppard — the Crue was the collective favorite among my friends. Until the arrival of Guns N Roses a few years later — we actually saw the original five-piece Guns N Roses open up for the Crue in Jackson — Motley Crue was our jam. Even as an adult, I still think Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx is a great songwriter and Tommy Lee is an amazing drummer. OK, I still like Motley Crue — the music, not so much the misogyny and their personal problems.

The big day

When June 21 finally rolled around, David’s parents drove us to the record store in Columbus, which was also a pet store, and we did what any hardworking teenager would do — we bought “Theater of Pain” on cassette and vinyl. Why, you ask? Seriously, is it not apparent? You have to have the album for the cool artwork and liner notes and to listen to at your home. You get the cassette so you can listen to it on a boombox in your car and on your Walkman while you mow the yard. Duh.

We knew, for Circus had told us, that the album would have a cover of Brownsville Station’s “Smokin’ in The Boys Room.” We didn’t know what a Brownsville Station was, but if the Crue thought it was cool enough to cover, we were down. The liner notes to the album really excited us, especially this nugget: Vince Neil — lead vocals and harmonica.

Yes, we were very excited that Vince was blowing the harp on “Smokin’ in The Boys Room,” which went on to be a big hit and a breakout video for the band.

The lie unfolds

My favorite harmonica player has always been Mickey Raphael, who’s been playing with Willie Nelson for more than four decades. There’s something about his sound and his tone that I’ve always enjoyed. I would have bet you dollars to donuts I could pick him out on any song he recorded. I’m sad to say I would have lost that bet.

“Yeah, that was me on ‘Smokin’ in The Boys Room,” Raphael told me in a recent interview.

Wait. What?

“They wanted a harmonica player and I had worked with (producer) Tom Werman when I recorded with Blue Oyster Cult, so he called me up and asked me to come in and play on the song,” Raphael said. “Tommy (Lee) was my handler in the studio and he couldn’t have been more gracious.”

But, Mickey — what about the liner notes?

“Vince played a harmonica on the last note of the song, so he was credited for harmonica,” he said. “If you look in the fine print somewhere it says, “Additional harmonica by Mickey Raphael.’”

So, it’s all been a lie?

“The funny thing is that Vince even won an award that year for ‘Best Heavy Metal Instrumentalist,’” Raphael said.

OK. It’s worth noting that we were both laughing out loud at this point of our conversation. Motley Crue had swindled us, but the thought of Vince winning an award for Mickey’s work is pretty darn funny.

A new beginning

I quickly made peace with what Mickey had told me. In fact, I think it makes the song cool again. I haven’t listened to it in a while, because it was so overplayed that I thought that I had heard it exactly the number of times I was supposed to hear it. But I found myself listening to it in the car when I picked up Charlie from day care.

“You hear that, son? That’s Mickey Raphael.”

Charlie just smiled and nodded as any polite 2-year-old would do. He’ll get it one day. His favorite band right now is “Acago” (Chicago).