banner image

:: Spotlight :: Book Review - Tattoos & Tequila: To Hell And Back With One Of Rock’s Most Notorious Frontmen

By: Justin Donnelly

Vince Neil With Mike Sager
Tattoos & Tequila: To Hell And Back With One Of Rock’s Most Notorious Frontmen
Orion Books/Hachette Australia

Following on from the release of his studio album ‘Tattoos & Tequila’ released earlier in the year, Mötley Crüe front man Vince Neil has returned with his highly anticipated autobiography ‘Tattoos & Tequila: To Hell And Back With One Of Rock’s Most Notorious Frontmen’.

With the overwhelming success of Neil Strauss’ tell-all Mötley Crüe autobiography ‘The Dirt: Confessions Of The World’s Most Notorious Rock Band’ in 2001, and the continued success of drummer Tommy Lee’s own autobiography ‘Tommyland’ in 2004 and bassist Nikki Sixx’s ‘The Heroin Diaries: A Year In The Life Of A Shattered Rock Star’ in 2007, it comes as no surprise to find that Neil has finally decided to put pen to paper, and reveal his own story. With the help of bestselling author and award-winning reporter Mike Sager (whose work has graced the pages of Playboy, GQ, The Washington Post and Rolling Stone), the introduction of the book (‘The Opening Act’) is dedicated to setting up the premise of the book, with Sager giving readers an overview of Neil’s well known success, both as a member of Mötley Crüe and as a solo artist, but also as a businessman outside the music business, with his own line of premium tequilas (Tres Rios Tequila), his chartered aviation fleet (Vince Neil Aviation), his high-end tattoo/apparel parlours (Vince Neil Ink) and ever expanding number of restaurants. But aside from stating the obvious, Sager also gives readers his own personal impression of what Neil is like outside of the staged spotlight.

The three hundred and twenty page book (which includes sixteen pages of colour photographs from the Neil family albums and selections from renowned photographer William Hames) starts out with Neil detailing some of his more recent ventures in the business world and with Mötley Crüe (‘Chapter One - Tattoos & Tequila’), before going right back in time to his early childhood, where he grew up in the gang infested neighbourhood of Compton, before his family eventually relocation to Glendora after a close call with shots being fired outside the family home (‘Chapter Two – Nobody’s Fault’). Vince’s parents (Clois Odell ‘Odie’ and Shirley Oritz Wharton) and sister (Valarie Wharton Saucer) help out where Neil’s early memories are a little more than faded, which in turn provides some much needed background to Neil’s earlier years.

From here, the story really starts to pick up, with the introduction of Neil’s first band Rockandi alongside lead guitarist/founder James Alverson, Rockandi bassist/roadie/friend Joe Marks, Rockandi drummer Robert Stokes (Who are all interviewed for the book), his girlfriend Tami, the birth of his first child (Neil Wharton) while still in high school and the early formation of what was to become Mötley Crüe (‘Chapter Three – Beer Drinkers And Hell-Raisers’).

With the early history out of the way, and Mötley Crüe firmly together, the book really does speed along, with the band’s early history covered with some measure of depth (‘Chapter Four – No Feelings’). But of course, the book isn’t all about the band, with the story balanced out by incorporating plenty of details surrounding Neil’s personal life, including his first marriage (To Beth Lynn Neil), his relationship with the other members of the group, his managers (Doug Thaler and Doc McGee) and the birth of his second child (Elle Wharton). Of course, plenty of stories concerning other women and copious amounts of drugs are littered throughout Neil’s meteoric rise to fame, which only helps to give the reader a clearer picture of the tragic events that took place on 8th December 1984.

The details surrounding the tragic death of Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas ‘Razzle’ Dingley in ‘Chapter Six – Another Bad Day’ is by far the most intriguing, and confusing in the book. Neil’s recount of the accident is given in vivid detail, along with his account of what happened after the smash that would leave the couple in the Volkswagen (who Neil had a head on collision with) with permanent injuries. While there’s a clear sense that Neil blames himself, and feels remorse (even if he has since that day tried to suppress the memories of the day), it’s hard not to feel a real sense of contradiction when he later reveals his anger towards his manager McGhee sending him to rehabilitation facility for his drinking, his resentment for the way the band treated him following the accident, and his blasé attitude towards the eighteen days he spent in jail for vehicular manslaughter. Despite paying more than two and a half million dollars in restitution to the victims of the accident, his boasting about getting to drink and sleep with a fan while in prison just comes across as a hypocritical afterthought tacked on at the end of the chapter. The accident certainly had an effect on Neil, but the way it reads on paper, it’s clear that Neil couldn’t deal with the guilt and confused issues in his own mind at the time, and in some ways, still refuses (or simply doesn’t know how) to do so after all the years that since have passed.

From here, the book focuses on the band’s growing fame with the release of ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’, and their growing drug and alcohol dependencies (which Neil humorously reveals is the reason behind the guitar solo in ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ ending so abruptly). Naturally enough, Neil just skims over the overdose Sixx had in 1987 (after all, it’s not all about Sixx), and instead steers the story towards his marriage to mud-wrestler/fashion model Sharise Ruddell Neil, working with Bob Rock for 1989’s ‘Dr. Feelgood’ and all the gory details behind his highly publicised dispute with Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses.

Neil’s take on the fired/quit period where John Corabi took over his role within the band is quite an interesting take, the eventual turn of events that led to solo career. The book takes a different turn here, with Neil’s extra curricular activities (blonde bombshells his preferred weakness) taking up most of the words on the page. He does touch upon the marriage to his third wife Heidi Mark, he devotes quite a bit of the book to the sad passing away of his daughter Skylar from cancer at the age of four in 1995 (which is the only moment where Neil really opens up and reveals himself with any real hang ups or mask) and his battle with alcohol at the height of his addiction, and the lowest point professionally in his music career.

In the pages that where Neil does talk about music, he’s fairly forthright in saying that his solo career was anything but a huge success (especially 1995’s ‘Carved In Stone’, which Neil admits tanked primarily because the sound of the album was ahead of its time), and that his eventual return to Mötley Crüe, which unlike the version of events that were presented to the public in the past, was premeditated by Neil’s manager Allen Kovac. There’s no real surprise from this point on (apart from Neil’s unhappiness towards their 1997 effort ‘Generation Swine’, and his distrust of his fellow band members in Mötley Crüe), as Neil finally finds sobriety, happiness in his new life (alongside his fourth wife Lia Neil), a working relationship with Mötley Crüe (it’s merely a business partnership these days that benefits all those involved) and a renewed interest in his own solo career and vested interests in pursuits that’s outside his job in music.

All in all, ‘Tattoos & Tequila: To Hell And Back With One Of Rock’s Most Notorious Frontmen’ is an easy read, and one that doesn’t get too bogged down in the gory details that were otherwise covered in all their glory within ‘The Dirt: Confessions Of The World’s Most Notorious Rock Band’. Mike Sager has done an admirable job getting Neil’s story down on paper, especially given Neil’s reluctance to recount much of his past. And the contributions from former wives, Neil’s own children, family members, managers and band members adds a sense of realism to Neil’s life that otherwise might have been lacking in any real substance without a different perspective.

I’m not entirely sure that my perception of Neil has changed since reading this book (I tend to agree with his wives when they describe him as shallow), but this book is at least an entertaining read nonetheless, and perhaps the closest any members of Mötley Crüe have come in terms of telling the story about their own life in the same way ‘The Dirt: Confessions Of The World’s Most Notorious Rock Band’ did about spilling the beans behind the sordid history of the band.

For more information, visit