30 Years Ago: Motley Crue Hit New Highs and Lows on the Dr. Feelgood Tour
A newly sober Motley Crue kicked off their Dr. Feelgood tour with the unlikely goal of not just continuing but improving upon their '80s run of chart and tour successes.
They managed to pull it off but paid substantial personal and combined costs as a result. By the end of the grueling nearly yearlong campaign, several band members had fallen off the wagon and into old bad habits. The group's original lineup wasn't willing or able to function together as a full-scale recording and touring unit again for more than half a decade.
Realizing soon after the conclusion of a tour in support of 1987's Girls, Girls, Girls that they were all in various stages of substance abuse, Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee and Mick Mars each entered rehab. After collectively getting clean, the group holed up in Vancouver for six months with producer Bob Rock, who tough-loved them into making their most refined and hit-packed album to date, 1989's Dr. Feelgood.
After a special one-night return to the tiny Whisky a Go Go stage on Oct. 5 -- which was filmed for the "Kickstart My Heart" video -- Motley Crue kicked off the full-scale Dr. Feelgood tour on Oct. 14 in Essen, Germany. They'd go on to play 153 more shows over the next 10 months, with support from groups including Warrant and Tesla.
"We didn't hang out, we didn't party, we didn't stick our dicks where they didn't belong," Lee explained in the band's 2001 autobiography, The Dirt. "We just flew into a city, played our asses off and got the fuck out of there. For the first time, we were operating like a machine instead of four untamed animals."
That mindset would turn out to be the start of a new kind of problem. Eager to capitalize on the success of the band's first No. 1 album, Motley Crue's label and management released five singles from Dr. Feelgood between August 1989 and July 1990, and kept the band on the road that entire time. "We were a money machine, and they were going to keep working us until we broke," Lee declared. "And, dude, break we did."
A scary onstage accident that could have been interpreted as the first sign the band was being stretched too far occurred on Aug. 7, 1990, when Lee fell while performing his latest high-flying drum solo stunt. "We ended up canceling a show or two while I recovered from my concussion," he recalled. "The rest of the band was thankful for the extra days off, but afterward it was back to the never-ending road show."
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Increasingly exhausted, and with their newly stable domestic and romantic lives suffering as a result of their prolonged time away from home, Lee, Sixx and Neil eventually fell back into bad habits. "We were all sneaking alcohol, buying drugs and reverting to our old self-destructive habits," Lee confessed. "With the possible exception of Mick, whose fiancee happened to be on the road with us as a backup singer."
The band entertained itself in healthy ways onstage -- with Lemmy Kilmister, Poison's Bret Michaels and Black Oak Arkansas frontman Jim Dandy joining in on the group's cover of Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock" at various shows -- and more unhealthy ways backstage, as detailed extensively in chapter eight of The Dirt. "What began as a clean and wholesome tour had, near the end, turned into a sick sexual circus," Lee summarized.
"It was like these girls were standing in line for the toilet, but they were standing in line for us," Neil recalled in his 2010 book Tattoos & Tequila. "There didn't seem to be any limit to what we could achieve."
The tour was certainly profitable for the band. "We each walked with a payday of over $8 million," Neil stated. "Not bad for a quartet of high school dropouts." But this time the foursome seemed to realize that this time the sex, drugs and money weren't enough to keep them going. After breaking into a profanity-laced tirade while recording what was supposed to be a thank-you message for retailers across the U.S., Lee said the group "collapsed on the floor and full-on sobbed. We couldn't even speak. We were so exhausted, so depleted, so devoid of all thought and emotion."
At that point, he said manager Doug Thaler took mercy on the group: "[He] looked at us, shook his head and said, 'Maybe it's time we took you guys off the road for a little while.' Dude, you've never seen four motherfuckers split up and go their own way faster than we did."
The end of the Dr. Feelgood tour all but marked the end of Motley Crue's golden era. After recording a few new songs -- including the sublime "Primal Scream" -- for a decade-summarizing best-of album, the band was unable to successfully rally together to record a full-length follow-up. Singer Vince Neil quit or was fired from the group, depending on whom you believe, and it would be seven years before the reunited original lineup mounted a headlining tour again.