Vince Neil Steps Out With a Whole New Crue

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rock singer Vince Neil's eagerness to discuss his new solo album, "Exposed," was put on hold for a moment. First he had to set the record straight on another issue: why he was fired by Motley Crue after 11 years as the Los Angeles-based hard-rock band's lead singer.

"Despite what everybody heard, it had nothing to do with me choosing racing over music," said Neil, whose hobby is driving Indy Lights cars.

"That was the announcement the band put out and that's all some people ever heard," he continued. "Some people really thought I had given up rock 'n' roll for racing--which I would never do."

The real reason? The usual, according to Neil: musical differences.

"I wanted the band to continue a straight hard-rock direction but they wanted to go in a blues direction," he explained, sitting in a West Hollywood hotel suite rented for a day of interviews.

"We had been rehearsing for a few months but we didn't do any recording. It just wasn't sounding good to me. I'm not a blues singer and Motley is a rock band--not a blues band. I think it's a stupid idea that will alienate the fans. I would have tried the blues thing and tried to put my own spin on it but I never got the chance.

"Getting fired took me totally by surprise," said Neil, shivering at the unpleasant memory. "It's the last thing I thought would happen. I haven't talked to those guys since it happened and I don't really care if I talk to them again."

There's still communication though--through their lawyers. Neil is suing the band for damages, claiming the firing hurt his career. The case is currently in arbitration.

Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee and Mick Mars (who declined to be interviewed) plan to release their first post-Neil album in the fall, and their new singer, ex-Scream vocalist John Corabi, will have a big role to fill: Neil's vocals were one of the main attractions of the five Motley albums, and a key reason that the group became one the biggest hard-rock bands of the '80s.

So now the 32-year-old Neil is free to pursue his passion for hard rock. His first solo effort was a single, "You're Invited (But Your Friend Can't Come)," for last year's "Encino Man" soundtrack. His just-released debut album features his new band (which includes Billy Idol's former guitarist, Steve Stevens) and is dominated by a venerable twin-guitar, AC/DC-style attack.

Neil has switched to Warner Bros. Records, leaving Motley's label, Elektra. "If I had stayed there, I might have been second-best to Motley Crue," he pointed out. "But Elektra also wouldn't give me the money I wanted."

The label may have been skeptical about Neil's chances for success with a mainstream hard-rock album in a market dominated by alternative-rock. That's not Neil's favorite music.

"I listen to Deep Purple and classic rock," he said. "On half the Seattle-sound stuff you can't even understand the words. These bands are giving political opinions and I never believed in that. I've always looked at rock music as an escape route. But if you're singing about politics and social issues, that's no escape from reality."

Neil will be the opening act for Van Halen this summer. Going on the road could be an unsettling experience, he conceded. "This is like starting a new career--dealing with all those insecurities," he said. "But I think I can deal with them."

But can he deal with being an opening act after years of headlining with Motley?

"I don't know," he admitted. "There's less pressure because you don't have to carry a whole show. It'll be strange. I'll have to adjust."

But there's an even more unnerving thought. "I know there's a possibility the album won't be a big seller, but I don't want to think about it," he said. "I'd drive myself crazy worrying."

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