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Interview: 30 years in, Motley Crue still has a wild side

Motley Crue (music group)Toy IndustryGreat Allentown FairOzzy Osbourne

When Motley Crue reunited in 2004 following a four-year hiatus — five years for drummer Tommy Lee, who'd gone solo in 1999 — few believed the group would stick together for much longer than one last, valedictory, squeeze-it-for-all-it's-worth tour.

Soon enough, the members would be fighting, pulling temper tantrums, wanting to flee to solo projects, and the bad press would push the band into just another "Behind the Music" episode. Or so the conventional wisdom went.

But seven years later, the Crue is still together. It has launched a summer festival in the vein of Ozzfest, appropriately called Crue Fest, and it tours regularly.

Touring might be the band's future. Lee said they have not started recording new material and have not scheduled studio time. But, Lee said, their live show is like a blast from the past.

"You know, I was telling someone else that little cheeseball cliche of 'some things never change' and 'time flies when you're having fun,'" Lee said. "But it's so true for us."

The latest tour, which started in June and ends in August, stops at the Frederick Fairgrounds on Saturday, where it will perform alongside Poison and the New York Dolls as part of the two-day festival Outlaw Jam that also features Shooter Jennings, Black Stone Cherry and the Nighthawks, among others.

Lee wasn't the first to quit Motley. That would be Vince Neil, who, amid tensions with Lee, left in 1992 at the band's peak to pursue a solo career.

That went mostly OK until he flopped badly (and loudly) with his second solo album, "Carved in Stone." In 1997, he took up with his old bandmates again, only to replay old fights with Lee, who left the band himself two years later. Lee was replaced by Randy Castillo, whose death in 2002 from cancer sent the band into a hiatus.

Lee declined to talk about those solo years or his reasons for leaving the band, saying only that he didn't want to relive the ugliness. He talked about his return to Motley Crue in 2004 only in abstract terms.

"Sometimes, it's good to step outside of something and give it a rest," he said. "Yet I realized there's something really special about what the four of us do together. Sometimes you don't realize that. Vince and I had that experience, and we just had to get out for a while."

Since then, Lee said, they've been having "a really good time." And this year marks the band's 30th anniversary, as Lee is quick to point out.

They are all now in their 50s — or nearing 50, in Lee's case — and have kids. Still, Lee said, getting back into a rhythm as a band wasn't hard.

"It was like riding a bike," he said. "We all just jumped back on it, and away we went."

Lee said the band's energetic live shows have contributed to its lasting appeal.

"Over the years, we've taken the money we've made and put it right back into show," he said. "We spend more money than we should on production because that's what people love to see. They come to get entertained, so why not smash 'em in the face with it?"

In 2008, the band came up with the idea of a traveling glam metal show, which they dubbed Crue Fest, and that they repeated in 2009. Lee said Ozzy Osbourne's Ozzfest was the inspiration.

Though this year's summer tour isn't an official Crue Fest, it retains some of its spirit. The band is touring with contemporaries Poison — who are celebrating their 25th anniversary — and the New York Dolls, who formed almost 40 years ago.

Though its members came of age at the same time as Poison, Lee said, Motley Crue has more in common with the Dolls.

"We grew up with them," he said. "They were on our list of early inspirations."

The New York Dolls are still role models on how to rock into old age.

"Not a whole lot has changed other than the way we travel. People have families now. We travel in separate buses," Lee said. But on stage, "nothing's changed. After the show, we still have parties all the time. Some things change, others change slightly."

erik.maza@baltsun.com

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If you go

Motley Crue, Poison, the New York Dolls and others perform Saturday at Outlaw Jam, at the Frederick Country Fairgrounds, 797 E. Patrick St. in Frederick. The festival runs Saturday and Sunday. Tickets for Saturday are $43.75, and two-day passes are $71.50. Call 301-663-5895 or go to ticketfly.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Motley Crue (music group)Toy IndustryGreat Allentown FairOzzy Osbourne
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