Meet Motley Crue’s Secret ‘Smokin’ in the Boys Room’ Sideman
From songwriting to performance, credits on major recordings are often affected by whoever happens to be calling the shots. That's a polite way of saying that the liner notes to some of your favorite LPs may not always offer an entirely accurate representation of the labor that went into the making of the album.
Case in point: Motley Crue's Theatre of Pain. The album marked their first Top 10 hit on the Billboard album chart, and also launched a Top 20 pop single with their cover of Brownsville Station's "Smokin' in the Boys Room" on June 24, 1985.
As far as anyone who read the Theater of Pain credits knew, the song's harmonica solo was performed by frontman Vince Neil, adding a rare instrumental credit to his résumé. The truth, however, was somewhat murkier.
According to renowned harmonica player Mickey Raphael, he was really the one who handled the solo.
"Yeah, that was me," he told the Sun Herald in 2017. Raphael's Crue connection came courtesy of producer Tom Werman, with whom he'd worked on some sessions for similarly umulauted rockers Blue Öyster Cult.
Raphael described the session as a positive experience: "They wanted a harmonica player," he said. "[Werman] called me up and asked me to come in and play on the song. [Drummer Tommy Lee] was my handler in the studio, and he couldn’t have been more gracious."
Far less gracious was the way the performance credits were divvied up when it came time to write the Theater of Pain liner notes. "Vince played a harmonica on the last note of the song, so he was credited for harmonica. If you look in the fine print somewhere it says, 'Additional harmonica by Mickey Raphael,'" Raphael pointed out. "The funny thing is that Vince even won an award that year for ‘Best Heavy Metal Instrumentalist.'"
Watch Motley Crue Perform 'Smokin' In the Boys Room'
There doesn't seem to be any record of Neil winning any awards as an instrumentalist, heavy metal or otherwise. That funny footnote aside, Raphael's story isn't uncommon — nor is it one he's shied away from telling over the years.
The fact that it remains less than widely known is a reflection of how much we want to assume that our favorite artists are fair, and an example of why most session players who don't get the credit they deserve rarely speak up.
Neil's inability to play the "Smokin' in the Boys Room" solo live led to a Spinal Tap-like moment during the band's July 26, 1987 show at the Buckeye Lake Music Center in Hebron, Ohio. "We had a small disaster that day," the band's longtime security guard Fred Saunders confirmed in Nikki Sixx's The Heroin Diaries.
"Vince can't even play the harmonica but I can," Saunders said, "so we'd cut Vince's mic off and he'd lip-sync and pretend to be playing, while the truth was that I was hidden at the side of the stage and playing into a mic. I used to watch him up there, posing and sucking in his cheeks. But at Buckeye Lake, I was practicing and the hidden microphone was on, so this harp solo suddenly came blasting out of nowhere in the middle of a different song completely. Vince looked real pissed."