Meet Motley Crue’s Secret ‘Smokin’ in the Boys Room’ Harmonica Player
From songwriting to performance, credits on major recordings are often affected by whoever happens to be calling the shots — which is 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: Mötley Crüe's Theatre of Pain.
The band's 1985 release gave them their first Top 10 hit on the Billboard album chart — as well as a Top 20 pop single with their cover of Brownsville Station's "Smokin' in the Boys Room." 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 during a recent interview. Recalling that his Crüe connection came courtesy of producer Tom Werman, with whom he'd worked on some sessions for similarly umulauted rockers Blue Öyster Cult, he described the session as a positive experience.
"They wanted a harmonica player," said Raphael. "[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,'" he pointed out. "The funny thing is that Vince even won an award that year for ‘Best Heavy Metal Instrumentalist.'"
There doesn't seem to be any record of Neil winning any awards as an instrumentalist, heavy metal or otherwise, but 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.
Still, all's well that ends well for Raphael: a long-tenured member of Willie Nelson's band, he's racked up an impressive list of credits over the years, and has released a pair of instrumental albums showcasing his work.
"I’m just very fortunate to be doing something that I love doing," Raphael said in a separate interview. "I don’t take it for granted."
Motley Crue Albums Ranked Worst to Best