Satanism, Car Crashes and Belly Buttons: The Curious Case of the Nikki Sixx Impostor
Tales of mystery and conspiracy are nothing new in music. From the original Bob Dylan being swapped out following his 1966 motorcycle crash to the whole “Paul Is Dead” hoax that began in 1969, rumors of musicians being replaced after a horrific accident are, hands down, some of the most intriguing rabbit holes to fall down.
One of the more outlandish instances is the case of Matthew John Trippe, who not only insisted to have stood in for Nikki Sixx during one of the most creative periods in Motley Crue history, but sued the band in an attempt to obtain royalties for songs he claimed to have written.
The story of Trippe was first revealed in the U.K. music magazine Kerrang! in the March 12, 1988, issue. Even though the timeline surrounding the circumstances have fluctuated somewhat over the years, the allegations have remained the same, beginning with Satanist and budding musician Trippe leaving his home in Erie, Penn., in the early '80s for the greener pastures of Los Angeles to make it.
Leaving his past behind -- a past that included some time spent in mental health facilities -- Trippe immersed himself into the Southern California music scene by donning a black wig and frequenting Sunset Strip clubs like the Rainbow, Whisky a Go Go and the Troubadour.
At the Troubadour one evening, Trippe said he was approached by Mick Mars after the guitarist had been sizing him for days. Offering to buy him a drink and asking if he played bass, which Trippe said he could, Mars told him he was in a band called Motley Crue that had just been signed to a major label. The two subsequently went to meet band co-managers Doc McGee and Doug Thaler who handed Trippe a bass and asked him to play some music.
“[They said], ‘We’re gonna take a chance on you,'” Trippe recalled in 2012 during a three-hour podcast hosted by Ryan Barton. “I was in front of contracts, and crap like that [was] thrown down. I didn’t have time to read it, I went to sign my name, they says, ‘No, we’re gonna give you a stage name, you’re now ‘Nikki Sixx’ and you just sign it here, there’s no need to read it.’”
Frank Feranna, the original Nikki Sixx, who in June 1983 had been in a car accident that injured his shoulder so badly he required surgery that would leave him on the shelf indefinitely, supposedly went with the narrative. Unwilling to halt the momentum created by their self-funded 1981 debut, Too Fast for Love, Motley Crue were determined to continue on, seamlessly enlisting Trippe as a substitute with none the wiser.
Trippe began writing material for the band, he said, penning tracks like “’Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid” and “Looks That Kill,” highlights of what would become Motley Crue’s breakthrough effort, Shout at the Devil, which came out in September 1983. While Ferranna was involved at first, his burgeoning heroin addiction led management to keep him separate from the rest of the group until he could get clean.
Hitting the road in support of of Kiss and then Ozzy Osbourne -- with Trippe handling live duties and subsisting on his only form of payment, a per diem -- Motley Crue continued to work on material for their next album, Theatre of Pain. At the end of the tour in April 1984, Trippe was informed that Feranna was returning and his services would no longer be required.
Retreating to his mother’s home in Ft. Myers, Fla., that summer, Trippe hooked up with some hitchhikers who robbed a pair of mall magazine stands while Trippe, or so he claimed, was the unwitting getaway driver. Arrested in Erie and extradited back to Florida in August 1984 on charges of armed robbery, he was somehow released on bail. At this point, Motley Crue were on tour in Europe with Feranna back in the fold. According to Trippe, McGee told him to continue writing songs, which would manifest themselves not just on Theatre of Pain, but also on its follow-up, 1987’s Girls, Girls, Girls.
A couple months after Theatre of Pain was released in June 1985, Trippe had his day in court and, while sentenced to six months probation, was ordered into a drug rehabilitation facility for two years. When he completed serving his time in November 1987, he called up Motley’s management, which, he said, promptly hung up on him.
“It was like I was rubbed out,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1988. “When I tried to form bands, I’d tell people I used to be Nikki Sixx, and they’d say, ‘No way.’ I thought, ‘How can [Motley Crue] make it seem like I don’t exist?’ But unfortunately they did a good job.”
When the Kerrang! piece came out, it cited discrepancies between more recent pictures of Feranna as Sixx and the ones Trippe said were of him. There was a marked difference between the two. Trippe was shorter, and in some tour photos, "Nikki Sixx" appeared to be the same height same as singer Vince Neil, while he was noticeably taller in others. Trippe had green eyes, Sixx apparently was shown with blue eyes that sometimes appeared hazel (Trippe would later claim Sixx wore green contacts).
Then there was the oft-mocked claim of Sixx having a more “horizontal, elongated and depressed navel.” This was a time period when Motley Crue were caked in make-up, with Sixx having hear teased high yet hanging into his face, which was adorned with a warpaint-stylized visage, leaving clear-cut disproof.
“He could at times be very convincing, and to this day, I don't know whether or not anything he said was true,” Roger Hemond, who played guitar with Trippe in the late-'80s band Sixx Pakk, said in a 1998 interview. “I have seen copyright forms processed by the Library of Congress that had every member of Motley Crue’s full real name, aka name and Social Security number, with the exception of Nikki Sixx. All it said was 'Nikki Sixx' and gave a Social Security number, which, I swear to God, was the same number on Matthew John Trippe's Social Security card, which I was holding in my other hand.”
An anonymous individual told a fantastic story about how one night he went to Trippe’s house in Erie and there was a Mercedes in the driveway. He went inside and saw in the living room Doc McGee and a large man with him who supposedly said, "You better go back to wherever you came from and pretend you were never here." Trippe later refused to discuss the incident.
When he was doing his two years in drug rehabilitation, Trippe joined the Temple of Set, an offshoot of the Church of Satan led by Michael Aquino. The organization had a somewhat restrictive admission process, but Aquino, who championed Trippe’s state of affairs beginning in 1986, believed he was the real deal, with one of the key pieces of evidence: a speeding ticket Trippe presented to him. The ticket was issued in Florida to the driver of a Lamborghini identified as Sixx, with Mick Mars as its registered owner.
A complaint was filed by Trippe against McGee Entertainment on Jan. 29, 1988, for “civil theft and other relief.” He sought royalties for songs such as “Knock ‘Em Dead, Kid,” “Girls Girls Girls,” “You’re All I Need,” “Dancing on Glass” and “Wild Side,” and said he had copyright forms to back up his assertions.
“They [Motley Crue] were all upset by it, but particularly Nikki,” McGee said in 2016 of the lawsuit. “We had a lot of distractions. The drug abuse and the stuff that was going on with the guys. … [Trippe] just added to the craziness. … I’d never met the guy. This was all news to me. I didn’t really look at it [the lawsuit] because it’s so far-fetched, especially when you’re there. It’s not like you go, ‘Well, I wonder if he really was Nikki Sixx?’ Then we had a deposition. He was there. And then right after that deposition, they threw the case out.”
But was it? Jerry Rollins Oglesby, a private investigator who worked with Trippe on the lawsuit, refuted McGee’s contention that it was thrown out.
“Matthew did not drop the case -- it was dismissed on a technicality in the statute of limitations in contract tort law,” he said. “In Florida, the statute of limitations is four years on a contract tort. We sued in Florida. In California, it is two years. They, the record label's attorney, joined forces with McGee Entertainment and contrived a viable statement that is a matter of record in Tampa Florida Circuit Court. I quote: ‘We are not saying that a contract was struck with Matthew Trippe, but if it was signed, it would be signed in California, therefore the statute of limitations would have expired.’ The case was dismissed. It is a matter of record, ladies and gentleman.”
Regardless, the final summary judgment for the suit was entered in December 1993. The files in the case were destroyed in accordance with retention requirements set forth in the Rules of Judicial Administration in August 2005. Motley Crue never officially commented on the events, despite having given depositions.
While working on the songs that would become the smash album Dr. Feelgood, the band demoed a track titled “Say Yeah” that didn’t make the final cut. Years later, it appeared on the odds-and-ends collection Supersonic and Demonic Relics and is purportedly about Trippe, with lines like, “You may have been raised by the skin of your teeth, but you got no originality” and “If you don’t sue us, what’s your use? Everyone else has.” Interestingly, it’s one of the only Crue songs not to have any set of complete lyrics available – anywhere.
“That was one of those weird things where [management] came to me when I was off the road, and said some guy is saying he’s you and Kerrang! magazine wants to do an interview. You basically can make fun of the guy or something,” Sixx told the Boston Phoenix in 2011. “I said, ‘Dude, I’ve been on the road for 13 months, I’m not doing any interviews, I’m writing songs right now.’ I was actually at the time getting off drugs after Girls, Girls, Girls. So they went and did an interview with the guy, and he told this story about how he was me and I’m not me, and it got picked up and took off in the press! And I kept ignoring it and ignoring it until it actually turned into a problem. Which, legally, then the guy had to get his ass kicked.”
Then, in May 2014 on his Sixx Sense radio program, Sixx gave his most detailed remarks on the situation, saying, “I didn’t take it serious, but it actually started picking up steam. There was pictures in Kerrang! magazine of this guy and me, and they were actually the most ludicrous things I’ve ever seen. They compared our belly buttons. They were like, ‘Which belly button belonged to Nikki Sixx pre-1984 … ’ I mean, it was so stupid. And this guy had my tattoos … but he had got them on the wrong arm. They were backwards. He must’ve looked ... I don’t know how he did it.
“This is the most insane part," he continued. "The guy actually filed a lawsuit against me. All he said he wanted was all of his songwriting royalties. Which, you know, he basically just wanted my life and my financial life and he wanted to be me – he didn’t want to be in the band anymore. That got thrown out of court and everything, and we started doing the research on this guy and he had been in a mental institution in Erie, Penn. At that time, I remember it freaking me out so much that I had a .357 and I used to go to the shooting range, and I started carrying it in my car, ‘cause I just had this weird feeling that this guy could just pop up at any point. I didn’t know if my life was in danger.”
There are still those who believe Trippe’s story. He’s no longer around to defend it; he died in late 2014 after decades of hard drinking. In the end, he said of his time as "Nikki Sixx," “I’m not really gonna take credit for anything, because everybody thinks I’m a fraud.”
“I think that Matthew Trippe believed he really was Nikki Sixx and wanted more of it,” McGee said after his death. “He found a couple of lawyers that believed him, and we had to go through a couple of years of defending ourselves.”
“I'll tell you one thing,” Trippe’s ex-bandmate Hedmond said. “If I were going to try to pull what Matt alleges [McGee] did, I would probably pick someone a lot like Matt to do it with, because nobody would believe him completely -- he was a lunatic!"