By STEVE MASCORD
ON the final night of Vince Neil’s Motley Cruise in 2008, shortly before the aforementioned peroxide imp was about to go on in front of a raucous crowd of heartland head-bangers, a representative of Carnival Cruise lines approached the stage manager.
“I’d like to make an announcement,” said the uniformed official, smiling. “Sure,” he was told.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” several-hundred tipsy-to-slaughtered fans in the Carnival Fantasy‘s ornate ballroom were told, “We would like to thank you for coming along tonight and coming on the cruise.
“We hope you’ve had a great time and have enjoyed yourselves.
“In closing, I would like to assure you this will be the last Motley Cruise. So if they’ve started asking you for deposits for next year, you should think about getting that money back off them tomorrow morning.
Backstage, according to Larry Morand, who helped organise the cruise, “everyone’s jaw dropped – including Vince’s and (guitarist) Jeff Blando’s. We couldn’t believe someone would get up there and say that.”
While eighties hair metal and AOR may have become – as the name of this magazine suggests – “Classic Rock“, with all the soccer mom connotations that term carries – there was still a major cultural gulf between the genre’s beer-chugging constituents and the ultra-conservative world of cruise ships.
Too big a gulf for Carnival.
“They didn’t tell the other people who booked their honeymoons and retirement parties and things like that,’’ Neil later said in a TV interview.
“Because, my room overlooked the swimming pool and I could see all these people, just drinking and women with their tops off.
“And this is, like, eight o’clock in the morning!
“Then, on the other side, you’d see the little old ladies with the cruise director, getting told where the shuffleboard was, what time that’s going to start. They’re looking over the other side, saying ‘who are these people and are they going with us?’’’
But Carnival’s greivances were more precise, Classic Rock presents: AOR can reveal. Like the couple caught having sex in the pool and kicked off the boat at the next port. Or the man locked in the brig for smashing a glass window (“and that’s sea glass – not something that you can do by accident,” Morand admits).
Almost before it got started, Cock Rock Cruising had no future. This story was almost over before it began.
INDUSTRY veteran Morand, an experienced tour and production manager, didn’t give up so easily. He and his partners just had to find another cruiseline. They also had to find another name, since Motley Crue were reportedly not all that impressed with their clever pun. Read: possible legal action.
Italian cruiseline MSC, whose first ship burned in port at St Thomas in the 1960s and whose second was hijacked, had a brand new commission in the Poesia. It has a capacity of 3605 passengers and on the first Shiprocked cruise, they included the likes of Queensryche, Tesla, Ratt, Skid Row, Broken Teeth, StoneRider, Endeverafter and Lynam.
The sight of Geoff Tate and wife Susan waltzing during the fancy dress eighties school disco was the highlight. The following year, Vince Neil, who shared his stateroom with four strippers, leaving the stage for the bulk of his own show while his band played Led Zeppelin covers was unarguably the low light.
But slowly, Shiprocked was moving away from the original premise of the Motley Cruise by including modern rock acts such as Drowning Pool and SevenDust. Over the course of three years, other things changed too.
The Poesia learned not to close the bar at 2 am – and that drunk people wanted pizza at 1am when the ship cafeteria would normally be closed and ‘normal’ passengers tucked up in bed for the night.
While this writer was offered drugs more than once on the Motley Cruise (one passenger even asked if I knew his Melbourne-based dealer), there was a zero tolerance rule on Shiprocked. Nevertheless, sobriety was not exactly a popular pursuit and it became apparent that there was a core group of fun-loving fans who attended each of
these cruises, along with the M3 Festival in Maryland.
“There is no Metal Edge magazine anymore,” says Morand. “There’s no Headbangers Ball. How do these bands reach their fans? That’s what we tell them. This is where you come to find out who your fans are.
“And for the fans, this is their chance to go on vacation with their favourite band. The interaction is a big thing.”
While mostly positive, this aspect of the cruise also has a dark side. Normally, you can have a beer after a gig and whinge about how the band sucked.
On Shiprocked/Motley Cruise/Monsters Of Rock, chances are the band are behind you in the drinks line. When Ratt drummer Bobby Blotzer overheard a damning assessment of his outfit’s performance and was later asked by the critic for an autograph, he replied: “yeah, I’ll sign with with this” and offered his middle finger.
At least, that’s how the story was recounted to me – five minutes after it happened.
MORAND worked with Ronnie James Dio at the Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donnington in 1987.
“The best thing about it was the vibe backstage with all the bands that was great,” he said. “I mean, Download is a little like that – but not so much.
“I’m not as big a fan of Download but maybe that’s because I’m older and codgier.”
But it was an American DJ, Harlen Hendrickson, who re-animated the Monsters Of Rock brand name. The promoters of Donnington let it lapse and official records show Henrickson – who runs a syndicated metal radio programme – registered it on February 11, 2002.
“He called me saying he’d like to put a concert together,” recalls Morand. “I already had contacts through the cruises and I said ‘nah, let’s make it a cruise!’ He said really?'”
Instead of selling out half a ship – creating the sitation described above by Vince Neil – the new partners decided to take over a whole thing. To pull that off, they needed bands – a lot of bands.
If you are fans of a certain period of time, a certain boulevard in Los Angeles and a certain brand of hairspray, then there is no festival on dry land like this one.
In March this year, the Monsters Of Rock Cruise boasted: UFO, Tesla, Cinderella, Night Ranger, Kix, Stryper, Firehouse, Y&T, Lynch Mob, Helix, Eric Martin of Mr. Big, Ted Poley of Danger Danger, Keel, Black N’ Blue, Faster Pussycat, John Corabi, Bang Tango, Rhino Bucket, XYZ, Odin and DC4.
All on a ship, in three days – seriously.
Whereas previous cruises allowed guests to sleep in or lounge around until the music started at sundown, MOR was more like a three day festival with music kicking off early afternoon and most acts playing twice. For aficionados, there was almost no time for getting drunk.
Here at Classic Rock presents AOR, we are nothing if not aficionados but somehow we still managed to miss one of two of these storied hair metal icons.
And we still managed to get drunk.
TESLA have a loyal following, charge promoters a little more than many of their contemporaries and with good reason. Singer Jeff Keith’s voice is strong, he is more than willing to spend time with fans between shows and the band is as tight as a drum.
CINDERELLA are also reliable – as long as Tom Keifer’s voice holds out and the right piano is wheeled out (he tipped one over in disgust during one cruise). NIGHT RANGER included Damn Yankees and Ozzy Osbourne covers. “I
asked my friend Ted Nugent if he wanted to come,” Jack Blades – who was in the super group – told the crowd. “He said ‘can I bring my gun’. I said ‘nope’ so he isn’t here but the next best thing is a Damn Yankees song, right?”.
Morand thought of KIX as a “cult band” and wasn’t disappointed. Singer Steve Whiteman told a delightful story during the outdoor deck show about how he once jumped in the air at the start of a gig and shat his pants – a situation he had to battle through for the remainder of the gig.
Y&T seem to play in Europe more than the US these days but Dave Meniketti was up against driving rain and wind at one stage during their set. It’s sad not to see the late Phil Kennemore anymore but the California act has lost little musically.
HELIX delighted the Canadians aboard with a full tilt, deafening set in the tiny indoor lounge (although the appeal was somewhat lost on the reviewer), FASTER PUSSYCAT continue to impress with their updated sleaze sound –
now tinged with industrial leanings – while BANG TANGO have a great current album to work off (something Cinderella haven’t had in decades) and RHINO BUCKET’s rifferama was reminiscent of Broken Teeth on previous cruises.
Each night, after midnight, punters would stagger out of the bigger shows held in multi-storey ballrooms and find the likes of ERIC MARTIN or JOHN CORABI performing in a bar or lounge. The hirsuite Corabi played acoustic versions of Motley Crue’s “Hooligan’s Holiday” and The Scream’s “Man In The Moon” along with classic rock material, while Mr Big’s Martin fronted a full band including his wife Denise on drums.
To hear Mr Big’s “To Be With You” belted out by the ageless and eminently capable singer who made it hit must have beggared belief for some fans who had already seen four or five acts that day and would normally maybe only witness one of these bands live every six months.
After being snowed in following a casino show in Michigan, STRYPER and LYNCH MOB literally missed the boat. They raced the Poesia and each other down the Florida coast in rented vans to join the cruise when it stopped in Key West.
“One minute Lynch Mob was in front, then George saw water and wanted to get out for a swim,” Morand recalled.
When the ship set sail that night, Lynch joined Tesla’s Frank Hannon and Corabi for an all-star jam in a lounge. “My name’s been associated with this but don’t blame this shit on me,” the former Dokken axeman told revelers. “We’ve never met each other and we don’t know any songs.”
Starting with Free’s “All Right Now”, the jam was fantastic.
Fellow absentees Stryper were close to being the band of the weekend. They’ve toned down the bumble-bee look somewhat but still cut a striking figure in their black and yellow accoutrements (and still throw our bibles) and Robert Sweet, with his kit positioned side-on in centrestage, is a mesmerising skinsman.
DJ Luc Carl conducted morning “gym sessions” in support of his book “The Drunk Diet” which tells readers how to lose weight and get wasted at the same time.
There were occasions things did get a little cheesy – as you would expect from one of rock’s most commercial genres. Night Ranger appeared to spend plenty of time striking rawk poses and KEEL frontman Ron Keel’s favourite subjects seemed to be himself and the “rock history” he was making on the deck stage.
UFO were one of the few bands who only played once on this cruise and US DJ and television host Eddie Trunk was slavish in his praise of the veteran blues rockers when he introduced them. The US metal crowd’s reverence towards UFO knows no bounds and they were greeted in deafening fashion.
At one stage in a flawless set, vocalist Phil Mogg paused to watch a video on the big screen – opposite the stage – promoting sales for next year’s MOR. In it, a David Lee Roth lookalike posed on his bed surrounded by scantily-clad nymphs and empty whiskey bottles.
“Who’s That fellow?” said Mogg. “My cabin’s not like that at all. There’s a lamp and a couple of books.”
Mogg and bandmates, apparently, had taken the “fan interaction” aspect of MOR to new heights, opening and closing the main bar on the pool deck some days.
Pointing out fellow drinkers from the stage before “Lights Out”, Mogg said: “Just to show that I’m not completely gone … Lulu, Collette and Leabond.
“I’m not doing too bad. Blokes’ names, you can make up as you go along – ‘hi John, awright Fred’, drinks on you, drinks on him’.”
BUT do most bands enjoy, or merely tolerate, living at such close quarters to their fans?
Georg Dolivo, of Rhino Bucket: “There were certain people, who shall remain nameless, who had rockstaritis going on and were thinking that they didn’t want to be over-run by their over-zealous millions of fans.
“Everybody was respectful. Every now and then they’d come up and want to take your picture but, that’s fine. Plus, we were blind drunk the whole time so I don’t think anyone wanted to come near us.”
A strong indication that rock cruising has moved into the mainstream – after the tetchy start in ’08 – comes with the news that KISS have now done two ‘KISS Kruises’. After all, there’s nothing more mainstream than KISS.
Starting with an unmasked accoustic set outdoors, with a stage built over the pool, the KISS Kruise also features two full shows which must be performed at anchor because the painted ones’ platform boots are so high they make playing at sea dangerous.
The band answered pre-subitted questions after the acoustic show. One youngster said his dad, a veteran, did not want to come because “he thought he wouldn’t get on with people from other countries”. Paul Stanley said those who criticise the continuing use of Ace Frehley and Peter Criss’ makeup “can go fuck themselves”. The band also undertook to send one fan’s entire family on vacation.
When KISS play, the entire deck between their dressingroom and the stage is closed off. Gene Simmons and Stanley were rarely sighted between shows (Eric Singer carries hundreds of guitar picks everywhere, handing them out) but one
kruiser told me he was able to get 20 minutes with the demon – by spending $4000 on a Punisher bass.
Simmons’ business partner had set up a shop in one cabin. You negotiated your price for the instrument, and if you bought it, you were taken to a cabin to see Simmons.
Bear in mind the former reality TV star had just been married at the time and was no doubt being paid a fortune to take part in the cruise. But an extra few grand was clearly worth him investing some of his valuable time.
But KISS fans are a different breed (if you were from the same town or country as a fellow cruiser and they didn’t know you, you seemed to be considered nothing more than an insignificant infantryman in the KISS Army).
Generally speaking, says Bang Tango drummer Trent Anderson, fans no longer tolerate such aloofness.
“It’s changed from even five years ago,” he says. “People no longer want the rock star to go hide in the dressingroom or in their cabin on the boat. They want you to be personable, they want you to be real.
“These people have supported this music … for thirty-something years. They’re no longer intrigued by the guy who’s a jerk and goes and hides. They want recognition that they’ve been loving that music for 30 years. If you’re not giving that to people, they’re not going to stick around.
“Our theory in Bang Tango is we no longer have fans, we have family and friends.
“We’re not curing cancer. We’re not feeding the poor. We’re just a bunch of monkeys at the zoo, trying to be entertaining.
“Today’s rock star is the guy who sits there and hangs out with you and has a beer.’
Dolivo did admit that by the end of the second day, things had started to become a little “tedious”. “You’re on a floating hotel with the people,” he said. “You start to think …. OK, can we move on now?”
KISS sold out their second KISS Kruise. The second Monsters Of Rock, setting off on March 16, features many of this year’s acts – along with a reformed Arcade, Queensryche, Lita Ford, Saxon, Loudness, Great White, Dangerous Toys, Nelson, the Quireboys, LA Guns, Enuff Z’Nuff, Femme Fatale, Alcatraz and Russ Dwarf.
Shiprocked continues independently. In December, it included Godsmack, Korn, Five Fingered Death Punch, Sevendust, POD, Fuel, Filter, Helmet, Lit, Geoff Tate, Gilby Clarke and The Letter Black.
The KISS Kruise is run by Sixthman, who specialise in this sort of thing. They’ve done similar events for Kid Rock and Weezer.
Morand’s little business is booming, too, a DJ with a keen eye for a trademark has a profitable stake and everyone is getting royally drunk.
“The first Monsters Of Rock, we got beers from around the world and around different parts of the United States to recognise where people had come from,” says Morand.
“But the staff on the Poesia were a bit … European. They hid the beers where no-one could see them and sold what they normally sell. We can still improve them, make them think in a more American way.”
Not that getting wasted is a peculiarly American passtime – as evidenced when Morand received a phone call from security as the first Monsters Of Rock cruise was disembarking in March this year; a phone call that put the smarmy Carnival announcement of four years before very much in perspective.
“This guy says to me ‘we have a problem’,” Morand recalls. “He said ‘I’ve got the singer from UFO here, passed out in a deckchair’. I said ‘well, wake him up. We’re all getting off the boat’. He said ‘he’s unresponsive’.”
Morand responded with horrified silence.
Eventually, Phil Mogg game around. But not before the promoter of Monsters Of Rock had recalled several important plot devices from the movie “Weekend At Bernie’s”.
Filed for: CLASSIC ROCK PRESENTS: AOR