Early Mötley Crüe Photographer Don Adkins Talks ‘Too Fast for Love’ Days – full in bloom Interview
Interview w/ Early Mötley Crüe Photographer Don Adkins
full in bloom: Do you remember the first time you met Nikki Sixx?
Don Adkins: Sure, I went backstage. You know when you are younger and you don’t know what you don’t know. I would just go up and approach people, “hi, I’m Don Adkins,” and hand them a card. So, I basically did that with Nikki and he says, “come on back” and I just sat there and talked music with him. He was a very, very nice guy, very approachable, also, very insecure at the time. He was also like, “I’m too fat”…..I’m too this, I’m too that, oh, I want to do this….I liked what I saw in London and got to know him. Later, we built a really good relationship. I did their first ever record cover shooting, again at my mom’s house in Cerritos. I did the “Stick to Your Guns,” “Toast of the Town” 45. There were only five hundred copies of that pressed and I think only about 300 went out, and I have five of them. I’ve had people hunt me down and try to get a hold of one. Yeah, that was shot in my parent’s living room. Nikki, by this point, had hooked up with this manager from up north. This guy had made his money in real estate, or as a developer, and he was looking for something else to do with his money. His name was Allan Coffman and he was Motley Crue’s first manager. Coffman would go ahead and pay all the bills.
Mötley Crüe – Stick To Your Guns / Toast Of The Town (Vinyl, 7″)
Don: So, we release the single and they started playing Los Angeles. When it came time to do some publicity shots, they said, “let’s go back to Don’s stuff and let’s do something different.” Nikki would spend a lot of time with me on the phone saying, “I want this kind of concept.” Usually the concepts revolved around, “let’s do something that gets attention, let’s do something that shocks, or something that creates a buzz.” He was really into the Alice Cooper kind of thing, combining theatrics, visuals and rock….something heavier. He also liked what groups like the Tubes did, because they were really outrageous. He would say that later when he “made it,” he would want the greatest finale in the world on stage, where you would have all kinds of special effects; you’d have midgets, hookers and all kinds of stuff on stage that would just leave people in shock.
Don: So, in talking with that kind of visual in mind, the next time they came back for a shoot, they were like, “well, now we need to put together a press kit and Allan is going to pay for this really, really nice press kit. Don, we not only need black and whites, but we need some really great color images and we need to do something that’s outrageous.” So, I went ahead and went and got one of those blue swap meet plastic tarps and stuck that on the wall of my living room. Then the guys came over and they had some new clothes made by their girlfriends and then Mick Mars came over with his guitar which was just a basic black and I said, “I wonder if there is something to do to dress it up.” My mom comes out and said, “I have this.” It was basically this tape that you use when you want to tape off the floor area, if you don’t want people to pass. It was yellow and black. Mick goes, “oh, that’s wicked.” So, we go ahead and start taping his guitar and we got this really cool yellow and black look where he lined up all the stripes and that wound up being the look that was in the photos. Along with that, I think even one of the shots we even wrapped Nikki in my camera strap. We did this shot of them in front of the backdrop and we had this kind of party scene, with confetti and silly string and that wound up becoming their shots they used for their promo kit and also the shots that they showered L.A. with posters everywhere.
full in bloom: Weren’t you there when they chose the name Motley Crue?
Don: Yes I was. Nikki lived in the Valley with this girl named Laurie Bell, who had this group called The Orchids, which was another Kim Fowley group.
full in bloom: That was Nikki’s girlfriend at the time?
Don: Yes. I used to go up to the Valley and just hang with them and it turned out to be the same time he was formulating Motley Crue. We’re all up there and I was basically doing a drop off, dropping some photos off. We’re sitting around the couch in his living room and they were trying to come up with a name for the group and they were going to call themselves Christmas. They kind of laid out the concept for Christmas and Nikki was starting to get into it. He said, “we’ve got to go ahead with the name, because we have this show coming up.” So, we’re sitting around the couch and I got to meet and talk with Mick Mars…..so, we are sitting there and that’s when Mick goes, “look at us, we’re a motley crew” and Nikki goes, “what?” Nikki writes it down on a piece of paper and then goes, “Don, what do you call those two dots in German,” I go, “those are called umlauts.” He says, “look, I put some of those here and then some over here” and me being the analytical one go, “Nikki, that’s not grammatically correct.” He says, “But it looks cool.” So, that was the genesis of the name Mötley Crüe.
full in bloom: Amazing.
Don: It was really, really cool. I wound up being there for their very first gigs, before they even hooked up with Allan Coffman. Nikki said, “we need some buttons.” At the time, I was making these little rock buttons of some of my favorite groups. I went ahead and made them about 100 buttons, where I basically took the Motley Crue logo, reduced it, took it over to the printers, printed out all these logos on a sheet of paper, cut them out, glued them on cardboard and then put a clasp pin on them and that’s what they would pass out at their shows.
full in bloom: Why don’t you end up doing the photos for Too Fast for Love?
Don: Quite honestly, I was a good photographer for the initial shot of really good promo shots, or live shots and I wound up finding ways to cheat by shooting album covers in 35mm, but to really do it right, you need a larger format camera and I was not equipped with that. Nor was my career heading in that direction where I wanted to even make photography a full time thing and make that kind of investment. So, when it came to that, Nikki basically hooked up with some others and he said they got him next to nothing or free, only the cost of materials. However, I was there for the recording of Too Fast for Love.
Don: However, I was there for the recording of Too Fast for Love.
full in bloom: Anything stand out from those Too Fast for Love recording sessions?
Don: Yeah. We were in the studio and the thing that stands out was watching what kind of sound they wanted to have and where they wanted to go with the sound. I remember Tommy Lee, he went ahead….I mean, all of them were really good about, ‘what do we want to sound like’ and ‘where do we want to go’ and then they would go ahead and find out how others did it. Tommy Lee would say, “I want this kind of drum sound” and he would listen to this German group called Accept. He would say, “listen to this sound, everything that comes out of Germany has this sound and I want to have this sound.” The thing about Too Fast for Love, they probably spent about eight hours mic-ing and getting the sound right for the drums. In any rock n roll recording, the drums are always the hardest to capture. So, they experimented with every single combination of room mic and making sure they had the right kind of isolation and they really nailed down the sound for the drums. When they actually started laying down drum tracks to tape, that’s when they would all come in separately and go in these isolated rooms and start laying down their guitar tracks.
full in bloom: Do you have a story about any of the songs from Too Fast for Love?
Don: Yes, “Merry Go Round.” Basically, Nikki was living in the projects outside Seattle, WA. He was really struggling in the projects and one day he came out to this playground area right outside of his place and there was this guy there that had lost it. The guy had just lost his job, or something and lived there in the projects and he was just going round and round on the merry-go-round and Nikki said it just struck him.
full in bloom: I am looking at these photos you took. Were these taken at a music store?
Don: Yeah. They were in Goodman Music, up in the Valley. I think it was in Sherman Oaks or something. One of the things their manager, Allan Coffman, made sure of is that they were equipped with really good equipment. Nikki also did a really good job selling the idea to Allan, because he knew Allan had a lot of money. Nikki did a really good job, saying “we need the best equipment, that’s the only way we are going to make it.” Allan was very good with money and they thought they drew up a pretty rock solid agreement for Allan Coffman (laughs), which later turned out not to be. They were able to get sponsorship deals, where they would appear in Goodman Music advertisements and in turn get some equipment out of it. That’s what that photo is from. We were doing an appearance at Goodman’s.
full in bloom: And the other shot?
Don: The other shot was the very, very first album cover shoot, in front of that green thing, that was a garage in Cerritos. So, after the shoot I took them outside, photographed them against my garage. Part of it was for shock value just to show my neighbors. Right after that, I said, “let’s go have some fun.” We all drove down the street, I live 2 miles from the Cerritos Mall and I had a girlfriend working in the mall at Spencer Gifts and I thought, ‘hey, I’ll surprise the hell out of my girlfriend.’ I took them all to the mall, all dressed up, we walk through the mall and you should have seen it…..the whole mall was stopping, and as they are marching along, I’m photographing them. About five minutes goes by and here comes security. She’s like “excuse me, what are you doing, you can’t be doing this in a public place”….and Vince Neil starts talking to her and he just starts working it and pretty soon she is just charmed by him and then next thing you know, we’re walking through the mall again and I’m taking pictures with her and the group together. That was the kind of charm they could pull off. What turned into a thing like, we’re going to throw you out of the mall into them posing with us.
The Motley Hair Ritual
Don: There’s also a shot of the first Motley Crue video shoot, which I have seen turn up on that episode of Driven and it was in one of their videos, The History of Motley Crue, or something like that. For that, we set up this giant stage in this studio, it was an eleven hour day, about nine hours of that was their hair (laughs). The hair ritual was always funny, they would all be hanging upside down, spray the hair perfectly, walk out on the stage, with their heads hanging down and then only at the last second, they would go ahead and put their head up, so their hair wouldn’t fall. We did a bunch of still shots like that and then they recorded this video and the video was shot by Bell Piper, Randy Piper’s wife. She went ahead and did the video for cost or free, just to get in on the ground floor with these guys.
full in bloom: Is there a story to the Vince Neil & David Lee Roth shot?
Don: Sure. After they were already managed by Allan Coffman and they were really building a good L.A. buzz. They were starting to pack the Whisky, pack the Starwood and they were invited to be the New Year’s band at the Troubadour. Here they are being this big New Year’s Eve band and David Lee Roth shows up for the show. He’s become good friends with the band, by this point. Basically, they have this incredible New Year’s Eve show, high-energy, a big party, and afterwards we all went upstairs backstage to have a great time for the night. David is up there hanging out just being David and I grab him an Vince and said let’s get a shot together and that’s when they posed. Later, after the Troubadour, it was already getting well into 2 AM and the club needed to shut down, so the guys said let’s take it back to our apartment. There was this apartment they all lived in that was above the Whisky. It was Vince, Nikki and Tommy that all lived together. We all go back there, a lot of the people that were backstage went as well, and the party went into the morning, with David Lee Roth and all of us hanging out. A really good night.
full in bloom: Any good tales from that night?
Don: Nothing really good from that night. The funnier story would be, sometime later, a matter of months, it was still that same winter. I was out shooting a show out in the Valley and I was coming back over the hill. I’m on the freeway, extremely hard pouring rain. I’m driving in the fast lane of the freeway about 40 mph, I was by myself and all of a sudden my car hydroplanes and my car spins all the way across the traffic, hit the side of the freeway and my wheel went up into my wheel well. I’m out of commission, my car is dead. The police were there and I had my car towed. I wasn’t going to call my parents in Cerritos in the middle of the night, so I went ahead and called Tommy at the apartment they all lived at. So I say, “Sorry to bother you, but I just had a car wreck, can you come pick me up” and he said “sure, man”. So, Tommy comes over in his van and picks me up, which was really cool and I said “can I just crash at your place for the night and have my girlfriend pick me up in the morning” and he says “Yeah, come on.” We go back to the apartment, turns out he was the only one there, everyone else were out doing stuff. Tommy went ahead and set up a bed on the couch, which was really nice. He said here’s some pillows and blankets, just crash here. I go to bed and then about three in morning and suddenly there’s a knock at the door, “Tommy, come on out.” They wake Tommy up and they say “let’s go out” and Tommy’s like “ok.” They went to like Barney’s Beanery. There was never any issue with Tommy wanting to eat, he was always hungry. They come back at like 4 or 5 in the morning, I’m laying there asleep and I see Tommy laying on the floor on his back and he’s lighting his farts on fire. At that time, I didn’t even know you could do that. That’s what I woke up to. So, finally the guys left and I went back to sleep. In the morning the guys come out, and the greatest visual was Vince, Nikki and Tommy all sitting on the couch, turning on cartoons and eating KABOOM cereal. I wish I had a camera to photograph that one moment, because it was guys with bathrobes on, they were trying to be like Hugh Hefner, but with a glam look, eating KABOOM cereal and watching Looney Tunes on tv.
Don: The greatest visual was Vince, Nikki and Tommy all sitting on the couch, turning on cartoons and eating KABOOM cereal.
full in bloom: Were you in contact with Nikki during the time right before he began forming Motley Crue?
Don: Yeah. I was heavily with the group through the Too Fast for Love thing. I remained very close to them, part of the inner circle. They would play live and I would be backstage with them. They did the Southern California, I was riding with them in the limo. They had their first really big headlining gig at the Santa Monica Civic, which they sold out. I was on the stage photographing it. I was backstage with them and here’s another thing where I have some shots. By this point, they had built up quite a buzz, so backstage, there’s Elvira. I got some shots of the group with her, which I think ended up on the Driven episode. Robbin Crosby, from RATT, was also there and I got some photos with him and the band. He was one of those guys that even though there was this competitive spirit, you’d see these guys hanging out all the time.
full in bloom: That’s what I thought. Weren’t they (Motley Crue & RATT) all really good friends at that time?
Don: Yeah. There was always a little bit of competition, but they would always hang. The biggest competition was between Kevin Dubrow and Nikki Sixx. Those guys would get into all the time and throw these verbal lashings out, and Kevin, at the time, had this group called Dubrow, which later became reinvigorated again and became Quiet Riot without Randy Rhoads. Those guys used to love taking jabs at each other.
full in bloom: Wow. Even back then, huh?
Don: Yeah, back then.
full in bloom: I interviewed Kevin and he talked about how Nikki had auditioned for Quiet Riot and that Nikki didn’t know the names of the notes on his bass.
Don: Yeah, but you saw Nikki’s talent come out elsewhere; he turned out to be a really good songwriter and a visionary for what the group should be and…as far as his bass ability…it’s kind of like what you have with KISS, where KISS aren’t really the most accomplished musicians, but the package and what they bring and the power they bring.
full in bloom: What was Vince Neil like back then?
Don: Originally, the first incarnation of Motley Crue, they had this guy named Odeen. I don’t remember his first name, but that they always called him Odeen. We were working on this Motley Crue concept and we were rehearsing in the I.R.S. studio and they had Odeen as a lead singer.
full in bloom: What was he like?
Don: He looked like a black haired version of Paul Williams. Paul Williams was a songwriter who worked with the Carpenters and even did a song for Three Dog Night, “Just an Old Fashioned Love Song.” Odeen looked like the black haired version – short lead singer, kind of stocky, kind of intense, looked closer to Mick Mars kind of look. They laid down a couple of tracks with him, “Stick to Your Guns” and “Toast of the Town.” Their relationship was not that good, they started to get on each others nerves. I think it was Nikki that fired Odeen. That inspired a really good song, they used to do this cool song called, “Killing Yourself,” but they never recorded it. In true rock fashion, you know when someone pisses you off and you write a song about them? I still remember some of the lyrics…..”what does it take to get through to you, why are you killing yourself, why are you killing yourself,” they wrote that about Odeen, but then they never recorded it. So, they were without a singer, and I think toward the end of Odeen, I think it was Tommy and he knew of Vince being in this band called Rock Candy. Rock Candy was this power pop group and Tommy had seen them playing in Lakewood of all places and Tommy says, “you know, I found this funky group, but they have this great lead singer, with the most unusual voice I’ve ever heard.” They wound up talking to Vince and tried to get him in the group. I still remember Nikki saying, “he’s got this outer space sounding voice.” So, it was up at I.R.S. studios and they invited me out there and said, “Don, we want you to hear what this new lead singer sounds like.” It was just about a half dozen of us that went to see them perform together for the first time in the studio. We had never heard a voice like that before and it fit. Even my girlfriend at the time was like, ‘these guys are going to be big.’ It all came together – with Odeen they were good – but with Vince, it all came together and they were spectacular. So, that laid the seeds to redo the tracks on the single with Vince on vocals. Vince was always very nice, just a really cool, nice guy. He had a little boy at the time, who we would sometimes see at shoots or backstage. He was a seemingly really caring father at the time. He had an older woman, a girlfriend named Lori.
full in bloom: How old were the guys in Motley Crue at that time?
Don: I think Vince and Nikki were around 21 or 22, Tommy was 18 and Mick, who had already been in bands for a long time was somewhere around 40.
full in bloom: Do what?…..Mick was 40 in 1981 / 1982?
full in bloom: I knew he was older, but I thought he was probably around 30 when Motley Crue started to make it.
Don: No. He was 40-ish.
full in bloom: Almost forty or over forty?
Don: He was over forty. You won’t get anybody to admit that, but you can probably do some research and find out. He’s really that old.
full in bloom: That’s amazing.
full in bloom: He’s seems like a really cool, laid back, quiet guy. What was he like?
Don: Yes. He was more inward. He had a very interesting, seasoned way of talking. He was not as talkative as the rest of the guys, but when he talked, you listened more. Nikki or Vince would go, “Oh, that’s rad dude” and Mick would just go, “that’s maniacal” (laughs).
full in bloom: How does your relationship with Motley Crue come to an end?
Don: It ended when they brought on Doc McGhee (manager) and that stuff.
full in bloom: When was that?
Don: They were getting ready for the Shout at the Devil thing. They severed ties with Allan Coffman, their manager, and basically went with this whole other thing with Doc McGhee and got the deal with Elektra. At that time, they shocked me and really their whole inner circle of friends, they went ahead and just changed everything….all their relationships with their friends…..and a lot of us just kind of got left out. They got the deal with Elektra and a lot of us were just cast off.
After no label would sign us, we formed our own record company. After that album started to get major heat, Tom Zutaut convinced Elektra to sign us. Here is that moment.”
full in bloom: So they got signed after they released Too Fast for Love, or did they get signed for Shout at the Devil?
Don: The originally released Too Fast for Love on Leathur Records, and then later they got signed. But it was for Shout at the Devil, and Elektra picked up Too Fast for Love and re-released it. The difference between the original release and the Elektra release is the lettering is in red, versus the black and white.
full in bloom: Plus they redid the vocals, right?
Don: Yeah, and they got Roy Thomas Baker to reproduce the album. Again, they really, really listened to who has great sound, who has great production, who has great engineering and Nikki really liked the Roy Thomas Baker sound, the bigness. He had listened to Queen, he listened to the Cars and would just go…’that sound.’ Even before they signed with Elektra, Nikki would say how great it would be to work with Roy Thomas Baker. He basically just took the existing stuff on Too Fast for Love and worked and re-engineered it.
full in bloom:Once they sign the deal with Elektra, you don’t talk to them anymore?
full in bloom: Wow, that quick, huh?
Don: That quick. It’s really too bad.
full in bloom: Have you ever talked to any of them since?
Don: I talked to Nikki one time after Shout at the Devil, backstage a little bit and it was someone else’s show at the Country Club. It was probably a year or so after they were signed and that was it. It was like ‘yeah, we got to be in touch,’ and that was the last I talked to him. It’s sad that they kind of severed the relationship, but I keep a positive outlook on things. I really enjoyed the time I had. Seeing all this stuff happen. It was just a wonderful time.