Lizzie Grey Talks Battle w/ Parkinson’s, Nikki Sixx, Spiders & Snakes, London, Motley Crue Movie – full in bloom Interview
NEW full in bloom Interview w/
London / Spiders & Snakes Guitarist
full in bloom: I wanted to start off the interview by saying how sorry I was to hear that you had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. How long have you been having issues with it?
Lizzie Grey: It’s been going on for years. It’s something that you don’t really recognize that it’s causing these things that are happening in your life and you’re going ‘why is it like this?’ It’s miserable. It’s the most miserable disease I have ever heard of in my life. But I’m not going to roll over and let it beat me to death. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.
full in bloom: When did you first get diagnosed?
Lizzie: It’s been about four or five years that it was diagnosed…that it has been definite.
full in bloom: Are you still able to play guitar?
Lizzie: Well that’s the tough part, there’s good and bad to it. My vocals have gotten better than ever, but I can’t play guitar anymore. For me, it’s a heartbreaker. I’ve been a guitar player for over thirty years, it’s in my blood. But after I did a couple of shows with Spiders and Snakes, we pulled it off and it was a lot of fun, I said ‘hey, I’ve been putting this off for a long time being the lead singer.’ It works, so that’s good.
full in bloom: I’m sure you saw that Glenn Tipton (Judas Priest guitarist) had been diagnosed, right?
Lizzie: I can’t believe it. Yeah, Glenn Tipton. One of the awful aspects of Parkinson’s, Michael J. Fox, that poor bugger, has had Parkinson’s for years. He’s been taking the same medication that I take…..that I know of anyway, and still he got a horrible attack, over the last couple of years, where his Parkinson’s just flared up and he’s falling down and he’s having all kinds of stuff that was more attributed to the kind of Parkinson’s that I have. But mine has kind of stabilized and poor Michael J. Fox, his has gotten worse. I really feel for the guy. No one can fully understand it unless you got it yourself. It’s made me appreciative of ever being able to have been a musician. Everything you do, you appreciate…that you can do it.
full in bloom: And your medication minimizes your symptoms?
Lizzie: It’s dopamine. Your brain produces dopamine so you can function. It allows you to do stuff. Without the dopamine, you can’t function.
full in bloom: I saw on social media that your former bandmate Nikki Sixx (London, Motley Crue) was trying to track you down. Was he able to reach you?
Lizzie: Yeah, it’s the wildest thing. For twenty years, I couldn’t have a conversation with him and then he calls me up. Yeah, he’s a good ol’ guy.
full in bloom: How was it reconnecting with him?
Lizzie: It was fun. The whole thing is, people end up thinking that ‘oh, he’s going to find somebody famous and leech off of them,’ but my relationship with Nikki didn’t really happen because I didn’t want to be perceived as a wannabe Sixx guy. It’s great…the truth is, he’s actually become a bit of a friend to me. It’s a lot of phone conversations.
full in bloom: You’ve talked several times?
Lizzie: Yes, several times.
full in bloom: What’s going on with Spiders & Snakes?
Lizzie: We’re going to do it for as long as we possibly can. I’m going to do it for as long as I possibly can. I don’t have any false aspirations that it’s (the Parkinson’s) going to go away.
full in bloom: There was a benefit concert for you at the Whisky in Hollywood in 2017 and you were going to perform at it. The concert ended up being cancelled. What happened?
Lizzie: I didn’t make it. It really sucked. I never had an attack like the one I just told you about Michael J. Fox. I was on my way to the gig at the Whisky. I was really, really looking forward to it because I really needed it. I got vomiting convulsions. It was the worst reaction I’ve ever had….it’s partially the drug itself, the dopamine, and the rest is the disease. I started throwing up in his car, my guitar player, Chris, was driving. The poor guy got vomit all over his car.
full in bloom: Was that Chris Sheridan?
Lizzie: Yes. He’s our guitar player.
full in bloom: Wow, I had no idea he was in Spiders & Snakes. I interviewed him long ago about his Sweet Savage days.
Lizzie: He’s been in the band for about five years. He’s a great guitar player. If I had to hand over the reins to the guitar, I feel very confident to hand them over to Chris. He’s a good guy. He’s always got something good to say.
full in bloom: It must have been hard to walk away from the gig.
Lizzie: Oh, it was. That’s the hardest thing to do if you’re a musician, but I was gone. It was so bad that they took me to the hospital.
full in bloom: You’ve never had an attack like that the entire time you’ve had it?
Lizzie: Never. See, I don’t have the shakes, you know, the shaking hands that people always associate with Parkinson’s?
full in bloom: Sure.
Lizzie: I’ll get that in my leg…my legs will go completely numb. They call it gait freeze where you can’t walk, you can’t lift your leg.
full in bloom: Are you in a wheelchair?
Lizzie: No, and I’m trying to stay out of one. I do tons and tons of exercising. I’ll walk probably twenty miles in a day or two. First thing I said when we started this conversation, I’m going to fight it.
full in bloom: Forgive me for my ignorance, but, since your hands don’t shake, why can’t you play guitar?
Lizzie: Because they don’t move. This aspect of Parkinson’s, you can’t move and everything is slow. It’s like you’re locked down. What’s really going on is your brain can’t send the messages. Your brain is trying to say, ‘pick up the guitar and play these songs.’ You can’t get the message across. Your brain is blocked. The purpose of the dopamine is to replace the missing dopamine that would make you be able to do these things. But it’s not perfect. The drug does not really solve any problems. I did some clinical trials, which was great because they gave me like 3 MRIs for no charge, it was part of an investigation. It was good to know that they are trying so hard to find a cure. It’s a progressive disease….and singing is supposed to be one of the best things you can do to keep the symptoms of Parkinson’s back.
full in bloom: And just by continuing to move, it helps keep everything at bay?
Lizzie: Yes, exactly. You wish it was more direct, but it’s not. I’ve had the hand tremors before, but, fortunately, they aren’t prevalent. I hope it stays that way. I don’t want anymore symptoms; I’ve had enough. My poor neurologist, I tortured him with questions, and they’re good with it, but……I mean, you’re sitting there saying ‘why can’t I do these things anymore?’ I can’t do anything and it’s really depressing. I’ve got to fight through it…and I am. It’s gotten bad….they have what they call good days and bad days. When you’ve got one of these diseases, a bad day – you wish you wouldn’t have woken up that morning, that’s how bad you are doing. On a good day – you can almost convince yourself that you don’t have it, because you’re trying so hard. But anyways, yeah, Nikki really surprised me. I’m sitting there one day and the phone rings, “I’m trying to get a hold of Lizzie Grey.” It was fun talking to him. It was about time.
full in bloom: What did you and Nikki talk about? Were you just catching up?
Lizzie: Yeah…we were talking about….they’re (Motley Crue) doing a movie (The Dirt) and he was talking about how there’s a song Spiders and Snakes does that was an old Motley Crue song, “Public Enemy #1,” and he loves it. He goes, ‘that’s my favorite song’ and he goes, ‘you guys do it better than we do’ (laughs). I thought it was really cool of him to say that.
full in bloom: There was rumor of an initial fifth member in Motley Crue.
Lizzie: It’s been talked about.
full in bloom: Is that not true? Were you not a part of the initial stages of Motley Crue?
Lizzie: No. Nikki was in London. London was like a ’70s retro-type band and a lot of the material that was London material was also the first run of Motley Crue stuff. The only one I got actual credit for was “Public Enemy #1,” and that’s fine. So for twenty-five years, I had to listen to people saying, ‘tell me about Nikki,’and I’m going, ‘I want to talk about my band.’
We wrote great songs in that original version of London.”
full in bloom: Of course I know London, but there was some talk on the internet that Nikki left London and initially brought you into Motley Crue, and then Mick Mars wanted the band to have only one guitar player. But that’s not true?
Lizzie: No. I’m not real familiar with all the history of Motley, but I know that I wasn’t in Motley. The material was kind of handed down and kind of evolved, that’s how the Motley-thing kind of came together. Nikki was having trouble getting along with Nigel Benjamin (Mott), the English vocalist we were using in London. It just didn’t work out, because Nigel didn’t have any respect for Nikki as a player. He kind of looked down on him. So, it was really funny, because Nikki never had that conversation with me, and he goes, “Lizzie, who is Nigel Benjamin?’ He goes, “I played with him, right?’ (laughs) I said ‘yeah, you did, he didn’t like you very much.’ He goes, ‘he hates me, that guy hates me. I don’t know him and he hates me.’ I thought that was pretty funny.
full in bloom: I thought Nikki left after Nigel left the band.
Lizzie: Not really, there was a small space there that Nikki was already working with Mick Mars and little by little the Motley-thing exploded, high impact.
full in bloom: He was working with Mick while he was in London?
Lizzie: Yes. Because of the attitude problems with Nigel, and the fact that Nikki had kind of been pushed around, in a way, by Nigel, that made it like there were no bridges coming across. He was like, ‘I don’t want to think about that.’ I can’t blame him, he picked the right one; he picked the platinum band.
full in bloom: Didn’t Nigel leave and then come back to the band?
Lizzie: Yeah, Nikki was long gone by then. Motley Crue was flying high by then. Yeah, Nigel came back because of another Nigel. Nigel Itson was the drummer and he said I’ll get him back in the band. For some reason we thought that we needed Nigel’s voice. I think it was probably a big mistake. There were a lot of other things that could’ve happened and that was one that wasn’t beneficial for me. Every time I would try to put a new version of London together, somebody would leave the band and start a platinum act. I don’t know how they did it (laughs). Guns N’ Roses did it.
full in bloom: One of the guys from Cinderella.
Lizzie: Yep, the list goes on and on. I had the Midas touch, but backwards. I could make it happen for other people, but not for me.
full in bloom: Wasn’t Blackie Lawless in the band?
Lizzie: Yep, and as soon as he was out, boom, Capitol Records….(laughs) Blackie Lawless. That was funny, Nikki asked me about that, he goes, ‘did I use to play with Blackie?’ I go, ‘yeah, why can’t you remember?’ It was funny. It’s almost like Nikki seems like somebody who has reached, kind of like a…..what do you call it…a mid-life-thing where you kind of look at yourself. Nikki seems to be in that phase right now where he’s kind of like, ‘did I do this? did I do that?’ and I’m going, ‘yeah.’
full in bloom: There have been many others who have talked about Nikki’s lack of skills as a musician.
full in bloom: It’s kind of cool how recently he seems to be falling in love with playing an instrument. Like you do when you’re a real musician, you want to play every day. When he was doing Sixx Sense, Nikki interviewed Billy Sheehan and he asked Billy if he ever got tired of playing the bass. Nikki told him how he doesn’t even want to play an instrument for a couple of months after a tour and asked Billy if he ever tired of playing and Billy was like, ‘no, I never feel like that.’ If you’re really growing with an instrument, you don’t want to put it down for months.
Lizzie: I can absolutely concur with that observation, because, for me, I get scared of the idea of me not being a part of music. This last go around with me getting sick, I just felt horrible to let Timmy (Yasui) down. Chris was with me when we were leaving and he goes, ‘dude, you’re sick, you can’t do this. We got to get you to a doctor.’ It was one of the hardest things to do. It’s so hard to get to shows and do the things you want to do when you got this disease. It keeps getting worse and you start losing more and more. That’s why I’m really following this one neurologist’s direction, he saying, ‘sing, sing, it’s what you need.’ Nikki, I said, ‘dude, you sound just like me, if you’re not a part of it, you’re not.’ No one really believes that, but it really is the way people get. When you’ve been playing music for thirty years, it’s hard to say, ‘oh, I’m not going to do that anymore.’
full in bloom: I thought that about Nikki. It seems like the other guys have been able to take a break after the retirement tour, but Nikki never stops, he didn’t even take a break at all.
Lizzie: Yeah, he can’t walk away from it. He said to me, ‘when I think about you and the Parkinson’s, I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t play music anymore.’
full in bloom: Aren’t you and Nikki founding members of London?
Lizzie: Yeah, the original band was me, Nikki, Dane (Rage), he was the drummer, John St. John, the keyboard player, and Nigel Benjamin. The guy (Nigel) really did have a great set of chops, as far as his voice, but his attitude was so bad. I don’t know how he ever got in any bands.
full in bloom: You and Nikki were great friends when you guys were in London, right?
Lizzie: Yeah, we definitely had a good groove going with the whole ’70s glam thing we were pushing. It was working, it worked really well. It was, I believe, how Nikki was able to catapult himself with Motley Crue.
full in bloom: Right. Well, he was a good songwriter as well. Maybe technically he wasn’t a great bass player, but he was an excellent songwriter.
Lizzie: Right. Yeah.
full in bloom: Did you guys co-write songs back then?
Lizzie: No, to tell you the truth, I was doing stuff that I would bring and Nikki would do songs he’d bring in and Nigel would do songs that he’d bring in. It was all independent; everybody just kind of did what they wanted. It’s ironic…in Spiders & Snakes we do what we call the ‘classic glam set,’ where we do a lot of London stuff. It’s the poppy stuff that people still love; they still love it. We do some Sweet covers, which is really great. We’re just Sweet fanatics, Mott the Hoople…It was a short run for a unique kind of music, but it’s still the music that I love.
full in bloom: Nigel wasn’t the first vocalist in London, right?
Lizzie: No, there were a couple of other guys. A guy named Henri Valentine….a guy named Steven Toft. But whatever it was, Nigel put the whammy on London, so without him it wasn’t going to fly.
full in bloom: How long has Spiders & Snakes been together?
Lizzie: We’ve been playing together for almost twenty-five years….I’m really happy about that. That really means something to me…when I play shows and people come up and go ‘when you do the London songs, you guys make me think it’s 1974 all over again.’
full in bloom: Are you living in Vegas now?
Lizzie: Yes, we got a house out here.
full in bloom: You just drive in for shows?
Lizzie: Well, that’s the tough part. I better love it because it’s not easy. Sometimes I’ll take the Megabus, or I’ll take a Southwest Airlines….that’s the tough part, the distance. But Tim (Yasui) and I have such a good working relationship. It’s worth it to get to rehearsal even if it took a whole day to get to play music. That’s the exchange you have to make when you mix family and band. It usually works poorly, but as long as I can keep playing music, I’m happy. Ironically, my wife is a supporter of the band. Like I said, we’ve been banging it out for twenty-five years.
full in bloom: In the old days, what was your writing style? Would you come up with a riff on the guitar first?
Lizzie: Yeah, I would write on the guitar….or a lot of times I would come up with a lyric line first. The lyric line would give me a little inspiration for the music itself.
full in bloom: Are you still able to write and create music?
Lizzie: Absolutely. A lot of what I do is take the structuring, it was like a draft…and I’ll have a draft of a song that’s maybe like ten years old. I’ve got tons of them….maybe like a hundred songs. Then I go, ‘maybe I’ll rewrite this and do it differently.’ That’s what I usually do. For some reason, I’m not really motivated by the current trend in pop music. I’m more motivated to take stuff that I had written and rearrange it. It’s stronger, you got something that was written like twenty years previous so it gives it its own feel.
full in bloom: Is there any new music coming from Spiders & Snakes?
Lizzie: We definitely want to do a new record. We just do stuff independently.