August Worchell Interview

February 8, 2006

August Worchell was once the guitarist in Johnny Crash and an early version of WWIII. He now runs a successful tattooing ink business called Skin Candy that takes up almost all of his time. However he still had some time left over to talk to Sleaze Roxx about being part of the Sunset Strip movement, his plans to release some early Johnny Crash demos and other outrageous stories.

SR: What are you up to these days?

AW: That’s a loaded question, what am I not doing should be the question. Professionally… running my tattoo supply company Skincandy. I make about 1/3 of all the tattoo ink used by tattooers in the United States today, it’s all handmade by me and a helluv alot of work. My inks can also be seen used on Miami Ink, all those pink label bottles are mine. Musically… I got heavily into DJ’ING for a few years in Frisco, mostly hardcore dance music, Jungle, Breaks, etc…I am currently going over some really early Johnny Crash demos. I plan to release them on my own. This band didn’t always sound like AC/DC, there was a definite influence that can be detected in these tracks, but nothing like the record ended up like. I was very unhappy with the obvious AC/DC direction the band adopted.

SR: 1/3 of all the ink used by tattooists in America??? That sounds like a lot of work, do you have other people helping in your Skincandy business?

August WorchellAW: Now I do, for the past 10 years I was doing all the work and it nearly killed me physically and mentally. I was working 14-18 hour days, sometimes 7 days a week if I had a big order. I mean here I am making over 10 grand a week and figured it was better not to pay anyone. Only problem was I couldn’t enjoy it, I felt like my head was gonna explode. I think my reasoning was I didn’t ever want to be poor again, nor let anyone ever tell me what to do, control my life, or make decisions for me..cept my girl, even that’s a rare occasion.

SR: Did you grow up in a poor family, and has that driven you in everything you have done?

AW: Not really, when I was very young we were average middle class, lived in a small apartment in west Los Angeles in the 60’s. My father started to do very well as I got older and became a multi millionaire at 40. I only wanted to play guitar, I worked for my father at 17 but I was paid scraps, about $150 a week which I consider poor, so I quit and moved in with Chris. Chris sold weed and was very successful at it, in fact he supported the whole band which meant my opinion always meant nothing. I was also partying alot so work never really entered the equation. After Crash I moved to Frisco, went back to school, even worked at Ben & Jerry’s for 5 bucks an hour. But yes, all that old resentment about being broke really fueled my energy to become successful.

SR: How did you first meet Chris Stewart and did your early days together involve mainly drugs and music?

AW: Chris Stewart Neelley and I met at a reform school in 1978 in Hopland, Ca. It was a progressive like hippie commune school. We had no electricity except for the main cabin. We woke up at 6 a.m. and did everything from chopping wood, to building cabins and raising cattle. There were 15 students, half were girls and yes, we were allowed to have sex. I was 15 years old, already had long hair to the middle of my back with 5 years guitar playing experience. I was really into Rush and Pat Travers at the time. Chris was a surfer along with Eric Stacy Waxman “FASTER PUSSYCAT” who also attended the school. I had to teach them all to play, Chris on drums, Eric on bass. We all smoked weed but didn’t get into the heavier stuff until we returned to Hollywood. I remember many nights Eric would stay over and we would sneak out of my house in the middle of the night to hitchhike over to the STARWOOD, a really famous Hollywood club in those years. We’d ended up back home at 3 a.m. smoking angel dust and staring into the snow of a TV set because it was trippy to watch.

SR: What bands were you catching at the Starwood on those late night excursions?

AW: My favourite band from the Starwood was ALA CARTE, 3 piece, they were like ZZ TOP, the lead singer/guitarist “KEVIN KRIESS” looked like Steven Tyler and played like Billy Gibbons, he was one of my first guitar heroes. We would see Quiet Riot with Randy Rhoads at least once a month, Smile was another big band as well as Snow with Carlos Cavazo, who Kevin Dubrow stole for Quiet Riot after Randy died. I was at a party in the valley and witnessed Kevin talking with Carlos about joining Q/R. I knew all those guys when they were struggling. Kevin used to play me Q/R demos, he lived near me. Carlos used to borrow amps from me from time to time. You could also see LONDON with Nikki Sixx every week, they were the Starwood house band. And yes, I was at the very first MOTLEY CRUE gig that was at the Starwood as well.

SR: Obviously the scene in Hollywood was starting to heat up, when did you decide to start a band of your own and join in?

AW: I was playing in different projects, not all rock, in fact I don’t really come from a metal background. Metal and hardrock always came easy. I was really into jazz, progressive and funk in my early years, early Steeley Dan etc…I used to sit and practice to jazz records all day. I know like a zillion weird chords. No one ever got to see that side of my playing because of the limits of the groups I was involved in. I think I was playing in Darling Cruel before I started WW3 with Chris.

SR: Who was in Darling Cruel and what sort of music did they play?

AW: Greg Darling, Me, Eric Stacey, and about 5 other people. It was an interesting mix of John Lennon meets Prince and Bowie. He writes with Julian Lennon now. Greg was one of the most talented songwriters ever, but a tremendous egomaniac. He sounded alot like Matt Bellamy from “Muse” even looked a little like him. Which I might add, MUSE is about the best new rock band I’ve heard since Soundgarden. Those guys really throw down and have raised the bar once again. Maybe now bands like Limp Bizkit and Creed will go hide their heads in the sand for good!

SR: What was next for you when Darling Cruel fell apart?

AW: It didn’t, I left the band, they got signed, did a video for MTV and disappeared. Chris and I did WW3 after that.

SR: So you and Chris were founding members of WWIII? Who else did you bring into the band at first?

AW: Actually now that I think about it, Chris, JB FRANK and DANNY STAG from Kingdom Come were the founding members. I was invited to join after JB and Dan were hired to do Kingdom Come. Those guys are old friends of ours from the early 80’s and lived just around the corner. JB and Chris were best friends. Mandy was just 17 and just came off the boat from Germany. We also had an amazing drummer named Skip Gillette who played with Montrose and Sammy Hagar. He was the best drummer we ever had. Chris couldn’t stand the site of me playing funk anymore so he called me and said “what the fuck”, why are you playing this Prince shit? Come join WW3!

SR: I’ve always thought Mandy Lion seemed a bit strange, what was it like working with him in those early days?

August WorchellAW: Ya know, I still see him around and consider him a good friend. But the truth is, he’s really different, into alot of kink and dirty degrading sexual behavior with women. He also happens to be a martial arts expert and has never touched drugs… EVER! He’ll have you on the floor laughing your ass off from some of the fucked up shit he talks about, pissing in chicks mouths and such, he’s for real with that, I’ve seen it!

SR: Did WWIII record anything when you were still in the band?

AW: Yes, and 2 of the cuts I will be releasing with the Johnny Crash stuff. They are WW3 songs with Mandy’s vocals erased and Vicky’s added. 1. Kick up the dust & 2. Dudes & Dames which is a totally stupid title but the song seriously rocks.

SR: I’ve always wondered why WWIII was completely revamped for their debut album. Was the band close to singing a deal when you were involved and why was there such a line-up change?

AW: Not even close, we were brand new when I was in the band. Interesting story though. Mandy was approached by 2 rich musicians to join their band, quit ours and still call it WW3! He got paid $50,000. Eventually Vinnie Appice joined them which I thought was pretty killer. But Chris and I decided to move on and start a new project. That’s when Tracii Guns hooked us up with Vicky and within 6 months we were signed.

SR: Like you said earlier, the Johnny Crash album had an AC/DC feel to it. But anyone that remembers Vicki from Tokyo Blade would think he had a David Lee Roth fetish. Did the band have that Van Halen vibe and look in the beginning?

AW: Never, he looked more like Axl and danced like him too. I loved early Van Halen though, that was another Starwood band, I met David Lee Roth there, I asked him about their upcoming album at the time, FAIR WARNING, he told me the title before the album came out.

SR: What did Johnny Crash sound like before taking the AC/DC turn, and what will your upcoming release of this era contain?

AW: In the beginning there was always an influence of AC/DC in the guitars, but not so much in the vocals and drums. It was intentional, when all these POODLE ROCK bands were so popular, we thought it would be refreshing to play raw unaffected guitars. We played 11 gauge strings on hollow body Gretches and Les Pauls… NO EFFECTS. I hope The Darkness is reading this, we did it long before them! The problem began when the vocal attitude, drums and arrangements started mimicking AC/DC. I always hated that! This is the reason I’m releasing these tapes. We had more of a KIX/Cinderella/Georgia Satellites sound. Which to me was the original Johnny Crash. Andy Johns was our original producer for the album, but Chris fired him because he was coming to sessions drunk. To me, I could care less, that was Andy and I loved him, everything he touched turned platinum. Firing Andy was a death blow for the band.

SR: If Andy Johns being drunk was such an issue for the band does that mean guys like Chris were sober by then? And was it new producer Tony Platt that pushed for the AC/DC mimicking or were some of your bandmates leaning that way?

AW: Chris was definitely not sober, he was a high functioning weed addict, it didn’t matter how I felt about the music or the direction because he alone was putting all the money into the band, maybe it should have been called The Chris Neelley band lol…I’m not angry with him or resentful anymore, that’s just the way it was. I wasn’t in the best of shape either, I was out partying alot and missed rehearsals, hell I went missing a few times and jailed. I was mostly sober for all the tours, recording and shows. The rest of the band just followed the lead of what Chris wanted to do, Vic argued with him but got nowhere. Tony didn’t make the band sound like AC/DC, Tony produces all kinds of music, he’s a fantastic guy, just not what Johnny Crash needed to make it. Chris had only been playing guitar for four years when we got signed, he only knew 1st position chords and a few bar chords. AC/DC fits that mold perfectly so it was easy for him to pull it off. We sounded like shit most of the time because he was rarely in tune and played an old Gretsch that was never set up right. I’m not tryin to talk shit either, I love Chris, he’s one of my best friends, but that’s the Gods honest truth in my eyes.

SR: It sounds like Johnny Crash would be the type of band with a lot of internal friction, what was it like out on the road?

AW: What rock band doesn’t have internal friction? The road was actually fun for us all, I wanted to be sober for it so I’d have memories. I think our big fault was not wanting to practice on the road, we should have been jamming on those long bus rides, coming up with new, more original sounding shit. I think we were just in awe, especially on the Motley Tour, so much tender ass that wanted to be fucked.

SR: Why did you eventually decide to split, and do you still keep in touch with the guys?

AW: Oh yeah of course, Chris and I are pretty close friends again, much better than before. He has 3 kids, really successful in the film industry developing trailers for movies. Punkee and I have had a few deep conversations recently. The years have been hard on him, but I think he’s tryin to keep himself together. Punkee is a very smart guy, could be a great teacher or philosopher. Vicky is working at a strip club as a DJ, He’s always really cool to me. He was working on a book trying to get published, lived in N.Y.C for awhile. Andy is dead from heroin. Johnny Crash never really had a permanent bassist.

SR: Do you think your upcoming release could inspire a reunion, or would you have any desire to even do that?

early Johnny CrashAW: I made a valiant effort last year, I called everyone, Vicky was into it for about 2 weeks, Punkee said no, Terry showed up for 2 rehearsals, Chris said he’d do it if there was some $ involved, which I can respect, and that was it. I have the perfect punk rock dude, his name is “CLUTCH”…he’s like Stanley from L.S.D. (Life Sex & Death), he pleaded with me to let him sing for a reunion, but he’s my employee and I have him too busy on other shit.

SR: Does that mean you’re getting the itch to make new music and perhaps tour?

AW: Tour, lol.. that’s a hot one, I could for sure do something locally, but I’m the owner of a business that constantly needs my attention. Everything I do for Johnny Crash from this point on is strictly extra curricular, like gym class or pottery. Unless I saw a real interest and a new fanbase, it wouldn’t be worth it. I would really like to put a new Johnny Crash together. The problem is that any player worth a shit is usually too busy or needs to be paid. A new J/C under my direction would start where we left off after Andy Johns. There would be a couple oldies from the record, but I’d take it into much deeper waters and experiment with neo blues and head music/album rock. I’m really into alot of early Jeff BECK/Rod Stewart, early Soundgarden when Cornell had his voice, early early Elton John circa Tumbleweed Connection. I’d love to do a cover off “Rock Of the Westies” which was a really funny/grit blues record from him in 77.

SR: If you were able to hand pick your own band, who would you get?

AW: Vocals/Mark Lanegan..Drums/Matt Cameron..Bass/Colin Greenwood..2nd guitar/Kim Thayil..Keyboards/The guy in Zero-7, there’s actually 3 key players. I’d play drums sometimes as well as guitar.

SR: Here are some bands/names that came out around the same time, what are your thoughts and memories of each?
– Jani Lane
AW: Jani Lane, nothing really, I remember Warrant before Jani, I used to rehearse next to them. I know Jani now though.
– Nikki Sixx
AW: I knew him in the London days a little, been to his apartment when he was poor. He gave me their 1st 45 record Toast Of The Town/Stick To Yer Guns. We became friends during the Motley tour 10 years later, then had a little falling out, my fault, I was being a dickhead.
– Sea Hags
AW: Didn’t know those guys.
– Shark Island
AW: Didn’t know those guys.
– Salty Dog
AW: Didn’t know those guys.
– Rhino Bucket
AW: Didn’t know those guys either, more AC/DC.
– London
AW: Saw them way too many times at the Starwood w/ Nikki Sixx, They had the right idea in image and direction, Mott The Hoople sound, they just couldn’t pull it off.
– Faster Pussycat
AW: Well you already know about Eric and me. I attended their 1st ever gig at the Central, now the Viper Room. I used to show Brent alot of stuff on guitar, he always asked me to teach him funk. I helped dial in their guitar sounds for the 1st album, my name is in the credits somewhere. They got all the best Hollywood pussy, period! Better than G & R!
– L.A. Guns
AW: Nicky Beat their former drummer, was Johnny Crash’s original 1st drummer. Tracii and I go waaaaaayyyy back, like 16 years old far back. We both attended a show to see Slash’s highschool band play someone’s backyard, Slash was great at 16, even had the tattoo. We also had a girlfriend in common, Candy, femme fatale deluxe, soooo beautiful and sooooo deadly. I ran into Tracii last month, he was with Frankie Banali from Quiet Riot. I hadn’t seen him in 12 years. We all talked for like an hour, so much catching up, it was really good to see him and Frankie.

SR: What happened between Nikki and you, and what do you think when you hear about Jani Lane more less breaking down on tour?

AW: Not a big deal, he was sober a couple years. I was the only one in my band that was clean at the time so he took a liking to me. We also knew alot of the same crowd from L.A. in the early 80’s. A guy I used to play with when I was 16, Gary Bushnell, used to teach Nikki some bass. I didn’t know Jani fell apart on tour, actually, I don’t keep up with any of that stuff. The only reason I found you guys is because I was cruising Google and looking under my name. Ask me about tattoo artist gossip or eklectic musicians, I know more about that these days. I mean, have you ever heard of Elliot Smith or Zero-7? That’s what I’m alot more inclined to listen to now, remember, I was also an electronica DJ for a number of years. You can’t limit yourself in today’s music, otherwise you’ll sound redundant and boring.

SR: Have you ever tattooed someone yourself?

AW: Yes, I tattooed Eric Stacy, and a couple girls in northern Cali.

SR: Do you know if Eric Stacy is doing anything musically these days?

AW: I don’t really know, we had a pretty bad falling out last year, I was letting him stay with me, he couldn’t for whatever reason pull his shit together, still fighting demons and such. The problem was, I was at the point in my life where I couldn’t surround myself with bullshit and excuses. I did however see him about 8 months ago and he looked a helluv alot healthier. I think he was playing again.

SR: I’m guessing that with children and a successful business your days of endless partying are behind you?

AW: Never!! I party in different ways, I have my first child due in April, I ride BMX bikes with my buddy Clutch, play drums at night to stay in shape, still up to nasty antics and perversions, I just stay off the coke and heroin.

SR: When do you plan on releasing the early Johnny Crash stuff?

AW: I will release the Johnny Crash material as soon as I can book some studio time and master everything, I was supposed to go in this week but it got pushed back.

Thanks to August Worchell