Motley Crue were no strangers to borrowing in their early days, crafting a glam-metal-punk hybrid that drew equally from the likes of Aerosmith, Sweet and the New York Dolls. But even before Motley Crue broke ground in 1981, bassist Nikki Sixx swiped his name directly from another member of the Sunset Strip music scene.
Sixx, born Frank Feranna Jr. in 1958, fled his adolescent home of Jerome, Idaho, at the age of 17, and took a Greyhound bus to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. Prior to forming Motley Crue, he played in a band called London, which he formed in 1978 with guitarist Lizzie Grey and drummer Dane Rage. The band later briefly featured Blackie Lawless, who had previously played with Sixx in a band called Sister and went on to find fame with W.A.S.P.
At the time, Sixx — still Feranna at that point — was dating Angie Saxon, a fellow musician and journalism student. Saxon had previously dated Jeff Nicholson, the frontman of California cover band Squeeze. Nicholson had earned his reps on the scene, playing in cover bands with Sammy Hagar. But more importantly, he adopted an eye-popping stage name when he formed Squeeze: Niki Syxx.
Sixx was infatuated with Nicholson’s alter ego — so much so that he decided to take it for himself. “I loved that name right away — even though it was missing that sweet extra k. Then and there, I decided to steal it,” Sixx wrote in his 2021 book The First 21: How I Became Nikki Sixx.
The bassist had been struggling to come up with a suitable stage name at the time. “For a while, I went around calling myself Nikki London,” he wrote in The First 21. “But it caused problems, eventually, because of what we called the ‘Van Halen Syndrome.’ London wasn’t my band in the way that Sister was Blackie’s. London was more of a democracy, and unless Lizzie, Dane and I did what the Ramones had done — unless Lizzie and Dane changed their last names to London as well — it was going to be hard to avoid the impression that the whole thing was my band and not everyone’s band.”
Sixx briefly toyed with the idea of going by Nikki Nine, but ultimately, he felt called to a different numerical sobriquet. When he told Saxon of his plans to reinvent himself as Nikki Sixx, she protested that he couldn’t steal the the name from Nicholson. Sixx was uncowed: “‘Whatever,’ I said. ‘He’s never going to make it.'”
Indeed, Nicholson didn’t make it — because he renounced his rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle in 1979 and became a born-again Christian. He later published a pamphlet called Confessions of a Rocker in which he said Sixx is “welcome to the name, and I want to tell you why.”
“When I was Niki Syxx back in 1975, I was almost exactly like Nikki Sixx in Motley Crue… Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” Nicholson wrote. But, “On Halloween night in 1979, I became something I never wanted to be, and that was a Christian.” From that point forward, Nicholson abandoned his pursuits of promiscuous sex and dalliances with drugs and dedicated his life to spreading the gospel.
That was good news for Sixx, who legally changed his name on Oct. 3, 1980, at the age of 21 and went on to become known internationally by his new identity, selling millions of albums and packing stages around the world for more than 40 years with Motley Crue.
“I’ve heard that [Nicholson is] living in Oregon now, playing his Christian music, spreading the gospel and bemoaning his old, wicked rock ‘n’ roll ways,” Sixx wrote in The First 21. “Jeff thinks rock ‘n’ roll is the devil’s music. He thinks that me stealing his name is the least of my sins and my problems and that, undoubtedly, I am going to hell anyway.”
To this day, Sixx seems unfazed by these damnations or accusations of thievery. “I’ll be the first to admit it was shameless,” he wrote of stealing his name. “But isn’t shameless another word for rock ‘n’ roll?”
Nikki Sixx Year-by-Year Photos 1981-2022
Over four decades’ worth of photos from Motley Crue’s bass player.