Ugly Kid Joe and beyond – the crazy life of Whitfield Crane
Have you worn Eddie Van Halen’s socks, hung out with Lemmy (in his Speedos), been kidnapped by unknown assailants or charged with ‘murder’? No you haven’t. But then you’re not Ugly Kid Joe fro
Before she left home to go and study at the University of California in 1980, Whitfield Crane’s elder sister handed him two records from her collection: AC/DC’s Highway To Hell and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Street Survivors. “You’ll be done with these by junior year in high school,” she told her 12-year-old brother, “but for now, enjoy.”
“Except I never grew out of it,” says Crane. “I truly believed that this was my calling.”
Best known as the frontman with Ugly Kid Joe, the Californian rock band who hit paydirt when their 1991 debut EP As Ugly As They Wanna Be sold a million records off the back of hit single Everything About You, Crane has also sung with Life Of Agony, Medication and, most recently, Richards/Crane, a project with former Godsmack guitarist Lee Richards. In London to guest with Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo’s occasional ‘supergroup’ Mass Mental, today the mellow 48-year-old singer describes himself as a “seeker”, a working musician who’ll travel the world with a backpack and a credit card in search of adventure and experience.
Over the years, naturally, Crane has accumulated stories. Sitting in the corner of a North London pub, he unfurls these anecdotes with the practised manner of a man fully accustomed to holding court for a roomful of strangers. There’s the time he ended up ‘fronting’ Black Sabbath for three days, having been summoned to stand in for Ozzy for rehearsals at Birmingham NEC when the metal legends prepped for their 1997 reunion shows. The time he was “detained” at Graceland, accused of flashing his genitals for a photo op in front of Elvis’s old house. The time he flew from London to New York without a passport, granted permission to board a British Airways flight using only a tour laminate as ID: “I got to JFK [airport] and the immigration guys were just like ‘Really?’” There’s talk of arguments with David Lee Roth, and three-day drug benders with actor Sean Penn (“I can’t tell that story, though”).
But ask Whit Crane how it feels to be a rock star and he’ll look you square in the face and tell you that he’s never felt like a rock star. “Actually, the only time I ever felt like a rock star was before I was signed,” he insists. “When Ugly Kid Joe were a little band who could draw eight hundred people to a show on the beach, I was at my most cocky, like ‘Fuck you. We’re the kings of this town!’ But when things started happening for real, man, it was just too fast.”