Former Guns N’ Roses Manager Vicky Hamilton Gives Insight Into GNR Early Days (INTERVIEW)
Where were you in 1985? High school? College? Working at a ho-hum job dreaming of something else somewhere else? Vicky Hamilton was living in a Clark Street apartment with her friend Jennifer and a couple of rock & roll musicians who had taken over the living room as their own personal party space, leaving the lodgings in somewhat questionable sanitary conditions. “There were McDonald’s cartons, cigarette butts, cigarette burns and empty alcohol bottles everywhere,” Hamilton wrote in her memoir, Appetite For Dysfunction. “The bathtub had an indefinable scum on the inside surface. You couldn’t sandblast that stuff off.” With a nice ewww factor going on, would you still have kicked Guns N Roses out of your apartment?
Hamilton is one of the most recognizable figures in the early history of the recently semi-reunited band. After a seemingly fun, yet somewhat ordinary, life in Indiana – going to parties, working at a record store, attending high school, that sort of thing – Hamilton followed her dreams of working somehow someway in the music business to the Shangri la smokescreen called Hollywood. Meeting Tom Petty had been a motivating push to get her out of her Indiana life. “I fell in love with Tom Petty the moment I saw his face on the cover of his debut album,” Hamilton wrote. On her way to one of his concerts, she spotted his tour bus and with a youth’s uninhibited courage, jumped out and walked right up to the man himself: “Hi, my name is Vicky Hamilton and I would like to interview you.” She did, and with his advice echoing in her ear – “You look like a California girl. You should just move there. That’s what we did.” – she set out on the biggest adventure of her life.
She loved her rock & roll boys and was immediately ready to take on the business … albeit first at another record store, Licorice Pizza, and waitressing at various music clubs on the Sunset Strip. Handling booking, management and public relations duties was rewarding, fun and sometimes stressful. The Strip was overwhelmed by glamish rockers and their faithful fans, groupies and hangers-ons. It seems that everyone who walked the sidewalks had some kind of connection to the music. But Hamilton didn’t want to be your average stand-in-the-back support-the-band kind of girl. She had a sixth sense about bands and one of her first in LA was Motley Crue. She would eventually help other young up & coming bands such as Stryper, Poison, Faster Pussycat and the notorious GNR. She hung out at the most exciting clubs and rubbed shoulders with the day’s top rockers. She saw her boys have success, fame and #1 records. She went to work for Geffen, was profiled in magazines. She may not be a multi-millionaire but she had a hand in boosting others to be so.
Today, Hamilton still works with musicians – the 222 and Diana Meyer – as well as tackling other writing projects and screenplays. With her memoir finally in it’s final finished volume, she is also spending a lot of time talking about the music that defined the path of her life. And although it’s full to the brim with stories about her interactions with many of the decade’s most popular rock stars, she has some other nibblets for the dinner table, one of the most telling being the recreation of her near-fatal car wreck on Topanga. It is one of the most powerful sections of the book and not a rock star in sight.
We spoke with Hamilton recently about her book, her thoughts on some of the people and places she had the good luck, or perfect timing, to encounter and her life now.
On a side-note, Hamilton once saw Prince perform in a skating rink not long after moving to Hollywood. “Who’s Prince?” she asked the guy who gave her a free ticket to the show. “Honey, this guy is going to make history. You really don’t want to miss it.”
Have you gotten tired of talking about all this yet?
(laughs) I don’t know, it’s kind of fun, at least now. It’s like the best therapy ever, you know.
Do you feel like you’re a more confident person now?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I’m pretty much fearless at this point (laughs). I’m negotiating deals for film and TV and stuff and it’s like I’ve learned a lot about how to maneuver in the world. But at the fundamental level, we’re all the same and I just tell myself that and it makes it a little easier.
How different is doing the music compared to the movies?
Really, it’s not that different. It’s a different cast of characters but the basic process is the same.
When did you know you wanted to write this book and how long did the actual process take?
I started thinking back in like the late 1980’s that I was going to write it and I started making some tapes, thankfully, because had it not been for those tapes I would have lost a lot of the stories that are in the book because as you get older the memory starts to fade. But it took me seven years to write the book. Not like every day but I tried to put some thought towards it every day and actual writing a few times a week. I finished it two years ago so for the last two years I’ve been editing it. It’s a very different book.
Did you take a lot of stuff out as you worked on it?
No, I didn’t take a lot of stuff out. It was more about making it flow so that anybody that was jumping into my life could go with the story, cause there is a wide cast of characters in my life. I tried to maintain it to just the artists that I worked with. I have a lot more interests than what ended up in the book.
Did you find that going the self-publishing route gave you more freedom to tell the stories as you wanted to?
Absolutely. Early on I was working with an agent and he was an amazing guy but he didn’t really get the Sunset Strip philosophy of things and he took a big section out that I wrote about Motley Crue and Mario [Maglieri, owner of the Rainbow], who was basically my godfather of the Sunset Strip and sort of looked after me. It was a pivotal piece of my story when I was working with Motley Crue so I put it back in. I don’t know how I could tell the Sunset Strip story without including stories about Mario because he was always there. He fed us when we didn’t have any money and he’d take me into the kitchen and feed me soup from the Rainbow. When I ended up rear-ending that guy out of the Rainbow parking lot, he kept me out of jail and that was the piece he took out of it. But that was a major pivotal point in my story so it had to be there. I tried to be really honest about what I was writing and just tell the story and not come from a place of judgment and let the reader decide for themselves what actually happened and how I saw it from my point of view.
Why a manager? You came from an artistic background so why not become a journalist or a music photographer or something like that?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I just had this major nurturing piece of me and it kind of happened sort of organically. I was in art school in Indiana and I really thought I would be like a painter. And I fell in love with a couple of bands and wanted to help them with their career and then when I went to work at Apple Records in Indiana I got so much into the music. I don’t know, I like to find things and share it with others. And I still do that (laughs). I manage acts and like right now I’m in love with The Last Shadow Puppets and I have nothing to gain from it other than sharing it with people and turning them on to it. I love Alex Turner. He’s in the Arctic Monkeys but this is like his side project. I’ve never met him but I just think he’s brilliant, you know.
When you went from Indiana to LA, you seemed to have taken to it immediately.
Oh yeah, absolutely. Nothing against Indiana. I’m glad I grew up there. It instilled great moral value in me and had I grown up in Hollywood I’m not sure that would have been the case (laughs). But when I got to Hollywood and I saw the billboards with all the music stuff and all the clubs, cause in Indiana there were like two clubs and in LA there are probably fifty that I know of (laughs). I’m sure there are more! But it was just kind of rocker paradise.
Who was more stressful to work with – Motley Crue or Guns N Roses?
I’m going to say Guns N Roses, only purely from the fact that I lived with Guns N Roses. Motley Crue, when I worked with them, I was very new to the business. Well, not in my mind because I had done the business in Indiana. But I was new in Hollywood and that was kind of my first real big project, the first ones I saw go from zero to world class heroes. It was more exciting and I wasn’t exactly manager, I was the manager consultant, so it didn’t really fall on me when they did like bad things (laughs). With Guns N Roses, I was living with them and was directly responsible for cleaning things up so it was a little more stressful.
You did a great job of describing what your apartment looked like when they were living there.
Yeah, it was pretty toxic to say the least (laughs)
Was the fight between Steven and Axl really as scary as it seemed when you’re reading it in the book?
Yeah it was. It’s like when Axl would get to those places where he just saw red, you just never knew how it was going to end up.
You didn’t talk a lot about Mick Mars in the Motley Crue section. Why?
He lived down in like Huntington/Newport Beach so he didn’t really hang out. He was a family man out of the gate so he was hardly ever around in the early days. So I didn’t really get to know him very well. I probably only had two or three conversations with him in my entire career. He didn’t talk a lot anyway. Kind of like Izzy was very reserved and didn’t say a lot.
Of all the rock stars you knew back then, who has changed the most and who has changed the least?
Oh boy, that’s a tough one. Might have to say Slash has changed the least. He handles himself better than anybody I’ve ever met. Slash is a very sweet guy and Myles Kennedy, I adore him. Slash said to me, “You wouldn’t even come see my band if it wasn’t for Myles.” (laughs) Who has changed the most? I’m going to say Bret Michaels. I don’t want to go into it but he just didn’t turn out to be the person I thought he was.
Out of all the songs that you heard in the beginning, which one impressed you the most?
Oh boy, you’re going to make me pick one song? (laughs) Well, when I heard Axl playing “November Rain,” it’s like I had this goosebump factor. You know when I get goosebumps on my arms hearing things, I know that it’s really strong. He was playing it on the piano and I was like, “God, what is that? It’s really beautiful.” First of all, I didn’t know he could play the piano like that. And secondly, it was like such a gorgeous song. That sticks out in my mind so I’ll just go with that one.
found that one of the most powerful sections in your book was about your car accident. How did that change your life?
Well, as I already told you I’m pretty fearless and that has a lot to do with that car wreck because in that moment I really realized that body and soul are two separate entities and there’s nothing that anyone can do that threatens your soul; even murdering you will not take away your soul. You go on to somewhere else. It was like when I was having that out of body experience and looking at the light, it was very clear to me that there is something very beautiful out there and you can go whenever you want to basically. It had a real hand in changing me into a spiritual person because I grew up in a family that was God-fearing. It just changed my whole perspective on spirituality and the afterlife.
I think it was kind of taboo to talk about these subjects, even up to like ten years ago or whatever, but because of Shirley MacLaine and Oprah Winfrey and Super Soul Sunday and all that kind of stuff, I think that people want to hear it and want to share their views on things. When I was working with June Carter Cash, who to me was one of the most spiritual people I’ve ever met, she used to say, “I’m a little bit Jewish, I’m a little bit Buddha, I’m a little bit Christian and I’m a little bit pagan.” She would go through this whole little cast of things because it’s like, we’re all the same and basically fundamental beliefs are the same and you know truth when you hear it. I think that is why my book is resonating with people. They know that I’m coming from a very pure place and I poke fun at myself as much as I do anyone else. During the 1980’s I was just as high as the band (laughs).
Did you ever think about giving up, doing something else?
Oh sure, especially in the late 1990’s when the music business really started changing. I went back to school and that’s when I took all the writing classes. I thought about going into real estate and whatever. And when there are earthquakes I always think about leaving LA but I just haven’t been able to find anywhere that has as much to offer, you know. So I stick it out.
Do you still get as excited about music as you did back then?
Absolutely, especially when I hear something that I really like, which doesn’t happen as often anymore. Maybe I’m just not as exposed to so much stuff but when I find something I really like I hang onto it.
When people talk to you about your life and the business and they have aspirations of doing the same thing, what do you think is the biggest killer of their dreams?
If they are in it for the money, it won’t last. This business, especially now, is tougher than ever as far as making money on it. I think you have to come from a very pure place about creativity and the muse and all that to even have like a breakthrough. So if your main idea is that you just want to make money and get rich on the music industry, I doubt that it’s going to happen.
Which club do you miss the most?
I would say the Starwood. It kind of filled a void that no other club did at that point in time. There is certainly a new scene in Hollywood. Most of the bands don’t want to go west of Vermont anymore. They’d rather play in Echo Park and Highland Park and that’s kind of the more scenster area where the Strip has become more of a touristy type place and a pay-to-play. Although the Troubadour has kept it’s integrity I think. I really enjoyed doing shows at the Starlight Ballroom. It was such a dive and really fun and now there is like a Home Depot there. I shop at that Home Depot and I’m like, the Starlight Ballroom isn’t here anymore! Like where Cathouse used to be and the original place, I think it was called Osko’s on La Cienega, that’s now where the Beverly Center is. That was a fun place too.
Do you still love Tom Petty?
I still love Tom Petty. I will always love Tom Petty.
Were you nervous when you went up and met him like that?
Back then I was so young and crazy. I was like sort of convinced that Tom Petty was going to be my husband (laughs). It was like nothing was going to keep me from doing it and I’m still like very close to Jon Scott, the radio guy who broke Tom Petty. Jon loves my book and he’s going to give Tom a copy. It’s like really sweet.
Are you going to any of the GNR reunion shows?
I went to one in Las Vegas.
Did you like it?
I did, I mean, it’s like the band I worked with all grown up. I think the musicianship is better, all the bells and whistles are there, but for me it just didn’t have the intensity of the earlier days. How could it, you know. They’re not twenty anymore.
What is keeping you busy these days?
Right now I am doing book tours in support of my book and interviews. I’ve been getting calls to turn my book into a film and TV so I’m fielding offers. I’m about to sign with an agent. I still manage acts. I’ve got Diana Meyer and 222 and I consult a handful of other people and songwriters. I’m looking forward to writing another musical with Robbie Klein, which we’re going to call She Mates, She Kills. That’s kind of what I’m up to.
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