Original Gn’R Manager Vicky Hamilton Tell All Interview Pt. 1.
Vicky Hamilton & the one and only Slash!
TAKE ME DOWN TO PARADISE CITY: A METAL SLUDGE EXCLUSIVE WITH GUNS N’ ROSES’ ORIGINAL MANAGER VICKY HAMILTON
By Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge contributor
HOLLYWOOD — In the latest Sludge series on the early days of legendary rock band Guns N’ Roses, who went from the streets of Sunset Boulevard – and its seedy alleys – to selling 100 million records and being set to be inducted next month into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Our own Gerry Gittelson tracked down Vicky Hamilton, GNR’s original manager who back in the 1980s provided the band everything from food and shelter to sage advice to the band’s record deal with Geffen that soon led to fame and fortune beyond their wildest dreams.
But what about Vicky Hamilton’s dreams? She gave her life to the band, only to be shut out once Guns N’ Roses hit the big time – like a discarded wife who works two jobs to support her husband through medical school, and you know the rest – and, like our previous interview subjects Marc Canter (a financial benefactor and the first to photograph the band) and former manager Alan Niven (who took over when Hamilton was discarded like old Marlboro cigarette only to get dumped himself when the real money started rolling in), Hamilton is the third in row with whom Axl Rose has cut off all ties.
Fascinating stuff here, folks. Here is part ONE, which is pretty darn good before leading into part TWO, which will be amazing. Enjoy.
METAL SLUDGE: Guns N’ Roses is being inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame next month. That must bring back some memories, eh?
VICKY HAMILTON: They deserve it. I’m really proud of them. They made one of the most brilliant records of all time. I just listened to “Appetite For Destruction” again this morning, and it really is a brilliant record. No one can take that away from them, and I’m happy to be associated with it.
METAL SLUDGE: You’re the one who kind of helped to form the band, and you were the first manager who stuck around and actually got the band signed to Geffen. Do you remember meeting Axl Rose for the first time?
VICKY HAMILTON: I do. The band wasn’t Guns N’ Roses yet. It was Axl and Izzy in Hollywood Rose with Chris Weber. I was an agent at Silver Lining Entertainment, a little booking agency in Studio City near Ventura Boulevard.
I was in my mid-20s. I had moved to Los Angeles when I was 21. As it turned out, the three of us, me, Axl and Izzy, are all from Indiana, but we didn’t know each other back there. They were young. Anyway, I was sitting at my desk one day, and I get a call from a guy who introduces himself as Axl Rose. He says: “Hey, you come highly recommended. Can you book some shows for us.”
I told him I had to hear his tape and for him to mail it to me, and Axl said, “No, we’ll come in and play it for you.” I told him I didn’t have a stereo but he said it was OK because he had a ghetto blaster, and he would come in and play it for me. I laughed and said OK, but I didn’t think any more about it until Axl and Izzy Stradlin showed up.
He played the demo. It had “Paradise” and “Back Off Bitch” and a few other tracks that eventually made it to “Appetite.” I was really blown away. That voice was different than anything I had ever heard. I booked them right on the spot.
The first show was with a band called Candy at the old Madame Wong’s in West L.A. Hollywood Rose was great, but there were probably only about 12 people there. It wasn’t a weekend.
METAL SLUDGE: I thought Candy was huge, no?
VICKY HAMILTON: Yeah, but back then, Candy was new, too. They were a fresh band, and like I said, it wasn’t the weekend. But as for Axl and Izzy, I thought they were great. I loved them. I booked them another gig right away at (another club) Music Machine, opening for Stryper and Black Sheep, which had Slash as the guitar player.
Looking back, I remember it was kind of funny because Axl was doing the pogo on stage, you know, pogo-ing like punk rock-style in the 80s. He didn’t do the snake-movement thing until later after he saw Richard Black doing it for Shark Island. I remember they did a Todd Rundgren cover, “Bang on the Drum.”
METAL SLUDGE: At same point, Axl met Slash. Is that what you’re getting at?
VICKY HAMILTON: I remember it like it was in slow motion. I had actually known Slash for a while at this point, and I introduced Slash to Axl. Later on, Slash went on to say he and Axl had met earlier. But in my mind, the way I remember it, that was the first time they met that night at the Music Machine show. Who knows the real truth?
METAL SLUDGE: Well, if you say it feels like it’s in slow motion when you think back about the introduction, what you’re really saying is it’s a very clear memory, right?
VICKY HAMILTON: That’s right.
METAL SLUDGE: Tell me more about Slash. It sounds like that’s where the Guns N’ Roses connection started for you.
VICKY HAMILTON: I was always fond of Slash from the moment I met him. He just had this charismatic way about him, and he was super witty and just always “on it.” And he was a great guitar player. Slash told me he wanted something different than Black Sheep. He wanted to be in a different band. I tried to get Slash involved in every band I was involved in. I still love him.
METAL SLUDGE: Including Poison, right?
VICKY HAMILTON: Yes, I managed Poison, too. They auditioned Slash, and Poison ended up giving him the gig. He was excited, he said he would do it. He said OK. But then he said he would not wear all the makeup, and he said he would not say, “I’m Slash!” You know, how everyone in Poison used to introduce themselves on stage: “I’m Bret! I’m Rikki! I’m Bobby!” Slash said no way, he was not going to do that. So Poison ended up getting C.C. DeVille the next day. He’s the one who got the gig after Slash turned it down. I always liked Slash. When Slash joined GNR, that’s when the magic started.
A young Bret Michaels with Vicky Hamilton
METAL SLUDGE: So Slash joined Guns N’ Roses. This is great stuff, Vicky. Take it from there.
VICKY HAMILTON: Well, there was a period, like I said, where I kind of lost track of what was going on. Tracii Guns had replaced Chris Weber, and the guys just kind of disappeared for a little while before Slash entered the picture. That’s what got me interested again. I sort of picked up the ball and helped them get some shows, then they all moved into this little closet of a rehearsal hall off Sunset Boulevard near the guitar shops like Guitar Center and Guitars R Us. They rehearsed there and lived there. They built a loft, and all of them were sleeping up there. All of them except Duff, who was living with his girlfriend. But the rest of them lived there, side by side. It was really ridiculous.
METAL SLUDGE: In some ways, when you saw that, did the band earn your respect? That’s some pretty heavy sacrificing in the name of rock and roll, trying to make it, you know what I mean?
VICKY HAMILTON: Of course. Of course I respected that. That’s what attracted me to Guns N’ Roses to begin with. That raw, intense energy they had that no other band could capture like this band did. I knew right out of the gate they were really special, and I wanted to be a part of it. It didn’t have anything to do with money. The music was so good, and it needed to be heard. That’s the integrity and the place that I come from on all the projects I do. I got offered other projects for money, I got offered a lot of projects for money, but I couldn’t do it. It’s pointless. You need to have your heart in it. I just don’t know how else to put it.
METAL SLUDGE: I think you mean like the opposite of Kim Fowley, right?
VICKY HAMILTON: Oh, I have a great Kim Fowley story.
METAL SLUDGE: Oh?
VICKY HAMILTON: At some point a little later, the band was living with me. Everyone in Guns N’ Roses except Duff, and Kim Fowley met up with us.
METAL SLUDGE: Wait, wait. Back up a second. How did this come about that they were living with you?
VICKY HAMILTON: Axl had come to my house six months earlier looking for couch to crash on for a night or two, and it ended up being six months. He was in trouble with the cops, something about a rape accusation that was not true, with a girl named Michelle, and her mother was involved, kind of a tag team. That’s where the song “My Michelle” comes from. He wrote that song while he was living at my house.
METAL SLUDGE: That’s good stuff. What else did he write at your house?
VICKY HAMILTON: I don’t know. I never thought about it. But he definitely wrote “November Rain” at my house. There was a really sweet and good side to him.
METAL SLUDGE: Tell me more about the living arrangements. Sludge readers are very interested in this kind of stuff. Did you all get along? Did they take out the trash and do the dishes sometimes?
VICKY HAMILTON: You’re kidding, right? Obviously, you were never in that apartment.
METAL SLUDGE: Well, you were supporting them at the time. Were they courteous at all? Like if someone called, would they at least give you the message? Common courtesy type of stuff?
VICKY HAMILTON: (laughs) Not necessarily. I had my own bedroom, and we shared the rest of the house. Slash was always ripping off my t-shirts, so I used to lock the guys out of my bedroom. I knew Slash had been stealing from me when I saw him wearing my Jimmy & The Mustangs shirt in a magazine photo. Slash says he still has that shirt.
METAL SLUDGE: What about yourself? How were doing financially yourself, supporting all these band members? Did you have a lot of money, or were you struggling yourself?
VICKY HAMILTON: I was totally struggling. A guy named Howie Hubberman who owned Guitars R Us, he was helping me out. I borrowed $25,000 from him for the band, for stage clothes, equipment, all that kind of stuff. I was promoting shows at the Whisky, the Roxy, the Starlight, and Howie Hubberman backed me.
I remember we did a show at the Roxy with Guns N’ Roses, and they played two shows that night, totally packed. I actually lost money on that show because once you reach capacity at the Roxy, they charged me two dollars extra for everyone that came in, plus I had to buy beer for everyone for three dollars a bottle – we couldn’t bring in our own beer – so by the time I paid this huge bill, I didn’t even break even. I had to pay a security fee, all these things. It was impossible to make money at those venues in those days. (Roxy owner) Mario Maglieri has that famous saying, “Get the money.” But he’s the one who keeps the bar, so he is the only one who makes money.
METAL SLUDGE: Were your parents rich? How did you make money?
VICKY HAMILTON: No, My parents did not have a lot of money. For the most part, I worked in a record store at Licorice Pizza. I can’t remember what else. The agency went out of business. I had moved in with Jennifer Perry and Robert Berman in the Valley at one point while they breaking up, or they had broke up, and I just went out on my own. They broke up, and somehow I wound up getting possession of the dog, and I moved to Hollywood.
Gn’R Publicity Shot
METAL SLUDGE: Well, did the Guns N’ Roses guys at least treat the dog right?
VICKY HAMILTON: Are you kidding? That dog was a nervous fuckin’ wreck. (laughs). I had just moved in, I had no fridge yet, so we were putting things in an ice chest. I remember the guys were keeping the mayonnaise on the window sill, and one of our neighbors knocked on the door and told them they needed to put the mayonnaise in the fridge. There was blue/black hair dye all over the walls from them dying their hair, too. The carpet had things living in it, with crunched up McDonalds French fries.
METAL SLUDGE: Did you ever say, “Hey guys, if you want to eat, you need to clean up!”?
VICKY HAMILTON: That didn’t work with those guys. They would get mad at haul off to the Rainbow. From me working these shows, I had credit with Mario at the Rainbow, and the guys would come in and order pizzas. Mario was like a guardian angel because he knew he made a lot of money off the band, and he was trying to keep it alive. I was crafty the way I got things done. I had to be. With Poison, I had the Troubadour pay their rent and their phone bill every month.
METAL SLUDGE: Oh shit, I lost track. What is the Kim Fowley story?
VICKY HAMILTON: Oh yeah. So one day, I walk into the living room, and Kim Fowley is sitting on my couch, talking to Axl and Izzy. I don’t think Slash was there that day. Kim is telling them he wants to buy the publishing rights to “Anything Goes,” “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City,” which was a brand-new song at that point. Three songs that ended up on “Appetite,” and Kim Fowley offers $2,500 for the publishing. Axl wanted to do it! I was like, “Are you fucking kidding me? Those are great songs that are worth a lot more than that!” And Axl goes, “Yeah, but I can write a million songs like those.” I was like, “You can’t write a million songs like THOSE songs. Don’t do it.”
So Kim Fowley gives me the dagger eyes, and you could feel the tension in the room. So thick you could cut it with a knife. So I make my way to the laundry room, and all of a sudden Kim is right there, yelling at me, arms swinging, blocking the doorway. I slid under his arm, but I was seriously worried he was going to do something to hurt me. He told the guys I was too pretty to be a manager. Whatever.
METAL SLUDGE: So let’s get this straight. You were Guns N’ Roses’ official manager, right?
VICKY HAMILTON: Yes, I was the official manager. You can read the old Music Connection article where they all agreed I was the manager at the time of the interview.
METAL SLUDGE: So what happened?
VICKY HAMITLON: I got a lawyer, Peter Paterno, for contract negotiations, and we went back and forth, the band and I, about negotiating points and percentages and all that. Midway through negotiations to get a management contract signed, Peter decides HE wants to rep the band, not me. I don’t know if that was even legal – I don’t think it was – but it was certainly immoral.
Anway, there was a show at the Roxy, and I took Peter Philbin, who was an A & R guy at Elektra, and he had worked at Columbia, too. He was fresh at Elektra, and I brought him to see the band, and we had a meeting a Philburn’s office. On Sunset, we all walked form my apartment to the meeting, almost causing accidents on the street because people would always look at us as we walked down the street.
METAL SLUDGE: Obviously, that did not work out because Guns N’ Roses never signed with Elektra.
VICKY HAMILTON: Yeah, at this point, the band was messed up on drugs, and Peter was actually concerned about whether or not Guns N’ Roses could actually make a record. I think he said something like, “With me, nothing is instant like ice tea.” He wanted to sit on the idea and keep checking them out. But the way we saw things, if you did not get on the Guns N’ Roses train, it was over for you. They just moved on.
The next show, at the Troubadour, I had started to get a lot of interest, and all the labels were there. I was honestly pissed that Peter did not throw down a deal right then and there when he had the chance. The thing about the Troubadour show was, it was so loud that half the room couldn’t take it and had to step outside the club onto the sidewalk. That’s where Tom Zutaut from Geffen Records came up to me and said: “Look, it’s so loud that I can’t stand in there. But if that kid Axl Rose can really sing, you have yourself a record deal.” I said, “Oh, he can really sing.”
NEXT: In Part TWO, Guns N’ Roses gets signed – and the axe falls on Vicky Hamilton, who not only did not share in the signing bonus or eventual profits but eventually had to sue the band in court just to recover her expenses.
Gerry Gittleson can be reached at [email protected]