"Axl said he always gets what he wants & that he wanted my head on a silver platter"
Vicky Hamilton, original Gn’R manager lets loose about the old days.
SWEET CHILDREN OF MINE: Vicky Hamilton, Guns N’ Roses’ original manager, spills her guts in PART TWO of this compelling Metal Sludge exclusive.
By Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge Contributor
Vicky Hamilton was there in the beginning when Guns N’ Roses had nowhere to live and nothing to eat.
With a remarkable ear for talent, an utterly determined work ethic and a heart as big as the back table at the Rainbow, Hamilton, now 53, was Miss Everything back in the 1980s when the band was trying to make it.
Having never had the word “groupie” attached to her name, Hamilton was much bigger than a band mom. She was the spark that helped Guns N’ Roses set the world on fire.
It all ended beautifully for Axl, Slash, Duff and the others, as Guns N’ Roses has sold millions of records through the years and is set to be inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame next month. As for Hamilton, let’s just say it’s painful to look back. But for Metal Sludge’s very own Gerry Gittelson, she was willing to do so.
In her own words, here is the rest of Hamilton’s story.
*If you have not read PART ONE, we suggest you click it first, and come back.
METAL SLUDGE: OK, we left off with you standing in the street in front of the Troubadour, trying to convince Tom Zutaut from Geffen Records that Axl Rose could really sing. Take it from there, Vicky.
VICKY HAMILTON: Tom Zutaut moved very fast. He went straight to David Geffen, and a few days later an offer was on the table. There were others interested, too. Susan Collins and Ron Fair at Chrysalis. I remember Axl Rose told Susan that if she was willing to run naked up and down Sunset Boulevard, then Guns N’ Roses would sign with Chrysalis! She was actually considering it.
Tom Zutaut & Vicky Hamilton.
METAL SLUDGE: Really?
VICKY HAMILTON: Yeah, she loved the band. I remember a show at Fender’s Ballroom (in Long Beach) one night, I was standing on the soundboard looking across the floor, and Susan was right in there with a sea of kids bopping up front and slam dancing. She’s just a short little girl, so I was afraid she might get trampled. The guys really liked Susan.
METAL SLUDGE: So what are you saying? Was Guns N’ Roses close to signing with Chrysalis?
VICKY HAMILTON: Well, Ron Fair was Susan’s boss at Chrysalis. The guys liked Susan but they were turned off by Ron Fair.
METAL SLUDGE: That’s interesting.
VICKY HAMILTON: Yeah, at this point, everything kind of took off over a two-week period. I was on the phone constantly. Every time I picked up the phone, it was a different A & R guy who wanted us to come and listen to their pitch. Chrysalis was one of the first because we lived on Clarke Street just off the Sunset Strip, so the Chrysalis offices were right down the street.
METAL SLUDGE: So who else was interested? I know it’s been a long time, but I really want to get as many details as possible, some details that no one was ever known about. I know you said Elektra was waiting, but who else?
VICKY HAMILTON: Well, with Geffen, you had that whole Warner/Elektra/Atlantic thing going, so there was a lot of WEA energy, and they were all in on it. It was everyone in power in A & R at that point. We were doing meetings like 24 hours a day, going to all these fancy dinners with label execs. The guys ate really well, They went to the Ivy and all the great restaurants. They were eating steak and lobster and ordering like a gazillion cocktails.
METAL SLUDGE: I have a pretty clear mental picture.
VICKY HAMILTON: It was fucking crazy. Some record-label people even started coming to our apartment unannounced, but Tom Zutaut is the one who clinched it. He was with Motley Crue at Elektra, then he was a fresh face at Geffen at the time. He took the guys to his house and hung out with them all night, playing Aerosmith records, and I think Tom had food catered in. The next day, we announced we were signing with Geffen.
METAL SLUDGE: So everyone in the band went to Tom Zutaut’s house that night, or just three or four of them?
VICKY HAMILTON: I think it was everyone because I remember it being the first night I was ever alone in my apartment. Oh, and I’d just like to say, for the record, that I was on Motley Crue before Tom Zutaut was, and I was on Guns N’ Roses before Zutaut was. (laughs)
Guns N’ Roses promo postcard from Vicky’s collection.
METAL SLUDGE: Wow, that’s pretty impressive. The two biggest Los Angeles rock bands from the post-Van Halen era. Plus, Poison of course.
VICKY HAMILTON: I was friends with Van Halen, too.
METAL SLUDGE: You’re kidding me. The hat trick?
VICKY HAMILTON: Yeah, I had actually first met them backstage a couple of times in Indiana, but when I moved to Los Angeles, I lived with Brett Cervantes, who worked for Noel Monk, who was Van Halen’s manager. This was in 1981 or maybe the top of 1982, so the Van Halen guys were always hanging out at our house. David Lee Roth used to always point out that my initials were VH, which stands for Van Halen. Every time he would see me, he would say, “Heyyyy, VH.”
METAL SLUDGE: OK, so I guess Guns N’ Roses signed with Geffen. Take it from there.
VICKY HAMILTON: I remember after they signed the deal at Geffen, we walked across Sunset Boulevard to celebrate with Tom Zutaut, the band, and a few others at Hamburger Hamlet. I think we started with seven or eight people, and there were about 15 at the end. The night they signed the deal memo, they got a $37,500 advance.
METAL SLUDGE: Oh really? Then who paid the check at Hamburger Hamlet?
VICKY HAMILTON: I’m sure Tom Zutaut put it on his expense account. They all had expense accounts in those days. It was the golden era in the music business. It was a $75,000 advance, but I think the way it worked out was $37,500 at first and $37,500 for later.
METAL SLUDGE: So a $75,000 advance, how much did you get?
VICKY HAMILTON: I didn’t get anything. I got evicted from the apartment.
METAL SLUDGE: Well, if you were the manager, why didn’t you get a cut?
VICKY HAMILTON: That’s a very good question. Tom Zutaut and the band had some meetings together, and Tom said the band needed a real manager, or as they put it, “major management,” and they didn’t think I could handle it. A lot of managers then turned them down until Alan Niven came along, but you know what? At least I had the guts to do it.
As things turned out, Tom said he would give me an A & R job at Geffen if Guns N’ Roses signed, so I did get an A & R salary.
METAL SLUDGE: How much was that?
VICKY HAMILTON: The first year was $25,000. But I worked there four years, and by my last year I was making $100,000. But anything good that happened, Tom took the credit, and anything that was a failure was my fault. It didn’t work out the way I had wished, but I wasn’t going to bitch about it because Tom made a great record with them, and no one can ever take that away. I was definitely naïve, but you know what? I wanted to be in the business, and as part of the record deal, all the money that I spent was re-inbursed, but we eventually had a falling out because I had borrowed $25,000 for the band from Howie Hubberman, and that was not included. Howie was looking at me to get paid back, and every month the guys in the band would say, “Yeah, we’ll handle it.” But they never did, and I was not going to be left holding the bag for $25,000, so I eventually had to sue them. It was kind of ballsy, but I had to do it.
METAL SLUDGE: Really?
VICKY HAMILTON: Yes. The statute of limitation was running out, so I hired a litigator who served Slash in front of the Cathouse one night. I actually wound up getting $35,000, which was $25,000 for Howie Hubberman, $5,000 for the lawyer and $5,000 for me to get a new apartment because that was never included before.
A Birthday card to Vicky from Axl but it looks like he mispelled her name.
METAL SLUGE: Vicky, they sold millions and millions of records.
VICKY HAMILTON: I know. Well, OK, I didn’t get the Malibu beach house, but the way it was, I was afraid to do anything because I worked at Geffen. I didn’t want to lose my job, so I was caught between a rock and a hard place. As for me and Howie, we had a gentlemen’s agreement, and I was responsible for that money. I gave my word.
METAL SLUDGE: How mad was Guns N’ Roses?
VICKY HAMILTON: They weren’t happy. I still haven’t spoken to Axl Rose. The last time I saw him was maybe 15 years ago, and he acted like he didn’t see me. But I’m friends with all the other guys. I can remember being at the “Welcome to the Jungle” video shoot, and I kind of avoided him.
The last time Axl and I spoke was many 20 years ago. I never went to any of the Forum shows, none of the “Use Your Illusion” shows. When I worked at Geffen, I was eventually working completely removed from Guns N’ Roses. My feelings were hurt, but I was always so busy that it was just on to the next thing.
METAL SLUDGE: So before the lawsuit, you were buddy-buddy with Axl?
VICKY HAMILTON: Actually no. The first thing he was mad about was an article in Musician magazine. I was quoted in the story saying there were two distinct personalities with Axl Rose, the sweet little boy and the dog from hell, and he read it and then called to put a message on my machine saying he would never forgive and would never talk to me again. That was the last I’ve ever heard from him. On the message, he said he always gets what he wants, and he that he wanted my head on silver platter. He was threatening my life, basically,.
METAL SLUDGE: Your old roommate, the one whom you fed and supported?
VICKY HAMILTON: Yeah, but I want to say something else about Axl. I have a lot of compassion for him. He had a rough childhood, and I don’t hold anything against him. One day, we will talk. I don’t want to appear bitter. I totally get it. I understand where he is coming from, and to be honest, during the time period I was working with Guns N’ Roses, he would sometimes say that he didn’t know whether or not if I would be the band manager forever.
METAL SLUDGE: So at least he was honest.
VICKY HAMILTON: He was. I also remember Steven Adler said to me that Axl was going to pay me $50,000, but that money never came either. Whatever. I don’t have any regrets. My relationship with Guns N’ Roses put my name on the map. I’m grateful and appreciative that I was able to help them pursue their dreams.
The reality is this: If you hold the sword over someone’s head, it only falls on you. I have to come from a place of forgiveness and compassion. I do wish I had that Malibu beach house, but I didn’t get it. Oh well. Next.
METAL SLUDGE: Tell me more about Steven Adler. Good memories?
VICKY HAMILTON: Oh yes. When I think back of Steven, he was just this happy go lucky, smiling stoner boy. When I managed the band, he was actually the least fucked-up of all of them. Those original five guys with Steven, that was the magic. When you take a piece away, you take a piece of the magic. Matt Sorum was a great drummer, but there was something magical about Steven Adler.
METAL SLUDGE: Did you smoke weed together?
VICKY HAMILTON: Of course. We were always smoking pot.
METAL SLUDGE: Did the band ever do heroin in front of you?
VICKY HAMILTON: No, never. They used to go on the roof of the apartment building to do that.
METAL SLUDGE: Ah, at last we find a courtesy to you.
VICKY HAMILTON: (laughs) I don’t know if it was a courtesy. I think they were afraid I would drag their ass to rehab or whatever.
METAL SLUDGE: Did Axl smoke weed?
VICKY HAMILTON: He didn’t do it a lot.
METAL SLUDGE: What about drinking. Sorry to drive you crazy with so many little questions about Axl, but you were right there, Vicky.
VICKY HAMILTON: Axl didn’t do a lot of drinking. When I think back, I don’t remember him ever getting wasted. Kind of normal, like three beers. I never saw him falling down drunk like Slash. I saw Axl mad as hell. It could have been alcohol or drug-induced, but I never saw him fall down. Axl, if I remember, smoked a little pot here and there. But it was not like Steven. Steven and I were wake-and-bake pot smokers, and I don’t remember Axl ever being like that.
Vicky with current Gn’R members Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer & Bumblefoot.
METAL SLUDGE: Thanks for all this incredible stuff, Vicky. I know you’re writing about a book, right?
VICKY HAMILTON: Yes, it’s tentatively titled “Trimming Tits Off Tires.”
METAL SLUDGE: Really?
VICKY HAMILTON: Yes, I’m co-writing the book with Iris Berry. And my web site is vickyhamilton.com. I’m also managing a really hot new band called The Art. They have the No. 2 in Japan. They’re playing a show with Steel Panther on Monday, April 2 at House of Blues. Anyone who wants to go can give me shout. My personal email is: [email protected]
METAL SLUDGE: Anything else?
VICKY HAMILTON: I remember the president of Geffen, Eddie Rosenblatt, he once told me that crazy people are attracted to me like a moth to a light bulb.
METAL SLUDGE: The Hall of Fame induction is coming soon.
VICKY HAMILTON: It would be nice if they invite me. I don’t know if they will, but I would love to go, and I still talk to Slash all the time, but I don’t know if I’ll be invited.
For a look way back, we first did 20 Questions wth Vicky in August of 2002. Go check out the past, the present with our current exclusive, and we look to the future when we speak with her again. Thanks Vicky.
Gerry Gittelson can be reached [email protected]