By Jeb Wright
When Vicky Hamilton moved from the serene setting of Indiana to the wild ride that was Los Angeles in the 1980s she could have never known that 30 years later she’d be writing a book about her life.
Appetite For Dysfunction is her memoir where she lays it all out just as she kinda-sorta remembers it! This is a tale of some of the biggest bands to ever hit the Sunset Strip and her relationship with them as their manager.
Vicky talked with CRR about her journey in life, as well as being around to hear some classic songs when they first happened. We talk about being sober, not being sober, poop in a box and how she worked with everyone from GNR to Motley Crue to June Carter Cash.
Her book is available at her website. Click here to snap it up: www.VickyHamilton.com
Jeb: How were you smart enough to put this book out when GNR were reuniting?
Vicky: I couldn’t have timed this better if I wanted to. It’s pretty awesome. First of all, I never thought Guns N’ Roses would reunite.
Jeb: Did you know this was going to happen?
Vicky: Up until October of last year, Slash was telling me it was never going to happen. Imagine my surprise when it did.
Jeb: I want to talk about the book, but I know you’re not going to give it all away. Suffice it to say that this is a good book. Is this a tell-all book?
Vicky: It is a tell-all book, but it is a tell-all about me and my life. It is a memoir. It follows me through being born until current day. All of these bands are a part of my story. I tell my life with the bands, if that makes sense.
Jeb: With some of the guys you were managing, I don’t think you could throw them under the bus, as the crazy stuff is all out there.
Vicky: It is not like I am re-inventing the wheel. I think it is certainly a different take because it is coming from a female perspective, in a management position. Most of the female tell-all books are love affair books. There is some of that. I didn’t sleep with any of the famous ones, of course. It is from a business perspective for the most part.
Jeb: Being a woman in a man’s world you really broke the glass ceiling. Rock was not a place for a nice Midwestern girl to be.
Vicky: I think my naivety kind of helped me in that realm because it didn’t occur to me that I couldn’t do it. I am not Jewish (laughter).
There are a lot of reasons I should not have done this. Ignorance is bliss. I didn’t know it was wrong, so I kind of got to rewrite the rules. To my younger sisters out there that want to go manage bands, I hope I have kicked that ceiling down a little bit.
Jeb: Were your parents supportive of you moving from the Midwest to L.A. and managing rock bands? I would have told my daughter ‘no way’.
Vicky: My dad thought that it was never going to happen for me. My mom was so supportive. She was just like, “If that is what you want, then go for it.” I packed it up and left Indiana. I was 21. I came out for a month and then went back and saved money. I went back a year later and took a couple of lousy cocktail waitress jobs before I got into record retail. I was working at Licorice Pizza when I met Motley Crue. The rest is sort of history.
Jeb: Your story is very cool for anyone who loves hard rock and metal, especially the Sunset Strip stuff. Your bands had a radio friendly sound.
Vicky: I think that my taste is kind of commercial because I grew up in Indiana and I basically listened to classic rock radio. The songs that had hooks appealed to me. I think it was pretty much blind luck that I had the biggest ones in that era.
Jeb: Most managers say they knew and that luck had nothing to do with it.
Vicky: Well, of course, I knew that Guns N’ Roses were going to be huge. To the degree that it happened I don’t think anybody could have known that. I go into these things thinking that all of the bands I am going to work with are going to be huge or otherwise I wouldn’t want to do it.
Jeb: As you got savvy at this, did you look for certain things in a band?
Vicky: I just know what I like. If it passes my goose bump test then I am in. You have to fall in love with your artists a little bit, too. When the times get rough the comradery and the love that you feel for them is what keeps you in the game.
Jeb: Were you surprised how much you had to be a therapist?
Vicky: Not really… maybe in the early days. My family is kind of fragmented so I kind of liked having them to talk to. They were kind of all my children, you know.
Jeb: You stayed with this project for many years.
Vicky: I still do it. I still manage bands.
Jeb: No, the book writing part.
Vicky: Oh, that. Writing fictional stuff is pretty easy, but doing the factual historical stuff was very tough for me because during the ‘80s I was as high as the bands. Timelines got really slippery. Luckily, I still have my day runner pages and I made some tapes and things. That was the toughest piece for me.
I rewrote it several times and had help from a lot of really good writers that helped me edit it. When you’re writing it you don’t know what is going to be interesting to other people. You know what’s interesting to you, but if other people can’t follow it then it is a waste of time. It was really great to have that help.
Jeb: Did you have to call people and ask, “Did this happen?”
Vicky: I called a lot of people and said, “What do you remember?” That kind of shook some of the memories down from the tree.
Bobby Dahl pooped in a box and sent it to me… I had completely forgotten about that. It was on that tape that I made in the late eighties. I went through band-by-band and told stories about what happened while I was managing them on tape. It just felt like the right time to do the book because I was starting to forget memories and I needed to document this.
Jeb: If you forget about a guy mailing you poop then you had an amazing life. I would not forget that.
Vicky: That was like a day in the life for me.
Jeb: Now that you look back, what were the major daily challenges you faced?
Vicky: Pretty much… we always had financial challenges because I always picked the baby bands. The only successful artist I got involved with was June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash. For me, they were legendary so that hit me on a different plane. I was like, “My god I am working with June Carter Cash. She is historical and a legend.” When I was working Guns and Motley Crue and all of the hair bands they were all baby bands. I didn’t get that awestruck feeling.
Jeb: They are all huge icons now. Do you still view them as you did before?
Vicky: People are like, “Oh my God I can’t believe you talk to Slash.” I am like, “What are you talking about? He’s like my kid.”
Jeb: Is Guns the favorite band you worked with?
Vicky: I don’t really like going there. They were all so different. They were different people and different bands. Some I loved and some I didn’t get along with so well. It is hard to say, really.
Jeb: They may be the last iconic hard rock band. That first album was amazing.
Vicky: I saw the show in Vegas and I had never seen them in that kind of an iconic setting. They had every piece of gear and they had the backdrop and the pyrotechnics… all of that was there. It was bizarre for me, honestly. That is just not how I think of them in my mind. I think of them as that raw and wild band that played the Troubadour way back when.
Jeb: Are you comfortable with people being awestruck at your life?
Vicky: Well, it is interesting, you know, one of my investors said to me the other day, “They are a huge band to me… it is hard for me to believe they had a beginning like this.” They don’t think of a band in their starting days like they think of them as they are now.
Jeb: You were very young and you were partying along with them. You still had to be responsible to pull it all off.
Vicky: I had then, and like to believe I have now, integrity. If I give you my word about something then I try and live up to that. With them it was kind of… Guns N’ Roses… it was like herding cats, especially when they were living with me… feral cats at that. I was always walking behind them to make sure I didn’t lose one of them.
Jeb: Axl Rose has a bad reputation. Is it well deserved? Was he always difficult?
Vicky: Not always. I think he has two very distinctive personalities. One is like a sweet little boy and the other is a demon dog from hell. It just depends on when you’re encountering him. The one thing I will say about him is that he is very honest. Whatever he says to you he honestly and truly believes it and means it.
Jeb: Does success change people?
Vicky: I think that different people take it on in different ways. I find that Slash is pretty much the same person I knew back then. He doesn’t ever seem to take on airs. He handles fame better than just about anybody I know.
Just writing this book I have people grab me and want to kiss me and talk to me. It makes me realize that these guys really put up with a lot of stuff. It is hard to live that on a day-to-day basis I would think.
Jeb: Were you ever surprised a band made it big?
Vicky: No, because if I got involved I believed in them and that they could do it.
Jeb: How much credit do you give yourself? You seem humble to me. I imagine you worked your butt off.
Vicky: I did and I do still. You can only lead a horse to water but you can’t make fans buy the records. That is really on the bands. These days I don’t pick up bands that don’t work as hard as I do. I learned that. I can’t want it for anybody more than they want it for themselves.
Jeb: The book covers all aspects of your life.
Vicky: It is not really about the sexual encounters of the rock stars in my book. It is more about their humble beginnings and what they did in the beginning to make it. There personalities come out as they were out of the gate.
Jeb: You come across as their cheerleader, captain and mom.
Vicky: Absolutely. I mean, every child has fear and I tried to calm the fears and make everything okay for them to be able to take the stage and just be their creative best.
Jeb: Did you learn all by yourself as you went along?
Vicky: Doug Thaler became my Uncle Dougie. If there were things I had questions about he was very free with his information and what I should do. He always got back to me straightaway and told me what he would do in that case.
There were many of those types of people that were there for me. I think it has to be there like that to learn. John Kolander and Gary Gersh at Geffen Records would answer my questions as well. Tom Zutaut, too, on some occasions.
Jeb: How much did you react on instinct?
Vicky: About one hundred percent. I do everything on instinct and if something doesn’t feel right then I trust that.
Jeb: Give me an example.
Vicky: Producers… I get a sense whether they could be good for the band, or not good for the band. One of the bands that I brought to Geffen was called the Graveyard Train. Tom Zutaut wanted Tom Werman to make the record. Granted, Tom Werman is a great producer and he had done Motley Crue, but the singer of this band was a Native American type of Neil Young character and I just knew Werman wasn’t the right guy. I resigned off the project because it wasn’t the record that I wanted to make.
Jeb: That integrity. Sometimes your integrity can keep you from doing what you want to do.
Vicky: Ultimately, it led to my demise at Geffen Records but, you know, I didn’t want to make the record that way.
Jeb: It would have been easy for you to do a glamorized book that is sensational.
Vicky: I am very honest. Everything in the book is true, or is at least true from my perspective. Others might have a different take on it.
Jeb: Did you trust those who helped you on the book, or did you watch over them like a hawk?
Vicky: I had people who helped edit the book and I trusted they knew what they were doing. Like I said, the things that I find interesting are not necessarily what others find interesting. I don’t know how to explain myself about that. I mean talking about my boyfriends, or whatever I find interesting, but they weren’t famous so some of the stuff was pertinent and other stuff wasn’t. I tried to give equal time to the ones that made it and the ones that didn’t because I think you learn as much from failure as you do from success. A lot of musicians have a ‘fear of success syndrome’ in one way or another.
Jeb: They actually want to fail?
Vicky: They sabotage their careers, whether they know they are doing it or not. I liked to cheer them on and tell them they can do it.
There was this kid in this band, I didn’t work with him, but I was friends with him. Every time he went on stage he threw up in a wastepaper basket two minutes before he went on. I said, “If it freaks you out that much then why do you do it?” He was like, “I have to do it.”
Jeb: It sounds like you have to not only like the music, you had to like the people.
Vicky: I usually did, at least in the beginning. I would find something charming about them. It never got to the point for me where it was just a job. I really had a passion about the projects that I took on and I still do. There isn’t really a rhyme or reason of why I pick things. I love the music and I think it needs to be heard.
Jeb: In today’s world is it harder?
Vicky: It is way harder, you know. At least in the Eighties there were budgets. There is no budget today and you have to be somewhat of a YouTube star.
We used to giveaway t-shirts to sell records and now we give records away to sell t-shirts. It is insanity. Everybody suffers and there is this idea that music should be free, especially with people that are like twenty years old.
It hurts me when I see them buy a CD and like not look at the packaging, or the credits, or any of that stuff. They just want to listen to one track. I realize it is an ADD world and they are that way, but that is not where I came from. I savored looking at the package and knowing who produced it and looking at the pictures and the mystery. There is no mystery anymore in entertainment. You can Google anybody and find out what they had for lunch. It makes it tough.
Jeb: Do you feel there is a difference between entertainment and art in the music world?
Vicky: Hopefully it has elements of both. I am kind of a lowbrow person. I like art that is at the street level. I rep a few painters and things. I did Ron English and I did the deal for the Street Phantom for the Rage against the Machine cover. I went to art school, so that is where I come from in my head. There was a time period where if you were not a writer then I thought you were not an artist, but that has kind of changed in the modern world.
Jeb: Back to the book… were you around when some of the classic songs were being written and worked out?
Vicky: Oh yeah. I wrote in my book about Axl playing me “November Rain” when we were doing a photo shoot. I had never heard him play piano. I was like, “Wow, that is really beautiful.” He said, “It’s called ‘November Rain’.” I said, “I didn’t know you could play piano like that.” He said “Vicky, there are a lot of things that you don’t know about me.” Boy was that ever true.
Jeb: You have a totally cool perspective on these bands that few people have on what they were like before and after.
Vicky: They don’t talk to a lot of people from their beginnings. None of us were invited to The Troubadour, as far as I know.
Jeb: It happened a lot and it tended to happen more to women than men. You put a lot of work in and you got a lifetime of memories, but they got millions of dollars and mansions and you didn’t. Did you have to work through that?
Vicky: Oh yeah… but I am an optimist, too. I don’t really hear the fat lady singing. It is not over for me. This week I was approached by a major agent and a major film company who are going to shop the rights for my book for a television series. Who knows where it ends up?
Jeb: I would be pissed. It would be so hard for me to let go of those resentments.
Vicky: By writing this book it was better therapy then sitting with any therapist. I was reliving my life over and over and over again. I am pretty clear about what I don’t want to do again.
Instead of being really pissed—I have gotten to those places—it hurts my feelings more than pissed. It makes me sad. I really want to believe that fundamentally we’re all the same. At some point they come back to appreciate the people that helped them in the beginning. I am trying to do that with my own career. The people who helped me with my book I will never forget. Peter Margolis was helpful, and I told him if this takes off I will buy him any guitar he wants.
Jeb: You created a book that is very insightful. It is very sincere.
Vicky: Thank you, I appreciate that. I tried to be that way. I tried to tell the story without making the judgement calls. I want it to be left up to the reader about what really happened.
Jeb: I am not a country fan but… Johnny Cash. Wow.
Vicky: Me either, but it is hard not to love John and June. They will be iconic forevermore. The rock bands I did were baby bands when I worked with them, but they were already iconic when I worked with June.
It was different how I handled it because it wasn’t like I was their mommy. I was just an industry person trying to facilitate a record and a friend. June had this way of making everyone feel comfortable and like they were a part of it.
When I was making that record is when I first started thinking about getting sober and about the bigger picture and where I was spiritually and what life meant. I observed the Cash’s. I’ve only observed soul mates a handful of times in my life. June and John were soulmates. It was incredible to experience and watch them. She had this cross that she got somewhere in Europe that had all of these jewels and whoever needed it more is who wore it that day. They passed it back and forth and I found that so endearing and sweet. They were like schoolkids in love. They would crack jokes and laugh. There was so much love present in the room when we made that record… it was really amazing.
Jeb: That is a long way away from stepping over people screwing in sleeping bags on your floor.
Vicky: Absolutely. I was walking through their house and June would tell me stories about all of the things in their house. I don’t think I will ever have an experience like that again.
Jeb: Back to the rock bands… Did you ever worry one of your baby band members was going to die?
Vicky: Every day. When I couldn’t find one of them, I was like, “Whose bed are they in blue?” It is really scary. Luckily, they all—well not all—but most of them have survived. It is a miracle. It is a miracle that Guns N’ Roses are all alive.
Jeb: In your opinion, do you ever see Steven Adler coming back to the band?
Vicky: I would like to see that and I can’t begin to pretend that I know what’s going on in Axl’s head. I don’t think he liked playing with Steven. For me, Steven is a stylistic drummer. Matt Sorum was a great drummer, but when you take Steven out of the equation it is just not quite the same. It’s the same with Izzy. He brought a lot to the songwriting and the playing.
Let’s face it, they haven’t really written music since those two were in the band, other than Axl’s Chinese Democracy record. It is not my favorite. When they were playing those songs in Vegas I had to ask my investor what the names of the songs were, as I’d only heard them like twice.
Jeb: Appetite is an amazing record.
Vicky: Absolutely. Before I started managing them they gave me a five-song demo that had five of those songs on it. It was half the record.
Jeb: Do you still have it?
Vicky: I don’t. I threw a lot of parties in the Eighties and people stole a lot of my stuff like my first Leathür Records of Crue and my Guns demos. I threw Halloween parties every year and people would rummage through my stuff and they stole it. I do have a Hollywood Rose demo, which is pre-Slash.
Jeb: Was the scene really as crazy as we all have been led to believe?
Vicky: Yeah… probably even more so. It was a wild time. I was right there partying with them. I’ve only been sober 15 years. I was right there with them. I wasn’t doing heroin. After Motley Crue I quit doing coke, but I was drinking and smoking pot nonstop.
Jeb: Was Crue or Guns wilder? Who wins in the competition of insanity?
Vicky: I think they were kind of on the same level. It was neck-and-neck.
Jeb: I like GNR better that Crue. My favorite Crue album is Too Fast for Love and “Merry-Go-Round” is my fav song.
Vicky: Me too. I can’t believe you said that because I did this radio show called ‘A Look at the Arts’ on NPR. They asked me to pick five songs and I picked that song. I saw them play that for the first time at The Whiskey and it was sonically different for the time period, as we were coming out of a punk rock era.
Jeb: Let’s wrap up with another question regarding the book. Are you doing this all yourself?
Vicky: I’m doing this all myself. I think I am going to sign with an agent… that is where I am going in my head. He says I should get a real publishing deal.
I would have cut a real publishing deal out of the gate, but the offers I got were stupid. They were like, “Here’s three grand and five points.” I am like, “Let me get this straight. I’ve put in seven years and thirty thousand dollars and you want to give me three grand and five percent? How does that make sense in any world?” How do artists survive?
Jeb: I have a day job.
Vicky: I own a dog walking business. You have to do something if you’re going to do something creative. There are so few people who get to make a living in the arts. I find it wrong. In other countries they give grants to artists. It feels like in America where we have the best artists in the world—the UK has a lot of great ones, too, artists are not supported. Most of my favorite musical bands come from the UK. Still, there are a lot of great artists in America and they need to be supported.
Jeb: Is the plan to keep making appearances and signing books?
Vicky: I am going to trail behind Guns N’ Roses and sell books on their tour. I am being invited to do some readings and signings and I’m doing those.
This month I am pretty much in L.A. I will go wherever. I enjoy the traveling. I am getting to the point where I enjoy the readings. I am a behind the scenes type person so my first few readings were a little shaky. When I make the blogs it is different because the audience isn’t actually sitting there. It is not as challenging to be on film as it is to be in front of a live audience. That is a little scary.
Jeb: You’re doing it. The more you do it the better you will get.
Vicky: In Vegas I added a QNA and that was great. It allowed me to interact. Everyone has a question they want to ask about that period of time. I am going to do that at every one.
Jeb: Last question: You are able to realize your goal and you’re starting to reap some benefits. You have an entire life of insanity to look back on and 15 years of diminishing degrees of insanity now that you’re sober… what are you final thoughts? If someone was wondering if this was worth a read, what would you tell them?
Vicky: I certainly hope it is worth a read. I tried to make it interesting for anyone, even if you were never in that period of time. It is mostly about my own personal experience during that period of time and my observations.
I think anyone that wants a career in the music industry should read it, as it is a cautionary tale. Hopefully, it will serve as a handbook to those people.
I hope that people will want to become sober after reading it too. In the end, I go through that and deal with my own demons. I think everybody has a better life if they are able to get sober and look at their own stuff.
I was a volunteer and not a victim. There is a part of the book where I talk about David Geffen screaming at me during a marketing meeting and saying, “I hate it when you play the victim.”
Ever since that moment in time I really think about everything that I do and ask myself if I am playing the victim. I don’t want to be that, you know. He did me a big favor. He made me cry in front of all of my peers, but hopefully, it will be a lesson that will continue to stick with me.
Jeb: Where can people get this book?
Vicky: It is on Amazon. You will get it much quicker if you buy it from me at www.VickyHamilton.com.
Jeb: Can someone buy a copy signed by you?
Vicky: They can get a signed copy if they buy it on my website.
PURCHASE A SIGNED COPY OF APPETITE FOR DYSFUNCTION HERE
PURCHASE A NON-SIGNED COPY AT AMAZON HERE
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