We are thrilled to feature an interview with legendary music industry veteran, Vicky Hamilton. In this exclusive, she tells us about her journey from being a teenage record store clerk in Indiana to signing and working with titanic bands including Motley Crue, Poison and Guns N Roses. She talks about her current project “Aesthetic V Blog” and is about to publish a book “Appetite for Dysfunction” a candid account of her experiences in the music industry.
The Early Years
Tell us about the early years, including where you were born, early childhood memories/growing up in Charleston, West Virginia, being the daughter of a coal miner, and how you got started in the Entertainment Business?
V- I was born in Charleston WVA and grew up in St. Albans. It was very country like…I fished in a little lake and rode bikes in the hilly suburb. I moved to Ft. Wayne IN in the 6th grade and played out my teenage years there. It was good to come from a small town, I feel I grew up with family values and was very honest.
You worked as a record store clerk when you lived in Indiana. Tell us about that experience?
V-No better way to learn about the music business than to start in a record store! I learned about retail and marketing at the ground level. I did display merchandising and listened to all the new releases. When I started working in the record store, I felt like I was home! Music and Art have always been my biggest loves and I also love writing. It’s sad that the record stores are disappearing, as I think it robs us of the experience of trying out all kinds of music and hearing band’s whole bodies of work.
Then, when you moved to LA, you were hired by Gary Gersh (who would become a big Influence on you) to work at Licorice Pizza (Record Store) across the street from the world famous Whiskey-A-Go Go. Tell us about working on the Sunset Strip & the people that you met including Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue?
V-In 1981 when I worked at Licorice Pizza, punk rock was in its heyday. The picture window of the store faced the Whisky and I was amused just watching the hipsters walk on the strip. The culture in LA was so different than in Indiana, I just felt like I had met my tribe. I spent many nights drinking in the Rainbow Bar and Grill and meeting musicians. I met Nikki Sixx at Licorice Pizza and became a management consultant for the Crue, it was an exciting time in my life, I really felt alive.
You’re originally from the East Coast. Is the music scene different in New York than it is in Los Angeles? Was there a music scene in West Virginia when you were growing up?
V- Actually I grew up in Indiana, and there wasn’t much of scene but I was aware of what was going on all over the world through the record store, magazines, writing for a free press magazine and TV. When you have a passion like I did for music, you figure out how to get the info.
You have lived in Los Angeles for many years and were at the forefront of "Sunset Strip" scene. Tell us about the scene in the 80's?
V-I was lucky to arrive in LA just as the metal/glam scene was breaking in LA. I worked with Motley Crue and was aware of all the rock bands playing around. I went out every night. I think that since I grew up in the Midwest, I had a real sense of what was commercial and music that had good hooks, since that was all I heard on the radio in Indiana. I loved the glam aspects to rock in LA at that time…I loved long- haired boys in makeup.
Who did you look up to growing up (industry & non-industry peeps)?
I was an art school drop out, so I loved Andy Warhol. A guy I met from art school, influenced me a great deal named J.R. Shimer: he taught me a lot about art and music. My sister was a lot older than me and turned me on to great music too. I loved Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, The Pretenders and of course, Tom Petty. I met Bill Graham at a New Music Seminar and was in awe of him as a music business professional. I knew early on in my life that I would always work around music, art and entertainment. In High School I loved my English teacher Larry Huff and that’s when I developed a passion for writing.
You have managed bands & artists, having discovered & worked with some of the biggest names of all time. Amongst other jobs, you worked as an A&R rep, club booker, screen-writer, musical play creator, book author, record company owner, all of which rae amazing accomplishments! Did you plan on getting into the entertainment business when you were growing up, and if not, what were you planning on doing for a career?
V- Early on I thought I would be a painter and a poet but in my teenage years music started taking over my interest. I’m still kind of squirrely, I like wearing new hats and trying different things. What’s that saying? If you are hitting a bull’s eye every time you are standing too close to the target! I like challenges, now I’m trying to learn as much as I can about social media and blogging…I like all things creative.
The Music Biz
Tell us what was it like to be woman in a business dominated by men?
V- I like to think that I have helped kick the glass ceiling a little for my younger sisters, I think the entertainment business is an equal opportunity employer now. In the 80’s it was more of mans world but I never let that detour me.
You have run your own management company & worked for major labels as an A&R Rep. Can you tells us a little bit about both jobs & if you prefer one over the other?
V- It was great to get the big pay checks from the big labels but I prefer working on my own. I like deciding what is cool and what isn’t and picking my own signing. Major companies want to see big sales out of the gate, that is hard to do especially now. I have always loved developing talent both as a manager and an A&R person. I’d also love to work within a forward thinking company again…if I had the freedom to make my own decisions.
You have worked with some of the biggest hard rock bands of all time, but you also worked with June Carter Cash, and you started a record label to release her album after the majors wouldn't bite. The label; "Small Hairy Dog" (in a joint-venture with Risk Records) released June's Album "Press On" in 1997, can you tell us how this came about and what it was like to work with the wife of the legendary Johnny Cash?
V- Actually “Press On” came out in 1999. I loved working with June and Johnny Cash was one of the nicest, most humble men I have ever met. I learned so much from June and John about love, family and commitment. June was like a mom to me and started me on my path to sobriety and spirituality. I think I got more out of making that record than anything in my musical history. It really taught me to follow my gut instincts. John Carter Cash co-produced the record with J. J. Blair and it was magical. I was just in Nashville last week and went back to the cabin where we made the record with my new band Talk Like June. John Carter is going to produce them! It’s such a wonderful full circle story….
You also won a Grammy with "Press On" in 2000 for Best Traditional Folk Album. What was that whole experience like? Give us the inside view of winning the Grammy, & any parties/celebrations that took place. Also, what was June's reaction to winning a Grammy?
V- Every day we’d go to do the recording for Press On, June would say “Let’s go make a little history.” She always felt God was in charge and had bigger plans for us than we had for ourselves. It was a very difficult beginning as I had no idea how to start and run a record company, I just knew the music needed to be heard. I learned so much and am very proud of what we achieved.
You were an A&R Rep at Geffen Records from 1988 to 1992, working with Tom Zutaut & Teresa Ensenat. Tell us about what it was like to work with them, & to work at such a successful label at a time when they had groups like Guns N' Roses, Whitesnake, Aerosmith, & Legendary Grunge Rockers Nirvana?
V- I learned a lot about the business of music at Geffen; what all the different departments did. I got to work with David Geffen and an A&R team that was world class. I am very grateful for the experience.
What was it like to work with David Geffen (Founder of Geffen Records), one of the most successful record executives of all-time. Did you have much interaction with him, & if so, what was that like? Did you learn anything from him? Have you spoken to him since you left the label?
V- David was really open with me and taught me a lot about the business. He was very hard on me too, and didn’t like that I was so emotional, it helped me to toughen up a bit. I do try and stay in touch with David as I love him a lot. He took a big chance on me and I will forever be grateful.
Then you moved on to Vapor Records, working there from 1994 to 1996. Tell us about the artists and executives that you worked with? What was it like to go from a hugely successful major label to an indie label?
V- Vapor Records was just starting out when I was there and I was mostly working at Lookout Mgmt. I was the manager of The Freewheelers then, and that is how I met Johnny Cash and June Carter as the Freewheelers opened for Johnny at the House Of Blues and Rick Rubin told me that night I should make a record with June Carter. I enjoyed working with Elliot Roberts. Elliot and David Geffen used to be partners in the business, so their work styles were similar but Elliot was a bit more laid back.
Around that time, you also worked for the artist management company "Lookout Management. What artists, executives did you work with? What was it like to work as a personal manager, & how does that differ from being an A&R Executive, or, how are they similar?
V- See answer above. Elliot owns both Lookout and Vapor.
Then, in 1997 you reunited with your mentor, Gary Gersh; working in A&R with him at Capitol Records (home of the Beatles). What artist did you sign there, what projects did you A&R? What was it like to work again directly with your mentor?
V- I was more of an A&R consultant at Capitol. I loved working with Gary Gersh, as he has always treated me like an equal. He didn’t always agree with my taste but he always listened to everything I brought in. At the same time he let me continue to manage bands outside of Capitol and make the record with June Carter Cash.
Are you still in contact with Gary? , if you are, what do you two talk about these days?
V- Yes! Gary works at AEG now but is also a manager. When I see a band I love and feel I need help with I sometimes approach him. I would love to work with him again.
In addition to the many huge acts, which you have worked with, there were artists like Salty Dog, Darling Cruel and The Lost Boys which did not become household names. Please tell us a little about those acts, and if you can, tell us why you think that they didn't make it big?
V- Salty Dog had a pretty good run; they sold over 150 thousand. Darling Cruel I loved a lot, I even co-wrote three of the songs on the record including the single, which lead to me getting a publishing deal at Virgin Music. I didn’t love the production on the record but I think you will agree Greg Darling is still an awesome talent. The Lost Boys made a great record but I think they were just a little behind the curve, as the Grunge scene hit soon after the release and I think the harder rock new bands got left behind.
From 2001 to 2010 you worked as a Club Booker at Bar Sinister. Tell us about that job and how it was different from being an A&R rep or personal manager? Do any of the artists you booked into the club stand out for you? You must have a million crazy club stories; please tell us at least one that people don't know about?
V- I had a wild time booking Bar Sinister, it’s a very successful club even now! It was mostly Goth, which I didn’t know much about when I first started working there. I didn’t have many black outfits at the time, but now I have a whole closet of black! I met many cool bands in those days and worked on a management level with Vegas In Space, Stayte, New Rising Son and The Art. I am still friends with a lot of musicians from that time period. It was always fun to watch people’s faces when they went upstairs into the play room…not really my thing, but I loved it for shock value. I got sober the year I started booking Bar Sinister so being sober in a Goth club gave me a lot of clarity about life! I wrote a screenplay while working there called Gothic City…it’s a vampire thing…LOL.
You wear many different industry hats, how do you approach each new project?
V-With love and commitment, otherwise there is no reason to do it!
What is the craziest story from your music business career that you can tell us?
The craziest…I couldn’t narrow it down to just one…you will have to buy my upcoming book Appetite For Dysfunction and read them all! However living with GNR was perhaps my wildest experience and having the cops beat down my door a few times.
What do you want to accomplish with Aesthetic V?
V- I want to help new artists like Diana Meyer and Talk Like June to have self-supporting music careers. I want to sign more artists. I want Michael and I to develop a production company and make great blogs and develop film content. We have a new show idea that I think could be a huge hit! I want to get more social media savvy. I’d also like to do something in Nashville, I love the scene that is developing there.
You worked with Motley Crue as a management consultant & were hired by their first manager Alan Coffman, who had a background in Real Estate & Finance. Tell us about how that came about and what your duties were?
VH- Nikki Six introduced me to Alan and I helped them shop a record deal and do display merchandising for Too Fast For Love when it was on Leathur Records.
You let the group stay at your place in Hollywood & legend has it that they would throw big parties which got very wild, tell us about the Rock N' Roll lifestyle with the boys?
V- No. Motley never stayed at my place, you must be thinking of GNR.
You were a part of the release of their first album "Too Fast For Love" on the group's Leathur Records (Distributed by Greenworld). What was it like to see the band get bigger & bigger right before your eyes?
V- It was amazing to watch as I had never seen a band make it from the local level to world wide fame. The first time you see this, you never forget it.
Motley Crue signed to Tom Zutaut at Warner Music Group label, Elektra Records. Before they landed there, do you recall "shopping" them for a major record deal? Which labels you approached & what they said to you? Tell us about the signing to Elektra and how the band reacted to being on a major label?
V- I was new to the business at this point and didn’t know many A&R people but I played for as many people as I could. I didn’t play the demo to Tom Z. I didn’t know him yet, but I heard that he saw the display that I did with a friend in the window of Licorice Pizza and that is why he went to the Whisky to see the band live.
When the group signed to Elektra, they fired Alan Coffman & hired Doc McGhee and Doug Thaler. That was when you stopped working with the group! Tell us about that experience & how it affected you?
V- It was heartbreaking and I am still owed $3000. Later, Doug Thaler became a mentor to me and that was amazing!
What was it like for you when Motley exploded on the radio & became big stars? Since you played such a huge role in their early success, was it frustrating for you not to be involved with the group when they became superstars? Where you still in contact with any of them after they blew up & did you go to their concerts and still support them?
V- I was proud of the band and it was the first time I had seen a band I worked with go to global success. I stayed friendly with the band.
Tell us one Motley Crue story that no one knows?
V- You will have to buy my book for this one!
Stryper is one of the most successful "Christian rock bands of all-time. How did you meet them & what was it like to work with a Christian band?
VH- I met Stryper first when they played Gazzarris when they were Roxxs Regieme, later through Wes Hein at Enigma Records, I booked them when I was an agent at Silverlining Entertainment. I didn’t even know they were a Christian band when I first started working with them, they were just a great rock band in my mind.
You were booking/promoting shows on the Sunset Strip at the Roxy Theatre & Whiskey-A-Go Go when you met the band Poison who had just moved to LA. You began to manage the band with financial backing from Guitar Shop Owner Howie Hubberman. Tell us how you met the band, how you became their manager, how Howie got involved?
V- I met Poison through a girl named Ann who worked at A&M. Howie was backing me on promoting shows but didn’t get involved with Poison Mgmt. until much later after I was already managing them.
Poison was known for out-promoting all of the other artists in LA on the Sunset Strip. What did they do that everyone else was not doing & what was your role in all of this?
V-Poison was the promotional machine, they could charm the pants and jewelry off of any girl. They won all the flier wars on The Strip.
They would sell out big venues like the Country Club. The girls in the audience would go crazy (like Beatlemania). Did the band sell a lot of merch back then & what were your thoughts when you saw all of this craziness taking place in front of you?
V-They had a great live show and did a good amount of merch as people wanted to take a piece of the good time home with them.
You were roommates with Jennifer Perry (who booked the Country Club & other venues) around this time. Did she help you in any way & was it an advantage for you to have another female (in a male-dominated business) to talk to & get advice from?
V- Jennifer and I kind of ruled The Strip at that point. Yes! We had a great time hanging out and being roommates. We had a lot of laughs and we are still friends today.
Tell us one story about Poison that no one has ever heard before?
VH- Slash was hired to replace Matt Smith before CC. That story is in my book.
Guns N' Roses
Perhaps you are most well known for having discovered & worked with GNR, which is one of the biggest selling bands of all-time. How did you meet them, and what was it about them that made you want to work with them?
V- I met Axl and Izzy when they were Hollywood Rose, I booked them when I was an agent at Silverlining. I met Slash when he was playing in Black Sheep, another band I booked at Silverlining. Why did I want to work with them? Come on, you’ve heard the music!
At one point, the LAPD was looking for Axl Rose and he hid out at your place. Why was the LAPD looking for him & what was it like to have someone stay at your apartment when the Police were looking for him? How was this problem resolved?
V- The answers to this and much more in my upcoming book.
Four out of five members of the group (all but Duff McKagan) eventually moved into your apartment on Clarke Street. What was that experience like & do you have any interesting stories about the band living with you in a one bedroom apartment?
V- it was pretty messy!
The late, great, record producer/songwriter Kim Fowley (who created the "Runaways") once suggested to GNR that you were "Too Pretty" to be a manager! How did this effect your relationship with the band & did you ever talk to/confront Kim about this statement?
V- RIP Kim Fowley, this whole story is in my book too.
How is your relationship with the group members today? We hear that you are still close with Slash & he appeared in a documentary that you put together. Explain to us who you are still close too,what you are doing with them, & who you are no longer talk to?
V- I have stayed close with Slash, and I am friendly with Steven and Duff. I haven’t seen Izzy in quite awhile and have not spoken to Axl since the 80’s.
If you could go back in a time-machine, is there anything that you would have done differently when you worked with this group?
V- I really don’t do “should of”…, “would have” or “could have”…
Why did you stop working with the group, and did you have any interaction with Alan Niven (Great White’s Manager) who took over the management after you left?
V- I took an A&R job at Geffen, and Alan took over the management of the band after that, there is no bad blood between me and Alan.
Give us one GNR story that you have never told anyone?
V- Sorry, You will have to read the book
Tell us how you got involved with them? Did you manage them?
V- Axl introduced me to Faster Pussycat as he wanted the band to open for GNR at the Whisky.
Did you get them their record deal at Elektra Records?
V-Yes, my friend Peter Philbin signed them.
Did you make any money off of this group?
V- a little from a management buyout from Warren Entner.
We couldn't find a lot of info on your days with Faster Pussycat so can you just tell us a little bit about working with them?
V- Not a lot to tell…I helped them get a record deal and I got the A&R job at Geffen so I decided to focus on that.
What is a typical day like for you? Walk us through a 24-hour period/day.
V- I start my day off doing Mgmt business so I do phone calls, emails etc. I also own a dog walking business so I do a few dog walks in the afternoon…I like getting the exercise, and it let’s me process any problems I have with my clients or things that I am trying to work out for my book. I also have a vblog so I am usually booking interviews or looking at the roughs of what Michael Kraemer has put together. Then at the end of the day I return the last of the phone calls or go to a show.
You are a very busy person, do you have time for a personal life, and if yes, tell us a little bit about your life outside of music?
V- I have a lot of great friends and am very social. I have a dog I love and I go to a lot of movies, plays etc. I have never been married, and still looking for the right guy for me.
Your current company is called "Aesthetic V. One of the definitions of Aesthetic is: relating to, involving, or concerned with pure emotion and sensation as opposed to pure intellectuality. Can you tell us how you came up with this name & what it means to you?
V- Aesthetic for me is about beauty, and putting things together in a beautiful fashion. The V stands for Vicky.
Do you currently have anyone that you look up to (in the music biz or outside of the business) who motivates/guides you in any way?
V- Sure, everyone is my teacher. I’ve been lucky to have so many amazing mentors.
Who is on your team and how important are they to you with regards to your overall success?
V- Michael Kraemer is my partner on The Aesthetic Vblog, he does all the shooting, editing and website. I love him, he is very important to me. Michael and I worked together in the 80’s at Geffen and we make a great team. I co-manage Talk Like June with Bobbi Richardson, and it fun working with a smart go getting woman.
Do you have any businesses outside of the music business?
V-Yes, I’m a writer and I have written or co-written a musical play, a book and two screenplays. I do the blog with Michael and I own a dog walking business.
Tell us about your upcoming Book?
V-It’s called “Appetite For Dysfunction” and it is my memoir/autobiography about being a woman in the music/entertainment business and the projects/bands I have worked with. It’s a wild ride from small town girl moves to the big city to chase a dream. It also deals with addiction and getting sober, which I am happy to say, by the grace of God I am 15 years clean and sober.
What artists are you currently working with?
V-I do management consulting for a lot of acts, either long term or hourly. My newest client is 222, which I am very excited about it’s a mix of Blondie, Divinyls with a little Tim Burton thrown in. I co-manage Suzanne Harper/Talk Like June, which is a California Country act from San Diego who are about to record a full length record with John Carter Cash in Nashville in May. I also manage Diana Meyer who to me is one of the best songwriters, performers out there. She is also a filmmaker and a blogger.
What is happening with your screenplays, & Musical Play "Glitter Beach"?
V-Robbie Quine (my co-writer on Glitter Beach) and I are hoping for another workshop on Glitter Beach this Summer, maybe in LA, Vegas Or Miami. I am always taking meeting about the musical and screenplays, just waiting on some one to green light them with a big investment. It’s challenging to get anything off the ground these days.
What is “next” for Vicky Hamilton?
V-Good question…I am hell bent on getting my book out there right now. I have spent seven years writing it. So this spring it is happening!
Approx. How many records did all of the groups that you worked with sell? It has to be over 100 Million. Do you have a lot of gold, platinum, & multi-platinum awards hanging in your office?
V-Guns N Roses alone has sold over 100 million records.
Any Shout-Outs to anyone?
V-Yes to everyone! Buy music, Buy art, go to movies and plays…support the artist and the art…it’s a hard time to be an artist and we need to show respect to them so they can keep creating.
Attorney: Gail Perry
Partners: Michael Kraemer (on Aesthetic V Blog)