Women in music and the music business owe a lot to Vicky Hamilton. She put her heart and soul into nurturing what would become some of the biggest rock bands in the world. This was at a time when no one cared if a woman was sexually harassed or taken advantage of. There was no internet, iPhones with cameras, cells phones period, YouTube, or blogs. Everything with promoting a band had to be done on foot, landlines, and through word of mouth. Vicky was a key in creating the likes of Motley Crue, Stryper, Poison and Guns N Roses. Her autobiography, Appetite for Dysfunction, is a handbook for surviving the music business as a woman in the 1980s. She is a true warrior, an inspiration and someone whom doesn’t get enough credit for all that she did and the path she created for women behind the scenes. I did this interview for a book that never came to fruition, and in retrospect I do wish she spent a bit more time on the answers. I highly recommend her book as she is someone who deserves a lot more recognition that she had been given.
You were one of the most important women in the 1980’s sunset strip music scene. You started by befriending Motley Crue while working at a record store. You helped them from the very beginning by promoting them, talking to other records stores, creating window displays, setting up meeting with records labels, inviting A&R people to their shows. How important was “street” promoting in the era before the internet?
VH- “Very important as everything thing was word of mouth in the 80’s. Your bands name need to be on everyone’s lips to get attention in Hollywood.”
What did you have the most difficulty with when promoting Motely back then?
VH- “Being taken seriously as a business woman. Most women were seen as groupies in the 80’s. You really had to deliver results to be given credit and you couldn’t sleep with the bands or it was over.”
As a young, beautiful blonde woman in Hollywood, did many people made the initial assumption that you were just a groupie? How did you handle those situations?
VH- “All the time. I just went about my job and got results.”
Being close with the guys in the bands you worked with, did you find a lot of jealousy toward you from other women?
VH- “Some, mostly the girls who wanted to date the bands. I have always seen the music business as my work, so I knew it was business and not pleasure. Not to say that I didn’t have fun, because I did. I just knew there was a line in the sand and not to cross it.”
Did you find jealousy from men in the record business, since you had a natural knack for finding talent and making bands become very successful?
VH- “If it was there, I didn’t really notice. There were enough bands for everyone.”
Motley Crue ends up signing with a major label and having Doc McGee manage them. Had you stayed on board with them, what would you have done different for their career?
VH- “I think Doc and Doug Thaler did a great job with Motley Crue. In fact Doug Thaler was one of my biggest mentors back then.”
Do you feel that since you had known them from their “starving” days, you would have been able to have a better understanding at how to handle them when they had public situations such as when Vince left?
VH- “Like I said, they did a great job. It’s had to manage the unmanageable.”
After Motley, You went on to work with Stryper. That could not have been any more opposite! I love this story because you did not initially know they were a Christian rock band. They had you wear a black and yellow outfit when promoting them, and Michael Sweet’s mother managed them. When you look back at this experience, what did you gain from working with them?
VH-“ I learned that Christian music could rock! I also learned a lot about marketing during the early days of Stryper as we were kind of inventing the road. No one had attempted selling Christian rock before them.’
They threw out “Stryper” bibles in the crowd. Do you still have yours, haha?
VH-“No, I never took one home.”
Was that the last straw for you and Stryper?
VH- “It was a mutual parting of the ways. It was very cordial…we realize it around the same time.”
From Stryper, we move on to the then up-and-coming Posion. This was relatively soon after they moved to Hollywood. This was also the first time you had a band sign a contract making you their manager. What was it about them and their music that made you excited to work with them?
VH- “Poison was a very exciting band live. No one could touch them when it came to the live performance back then. There was a lot of great energy around them and they really worked hard. I just knew they were the next big thing. The songwriting got better later…but I could tell they were going places.”
You spent a lot of time with them, even going back to their hometown with them to visit. You were there before C.C was in the band as well as when they hired C.C. What was the dynamic change once he was hired?
VH- “CC is great and their first guitarist Matt Smith was great also. I think Matt was a little more sensitive then CC, so the vibe was a little different but both were great.”
Eventually the band signs and goes with a new manager, buying you out of the management contract. At that time you had enough of Brett Michaels being an egomaniac. You describe feeling depressed and defeated as you now watched the third band you nurtured just move on. This goes back to the feeling I think people have when they give so much to others but do not get anything back in return. What got you through all of this and how did you still remain focused and determined?
VH-“it was a really rough time for me, I’m not going to lie. I just knew I was meant to manage bands and that I had to move on. So I did.”
You now eventually began working with Guns N Roses, and how it’s described in your book, sounds like a nightmare. They move in with you. What was once a manager job now also turns into full time babysitting up-and-coming rock stars. Describe what roles you played for them beyond manager.
VH- “I thought that GNR living with me was a temporary situation, so I just did what I had to keep the train rolling.”
You were the person who got them and took them to the meeting with Geffen where they did sign their contract. You describe it very well in your book. This meeting changed everyone lives. Did you have that feeling or did this just feel like another meeting to you?
VH- “it was an exciting time, it changed my life too. I became an A&R person after that and I learned a lot about making records. I also learned how the business of music business worked.”
You were always trying to get a proper management contract with Guns but it never panned out, they eventually leave you for a bigger label and bigger management team. This did lead to an eventual job with Geffen for you, essentially they created a position for you. Did you feel freedom once you had this job and title?
VH-“ It was nice to get a steady pay check. “
I remember days before the cell phones and internet. It seems like it’s such an easier way to promote now. Record stores have closed and people create themselves through having an internet persona. How do you see this effecting the quality of music that is coming out now?
VH- “There is no mystery anymore. Everything is out in the open.”
Did you feel that being a woman hindered your ability to be taken seriously at this time in music even though you proved you had what it took?
VH- “I didn’t dwell on it, I just tried to keep moving forward. The same applies today.”
We live in the time of the #metoo movement and an era where “feminism” is rampant. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
VH- “Yes and also a political activist.”
What advice would you give to women who are interested in working on the business side of music?
VH- “Trust your own instincts. Work for yourself. Don’t mix business and pleasure. Be Sober. Get your contracts signed.”
What do you see women doing wrong these days in music? What do you see them doing right?
VH- “That’s to broad of a question to jump into.”
For a while you were teaching at the Musicians Institute in L.A. Your autobiography is great. Have you considered writing a book about the music business?
VH- “I’m working on turning my book into a fictionalized TV series currently. I am starting a record label too, Dark Spark Music. I’m too busy right now to start another book, but maybe in the future.”
If you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, what would you tell Vicky Hamilton in 1980?
VH- “Get sober and get the contracts signed."