Vicky Hamilton Recalls Wild Times in the Hair-Metal Era

Slash and Vicky Hamilton in more recent years. Guess that whole Axl vs. Kurt Cobain thing has blown over.
Slash and Vicky Hamilton in more recent years. Guess that whole Axl vs. Kurt Cobain thing has blown over.
Photos courtesy of Vicky Hamilton

Appetite for Dysfunction
By Vicky Hamilton
360 pp., $25

On the HBO series Vinyl, actress Juno Temple plays Jamie Vine, a young, ambitious and persistent woman in the ‘70s music biz who wants to be an A&R rep but has to deal with the industry’s inherent sexism.

Change the setting to the debauched '80s era of L.A.'s Sunset Strip hair-metal bands, and it’s close to the real-life story of Vicky Hamilton. Right down to a similar look of blond poodle cut with bands and a penchant for spaghetti-strap tops (though Hamilton did not participate in a threesome with two band members under her management…)

Hamilton's well-written, evocative and often funny memoir shares her life and experiences during a place and time in music history that is ripe for a resurgence of interest. The whole era of glam-metal and its connection to clubs like the Roxy, Troubadour, Whisky a Go-Go and Gazzari’s was certainly one of the more unique times in American musical history, one awash in leather, metal studs, eyeliner and hairspray.

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In the book, Hamilton tells how she was the first manager (albeit sometimes uncontracted) and often booking agent, publicist and mother hen for Guns N' Roses, Poison and Faster Pussycat, as well as a consultant for Mötley Crüe and Stryper, all early in their careers.

She has a unique view of the band members who are Rock Gods now, but were (like her) just struggling kids at the time. Axl Rose practically lived on Hamilton's couch while she helped shop their demo and book their early gigs (as well as hiding out from the police on a rape charge).  That some of them would think nothing of basically living in her apartment (as the early Guns N' Roses did), fuck groupies outside her bedroom, or take free reign of her food, booze and clothes seems par for the course. She also recalls being the person who formally introduced Slash to Axl.

Just as mad about rock music and partying as her clients, the Indiana-bred Hamilton’s journey to the debauched Sunset Strip reads like a rock and roll version of Alice in Wonderland. That includes doing anything from snorting meth with Lemmy from Motörhead, arguing often with Bret Michaels, advising Vince Neil on the proper shade of hair coloring, or trying to convince Rose to open a bank account. Which he didn't want to do under his real name — Bill Bailey.

Fun and interesting details abound. Like the fact that Slash auditioned for and got the job as lead guitarist with Poison, but decided not to take it because he didn’t want to introduce himself at shows and wear makeup. And that his first onstage hat was a derby and not his trademark stovepipe (methinks that both choices worked out pretty, pretty well for the man born Saul Hudson).

Poison lead singer Bret Michaels and the band's first manager, Hamilton, when they were still on good terms.
Poison lead singer Bret Michaels and the band's first manager, Hamilton, when they were still on good terms.

But according to Hamilton, just as quickly as bands she worked with got hot, she was – despite verbal promises to the contrary — dumped once record companies (and their attendant male managers and lawyers) took an interest. She cultivated acts and got them initial exposure, but never shared in the wealth, though both Slash and Steve Adler thanked her by name at GN'R’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.

In fact, a pre-Too Fast for Love Mötley Crüe stiffed her for $3,000 worth of work she did for them, which is an inflation-adjusted $7,900. (Pay up, Nikki!) And she had to go to court to get GN'R's management to pay back a loan she had taken out to fund her work with the group.

After the glory days of hair metal, Hamilton continued to work as both an independent and a record-company-affiliated scout, looking for new bands and talent.

She’s also been involved with artistic endeavors, and has co-written a musical (Glitter Beach) and movie loosely based on her experiences. She also runs an artist-management company, teacher seminars and blogs. And she's overcome her drug and alcohol addictions — leaving her appetite for dysfunction these days at manageable levels.

Vicky Hamilton will be in Houston for a reading, signing and Q&A at 7 p.m. this evening in the Austin Room at the Four Seasons hotel downtown. Houston singer-songwriter Darby Shaun will also perform. See for more details.

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