A young woman in Fort Wayne, Indiana stands with her pen, pad and recorder in hand getting ready to interview one of the biggest names in rock music. She asks her questions and the artist responds in their back and forth. As the interview wraps up, the artist looks at the freelance writer and says “Vicky, you look like a California girl.” So what’s a girl to do when rock legend Tom Petty tells you that? Pack your bags and head to Los Angeles.
And that is what St. Albans, West Virginia native, Vicky Hamilton did. Vicky was born at Memorial Hospital in Charleston. The daughter of a coal mining father and a mother who was raised in Minden, a town, that in 1984, the EPA declared a Superfund site, due to its contamination from the hazardous waste of local coal mines. The community, that once held 1,200 residents and has now dwindled to less than 250, weighs heavily on Vicky’s heart as she tells the story of losing her sister, Brenda to cancer at 32. She relays how she is the only member of her direct family to not battle cancer and connects that to the fact that she’s the only one that never lived in Minden.
Vicky’s family moved from St. Albans to Fort Wayne when she was in sixth grade where she quickly got involved in the music scene managing bands from Fort Wayne to Toledo, Ohio. The first band she managed belonged to her boyfriend. While doing that, her encounter with Petty pushed her to fulfill her dream and move to Los Angeles where she began working at “Licorice Pizza” Record Store as a clerk. The records store had the added bonus of being catty-corner from the famed venue, “Whisky a Go Go.” The rock club hosted a who’s who of up and coming bands while representing the excess associated with the early days of the 80’s hair metal scene. During one of her shifts she met a local bassist named Nikki Sixx. The musician was talking about his band Mötley Crüe and Vicky’s management instincts kicked in and she came on board to assist the intrepid band in their wild ride to the top.
Peanut butter and jelly. Someone made that combination a reality and now you can’t think of one without the other. Hamilton did the same thing. Axl Rose and _______? Vicky met a young Axl when he came by to play her a demo of his band, Hollywood Rose. She booked him on the spot and had him open for another band called Black Sheep. That band contained a guitar phenom named, Slash. She introduced the two and quickly became involved in their combined effort, Guns N’ Roses. If it hadn’t been for Vicky Hamilton, there would be no Axl Rose and Slash and there would be no Guns N’ Roses.
Vicky moved from managing bands to working as A&R for Geffen Records, after getting the band signed to the label. This led her to be able to scout out bands and sign them. Eventually, she left Geffen and went back to her first love and managed musicians as well as visual artists including graffiti artist, Street Phantom who did the album art for Rage Against The Machine’s The Battle Of Los Angeles.
In that time, Hamilton was also managing the career of American roots rock outfit The Freewheelers, who happened to be on the same label as Johnny Cash. They opened a show for the legendary Cash that was attended by the aforementioned Petty and music producer extraordinaire, Rick Rubin. In a conversation with the two, Hamilton mentioned her admiration for Johnny’s wife, June Carter Cash. They suggested Hamilton work with her.
This led to Hamilton producing June’s album Press On through her own label, Small Hairy Dog because no major label wanted it. Hamilton’s efforts paid off in the form of Cash winning a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album. Hamilton has since started another label Dark Spark that has twenty artists under its management.
Hamilton released her memoir Appetite For Dysfunction in 2016 which she candidly details the chaos, excitement and disappointment of her time in the music industry. Her career has also been documented through numerous appearances on music documentaries with VH-1, BBC and MTV. We at Born & Bred were fortunate enough to get to talk to Vicky about what makes her pay attention to an artist and why she might sign them.
“I don’t really know how to describe it but I know it when I see it. It’s like this, first of all great songs, hooky songs and then secondly, something different that hasn’t been out there before. It’s got to be slightly different. I don’t wanna work with another Guns N’ Roses or a band that I’ve already worked. I want something elevated. I just know if it gives me goose bumps, it’s a pretty good indicator that musically it’s pretty strong. I’m kind of jaded, so when I get moved to the point of where I have goose bumps, it’s probably pretty good.”
Vicky was most recently featured on the Paramount + MTV music documentary I Wanna Rock: The 80’s Metal Dream.
Hamilton serves as yet another reminder that West Virginia is a breeding ground for amazing talent and leadership that continues to shape and form the culture of not only our state but the country. Follow along with Vicky and order her book at her website www.vickyhamilton.com.
All photos provided by Vicky Hamilton