Years before Kelly Hansen was the lead singer of Foreigner, Jay Shellen was the drummer for Yes, and Robert (The VuDu Man) Sarzo was the guitar player for Queensrÿche, they were in a heavy metal hair band called Hurricane, which was the first band I ever managed.
In the mid-1980s, I was performing at my neighborhood bar, Pickwick’s Pub, an authentic English pub offering Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers and Mash, Scotch Eggs, a full bar and a variety of exotic beers on tap. It was the hangout for English, Scottish, and Irish rock & roll roadies, as well as some of the rock stars like Ronnie Dio & Rod Stewart.
I met an English drummer there named John Shearer, who owned one of the biggest drum sets I ever saw. John played and recorded with Steve Hackett, Peter Green, David Byron, and Iron Butterfly. John approached me and said he was in a newly formed heavy metal band called Hurricane, and they were looking for a manager. It wasn’t my favorite type of music, but the thought of managing my first band was intoxicating.
Originally Hurricane was started by Robert Sarzo, who was introduced to future Hurricane bassist Tony Cavazo by Kevin DuBrow, lead singer of Quiet Riot. Both of their brothers, Rudy Sarzo on bass and Carlos Cavazo on guitar, were members of Quiet Riot. Tony co-wrote one of Quiet Riot’s biggest hits and metal anthem, “Metal Health (Bang Your Head)”.
I recently completed three years as production manager, merchandising manager, and occasional opening act for Air Supply, and was working as a road manager for Alan Kovac and Steve Drimmer at Left Bank Management, where I did three tours with Lita Ford and a few tours with keyboardist Jeff Lorber.
They invited me to a rehearsal studio in Burbank, and I was really impressed. They were heavy and melodic, and they all sang and harmonized well. As an added bonus, they all looked like rock stars. I saw lots of potential, and heavy metal was huge at that time. The band was improving daily, but after a while the guys decided to replace John, so I contacted Jay Schellen, an amazing drummer from New Mexico that I knew from Lita’s Ford’s band.
At the time, I was married and living in the Encino hills. I was making decent money from performing in local clubs and working occasionally as a road manager for other performers.
The group started playing clubs all over Los Angeles: Reseda’s Country Club for promoter Nelly “Woah Nelly” Neben, Gazzari’s for our buddy Bill Gazzari, the Whisky, Madam Wong’s, FM Station, and other lesser known spots. We promoted well and began to gain a following.
In 1985 we were signed by an independent label called Greenworld Records, which eventually merged with Enigma Records. Enigma was run by two brothers, Bill and Wesley Hein, and Bill’s wife liked the band, a contributing factor in their desire to sign us. Enigma was distributed by Capitol/EMI Records and released Motley Crue’s first album as well as records by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Berlin, Stryper, and Sonic Youth. Our two A&R guys were Peter Huer and Dean Naleway, great guys that really believed in the band.
We recorded our first album at the legendary recording studio, Sound City. The studio was known for its amazing mixing boards, drum sounds, and was used by Neil Young, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, Rick Springfield, Johnny Cash, and even Charlie Manson. Our first record was a 6-song EP called Take What You Want, produced by Kevin Beamish who had hits with REO Speedwagon, Jefferson Starship, and The Miracles.
The studio manager, Paula Salvatore, was my roommate’s girlfriend, and was one of the first people I met when I moved to California in 1978. Paula was, and still is, a real sweetheart, who went on to manage Capitol Records recording studio for 25 years, and occasionally sang with me.
It was an exciting time for us. Our first single, “Hurricane,” was played on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. We got all our friends to call in and request the song, and it stayed in heavy rotation for a while.
The band continued to perform locally, and eventually we picked up a booking agent, John Huie, who booked us all over the country. John was a country music agent that booked our Enigma label mate Stryper, a heavy metal Christian Band that tossed Bibles to the crowd. We toured with Stryper, and John continued to book Hurricane. He was a great guy to work with and became a legendary agent at CAA in Nashville.
We opened for Stryper’s To Hell With The Devil album tour, and played dates with Gary Moore, Iron Maiden, Quiet Riot and Poison. We also traveled thousands of miles in a van, headlining rock & roll clubs all over the country.
I pulled in some favors for Hurricane’s second album, Over the Edge. Two friends reduced their fees to co-produce the second album. Bob Ezrin was a Canadian keyboardist and producer best known for his work with Pink Floyd, Kiss, Lou Reed, and Alice Cooper. He was also a good friend of my cousin Jerry Heller. They worked together in the 60s with The Guess Who. Mike Klink produced records for Triumph, Survivor, and recently finished a recording a record called Appetite for Destruction for Guns and Roses.
We recorded the album in North Hollywood’s famous Amigo Studios. We recorded in both analog and digital formats. It was confusing, and it took ten days to get the drum sounds right. The production became a rush job, using different rooms at different times for different songs. Amigo was a very cool hang. We saw B.B. King, Al Kooper, Frank Sinatra, Pia Zadora and various other notables.
Bob Ezrin brought in a “hooky” song by his friend Jeff Jones called “I’m On to You,” and we shot a great video for it that also got lots of views on MTV. The Billboard single peaked at #33 on the Singles Rock Charts and #92 on the US Album Charts.
We were slowly but steadily moving forward playing lots of gigs and improving our live shows. We received lots of music equipment endorsements and a Tony Lama boot endorsement. We were selling records and having fun. We were in minor league rock & roll heaven.
I was getting tired of being on the road with the group, so I brought in Lynn Murphy, a friend from Columbus, to be road manager/sound man. He was very efficient, and I knew he could handle the job. I wanted to spend more time at home building my new management company.
The band performed in Japan and Hawaii, and I saw a bright future ahead for Hurricane. However, there was drama in the air. I had scheduled a Tony Llama photo shoot, and when I got there, I had a feeling something weird was going on. Unbeknownst to me, a “friend” of mine, Henry Neuman, who was Rod Stewart’s tour manager, was plotting to take Hurricane to Rod Stewart’s managers, Arnold Steifel and Randy Phillips, two very powerful music company executives.
Henry and Kelly became very close friends, and one day the band unexpectedly appeared at my front door and fired me. Kelly did all the talking. I couldn’t believe it, and I was in shock. I spent four years of my life, a whole lot of energy and money, and many of my connections to further this group.
When Kelly told me they were going to open for Rod Stewart, I told him he was insane. Heavy Metal bands don’t open for pop star legends. I always had my own suspicions about what it was really all about, but I’ll keep that information for the movie. I thought we were brothers, but it’s show business, the big fish eat the small fish. It happens every day.
After they left my house, I wanted to kill them. My first call was to my cousin, Jerry Heller, and after I told him what happened, he said “fuck those guys, I want you to go on the road as a production manager with Eazy E and N.W.A for their first American tour.”
One week after getting fired from Hurricane, I was working for Jerry Heller, Eazy E and the world’s most dangerous West Coast gangster rap group, and the rest was history. One door closes and another door opens.
Hurricane immediately fired Robert after they fired me, and the band went on to do two more albums, had very little record sales, never opened for Rod Stewart and broke up.
Kelly joined Foreigner in 2005 and is still going strong. He went from singing their top-forty songs at the Red Onion in Woodland Hills to traveling the world as their lead singer. Good for him.
In 2010 Robert and Tony re-formed Hurricane with drummer Mike Hansen and singer Michael O’Mera, and are still performing, doing what they love to do.
Jay went on to play drums in a very successful residency in Las Vegas called “Raiding the Rock Vault.” He toured and recorded with various groups including Badfinger and Asia and is currently the drummer for rock legend Yes. I was Best Man at his first wedding.
Timing is everything. Heavy metal was slowing down, and Rap & Hip Hop was coming up. I learned so much while managing Hurricane, the good, the bad, the ugly. I think one of the reasons why the group did not break big, other than they weren’t great writers, was they DID NOT live a crazy rock and roll lifestyle like Guns n’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, Poison etc. Hurricane were athletes, played tennis, hardly ever got drunk, took minimal drugs . . . oh well.