Thursday, July 3, 2008 | 2 a.m.
In Las Vegas, you can declare yourself to be whatever you want to be, and the town will give you a chance to live up to it. Meet Sally Steele, a classic example of Vegas self-reinvention, who has proclaimed herself “the publishing queen of rock ’n’ roll.”
Almost single-handedly, Steele puts out Vegas Rocks! magazine, a free monthly devoted to championing local rock activity. Steele takes the pictures, hounds band members for interviews, writes the stories, even arranges copies of the magazine in news racks just right.
In four years, her little magazine — which Steele started to get revenge on the guy who left her standing at the altar — has grown from a 16-page black and white ’zine to a glossy, full-color 50-page monthly with comprehensive calendars of club dates and concerts, and lots of ads for local bands, record labels, radio stations, recording studios and clubs such as House of Blues and Jillian’s. Steele is planning a big rock ’n’ roll party to celebrate the magazine’s fourth anniversary Aug. 16 at the Canyon Club featuring the reunited pop-metal band Enough Z’nuff and other acts.
Looks That Kill
Blond hair, dark roots. Emphatic eyeliner. Leopard print top. Black leather miniskirt. Black boots. Even in a nightclub, Steele is instantly identifiable to a stranger as “the rock chick.” But she’s not a groupie — more like the city’s rockin’ den mother.
In addition to putting out a magazine, Steele hosts several showcase nights at local clubs. Tonight it’s the Wednesday night local band showcase at the Puff Lounge. Once a few dozen people, mostly friends of the bands, have collected on the club’s couches and beanbag chairs, Steele jumps up on the stage to introduce the first of two bands. “I want everybody to give a warm welcome to some hot rockin’ chicks in Sin City — let’s hear it for the Dirty Panties!” Seconds after the four women start thrashing out their first number — they sound like the Go-Go’s when they were punk — Steele hops down, grabs her camera and starts shooting pictures of the Panties for an upcoming issue.
Take Me to the Top
It’s hard to talk over the cheerful thump and throb of the band, so Steele leads the way to more couches outside to explain herself.
“I’ve been telling everybody since I was 10 years old I’m gonna be rich and famous,” says Steele, who admits to “mid-forties.” She was in rock bands for more than 25 years, singing and playing guitar and trying to snag a record deal in Los Angeles during the ’80s glory days of Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crue on the Sunset Strip (the Crue is still her favorite band). Then she tried Nashville. Then Las Vegas.
While living the rock ’n’ roll life by night, Steele supported herself in Vegas as a daytime limousine driver.
“I was trying to pick up as many celebrities as I could, making maybe $100 a day in tips,” she says. “One day, I had already handed in my limo keys for the day and I saw Alice Cooper on the sheet, and I begged to be able to pick him up. I asked him 40 million questions at 100 miles an hour: ‘Hey, when you were writing “Billion Dollar Babies,” were you high at the time? What kind of drugs were you on?’ He answered every question. He still remembers me very distinctly.”
Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
Vegas Rocks! is the love child of fluke and revenge.
“I was engaged and (my fiance) said, ‘We ought to start a local magazine.’ And immediately I said, ‘Oooh, that’s great, I’ve been taking pictures of rock stars since I was 14, and I know how to get to people — I’ll get to people and interview them!’ ”
The wedding day came, and the guy stood her up at the altar.
“I went on the honeymoon with my daughter and cried the whole time,” Steele says. “And while I was weeping in my mashed potatoes, I said to her, ‘I was gonna do that rock magazine, I would have been so good at that.’ And my 10-year-old said, ‘Screw him, why don’t you start your own rock magazine?’ ”
So she did.
In August 2004, the first 16-page issue of Las Vegas Rock City News emerged, and a few issues later it became Vegas Rocks!
“It was like jumping off a cliff and learning to fly,” Steele says. “It wasn’t like I had all this corporate money coming together. I just went out on a weekend, took pictures at the Vans Warped Tour, and talked to people.”
Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)
“Yeah, my first impulse was to put out that magazine to get even with my guy,” Steele admits, laughing. “But I wasn’t just doing it for that. I knew that there were other people like me, that liked Motley Crue and Def Leppard, liked the glam scene and ’80s rock and new guys like the Killers. When I moved to Vegas 10 years ago, I felt all alone, and I was like, where is everybody? So my whole goal was to bring everybody together who had that love of rock ’n’ roll. And now I’m actually grateful that he dumped me.”
Steele’s publishing partner, Steve Eggleston, handles the advertising side, and Steele assembles the magazine from an office in her home, which is wall-to-wall rock memorabilia, signed photos and magazine covers. Every morning she begins her day by kissing a framed photo of Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx, then goes to her desk, a micronewsroom complete with a TV that’s always on and tuned to VH1.
With a press run of 20,000, Vegas Rocks! is becoming more successful — each month brings more advertisers, and every dollar goes right back into the magazine. Occasionally she even gets recognized on the street or at shows. But Steele is still struggling for recognition and credibility, and many of her stories involve begging chilly corporate PR minders for access and getting the cold shoulder from condescending peers at news conferences. And her tales of stalking visiting rock stars (sneaking into shows, climbing fire escapes, hiding in ladies rooms, tagging along with Carrot Top ...) frequently end with Steele getting tossed out.
“A lot of people think I’m some dingbat paparazzi crazed chick,” Steele grumbles. “But I would do anything to get that picture for my magazine.”
She even gets a hard time from her own daughter, Charlotte, now 14. “She’ll say to me, ‘It was my idea, and I’m sorry I brought it up now, because you can’t even drive me to the park! I just want a normal mother that’ll go to the PTA meetings and you’re out there chasing rock stars, and none of my friends will talk to me and they all think you’re crazy!’ ”
But Steele’s daughter likes getting free tickets to see the bands she likes.
“One time I was going to interview the Killers,” Steele says, “and she said to me, ‘When you go down to talk to Brandon Flowers, if you don’t come and get me out of school, I’ll never speak to you again.’ ”
Kickstart My Heart
“So the love of my life is not what I thought it would be, being happily married and all that,” Steele says with a grin. “It was rock ’n’ roll then and it’s rock ’n’ roll now. I was a fat, ugly kid with no friends, and all I did was sit there listening to Beatles songs and reading about Iggy Pop and David Bowie in Creem magazine, and I’d do that all day. And I waited for those issues to come out,” she says. “And now every month people wait for this magazine to come out.”
It’s time to bring on the next band, the Quitters, and Steele heads for the back door of the Puff club, only to find herself locked out. After some fruitless pounding and tugging, Steele starts kicking the door with her rock ’n’ roll boots, finally resorting to shouting into her cell phone to get someone in the club to get someone to let her in.
That’s rock ’n’ roll.