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Scotti Hill may have achieved multi-platinum success with Skid Row, but the 57-year-old guitarist started out just like most of us – shoplifting, lighting things on fire and swiping booze from dad’s liquor cabinet. 

When it came time to get serious about playing rock ‘n’ roll, however, he got serious. As he tells Metal Edge in this installment of Infamous Firsts, when he first met Skid Row bassist Rachel Bolan and joined his then-band Godsend, it required a 140-mile drive from his home in Middletown, New York, to Bolan’s in Toms River, New Jersey, to get to rehearsal. “So I don't wanna hear anybody say they have to travel too far for band practice,” Hill says. “That’s what had to happen, because I wanted to be in that band.”

That band eventually led to another band – Skid Row. Alongside Bolan, guitarist Dave “Snake” Sabo, drummer Rob Affuso and eventual singer Sebastian Bach, Hill helped forge one of the great hard rock debut albums of the era in Skid Row’s 1989 self-titled debut. The band scored major MTV hits with singles “Youth Gone Wild,” “18 and Life” and “I Remember You,” and toured the country with Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and others. Their follow-up effort, 1991’s Slave to the Grind, took things in a heavier and more aggressive direction, and still topped the Billboard charts its first week of release. 

Now, more than 30 years later, Skid Row – which currently includes Hill, Sabo, Bolan, singer ZP Theart and drummer Rob Hammersmith – continue to tour the world (they just announced the Live to Rock tour with Warrant and also have an upcoming Vegas residency with Scorpions), and have a new full-length album expected later this year. Until then, Hill sat down with Metal Edge to tell us how it all began…

First Song I Fell in Love With

“There's a few vivid memories for me of hearing cool music. One of them was Jimi Hendrix, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ from Woodstock. I have three older sisters, and they got that Woodstock record and they told me that he was playing it with a guitar. And I was like, “That's crazy.” I remember listening to it over and over again. And at that time, the Vietnam war was on TV every night. And we had Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather , all these guys reporting on it. To hear ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ played in that way, at that time, it had quite an impact.

"Another music memory for me is Motown. There was a lot of Motown playing around the house, and I can remember hearing Diana Ross, The Jackson 5… I loved the Jackson 5 when I was a kid. I wanted to be Michael Jackson. And I also remember when ‘Imagine’ came out, and being in the car with my parents, driving down Main St. in the town we lived in and hearing it on the radio. To remember that moment 50 years later, I’d say it was pretty special.”

First Song I Wrote

“I think it was called ‘Redneck Town.’ ‘Cause I lived in a small town… and there were a lot of rednecks there. [laughs] It was a town in New York, on the Hudson. It's actually a really great little town, but when we moved there in the ‘60s it was pretty fucking narrow-minded and podunk. I think it was probably a two-chord type of thing, and it went something like, ‘Been livin' in a redneck town / say the wrong word and you'll hit the ground.’ That's all I can remember. So that's probably the first song I remember writing. There were others, but then for a while I got into instrumental music and I was writing like little instrumental type things and stuff like that. But the first one with lyrics was probably ‘Redneck Town.' "

First Gig

"It was on the back of a flatbed truck at Butterfield Hospital [in Cold Spring, New York] for some fundraiser. I was around 14, and my band was Pegasus. We did everything from Sabbath and Hendrix to Clapton and the Godz. It was across the board. We got up there and played four or five songs, and I can remember all these girls from school were sitting cross-legged on the grass in front of us and just staring and smiling. And I was like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ Because these were people that wouldn't really pay much attention or show any interest otherwise. But then we're up there holding guitars and they're just smiling and watching. I thought, wow, that's really cool. Because you know, a lot of guys say, ‘I got into a band for the chicks.’ But I didn't do that. I got into a band because I like music! But, hey, if that comes along with it, that’s pretty cool."

First Shitty Job

"All my jobs were shitty, but the first one was when I was a dishwasher. I was still in high school and I got what's called my working papers, so you could work as a young adult. And I got a job at, I think it was called the Hudson View Inn or something like that. And you know, dishwasher, it's not a glamorous job – you're at the bottom of the ladder. And you're dealing with the all kinds of nasty stuff on the plate, cigarette butts, spit-out food. And at the time the boss was telling me, “All right, the vegetable of the day is peas. So when a plate comes back and there's a bunch of peas still on it, pour 'em in this jar.’ And they would reuse them! So I would scrap the peas off a plate into this big jar and they would come over and pick them up. It was nasty. I don't think they're doing that anymore –different management, I'm sure. But I hated that job and I wasn't there very long. One day I went to take the garbage out, and I threw the garbage in a dumpster and I just kept walking. I was like, ‘Nope, fuck this!’ ”

First Time I Did Something Illegal

"I got brought in for shoplifting when I was about 11. I think my sister had to pick me up from the police station. I lifted a can of blue spray paint. I used to like to strip down my bicycle and hang the frame in the basement and paint it. So me and my friends, we’d be down in the basement, we’ve got the bicycle hanging from the rafters, and there's no ventilation down there. We're not covering our faces. We're coming out of there, we would look like paint huffers. Our nose hairs would be whatever color the bicycle was. And in this particular case, the can of spray paint was blue. It was at Woolworths in Middletown, New York.

"Another thing I used to like to do as a kid was light fires. I lit a field on fire once. It was Halloween, and somebody had a scarecrow in their yard, so me and a couple of other kids stole it, brought it to a field and lit it on fire. And it turned out the whole field caught on fire. And you know, once you realize the fire's out of control and you can't stomp it out, you gotta bail. Then you hear the fire trucks come, and that's scary. It's like, ‘Oh shit, we fucked up…' "

First Time I Got Wasted

"Really, really super-wasted? It was when my friend stole a bottle of Seagram's 7 out of his dad's liquor cabinet,. We used to hang out on this mountain, on top of this big cliff. And we sat up there and drank it, and I somehow made my way home after that. I was staggering, probably. But I got home and I got in bed. And then my dad comes in, leans over, he goes, ‘You been drinkin’?’ And I go, ‘Yeah.’ And he's like, ‘Okay.’ And then about two days later, I climbed out of bed. [laughs] Lesson learned. Or at least for a few days, the lesson was learned, because I became quite a drinker. But I don't drink anymore."

First Time I Met Rachel Bolan

"It was when I came to audition for [Bolan’s band] Godsend. I drove 140 miles down to his house in Jersey for the audition, knocked on his door, he opened the door and I was like, ‘Hi, I'm Scotti. Where's the bathroom? I gotta take a piss!’ That was the first thing I said to him. But we talked on the phone before that. I answered an ad in the Aquarian, which was the music rag in the Tristate area. We really hit it off, and then I didn't hear anything from him for a while. And for some reason I didn't call him back. But then a while later I got a call from him. He's like, ‘Dude, I lost your number! And my mom just found it in my pants pocket. You still wanna come jam?’ I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’ So that's when I drove down from Middletown, New York to Toms River, New Jersey. We jammed that night and I joined the band and immediately started making that trip regularly. So I don't wanna hear anybody say it's too far to rehearsal, ’cause I was driving 140 miles. I just wanted to be in the band."

First Song I Ever Played with Skid Row

" 'Clock Strikes Midnight.' I had a tape with three songs – that one, ‘Walk with a Stranger’ and ‘Rescue You.’ And the only one that went on to make it onto a record was ‘Clock Strikes Midnight.’ Or ‘Midnight,’ as it was called. I learned those three songs, and I learned the harmony parts and I learned the vocal parts that I had to sing. I was determined to get this gig. So that was my audition. And of course, Rachel and I had been in a band together and we were really good friends, and he wanted me in the band. And Snake and I were acquainted, too. I don't even remember if they auditioned anybody else, but I know there were some guys that definitely wanted the gig. But I wasn't not going to get it. It just wasn't gonna happen. I wanted it too bad.

"The audition was actually in Rachel’s parents' garage. They were retooling the band. Rob [Affuso, drummer] had just joined about two weeks before. And they had decided they were going to change the name from Darkness to Skid Row. So they got a new drummer, they got me, and Matt Fallon was the singer. And it was like that for a little while, and then we decided to replace Matt. And I think we went, like, nine months auditioning singers until we heard about Sebastian.

"But I remember it was a two-car garage, and that’s where everything happened. We had the band set up in there, and it was nice and spacious, but it was freezing cold in the wintertime. So we had a kerosene heater doing the best it could to keep us warm. We would stand around it between songs and warm our hands up. And you know, John Bon Jovi would come by, and I remember one day he brought Little Steven with him. So Little Steven and John Bon Jovi were just hanging out at our rehearsal in the little garage in Toms River. Crazy. That's where the first record was written. That's where everything was rehearsed. It all happened there.

First Gig with Skid Row

"When I auditioned, they went outside, they had a little meeting, they came back and they said, ‘You got the gig if you want it. And by the way, we're opening for Bon Jovi in two weeks.’ It was something like that. Within a month. I was like, ‘Oh my god…’ So, yeah, my first gig with Skid Row was at Stabler Arena in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, opening for Bon Jovi on the Slippery When Wet tour. It was crazy. And the other shows were all just typical Jersey gigs – The Park Villa, Studio One, Raritan Manor, which is now a traffic circle. All those kind of places. But that was the first gig. Really cool. Left me with the same kind of feeling I had playing on the back of that flatbed truck."

First Time I Shot a Music Video

"It was for ‘Youth Gone Wild,’ and it was great, man. You gotta keep in mind, I don't even think the record was out yet. But we're flown to L.A., we're put up in Hollywood at the Franklin Plaza, I think the same place where Nikki Sixx had OD’d a few years earlier. And things got really, really crazy in there, just with partying and stuff. So we're brought to the set, and Wayne Isham was directing and Curt Marvis was producing, and you just feel important. It's like, ‘Here's your trailer!’ There's a big crew and there's cameras everywhere. And so we started shooting, and Wayne and Curt were like, ‘You guys look really stiff.’ But you know, you’re playing to a playback, you’re basically faking it, right? It just really feels unnatural. And I guess that showed. So they sent out for party favors – some beer and some Jack Daniel’s. And we started partying and that's what you see in the video. It’s us tying one on. That's what we did."

First Time I Felt I Had "Made It"

"I don't remember the specific moment, but I remember our families and friends figuring it out, like, way before we did it. Because we were playing every night and we were going, going, going really hard. We were on tour with Bon Jovi [on the New Jersey tour], and when we weren't doing that, on nights off, we would do our own gigs. So we were playing constantly and time was flying by. And then all of a sudden, our family, friends were just like, ‘Holy shit, this is amazing!’ We're like, ‘What's amazing?’ And they go, ‘We saw you guys on MTV. The video’s blowing up.’ And we were not really aware of how fast it was exploding. We did start to see more and more people showing up early for our shows with Bon Jovi. But it probably wasn't until one day when I went to the local mall on a break, and people were recognizing me and getting excited and asking for autographs when I was like, ‘Wow, this is fucking weird, man.’ Nobody gave a shit before and then all of a sudden everybody wants a piece. It's a good feeling."