Sally Steele had absolutely no professional journalism experience when she published the first issue of Las Vegas Rock City News in August 2004. Soon rechristened Vegas Rocks!, Steele nearly single-handedly has produced every issue of the free monthly publication, doing everything from writing stories and taking photos to selling ads and filling news racks around town. The once-aspiring singer had her first brush with fame in the late 1980s, getting one of her videos played on MTV (you can find it on YouTube), before moving from Los Angeles to Nashville in the ’90s, and eventually landing in Las Vegas 13 years ago.
On August 25, Steele will host the fourth annual Vegas Rocks! Magazine Awards at The Joint in the Hard Rock, where she will honor musicians such as longtime Yes vocalist Jon Anderson, drumming legend Carl Palmer and former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde (fans can purchase tickets to attend the show or to view it via live-stream on StageIt.com). Never one to worry about what’s in style, Steele remains passionate about the music she loves.
How did you get so involved in rock ’n’ roll?
I was one of those outcast-type kids who just sat in their room and listened to records all day; I had no friends. Rock ’n’ roll was all I had as a kid. I grew up in Indianapolis, and when I was 14, I would show up early to concerts and take pictures of Black Sabbath and Aerosmith and Kiss, a lot of bands that were just starting out. And a lot of people said, “Oh, you’re a groupie,” but I just wanted pictures. And the stars were always upset that that’s all I wanted, that I wasn’t going to put out. I looked a lot older than I was. … I should have kept taking pictures instead of singing in bands for over 20 years.
When did you start to pursue your own music career?
I was always backstage, and I got tired of that. I thought, “I need to be onstage singing,” so I was in bands for years and years. I actually went to Japan with a cover band that I was in, and I was going to stay there, but I got tired of Japanese people. And that’s when I went to Hollywood, and I was there from 1980 till ’92, trying to be a famous singer or actress, whatever came along. It was always basically about the music; I was trying to get exposure as an actress to further my music career. After that I went to Nashville, which I think all the rockers did in the ’90s, but it did not work out for me.
You moved to Las Vegas in 2000, and eventually ended up driving a limousine. How do you go from that to launching your own magazine?
I met a guy, fell totally in love with him and we got engaged within two weeks. Soon after we were together, he said, “I’m going to start my own local rock magazine.” I said, “That’s a great idea; I’ve been taking pictures and interviewing celebrities all my life, and I can write stories for it.” Long story short, he split a couple of days before the wedding, and I was suicidal. I went on my “honeymoon” alone with my daughter, who was 9 at the time, and I was crying at the Stratosphere buffet, saying, “I would have been good at that.” And my daughter said, “Forget him; start your own magazine.” And so I went to the Vans Warped Tour in 2004, and they wouldn’t give me a [media] pass, but I got backstage and talked to everybody and put out a paper.
How have you been able to sustain the magazine for nearly a decade now?
Hard work and divine intervention. In December 2006, I needed two more ads to get the magazine out, and I went out on Christmas Eve and sold two more ads. There have been so many instances like that; it’s almost like it was meant to be. The day I was to pick up the first magazine, August 1, 2004, I was $600 short. I was working my job as a limo driver, and I said, “Well, I’m not going to make $600 today; I don’t know where I’m going to get it unless I rob a bank.” And I got some people in the car, and they wanted to go to Pahrump. I took them to Sherry’s Ranch, and sometimes [brothel owners] tip the drivers for bringing clients up, and they handed me an envelope that had exactly $600. So as soon as we drove back and I dropped them off, I went and picked up the magazines. And since then, just when it looks like it’s going to be over, something comes through. It’s the same thing with the awards show.
Speaking of that, you’ve been able to attract some big-name rockers to the show, such as Sammy Hagar, Lemmy Kilmister and Vince Neil. How have you done it?
I’ve built relationships with a lot of these people over the years. If I had to sum it all up, I’m kinda like the awards show that gets the people in between the cracks, the ones that other awards shows just completely overlook. I’m 100 percent rock ’n’ roll, and that’s the only game I do and the only one I support. Come here, and I’m going to make you look good.
Basically, if you can get past all the red tape, from the artist’s management to the PR people, and just somehow go directly to the source, that person will tell their management, “Yeah, I want to do that,” and that’s what happened with [Whitesnake vocalist] David Coverdale [last year]. Basically, I just asked them, with a little bit of persuasion and begging thrown in, but sometimes I don’t even have to do that. They know I’m legitimate; they know I’ve been around.
Who tops the list of musicians you have yet to interview?
Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney—I’m always trying to stalk them when they come to town, but I just can’t quite seem to get there. But I’m working on it. If I can keep these awards shows up, I’m slowly getting into the English rock royalty world, so who knows?
What is it about rock music that does it for you?
Just the way it makes me feel; no other type of music does that. It’s my heart and my soul. … I gotta be honest: I hate rap, I hate country, I hate blues and jazz. I just put everything into rock ’n’ roll. That’s generally all I care about, and I think that’s why the magazine has stayed around, because I feel so strongly about the music that I cover.