Long before Hulk Hogan tore both of his biceps body slamming Andre The Giant in front of 93,000 people at WrestleMania III, he was a “music kid” who dropped out of college to play in front of a few hundred rowdy drunks every night. He might even be returning to the music stage this Tuesday to play bass with One Direction. Hulk’s last band, Ruckus, is where he first discovered his love of entertaining crowds. Recordings of his earlier projects either don’t exist or have disappeared from the public’s eye, but what we do have access to is Hulk Hogan and The Wrestling Boot Band's Hulk Rules (1995), the commercially successful but critical flop of a children’s album that was written by the Hulkster and his friends. Noisey first covered it a few years ago.
Growing up watching Hollywood Hulk Hogan spray paint “nWo” on the backs of his fallen opponents in WcW left a lasting impact on me, but when you combine that image with The Wrestling Boot Band and The Hulkster hanging with One Direction, I’m left with a variety of questions. Whose idea was it to have Hulk Hogan rap to kids about not taking drugs? Will we ever see Hulk back in the recording studio? And most importantly, how did that awesome bleached-blonde-and-jet-black beard become a thing?
To find out I sat down face to face with the immortal Hulk Hogan in the belly of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, where WrestleMania 31 will be held next year.
Noisey: Before your rise to fame in the wrestling world you had a passion for music. Can you talk about the early days when you played bass in a rock'n'roll band called Ruckus?
Hulk Hogan: Oh god, well, that was my last band. I had been on the road for 10 years and I was a studio musician in Atlanta, a century artist. I started out playing guitar in junior high school, because I wasn’t a big sports guy. I was into music and had long hair. So I started out playing guitar, and as things go as a music kid, you start playing in bands. All of a sudden I got in a really good band playing guitar, but then this different really good guitar player came along—and this guy was really great. I had a choice: leave the band or start playing bass. So I chose to become a pretty darn good bass player.
When I was in high school there were like five or six good bands, and I got all the good people out of these bands and into one band called Ruckus. I got the lead guitar player from Todd Rudgren’s band. I can’t remember some of the songs he did, like, “Hello, It’s Me.”
[Hogan notices that I don’t seem to know who Todd Rudgren is]
. . . They were famous back in the 80’s. But Ruckus kicked ass. That was the last band I was in.
What were Ruckus shows like? I read in your book that wrestlers would come to some of the gigs.
Yeah! I was huge wrestling fan. As a kid I was scared to death of them because back in the day wrestlers were very protective, and if you called wrestling fake, they would punch you in the face.
Yeah, I’ve heard Fit Finley, a wrestler in those days, made a habit out of breaking people’s pinky fingers for saying that wrestling was fake?
Yeah, or if you wanted to try out for wrestling, they would hurt you real bad, like they did to me. On my very first day of training, they broke my leg. Back in the day there were no lawyers, no lawsuits and obviously no cellphones so no one could take pictures—so wrestlers could do whatever they wanted.
So growing up, even in high school, I was scared to death of them. But all of sudden I started playing in this kick ass rock n’ roll band and a couple wrestlers came in to the show. Then a couple of nights later even more came in, because they had told each other that there was this kick ass band, and because there was a kick ass band, there was all this hot ass running around, you know? All of a sudden, before I knew it, there was a bunch of wrestlers at our gigs. These were regional wrestlers who would wrestle in Tampa, Miami, Orlando and Tallahassee, so they’d come back to Tampa every night, where we would be playing till 3 AM in the morning. We would play in north Tampa, then go over to Clearwater Beach and play at Skip’s on the beach.
So I finally got enough guts to start talking to Oliver Humperdink, who was managing superstar Billy Graham, and I told him I wanted to try out to be a wrestler. He was like, “Yea, sure, come on down, we’ll give you a try-out.” CRACK, broke my leg.
Did Ruckus ever play out of town?
We were pretty much local because a couple of the guys were married. We went up to Atlanta a few times, and played in some Stone Pony clubs, but we never really went on the road with that band. One of the reasons I ended up choosing wrestling over music was because we had a chance to go on the road opening for two bands—Mother’s Finest out of Atlanta, and a band called Blackfoot. Two of our guys went, “Oh we don’t want to go on the road, my wife just had a baby!" and that kind of pushed me over the edge, because we had a chance to be a national act—and our band was so tight. The whole building would move when we played! So it was kind of like, man, we’ve got our act together here, and these guys don’t want to rock! That really moved me in the direction of wrestling.
How did you meet your bandmates?
I don’t remember how I met most of them. I remember I was in a band called Koco and Anthony Barcelo, Ruckus’s lead singer, came over to audition after Koco’s singer quit or something—that’s how I met him. We had a drummer who almost made it to the very end who I went to first grade all the way up through high school with, but the rest of the guys were just studio musicians that I had met in the music scene.
What did Ruckus sound like?
We did a lot of rock'n'roll covers, and a couple original songs—not very many, but maybe four or five originals. We were out there playing for money to get on our feet and get ready to do what we needed to do. We weren’t together long so there wasn’t too much original stuff.
I own a copy of Hulk Hogan and The Wrestling Boot Band (1995).
[The Hulkster sighs and face-palms]
Can you tell me about how that whole thing came together? What was the creative process like? Did Hulk Hogan and The Wrestling Boot Band ever play shows?
Hogan: Nah, we didn't. Hey, there’s your producer right there!
[Hogan points behind me to his longtime manager, WWE Legend Jimmy Hart, who bounces up from his seat excitedly]
Jimmy Hart: How you doing, baby? Jimmy Hart, how you doing baby? Good to see you, good to see you.
Hogan: How’d it happen, Jimmy?
Hart: Well, Hulk was talking about going in and doing an album—it was really his idea.
Hogan: Didn’t it start first with “The Leader of the Gang (I Am)?”
Hart: No, we had The Wrestling Boot Band out first.
Hogan: Oh, okay. I don’t really remember. I know Simon Cowell was the one who helped us.
Hart: So what happened was, a gentleman approached us about maybe Hulk doing an album, because Hulk played bass and I played in a rock group (probably before you were born) called The Gentrys, so we kind of all put something together. Hulk went into the studio and we got two great money deals off it, really [laughs].
Hulk played bass on it, and we had our friend Jim Maguire there. Hulk and everybody else there just chipped in, sat around for a few weeks, and wrote ten songs. All of a sudden, we got a major record deal on Select Records, and the next thing you know, we’re over in Europe knocking on a few doors with the album while Hulk was doing a big promotional thing for one of his movies at the time. Then we had a magic phone call from this A&R guy, Simon Cowell, who we’d never heard of before. He brought us in and said, “I love this album! But it’s already out. I’ve got another idea for Hulk!” and it was the old Gary Glitter song, “The Leader of The Gang (I am).” He goes, "Let me tell ya somethin’, it’s going to be number one,” and we go, “Yeah, right”, but then it was number one for five weeks over there! So, it just really turned out awesome!
Your cover of the Gary Glitter song “Leader of the gang (I Am)” with comedy metal band Green Jelly was a Top 40 hit on the UK Charts. What was it like working with Simon Cowell?
Hogan: He was cool! Just unbelievably nice and friendly, and he kind of like parlayed that into doing some of the wrestling albums. That’s how he came over here to the United States. He did a couple albums for the WWF that went platinum. It was because of Vince McMahon working with him that he ended up coming to the states. It’s kind of weird that Simon Cowell got his break in the United States because of wrestling—that’s insane!
Yeah, that’s weird that he has WWF albums in his discography.
Hogan: Dude, I ran into him at some launch party about three years ago, and I actually didn’t recognize him. The launch was for some docu-soap about my life called Finding Hulk Hogan. I walked right by him and he said, “Hey, you don’t say hello to your friends?” and I went, “Oh my god I’m so sorry,” and I gave him a big hug. He’s just so cool, and very different from the character he plays on TV.
The author meets The Hulk.
Do you think you later used anything you learned playing rock'n’roll in the ring?
Hogan: Oh yeah, brother! Because I definitely was not a good singer. If there was a hook that we all needed to sing along with, and it was in my range, then I could step up and handle that—but I wasn’t a good singer. What did happen, though, was that in-between songs, I found myself being the one talking to the crowd, making eye contact, keeping things going and moving things along. Just being on that stage every night in front of so many people, especially between 11 PM and 3 AM, when the place would be packed and the alcohol made the place crazier—I found out that I was real good working with the crowd. It really helped when I went into a wrestling arena, and instead of being afraid of looking at the crowd, I knew nobody was going to kill me or scare me off. It really did help, playing music onstage all those years.
One of the things about rock'n'roll is that you've got to have style. One of my favorite wrestling style choices of yours back in the nWo was your classic bleached-blonde-and-jet-black beard. Can you tell me how that started?
Hogan: Oh my gosh, I was just trying to find something different that would really stand out, you know? I did a couple movies where I had shaved the whole mustache off—like Assault on Devil’s Island (1997)—and I had such a different look. So, instead of bleaching my mustache like I normally do, one night I took lady’s eyeliner and I drew a beard on my face, like how a kid would play. Then I colored it in with black eyeliner and I said, “That’s it!” cause it just looked so darn cool. I grew the hair out on my face to the point where it was a pain in the ass to put the eyeliner on there, and if I were to wrestle somebody and they would grab me in headlock, it would get all over their arms and stuff, so I went to that black Just For Men stuff. That stuff lasts for about five or six days before you see a couple gray hairs popping out and I’d have to color it again.
Every hotel room I was in would turn into a disaster. I’d have that black crap on my fingers, and I’d go to the building at night, and half my fingers would be dyed black because I wasn’t good putting it on. But, that’s how it all started. I just drew it on my face and it looked cool.
A little while ago there were a variety of stories in the media about your interest in joining Metallica and The Rolling Stones. Can you tell me about that?
Hogan: I had wrestled so long, and it got to the point where, with no Stone Cold, Rock, or HHH around, I was the only guy for a long time, so I had to be everywhere. We’d wrestle at one o’clock in the Philadelphia Spectrum, and then that night I’d be in Madison Square Garden. The next day at one o’clock I’d be in the Boston Gardens, then catch a plane and fly in to wrestle at the Los Angeles Forum that night. I didn’t really get tired but I was like, “Man, I’m killing myself.”
I always still loved music. I was in the UK for some award show, and Jerry Hall, Mick Jagger’s old lady, was walking out with me to present this award. I heard her talking on the phone to Mick about “Oh, you got to find a bass player and you’ve only got two different choices.” I went “. . . what!?” She had already told me that her kids are big fans, and she wanted merchandise, so I was like, "All right, let’s reel her in." I was like “Look, I used to play bass. I know all the Rolling Stones songs. Tell Mick if you guys need a bass player for the Rolling Stones, I swear to god I could show up. I could rehearse one day and play everything they play. Please tell Mick, please tell Mick.” I got home, sent her all the merchandise—never heard a word back, right?
So then I heard that Metallica needed a bass player, and brother, I was writing letters, made a tape of myself playing and sent it to their management company. Kept making calls trying to get through. I tried for two weeks and never heard a word back from them either.
I would have quit wrestling to play in The Rolling Stones or Metallica like that [snaps fingers]. I was hoping for a call from them but never got one. All the haters were like “You never auditioned for Metallica!” Of course I didn’t—but I tried!
There’s been a lot of talk recently about you training and hoping for a return to the ring, but I want to know: will we ever see you return to making music?
Hogan: That’s really possible because Brooke is always in there doing stuff. Sometimes I’ll lay down a scratch track, but actually. . . actually, I recently got a call about this band, One Direction. NBC wants me to interview them, and I said, “Fine,” but then all of sudden their management called me and said “Would you bring them onstage?” I said, "Sure.” Then they said, “Would you play a song with them?” and I said, “Here’s the deal, I’ll interview them. If you want me to bring them onstage, I will, and if there’s a song that has a standard chord progression (because I don’t know any of their music) that I could hear really quick, it’d be fun.”
Hulk Hogan and One Direction!?
Hogan: Yea, we’ll see what happens. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know their music.
That’s all right, it’s better that you know The Rolling Stones' songs instead of One Direction's.
Hogan: Okay, but they’re really a hot band right? A boy band thing?
Yeah, they’re a boy band thing for younger people. I appreciate the interview.
Hogan: Thank you, my brother. Much love, much respect.