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Music Video Director David Hogan

"Hogan, if we f--k up, it will still be great."
~Prince

Prince was addressing his music video director David Hogan, who was trying to talk the singer into one more close-up on the set of "U Got the Look." The 1987 clip, shot in Paris, revolves around a frenetic dream sequence that ends with Prince waking in his dressing room and giving the audience a sly smile, as if saying, "See, I said it would be great." It would debut in his Sign o the Times concert film and win the MTV Music Video Award for Best Male Video.

As for David Hogan, he was already making a living in the music business by the time MTV launched in 1981. He started out designing album covers out of his Memphis, Tennessee, art studio - where he also created the famous Flying W logo for Waylon Jennings - and transitioned into directing commercials, documentaries (Life in a Basket), and music videos for country and pop superstars.

Here, David takes us back to his videos for Prince, Kylie Minogue, Alabama, Big & Rich, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, and the Dave Matthews Band and explains why he had to shoot the Sisters of Mercy's "Dominion" with an armed guard at his side.

Amanda Flinner (Songfacts): You started working in music videos before anybody even knew what a music video was.

David Hogan: That's true.

Songfacts: Can you tell me how you transitioned from designing album covers to directing videos?

David: Actually, thanks to Joe Galante. He was head of RCA Records in Nashville, and then later RCA Records everywhere. He's the one who pushed me in that direction. He said, "These things are coming around."

At the time, I guess it was around '79, local music shows, like dance parties and things, were playing music videos. They were doing that as early as when I was a teenager back in the '60s. Little music videos, just performance pieces. Basically a music video, same thing. Actually, it goes back to the late '30s, early '40s. They actually started with Big Band music videos.

But that's the way it started. I was doing album covers - the front and the liner and the back would tell sort of a two-picture story, so to speak. I'd done some commercials earlier in my career, so I had some film experience. I just thought, well, this sounds great, I'd love to do this. And he hired me to do music videos.

Songfacts: When you started doing music videos, you had already started your own art design studio, right?

David: Yeah. It started in Memphis. Then I opened an office in Nashville, and then I also opened one in LA.

Songfacts: That's where you designed the famous Flying W logo for Waylon Jennings.

David: Yeah, I did. Although Jessi [Colter], Waylon's wife, informed me the last time I saw her that Waylon designed it, and I said, "Waylon didn't design anything." I couldn't believe she said that. I said, "Did you ever see Waylon pick up a pencil and do anything?" [laughing]

RCA hired me to do it and I submitted like five designs, and that was the one he liked. He told Joe Galante at RCA that the name Waylon actually means flying eagle. That was Waylon's input and Joe said go design a flying eagle. But don't ask Jessi Colter, she'll swear that Waylon did it.

Songfacts: Do you remember the first music video that you did back in '79?

David: The first one I actually produced, I hired a couple of guys, a production company, to do it. [Country singer] Razzy Bailey was his name. It was a Willie Nelson song. I can't really name the song.

Songfacts: Was that basically just a performance video or were you getting into doing concepts yet by that time?

David: It was a little story, or at least the impression of a story, intercut with a stylized performance. Like Our Town, with the narrator telling the story and the actual story going on.

Songfacts: I know a lot of artists at the beginning didn't like doing music videos, and some directors even thought they were a waste of time. Did you get the sense that you were working in an exciting new medium, or did you just do it as a way to get into filmmaking?

David: I thought it was just a ball to do. I thoroughly enjoyed writing, enjoyed the whole process.

You know, growing up in Memphis, you're around music, period. I mean, my brother and I used to go over to Elvis' house when he lived on Audubon Drive. His mother would run us off: "Leave Elvis alone, he's tired, he's been on the road."

So music was just part of it. Walking down the street in Memphis, listening to music on a transistor radio, that's where it really started for me. So when music videos came along, I just loved it. It was great. So much fun.

You mentioned that the artists didn't like doing them. The process of it is so much "hurry up and wait" in the film business, in filmmaking, and I think that's what most musicians hate about music videos. Also, the lip-synching thing just seemed to go against their nature. Like, Rod Stewart, he improvises so much on his recordings, he can never get it right. We had to do multiple takes to get one phrase right on a lot of his songs.

Songfacts: That makes sense. That would be frustrating to try and go against your nature in filming the video that way.

David: Yeah. They'd much rather do it live and record it live. I tried to do that once with Steve Miller. We had the rhythm tracks recorded, but they did the rest of the tracks, including the vocal tracks, live, which was sort of a nightmare, because are we making a film or are we making an album? It turned out yes, we're doing both.

Songfacts: Many directors didn't fare well with Prince [including Kevin Smith]. But one of your big videos for MTV was "U Got The Look." What do you recall about your experience with him?

David: Love the guy. What a great experience. Loved him. He's fantastic, funny. We had a ball.

It was one of the most fun videos. Definitely the Top 5 of pleasant artists to work with. He was great, just accommodating. The only thing that happened was I had to meet him in Germany before the video, and I flew to Hamburg and then down to Stuttgart to meet him. I guess he was playing there. I ended up sitting in Stuttgart for three days waiting for Prince. Then I get a message and he doesn't show... he doesn't show... he doesn't show.

I get another message that says, "Prince says forget the meeting, he'll meet you in Paris on the day." "Okay." That was the only odd thing about working with Prince is sitting in Germany waiting for him for three days and then him not showing up. But other than that, it was just great.

Songfacts: Did you interact with him a lot one-on-one?

David: Oh, yeah. It was just me and him, just the two of us. And he's just as regular and as straight as they come. Not straight in a bad way, I mean, just a regular guy. I grew up in the streets of Memphis and he was just like a guy you grew up with. He drops the facade - I don't know whether it's a facade or not, it's an act - that's Prince. He had fun with it. He's just a really nice guy and funny, very intelligent. Highly intelligent, great athlete. He was just a joy to work with. He probably would hate to hear me say that. [Laughing]

Songfacts: It's funny, because you read a lot about how shy he was and with some directors he didn't feel comfortable opening up with, so they had to work through a middleman. So it's cool to hear that you got to really work with him rather than semi-work with him.

David: Yeah, it was great. I had a ball working with him in Paris, and we partied together. He's boundless energy. I don't know when he sleeps, because we were shooting the daytime, he was doing a show at night, then we'd go to a party. He'd have a party after the show anywhere in a club in Paris. It was that way the whole time I was there. This guy does not sleep.

Songfacts: Did you have an idea for the video in mind when you finally got to meet him or did you guys come up with that dream concept together?

David: Actually, I don't remember. I think it was a combination of all the above. I know I had a treatment written. I remember sitting down with him and going over the concept, but was it my idea? I don't know. I think I wrote it, and then he liked it. Then we talked about it and that was it. His whole show was kind of like a gray set. Honestly, I can't remember who came up with it.

Songfacts: You got to go back to Paris again for Kylie Minogue's "Finer Feelings," which has a real cinematic feel to it. Do you remember how you came up with that idea?

David: Not so much how I came up with it. I'm a fan of French impressionist photographers, so that's where it came from.

I don't think she was playing there. I just think she wanted to shoot there. She's huge there, so she draws a crowd like it's the biggest star in Paris. If the word gets out that she's there, they just swarm the set. They love her there, and for good reason: She's another sweetheart. I mean, I sound like I'm a suck-up, but I'm not. She's another wonderful person to work with - just a joy, so much fun.

Songfacts: I read a little bit about your experience with Sisters of Mercy when you were shooting in Petra. Do you remember how you ended up shooting there?

David: It was [lead singer] Andrew Eldritch's idea to shoot in Petra. I did a little research on Petra before I got there. I'd heard of it, of course. Found some images of it, and just wrote it on the plane over there, basically. If you watch it, it's just an impression of a story of intrigue. Whatever information they're exchanging gives that impression. I've had so many people ask me, "What does it mean?" It means absolutely nothing. [Laughs] Just the impression of a story.

Songfacts: There is a lot going on. You have the spy type of story, and then you have camels and horses and all kinds of extras and everything. Was it a crazy shoot?

David: Well, working with all the Bedouins, that was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. Because a lot of those guys worked on Lawrence of Arabia, so they understood filmmaking. Of course, the younger ones hadn't worked on any films. But I think we were the first film crew to ever shoot in Petra. I know Steven Spielberg called our production company and wanted a copy of it, because he didn't want to go there to scout it for his Indiana Jones thing. So he used the video to scout for it (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).

The scariest part was the Iran/Iraq war was going on, and there was bombing in Israel. They were fighting on the Gaza Strip, and Iran and Iraq were warring, and we went from Amman to Petra. We crossed the King's Highway, it was just loaded with munitions, bombs and missiles and whatever from America helping Saddam Hussein fighting Iraq, which always amazed me. We're talking about the weapons of mass destruction, how do you know if it was there? I said, I know why it was there, I saw them shipping in. They were from the USA. We knew they were there, because some of them we gave to them. I don't know why that never came out. I mean, I literally saw that coming in.

Anyway, we're talking about music now, not politics.

Songfacts: Do you remember how long you were there?

David: About 10 days, a week to prep. We were told by the State Department that they never recommend Americans going over there at the time because it's a war and because of all the stuff going on in Israel. So we said, "Okay, well, tough titty, we're going."

So our location manager happened to be a neighbor of the king's brother in Sussex. So they hooked us up with the king, and they said, Well, if they're coming, we're going to supply them with bodyguards. So I had an armed bodyguard with me with a machine gun at his side the entire time following me everywhere, even into the bathroom.

And the helicopter shot, we didn't have a helicopter budgeted, and I said, "Man, it would be great to get a helicopter shot of this place." And the location manager said, "Well, I'll call the king's brother." He called the king, and he sent a gigantic helicopter for us, just landed in the middle of Petra, and I thought oh, this is cool.

So it was quite the adventure. We raced horses and camels, but mainly horses, every day at lunch. It was great fun. We'd race them, that's the Siq, you know, into the valley, and I did that one morning and I realized I hadn't seen exactly where the sun came up. So the day before the shoot I got up in the wee hours before sunrise and rode into the Siq and into the valley, past the Treasury and down into the valley.

I was riding my horse, I knew about where the sun was coming up, I knew about where I wanted to place the cameras. So I was just on a dead run. Then this kid comes down out of one of the caves on a black Arab stallion. He comes alongside me and we race all the way down across the valley and across the Colonnade. Turned out to be a 12-year-old kid and we swapped cigarettes and watched the sun come up. It was just me and him, and it gives me chills to this day thinking about it. It's amazing.

Songfacts: I'm guessing that was one of your favorite locations to shoot in.

David: Without a doubt. It was magical. It was a magical place.

In what David called a "fairy tale for grownups," the supernatural story in Alabama's "(There's A) Fire in the Night" follows a man who seeks refuge after his car breaks down and finds himself in the house – and bed – of a witch who eventually kills him with a poisonous tattoo.

David also helmed videos for Alabama's "There's No Way," "She and I," "Dixieland Delight," and "The Closer You Get."

Songfacts: To switch gears into some of the country videos that you did, it's interesting that over on MTV they were trying to kind of push the envelope a lot, but country music was not ready for it yet in the '80s. So on that note, can you talk a little bit about "(There's A) Fire In The Night" from Alabama?

David: Well, that was one of the later videos. I did, like, six videos from Alabama. That was probably the least successful out of all of them. I shot two videos for that. Is that where that came from?

Songfacts: Yeah. I actually found the original video and was able to watch it with the poisonous tattoos and the whole witchcraft story going on, and then the second one was just them around the campfire.

David: Right. You know the story, they decided it was too much like devil worship with the goat in there. I didn't even know a goat symbolized the devil, but it did.

Songfacts: Well, I wasn't sure if it was from the sexual part of it, or from the witchcraft part of it.

David: The witchcraft part. Their audience is the Bible Belt, so they were afraid of that. Didn't want to try it on that tender ground. So we reshot it.

The sad thing about that video is that the girl, the woman that played the tattoo artist, she was a performer, a country girl that moved to Nashville to make it in showbiz. Somebody should have told her to go to LA or New York, but she was stripping down in Printer's Alley, make a living in there. I needed a stripper for that part. She wasn't doing anything nasty - you know, more like Disney's kind of stripper. Wasn't much dirty stuff, like you think of strippers today. It was more like Vaudeville kind of stripping.

Songfacts: Like burlesque or something like that.

David: Yeah, like burlesque. She was a really sweet woman. She was probably in her late-30s, early-40s. She was no spring chicken. She'd been around the barn a few times.

But anyway, when they decided against the video, she was squirrelly. She was a nervous, kind of skittish kind of woman. Real sweet, but just on edge. She looked at this like her big break. I said, "Honey, this is just a music video. This is not going to make your career. I don't even know where it's going to be played."

But she was still just so excited about doing it. When it didn't come out, she kind of gave up hope trying to make it. So she stopped dancing, stopped trying out for stuff. She went for a job on Music Row for some sleazy producer. He hired her and he made a play on her as soon as she started work and she went home that night and hung herself. She was so depressed over that damn video. I hated hearing that.

I probably shouldn't have told you that one. It's not all sunglasses and autographs, that's for sure. But that kind of broke my heart. I mean, she was such a sweet woman.

But that's why I just hate hearing that song, because of that. It wasn't Alabama's fault by any means. But it was weird, I worked her into the second video that we did around the campfire, and they didn't want to be around her. She freaked them out for some reason. Freaked Randy out, anyway. I don't know if they thought she was a real witch. I don't know what the deal was. But they didn't want her around.

Big & Rich's breakout 2003 hit, "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)," was accompanied by a music video where the duo paraded across Nashville's Shelby Street Bridge with marching bands, dancers, and fellow country stars Gretchen Wilson and Cowboy Troy. Then there were the horses. According to the Metro Public Works, the horses caused over $23,000 damage to the pavement and decorative painting on the pedestrian bridge.

Songfacts: It's interesting to see how much country music changed in the next couple decades. Twenty years after the Alabama video, you were doing "Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)," for Big & Rich, which even the title wouldn't have flown back in the '80s. Do you remember anything about that video?

David: It was hell. It was the shoot from hell. A one-day shoot. I mean, working in Nashville now is not what it used to be. The record company people are just the worst. Their involvement's just too many cooks in the kitchen. It was just misery. My father was dying... oh, another great, uplifting story. So I was just miserable.

They awarded the video to a production company that was there. Talent in a little thimble, basically. Anyway, they had the job. After I did Gretchen Wilson's video ("Redneck Woman"), Big & Rich wanted me to do the same. They had the same management and they wanted me to do their video. But the downside is they wanted to do it through that production company.

So basically the production company people had it in for me, because they felt like I stole it from their directors or whatever. Really just a miserable experience. I wish I'd turned the job down, after it was over. It was just miserable, and the production staff were just snots. I just hated them. [Laughing] I swear I'm not suicidal or anything.

Songfacts: I'm sure it's not fun to be out there. I mean, it looks fun when you watch it, but the reality is they're probably not that fun to shoot. Especially when you're talking about a big parade.

David: And that was one day. Imagine doing all that in one day. It was hot and it was just... I had my dad there and he was dying. It was awful. Jeez. Unlike the Prince shoot or the Kylie Minogue shoot - a lot of those shoots are a lot of fun. That was just absolute misery on a lot of levels.

Songfacts: There was also some damage to the bridge.

David: Yeah, which is kind of hard to believe. I don't know if it was the horses or what.

What we did was the only way we could figure out how to do it. We had to put the camera and the lights on the back of a semi-truck trailer, and we would drive it around across the other bridge down river and then come around and circle and then start the parade again. That was the only way to do it. So it could have been the semi, I don't know. It's a walking bridge, and I'm sure it wasn't designed to hold a semi. Somebody told me it was the horses doing it, and I can't imagine the horses damaging it. But I don't know.

Songfacts: It was funny, because I guess a CMT show called CMT Insider did an audience poll over whether the doll was a real girl or not. Sarah Darling actually had to go on the show to prove that she was real, because everybody thought that she was fake.

David: [Laughing] That's hilarious. When we cast her, she'd actually taken a class in learning how to be a mannequin, to pose as a mannequin. I thought, "There's a class for that?" Who knew?

She was great. She was another delight to work with. She was one of the bright spots in the whole thing, and so were the guys. I mean, Big & Rich, they're nice guys. Just their record company was a bunch of shits. Their crew was also great. Definitely want to mention that. But the whole production company, the people they brought in who made me miserable. Anyway, off that again.

But Big & Rich, they were real easy to work with, fun guys, and it was fun coming up with it and talking about it with them. When I met them, their manager played me some of their music, I said, Wow, this is pretty new, this is kind of fresh stuff for country music. It had like homoerotic undertones, sort of. I'm like, well, it's kind of weird for country. I never heard that in Nashville before.

Songfacts: That was Big & Rich's first video and you were also there for Sheryl Crow's first couple videos. One of them was "Leaving Las Vegas," which that started out like a simple-looking performance video, and then you have flying Elvises and showgirls dancing in the middle of the road. Do you remember coming up with the idea for that?

David: Yeah. I was on my way to a pre-production meeting with A&M. I had pitched a concept to the record company. For the most part, in LA the music video people, the commissioners, actually know what they're doing, as opposed to people in Nashville. They have all these really talented people working there.

Anyway, I'd pitched it to them and the video commissioner liked the idea. I thought, "Okay, well, they wanted me to meet Sheryl, let's go and get her."

I was driving from my art studio to A&M and I was listening to the record. I thought, "Wait a minute, that's a terrible idea I pitched," and they'd already signed off on it. I came up with the big icons of Las Vegas. I got there and I pitched the new idea, and they said, "Great, love it, do it."

Songfacts: I know [actor] Peter Berg was friends with Sheryl. Was it her idea to have him in that video or did you cast him on your own?

David: Actually, we were friends. I skied with the producer and the AD [Associate Director] and this bunch of guys in Park City. Peter's among that circle of friends, part of the guys that I partied with, and he agreed to do it. Peter's a brilliant guy. He's hilarious to work with and to be around. So it made for a fun shoot. That's kind of the way it went, but there's no money involved.

Melissa Etheridge came from the same group of friends.

Songfacts: You mentioned Melissa Etheridge, and I was going to ask you about "Your Little Secret." It has that wall of bodies that's memorable from that video. How did that one come about?

David: Well, actually I was shooting Barb Wire, this awful movie that I directed, when that came up. Melissa and I became good friends over the years since the first video. We had met at a party through mutual friends and did our first video. We've remained friends ever since. She just called me about that one and I sat and listened to the song over and over, as usual. It just kind of popped into my head. "Little secrets, I've got a whole wall of little secrets." So that's kind of where it came from.

Songfacts: I don't think it would be controversial now, but for 1995 it was a really sexy video with a girl kissing other girls and then kissing other guys.

David: I don't remember anybody giving us any grief about it. VH1 nominated us for a fashion award [Most Stylish Video]. It was kind of weird. We also got an award from GLAAD [formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation] for another video we did, "I'm the Only One."

Songfacts: I wanted to make sure I got your video in there for Dave Matthews "Ants Marching," if you remember anything about that?

David: Oh, yeah. That was a fun shoot. Shot it all in New York. Performance was down the river.

Songfacts: And how was it working with them? I know one of the guys, LeRoi Moore [sax player], was pretty shy. He didn't like to be in videos very much.

David: Yeah, he was one of those musicians who didn't like the whole "lip-synch pretend I'm playing" thing. He just didn't dig it, but he wasn't an asshole. He was a nice guy. He was reluctant about doing anything, but we got along real well, so I just talked to him like he was a friend and we got it done.

They were all good guys to work with. The bass player, Stefan Lessard, he was really young, like 16 or 17. He was kind of shy. When you said that, I thought you were talking about him at first.

Songfacts: Out of all of your videos, did you expect to get accolades for that one in particular?

David: Not at all. No, I would have thought the first one ["What Would You Say"] more than the second one. I met with Dave at some college, I think University of Michigan or somewhere they were playing, and we talked about the first video. He said he wanted that little dancer girl, the little image of a dancer. I'm sure it was kind of iconic for them as far as T-shirt sales on college campuses. They had sold a half million albums that year out of the back of their truck. They pressed their own CDs, didn't even have a record label and sold half a million albums that year. It was like, Wow, who are these guys?

So anyway, we met in a pub next to the place they were playing. It was just me and Dave. I don't know where it came from, but one of us said, "How about an homage to '60s pop imagery." I think I came up with that, I'm not sure. Just the way the song sounded, it just conjured up those images of '60s pop.

For "Ants Marching," I came up with that exclusively. That was all me. They were caught up in a whirlwind of success suddenly, and so he just left it completely up to me. I based that on my childhood, that "Ants Marching" concept.

Songfacts: What in particular was based on you childhood?

David: Well, the boy under the table. I remember hiding under the table and licking my finger and eating the sugar on top of the table. Things like that, just childhood stuff. Getting slapped from behind.

Songfacts: Do your ideas tend to come to you as images? Is that what strikes you first?

David: Yeah, definitely image. No doubt. I think what everybody feared about music videos didn't come to pass, as far as it's going to destroy what that song does for you. Which for me tended to make me go, Okay, it's a little more impressionistic. If it's a story, let's not tell a complete story. You've got to leave something for the listener. You don't want to destroy what that song could mean for them. So that's part of it.

I guess it's done that for some people, though. They see the music video and that's all they see when they hear the song, which I think is a shame. If there's a downside to music videos, that's it right there.

Songfacts: Yeah, it's tricky. Like going back to Alabama's "(There's A) Fire in the Night." If you're listening to that song for the first time, obviously you wouldn't imagine a witch and poisonous tattoos. But at the same time, it really fit. It's just different enough that it still works with the song, but it won't change the way you think of it when you hear it.

David: I liked it. [Laughing] It may be a little corny looking, I don't know. It was early on. But I liked it, and I thought it was neat. I saw a movie that was based on that music video, a tattoo coming alive. I thought, "Those assholes, they ripped me off. How did they find it?" Terrible movie, it was awful. It was awful.

Somebody told me that whoever wrote that saw that video somehow, some way. I thought, "Well, how can they see that? It was never released." Anyway, could be a bunch of bull, who knows.

July 27, 2015. Get more at directordavidhogan.com.

    About the Author:

    Amanda FlinnerAmanda is a freelance writer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with a degree in English/Writing from Geneva College (Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania). When she's not listening to jazz and pop standards from the '40s and '50s, she's obsessing over classic movies. She has no musical ability whatsoever except for a short stint as a saxophone player in the sixth grade.More from Amanda Flinner
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Comments: 2

Dave Hogan did indeed design the "Flying W" Waylon logo, but he seems to have forgotten Bill Conrad, Waylon's in-house publicist and merch mgr. who came up with the idea. It began as a belt buckle design. I knew Dave was one of the best graphic guys in Nashville at the time (1977) and called him to headquarters at 1117 17th Av S. I told him the story of Waylon's "Soaring Eagle" name given him by yhr Navaho tribe. I asked him to take that image and blend it with something like McCartney's Wings logo.
Dave came back with three fantastc designs. It took me weeks to get Waylon to pick one which was initially pressed into 500 belt buckles by Lewis Buckles of Chicago. I have recently published a book, COUNTRY ROCK JOURNALS by W.F. Conrad, available on Ebay and Amazon. It contains a copy of the original rough design and the complete story of its origins. I give Dave the lion's share of the credit for this unique creation and I would happily send him and you, Amanda, a comp copy of the book.
Bill Conrad from Somewhere
Wow, great interview, fascinating and so honest!Marla from Chattanooga Tn
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