When then-Alice Cooper bassist Kip Winger met model Rachel Hunter in the late ’80s, at a party for some long-forgotten leather codpiece manufacturer, the clear blue mid-afternoon southern California sky darkened in seconds. Lightning touched down thither and yon, drifting toward the party, eventually making a rough circle around the pair about ten yards in diameter. Klieg lights materialized out of thin air, training their intense beams at the couple. Someone (probably Paul Stanley) produced a disco ball and tossed it high in the sky, where it was struck by a bolt of lightning, sending tiny shards of mirrored glass down toward them, shards that turned into sparkling glitter dust as it entered their new, unique atmosphere. The party for the long-forgotten leather codpiece manufacturer was over, but the party for Kip and Rachel had just begun.
They rented a room at the Continental Hyatt House on the Sunset Strip for a long weekend, enjoying three days of room service and round-the-clock study of the Kama Sutra, as well as free HBO. In fact, Kip was the only one of the two who left the room all weekend, on a run to the local apothecary to purchase additional 24-packs of prophylactics. (Imagine being the poor housecleaning attendant emptying that wastebasket after they checked out.)
When the weekend was done, they went their separate ways for a time—she to Paris for a tasteful photo shoot in Donnez- une fessÃ©elui magazine; he to the studio, where his new band, Winger, was one song away from finishing its debut album.
That song was a ballad called “Headed for a Heartbreak”—a big, big production that sounded like a mountain coming down in slow motion. The instrumentation was finished; the 25-minute guitar solo to close the thing had been whittled down to two minutes; the keyboard player had even layered in some wicked new cosmic noise synth samples (albeit low enough in the mix that it didn’t distract from the guitar work). It was a sure-fire hit—the band knew it; their producer, Beau Hill, knew it; even Rachel Hunter knew it, since Kip Winger had played it for her a dozen times in a row, as they practiced “splitting the bamboo” midway through the first night of their weekend. All it needed was a vocal.
Problem was, Kip’s voice was shot. He had, for some reason, begun yodeling like Tarzan while he and Rachel enjoyed “congress of a cow” the night before, and his throat was spent. He sank into a chair behind the mixing board and looked around at the dejected faces of his band mates. They knew the rest of the record was strong—they had a song about statutory rape that was going to rock arenas; they also had a cover of “Purple Haze” that featured a slide guitar solo from Dweezil Zappa. Dweezil Zappa! This was so going to rock!
But a hit was a hit, and this big, beautiful power ballad was gonna be huge. If only there was some way to get Kip’s voice onto the tape.
Producer Hill looked Kip in the eye, pointed toward his belt line, and said, “Can Li’l Kipper do it?”
Kip laughed. “You have got to be kidding,” he croaked. “Li’l Kipper has had more activity this past weekend than you’ve seen in your life. I put miles on Li’l Kipper. The odometer is flipped back around, man. There’s no way.”
Suddenly, a tiny, muffled voice emanated from Kip’s leather-clad pelvic area.
“Kip,” it said, “it’s okay. I can do it.”
Kip Winger shook his head in disbelief. He lifted the front of his waist band up slightly with his thumb and gazed into the darkness. “Are you sure?” he spoke into the abyss. “I mean, you haven’t even had a shower yet.”
“I’m ready,” the voice answered. “I’ll do it for the band.”
The vocal booth was prepared with a reclining chair, some candles, two bottles of Courvoisier, and a specially angled microphone. At the appropriate time, the lights were dimmed; Kip unsnapped his leather pants, edged them down slightly, then reached down into the tight crevasse with his right hand. The hand went down empty, but came back out holding Li’l Kipper.
The fresh air of the studio was bracing at first. Li’l Kipper appeared sunburned, and, like Big Kip, was wearing four days’ growth of beard. But as Kip lowered the microphone, Li’l Kipper stood straight up, ready to take his moment in the spotlight.
And what a moment it was. The music began—that huge sound with the stutter-step drum pattern and distorted gee-tar chordage. Moved by the spirit of the thing, Li’l Kipper let out a “Yeah-yee-ee-yeah!” that rattled the plexiglass windows of the booth. Big Kip sat back—it was going to be okay. Li’l Kipper took it down a notch for the opening verse:
Morning came and I was on my way
When you reminded me
I had too soon forgotten
It was you that set me free
A second “Yeah!” propelled Li’l Kipper into a more forceful voice, biting down hard on the next line:
You were here when I came
And you’ll be here when I’m gone
So don’t be waiting for love
Cause I’ll be waitin’ to ramble on
The pause after “You were here when I came” was brilliant. Li’l Kipper nodded in the direction of Big Kip, the previous weekend fresh on both their minds. “And you’ll be here when I’m gone” followed, and a cheer went out from the control room—you can hear it, faintly, in the final mix—for Li’l Kipper had turned the line into a double entendre (the Big Guy could barely manage a single). Later in the song, on the line “Don’t you think I can feel the pain,” you can hear the weariness dripping from that voice. By the time the guitar solo enters the picture, any energy present at the beginning is spent. Li’l Kipper relaxed and lay down, and Big Kip tucked him back into his stinky little cocoon.
Of course, the elation of the moment was short-lived. Li’l Kipper left the band after Geffen Records refused to let him appear in the video (Big Kip lip-synched the vocal and performs it live to this day). Kip Winger and Rachel Hunter carried on their romance for a while longer, but it was never the same as it was that first wild weekend, and she eventually left him to run into the leathery arms of Rod Stewart.
The seed of a hit, however, had been sown. “Headed for a Heartbreak” lives on.