Fans are still aching for Poison
By Naughty Mickie

One of the most popular hair bands, Poison, was first formed in 1984 in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. The group moved to Los Angeles in 1985 and immersed themselves into the glam metal rock scene. Quite early on, original guitarist, Matt Smith, returned home to his take care of his soon-to-be-born son and was replaced by C.C.DeVille. The band kept on despite lineup changes, problems with alcohol and drugs, infidelities, fights and other woes that would have torn many other groups apart.

Their albums have done more than well - "Open Up and Say... Ahh!" went Platinum, "Flesh & Blood" hit multi-Platinum and "The Best of Poison: 20 Years of Rock" went Gold. The band's most recent effort is "Poison'd!" (EMI America Records/Capitol), for which "original" members - vocalist Bret Michaels, guitarist C.C. DeVille, bassist Bobby Dall and drummer Rikki Rockett - reunited and recorded a collection of classic cover tunes. The 13-track June 2007 release includes songs like David Bowie's "Suffragette City," Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers" and Grand Funk Railroad's "We're an American Band" and was supported by a nation-wide tour. Just before Poison hit the Los Angeles area, I had an opportunity to speak with Bret Michaels.

DB: Why is Poison still popular?

BM: I would like to think, this is my feeling on that, we are extremely passionate still about what we do. I think we have some good songs, we really put on a great stage show. When we put on a stage show, we try to put on an exciting show and keep the music sounding really good on the stage. We spend a lot of time rehearsing the music in a small room and then we'll go to the Bi-Lo Arena (in Greenville, North Carolina) and spend four days just making sure that the show is exciting first of all to us and then exciting to the fans.

DB: Why do a cover album?

BM: Again, this is what keeps our band fresh and exciting. It was a good argument for us. I am a proponent for making original material all the time, right, and with an occasional cover song on an original record. But after me and Bobby's nice knock-down, drag-out, bass-throwing, microphone-throwing on stage in Atlanta last year, we decided maybe it would be best for the band to just go in and have fun, pick out some cover songs and have a good time making a record and not go into the "Hey, I wrote this, why are you taking that part out of my song?" The great thing about arguing about stuff like that is that we still care. The bad thing is because I was shooting the TV studio and I was getting ready to go into months of doing that, it was extremely tough at the same time to try to go in and write from ground up.

We just hand-picked an eclectic, interesting amount of material for a cover record. We did some stuff that's a little unexpected even for us. But I think it was fun to do, doing the Romantics and doing some stuff by the Cars, as well as doing some Southern rock Marshall Tucker.

DB: The Bowie cut is an interesting choice.

BM: I liked doing a Bowie song, but Rikki our drummer, I've got to give him credit, was really into doing the Bowie song, "Suffragette City." I think it came out really good too, we make it really fun on the record.

DB: When did you first become interested in music?

BM: For me, early on in life. My cousin played acoustic guitar. Sometimes I say this, I didn't grow up in a musical family, we didn't all sit down at the piano and sing carols, I just knew there was something about music. I was drawn to guitar stores, let's just better say pawn shops that had a lot of guitar stuff in them. I was called to the equipment first, then drawn to the music, meaning I started playing acoustic guitar and learned how to play it and the harmonica. They wanted me to be their Bob Dylan-esque, that was our thing. You know the harmonica Dylan wore that looked like braces and the acoustic guitar and they're like, "This is the music that we think you should play," because my dad was big into country music and my mom liked the Beatles and the Stones, but she liked a lot of folk music and especially James Taylor, that kind of stuff. So I got into a lot of that and then I discovered KISS and it was over from there. I'm a mixture of KISS meets James Taylor.

DB: What kind of education do you have?

BM: Here was my study of music: I took four lessons at a teeny guitar shop where my guitar teacher was a bitter, miserable musician. But I didn't know what that was when I was a kid. That's the truth, when I tell people this, they totally get it. I had one of these angry guitar teachers and I didn't know what that was. He'd be teaching me songs and I'd go, "Can I learn this song right here, man, this is 'Sweet Home Alabama,'" and he'd say, "I don't think so, you're going to learn what I teach you." (laughs). He's like one of those guys who's going to probably slap your hand with a stick. I had to learn da-da-da-da-dum-dum-dum (Michaels sings this to the tune of "Mary Has a Little Lamb").

So the outcast that I was, I quit and bought the Mel Bay "Book of Chords." I finally got sick of learning with him and I was just going to buy a book of chords and learn every single chord that there was for guitar. And then I started listening to songs and the first good one I learned obviously was "Heartbreaker" by Zeppelin and then I learned a little "Sweet Home Alabama," which was great, and then of course "Smoke on the Water," all the classics. I just discovered, "Hey, da, da, da" and you know how the slip of the cymbal hits the high hat, tic-tic-tic-tic-tic, I had good tempo for a kid. Then that's how it all went.

This was young, young, I was probably eight or nine. When I learned to play the acoustic guitar I was young and it was a Stella. Do you remember the Stella guitars? The neck was short on the Stella and there was no cutaway so if you wanted to play up high, you had to learn to stand-- it was hilarious.

DB: What kind of jobs have you held before your career took off?

BM: I started my job on a pig farm, that's where I started and I also did hay bales. And then my next real job was a busboy at Bob's Big Boy and then I got promoted to cook and then it went from there. I was a maintenance man for a long time, delivery service messenger. I looked at my paycheck stubs and I laughed one time when I quit Bob's Big Boy to move into my messenger job, they decided to take all of my taxes out of one check, you know how when they do that they screw ya? I was like, "Wait a minute, there's four dollars," I never cashed it, I kept the check. "I need to keep this as a reminder as of why I need to make it as a musician."

DB: What kind of hobbies do you have or what do you like to do when you're not making music?

BM: I have two beautiful daughters and the one thing I'm proud of in my life that I know I've gotten right is I'm a good dad. I'm a good dad who loves to play with the kid. They've got little ATVs and little plastic motorcycles. I have a couple of beautiful custom Harleys. I just promoted myself to a Les Paul and I had it painted, it's a black Les Paul and it has the most beautiful flame yellow and orange paint job ever. It's basically American Iron paint.

I had them build me out a 2007 Slayer. It's just good for my soul. I can be in the worse mood ever and if I can have my bike to ride, everything is gone in just about a minute. (Michaels has a soft tail Heritage). I do a lot of rides I put together for diabetes and other causes. I've been diabetic since I was six, insulin-dependent and I do everything I can to make kids aware of what to do and that they can get through life. I've gotten here through a crazy lifestyle. I've got tattoos, I've done everything. The first battle is mind over matter and then the rest of it is digging into life, you have to accept that you have it like I did. I finally just stopped battling it and accepted it. I finally said it's part of my life, I'm not going to let it ruin my life, I'm just going to do all the things I want to do and just work a little harder to achieve them.

DB: Please share a little of your view on the changing music scene.

BM: When Poison broke I never really was one of those guys who worried about what music scene I am in, I just wrote what music was exciting to me. During our era, there were bands like U2, Madonna, George Michael, REM, Metallica, there was a lot of different genres then as well, meaning different styles of music, but music in the mid-'80s when rock re-broke it was a really exciting time that took a horrific critical hit. And now people look back and go, "Damn, I had really good times back then, concerts were exciting." Music has gone and changed and moved and it's always supposed to do that.

Let me say in defense of that breed of music or those genres, I've never made music thinking I was the end-all to what music was supposed to be, I just did what was exciting to me and have continued to do that. Fortunately, I 've played in the arenas for 21 years now. There's a lot of really really great bands I think that have come out since then and got exposure and now with the Internet and everything dotcom, there's bands out there that can have a video that will never get played on VH1 or any TV and they're getting massive exposure. I think times have gotten where bands can get exposure, it doesn't mean they're going to have a long career, they've still got to work for it.

I think we're fortunate to come from an era when fans really liked music and it was fortunate that what we did stuck and stayed. And we worked hard at it too. I think the music scene today has a possibility of being absolutely great, there's great stuff out there. And here's the thing about Poison, we've toured with so many great bands throughout our career. Remember Armored Saint? We've toured with the most metal of bands, we would go and open for them. We would open for Black Oak Arkansas in Riverside County. We had Staind out with us last year, Alice in Chains opened for us.

What I'm getting at is that we're one of those bands that's secure in what we do. We've been critically robbed and I'm OK with that, in other words, in 21 years there's been some people who gave us great reviews and some who have given us eeeehh and the same newspaper one page over, we'll have the worst review ever. I think part of that controversy is actually a blessing.

DB Any review is a good review, you have to look at it that way.

BM: (laughs) We've got a lot of getting noticed and the bad reviews to go with them.

DB: Your fans are still devoted.

BM: Now we have, I can safely say, generations of fans. I mean last year we did this Fourth of July show in Devore at the Hyundai Pavilion and the cross-section of fans that were there ranged from probably 17 to 16, maybe even younger, some of the parents brought their kids, and it was amazing. It's like we throw a party and an entertaining show and everyone comes out and has a blast. It's a fun exciting show, the way a rock show is meant to be. If all else fails, we have a great aftershow. And if all else fails, we throw a great party. (laughs).

At the time of this interview, Michaels' latest reality show was set to premiere July 2007 during Poison's tour. He was also planning a solo tour beginning in October for his new album tentatively titled, "Custom Built".

DB: Will you put a photo of your Harley on the album cover?

BM: Maybe. We just did the shot and you're gonna dig it-- it's a good shot. It's perfect because I add so much styles and different things into what I do. I'm just one of those people who, I've never really followed any formula, I just roll it how it goes and how I feel. Sometimes it's just real kick-ass rock, sometimes it has flavors of Southern rock or country in it, but I think as long as the feasibility is coming from me and I'm not reaching for it, I'm just doing what I feel at that moment, I think that that's what makes it real.

DB: So, how do you write?

BM: I ride and drive a lot and you know what I carry with me? My RadioShack microcassette recorder. It's jet black and it's a simple one, it just opens. I said I can't have it re-reverse and auto-rewind, just play and record is all I need. I literally push the thing and I sing into it and I get my guitar and I play to it. One thing, you have to sit with me and watch how it unfolds. It's just this energy and I'm like, "Here's this idea pow-nowow-nowow." And I mouth the drums sometimes into the microcassette and I'm playing a riff over it. Because if I went too long I would lose the vibe or the idea. It has to be spontaneous.

Do you ever do this? Do you ever go past a blank piece of paper? I do this all the time, I'll have four different types of song ideas and I have to write down the style. I write words for this song go to the microcassette for this song. Otherwise I get them all mixed up on a sheet of paper and like, "What the hell does that song idea have to do with that one?" And then I'll go, ''Oh, that's right, that was for--." It's pretty funny how my brain scatters around.

Michaels and I discuss how we organize our various ideas and projects.

DB You're just hypercreative.

BM: Thank you, that's the first time anyone has ever called me that. If you put that in this, I'll love you forever. "Hypercreative," I'm now using that word. May I steal that from you? That's a good word, I like that.

DB: What is the most favorite tattoo you have on your body?

BM: I would have to say honestly, this is two-fold. Everything I've got is very personal. My daughters' names on my right forearm are obviously the most special. As far as my right now life, my "something to believe in" tattoo for my best friend that died. Any tattoo on my body has a significant meaning, I never walked in anywhere and said, "Just tattoo me." So everything has a meaning, but those two, having my kids' names and their birthdates, is pretty special.

Every one of them has meant something really personal in my life, except for the panda on my ankle.(laughs). I'm joking. Mine are all personal stories, in that category.

DB: Do you have anything else you would like to say?

BM: If you could talk about the (television) show, I would love it because it's the craziest, most bizarre thing - and when I say bizarre, I've done a lot of bizarre things - it will be at least entertaining, that's the least I can say. It's pretty out there. And I'd like to thank you, this is actually one of my more fun conversations. It was fun and off the wall and not quite all business and that was fun for me.

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