'The Bret Michaels Story: Mr. Independent'
Vocalist Bret Michaels (a.k.a. Bret Michael Sychak) and bass player Bobby Dall (a.k.a. Robert Kuy Kendall) had shot out of their native Pittsburgh to try their luck in LA. There they ran into guitar vet C.C. DeVille (a.k.a. Bruce Anthony Johannesson). With the addition of drummer Rikki Rockett (a.k.a. Alan Ream), the group hit the LA club circuit, securing a Capitol recording contract in '86 and releasing their debut Look What The Cat Dragged In album soon after. Singles from the album, "I Won't Forget You," "I Want Action" and the monster "Talk Dirty To Me" pushed the CD to platinum status.
'88 saw the arrival of the group's sophomore effort Open Up and Say ... Ahh! with the singles, "Nothin' But A Good Time," "Fallen Angel" and the chart topping power ballad "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" - which turned out to be the second best selling pop single of the year, behind Steve Winwood's "Roll With It." There was even a 'spiced-up' cover of Loggins & Messina's "Your Mama Don't Dance" popping up the charts!
Flesh and Blood appeared like clockwork in '90 and contained the Poison hit single "Unskinny Bop" and by the end of the year another ballad, "Something To Believe In" had hit the chart's upper reaches. However '90 saw the group's principals lose focus. First, Michaels was intensely involved in his girlfriend, Susie Hatten's recording debut, while DeVille worked with Warrant. The following year some U.S. tour dates were cancelled amid drug rumors and then a hotel fight between Michaels and DeVille brought the whole thing crashing to the ground. Michaels soon signed a solo recording deal and DeVille 'officially' departed Poison in '92 and a succession of guitarists filled the slot - but Poison was done.
In the '90s Michaels formed a film production company with actor Charlie Sheen, bringing out his first feature-film debut (save the one celluloid adventure romp he'd made with Pamela Anderson that one time!), 'A Letter From Death Row.' In '96 Poison's Greatest Hits was unleashed and in 2002 - and with C.C. back in the ranks - Hollyweird was unveiled.
Chatting now with a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Bret Michaels, it's quite obvious that the man is wired for sound - legally!! "Believe me, when you’re diabetic, once I jab that insulin in me, that shot wakes me right on up. I'm like, ‘Hello, I’m awake. My heart’s still pounding and I’m good to go!’”
You were born Bret Sychak so why change your name and why choose Michaels? ”My middle name is Michael, but back then – in theory – it was to protect the innocent and/or guilty at the time. I think at the time having the name Bret Michaels was a lot smoother than my original name which was supposed to be Bret Maverick Sychak! Some of the people that I’d grown up on like Steven (Tyler) Tallarico – which was just Steven Tyler – made my choice a lot easier also. It’s a well-known fact at this point that my father was a country fanatic. And, true story, I was named after the cowboy, Bret Maverick, but they changed it to Bret Michael as it seemed that it flowed a bit better with a Czechoslovakian last name. And it was much easier to say than Sychak, but please state that I’m very proud of my last name, but it just seemed that it flowed off the tongue a little easier.”
Where did the band’s name come from & what other names were close to being chosen at that time? ”We were traveling from the metropolis of Mechanicburg, Pennsylvania – it wasn’t even a township – we left from the borough of Mechanicburg, Pennsylvania on our long trek to California to make it big. And so, on our way across the country, with all those long hours driving in an old ambulance van and a Chevette and a CB radio to communicate, this is what we were doing. We were literally traveling across the country coming up with names that we thought would let people know we had arrived. What was a household name that sounds like it kicks ass? That sounds like a rock household name and Poison was just it. It’s a household name that everyone knows and if, God forbid, we have a song that actually sticks it’ll be a double-whammy. That was our rock theory. And so, after a couple of beers and you’re traveling across the country for like 12 hours of darkness, you come up with some pretty interesting names trying to keep each other awake and alive on the road. Some of the other names we kicked around was the Specters, The Kidz, but Poison was realistically just the one.”
Open Up and Say … Ahh! was such a phenomenal album to put you on the map so early, but, in your opinion, what made it so special back then and why is it still so incredibly prevalent in today’s music society nearly 15 years later?! ”The truly honest answer is that when you’re making a record, and when you’re in the midst of it, you never think about it making musical history. I thought we were writing some songs that affected us at the time. We were writing music that affected us.”
Please tell me more about what was going through your head back when you recorded these following Poison songs:
’Nothin’ But A Good Time’ - ”I wrote that song to cheer ME up. Because there were off times when I felt depressed working two jobs – a cook and a bus boy - and I wrote that song about searching in my life to have a good time. There’s got to be more to life then doing a double shift at Bob’s Big Boy. I’m not kidding. I wrote that song about keeping myself from being depressed and I think that’s why people related to the song. Because I didn’t write it to be ‘life’s great all the time,’ it was written saying ‘I’m always working, slaving every day and I gotta get away from the same old, same old.’ So, the lyrics hit much deeper than just being a ‘gee whiz, life’s grand’ … that was not the intention of that song.”
’Every Rose Has It’s Thorn’ - ”When I wrote that I was sitting in a Laundromat in Dallas, Texas waiting for my clothes to dry. And when I called home to my apartment my, er, stripper girlfriend/exotic dancer – who I was sure would never cheat on me – answered the phone and I heard this guys voice in the background. The next sound was my broken heart. There were many words that I said to her that night, and I wrote that song sitting in a Laundromat in Dallas, Texas. And now, I’m actually friends with the girl again, and she now knows it’s about her obviously, and she’s obviously moved on to six or eight other husbands by now! So they’ve all been through it now! I’m not kidding! I’m like, ‘Hey, I warned you guys with my song that it was coming,' but having said that it was also my best way of getting even.”
’Talk Dirty To Me’ - ”Straight up, punk song, in your face, attitude, sex!”
’Unskinny Bop’ - ”I’ll put it this way. I walked into the bathroom on C.C. banging Christy Canyon and wrote the lyrics to ‘Unskinny Bop’ right then and there! It was all about C.C. getting it on and the music that we laid behind it! It was all about 'throb'!! I opened the bathroom door and was like ‘HELLO’! Of course, I didn’t walk out real quickly, ‘cause Christy’s pretty hot, but I could see I wasn’t gettin’ any myself so I moved on into the rehearsal hall and managed to write those lyrics down.”
’Look What The Cat Dragged In’ - ”That was all about the beginning of our career and about shakin’ doors down and not taking no for an answer. Literally, living out the rock & roll lifestyle.”
’Your Mama Don’t Dance’ - ”That song was a Loggins/Messina song that everybody told us you can’t redo a song like this. This is an old school, kinda mellow song and we just completely took a song that we had played in the club days and just completely rocked it out.”
’Raine’ - ”’Raine’ was written right after my daughter’s birth and again, this was one of the most beautiful moments in my life. But, then I left to go on the road with Poison literally a week after she was born! And so, again, it was kinda like a modern day ‘Every Rose Has It’s Thorn.’ It was that emotional to me.”
And the last one is your choice: ”I would say that this one would be a great one for people to really relate to and this is one where I’m gonna go on a deeper note just for a minute - ’One More Day’. I wrote this song right after the 9/11 tragedy and ‘One More Day’ is just me with an acoustic guitar. I wrote this whilst I was watching one of the wives putting up posters/flyers looking for her husband … and she was pregnant! And so, here was a life lost and I wrote it from the perspective of the guy if he’d had one more day and what he would have done differently. That is a song that is very reflective for me.”
Tell me more about your new solo album, ‘Songs of Life’ and why you chose to bare your soul on this record ”Let me first just say this, in defense of both Poison and the solo record. I’ve always written songs - whether it be a hit or an obscure track off of our records – where none of them have been filler tracks. Although sometimes they don’t just hit, that’s just life. But, on Songs of Life, these are very, very, extremely personal songs to me. I put a lot of hard work and energy into it and I think it’s some of the best songwriting, and most personal songwriting that I’ve ever done in a long time. I really do and I hope people relate to it. ’Menace To Society’ was actually almost a Part II to ’Nothin’ But A Good Time’. In other words, ’Menace To Society’ was me working in Bob’s Big Boy and my manager – and I remember his name, but to protect the guilty I won’t give you his last name – but his name was Randy and he was just a ball buster! He was miserable in his own life, but I was too young to know that and he’d given up on his life and so his demeanor in life was to beat everybody else that had a dream down. And I was just one of those people that was a dreamer and happened to also go for it … and it BUGGED him! And, he would remind me every day that I would never make it out of the metropolis of Mechanicburg and because I had to quit school, I worked two jobs and I made music. That’s what I wanted to do and for better or for worse, I really committed myself to wanting to do this and make music: to be around music … and I like traveling! If I probably wouldn’t have succeeded as a musician, I would have either tried to have been a DJ or drive trucks! And, that would have been OK. As long as I can listen to music and travel I would have been fine, but I think part of my drive comes from people who try to beat you down in life. It sometimes adds a log to the fire. You come to a fork in the road and at that fork in the road, you either let them beat you or you start throwing punches back and I’ve just been a guy that punches back. It’s just the way it is and gratefully it’s got me through 18 years of being able to come back and see you guys in Detroit! There’s not a rock band I know that DOESN’T want to play Detroit and to be able to do it for nearly 18 years of sold-out shows there, that’s a good day.”
What IS it about our Detroit crowd that you love so much?! ”When you play Detroit, there’s an energy and the fans need to know this. They have an energy, a realness and a chemistry that allows the show to be on fire before you even hit the stage! Like, there’s a certain vibe about Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh that has this vibe, this energy. It’s a magic that I can’t explain. It’s called the ‘It Factor’! The crowd just have it, whatever it is.”
You just recently had an Interactive Record Release on your web site. How did that all go? ”Here was a great feeling. I have now risen to the same level on Amazon.com as Albums Pre-Sold as 50 Cent and above Bon Jovi, Goo Dolls, and Matchbox Twenty! That’s a nice feeling. If you look on Amazon.com, they have a chart of Pre-Sold and it marks where your record is at and it passed all of them. I was like, ‘Wow, are you sure I’m reading this right?!’ I mean 50 Cent has a big push behind him now and they’re throwing some money behind that and I’m on my own: Bret Michaels – Independently owned and operated,” he laughs. ”It’s not like I got a big record label and people throwing in $200 million dollars to make sure it hits! And that night was a great night, but unfortunately for some of the fans, but a good feeling for me, was that the server site we had that everybody logged on to, there was so many people logged on that it shut down like two or three times. Now that’s a bad feeling for them, but a great feeling for me because it means a lot of people showed up to see the show. The record release jammed, but we’re gonna run it again a second time, because I really put some time into it and it was very personalized. I told them that it was going to be a no frills show and that it was just me talking to them and playing stuff that gives the people a feel for both sides of the music.”
And you’ve also decided that your infamous 12-string acoustic guitar will go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland (May 31st) for good! ”Yeah, once I take it down there to the Hall of Fame I’ll say goodbye; kiss goodbye to my baby forever! She goes in there and, you know I wrote ‘Something To Believe In’ on that guitar as well as ‘Every Rose Has It’s Thorn’ and so in it goes! And being a part of rock and roll history, well, you can’t ask for better and in true Poison fashion – and I told everybody this and I wasn’t kidding – I’m taking a picture of our band and I’m f**kin’ super-gluing it to the wall! Whether they want the whole band in there or not, we’re going into the Hall of Fame!! I’m gonna stick it right beside the guitar!”
How hard is it for you to have to do that after all this time together?! ”It’s the weirdest, weirdest feeling in the world, because it’s a guitar that hasn’t been out of my house, or out of my grip in a long, long time. This truly is a rose and a thorn. The rose, obviously being that it’s going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and to be a part of that, but to me the thorn is saying goodbye to a guitar that got me through probably two of the toughest moments in my life. Obviously, a broken heart with my girlfriend back in the day and then when the chemo had passed away I wrote ‘Something To believe In’ on that guitar as well. It’s going to a great place, but it’s a bittersweet moment.”
Fast Fun Five:
1)Who would look the best dressed as a woman in the band?! - ”C.C.! Just because he’s so out there anyway, I’d think he’d play it off the best. I think he’s got the most outrageous personality.”
2)Strangest ‘gift’ ever given to you by a fan?! - ”God, there’s been so many, but I was given as a birthday present a snake birthday cake with the guts of a snake that you eat inside! They were made to look like guts, but made out of cake-like material! Now, I’m positive the fan liked me, but I never ate a bite! I never ate one bite of the cake. I asked her to eat a bite of the cake first, just in case it was a murder-suicide pact for them. And the girl was really hot looking, but extremely strange, so I’m like I think she may have baked me a murder-suicide pact cake ... but thank you!!”
3)Dumbest thing you’ve ever done in your life – or, at least, recently?! - ”Oh jeez, God, so many of them. I would say probably the dumbest thing was the night that I had the car wreck in May of ’94. I will never forget. I was single in my life and following a girl home from the Rainbow Bar & Grill in my Ferrari knowing that I should NOT have gotten into that car. Thanking God that the only person that got severely hurt was me and that was the dumbest thing that I’ve ever done. I knew I shouldn’t have got behind that wheel and it was just stupid and anyway, I never made it to the party! I never knew what happened to the girl,” he laughs. ”She took off and never bothered to come back and I was TKO’d and in the hospital and I never so hide nor hair of her! So, maybe it was a good thing that happened.”
4)Reveal an annoying habit about another member of the band! - ”Oh gosh, … let me start with this … let me just say … I would have to say … oh man, I hate to have to bust his balls, … let me say this … let me say … ‘No comment’!!!! How’s that?! It’s the only time in my life I’m gonna say ‘No comment’! We’re always on eggshells as it is and every day is a moment of best friends on the verge of beating each other to death. So, I’ll plead the Fifth!”
5)Describe Bret Michaels away from the stage and the spotlights - ”Down to earth, extremely driven and full of good, self-deprecating humor! I like to have a fun good time and I’m willing to bust my own balls first!”
Did you know that there was a Poison Comic Book created for the band back in the early ‘90s and that’s it’s current value is $7.95? ”I saw it and there was quite a few issues of it and apparently it did pretty well! But, who knew I’d get to be a comic book hero,” he laughs.
Reveal a secret about yourself that you don’t normally get to reveal? ”Beyond everything that the fans see or know – all the crap – I truly am; and love being, around just a few good friends. I’m a fairly private person, I like my privacy and I like being a great father. I really am a great dad and I like being a great father. And yeah, I can party up out there with the best of them, but I’d much rather go to the premiere of a movie, or hang with my buddies in the studio and being a good dad. And that’s the truth.”
Lastly, what does music mean to you? ”Music to me has always been my way of self-expression, good and bad. Sometimes I write stuff that not everybody relates to, but I related to it and that is as true as I can be to myself.”
Interviewed By Russell A. Trunk
And DON'T forget to check out Poison when they come to the DTE Music Theatre this coming May 30th. You can buy your tickets via Ticketmaster at:
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