Q&A: Bret Michaels
If any one rock ’n’ roll survivor has come to personify ’80s glam-rock, it’s Bret Michaels. The Poison frontman maintains a busy touring schedule delivering “Nothin’ but a Good Time” to several generations of fans who, like himself, have increasingly grown to appreciate country music. He dedicates a lot of time to charity work and has established himself as an entrepreneur as of late through associations with Overstock.com and Petsmart, but for two dates (Nov. 21-22) at The Orleans Showroom Michaels is all about delivering his preferred blend of hair-metal classics and countrified jams from his latest album True Grit. He recently spoke to Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. I know you’re really busy right now.
Well thank you for having me. Really excited to be coming back to The Orleans, as always. I’m in Las Vegas quite a lot myself, whether it’s about having a great time or … I tell everyone this, over at the Hard Rock Riviera Maya (in Mexico) I built the 10,000-squre-foot Bret Michaels Hospitality Suite. It’s the biggest room they have, and I did it with a great company out of Vegas, so we were there from the get-go working with them. They were amazing. And then we do a lot of shows, not just publicly. We do private shows there. It’s a great city, and I lived there quite a while too. It was amazing.
“Nothin’ but a Good Time” has become something of an anthem here due to Rock of Ages at The Venetian. Bret Michaels and Poison have a pretty constant presence here.
And I love that. Rock of Ages was a blast. It was great for me. When they were shooting (the movie) in both L.A. and Miami, we played a show down there at the Arena and I was heading over to Tampa. I got on the set with Tom Cruise and the producers and a bunch of people, and what a great experience. We sat down, and from the night before … we film all the Poison shows and the Brett Michaels shows, and just going through that vibe of being onstage—the energy, the crowd, the vibe— I said, “Regardless of the time frame, whether it’s ’80s, ’90s, or 2000s, I have three generations of fans and they come to have a great time.” To (have fans) be passionate about what you do, you know, for a guy like me, I feel blessed. I get to do what I love to do, and when I hit that stage, I said to Tom, “Everything else goes away. Good, bad, ugly, pain, all I care about when I walk out on that stage, it’s a moment of pure energy and passion and awesomeness.” It’s a moment for me of feeling blessed, when it all comes together, and I feel great being out there.
A lot of adult country fans listened to Poison when they were younger. Was that a factor in your music taking its current direction? Your audience kind of grew up and evolved with what you’re doing now.
Absolutely, and for me they’ll always be classic … I just call them great rock songs. With the new single, “Girls on Bars,” we just used elements that were able to cross over into the country market. We’ve done that even back to “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn.” It was No. 1 pop, No. 1 rock song and Top 20 country back before any song like that was allowed to cross over into country. And I think people know I grew up loving Southern rock. My father played a lot of traditional country. My dad’s a Navy veteran, served in one of our conflicts, and when he came home he played pedal steel guitar. The first instrument I learned how to play was the harmonica, and then after the harmonica I picked up guitar and then piano. It’s a love of music that goes beyond just walking onstage with a guitar, and also when I’m home, it’s almost therapeutic. I pick up a guitar and walk around my house playing it, just jamming and no rhyme or reason, just kind of playing music. It’s always playing, whether it’s on the tour bus … I make really good party mixes. I’m a half decent DJ, believe it or not. I have fun because I don’t technically know what I’m doing, but I know how to put a good mix together, and I like to have a good bus party, or wherever I’m at. I hope people are mixing it up between a lot of different styles of music but trying to make it seamless, and I hope that’s what I get to do with a Bret Michaels show as well.
You just played a Halloween show at Aberdeen, Wash., and now you’re heading for the Hard Rock Casino in Sioux City?
Yeah, I’m going to be in the Midwest for a while. We’re recording a bunch of stuff, and then I get to see my kids. That’s the thing I make a priority. The minute I have time off I instantly am back to see the kids, I even take the plane and go for a couple of hours at night or day.
I think at one of your recent shows you played with Lynyrd Skynyrd right before (guitarist/founding member) Gary Rossington had a heart attack, right?
Oddly enough I just saw him that night. Here’s how connected I am with Lynyrd Skynyrd on a couple of levels: They played on my new record with me. We remade “Sweet Home Alabama” with Skynyrd and the Bret Michaels band. Many years … I played at a Skynyrd reunion. It was myself, (guitarist) Zakk Wylde, Charlie Daniels, Peter Frampton, Travis Tritt. We all opened the show for them as an acoustic act together. It was amazing, and then throughout the history of my accidents, they’ve been there with me, when I had my car wreck. I was doing shows with them both solo and with Poison. We’ve been through a lot together, and right before we did that show, he got real sick. It was so strange. We were standing there talking, played a great show at the stadium, and then he got real, real sick with the heart attack right after that.
Now that you mention it, I think that acoustic set you did with Skynyrd was broadcast live, and I think I heard it, on the radio.
It was, and it was an amazing night sitting there with all those guys and just playing. Growing up, my first two albums I ever, ever owned: Led Zeppelin II and Lynyrd Skynyrd Pronounced. It was a good introduction into rock ’n’ roll for me. And from there, AC/DC, Kiss and Aerosmith. … Really good songs that withstood the test of time.
I think you did “Freebird,” didn’t you?
Yep, “Freebird” was on that record.
That’s a lot of pressure to be singing “Freebird” with …
That’s a lot of pressure (laughs). It’s a timeless classic.
I was told that this has been an attendance breaking tour for you. Is that a personal record or records for the festivals?
It’s both. For me being on the road is usually about 200 dates per year, and that includes the concert but also speaking engagements for charity events. I did a lot of charity events with (Michaels’ organization) Life Rocks, but for this year at the festivals we broke a lot of attendance records. And that’s a great feeling, especially since, and I’m saying this now, next year will mark Poison’s 30th anniversary, and I’ve tentatively titled it The XXX Tour. Poison’s going out, and at least trying to do 10 to 30 select dates, just select dates, and make each one of them unbelievably awesome. That would be great. I’m hoping we can make that happen, but to be honest the Bret Michaels Band … breaking some of the same records that we set with Poison at these festivals like at Prior Lake (Minn.). That was an awesome feeling.
One of the New Orleans publications reported that when you closed Gretna Fest, the sun come out for the first time during an overcast weekend.
Yes, it was Hank Jr., Kid Rock and myself, and I got the Sunday night, which was the toughest night, and it was the first time I walked onto the stage. When I say it was cold, it was cold. We walked on the stage and the sun came out. People were partying, and they were going right after that to the football game over at the stadium. It was just good luck. Everything went from being cold … the rain stopped, people were ready to party. It was great.
You have two nights coming up at The Orleans in Vegas. Why two nights and what do you have planned?
Well, each show is always going to be a little bit different. If I’m not mistaken, they’re sold out, or they’re close to selling out. It’s going to be an amazing night, and we always change the set up a little bit because at a lot of venues we play we’ll do two or three nights in a row and I want a lot of fans to come back night after night. We mix it up with a perfect mix of the Poison hits and the new solo stuff, and then some good cover stuff that we remade on True Grit—songs that I love that we’ve been doing onstage. No matter what, like I said, it’s three generations of fans just partying, and it’s much more than a concert. It’s nothing but a good time. That’s the mood we set with the music we’re playing. When people walk through the door, I want music jamming. I want everyone having a great time.
Are you doing countrified versions of Poison songs?
No. Straight-up, everything is rock. It’s a rock show, and there’s some songs like “Girls on Bars” that lean more country. I love the sound of well-produced (country music). You know, I go onstage with Kenny Chesney. Tim McGraw and I did songs together at the stadiums in different places, but most of the set is just a pure fun, upbeat, great rock ’n’ roll show. Some of the songs that we do have that influence in them, but more than anything it’s the energy.
So you will do “Girls on Bars”?
Yeah. We do the theme song from Rock of Love. “Go That Far” was a No. 1 rock song. I remade Lynyrd Skynyrd on the new record, “Sweet Home Alabama.” Sublime, we did “What I Got, “ which I love and the crowd loves it. And then we mix that in with the Poison stuff as well.
Who is in the Bret Michaels Band? Is it a new band or are these all long relationships?
I’m a long relationships guy. I’ve known Peter Evick … my guitar player and music director Pete is one of the best. He’s just passionate about music. And so, I’ve known them a long time. When I was playing with Poison, their band Evick was playing the B-stage—the Wrangler stage or the Red Bull stage, whatever they were doing. I literally took my Harley—I travel with my motorcycle—I took it and started driving and heard them playing. They sounded great, walked up and did a song with them. People were just starting to come into the amphitheater at the Nissan Pavilion, which is now Jiffy Lube Live, outside of D.C. They’re all from Virginia, and I walked up and jammed with them, and we’ve been best friends and a band ever since.
You seem very tight with Pete.
He’s my best friend. You know when you meet people in your life, there’s no rhyme or reason, you just click? We just clicked the minute we met, and he’s got the same work ethic I do. He’s a go-out-there, have-fun, get-it-done guy. We’re having a good time, but he’s a hard worker and a great musician. He understands I’m an “audible guy.” I’ll call out onstage a completely different song than we’re supposed to be playing. No one freaks out. Our bass player Bart (Harris), our keyboardist Robbie (Jozwiak), our drummer Mikey (Bailey)—they just get it. They get it, and we are a completely live band. There’s no ProTools, there’s no nothing. We’ve just playing live, live music.
I can see why you might prefer that musical bond and do selective dates with Poison.
My best buddies in Poison—this is a true story—we grew up together. We loved playing music together, we had a lot of battles, things that we fought against, and I’ll never forget that. I’ll always remember that, but the truth of the matter is as a solo artist there are a lot of things I’d like to do that I get a chance to do, instruments I get to play onstage, stuff that I can change. I think with Poison there is no doubt I still feel blessed to be friends with these guys. We still do a lot of touring together. We’ll co-headline with Def Leppard or Mötley, or go out there with Skynyrd or Kiss and do great shows, but the bottom line is as you go along with the band, different guys wants different things. I think that Poison, if you were to ask us directions to some place, we’re four guys that would give you four completely different sets of directions but we’d all end up in the same area. So the chemistry worked, and the chemistry works with my solo band in the same way. There’s a great energy there, and like I said most of the dates I’ll do will continue to be solo, but the Poison stuff I think would be great for this summer to have select dates for the 30th anniversary, and then the 31st year it would be great to go out with Def Leppard again or go back on the road with Kiss or Aerosmith, or so something amazing.
I would think Poison would be offered a Vegas residency by next year.
We were supposed do it last year, and we wanted to do that. I think Poison would blow that away. I think with our show and our ability … again it’s two things. You want your visual show to be good but you still gotta have it in your heart, and passion as a person to make the show great. That would be the best of both worlds. I would love to do that for a couple of weeks so hopefully we can work that out.
You had a few health setbacks last year, and reportedly you were in pain when you played Vegas. How is your health now?
I feel much better. I’m not going to lie to you, when I came to Vegas last year … let me put it this way: I was doing a show at The D, which I love. They were just opening up the place and they asked, “Can you do this?” I got real sick with the kidneys. Out of all the things I’ve done that are crazy, I had the kidney operation then performed, like an idiot, the minute I felt better. I had a foot-long stint in me and went and did the shows in Memphis and then Chattanooga, and then got real sick with the blood clots in my kidneys. That went real bad, and then we got that fixed and I flew and did the show in Vegas, and left that night and did the show in San Francisco at midnight that night.
Why did you push yourself so hard?
(Laughs) I don’t know! I think I’ve always, because of being a diabetic and because … a few years ago when I had that brain hemorrhage, something happened in me that triggered this thing that said, “You have a second chance at life. Do all you can do.” And sometimes I may overdo that. I’m going to have to find a balance. I haven’t found that balance yet, but when I got that second chance and survived that brain hemorrhage, I think that just made me go, “If you’re going to do it, do it.” So what I need to do now is honestly find a good balance because I’m burning the candle at both ends. The funny thing is, I still love doing it. Sometimes even when I’m completely burnt, I get out there and play music and it makes me feel good. I feel blessed, that’s the best way I can put it.