Ask any genuine and sincere Hair/Glam Metal enthusiast and they’ll almost assuredly speak of their unwavering admiration of improbably long-running Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania-born icons Poison. Initially comprised of vocalist/guitarist Bret Michaels, guitarist Matt Smith, bassist Bobby Dall and drummer Rikki Rockett, the group would ultimately add Lace/Roxx Regime guitarist C.C. DeVille as a ‘permanent’ member following the 1985 departure of Smith. Releasing a series of Gold and Platinum selling efforts (most notably Open Up And Say…Ahh! and Flesh & Blood), the group enjoyed a meteoric rise to international acclaim. Now, nearly thirty years later, with the group seemingly dormant, Rockett has joined vocalist/guitarist Brandon Gibbs, ex-L.A. Guns guitarist Tracii Guns and Ozzy Osbourne/Quiet Riot/Whitensake bassist Rudy Sarzo in Devil City Angels.
Todd: What were the main catalysts behind the formation of Devil City Angels? Was it from a ‘chance’ meeting?
Rikki: “Tracii and I had done a couple of the Bonzo Bashes together. It’s one of the few things that I’ve really done outside and away from Poison, so it’s something I always look forward to every year. …I like all the people that get together and are involved in that. There’s also been another event called The Ox and Loon, which is a Who tribute. The last time I had seen Tracii, he was like ‘I’m going to go out and do this Bonzo thing’ and then he goes ‘Hey Rikki, I’m not working this summer’ and I said ‘Hey Tracii, neither am I’. …About a week later, I went out to his studio and we literally began working together that day. We talked, but it was more action than anything. It was like ‘Hey, let’s play. Let’s do some stuff’. In the end, we we’re like ‘You know what? I like this. Let’s get some guys involved. Let’s take it to the next level’. …That’s really how this whole thing came together.”
Todd: With a career that spans over three decades, why was this your first foray into a project outside of Poison?
Rikki: “I don’t need to necessarily spread myself too thin. I think when people stay within their little gang, it gives back a little more potency. You know what I’m saying? If you spread yourself out too much, it’s going to be like ‘Oh, it’s him again’, ya know? I’ve been asked to do several different projects and some of them have been very appealing while other things, I was like ‘I’m sure I don’t want to do that’. One thing I almost did was the (Billy Duffy-fueled) Ducati All Stars. That something that interested me a lot, but some of just it just didn’t make sense. It’s been filled with a lot of different musicians that move around and a lot of hired guns. There’s nothing wrong with those people; don’t get me wrong, but unfortunately I think that I’m a more committed kind of guy. I’m an all for one, one for all, kind of guy, ya know? …I really like to be committed and stick things out.”
Todd: Poison hasn’t been particularly active recently. Was that a deciding factor in regards to you joining Tracii?
Rikki: “No, we really haven’t. It’s been frustrating during the past few years because we haven’t been working very much at all. We’ve done a lot of corporate shows, but that’s it, really, so that’s been getting frustrating because I do like to record, I do like to create and make music and all of that kind of stuff. That’s kind of why I finally said ‘You know what? I am going to go do this. I’m going to make the move and do some different stuff.”
Todd: What ultimately led to (Cinderella bassist) Eric Brittingham leaving the group? Was it a matter of timing?
Rikki: “I think he just got frustrated with the whole thing, ya know? Eric’s like the rest of us, he needs to keep earning because he has a family and other interests. Things weren’t moving quite as fast as he wanted, as he thought that it should be, and it’s not his fault. It’s not our fault either, but you do start to blame each other after a while and some things got misconstrued. It’s a shame because I think he did a great job on the record. …I think he’s a good guy and he’s been a bro for an awfully long time, so I hope that we’re not enemies because of it. It really took a toll, because some of these songs we’ve written and recorded over a year ago and it didn’t see the light of day until September 18th. That’s really very frustrating because we had been done with this for a while.”
Todd: How easy was it for everyone to make the transition from Eric to Rudy Sarzo? Was he immediately right?
Rikki: “Rudy has been around a little bit, but I think because he’s an older guy. He was with Whitesnake for a long time and he was also with Quiet Riot. The bands that he’s been in, for the most part, he stuck with for quite a while. The choice made sense because he’s already been working with Tracii, so it was very easy to say ‘Hey Rudy, would you be interested in doing this?’ He fit right in. It was a real no brainer. He’s a really great player and he’s a good person, too. If you don’t like Rudy, it’s like what is wrong with you? Nobody doesn’t like Rudy.”
Rikki: “We did think about that. We thought a lot about a lot of those other guys. I think a singer really kind of identifies the sound of a band in so many ways and that’s the first thing that sticks with you. The thing we wanted is a modern yet classic and vintage sound and Brandon’s got that. Most of the guys from my era really don’t. It’s a different kind of sound, ya know? Brandon’s a very classic sounding singer. He could go sing for the Black Crowes if they really needed him to. Most of the guys from my era just couldn’t do that. It really wouldn’t be their particular forte. It doesn’t make them bad, per se; it just makes them different and that’s not what we were looking for. …We wanted someone that had a different classic ’70’s type of sound and he was the best guy.”
Todd: Was there a specific songwriting hierarchy within the group or was there a singly primary songwriter or was everyone able to contribute on an equal level? The songs truly do sound as if they were collaborative effort.
Rikki: “It was definitely a collaborative thing for the most part. We’d set up like we’re playing live and go to town, man. Sometimes, somebody would have more of an idea than the other guy on a particular day and other times, somebody else would have ideas, more energy or more of a feeling for that particular song. When we first started “Bad Decisions”, it wasn’t hitting me. It wasn’t hitting my radar at first, ya know? …Then, when we got about halfway, Eric and Tracii were really pushing it. Brandon and I were kinda looking at each other going ‘I don’t know, man. Where’s the song part of it’. And they were like ‘Oh, don’t worry about it we’ll get there’ and then when we did it was like ‘Oh okay, I get it.’ Then it was able to steamroll. A couple songs died in different stages because not everybody was on board with them and then with other songs, it was like ‘I’m going to let you guys take the reigns on this one. You push it. Let me see where you’re going with this’. Sometimes, it would come together like that. Then there was stuff like “Boneyard” that literally came together in five minutes. It was like ‘I get it. I’m plugging right into you. I’m right there with you, bro’. Some of the songs worked very easily. You just never know. …That’s what respect is all about. You’ve got to give the other musicians the respect to run it down a bit. It’s like ‘I don’t know what you’re doing with this Tracii, but I’m going to let you go with it for a minute’ and off he would go. I’m the guy that is never done with a song and Tracii will tell you this. I’ll sit there and go ‘Nope. We’re not done. This sucks, okay?’ But then, at the end of the day, it would all sound really good.”
Todd: During the recording processes for Devil City Angels, did it ever feel as if anyone within the group was attempting, subconsciously or otherwise, to re-create an experience or particular tonality from a previous group?
Rikki: “It never felt like that. Honest to God. There’s honestly nothing that Tracii ever did where we looked at him and said ‘You still want to still be in L.A. Guns, don’t you?’. I just never felt like that, ya know? His solos hit the songs on the record. There was a couple times where we were pushing him, going ‘No, go nuts dude.’ It was never like ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ He was really putting the breaks on, trying to make a very classic sounding record and I’m like ‘It’s okay for you to be Tracii once in a while’ ya know? I was like ‘You don’t have to be somebody else’. Sure, we could have gone in that direction, but that would have been a terrible thing to do to the other guys in the band. I could have said ‘We’ve got to do Poison sounding stuff’, but the fact is, I didn’t want to do any Poison sounding stuff. Why wouldn’t I just do that with Poison, ya know?. …This is a different band. My influences haven’t changed, I have the same influences that I’ve always had. I’m from where I’m from, but it comes out differently with a different group of musicians. Eric interpreted things differently than Bobby Dall did. Eric would hear a Bad Company influence and Bobby may have heard something different, ya know?”
Todd: While recording, were there any conscious efforts to discourage Tracii from ‘overplaying’ on the material?
Rikki: “Yes, there was. But it wasn’t as if there was a spot to overplay we were saying ‘Don’t you dare over play’. We didn’t do it like that, but we did say ‘Let’s not over think this’. If it’s feeling good and it feels like it’s the right tempo, then we’re fifty percent of the way there, so let’s not mess with it ya know? I’m glad that you noticed that, but it wasn’t by design. …We didn’t over think it. That’s really the bottom line. That’s the honest to God truth. …He does go off in a couple spots. On “Back To The Drive” and a couple of other places, we we’re like ‘No, no, no, no. Go, go, go, go, go’, ya know? So he does have a couple of those spots, but overall, I think him wanting to be tasteful and that was a different type of challenge for him. We didn’t want to over think it all.”
Todd: Prior to signing with Century Media Records, did the group have serious inquiries from other companies?
Rikki: “We did have somebody interested right away. We started getting calls fairly quickly. Some of them weren’t that great of ideas and the one that we thought was a great idea we chased down for close to five months and hit a dead end. It really did a number on us, especially with Eric, I think. It really did hurt us. We lost a lot of momentum, but maybe things turned out the way they’re supposed to turn out because we’ve got this great record out of the process. Otherwise, the record probably would have been out around Christmas of last year. That’s what we had put in for in the first place. That’s how far back we’ve been pushed, but that’s not from our current label, just to clarify. It was entirely from the other situation …I think Century Media is trying to branch out and not just be know as Metal label. It’s going to be very interesting to see how they are going to handle us.”
Todd: From an outsiders perspective, it seemed as if the group was initially hesitant to book a full-fledged tour…
Rikki: “At first, we didn’t have any touring plans geared up because nobody knew what it was going to do or how it was going to be perceived. …We did a lot of the heavy lifting at the very, very beginning. We put out one record, a single on YouTube, and jumped on the road. We also recorded a couple of other things and leaked them out, but we basically went out there with absolutely nothing. No management, no label, nothing. It was just us saying ‘We’re going to get a tour bus and set up some gigs’. It wasn’t a huge tour or anything, but we were out there five weeks, letting everybody know that we were there to do business, ya know? People know we can tour and they know we can make a record. They know we can play and, at this point, we are basically set to go.”
Todd: Once the first tour officially commences, do you have an idea what type of set lists the group be utilizing?
Rikki: “We’ll probably throw in an L.A. Guns song, a Poison song and something Rudy would want to do. I think that’s probably what we will do. It depends on what kind of situation we were in. If we were opening for somebody, then we’ll be doing a shorter set, but if we are headlining, then we could stretch out a little bit more. When we went out and did the tour we did, I think we did two or three songs from each band. …Cinderella, L.A. Guns and Poison and then we did four Devil City Angels songs, because at that time, we only had four written.”
Todd: Commercially, what are your chart expectations for Devil City Angels? What number are you hoping for?
Rikki: “I really don’t know. I’m just trying a few things. It’s really hard, ya know? Rikki Rockett and Devil City Angels does not equal Poison record sales ya know? Tracii Guns does not equal L.A. Guns. Even with the songs totally together, you never know how it’s going to be perceived or how many people are going to take the time to even listen to it. I think that if Poison fans listen to this record, they’re going to like it. I really believe that. So even if we have. Even if it’s a big wreck, it’s still got a really good shot at doing something. I really do think so.”
Todd: How did everyone become involved with The Special Guests (i.e. Brandon Gibbs, C.C. DeVille, Bobby Dall and Rikki Rockett)? Was it simply a matter of everyone wanting to move forward despite Bret’ scheduling?
Rikki: “It came after the Devil City Angels because we were out there touring. …Bobby came out to a show in Florida and came up and played a song with us. We had been offered some shows that Bret wasn’t interested in doing, so we looked at each other and went ‘Brandon’s kind of an obvious fit to this isn’t he? Well, let’s just do that. We can’t say that we’re Poison, but let’s go do these’. That’s pretty much how that came about. …I think Bobby and C.C. were way more apprehensive because I had been working with Brandon for a while and I knew that he could handle it. I had no doubt in my mind that he could handle that pressure and that he wouldn’t go out there and try to be Bret, ya know? That’s something we would not want. A Poison fan wouldn’t want it and I wouldn’t want it either. He went out there and gave it justice, but then again, he wasn’t out there trying to be Bret Michaels. I think people saw that, respected it and thought it was really good. We’ve been asked to do a lot of things, but we’re being very careful about what we do and how we do it. We’re thinking about what our next step is going to be at this point in time. …But there’s only so much you can do. Bret hasn’t really wanted to work with us on an equal basis for quite some time. At one point, you have to go ‘Well, my hands are tied here. Let’s think of another way to go about doing this’. But I’m really not ready to do that. …I love playing Rock ‘n’ Roll and I love playing for big audiences, too. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to go out on a big stage, play my own drum kits and go off for three, four or five months and do what I love to do. That’s the thing that Poison has afforded me to do, so I cherish that. …I would love to do it more, but Bret’s the wild card here. He’s the one that’s been busy and has been less than willing to work with us on different things. I know Brandon would absolutely love to do it, so this all goes into when we consider what we are going to do with it moving forward.”