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 guitarist C.C. DeVille as a permanent member following the departure of Smith. Issuing a series of Gold and Platinum selling efforts (most notably Flesh & Blood, 1990), the group enjoyed a meteoric rise to international acclaim. Now, nearly forty years later, with the group dormant, Michaels has embraced a solo career, with guitarist Pete Evick serving as musical director. Recently, the often charismatic Evick was kind enough to speak with us regarding the rigors of touring and the release of his newest book MTV Famous (2023).
Todd: What made 2023 the ‘right’ or ‘best’ time to release MTV Famous? For the uninitiated, this is your second book after the release of your literary debut The Moments That Make Us. The subject matter is notably different.
Pete: “I’d written my first book a few years ago called The Moments That Make Us (2015). I was going through a divorce and the book was supposed to be more of an inspirational book about being a single dad through the adversities of the life I live in the music business. As I wrote it, the publisher said ‘This is way more than that. This is more of an inspirational book’. It won some awards and it did really, really well. …It was an exhausting process for me, but it was also incredibly rewarding. Seeing how it affected people, seeing the positive it did for people. And then I met (co-author) Steve Olivis. I went on his podcast about one of my new songs and videos, and he’s an author and a Publisher (i.e., JRNYman Publishing), and he asked if I had any interest in doing a second book. He thought that I was interesting enough to warrant work on a second book, so I said ‘Let’s do this again’. And I had a great time because I wanted to try to write another book that was inspirational, but I also wanted to include the Rock ‘N’ Roll stuff with it as part of my journey. …I think we achieved that and I’m really, really proud of it. At this point in my life, everything I do is to try to inspire other people to make them believe. We’re in a world right now where nothing matters. Age, race, sex, nothing matters. You can do whatever you want to do if you really put yourself to it. There’s no boundaries to anything right now and I just want to show the world that. If you want to write a book, write a book. If you want to make a movie, you can make a movie on an iPhone these days. …Anything I can do to inspire people to chase their own dreams, that is what I’m into.”
Todd: How difficult was it for you to recall the minutiae of your past? How do you keep all the stories ‘straight’?
Pete: “It was extremely tough. I would tell these stories to Steve a couple of times a week where we would have these storytelling sessions. He would go back and do all the research to verify my dates and all my times. …But it actually frustrated him because there’s about ten years of my life between 1994 and 2004 that I continuously believed happened in 1998. Every time I told him a story, I’d say ‘This was in 1998’ and he’d go back and do all the research and he came to me like ‘I can prove that everything you’ve said is true. You’re not lying about anything, but your date timelines and everything else are so wrong, it’s just ridiculous’. …I imagine time changes how a lot of those memories work, but I just sat on the phone with him and told story after story after story and he picked out everything that was supposed to be the important, inspiring stuff and then polished it from there.”
Todd: As a father of two, how do you effectively balance being heavily involved in touring with Bret while also attempting to be a responsible parent? I can’t begin to imagine how challenging that must be. How does it work?
Pete: “I ended up in divorce thanks to Rock Of Love, but it was important for me to be my children’s father, and the balance is still a terrible thing to go through. You always have this fear that a gig’s going to come up on the kids’ birthdays or some important event or graduation. (Jon) Bon Jovi made this statement one time, and his bass player, Hugh (McDonald), is a good friend of mine. He made a statement saying ‘I’m not going to not book a gig because of my bass player’s kid’s birthday party’. And that rang true through the community. It was a real dickish thing for Jon to say, but I also get his point because he’s running a business. John doesn’t treat it like it’s a band anymore. It’s a business and Bret treats it like that, too. There’s always the fear that something’s going to come up on a birthday or a graduation because we play so much. …We play hundreds of dates a year, but I’ve managed to be here every single Christmas morning and every birthday, not that those are the only two days that matter. I’m home a lot during the week, so when I got divorced, it was a joint custody agreement where if I was home, I had the children. And there was never any ‘I get them on this day and you get them on that day’. It was ‘If I’m home, I can have my children’. We made it all work. And they even got to come out on the road with me.”
Todd: It’s nice to hear about any family that successfully navigates a divorce and the almost inevitable custody issues. Has their first-hand exposure to Rock ‘n’ Roll enticed them or ‘scared’ them ‘away’ from fully pursuing it?
Pete: “My oldest son now is pursuing a career in music. …I was absolutely horrified that he wanted to because I do know what this does and I know all about the heartbreak. Even at it’s very best, it’s filled with letdowns and tragedy, ya know? But he still wants to go for it. I’ve told him everything I can. He’s had an incredible education from some of the best. He talks to Bret all the time and he also talks to (ex-Cinderella frontman) Tom Kiefer. He studied vocal with (former TNT vocalist) Tony Harnell. And the guys in Warrant help him all the time and (bassist) Robbie Crane (Ratt, Vince Neil, Tuff) and the guys in Lynyrd Skynyrd have been really great to him. Nobody can do anything for you in the music business right now, but he has this open book of education that, hopefully, can help him. He’s had some of the biggest stars in the certain genre of music in his corner, believing in him, so when he decided he wanted to be the frontman and bring back that ’80s sound. He’s twenty-one and he wants to sound like Poison, Van Halen and Warrant. And you know what? That stuff all comes around. What about the band Greta Van Fleet? That’s just a reincarnation of Led Zeppelin, no matter what they say. No matter how much they say they weren’t influenced by Zeppelin. But it all comes around good music’s good music. …It’s been a very long time since someone’s heard a really killer guitar tone, so maybe he does have a shot at it.”
Todd: How did you originally become involved with Bret? That must’ve been the proverbial ‘dreams come true’.
Pete: “Once (guitarist) C.C. (DeVille) left Poison (1991), I had the opportunity to get the contact information for the auditions. I was only eighteen years old and it didn’t work out, but I kept all of the numbers. Bret remained managed by HK management his whole life until Howard Kaufman passed away a few years ago. When Bret went out on the solo tour, I called him and got my band opening up for him on the East Coast for the first two years of his solo career. An opportunity arose where Bret and I got to be buddies. It’s a long story, gut his guitar player at the time wasn’t going to join him for the third tour and recommended me. …Then we went from there.”
Todd: How often does the group rehearse? My personal experiences with live performances suggest it’s often. I would imagine having this massive discography to draw from, you’d need to keep everyone ready for anything.
Pete: “We do not rehearse. I’ve been in Bret’s band for twenty years and we’ve rehearsed seven or maybe eight times. It’s certainly less than ten. When we’ve had to change out members, because sometimes that does happen on the road, we’ll just go through the songs once at soundcheck and then go through it. …I got to be honest with you. We don’t balance the set list at all. Bret is a firm believer in nothing but hits. Even with our Parti-Gras tour last year where we had (ex-Journey frontman) Steve Augeri and (Sugar Ray vocalist) Mark McGrath join us, the whole concept of it was ‘all killer no filler’. We also had Night Ranger play with us and Bret had them play a shorter set and asked them to stick to their hits. …We don’t play obscure stuff. There’s tons of Poison stuff I’d like to play, but Bret believes that the hits were the hits for a reason and that’s what the fans want to hear. It’s one of the things I don’t agree with him with. I’ll tell you that. I get excited all the time to see Bon Jovi’s set list because Bon Jovi will always throw in some old stuff and gets you all excited. Sammy Hagar will do the same thing, but Bret has a different philosophy. And what am I really going to say? These people are still coming, so.”
Todd: From a pure business perspective, that makes sense, but I’d still love to hear a lot of the group’s deep cuts.
Pete: “If you are a fan of the band, then you know. …My favorite song is “Life Loves A Tragedy” from Flesh & Blood (1991). I know it from beginning to the end, so I’ll play it. There’s been a couple of times during the years where I’ll goof off and I’ll have the drummer start (the Poison song) “Cry Tough” (from Look What The Cat Dragged In, 1986) out of his drum solo so Bret can’t stop us from doing it. You know what I mean? Once we’re in it, we’re doing it. That trick only works once in a while. If I had my way, and (Poison drummer) Rikki (Rockett) feels the same way in Poison, I would love to play some of that obscure stuff. And I think the fans would all love to hear “Back To The Rocking Horse”. I think they would love it, so. It’s a great song. I do it sometimes in my solo acoustic set. …If I think there’s enough Poison fans there, I’ll throw it up there, ya know?”
Todd: Having seen the group live, much of the Poison material sounds heavier. Are you purposely tuning down?
Pete: “We don’t tune down. But we do bring it to a heavier level. The guitar tones are much, much heavier. Bret is a gigantic Aerosmith and Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. And I know that when you think of those two bands, you don’t think of heavy. But those guitar tones in both of those bands are thicker. They are all heavier than the Poison music, so when we play the songs slightly slower than Poison, it gives it a little more of a heavier effect to it. You know what I mean? But every time we brought in a drummer, they’re a power hitter. Our drummers beat the crap out of those drums like they’re all still playing Heavy Metal, so it does have a much heavier sound to it all.”
Todd: Has the group’s line-up remained relatively stable? As the Musical Director, when you’ve needed to make the inevitable change, particularly while out on tour, how difficult is it to quickly find a the correct replacement?
Pete: “For the most part. …We had (bassist) Eric Brittingham from the band from Cinderella, which was so great to me. He’s such a wonderful guy. Plus, he’s a wonderful bass player and one of my best friends. He’s so great. We don’t fire anybody from our band, but things come up and people have to leave. Before Brittingham, we had a bass player named Bart Harris, and his daughter came down with diabetes, so he had to leave. There are many different reasons why someone has to leave. But when you’re in our camp, you’re here forever until you decide to leave. I’m always prepared because I’m the music director of the band. Even right now, the band is great and rock solid. Nobody has any problems. I don’t feel like anyone’s going to leave, but I have a second string and a third string guy on my roto dial ready to go. You have got to be prepared, right? It can be stressful for sure, but I have two drummers, two bass players, and two rhythm guitar players that know the set down to a ‘T’. …I always have two in queue in case something has to happen. But at the same time, I’m also not overly stressed because there’s never been a moment where someone quit while on tour and I’ve had to find someone for the next night.”
Todd: As far as Bret is concerned, what are your current touring plans? Can we expect another Parti-Gras tour?
Pete: “We’re doing the Parti-Gras (tour) again. The whole idea was that we play and then we have two big star guests come join us while we play our set. But they don’t open for us. They join our set and our band plays their songs. And we did that last year with Mark McGrath and Steve Augeri. …This year, we are doing it using Chris Jansonn, who’s a big, big Country star with a hit song called “Buy Me A Boat”, and Dee Snider from Twisted Sister, which is cool. We’ve already done a few of them with Dee already last summer. And (original Foreigner frontman) Lou Gramm may join us on some. It’s going to be awesome. It’s just hit song after hit song. Dee tells stories and Mark McGrath likes to talk, but in a good way It has been all about delivering non-stop hit after hit.”
Todd: Specifically, what routines do you follow to maintain your health when touring? It’s got to be tough to do.
Pete: “Today’s the wrong day to ask that. We are all sick. (laughs) We shouldn’t have gone out this winter. We were all in that bus together, and we all ended up sick, and I’ve never in my life been as sick as I am right now. This is a disaster for me. I’m terrible with my diet, but I don’t party a whole lot. I don’t do any drugs, and when I drink, I do drink a lot, but it’s rare. I’m a foodie, man. I like my food, and no one’s going to take that away from me. When the doctor comes to me and says ‘You can’t eat this or that anymore’, I’m going to tell them to go fuck themselves. I’ll weight five hundred pounds because no one’s going to tell me what to do. But Bret, with being a diabetic, he takes care of himself and his diet is tremendous. He’s sixty years old. Most diabetics by now have lost a foot or have gained major amounts of weight. He continues to champion the disease over and over again.”
Todd: What is your least favorite aspect of touring? The near-constant touring schedules seems terribly grueling.
Pete: “I always say ‘I play guitar for free. I get paid to go to airports’. I don’t love traveling the way I used to, but I’m trying to embrace it differently. I’ve played Sturgis, South Dakota twelve times within the last twenty years and I’ve never seen Mount Rushmore. Until this year, I’ve played the Niagara Falls area countless times, but I’ve never seen Niagara Falls. As I’ve gotten older, I’m trying to take a breath and take in some things and make the travel more personally enjoyable for me. Eventually, you just have to. Eric is the one that taught me that. When he was in the band, he was like ‘You’ve got to start taking a couple of moments’. We were in Tulsa and I guess there is this thing in Tulsa where it’s like a vortex. You can go stand in it, and all of a sudden, you can’t hear anything. It’s right in the middle of town. It’s some weird thing. I thought it sounded stupid, but Eric was like ‘Let’s go see this. Let’s go do that’. That really sparked the idea of finding all of those moments and doing them.”
Todd: Has getting older affected your ability to tour as vigorously? I would imagine it would all have an impact.
Pete: “I usually don’t tell this story, but since we’re talking about being old. He’ll kill me if he ever sees this, but when (the film) The Last Jedi (2017) came out, Eric Brittingham and I went to go see it. I was paying and he said ‘Don’t forget to get my Senior Citizen discount’ and my fucking brain exploded. (laughs) All of a sudden, I saw all those Cinderella videos with a young babyface flipping that bass around. Eric is in incredible shape and plays better than he ever did. Rock ‘n’ Roll will either kill you or keeps you real healthy. There’s no in-between.”
Todd: Musically, what are your influences? When listening to your playing ‘outside’ of your ‘duties’ with Bret, I hear a multiple different inspirational sources. What musicians had the most significant impact on your playing?
Pete: “That’s as easy as it gets. If you look at my arms, there’s an Ace Frehley tattoo right there, and if you look at that arm, there’s a Van Halen tattoo. And that’s it, man. I loved Ace and I loved Edward, and I was a gigantic Poison fan early on. I like songs. I’m a guitar player, but I like songs and that’s why I like Van Halen. Eddie was such an amazing guy, but he did all these things that no one else could ever do. (The song) “Dance The Night Away” (from Van Halen II, 1979) is still just a four-chord pop song. You know what I mean? But my influences, were Bon Jovi, Kiss, Poison, Van Halen and Warrant for a long time. Twisted Sister was also huge for me. They were the first concert I ever saw. I was a big Quiet Riot fan, too but as far as guitar influences, it was all Ace and Eddie and then Steve Vai. I’ll never be able to play like Steve. Who can play like that guy? …No one does. No one plays like Edward did either, but those were my influences. I started playing guitar at five years of age, and that was in 1978, right when Eddie hit the scene. But because I was five, I didn’t comprehend how great he was because. My guitar teacher was teaching me (the songs) “You Really Got Me” and “Runnin’ With The Devil” (from Van Halen, 1978) I played “Eruption” in my sixth-grade talent show, and I didn’t think much of it because I was born into it, if that makes sense, right? You hear all these stories of these guitar players that were already proficient guitar players, and then they heard Eddie, and they went, ‘Oh my God. What am I going to do? This is all brand new’. That didn’t happen to me because I was still too young, but it did happen to me with (late Pantera guitarist (Darrell) ‘Dimebag’ (Abbott). When I heard Dime, I went, ‘I don’t even know how to do that. Do I have to re-learn all of this? I don’t even understand what’s happening’. His influence doesn’t show through in me, but the way those Pantera records sounded was big to me. …I was so into Producing records and I was more into the drum sound than the guitar stuff, but I was heavily influenced by the energy that Pantera gave. “Look What The Cat Dragged In” is a prime example. It’s a pop song, but especially live, it feels like a Metallica song, and I like that kind of music. I like good, hooky Pop music that still has energy and that hit. I remember seeing Metallica open for Ozzy Osbourne when (original bassist) Cliff Burton was still alive, and I hadn’t heard of them yet. I couldn’t even understand the music, but I knew that it felt like a train had hit me in the chest, and that was cool.”