Poison, an American glam-metal band comprised of Bret Michaels, Rikki Rockett, Bobby Dall and C.C. DeVille, achieved great commercial success between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s, selling over 30-million records worldwide, with more than 15-million in the United States alone. The band also charted 10 singles to the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, including six Top-10 singles and the Hot 100 number-one, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.”
After 25 years, the band is still recording music and performing, releasing seven-studio albums, four-live albums, five-compilation albums and 28-radio singles since their debut in 1986. This summer, Poison hits the road and is joined by Cheap Trick and Pop Evil for their “Nothin’ But A Good Time 2018” tour. Be sure to check out the trailer embedded below.
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Mehnaz Ladha: Kicking it off with your hometown area of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania what really stands out about Central Pennsylvania and makes it special to you? Where would you send a first-time visitor to get a real sense of the surrounding area?
Rikki Rockett: The thing I loved about growing up in Central Pennsylvania is that there were so many major cities within driving distance. You could go to Pittsburg, you could go to Philly or Baltimore. It’s Central Pennsylvania, so you’re centrally located, and you can also be a fan of all those teams. And, I was! When I was growing up, I loved the Baltimore Orioles. I also loved the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates too. It’s cool from that standpoint.
We would go down to the shore to Ocean City, Maryland or Atlantic City, New Jersey when I was a kid growing up. It didn’t take longer than half a day or a few hours to get there. It was a great place to grow up. Harrisburg, [Pennsylvania] is a great city. It’s called “Philadelphia Lite” or something like that. That’s what stands out. In one direction, you can be a total city slicker, and in another you can hang out with the Amish. It’s really pretty amazing.
ML: What was your first real exposure to music? How did you get inspired to create your own and eventually pursue it as a career?
RR: I grew up in a fairly-musical family, or at least a musical-appreciation family. My dad played the trumpet actually and he was in a little band when I was growing up, but he didn’t make any money doing it. He was a taxi driver, but he loved big bands, rock music and soul. My mom, on the other hand, loved Elvis, Eddie Cantor and that sort of stuff.
My sister was nine-years older than I was, so she was right in the hippie era. She loved all that Grateful Dead stuff, the Beatles and all that. Depending on what room I walked into, I had different types of music and that was awesome for me. The first actual concert I was ever at was at the Allentown Fairgrounds where I saw Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
RR: I played trumpet and got frustrated. I liked the instrument, but I wanted to play rock and roll. It was my calling. I loved all kinds of music, but that was what I wanted to do. My dad said that he loved drums, but they’re loud and expensive so it was going to take a while. I actually found a kit for $50. I recovered that kit and restored it, which is probably why years later, I started a drum company, because I started very early learning how to do that work.
ML: How does the music scene of Central Pennsylvania compare to California and other states you have performed in?
RR: Central Pennsylvania is not unlike the rest of the country in the sense of it is pretty much a covers situation. You play Top 40 and sneak one of your own in once you get popular enough. Los Angeles, California is not that. It’s a showcase town and people are there to showcase their own stuff. On the flip side, you don’t really make money doing that. You actually spend money doing that unless you go on the outskirts. So sometimes, we would do that. We’d go on the outskirts to make some money, then come back to Hollywood and spend money trying to get people to hear us. The strategy worked and we were able to build quite a following after a while.
ML: Since Poison formed in the 1980s, the music industry has undergone a major transformation. What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in the industry?
RR: It’s pretty obvious with how the music industry has changed. It started with not having albums in a store. Then went cassettes, followed by CD’s and now we only have a few CD’s left in stores. Most things are downloaded, so that’s how the industry has changed. Unfortunately, a lot of people are giving their music away for free and they shouldn’t be doing that. It’s making it where that music is becoming an ancillary product to a multimedia artist. Not everyone needs to be a multimedia artist. Some people are just a musician and that’s all they are. It’s very hard to be just that these days. You have to be a many trick pony to really get noticed these days. That’s just reality.
It used to be that if you’re asking somebody you want to be in your band and you are auditioning them, some of the questions might be, “Do you sing background vocals? Are you available this day and this day with your job? Are you available to do this?” Those kinds of simple things. Now, it’s all those questions plus, “Do you know how to do websites? Are you on Instagram?” All those are equally important these days.
ML: It’s all about wearing multiple hats. So, what has been your most memorable performance?
RR: One of the craziest ones was when we played Rock in Rio in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, because of just the sheer amount of people. I still don’t know the count, but it was over 100,000 people. That was one of the biggest crowds we played for so that freaked me out.
ML: And, the culture of Brazil is so rich and lively! It definitely must have enhanced your experience performing there.
RR: I watched videos of that and it’s almost like I don’t remember being there. I wasn’t on drugs or anything like that. It was just that that was the drug. It felt so surreal.
ML: Who are some musical inspirations that have influenced your career?
RR: I have to go all the way back with the influences that my family gave me. My sister with the Beatles, my dad with James Brown and my mom with Elvis. When I was sort of old enough to find my own stuff, I looked for things like Deep Purple and then, of course, KISS and Aerosmith. They were some of my greatest influences.
ML: To create music, and traveling to promote it, must be such a feeling. What’s the most impactful and meaningful part you cherish about it? Does the travel help inspirationally?
RR: When we first started, everything was new. The first time I was in Texas or various states, I didn’t know what to expect. I had never been down to Florida or even California, where I now reside. It was all new. Now, the thing that’s cool is that no matter where we go, literally every state of the union and many countries, I know people. I developed relationships with people over time, whether it’s people who run the catering, have something to do with the building we’re playing or have a business in town I’ve frequented. I feel like a real global citizen.
When you see the divide in the country, it’s very disheartening. I don’t like it when someone says something about that group of people, because I know some of those people in that group of people and they’re not like that. You realize how much we do have in common and through travel, you learn to understand the deep culture within each community. It’s one of the greatest gifts I have been given to give.
ML: As a musician, you have access to that type of global education through travel, but there are so many people who don’t have the ability to do so and lose out on that opportunity to interact with people of different cultures and backgrounds.
RR: Absolutely! When I hear people who are really grumpy about traveling, all I can think of is that maybe they’re not paying attention when they’re traveling. You can’t expect another state or city to be like your state or city. It’s going to be different, and if you don’t embrace it for what it is, of course, you’re going to be uncomfortable.
ML: Circling back to your music, Poison is currently touring with Cheap Trick and Pop Evil for the “Nothin’ But A Good Time 2018” tour. Describe your excitement for the tour and what can fans expect?
RR: I’m very excited, because I just love being on the road. I do like to travel. I do like the experience and seeing people, and meeting new people, as well. I love playing for our fans and that exchange when we play on stage and they’re singing along, or air drumming to the drum parts I created. As far as what to expect, we have a huge show with huge video screens this year. We never had that stuff really. We have a whole new lighting situation. As far as what to expect musically, we seem to change that every night. We can never seem to settle on anything. We keep changing our minds, but I think that’ll make it good. We play the hits, but it keeps changing.
ML: One of our core objectives at SCP is to bring people together while traveling, not only to influence people to see and appreciate our beautiful world but to also minimize cross-cultural divides. What effect does traveling, specifically surrounding music, have on humans in this regard? How has it broadened your perspective of the world?
RR: You go to Japan, for instance, and ordering breakfast becomes an adventure. You can only fight it so much. You do the best you can to get what you want, and at one point you just have to accept how it is. It’s so amazing how when you type something or communicate on the internet, or social media, that it’s so easy to get heated or not understand where the person is coming from. When you walk down the same streets they do, or walk in the same places, something happens, and you finally understand their perspective. Life in New York City is completely different than life in Texarkana, Texas. It just really is. But, the people aren’t as different as you think they are. The kids still want to play and the adults still want to come home to dinner. There are just some many common things. It’s amazing.
ML: We always love to ask well-traveled people if they have any destinations that they haven’t been to but want to hit. What are some on your list?
RR: There’s quite a few actually. I want to go to South Africa, and I don’t necessarily care if I go there with the band. I’d like to explore it by motorcycle. I would also love to play Russia. There have been a few bands that played Moscow, and I think that would just be cool. I’d love to play for those people. I think there are probably some real die-hard rock fans and that would be a rush.
ML: Whether you’re traveling for the band or for leisure, what are you most excited about when visiting a new destination?
RR: Unfortunately, I haven’t hit a new destination in a while. But even then, cities change. A lot of people say they get gentrified and they lose their identity. Sometimes that’s the case, but other times they take on a new identity, and you don’t know until you get in, walk around and check it out. I bring my motorcycle with me. I have a trailer, so I bring out my motorcycle, drive around and check out where I’m at. No matter what city I’m in, I always find something else, something different.
I mentioned Texarkana, Texas. We were just there and I never bothered to check out the Texarkana Murders that happened in 1946, so I read about them and did a blog about them. I asked people in town about their perspective on it, and they said they go to the Halloween thing every year where they show a movie on it. Once you really start to open up the lids, you find there are all sorts of things in the cans.
ML: Definitely. Different modes of transportation offer different types of experiences, opening up the door for more adventures and discoveries.
RR: Most of the time it’s good. Like today, it’s going to be over 100 degrees where we’re at, and that’s not necessarily fun on a motorcycle. But, it’s doable.
ML: Lastly, what do the next couple of months have in store for you and the band?
RR: We finish up in July, and that’s going to be all that Poison is going to do this year. Maybe some other things at the end of the year, but I’m not sure. No announcement there. But, I have a side band called Devil City Angels and we just finished a single. We just finished a music video and we’re in the process of editing that. That song is called “Testify,” and I can’t wait to launch that. Hopefully, I’ll be doing some shows with those guys too.