When Poison breaks into “Nothin’ But A Good Time” they could very well be singing the theme song for this summer traveling extravaganza with headliners Def Leppard and the back-in-black-leather Lita Ford. Dubbed the Rock Of Ages tour, these 80’s icons have been kicking up their heels and definitely having a good time rolling across America playing in the heat and humidity of the sheds. “It’s hot and sticky in here,” expressed Bret Michaels happily. “Just the way I like it.”
Hot was definitely the go-to word for the people tucked in tight just outside of Houston. Sweat was dropping as fans started rocking when Lita Ford brought her “Bitch Is Back” set to life after over a decade of motherhood out of the spotlight. Charging through a short set of popular hits – a bone-chilling “Close My Eyes Forever” slowed down to emphasize heartbreak and “Kiss Me Deadly” – and some new blood, including the title track from her latest recording Living Like A Runaway and “Relentless”. Ford was in excellent shape, physically and vocally, and appeared to be having fun as she shredded on guitar while backed by a strong group of musicians: Mitch Perry on guitar, Marty O’Brien on bass and Scot Coogan on drums.
It was great to see the mistress of metal back on a stage. “It feels great to be back,” Ford told me just prior to starting the tour. “It’s in my blood and I missed it. But I just wanted to be a mom for a while.” After living on an island, being a wife and a mother, when Ford decided to come back to her first love, “It was like when I left thirteen years ago, I left an empty pair of shoes sitting there that nobody could wear. And when I came back fifteen years later, those shoes were still sitting there unfilled. Nobody had filled those shoes yet. They were still waiting for me.”
Poison hustled into the blinding lights next, kicking their heels up and channeling their younger selves with a vitality that was so infectious they had every single attendee dancing by their seats and singing like frisky cats at a fish fry. You have to admit, there is not a band out there on the circuit today that epitomizes fun better than these guys. From “Look What The Cat Dragged In” to “Your Mama Don’t Dance” to “Unskinny Bop” to “Talk Dirty To Me” to “Fallen Angel” and finally exiting with a balloon-popping “Nothin’ But A Good Time”, they never let up. Even during the endearing “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” the energy was as bright as the full moon shining above the Pavilion.
It’s good to see that Michaels continues to rally around the troops overseas, always giving them his 100% support. In fact, our military is very special to the whole band, going back to their early days, as drummer Rikki Rockett told me in an exclusive interview (which follows this article) prior to the band’s set. Filming this portion of their set to be whizzed via satellite overseas, Michaels asked everyone to light up the night with whatever they had: cell phones, lighters, cameras. “Whatever you got, light it up.”
Poison’s set was not just all about Michaels. CC DeVille was a guitar screaming maniac, playing spasmodic solos on “Fallen Angel” and “Dirty” while bass player Bobby Dall held things together as Rockett kept the rhythm tight and brought out some funk during his drum solo. Having personally seen Poison several times over the past few years, this was definitely their most energetic performance to date of songs they have sung a thousand times.
While Ford and Poison made the big stage seem more intimate, Def Leppard opened it up and made it larger than life. Despite some overly-echo effects, which tended to throw off the rhythm of the song at times, it was nonstop hit after hit after hit. The band, in top-notch form and celebrating over thirty years of rocking the masses, brought it big and brought it loud.
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of their monster hit Hysteria and the 20th anniversary of Adrenalize, the band is not showing much wear and tear. Despite some terrible tragedies that could have squashed their inner spirit, Def Leppard instead locked arms and defiantly moved forward into an uncertain future, doing what they knew best.
Not long ago Tom Cruise took a turn at the mic in a film that brought 80’s music lovers into movie theaters, henceforth kicking off this Rock Of Ages companion tour. Huge moments came in the form of “Foolin”, “Animal”, “Women”, an electrified “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak”, “Armageddon It” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me”.
Continuing with their usual regime of an acoustic segment mid-set, singer Joe Elliott, guitar players Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell, bass player Rick Savage, and drummer Rick Allen walked out individually to sit on an equipment trunk, each bearing acoustic guitars; except for Allen, receiving the biggest pop of the night, who tapped a tambourine. Campbell, seated next to Elliott actually got up to allow the applauded Allen to sit up front and soak up the adulation he so-well deserved. It was a triumphant segment with bits of the Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, plus “Two Steps Behind”, “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”, “Now” and “When Love & Hate Collide”.
A gem amidst the whole Def Leppard machine is Campbell, often overlooked for the more flamboyant Collen, and his predecessor the late Steve Clark. With some Irish slow burn solos sprinkled throughout, he certainly shined on songs such as “Love Bites”, “Heartbreak” and “Women”. Although still considered the “new guy”, he is celebrating twenty years with the band in 2012.
It was a night of big stars, big songs and big moments that were treasured by the fans congregated in this cozy amphitheater outside of Houston. And for one fan in particular, she was heading out to the next two shows because sometimes, once is not enough.
Glide was lucky enough to score two exclusive interviews for this show. The night before, Phil Collen called in from Oklahoma City, and prior to Poison’s set, Rikki Rockett invited me onto his tour bus to talk about his band’s determined spirit to keep doing what they love despite critics who thought Poison should have gone away long ago.
We start off with Phil Collen
Phil, you’re out on the Rock Of Ages tour right now. How has that been and how has it been playing with Poison and Lita Ford?
We’re on the second leg now. We had a little break for like two weeks but it’s amazing. Love the guys in Poison, they’re brilliant. We’re just warm and cuddly things (laughs). We get along so well it’s ridiculous. And the same thing with Lita Ford. It’s just one of those tours where you want to keep going because everyone is such really great guys and they’ve been through a lot and been around for twenty-five years. It’s really nice and I have a big respect for them and I think it’s a mutual thing. The fact that everyone’s out there and have survived a lot and here we are still doing it. We really appreciate that. I think there is a bit of that that is going around, when you speak to anyone in the other bands. So it’s great and lovely and the audiences are loving it so it couldn’t be better.
What do you have planned for when the tour ends?
We’re actually going to be doing some more shows next year. I have no idea in what form or what country even but we’re going to be doing that, just playing. We’re writing songs already and I’ve got some new stuff on the go right now and you just constantly keep doing that really. It’s the same plan as always, you know. You’ve got to have new music, whether it be an album or a couple of songs or an EP or even just a single; that doesn’t really matter, just as long as you’re doing something that is different. If you’re an artist, you have to keep that fire burning, know what I mean.
So you never get tired of this.
No, absolutely not. I’ve wanted to do this since I was a kid so it’s a blessing. It’s so cool to still be able to be doing it. It’s amazing.
Yeah, absolutely. You know, it actually comes up quite a lot. Like, “Don’t you get tired of it?” And you go, total adulation and making people’s day and making people happy (laughs). You know it’s a really brilliant thing, cause you know I’ve kept my body in shape and everything, and I’ve had girls from fourteen all the way up to like sixty-five just freaking out over it. So that’s just such an amazing compliment, especially being nearly fifty-five myself. It is pretty cool to have girls swooning all over the place (laughs) so yeah, that can’t get old I’ve got to say. It’s not that I’m an egomaniac but it really does stroke the ego. So that never gets tired.
Speaking of you being in such amazing shape, what is your routine when you are out on the road? How do you keep from hitting the pizza every night?
I think the food thing is really important. You can’t be crazy eating junk food all the time. And just consistently work out. I have a specific thing I do with Jean Carrillo, who is my trainer. We kind of developed this system, you know, that if you get too heavy you pull back and do more cardio. My diet is really important. I’m a vegan, but I know lots of unhealthy vegans. You’ve just got to balance it really. It’s all about balance and consistency. We do old school kind of weight workout stuff. We don’t do any of this running with parachutes and ropes and all this other stuff out there. I think a lot of that you can kind of injure yourself so we do pretty much old school kind of weight workouts with dumbbells and weights. But it’s not crazy, I don’t really kill myself. Once you get to a certain level as long as you maintain it, that’s the most important thing. I feel great. It works, you know.
Since both you and Vivian work out and are health conscious, who would win in an arm wrestling contest?
You know, that is a good question (laughs). I don’t know. It has nothing to do with strength, it’s a technique. I’m sure there are quite a few girls on our tour that could probably whoop us at arm wrestling (laughs)
You are auctioning off one of your guitars for charity during this tour.
Yeah, it’s going to start on September 5th and it’s for the fight against cancer. The guitar is one of my signature models, a PC-1, a Jackson, and it’s by Jake Willoughby who owns a guitar store in Oklahoma. He asked me if I’d get involved with something because he lost his mum to cancer and I said, “Yeah, my dad [died] with the same version of cancer seven years ago so I’d be glad to help.” You know, I wanted it to go to not just some charity where it’s going to get lost in all the stuff but actually to make it an awareness thing, what people are doing and what’s around. So we chose this place called the Gerson Institute [www.gerson.org] and they have such amazing results with cancer patients. It’s a detox system and we just want to teach people that certain things are kind of a no-no in this day and age. We are all subjected to so much, like cell phones and toxicity all over the place. I’m on a cell phone right now. You can’t really escape it. It’s really worth knowing the dangers of it and what you can avoid if you can. So you eat this stuff that you put in plastic bowls in microwaves, stuff like that. It’s a real no-no. After a few years, stuff like that will definitely show up in a form of cancer if you do it too much. So that’s really what we’re trying to do, bring awareness to it and certainly the Gerson Institute are the best people and I love their work so we’re going to donate the proceeds to their charity.
What is going on with your band Manraze? I was hoping that you guys might open a few of these shows.
No, we’re pretty much locked in till the end of this tour now but we dug up one of our original songs. We’d done this amazing demo probably about six years ago and we just found the drum tracks from it and we’re re-writing a song around it. We’re about to go live with a new t-shirt on the Manraze website so we got some new stuff floating around so that’s coming up pretty soon as well. So yeah, check out www.manraze.com for all the info for that. We’re really excited about that, they’re brilliant t-shirts, and they weren’t really available before, and signed posters, all sorts of stuff coming out and obviously there will be a new song pretty soon when we finish this thing off. So we’re really excited about that as well. It’s just about getting the time to do it all. We’re pretty busy all the time (laughs)
At the height of Def Leppard’s fame, how well do you think you personally handled all that?
The fame? Well, it’s never really been a problem. I think everyone in the world who actually gets any kind of notoriety or fame handle it in a different way. We’ve been doing this for so long now. I’ve been in the band for thirty years. We’ve had some really extreme highs like diamond albums and number one records but we’ve had some really devastating blows; obviously Rick’s accident and Steve passing away. And we’ve had albums and records that haven’t done so well and tours. So I think you take that with the great stuff. You balance it out and you end up with something that is great and something that is not. Keeps you kind of humble, if anything.
When the things happened with Rick and Steve, did you ever have a moment where you wondered if the band was over?
Yeah, when Steve died. Steve was my best friend, so I actually really didn’t want to carry on after he passed away. I was like, shit, and Joe had talked to me about coming out and doing the tour and he was right and I’m really glad we stuck with it. But yeah, it was devastating. When Steve died it was like, shit. I saw it coming. And actually he did as well and it was no secret it happened. It was a horrible thing but you have to carry on, like in life when a family member passes away you don’t, well some people roll up in a ball and quit, but you can’t and you shouldn’t do that. You should just carry on and do what you do.
I talked to Rick Allen a few months ago about his art and he said everybody was like brothers in the band and between his family and you guys and even the fans, that’s what kept him going after his accident.
Absolutely. It’s very special and we have a wonderful, wonderful relationship. It’s like brothers, it’s great.
Which one of Def Leppard’s albums is the closest to you and why?
I think Hysteria, and that’s probably for all of us, because it took three and a half years, it was a labor of love and it turned out better than we expected. We had Mutt Lange who was absolutely amazing and he had that vision and he kind of like walked us through it and it turned out great. I’d say that was the one for me.
Interview with Rikki Rockett
Rikki, what has it been like playing with Def Leppard and Lita Ford on this tour?
You know what, I know people have said these kinds of remarks before but it is like one big family out here. It really is. Like, Will, our keyboard guy, does a lot of background vocals. He was sore last night so Phil Collen came out and did background for us. Just off the side of the stage, not out front, not trying to get attention, nothing like that. If somebody needs something, somebody from the other band is there if they can help out. When my dad passed away [a few months ago], Rick immediately was on the phone with Wounded Warrior Project making sure the Marine Corps were going to represent my dad, cause my dad was a Marine. And stuff like that. I mean, we are just there for each other and it’s just really cool.
And what happens once you finish the tour?
Well, I’m not sure what’s going to happen with Poison, to tell you the truth. We need to sit down as a band and talk about that. I will continue with Rockett Drum Works, my custom drum company. I have a lot of things on the horizon with that. It’s being pitched for a reality show and we have a new production company and agency so I’m optimistic about that. But either way I still have work to do with Rockett Drum Works, whether it’s a show or not. And my wife and I are expecting our second child. That’s the first time I’ve mentioned it in the press and I haven’t put it on Facebook or anything. It’s gotten around a little bit but I just haven’t put it out there.
Which of Poison’s albums means the most to you?
I feel close to all of them, really I do. They say it takes your whole life to write your first record and one year to make your second, so I guess probably the first record if I had to pick.
You have been doing this for so many years with the same band. What is the secret for your longevity?
I think probably respecting each other’s boundaries. I wish I could answer it better because if I had a secret I would let everybody know it. David Lee Roth said, and I quote him, “Bands are like dogs that chase cars. They run around and they make a lot of noise but they don’t last very long.” And I think that now that there are bands that have been around a long time, like AC/DC although they’ve replaced one member, but the Rolling Stones of course, Aerosmith with all the original members, Motley, Def Leppard – just one guy has been replaced but that was twenty years ago so they have a longer career with a replacement than most bands have in their entire career. And us. There isn’t a ton of us out there that have been around this long but it’s kind of crazy because we’re not really supposed to last that long, you know what I mean. At least in the old sense of it. We were supposed to come out, make a lot of noise, stay fresh for a while, stay relevant and then all of a sudden NOT be relevant; have the next generation come along and make us irrelevant. And somehow we’re not irrelevant. And people don’t know what to do with that yet.
I think we’re seeing for the first time in rock history a slew of bands that are still able to go out and tour. Journey is one of them, on that end of the spectrum. Motley and Poison on the other end of the spectrum. Classic artists like the Stones of course, the Moody Blues. We’re not supposed to be here (laughs). So some questions I can’t even answer because this is new territory. We’re guys who are supposed to have hearing problems and not be able to do this anymore – and we do have hearing problems (laughs) – but we’re still doing it anyway. We just turn the monitors up louder (laughs). They really shouldn’t say, if it’s too loud you’re too old.
They should actually say, if it’s too loud you’re too young (laughs)
Did it ever hurt your feelings with all the negativity that people, or rather the critics, have said about Poison?
Sure it does. And sometimes people believe it and sometimes people don’t. It depends on who it comes from. I remember seeing Aerosmith at the Farm Show Arena in Harrisburg and thought it was an amazing concert and the next day I read a review about this guy saying how terrible it was. And I’m sitting there thinking to myself, was he at the same show I was at? Because it wouldn’t have stopped me from buying a ticket but I was a super fan. Now if somebody is on the fence, would it affect them? Maybe, maybe not. And that’s the people I guess I kind of worry about, the people who have maybe not kept up with Poison for a while.
But the most negativity that I think I faced was when I got hit with a false rape charge. Because anybody that ever had anything negative to say about Poison or me came out of the woodwork and thought, he’s down, I’m kicking him while he’s down, and he will probably never come up from this one. And I couldn’t go in the press and defend myself because I was on a gag order. Then when it finally came out that I didn’t know the person, I wasn’t in the state, somebody had used my name, another guy that said he was me, and that is what happened. Most people didn’t get that part of the news story. And nobody came back and went, jeez, I’m really sorry, maybe Rikki really is ok and I said all those negative things. I didn’t get apologies from anybody. And these people were really nasty. I don’t know how they sleep with themselves at night.
And that’s what they do. We live in a society where people think it’s ok to attack celebrities because it’s perceived that we’ve got this free ride and that we should be so happy with everything that we have to the point where it’s ok if everybody talks crap about us because I’m laughing all the way to the bank. I mean, that’s the mentality that goes with it, like I’m not a person, I’m not supposed to feel anything when somebody says stuff, because I’m lucky enough to be a star. If I’m that lucky I shouldn’t let anything bother me. And it’s valid to be bothered by that stuff. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t bother me. Most days I try to look at the source and go, well, I’m not that impressed by people that don’t impress me, so that’s a mentality I’ll try to take. But sometimes when you hear it come from someone you don’t know, it’s like, why? You kind of go, where does that come from? You almost feel sad that there’s that much negativity in the world. I just happen to be a target of it that day. It just makes you go, no wonder there’s bombings and Batman movie massacres. It really stems from the same thing. I don’t know that person but I’m going to hate them anyway. So whether you use your words as a weapon or whether you go out and shoot people, it’s the nucleus of that hate is not much different. And I think now that we have the internet, it’s like journalism run amok. You can’t tell the cowboys from the Indians (laughs). Nobody knows who they’re firing at.
Some people are looking for dirt and that’s what gives them energy for whatever reason. Would you want to have a relationship with somebody that functions like that? I wouldn’t. There’s a lot of people where it’s like, don’t you respect this journalist that is being negative and it’s like no, why would I? Can you imagine being in a relationship with that person, how that would feel? Now if somebody is being objective, that’s one thing [but tearing someone up] makes them feel better.
When you were at the height of your fame with Poison, how well do you think you handled it?
I could have handled things better. I think I could have handled money a little better. But I don’t think I was ever snotty or mean or anything like that. I’m sure I had my days, we all do. But I would have maximized the fame better. But I was twenty-three years old. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing really. But, yeah, there’s things I would have done differently about a lot of stuff. People say, oh I’ll never regret anything. I do (laughs)
It was an apartment building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I was with my dad and I was just learning how. I think I had just become an EMT, like maybe a month before that, and it was a black woman and this was her sixth child. It came out real fast and easy and she was kind of fun to deal with and it was a positive experience. It was really great. I think it was a boy, pretty sure it was a boy. And then my dad, probably within a couple of months after that, we were standing at The Spot, which was a hotdog stand on Market Square in Harrisburg, and a lady comes up to him and says, “How are you doing, Norm?” and he says, “Well, good, how do I know you?” She said, “Before I tell you that, I want you to meet Norman, this is my boy here.” And he said, “Wow, I like that name.” And she said, “You should, you delivered him so I named him after you.” And he hadn’t remembered that but it was pretty darn cool.
Sometimes you just don’t realize the people that you touch.
Yes. The woman will never have any idea that I was the EMT that night. I guarantee you she has no clue (laughs)
The other question was about you being a father. Now with another one coming, with all your life experiences, what do you want to pass on the most to your son?
So many things. I wish he was with me right now all the time. The main thing I want to pass on to him is please don’t let Grandma make you be a Patriots fan (laughs). No, I’m just kidding. There is just so many. I can’t wait – well, I can wait because by the time I can do this I’ll be old – but I can’t wait till him and I can have real father-son talks and I can tell him about some of the life things that I went through and what things I wouldn’t do again and what things I would do. And be sincere cause this just isn’t dad throwing it at you, this is dad who has been in a rock band for a long time and has really seen it, and at lightning speed cause everything happens so much faster in this lifestyle, at least while you’re out here.
Are you glad that you waited so long to have children?
No, it just happened that way. I would have liked to have been ten years younger but that’s just how it worked out. I am an older dad, I know that; I wish I was a little bit younger for him. But it is what it is so I’m just going to do my best. We didn’t plan this one so I’m going to be an even older dad but I just have to work harder to take care of myself.
You had something really special just happen. Will you tell us about that?
Alan contacted Poison thirteen years ago and said, “Hey, I’m a kid, I’m getting ready to graduate from Notre Dame and all us guys decided we want to put together as much money as we can and get Poison to play Notre Dame.” And we’re like, well, that would be neat to play Notre Dame, you know, a frat party, fuck, why not. Poison playing a frat party. So Bret and I really wanted to do it and we tried to put it together and it was just no way where we were located in the United States and when we could do a frat party. But we said, this is what we will do – all 30 of you guys come to the show. So they came to the show and we had a great time and all that stuff. And Alan kept in touch with us over the years. He would come out to a Poison show every year. He joined the Navy, started sending us letters from Afghanistan and Iraq saying, “Hey, I’m deployed over here, I’m flying a plane.” He brought twelve people from his squadron one time, flew in to Dallas. It’s like I said, it’s almost like we had this kid, like Poison had this kid that went off to war and we kind of stayed in touch with him. So he asked me several months ago when he knew we were going to be in town, he asked me if I would be part of the promotion ceremony to Lieutenant Commander and I said yeah, it’d be an honor. That’s what he does, he trains pilots and that’s all he does now and that’s what I did.