Crossroads: Poison's Rikki Rockett

Pivotal moments propelling musicians from obscurity to infamy
by Mark E. Waterbury

Everyone remembers the “glam rock” era of the mid to late 80’s. Sure, there are some folks who would just as soon forget that era, but let’s face it; there were some extremely popular bands during that time frame. Some of them have even helped to rekindle a serious interest in glam rock, an even quicker rebirth of musical popularity than the 70's music garnered. It seems natural that Poison is one of those bands to lead the resurgence because they were one of the main innovators of glam to begin with. The foursome roared out of the L.A. music scene to produce several multi-platinum albums, spawning top-ten hits of hooky and often risque music, and playing to sold-out arenas with their wild onstage antics and explosive show. They also survived forces that could have buried them forever, and are now once again becoming a viable force in rock and roll with a new studio album and an even bigger and badder stage show on tour.

Drummer Rikki Rockett knew that his central PA home stomping ground would not cut it for a band that wanted to be successful. Mired in the cover band muck, Rikki and his bandmates which included vocalist Bret Michaels decided it was time to make a move. “We wanted more. We didn’t want to be a live juke box,” Rikki muses. “It was OK to make money and we were doing what we loved, which was playing music; but we were doing other peoples' music. There’s only so long you can do that. And the other two guys in the band were more content to work day jobs and play on the weekends, and we wanted more. So we wanted to put together the ultimate band, and put everything into it we ever wanted to put in a band, and write our own music.” The first step the band took was adding Bobby Dall, a guitarist who was so into the ideas that Rikki and Bret had that he switched to playing bass to join up and told them he would do whatever they wanted him to do to help make the band successful. They then brought in guitarist Matt Smith and the band headed to L.A. to try to see how the formula worked. But unfortunately, one of the ingredients wasn’t quite there. “It didn’t work out with (Matt Smith),” Rikki remembers. “He couldn’t take living in the poverty we were living in at the time. I mean, we lived with the cockroaches until we went on our first major tour.” The band held auditions, and guitarist number fifty-six was C.C. DeVille, who finally fit the mold that the band wanted

Now that the Poison lineup was complete, the band began to develop their stage presence and played out as much as possible. They were having a rough go of it because at that time, the L.A. scene was more into bands that were emulating the British heavy metal types such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. But Poison kept slugging it out, developing their frenetic live show as they went on. Other similar bands followed in Poison’s wake, and soon people also started to coin a new sub-genre phrase to describe Poison’s general musical aura. “Poison literally created the glam scene in L.A. at that time. We sort of meshed a lot of our influences and took so many of the acts that were happening in L.A. along with some that were not, and we’d do shows together. We’d get some of the weirdest combinations of bands to play together, and that became a scene and that scene became glam. During that time, they were selling and signing more metal bands, but after we were there, that started to change. They realized that type of metal was not really viable on the radio, so they began to turn their attention to bands like us, who were drawing big crowds.”

Poison eventually caught the attention of the indie label Enigma who put up twenty-eight thousand dollars so the band could record their debut album. “These days that kind of money won’t even pay for the producer. We did everything for that amount. And then we went out and toured as an indie band. We actually stayed an indie band for several years, and we never did get that big paycheck that said, OK, you guys can go make that big record and go buy cars and get an apartment. It never happened that way.” Poison continued to perform at a torrid pace, and finally Capitol Records decided to distribute Poison’s album along with the recordings of two other Enigma acts. They put Poison on tour opening for Ratt, and that’s when people nationwide began to realize what an incredible show Poison put on. Capitol decided it was worth it to fund another video. Poison had already done a video of the song “Cry Tough,” which was somewhat successful, but had not really received widespread notice. “When they told us they wanted to do another video, we thought “Talk Dirty To Me” would be a great song. And it was going to be a real cheap video so we wanted to do a fun one. There wasn’t going to be a common thread in the whole video. We were going to wear different outfits every scene. No continuity whatsoever; let’s turn the cameras on and have a good time. And that’s what we did, and for some reason, the damn thing worked!” The “damn thing” worked well enough that Poison’s debut “Look What the Cat Dragged In” went on to sell over four million copies and would top-out at number three on the charts. The two following albums - 1988’s “Open Up and Say...Ahh!” and 1990’s “Flesh and Blood” - would also go multi-platinum, both peaking at number two. With a number of singles also placing high on the charts, it seemed Poison was on top of the world.

Things started to slip some in the early 90’s. Bret and C.C. had a well-publicized rift that ended in fisticuffs with the guitarist walking out on the band. Subsequent replacements Richie Kotzen and Blues Saraceno just didn’t quite fit in, and in spite of the “Greatest Hits” album's hot sales, the only studio effort after C.C.’s departure didn’t sell nearly as well as the first three albums did. Then Bret Michaels was involved in a serious car accident and a sex-tape scandal, and C.C. was fighting with drug abuse problems. It appeared that Poison’s run was about to peter out. “I considered us to be America’s number one dysfunctional rock and roll family,” Rikki muses. “There were times when every other day I didn't know what punch was going to come from around what corner. We realized that until C.C. was healthy and ready to come back, we did not need to go out and give the world more half-assed Poison, which is what it was for a while. We gave it a try for a while, but it wasn’t working. So we just tucked our heads away for a while and felt when it’s time, we’ll do it again.”

The time came in late 1998, when Bret and C.C. finally put aside their differences. The band reunited and returned to the stage, and once they were there it seemed that the magic had returned. “This feeling came across everybody and we all just started laughing. We stopped playing and kind of thought to ourselves, "Wow, we have that feeling again". Kind of like having an argument with a girlfriend and then hooking back up, and thinking, "Oh thank God, I’m home", in a way. The fit was definitely right.” Poison continued touring and began a summer tour called the Glam Slam Jam Tour which included other bands from their era. May of 2002 would see the release of a new full length studio album “Hollyweird” and with this year’s Glam Slam Jam in full swing featuring another flamboyant show involving massive production, Poison may be recapturing even more of that old magic they had in their mid-80's heyday. “As long as it’s working and it makes sense and we’re doing something positive, we’re going to keep it together. We have the money, so we don’t need to do it for the money at this point. It’s gotta be a positive thing or we’re just ripping ourselves and the audience off. We’re not going to whore the name to make money. We could have done that in many ways, but we have not done that. What we have to say as a rock band is valid. Just because we don’t write about it the same way as U2 does, doesn’t mean it’s less valid. But right now, the feeling is there, and it just goes to show that this little dysfunctional family has some magic about it. It could go away any day. We had a blowout the other day and then patched things up. But I think us walking on eggshells is the spark that lights a fire that has a little bit of magic to it.” Poison is currently on tour with Faster Pussycat, Winger, and Cinderella. http://www.poisonweb.com :->

Industry Profile: Greg Loescher - Goldmine Magazine's Editor

by Mark E. Waterbury

Greg Loescher didn’t know how his first foray into the publishing business actually brought him close to where his career would lie. Born in Appleton, Wisconsin, Greg developed an early love for music, collecting records while he grew up. “I had my own 78(RPM) record player,” Greg recalls. “I used to get 78 children's' records through the mail, and then I got into my grandmother’s classical 78’s and my mom’s albums of show music. As a kid, I was really into 45’s, sticking up cutouts and the like. I was loving the B-sides more than the A-sides. But I had always been into collecting music.” His first actual job with publications was on the far end of the peripheries; as a paper boy delivering a local shopper guide when he was fourteen. He found out later that the owner of that shopper printed a record collectors magazine called Goldmine right there in Greg's hometown of Appleton.

Greg entered college at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with the intent of going into business and marketing. But Greg instead felt the urge to enter into publishing so he went to New York City, where he managed to get his foot in the door at a small daily by driving delivery trucks. Learning as he went along, he worked his way up to being the head of the business department. “A lot of people go to school for journalism and get a job in it after graduation. But I took the back door route. It’s just the way that it happened.” Greg worked at various publications in several cities before he decided to return to his home state, where he joined up with Krause Publications in the town of Iola, Wisconsin in 1982. Krause’s main focus was publishing magazines catering to various collectors. There, Greg became the promotions manager for several of the magazines. It was after being employed there for a year and a half that Greg had his first real exposure to Goldmine Magazine. “I saw a copy of the magazine when one of our employees, a big record collector, brought it to the attention of our founder and said it would be a really cool magazine since it’s about collecting records. I thought it was really cool myself, and a year later, we bought the magazine. I was one of the first people in the world to know about that deal.” At first, Goldmine became another magazine Greg was managing promotions for. It was also the last magazine he had to cut managing promotions for when he became more involved with management at Krause. But when the publisher of Goldmine left the company in 1990, Greg jumped at the opportunity to take that position. “I never really thought of being a publisher, but when the opportunity arose, it just seemed to make sense at the time. It was a good transition for the magazine since I was involved in it with certain aspects before.” Greg remained the publisher of Goldmine until 1997 when he decided he would preferred to be the magazine’s editor so he could become more involved in the creative aspects. “I was so far away from the production side of a magazine that I felt I wasn’t really part of it anymore. Besides that, I wanted to get back into writing as well.”

Along with its content about record collecting, Goldmine also does articles, interviews and reviews on musicians from several genres, from early recording right up to the modern ones. They also like to do reviews and features on indie artists because their music can often end up being more collectable. “Our readers want to know everything about collecting and how much a particular record may be worth, but they are also into the history of the music itself. But we also run reviews of indies, and today many singer/songwriter types are on their own labels or on indies. Most of the indie submissions we receive include personal notes from someone in the band saying they’ve been reading Goldmine for years, so I want to help those folks out. But I also read what their press kits say and try to get a sense of what they are all about. We get about five hundred CDs a month and first we determine if the style would be something our readers are interested in. It can be a mixed bag, but if it’s too out there, it probably won’t go over well. Our readers are a little older, but we still do cover some modern alt bands.”

At the moment, the only thing Greg wants to do other than continue working with Goldmine is to get up on stage with Corky Lange from the band Mountain who he recently had contact with, and play the cowbell part on “Mississippi Queen.” Beyond that he is quite happy with his editing position. “I’ve always had that publishing, deadline pressure in my blood. It’s a fast-paced job, and it allows me not to become musically stagnant. I listen to everything from old 30’s blues and jazz right on up to the new music coming out and everything in between. I have fairly eclectic tastes for this, but even more so now since I get so much music. I’ve always loved music, and every time I’ve moved to another residence, the first thing I unpack is my stereo. Forget everything else, that’s the most important item!” For more info, visit www.krause.com :->

Quote of the Month.....

All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story." - James Baldwin, novelist & essayist

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