Bret Michaels

By: Lori Smerilson Carson  |  Photos by Sean McCloskey

When you have direction and determination, the sky is the limit. Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist Bret Michaels is proof of this as he not only achieved RIAA Gold and multi-Platinum status, has over 40 million records sold with his co-founded band Poison, but he has continued his music career with an extremely successful solo career spawning several hit albums and songs including some for professional sports. He has delved into movies, made several T.V. appearances, and now he is the recipient of a personal documentary. Florida fans can see this extraordinarily talented musician when he brings his latest show to the MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa, FL on August 4th.

Catching up with Michaels prior to his Parti-Gras tour, he revealed some details about the show, other projects that are going on, some past experiences and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: What can fans look forward to with the Parti-Gras shows?
Bret Michaels: The parti-Gras is gonna be an unbelievable amount of fun. I want to just say to you how important this parti-gras was to me. I’ve tried this on several levels and it’s worked. In other words, I experimented here. I had Mark McGrath come up onstage and half-way through the set we segued over to his songs. I’ve done it with Steve (Augeri) from Journey. I’ve done it with different people throughout my career. So, what I did is, I took that and I said, this has got to start with me. This is the truth. I made a phone call to each of these artists myself. From Night Ranger to (Jefferson) Starship to Steve to Mark McGrath, and I just told them look, you guys are my friends. Before we get into management, before we get into the agencies and everything, I’m doing this thing called Parti-Gras, Mardi-Gras. I created it, produced it and I took it to Live Nation. They really liked the idea. Their statement was “you brought the hits and you brought the party to the stadium tour, so let’s just take this into the amphitheaters.” Here’s the quote. I said, it’s got to be all killer, no filler. So, I said to my friends on the phone that have joined me now on this first run of it. I said, we got to go out there as friends and that stage will be big for all of us. I said, let’s all sing together. We’ll let Starship open it, Night Ranger. Then they’ll roll back under the stage when I come out to headline. Halfway through, I’m saying four songs into it, I’m gonna do the Poison hits and I’m literally going to throw the microphone to Steve from Journey. He starts, then he throws it to Mark McGrath. I mean, literally hit after hit after hit. That’s what this is. The minute fans roll in, I have a crew of people that are going out just to hand out beads and bandanas and it’s like a Part-Gras, Mardi-Gras.

SFL Music: So, you’re saying you’ll throw in some of the Poison songs and then you’ll do songs with the other artists?
Michaels: Seamlessly. Here’s exactly how it works. Starship will start it. I’ve got DJ’s up onstage spinning, and each band gets as big or almost the full stage so they can do a great show. Starship plays their hits, boom! Next thing you know Night Ranger’s up playing their hits and then when I hit the stage, I come out, do three or four songs. I literally, without even missing a beat, the next thing you know we’re doing “Don’t Stop Believin’”. Then the next thing we’re doing “Fly”. Then we’re back to doing “Talk Dirty To Me”. And then Starship and Night Ranger roll up onstage with me and we do more songs. By the time the evening’s done, people are like, that was all killer, no filler. Again, I got the idea, a lot of it was inspired by the Mardi Gras. I’ve gone down on the Orpheus float. I’ve been asked back many times. I go down there, throwing beads to everybody and it truly crosses all cultures. In other words, what I mean is, music to me is a universal language and it is one of those things that’s meant to unite us, not divide us, and that’s what I wanted to do. It’s got to start with the bands, the fans and the music being celebrated, and that’s what we’re doing.

SFL Music: Some of the special guests will be regional?
Michaels: Yes. So, I’m trying to flavor the region of where we’re playing, you know what I mean? We’re gonna call them mystery guests, but there’s a lot of people that I’ve anticipated. Oh My God, it could be this person from here or this person, but all of the sudden after we’re done with everything, all of the sudden this person walks up on you know, we’re right in the middle of it. I say, wait, wait. Hold on. We got one more. Boom! Then all follow spots fly over and we end up doing a song from an artist that’s a big artist from that area.

SFL Music: You’ve been doing a lot with your foundation, right?
Michaels: Yeah. I know that I’ve always said this, I want to make very clear. I’ll make this part short. So, we’ve got this new podcast coming out. It’s called Bret ‘the Boat’ Michaels which means Bret on any topic. Except for religion and politics. I don’t talk politics or religion. I said, listen, I can talk about a lot of stuff. I’m a solution, revolution guy, right? I’m like, let’s just come together as people and figure out a solution that makes prosperity for everybody, as best we can. Most people know I’m a son of a veteran and I put no politics onstage, but I’m always up there honoring our hometown heroes. Our vets, our front-line workers, first responders, teachers, utility workers. I bring them onstage no matter what the concert is. Whether I’m doing a rock show, out there co-headlining a country festival. I always bring ‘em onstage and I said, that’s part of what this tour will be about is also giving back to the hometown heroes in all of the cities.

SFL Music: You are really good about working out and taking care of yourself and that comes in handy with your touring pace, right?
Michaels: Absolutely! First of all, it starts out with knowing that I’ve been a diabetic since I’ve been six years old. I already got thrown that card because I always say, I’d rather be victorious than be a victim and that is truly how I feel. I say, I want to remain unbroken as long as I can, and so that means putting in the extra time to work out, feel good. Not to mention like I said, I’ve been through some really tough obstacles in my life. I’m not talking about just growing up, but tough obstacles in the sense of medically, or my health, and every time I get a chance to come back from those, I’m grateful for as I always say it this way. I’m grateful for great medical, the grace of God and a lot of great family, friends and fans. It inspires because the fans and family and your friends, they give you that extra bit of will and fight that you need, and then to come back from a brain hemorrhage and then heart surgery and a lot of other crazy stuff, and still be able to go out there and do that stadium tour and give a thousand percent. And that’s what’s been happening on the Parti-Gras.

SFL Music: What influenced you to become a professional musician? To do this as a career?
Michaels: Here’s the simple way to put this. For me, music moved my life. It inspired me in so many ways and then I just naturally started playing guitar. I’d start playing piano. I’d be singing. I’d go down to the small guitar shops, I would stare for hours. Other kids would get dropped off at the mall. My dad would drop me off at Bill’s Music in Mechanicsburg and I would just stare at the rows of guitars, the drum kits and so, it was just inevitably gonna be part of my life then and now. Here was the difference for a lot of people. I had this certain fight that is always inside of me that realizes that you have to be able to bridge that gap, and what I mean by that is I’m the kind of person that I just find a way to get it done. It isn’t always pretty, but when other people will be told you don’t have a chance of making it or told, look this song doesn’t sound good, I just never gave up and I just find a way to get it done. I think having that passion and that will, that’s what truly pushed me forward.

SFL Music: You always had great words of wisdom like work hard, play hard. You always had that keen business sense, but what would you say is maybe the secret to your success?
Michaels: Here’s the secret for me. I have a book. It’s my first one. There’re three volumes. The first one is simply called BRET MICHAELS AUTO-SCRAP-OGRAPHY. Just so you know, I made the book pictures that you could match to the stories. There’s nothing worse than a five-hundred-page autobiography, but there’s not one photo of the friends you’re talking about. I’m, like no, no. I want every story to be short, to the point and show the people and time stamped photos that I lived, but the secret for me as I’ve said in the book, is that its bet on yourself. Find a way to have fun, but you got to get it done. Never, ever let go of being hands on. That’s my opinion. Again, I want to make sure I state in my opinion, you got to bet on yourself. Whose gonna believe in me if I don’t believe in me? You better realize it’s not gonna be easy and when someone said no, it just made me come back fighting harder to prove them wrong.

SFL Music: That’s great advice. Is that what you would recommend to an up-and-coming musician?
Michaels: Here would be my recommendation. Here’s the greatest thing. Find the music you want to play. Stick to what you like to write, right? Then there is a ton of new opportunities out there. Look at the, I’m saying the world of the internet. Let’s just say social media. It’s given a lot of people opportunities. Make a list of how many different ways to get the music you love, starting with the music you’re passionate about exposed, but still you’ve got to take it to the streets. You still got to go play live. You still got to wake up and have that excitement inside of ya to take what you’re passionate about and do something with it. And again, I go back to this, take care of your business. In other words, surround yourself with good business managers, good people and follow your gut. If you start to feel someone isn’t good in your life, you’ve got to let them go. And there’s a lot of them out there. There’s a lot of great people and there’s a lot of sleazeballs. I hate to say it like that, but that’s the truth and I see it with a lot of musicians. This is the best thing I can tell them too. For me, there was no magical moment. For me it was a lot of small victories that’s kept me going. In other words, everyone shows you in a movie these aha moments, but the truth of the matter is, it’s a lot of small victories that lead up to a big win.

SFL Music: That’s important, I think.
Michaels: Really important because you know what happens to people? They watch a movie on T.V., go with me. Oh, my God! I was a janitor and the next thing you know; Clive Davis discovers me and there’s a hundred-million-dollar deal. It doesn’t work like that. I’m just telling you, that’s a movie. You go in there and you pick out the music you love and you find the next. It’s about steps. Its small victories leading to a big win.
SFL Music: I remember you went bungee jumping in Australia when that first came out.
Michaels: I had one minor detail. I was gonna go bungee jumping and I’m scared of heights. What I mean by that is, I’m not scared to climb up the mountain. It’s when I stop and look back down, I’m like whoa, ok. So, bear with me, it’s why I’m always charging forward. Never looking backward (he said laughing). So, I got on the edge of that thing in the middle of that stadium for MTV and they’re filming it, right? And they put the bungee around my ankles. Ok, I can’t make this up. You have to tell this story. They put the bungee cords around my ankles. Everyone’s excited. MTV is filming and they go three, two and they go, “you ready?” And I go, I’m ready and as I look down, I didn’t remove my shoes. Go with me, I had cowboy boots on. So, I thought as they go one and push me, that’s it! It’s over, meaning the only thing left in those two bungee straps is gonna be my cowboy boots. I cannot tell you how quickly I swelled my ankles. I’m not making this up. As I was going off the end, I go, oh my God, we didn’t remove my boots! It’s not attached to my legs, its attached to the boots and if my feet slip out of these, it’s over.

SFL Music: I don’t remember you telling me that part. I remember you said your life flashed before your eyes.
Michaels: It flashed and when I was going down, you know when you have a dream about falling and it takes you forever, but you know the ground’s coming? That is what happens. I remember in the back of my mind, I’m wearing, I cannot make this up, I am going, cowboy boots and I’m like holy crap! Like if this thing jerks the only thing left in there is going to be two boots. That’s it. Say goodnight (he laughed).

SFL Music: That’s scary!
Michaels: I’ve often times tried to block that out.

SFL Music: Well, someone was looking out for you.
Michaels: I’m telling you there is. I can say hands down, there has definitely been an angel. In my case an angel watching out for me on some of my less than reputable decisions.

SFL Music: Tell me about the documentary (The Origins of Bret Michaels on A&E) regarding your life. How did this come about?
Michaels: It’s gonna be a kick off with a two hour, all the shows are an hour long. Mine’s a two-hour special and we’re still filming parts of it. I drove them all around Pittsburgh, Mechanicsburg. In the studio in L.A., Arizona. It’s a truly in-depth, deep dive piece that A&E is doing. They’re doing this thing about the origins of a person, so they pick out me or Sammy Hagar, and then it sort of became its own life, and now it’s sort of Bret Michaels Unbroken: The Origins of Bret Michaels. They approached and they’re like, we’ve gotten so many requests of people asking these kinds of questions, but more of a deep dive like I said. I love to drive. So, one of my things besides the beach is I love to drive. I just love driving. I don’t know what it is, it’s just good for my soul. Whether it’s in the car or in the RV, on the Harley. So, I said, can we do a lot of this interview just driving around and talking so I don’t sit down and feel like I’m stuck in the same answers? I said, do you mind if we just drive around and I show you where this happened? Can I show you where this happened? And it ended up that’s what happened. They’re like “holy crap man. What a great deep dive,” but very organic, very natural.

SFL Music: Was there anything else fans can look forward to with the show?
Michaels: We’ve got people hired just to go out and go around. I have a tiki hut golf cart. I’m not making this up. I drilled an old school nerf basketball hoop onto the back of it and we throw the ball to the fans and while we’re moving, if any of them hits a swish, they’re getting backstage passes. I want this to be a carnival of good times (he laughed). A circus of awesomeness. A complete total fun circus of awesomeness on the Parti-Gras with a lot of give back to the people that are tailgating and having fun.

SFL Music: I think someday you should do a home improvement show because you seem to be very handy with building things.
Michaels: Thanks to my needing to make ends meet to be a musician. Let me say this, you’re gonna laugh. When I grew up in Butler, there was a motorcycle shop called Zanotti’s (Motor Co Inc) on route 8. I never knew growing up that they had a new section to the store because I only bought motorcycles (he laughed) in the used section in the back. What I mean by that is, we’d go in and we’d look around at the used bikes, and my dad’s like, “we could fix this one up.” That’s how I learned my mechanical skills and become appreciative of it. Back then you could take a used bike out and they’d give you a track you could ride around on. They don’t do that anymore, but those skills.

SFL Music: I’ve always spoken about how nice you are and how funny.
Michaels: I like to think that if I leave something that I treated people good, I was self-deprecatingly funny (he laughed), and kind to people.

SFL Music: Was there anything else that you wanted to add?
Michaels: Yeah, I just want to say first and foremost to the fans again, I go back to this. Thank you for a continued incredible career and always and forever grateful. Thank you for the Stadium tour and the Parti-Gras is gonna be awesome! It is my giveback.

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