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Original members include Bobby Dall (born in Florida), bass; C. C. DeVille (born Cecil DeVille in Brooklyn, NY; replaced by Richie Kotzen [born in 1972 in Birdsboro, PA; replaced by Blues Saraceno, 1993], 1992), guitar; Bret Michaels (born March 15, 1963, in Pittsburgh, PA), vocals; and Rikki Rockett (born in Mechanicsburg, PA), drums. Addresses: Management-- HK Management, Inc., 8900 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 300, Beverly Hills, CA 90211. Record company-- Capitol Records, 1750 North Vine St., Hollywood, CA 90028.
Poison were forerunners of the glam-rock wave that swept the late 1980s. Starting out in Pennsylvania as Paris, they moved to Los Angeles, changed their name, teased up their hair, and adorned themselves in heavy makeup, all because they wanted people to stop and take notice; eventually, people did.
In the early 1980s singer and bartender Bret Michaels and drummer Rikki Rockett joined forces to form a band called the Spectres in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They then teamed up with licensed cosmotologist and bassist Bobby Dall and guitarist Matt Smith to form Paris. After playing mostly rock cover songs in Pittsburgh-area bars, they set out for Los Angeles in an ambulance Michaels bought for $700. In 1985, Smith was replaced by New York-born guitarist C. C. DeVille, a clinical psychology major known for his guitar work with bands like Lace, the Broken Toys, Screaming Mimi & St. James, Van Gogh's Ear, and Roxx Regime (which later became the Christian rock band Stryper). Thus was formed the lineup that would bring the band its greatest fame.
Poison began to spread their potent dosage up and down Hollywood's Sunset Strip, passing out flyers and making the rounds performing in the famous local clubs. It wasn't long before they were recruited by Enigma Records, a division of Capitol Records. In August of 1986, Poison launched their debut album, Look What the Cat Dragged In. It cost only $30,000 to record and became the biggest-selling-album in Enigma's history. With radio hits like "Talk Dirty to Me," "I Want Action," and "I Won't Forget You" and heavy rotation on MTV, their debut earned the band tours with fellow glam rockers Ratt, Cinderella, and Quiet Riot, as well as a coveted slot in the Texxas Jam in Dallas.
Singer Bret Michaels attributed Poison's success to the universality of the band's songs. He told Teen Star's Photo Album, "Poison's music is kind of a soundtrack for everyday life. I'm singing about the things that I know about, and that's honestly how I feel." Nonetheless, after four hit singles and videos and a Top 10 multi-platinum debut album, Poison received largely negative criticism from the press and ridicule from fellow musicians. Their glam image and good-time attitude inspired many to make light of their musical skills. Record sales figures and a growing fan base, however, amply attested to Poison's widespread appeal.
The band quickly followed their first world tour with another foray into the studio. In 1988, they teamed with noted rock producer Tom Werman and released Open Up and Say ... Ahh! Originally titled Swallow This (One), Poison's second set was met by controversy. Some large record chains refused to sell the album because of its cover art, which depicted a female devil with a large, phallic tongue. The offending image was reworked to reveal only the woman's eyes, and the album rocketed in sales and popularity, starting with the first single "Nothin' but a Good Time," followed by "Fallen Angel," the smash ballad "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," and "Your Mama Don't Dance."
After touring with former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth, the band moved from support status to headlining their own tour in September of 1988, and by December, "Every Rose" had become the second-biggest-selling single of the year.
Critical acclaim and respect continued to allude the band even after their second hit release, and conflict pursued them persistently. Bryn Bridenthal, head of publicity at Geffen Records, slapped a $1.1 million lawsuit on the band for drenching her with drinks and a bucket of ice at a music industry party. Then, Sanctuary Music, Poison's former management company, filed a $45.5 million breach of contract suit against the band. Poison retaliated with charges of mismanagement of funds. Michaels's frequent brawling garnered him further lawsuits in Tallahassee, Atlanta, and Los Angeles.
Poison continued their adherence to the "work hard, play hard" motto, following up with their next album in 1990. Four weeks after its release, Flesh and Blood reached Number Two on the U.S. charts and Number Three in the U.K., buoyed by the record's infectious first single, "Unskinny Bop."
Shedding their big-haired image as they moved into the 1990s, Poison took a more mature approach to their third album. In Screamer magazine Michaels explained how Flesh and Blood signaled a change in the band: "I think that the same way that we shocked people in the beginning with the look, this one might shock them with the music a little bit. This one's the one that's going to show that there's a little bit of another side to the band." Indeed, maturity, cynicism, and loss tempered Poison's previously carefree, party-atmosphere lyrics--partly due to the death of the band's security guard and close friend James Kimo Maano, for whom they wrote their hit single "Something to Believe In." They also stood by their convictions and seemed to gain a fresh sense of hope with songs like "Ride the Wind" and "(Flesh and Blood) Sacrifice."
After a successful tour and their third multi-platinum album, Poison released Swallow This Live, culled from performances on their Flesh and Blood tour. But by then, drugs and strife among bandmembers had begun to take their toll. "The loneliest time of my life was when I was at the mixes for the live record," Michaels told RIP. "It was one of the few live albums to be totally live and unfixed. When we were doing it, I knew C. C.'s heart wasn't there, wasn't with the band."
By the following year, DeVille had parted ways with Poison, young guitar virtuoso and Pennsylvania native Richie Kotzen stepping in to take his place. After three instrumental releases of his own, Kotzen brought a distinctly new sound to Poison's next record, Native Tongue. He told Guitar Player, "People have to realize that being in this band, and the music that I'm making, is something that has always existed inside me. I'm being even truer to myself on the Poison record, even though it's not a solo thing."
Released in February of 1993, Native Tongue earned Poison somewhat better notices in the rock press, but did not sell as well as their previous efforts. The Los Angeles First A.M.E. Church Choir joined Michaels on vocals for the first single from Tongue, "Stand," a song about pride and courage. Another tune, "Stay Alive," captured Michaels's state of mind when he was forced to take bassist Dall to a drug rehabilitation clinic in Florida, and "Strike Up the Band" recalled the band's roots playing clubs in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.
Poison's 1993 Midwest tour averaged a mere 2,000 seats sold per venue, and sales of Native Tongue barely passed the gold status of 500,000. Their new blues-rock, down-and-dirty sound took Poison even further away from their Look What The Cat Dragged In beginnings. It seemed as though the band's evolution was lost on the largely fickle rock audience.
During their world tour for Native Tongue, struggle and discord struck Poison once again. In July of 1993, the band fired Kotzen because of a personal dispute between him and another bandmember. Poison asked DeVille to fill in for the remainder of the tour, but he declined in favor of focusing on his solo project. Poison finished the tour with Los Angeles-based guitarist Blues Saraceno, their second choice after Kotzen, as DeVille's replacement. Saraceno officially joined the band in late 1993. Meanwhile, Kotzen went on to sign a solo deal with Geffen Records.
The members of Poison have seen their share of ups and downs since the release of their first album in 1986--the sale of more than 15 million records, a total of 10 Top 40 singles, sold-out international tours, the well-publicized departure of C. C. DeVille, and the subsequent exit of Richie Kotzen. And despite often withering notices from critics and some of their peers, they have managed to make a significant, occasionally uplifting mark on the rock 'n' roll world and touch the hearts of millions of fans.
by Sonya Shelton
Band formed in Pittsburgh as Paris, 1983; relocated to Los Angeles, c. 1984; DeVille joined group and band name changed to Poison, 1985; signed with Enigma Records and released Look What the Cat Dragged In, 1986.
- Selective Works
- Look What the Cat Dragged In (includes "Talk Dirty to Me," "I Want Action," and "I Won't Forget You"), Enigma/Capitol, 1986.
- Open Up and Say ... Ahh! (includes "Nothin' but a Good Time," "Fallen Angel," "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," and "Your Mama Don't Dance"), Enigma/Capitol, 1988.
- Flesh and Blood (includes "Unskinny Bop," "Something to Believe In," "Ride the Wind," and "[Flesh and Blood] Sacrifice"), Enigma/Capitol, 1990.
- Swallow This Live Capitol, 1992.
- Native Tongue (includes "Stand," "Stay Alive," and "Strike Up the Band"), Capitol, 1993.
- Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, ABC/CLIO, 1991.
- Periodicals BAM, June 3, 1988.
- Circus, September 30, 1987; January 31, 1988; December 31, 1988.
- Daily Variety, June 10, 1993; July 26, 1993.
- Guitar Player, June 1993.
- Hit Parader, September 1993.
- Los Angeles Times, July 25, 1993.
- Metal Edge, October 1989.
- People, August 23, 1993.
- RIP, May 1993.
- Screamer, May 1988; July 1990.
- Teen Star's Photo Album, February 1987.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from HK Management, Inc. press materials, 1993.
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