Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Very Candid Conversation with Michael Des Barres

Since the 1960s, Michael Des Barres has had an extensive career in movies and music. He was first seen as one of Sidney Poiter’s students in To Sir, With Love. Following that, he would lead two of the most underrated bands in the 70s. First was Silverhead, a band in the early 70s that was considered a favorite of the glam rock scene. (Although when you read this interview, you will see Des Barres does not consider Silverhead to be a glam rock band.) The second band in the late 70s was Detective. They were signed to Led Zeppelin’s record label Swan Song where they supported Led Zeppelin and KISS. Classic Rock magazine has described their debut album as “the best album Zeppelin has never made.” Detective’s music appeared on an amusing episode of WKRP In Cincinnati where Michael played the lead singer of the band Scum of the Earth.

The 80s would turn out to be a very special decade for Michael, both as a musician and an actor. He wrote the song “Obsession” that would become a big hit for the group Animotion. In addition, he toured as a singer of the Power Station, a supergroup that featured Robert Palmer, Duran Duran members John Taylor and Andy Taylor, and Chic drummer Tony Thompson. When Palmer decided not to tour with the band, Michael got the gig as lead singer and toured with them, playing one of the most legendary concerts ever: Live Aid. In addition, they would make a guest appearance on Miami Vice. After The Power Station, Michal would make his most notable appearance as an actor in the TV series MacGyver. He played MacGyver’s most deadliest villain: Murdoc. Murdoc was MacGyver’s enemy from the very beginning, even before MacGyver decided to start fighting crime. In addition, despite falling off a deep cliff or mine shaft, Murdoc never died and would live to fight MacGyver the next season.

After MacGyver, Michael continued to keep busy, doing plenty of TV and movie appearances in the 90s and 00s. Seinfeld, Roseanne, Ellen, and Melrose Place are just few out of the many TV series Michael did. He appeared in NCIS on October 9, 2012 as a rock star.

Most recently, Michael has returned to music, releasing a solo album, Carnaby Street. The album gets frequent airplay on Steve Van Zandt’s radio station. Other musicians besides Van Zandt are fans of the album such as Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones, Michael’s old colleague John Taylor and the Stray Cats’ Slim Jim Phantom. The Philadelphia Inquirer has given the album 3 ½ stars out of 4. Carnaby Street is a return to the type of blues-oriented rock ‘n roll that was playing in the late 60s. Fans of bands such as The Rolling Stones and Humble Pie will love this album.

In this candid conversation, we cover the long and extensive career that Michael has had. We talk about his groups Silverhead, Detective, Power Station and his current stuff. We also discuss highlights from his acting career such as playing Murdoc. I want to thank Billy James from Glass Onyon PR for setting up this interview, but most of all, I want to thank Michael.

Jeff Cramer: Was your initial interest in acting or music?

Michael Des Barres:  Dental technician is what I wanted to be first. I was fascinated by floss.

JC:  [Laughs]

MDB:  I don’t know, man. Jeff, it’s a question, I’ve been asked a couple a times. I think the answer to it is self-expression is the most important thing to me, and I just really wanted to be able as an artist to express myself. It happened in various ways. I was in these boarding schools for eight years, eight to sixteen, and it was a very myopic, conservative upbringing.

Fortunately, there was a guy there that had a terrific collection of blues records, Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Mitchell, Muddy Waters, the usual list. And I became very obsessed with that kind of music. At the same time, I was fascinated by dramatics and acting because it was one of the only arty programs at the school, and I didn’t really identify with the science side of things. So it was in tandem. There was a parallel interest in both music and performance.

After I left school at 16, I was fortunate enough to get into the movie, To Sir, with Love, which really determined that I would act for the next couple years as a kid. And then I did a musical which combined across both my loves, which were music and acting, and Robert Stigwood introduce me toAndrew Lloyd Webber, and I got a record deal in Silverhead.

JC: Okay. Well, even though you mentioned blues, Silverhead was a glam band. Silverhead was signed on Purple records, when Deep Purple was huge enough to have their own record label.

MDB: Yeah. Glam. See, the thing is, Jeff, journalists and writers, and the media tend to all want to categorize, and I understand it. It’s the easiest way to access description. Glam. We were about as a glamorous as a rat in the sewers of Berlin.

JC: [Laughs]

MDB: We’re not – we were determined “glam” because we were very aggressive, which, you gotta understand where I come from, which is the late ‘60s, probably before you born, this is the revolution of androgyny and drugs.

So you get a joint of hashish and get a girlfriend and she puts eye makeup on you and now you’re glam. It’s such a lazy journalistic description. I would never – certainly Silverhead never thought they were glam. We were a blues band. But because our makeup was two weeks old and that the Sweet [one of the most famous glam bands of the 70s] had just arrived, we were categorized in that sort of very odd description. I had nothing against glamour. I spent my whole life fascinated with glamour, but to determine that we were a glam band, that is incorrect.

JC: My impression of Silverhead being a glam band came from the debut album. In the inner sleeve, you are wearing that hat.

Michael wearing hat

MDB: The artful dodger wore that hat. That hat was from the 1800s. With a kid in the streets of London – you know what I mean? Keith Richards wore that hat in ‘66. You know what I mean? When you look back as a writer, I guess you determine what is what simply because of the information that you have in front of you. But why – I mean is a top hat glamorous?

JC: Um – [laughs]

MDB: I mean if you wanna get philosophical about it, it’s just expression, self-expression, which is determined by people that are not wearing a top hat as glam. You listen to the music, does it sound like glam rock to you? [Readers can make their own judgment if as to whether Silverhead is glam by clicking on a video of Silverhead performing “Rolling With My Baby” by clicking here.]

JC: Silverhead does sound a lot like a glam band, I know, but they also did blues covers as well, The New York Dolls.

MDB: Yeah.

JC: I do remember David Johansen saying that the Dolls’ first concerts were at places where there were these retired old black men, and they were trying to see if they were coming off authentic enough to them.

MDB:Well, that’s Johansen being romantic. The fact is, is that David started off playing Max’s Kansas City. He’s a incredible blues musician but this was a reconstruction of history. But it is under the bridge. I mean who gives a fuck? It was blues music. It was derivatives of the blues. If you want to categorize it, go ahead. To me, it’s the least interesting thing about the band, how they were described. It was more important that we were twenty years old and wanted to express ourselves in the best way that we could, and we dressed like our girlfriends, and our girlfriends dressed like us and we played guitar and made a lotta noise, got laid, toured the world, and took lots of drugs. If that’s glam, great.

JC: Actually, now that you’re talking about blues, I’m now thinking about “Wounded Heart”. That song is kinda bluesy.

MDB:Yeah. They all are three blue chord progressions, all of the sounds on both of those albums. I think “Wounded Heart” is beautiful. It’s a sad song, not written by me, written by this wonderful guitar player that we initially had called Steve Forest, who was a very fragile guy, and wrote this beautiful “Wounded Heart.” [To hear “Wounded Heart”, click here.] I had a heart made of ice and steel at the time. And nevertheless, I loved the song, but it was not emotionally what I was going to do at the time. But I think I learned really early on that it’s great to interpret songs. I mean even my current band with Carnaby Street we do a couple songs, whatever song that happens to turn somebody on at that moment, we’ll do, because it’s just a wealth of wonderful songs to sing. Why would you inhibit yourself from singing them?

Yeah, “Wounded Heart”, is a beautiful piece of music. Remember, that we’re nineteen. [Laughs] We hadn’t been that wounded yet. And Steve left the band, because he just couldn’t take the conditions and rigors of being on the road.

JC: Its interesting about Silverhead because two of the other performers went to other things besides glam. Robbie Blunt, the guy who replaced Steve Forest, went on to play with Robert Plant. Nigel Harrison went onto Blondie. Of course, we’re going to talk about Detective and Power Station, which was all different from Silverhead. In an interesting way, we mention Johansen himself who didn’t continue glam right after The New York Dolls.

MDB: Yeah. And you begin and you life continues on different forms. I feel I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to play with all these disparate musicians. I’ve played with members of Led Zeppelin, Duran Duran, Blondie, all the incredible experiences. That’s good and Johansen did the same thing. I mean God bless him, tremendously talented guy. Now he’s a DJ on Sirius, and a terrific one. We’re lucky. We’re alive. Eighty percent of the people I came up with are dead.

JC: Silverhead eventually ended. Why?

MDB: Drugs.

JC: After Silverhead, we’re gonna get into Detective – I’m not gonna go into what band Detective reminded me of – but you were signed onto Led Zeppelin’s label: Swan Song. You had several people coming from different bands– not just you, but you had Michael Monarch from Steppenwolf, and Tony Kaye from Yes. All three of you did not make something that was, that sounded like any of your previous bands.

Picture of the group Detective

MDB: Good. Do you go out with the same girl every time you get a new girlfriend?

JC: [Laughs] No. Hell, no. [Laughs]

MDB: Well, that would be the analogy.

JC: Yeah.

MDB: Yeah, I fucked her and I did that, and that didn’t work. Let try something else. Or it did work, but I want to do something different. [To hear what Michael did different with Detective, click here for “Got Enough Love”, click here.] I think the key to longevity is change. Do you agree?

JC: Absolutely. I mean it’s not just music, but anything –whether it is another form of art, businesses, politics, religion, you can’t keep doing the same thing. It doesn’t matter what it is but if you don’t keep bringing in new people, you won’t survive.

MDB: Well, that’s it. I think that’s true. I think you’re absolutely right and very articulately described. In my life, I’ve found that the repetition is what drives people insane. And doing the same thing night after night. Unless you have a great overview of what is happening, like Mick and Keith do or like Townsend does. They were – I’ve spoken to them all about it, the fact that they consider that they are answers to generations of people that mean so much to. In my case, I was never in a band that huge, so I’ve always been working. I sometimes feel that it’s a prison, that it’s a beautiful prison. It’s a prison with velvet bunks [laughs]. And the warden’s tall and blonde. But it can be imposing. I think to continue the same process every day. Boy it can be. But when I played Murdoc I did it for six years, and even in a great character like that, after a while you start thinking, well, “Oh, my goodness this is getting just a touch repetitive.”

JC: But before we get to Murdoc, there’s one other TV character I want to get into first, the one you did while Detective was still going on: The Scum of the Earth band on WKRP in Cincinnati.

MDB: Yeah, that was so fun.

JC: Now let’s look at the whole character: well dressed, well spoken and yet having the mannerisms of a punk rock band.

MDB: It was written as a punk band, when we read it, and I had just met the producers of W KRP in ‘77, I think, and I just realized that the jig was up. The music is about the change, radically. And I suggested that maybe it was a little obvious and perhaps it would be even funnier to have well-dressed idiots then it would be if we wore safety pins. [You can watch the WKRP episode by clicking here.]

JC: Now with Detective, I’ve heard that Jimmy Page produced the debut album under a pseudonym.

MDB: Well, it’s a myth that I really can’t comment on. It is what it is.

JC: Okay. So I guess that’s that. And like Silverhead, would you say drugs is a similar reason to why Detective broke up after two albums?

MDB: Any band breaks up for two reason: drugs and money. That’s why bands break up. Ego equals money and drugs. One member lives in Beverly Hills, the drummer lives in Burbank, and that doesn’t work unless that group is a democracy. A democracy in rock ‘n roll is very difficult, Jeff, because you have the writer, you have the visionary, and you have the guys that fulfill that vision. Now, if a snare roll is considered part of the song because the drummer says so, then the band breaks up. Or if the singer fucks the guitar player’s girlfriend. You have your reasons. I will amend what I said. There are three reasons: sex, drugs, and ego [laughs].

And the same is true of Detective, which was an amazing experience because we were supporting Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin, at the peak of their popularity, of course, we were a part of that incredible experience, and it was amazing. It was truly fucking amazing, the power of it.

JC: Before you got into Power Station, one of the songs you actually wrote would turn out to be this massive hit for Animotion: “Obsession”. How close was Animotion’s cover of “Obsession” to your version?

MDB: It was pretty close. The music, I went with Holly Knight who wrote “Better be Good to Me”, “Simply the Best” for Tina Turner. And a list of extraordinary ‘80s hits,“Love Is a Battlefield”. Very gifted writer, and I was very lucky, and I got to write some words for her. I wrote the lyric and the melody, and she wrote the music. The music is ‘80s. The irony, I suppose about “Obsession” is that it’s about drugs. I had just recently quit drugs, and everywhere I went, I would hear this word “obsession” in my head.

"Obsession," I was just obsessed with – I’ve always been obsessed with things you know, but I just don’t act on it. And sort of the lyrics was really about somebody who was, I just turn into a relationship context where the object is a woman. But one can be obsessed with anything. But the music remains the same, than Animotion cut. What is different is, is that vocal delivery is of the ‘80s, which would mean very kind of flat and not particularly dramatic.

Holly and I cut it to a movie, and it was – and I almost spoke it because to sing it seemed inappropriate. It was so heavy. If you really listened to the lyric, it’s very demanding. It had a certain cinematic theatrical quality to it, but Animotion, God bless ‘em, made a wonderful version of it and it sold millions of copies. To this day, I’m very grateful. My accountant has the word “Obsession” tattooed on his ass.

JC: [Laughs]. Now how did you become involved with Power Station?

MDB: Well, it’s this great story. I was in a band Chequered Past, and we were supporting Duran Duran in San Diego. We got on really well. We did a great show and they went their ways. Cut to a year later, I think, and I got a call. I’m in Texas with my buddy Don Johnson, and he was making a movie and I was just hanging out. “Obsession” was number one all over the world. It was ‘85. I was very excited. It was a wonderful time.

I got this call saying, “Come to New York. Would you like to come to New York? There’s a singer that’s left this band, and this band needs a singer.” I said, “What band?” They said, “Well, we can’t tell you that. There’s a ticket waiting for you at the –” we were in Texas at the Marshall Texas Airport. We had to go to Dallas or something. Anyway, they said, “What are you doing this summer?” I said, “I’m hanging out.” “Come to New York. You’ll be very excited by this prospect.” I said, “Oh, okay.”

So I go to New York, and I go into this office. I get off the plane with this huge, white stretch limousine there, and I get into the limo. I go into Manhattan. I go into this office. There’s John and Tony. And they’re both looking extremely nervous and very glamorous, I realized it’s the fucking Power Station. They had the number one album. And they said, “Would you like to do this tour? It’s six months.” I said, “Yeah.” They said, “But you’ve got to go to London tonight to see Andy.”

And so we went from the office to the Power Station studios, which is in New York. I took the album, and then they took Robert Palmer’s voice off the album so I had the album with Robert and the album without Robert, and I got on the Concord and I flew to London. This is all in the same day.

JC: Yes.

MDB: I get to London, and I met with yet another stretch limousine, maybe six inches longer, and then taken to the – she said, “Story of my life.” And then taken to another hotel in the city. Stayed in the hotel. Sleep. Get up in the morning, go to a recording studio that I’ve been told to go to where I will meet Andy Taylor who is driving down from the north of England.

I’m in that studio for six hours. He doesn’t show up. I got it set off with the engineer and I had the great vocal sound. It’s all set up in the studio . He comes in, in a crowd of marijuana smoke, two bodyguards, he’s a little guy, brilliant, love him. They come in. He tells me,“Sing, Michael.” I sang one verse, one chorus. He hits the com, he says, “Let’s go shopping” [laughs] So I go out. We go to pick the clothes. I get back on the Concord. This is the next afternoon, fly back to New York, and we start rehearsals, to start rehearsals in a couple of days.

That night, I go to dinner with Don Johnson at a Chinese restaurant. Lo and behold, as I’m going to the restaurant, I get a phone call saying, “You’re out. Robert Palmer wants to do the tour. You’re gone. We had a lovely experience, but thanks so much. Bye-bye.” I go, “Fuck.” What a nightmare. I go to the restaurant. Lo and behold there’s me and Don in the restaurant and John Taylor walks in a little drunk. Don goes, “Fuck this,” and goes over to John, takes him outside and talks to him. To this day, I don’t know what he said. He comes back to the table. We don’t discuss it. I go back to the Carlisle Hotel. I go to sleep bummed ‘cause I was really looking forward to playing with them.

7:00 am, the phone rings, “You’re back in, Michael.” My manager had made a deal that Robert would – who really didn’t want to do the gig because he wasn’t the kind of artist that really could play in front of 20,000 topless girls, and I am [laughs]. So that’s what happened. They made a merchandizing deal with him where he would get a piece of this and a piece of that, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And that’s how I joined the Power Station. What was it, ten days later, we did a show call Live Aid. [To see the Live Aid show, click here.]

JC: Live Aid held here at Philadelphia, where I am calling you from.

MDB: Yeah, right there. Right at JFK. Where you are at this second. That’s right.

The Power Station

JC: I am glad you mention Johnson, I’m glad you brought this up because that’s when I first saw you, heard of you, all that. That was during the Power Station. I was watching MTV, and Don and you were on it together and I remember Don introduced the band at Live Aid.

MDB: Yeah, that’s right. And then about a week or so later, went to Miami and we did the show, we did Vice, and he came up and sang with us, which was hilarious because the entire thing, he was a huge star.

JC: I know Miami Vice was my favorite show at the time.

MDB: Of course. It was everybody’s favorite show. And what we did was what he sang. Because, again, I’d known him for ten years before that, before he got Miami Vice. He was with my ex-wife. We were one big family. And when we did play, what did we do? We did “Some Guys Have All the Luck”. You remember that song?

JC: Yes.

MDB: We did that song. But while he was – and he sang. While he was out front singing to his screaming kids – now that we got John Taylor, Andy Taylor and Don Johnson [laughs]. They were about to die. We all had Ray-Ban shades and when he looked around there were all wearing them. It was the cutest moment. I’ll never forget. And we got all these strippers to come out at the end of the show, which we knew would excite him. And it was just a momentous event, and just hilarious. It was literally a week or two after Live Aid.

Fuzzy picture of Michael and Don Johnson

The thing about Live Aid was nobody knew at the time about the singer of Power Station and suddenly he left. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. We did the biggest show in history, it is not as difficult a transition as it might appear. What was difficult was learning how to sing his songs. That wasn’t easy because Robert and I are diametrically opposed as singers.

It was a hell of a time. It was really extraordinary.

JC: Now this band, I know you’ve given the answer already to Silverhead and Detective  drugs, ego, and money but Power Station was bigger than the other two bands at this point, they just disappeared.

MDB:Well, the Power Station disappeared?

JC: I mean you had a top ten record, Live Aid, Miami Vice. If that couldn’t tell John and Andy that they could do it without Duran Duran, I don’t know what would.

MDB: It was just another project for John and Andy. I mean Simon and Nick had Arcadia. It was just they got bored. At 22, they were multi-millionaires. They couldn’t get any bigger in terms of rock ‘n roll, they went out and did something else, and then they came back together, again.

JC: Yeah, I know. I mean I am just surprised they would still come back to Duran Duran after all that success.

MDB:p; They’ve been together since they were nine years old. Why wouldn’t they not come back?

JC: No, I’m not saying that they had to breakup Duran Duran, but I’m just surprised Power Station just didn’t like keep going on – I mean I understand it can be hard to be in two bands at the same time.

MDB: I don’t know that anybody’s ever done that, Jeff.

JC: Yeah. Anyway, I know it was a side project and everything, but for a project it was incredible. As for Duran Duran, Andy didn’t stay very much longer with Duran Duran afterwards.

MDB:Yeah, you see he was fifteen years older then them. He had his own solo statement to make as an artist, and they were young kids. It was just this wackiness moment in time. It wasn’t a career move. It was just an artistic expression, and they did it together. They’ve always admired him. They loved Chic so they got Bernard and Nile to produce it. And Andy left to play harder rock guitar, and Steve Jones was his idol, and eventually, I introduced them both because I’d been with Steve and it’s just there’s no predictability to this thing is what I’m inarticulately trying to explain.

But things happen and you go with it. I think it’s a plot of strategize and this is working, let’s keep doing it. It doesn’t really work. It’s what you feel you want to do that matters. Makes things more authentic. And they made better music with Duran Duran, than they did with the Power Station. Yet, I think The Power Station album is an incredible record.

JC:Of course, right after that, you went on to MacGuyver, let’s talk about the villain, Murdoc. First off, I want to say that character must have the same genes that Friday the 13th’s Jason has. He never dies [laughs].

MDB: Yeah, he never dies. It’s hilarious. It’s very interesting. I went into one episode, and then ended up doing it for six years. So they had to make up something.

After the Power Station I went into audition and I got it, and I did it, and the network liked it. The fans like it and determined that I should come back, and I did. I mean, an AA meeting, I kept on coming back. It was fantastic and an incredible experience. And I got to work in Canada, and I love Vancouver. I love Canada. Beautiful.

Michael as Murdoc

JC:; Right. The other thing I liked about that character was not just the constant dying, but the constant changing of costumes.

MDB: Yeah. It was so lucky as an actor to be able to do that. How wonderful. How fitting that I could play a different accent and do all that, and it’s just a gift, absolutely and just beautiful, grateful. And I loved playing the character, and people to this day, I mean not a day goes by and some young kid doesn’t come up and start shooting with an imaginary gun. It’s sweet. It’s sweet to think that I was part of that culture, the ‘80s, TV villain. It’s very rewarding. I was voted Best TV Villain, very satisfying.

JC: You also got to play a villain against Clint Eastwood in Pink Cadillac.

MDB: Yeah.

JC: What was it like working with him?

MDB: I liked him. I really liked him a lot. You know, he is a huge music fan. And we were shooting in Nevada, in the mountains of Nevada I play an Aryan biker, a real bad guy. The first day I remember I arrived and we just really hit it off. That night, he said, “Come and watch this documentary I’m producing,” and it was on Thelonious Monk, the great avant-garde jazz musician. He had Arnold Schwarzenegger’s trailer gym and we watched the Monk documentary there. It’s very surreal, there to arrive in Nevada and look in the face of Dirty Harry, a guy I’d grown up watching, and then be the bad guy. I mean it’s just utterly incredible. Can you imagine it?

We really bonded over the movie. We never talked about politics. It was always about art. And he worked like I liked to work, just fast. Do it, you shoot it, and you get on with it, you do the next thing, sing the next song, play the next role, do the next take.

JC: Okay. Well, you kept busy on TV for the ‘90s, ‘cause I know I did see you on Melrose Place, Ellen and Seinfeld.

MDB: Yeah.

JC: But the one part I’m gonna ask you about is a small independent film where you were reunited with John Taylor in Sugar Town

MDB:Yeah, that was a beautiful experience, too, because John had never acted before, and it was directed by a brilliant writer/director named Allison Anders, and we were an incredible cast. And I get asked to play rock ‘n roll people a lot for obvious reasons, but I say no to most of them. This one was so authentic I thought, and so real because it was about a ‘80s band trying to do it, again. There’s a certain poignancy and sadness and that I thought was really interesting. And I had a great time doing it. Now a lot of it was improvised and it wasn’t really written. It was these situations that were set up by the director and then we would play them out. But everyone was so fucking talented. It was Ally Sheedy and Beverly D’Angelo, actors that are credible. And John Doe and John Taylor himself. It was a great pleasure to be involved in a movie that I thought was very authentic.

JC: I want to talk about one great scene where you’re at the bar, and these teenage girls come up to you with a vinyl, which by that point was no longer in service, and asks you for your signature. So first, you say, “Okay, well, none of my stuff’s on CD,” which was then the norm on how we listen to music at that time at which the movie was made. I know it has to be heartbreaking for that character, when the girls say, “It’s not for me, it’s for my mom.”

MDB: Yeah. And it’s a very real moment, and the girl’s name is Bijou Phillips.

JC: Oh, yeah, I didn’t recognize it was her that comes up to you.

MDB: Well, and it was a very beautiful moment. I remember that Allison had written it, and that thing where he finds out that she wants it for her mother, there was a speech that I started to say, but then I thought, “You know what? The most powerful thing here is what she said, not what I said. The real statement is my face.” How am I gonna respond to something, and realize that I’m not what I think I am anymore, and I thought that that was the more persuasive for an audience in silence than it would be explaining it verbally.

JC: I’m glad you bring up the silence, because another subtle scene in Sugar Town is the last scene between you and Beverly D’Angelo. We know you two had great sex, not by showing it, but we know it by the discussion you two have afterwards.

Michael and Beverly D’Angelo in Sugar Town

MDB:Yeah. It’s a good movie. A very well made movie, and I’m glad you picked up on it. It’s one of the things that I’m the most proud of because most of these rock ‘n roll projects, and I’d just done one for NCIS which airs in a couple weeks, but – which is equally incredible. This one was good because it was real, Jeff. We’re so used to seeing Jack Daniels bullshit, groupies nonsense peripheral surface of what rock ‘n roll is. Rock ‘n  roll is played by human beings¸ who are vulnerable, who are arrogant, who are people.

Hollywood has a real strange view of rock ‘n roll. They decide that you’re an idiot. That’s portrayed by Ozzy, or Russell Brand or some dufus. Not that I have anything against them, but its setting up an archetype that isn’t true. When I went to see Sid and Nancy with Steve Jones and Gary Oldman, Gary Oldman was on my left, and Steve Jones was on my right. And at the end of the movie, the lights came on and Gary turned over to me, looked at Steve, and said, “What’d you think?” and Steve took a beat – took a breath, stood up and said, “It’s got nothing to do with it.”

So it’s very difficult to capture rock ’n roll because it’s got nothing to do with what really happens. It is the music that happens.

JC: The one question I have to ask, even though it was not that big of a role, was what was it like working with David Lynch on Mulholland Drive?

MDB: Well, it’s a sore subject with me because I shot the pilot for ABC. ABC decided not to pick it up as a series because they didn’t know what the fuck it was about. What happened to David was he shot something that was incomprehensible and they didn’t understand it, so he took it away and made it into a movie. Then the pilot, I had a terrific role as the bad guy. In the movie, I’m not in it. I’m eating a hot dog. Working with Lynch for two weeks and then ending up on the cutting room floor because he then came up with the device of the two girls and turned it into a movie, but initially that wasn’t what I shot.

So it’s bittersweet. I spent two weeks with one of the greatest filmmakers that ever lived, but I had my memory and what I learned to show for it. But you know but that’s it, and one shot of me in black leather. So it’s a little – there’s a classic story about what show business is in that experience.

JC: Right. Now you hadn’t done music in a while. What made you decide to come back and record Carnaby Street.

MDB: Well, I took stock. It’s one of the things that I know you’ve had them, Jeff, yourself, where you, “What am I doing? What do I like to do? What do I want to do?” I’m 64 years old. I was 61-62 when I was down in Texas a lot. A friend of mine has a beautiful ranch down there and I go down there and hang out. And I was reminded by these incredible musicians down there what it was all about, and I would get up and sing.

It increased my awareness of what I really love to do the best, which is sing in a nightclub with a guitar around my neck and play rock ‘n roll music. And that is what I love, so that’s what I’ve proceeded to do. I wrote a bunch of songs. I became very familiar with the social networking and I wrote these posts and people started to dig ‘em and thousands of people started to read them in Facebook and Twitter, all of that stuff.

And I started to get back into lyrical writing, and I put these songs to like the music of the late ‘60s which I was inspired by the blues the Stones, the Faces, Humble Pie, music that nobody can play anymore or tries to play anymore. And I wanted to revisit that, and I wanted to reintroduce that to people. And look what happened. It’s the biggest record I’ve ever had. It’s gotten the best reviews I’ve ever gotten. Steve Van Zandt’s playing it hourly. And it’s selling.

I mean, what a shock. And I’ve been invited to go to New York and sing with Steve Van Zandt and the E Street Band October the 16th, and we’re packed everywhere we play, every club. And in January, we’re going on a major tour, which I can’t tell you who with, because blah, blah, blah. But it’s been the most satisfying thing of my entire career, Carnaby Street.

JC: One thing you mention about the late ‘60s – ‘cause the one thing that struck me when I first heard the album was an instrument I haven’t heard in a long time, and I’ve missed it for a long time: The Hammond organ.

MDB: Yeah, fucking A! That’s very smart of you, Jeff. Because what it does is, it reminds you of this long joyous sexy music that nobody is playing. Rock ‘n roll is either ironic, aggressive, angry, apologetic, or sweet and sensitive. There’s no sex in there. Rock ‘n roll is a sentiment for fucking. That’s what it is. It comes from the blues. I want carnal, sexy rock ‘n roll records. And that requires B-3 keyboards.

So I know that if I had that on top of a really great guitar player, which Eric Schermerhorn is ‘cause he was with Iggy for years, that he’s got all the roughness and he’s also a great blues player, but that is saying I’m so glad you picked up on that, and it’s so great because that’s what makes that album what it is, why everybody’s gone crazy for it because it’s got a warmth to it. It communicates something. It’s not preaching or shouting at you. It’s just letting you sit in that pocket and bathe in that incredible blues and rock ‘n roll.

JC: I understand “Little Latin Lover” [To hear a sample of “Little Latin Love, click here] is the current single, but there were several songs that I thought that could be easily the next single.

MDB: What would you put up for a single?

JC: “Hot and Sticky.”

MDB: Yeah, that’s my girlfriend’s favorite song. [To hear a one minute sample of “Hot and Sticky”, click here.]

JC: “Hot and Sticky” reminds me of a little roller coaster going up and down.

MDB:Yeah. It is ‘cause people go crazy, especially the girls, when we do it live. At the end of it, it really goes off into a sort of a Stonesy,- “Midnight Rambler”-like ending that is so infectious which just hit on a groove. I wanted to make a record that was very short, like Beggar’s Banquet, that was really three-minute songs, and that’s it. And I think that’s another reason why people like it because there’s no excess. There’s no indulgence on it. It’s . . . we’re just getting to the point, play with it, and then we recorded it in a week.

JC: That was one of the things I like about Carnaby Street is that it is back to the length albums used to be – around 35 – 40 minutes. I don’t think there’s any song that goes beyond four minutes.

MDB:“Please Stay” is five minutes, which is that ballad, as it were. [To hear a one minute sample of “Please Stay”, click here.]

JC: Oh, yeah, “Please Stay”, okay.

MDB: It’s a Gospel thing, and that, I wanted them to play. I really wanted you to hear that keyboard solo – I think that’s important on any album that you should hear the musicians shine.

JC: Well, “Please Stay”, that’s another one I could say that could be easily a single. “Sugar” was another one.

MDB: Yeah. [To hear a sample of “Sugar”, click here.]

JC:Also this is another thing we’ve talking about – different directions. Carnaby Street is not Silverhead. It’s not Detective. It’s not Power Station.

MDB: Yeah. The difference this time is I play guitar. In the last three-four years, that’s all I’ve done. I’ve done a few movies and I’ve done a couple of TV things, but essentially what I’ve done is play guitar, play guitar live. I played guitar in every song on the album, while I was singing. I’ve never made a record where I was playing guitar and singing at the same time, like in one take, two takes, tops. Everything you hear is live. I’ve never fixed anything. I didn’t go in and say, “Oh, I’m a little flat here. How ‘bout an ad-lib.”

Michael and band live in action

I didn’t do any of that. The only thing I did was put some tambourines on it, some backups and it worked. It’s real music. Now I’m not saying that Lil Wayne isn’t real and there’s some brilliant music out there, there’s no question about that, but it’s just not my kind of music. But I appreciate everybody who goes in, whether it’s a laptop or a slide guitar, God bless you. Good luck. But it’s just my cup of tea, is Muddy Waters and skinny white guys in London in velvet trousers.

JC:So is the music now your biggest top priority over acting?

MDB: No, it is completely my priority. It has to be because we’re asked to play everywhere. We’ve never played a gig where people didn’t go bonkers. I’m not saying that out of arrogance. It’s because we’re doing it together. This is my thing. After every song, I say, “We love you. We’re so excited to be with you playing these songs with you. Not for you, but with you,” because they’re with us. That music is so inclusive. It’s not exclusive. It really invites people into your life. And if you listen to the words, I’m talking to specifically about love, about redemption, about sex, about connection, and people feel connected. If you sing about connection and you do it with a smile on your face and your band members are obviously enjoying themselves, you’re going to enjoy yourself. So it’s a conversation. It’s not a sermon.

And there’s so much music out there where people are literally playing at you. They’re not playing with you. Not even for you, but with you. Like one – especially in the clubs, which I really much prefer to anywhere else. It’s just a packed club where it just becomes like one thing, like one organism. Everybody’s there together. The music is so in people’s DNA. They might not know it, especially the young ones. I mean, at least 80% of the audience is in their 20s.

JC: That’s great. That’s great.

MDB:Which means that people long to hear the Faces again because it’s so infectious. So I’m tremendously proud of my band, and I think the record is fucking awesome and everybody should go out and get it immediately and enjoy themselves and make love to it.

JC: This is gonna be the last question I ask you. If you just had the acting career alone, that would be impressive, likewise with the music, and you did nothing else, that would be impressive. Here, you have the case of a great music career and a great acting career, what would you say the reason for why you were that successful or what do you think’s the secret to your success?

MDB: The secret to my success is saying yes. I have said yes to everything. I have never, ever said no to anything. I’ve said yes to everything. I’ve been prepared, and I’ve been ready, and I have been an ensemble actor and musician. I love to collaborate with people. I never say no to something without playing or hearing it first. I’m a collaborator, but the most important thing, man, is I love the arts and I love to communicate with fellow artists. And there’s no greater feeling than achieving something together.

It’s not something that you do egotistically, narcissistically. It’s something that you do with people. So, the main thing throughout my life has been about connecting, not only with an audience, but with your fellow artists. Your life exponentially is more rewarding the more connected you are, and I think that the discipline of theater when I was young, when I was very young – eight, nine, ten, is when I first started to act. I’d do little bits and pieces and then I’d go away to these schools and then I’d do some acting and it was always about the discipline of the learning those lines and being ready to do it. Even when I was out of my mind on cocaine, I still had a sense of discipline. So, I would say discipline, and I would say doing things for the love of it, and always saying yes and being eager to please.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Interesting blog posting though I've never quite figured out why MDB is viewed as being "famous" at least in the commonly accepted sense of the word. In fact his former wife is more well known than is he. Yes I know all about him and his brushes with fame vis-a-vis bands like Detective. Sure he was a running mate of well known musicians and broke into the sitcom world and a few movies but he has always been on the fringe. But as far as a "veteran rocker" on the same level as Jagger, Plant, Bowie, Daltrey, the guy has alawys come up short. To be fair I don't think he has tried to sell himself as a rock star although he has played that type of role on TV and such. There were lots of talented singers back in the day who didn't quite make the big time - MDB was just one of them. He was okay - not great not bad but I am truly amazed that people still talk about him at all.