- - Sunday, April 5, 2015

Michael Des Barres is the glam lead singer of underrated bands Detective, Silverhead and Chequered Past. He is also the wiry dude who stepped in for Robert Palmer as the touring lead singer of Power Station and blew away the audience at Live Aid. Mr. Des Barre co-authored one of the sexiest songs ever, “Obsession,” and managed to temporarily tame the heart of groupie maven Miss Pamela (now his ex-wife).

In addition to his music credits, the British native has over 50 film and television credits, including “MacGyver,” “To Sir, With Love,” “Melrose Place,” “CSI,” “Bones” and “Mulholland Drive.”

Put simply, Michael Des Barres is rock ‘n’ roll. Although he has nothing to prove, his latest album, “Key to the Universe,” is a true love letter to rock.

Question: What motivates you to keep making rock ‘n’ roll?

Answer: Just breathing. It’s so interesting when people talk about Mick Jagger, and they say, “How amazing that he can still do it.” It’s not that you can do it; it’s that you want to do it. I’ve done nothing else over the years than express myself. I breathe rock, and I exhale roll. That’s it, man. That’s my life.

Q: Does it get easier with age?

A: “Easy” is a misleading word. I think that you’ve got to be challenged. Without it, you wouldn’t have motivation to get up in the morning. I’m a great believer in completing tasks.

Q: How did you replace Robert Palmer in Power Station?

A: I was in this band called Chequered Past with [Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols], Clem Burke and Nigel Harrison from Blondie and Tony Sales from Tin Machine. All incredible musicians and, at the time, all incredibly [expletive] up. I had just got sober.

We opened for Duran Duran. I had no idea at the time, but Duran guitarist Andy Taylor was really the conscience of that band. It was 1985, and I was in Marshall, Texas, hanging out with our friend Don Johnson while he was making “The Long Hot Summer.” I had a big hit with the song “Obsession.” I was walking around cocky.

This guy from New York called and said, “Look, there is this band going on tour in the summer. They are selling millions of records, and would you be interested in singing?” I said, “Can you just tell me who the band is?” He said, “I can’t tell you.” I got on a plane to New York and went to this promoter’s office, and there is [Chic/Power Station drummer] Tony Thompson and [bassist] John Taylor. They both look terrified because it’s millions of dollars at stake. I had just heard “Get It on (Bang a Gong)” in the limo on the way over. They said [guitarist] Andy Taylor had remembered me.

Robert Palmer had dropped out of the tour. I went to the Power Station studio, and they give me the tracks without his vocals. I took that and got on the Concorde that night and flew to London. Once there, I went straight to a studio. I set up the tracks, get the mic, get the sound right, sing “Get It On.” I sing it perfect and wait.

Seven hours later Andy comes in, all 5-foot-3 with 7-foot bodyguards, a billow of marijuana smoke, dressed in Vivienne Westwood. “All right, Mikey, sing it.” I sing a verse and a chorus of “Get It On,” and he said, “Great! Let’s go shopping.”

He bought me 20,000 pounds worth of clothes. I got on the plane and came back to New York to meet up with Don Johnson.

On the way out that night, I got the call. “Sorry, Michael, but you’re out. Palmer is back in and [is] going to do the tour. Enjoy the clothes. See you sometime in LA. Goodbye.”

I go to dinner with Don, and who is in the restaurant [but] John Taylor drunk. Don gets up and asks John if he can have a word with him. Now John Taylor is obsessed with Sonny Crockett [Don’s character on “Miami Vice”]. Johnson takes Taylor outside on the sidewalk in New York and says: “You idiot, get Mikey! He’ll get the kids going.” I didn’t know that.

I go back to my hotel, put my new clothes out on the bed. What a drag. The tour would have been a great six months. Millions of dollars. Oh well. Seven a.m. the next morning the phone rings. It’s my manager [who] says, “OK, you’re back in. We did a deal with Palmer for the T-shirts.” The tour made half a million a night and sold 600,000 a night in merchandise. I had to learn the album in 10 days. It was the most extraordinary time.

Q: What was playing Live Aid like?

A: I was in ecstasy. All my life I’ve been so fortunate by some weird circumstance. I was in Texas having a laugh, and literally two weeks later I was on stage at the biggest concert in history — 2 billion people.

Also, all of the artists were staying at the hotel. I remember walking into the bar and sitting with Ronnie Wood, [Bob] Dylan, Mick [Jagger], Keith [Richards] and Sonny Crockett. All of us looking like Geoffrey Rush in the “Pirates” movies. I thought, “What the hell am I doing here on a couch with these icons? This is so Zelig!”

Q: You mentioned you co-wrote the song “Obsession.” Who is that song about?

A: It’s actually about drugs. I was three months sober, and you keep hearing the word “obsession” when you go to these meetings. I knew I couldn’t write just about drugs.

I’m a huge fan of the movie “The Collector” with Terence Stamp. It is about this young guy who is a drone worker in the ‘60s in London. And he wins the lottery — “the pools,” as they call it there. He decides to kidnap and hold hostage the girl of his dreams. That image really intrigued me. I guess that will be the ultimate obsession.

Those things combined “I will have you. I will have you. I will find a way, and I will have you. Like a butterfly. A wild butterfly. I will collect you and capture you.”

Q: Your new album is titled “Key to the Universe.” What is the key for you?

A: There are many. Right now as we speak, you are the key to the universe. We all are. The point being, without you, there is no universe. Without me, there is no universe. We’re all the same. We have the same secrets. President Clinton. Stiv Bators. All the same. Once you accept the fact that we are all connected in that sense, then we are the universe. There is nothing outside of us. We are as vast as the universe inside us.

Q: The album is pure rock in a time of overproduction and auto-tune. It sounds like you have walked into a bar and discovered a band playing their hearts out. How did you capture that vibe?

A: I want you to write that down and I want you to send that to everybody who has ever played a [expletive] instrument. That is the perfect description of what we tried to get.

I knew [bassist] Nigel [Harrison]. We looked in each other’s eyes. Locked in. The rest of the band [Dani Robinson on guitar and Clive Deamer on drums] became one. The record took five weeks to write, record and mix. It was almost as if [one] person was doing it. No ego involved. Just absolute joy. Raw and real. We recorded in analog in this gorgeous studio in Rome. We were doing this thing together for no other reason than because we could.

Q: Who is the tune “Can’t Get You Off My Mind” about?

A: It’s about a lover that Linda Perry had. Linda wrote it. I’m a big fan of hers. She is the real thing, no question about that. Nigel actually found this song, and I thought it was so good. This was the first song the band recorded. I also wanted to have a song that we all could connect on. This song set the tempo on the record

Q: Your bass player, Nigel Harrison, and you have played in two bands in the past, Chequered Past and Silverhead. What does he bring to this album?

A: He is one of the world’s greatest bass players. He lays down this groove. Without a groove, you’ve got nothing. The most important element of a rock ‘n’ roll band is the rhythm section. Nigel is such a stalwart, sturdy, sexy, physical bass player. That is what he brought. Over and above that, he also photographed the album cover. He brought friendship, loyalty and brilliance to the album.

Q: My favorite song is “I Want Love to Punch Me in the Face.” When is the last time love punched you in the face?

A: Six years ago, I met a woman who woke me up from the slumber of disappointment. I had a creative renaissance as a result of that relationship. Love is one of the prized possessions of existence.

Q: The CD has a nice power trio feel. Are you drawn to them?

A: They are all I care about [going back to] Elvis. I want to express myself with guitar, bass and drums. That’s what’s important to me. End of story. That’s rock ‘n’ roll to me.

Q: What are your touring plans?

A: The record has been received well. If [it is successful], then my suitcase is packed. My most favorite thing in the world to do is to stand at a microphone in a club in front of a band.

Q: You spoke at Kim Fowley’s funeral. What did he mean to you?

A: A great deal, because he was a no-nonsense poet. He was a shaman of teenage America. He was as important to rock ‘n’ roll as Walt Disney was to cartoons. Kim is in my soul. He embodied a certain panache, a certain sophisticated dumbness that is the epitome of rock ‘n’ roll.

Q: Does an event like that make you reflect on your own mortality?

A: No. I’m immortal. [laughs] I’m blessed with good genes, and I’m not talking Levis.

I’m not really thinking about going anywhere or having been anywhere. I think about right now. I’m really happy with right now. That is satisfying to me. If I think about what I’m going to do in an hour, that’s when it starts to dissipate, because you start having expectations about what you’re going to do.

Q: If given the chance, would you reactivate any of your old bands, or is nostalgia not your bag?

A: I loathe the idea of reunions. I have friends, and they look back and say, “Oh gosh, Michael, that was a golden era, wasn’t it?” I say, “No, this is a golden era.” If you romanticize the past, you are doomed to be despondent.

Today is golden. I arrived at this point by going through the past. All those bands I’ve been in, and God knows there have been 150 of them, were all important. But I don’t regret breaking out [of them].

Q: Are you still acting?

A: It’s all-consuming when you have an album out to promote. I’m not doing any pilots or movies. I’m not doing anything right now other than “Key to the Universe.” I believe in this album more than I have in any album I’ve ever made. I think it would be remiss if I distract myself with anything else.

I will continue to do my [Sirius XM morning] radio show [on “Little Steven’s Underground Garage”] because I can do it from any hotel room in the world on my laptop. I’m sure I will return to acting at some point if there is something I really want to do. But not now.

Q: Are you a rock ‘n’ roll survivor?

A: No, man. I don’t survive; I thrive. I’m not on some reality show rubbing two sticks together to make fire. Surviving sounds like, “Oh, I’m getting through it. I’ve been in the battle ducking the land mines of rock ‘n’ roll.” I’m thriving, baby!

“Key to the Universe” will be out Tuesday.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide