"I'm on top of the world even though the world is on top of me but I've been dealing with different angles my entire life. I have a deep sadness about what's going on with so many people but I'm joyous that I'm alive and healthy. I have my wife and my cats and my microphone and my radio show; my life."
Yes he does have his life and for Michael Des Barres; "Life" is very good.
This former actor, Power Station, Detective and Silverhead front man currently has a new six song EP, is working on video game production, a musical and oh yeah; a radio program on Little Steven's Underground Garage.
Des Barres is without a doubt, the captain of his ship; one who understands the importance of loving life, living with conviction, making the most of every opportunity; one of which is that radio program, "The Michael Des Barres Program." airing on Sirius XM Channel 21.
"I've been doing it for seven years now; at home,"he began enthusiastically."I began six or seven years ago doing it here at the house and it has been amazing doing it three hours a day. You know what's amazing about it though? After spending decades doing it, playing The Temptations and Howlin' Wolf and The Dolls, Lou Reed; all of the great authentic R & B and that world of rock 'n' roll and soul music is a wonderful thing for me because you've got to be in some way self-obsessed to become an artist (laughs). When you're playing other people's music and extolling the virtues of other people's work; a really interesting thing happens, you can lose yourself in someone else's magnificence instead of dreaming up your own. So, It has been very beneficial to me."
"I don't really just play the music though; I give context to "Smokey Robinson sucks." What I'm trying to explain is, I put things in a way that people can understand the music rather than it being this sort of repetitive mantra. Music is mantra, we play music that could be described asrepetitious because weplay Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett, Otis Reading, The Stones, Beatles over and over but if you can find a way of putting that song in a particular place where people can understand; what was it like in that studio? Who was in that studio? Who produced that record? Who wrote the lyrics? Who wrote that second verse? Who is doing the harmony? Who played the solo? I go very fucking deep into this shit and I think that's what people want to hear. They've heard "A Whiter Shade of Pale" many fucking times but if you set a context; Gary Brooker and what he and Matthew Fisher did with that and how that came about; then you listen to it in another way. So, it's way more than just playing music. I talk about music and I try and let them understand and find out little jewels that make it sound better. What isHowlin' Wolf'sreal name? Chester Burnett; what is Little Richard's real name? Richard Penniman; the point being is that I explore, I'm not just playing songs. I explore the artists involved and how they got to be who they were; if you read about Little Richard's life; we all know "Rip It Up," we all know "Lucille" but this guy started in drag clubs wearing dresses and full make-up for gay men. Now, if you put that out to an audience, they're going to listen to the music in a different way. This was a guy who was living in Macon, Georgia in the 50's who was gay, sexually experimental, wore make-up, wigs and created rock 'n' roll because he didn't give a fuck and you can hear it. So, now we listen to the music in a different way because he's struggling and fighting to get out of the attacks that were made to him because of who he is; it's almost a scream of joy and pain; there's a lot more depth to music than just playing songs. That's my job and that's Steven Van Zandt's ethos, the whole nation of"Little Steven's Underground Garage"is to not just entertain but to educate in terms of; if you're a teacher and you're teaching music and you play a Sam Cooke song, after that has been played, then you can talk about civil rights. All of these artists and these songs mean so much more than just "Twisting The Night Away." It becomes almost educative as well as entertaining and Steven has created Teachrock.org which is teaching teachers how to teach music where you bring up civil rights or gun laws or whatever it is but you find that through music which is so fascinating. A lot of radio people just play the hits but we don't do that, we play B sides and stuff that you probably would not have heard and that is what is fantastic for me because it keeps me completely interested and also educated."
Music has a way of educating and it has been said that one learns from mistakes but what happens when there are no mistakes? Seems like the result may be a flawless performance and in this case, it's called "Michael Desbarres & The Mistakes Live."
"It's so ironic because I'm talking to you ostensively to tell folks about the live EP that I've done; which is one of the best things that I've ever done which was our second gig and here I am talking about Otis Reading and Wilson Pickett when I should be talking about my band and my EP but what brings me to those covers is that I know the heart of those songs and why they were written and who did them and I interpret them in my own way; our own way; The Mistakes is more about learning than anything else."
So, how did he choose the material that graces the tracks of this latest work? According to Michael the choices were rather easy and provided a wide sampling of his career.
"A lot of it was my band, Detective, it's one song with Jimmy Page and all of that and the other was Silverhead which was my first glam band and it was spectacular so I wanted to go back and just experience that with some great musicians playing. In terms of "What'sGoing On" with Marvin Gaye; I don't really have to explain (laughs). I'm sick about what's going on and it's just as relevant today as it was when Marvin Gaye did it. TheT. Rex thing, Marc Bolan was a friend of mine; I did "Get It On" at Live Aid with that band PowerStation. They all have stories behind them but the interesting thing about the EP is that there are no overdubs on that record; that is a live record that we did at our second show. I record everything I do live and I don't really play live that much but I wanted to go out and play just for fun. I recorded it and then when the pandemic hit and people are not playing anywhere; God bless them, my heart bleeds for my colleagues out there; I thought I should put this out. I thought I should put out a live record and that's where "The Mistakes" came from because there aren't any mistakes and that's the joy of it (laughs). The wonderful label, Die Laughing Records in conjunction with Golden Robot Records put it out; it's a punk label and I'm delighted, it really turned out good."
Obviously happy with the results and the lack of errors serving them well, Des Barres has put together a talented cast but could this be a one and done effort?
"I've got Matt Starr from Ace Frehley's band on drums; he's brilliant, I mean really good and as close as it gets to that, Paul Ill from Courtney Love and Pink and Christina Aguilera; one of those bass players who can play anything and everything and Loren Molinare from Detroit's The Dogs, punk on guitar. Eric Himel, an incredibly tasteful Mick Taylor-esque guitar player and what I did was, I went into the rehearsal room and I said, OK, we are all 17 and we are in our bedrooms, we're playing our instrument; go! So, it doesn't have any thought; rock 'n' roll's heart beats below your fucking waist, don't think about it (laughs), just play it and enjoy it. This was our second gig, this EP and I don't even know if we'll ever play again, to be candid and I don't really want to; I mean, maybe."
Wait; don't know if they will ever play again? Des Barres' response to that question was rather quick and quite candid.
"Because I'm 72! Dude, I do many things, I'm now in the middle of a video game for Warner Brothers; flying around in front of a green screen and I'm writing a musical about the Marquis de Sade, I'm doing my radio programs; there's very different things in my life than going on stage and singing "I Don't Need No Doctor" and I have contracts with various things and I do those. The only reason that I did The Mistakes is because I felt like it and I might feel like it again but after these eight months of doing different things I don't know if I want to do that again; maybe."
After performing at Live Aid in 1985 on perhaps the biggest stage for one of the largest audiences the world has ever seen, one might think it difficult to adjust to a smaller venue and crowd but most performers will say that there is no difference, they give the same effort no matter the venue or crowd size; correct Michael?
"It's not the same,"he said with a large belly laugh."That's very sweet and spiritual but it's not the same; every stage is grand, they are no different but you have to really enjoy it, you have to be disciplined about it, you've rehearsed for it; you've got to enjoy yourself. I don't care if there's 200 or 200 thousand, I've been at this for what; 60 years? I think a lot of people lose sight of things; don't they? I don't care about that, I just like to entertain and if they dig it they dig it and if they don't they don't. I remember Robert Palmer; who I loved 10 years before Power Station, I knew Robert, we used to get stoned together or whatever; then I suddenly replace him and some snooty Rolling Stone writer says to me and I despise all of that critique,"You've got some big shoes to fill Michael" and I said, I brought my own fucking shoes! That's the way I feel about everything; to walk on that stage after three days of rehearsals with these boys who happened to be the Beatles of their era, Duran Duran; John and Andy Taylor, Tony Thompson Bowie's drummer and Chic's drummer, an amazing band with a horn section and girl singers and to walk out on that stage after Dylan; that is a feeling that is indescribable. I've just been so lucky that things have fallen into place. I think it's so much to do with your heart and your soul, if you treat people good and especially treat yourself well and don't fuck it up with narcotics and cruelty and ego; great things will happen to you. Everything feels fantastic! I mean, I'm 72, I'm fantastic! I feel great, I quit heroin in 1981 and I've been sober ever since. I don't smoke and I eat well, I run and I love my wife and I have cats and guitars and I've been very lucky in terms of my work. I have been super lucky in all of these things and it's a beautiful life and I'm very grateful for it."
Over those six decades he has had the chance to meet, friend and perform with many talented musicians and industry heavyweights but there are those whom left a bit deeper impressions than others.
"Tony Thompsonfor me, was the greatest drummer ever. Clem Burke is brilliant, he is amazing but Tony Thompson was in a whole other universe, that's why Bowie had him and all of the really thoughtful producers and writers would get Tony Thompson. The most important thing for a singer is the drummer. The drums are the most important instrument in rock 'n' roll; even though "That'sAlright Mama" by Elvis his first deadly single, there was no drummer because Elvis was so rhythmic himself. That is interesting when you think about it, it was just a rhythm section, no drums, just a guitar player and a double bass player but Thompson; fuck, it was an amazing experience to play with him. He was in another world apart from Steve Gadd and a lot of those guys because he managed to marry funk and Bonzo. By the way, I stayed with Bonzo at his farm in Birmingham and that jukebox he had in his house was all James Brown. I knew him good because I was on the label but all he really wanted to play was soul and funk music but the dynamics of Jimmy's brilliant writing and producing; because he is the best rock 'n' roll producer Jimmy Page; that album in '68, their debut record is the ultimate rock'n' roll record because of its incredible dynaism between tension and release and that's what Bonzo had but his own musicality was funk and soul music. Bonzo was in a band before that which was funk and soul withRobertbut it was Jimmy's magic and imagination that created that powerful blues oriented, sexy, bare chested, Viking rock'n' roll token and Bonzo with that rat tat tat ba-boom was brilliant; I saw them many times."
With so many irons in the fire and the current world-wide shut down of so many things, the"Live"EP was a change of pace; or was it and what does he wish to convey to those who pick-up the new EP?
"I still make records, I mean I've put out a lot of records in the last few years on Steven Van Zandt's label Wicked Cool. I just did a version of "Anarchy In the UK" like Roy Orbison with an orchestra. That was really fun, I had Steven Van Zandt on the phone because I'm in L.A. and he's in New York and I'd hold up the phone and he'd go, "That's a fuckin' E-minor for God's sake" to the orchestra (laughs); you've got to listen to it, it's like a ballad. I did it right before the whole Black Lives Matter and COVID really began. That was about a year and a half ago that I did that tune; I really wanted to take a punk classic and turn it into something different. I've done "Stop In The Name of Love" at 100 miles per hour and you know what? It makes perfect sense. "Live" has no overdubbs, none of that crap,"he stated once again," it's absolutely what happened that night."
So, what is next for Michael Des Barres? What can this man who is so accomplished possibly do next? Seemingly whatever he wants and he feels that we can all do the same.
"What's next? I'll probably go to the gym and do another interview. Just have fun and enjoy yourself, enjoy it because life is so precious and every second counts. Where I'm coming from with that is; I don't reach or want for something; I do it and if I do it, like playing live; I'll play live but to plan it out I would never do that because so many different things happen to you and when you get into that space you're suddenly in front of 100 thousand people. Age has nothing to do with it, if Mick Jagger can fly through the air, then so can you."
To discover more about Michael Des Barres, please visit www.Michaeldesbarres.com .
That's it for this week! Please continue to support live and original music and until next week....ROCK ON!