Interview: Michael Des Barres, CD Review: Carnaby Street
Michael Des Barres is a perfect example of how perseverance, hard work, and a positive outlook, can achieve many of life’s yearnings. Michael is an incredible story; he embraced his passion for the arts and has never looked backed.
Acting lessons at the Corona Stage School led to a supporting cast member role as “Williams,” a London East End pupil on the 1967 British drama, To Sir, with Love starring Sidney Poitier. Besides acting, Michael loved music, especially American blues and rock ‘n’ roll. He formed his first band called the Orange Illusion in his teen years.
In 1972, Michael Des Barres became frontman for British glam rockers and cult icons Silverhead. The band eventually signed with Purple Records (owned by Deep Purple) and released two essential albums, Silverhead (1972) and 16 and Savaged (1973).
Silverhead became a significant role model for future generations of glam rock groups.
After the premature disbanding of Silverhead, Michael Des Barres formed Detective. The band was signed to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label by legendary guitarist Jimmy Page in 1975. Detective featured guitarist Michael Monarch (Steppenwolf) and Tony Kaye (Yes). The group recorded three studio albums, Detective (1977), It Takes One to Know One (1978), and their third album was recorded on Atlantic Records but never released. (Michael remains friends with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant).
During this time Michael Des Barres appeared on the WKRP in Cincinnati television episode “Hoodlum Rock” as the infamous Sir Charles ‘Dog’ Weatherbee of the band Scum of the Earth. (Rob Zombie released a song called “Scum of the Earth” in 2000, and a heavy metal band by the name of Scum of the Earth was formed in 2003).
After the break-up of Detective, Michael Des Barres teamed up with Ex-Sex Pistol guitarist Steve Jones to form Chequered Past. The line-up also included bassist Nigel Harrison and drummer Clem Burke from Blondie, and guitarist Tony Sales formerly of Utopia. (The band recorded one album together called Chequered Past). Des Barres also became the lead singer of the touring and Live Aid version of The Power Station, a Duran Duran spin-off band.
Michael Des Barres penned the world-wide hit “Obsession” with Holly Knight, which became a huge hit for the LA new wave group Animation in 1985.
Des Barres states that he loves performing in front of a live audience in a rock ‘n’ roll band, but he’s also in love with all the arts, and in many shapes and forms. He’s also an accomplished actor and probably best known for playing the infamous villain ‘Murdoc’ on the popular TV series MacGyver and ‘Alex’ in the movie Pink Cadillac.
Michael has appeared in countless film, television, voice-over and stage roles and his credits are awe-inspiring. Visit http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0220735/ for a complete listing of his credits.
At 64, Michael Des Barres continues to amaze, mystify and diversify.
In April of 2012, Des Barres reunited with Silverhead and all his old mates for the first time in 38 years. The band performed to standing room only audiences in Japan. He’s also recently appeared on the television series The Finder, Suits, and the motion picture California Solo.
More impressively, Michael Des Barres returns to his mid- 1960’s roots with an incredible hard-driving rock ‘n’ roll band initiated by old school elation. The new CD is entitled Carnaby Street and will be officially released on July 10th. Des Barres indicated, “I feel I’m part of a movement that is slipping away, I have something to bring to the table that is endangered of being swept under the carpet.”
After listening to Carnaby Street, two things became certain …rock ‘n’ roll needs Michael Des Barres and we need more Michael Des Barres. The band is incredibly tight and Des Barres’ vocals are majestic. Des Barres embellishes the essence of a ‘British rocker’ by epitomizing Rod Stewart, Noddy Holder and Steve Marriott all in one voice. It’s an incredible musical journey back to the swinging rock ‘n’ roll days of London. Carnaby Street is a natural flow of raw rock energy reminiscent to the days when rock was king. The Brits are back and ready to rock!
I had a chance to chat with Michael last week about the new CD, his inspiring music and acting career, his rock and roll mates, and creating opportunities in life.
I found Michael to be brilliant, receptive, spiritual, charming, and a bloody rocker to the end!
Here’s my interview with the iconic British glam rocker, singer, songwriter, guitarist, actor… Michael Des Barres, as he takes us back to the “Garden of Eden for rock ‘n’roll.”
Ray Shasho: Hello Michael, how are you?
Michael Des Barres: “I’m good man, how are you?”
Ray Shasho: It’s great to be chatting with the original frontman for Scum of the Earth.
Michael Des Barres: “(All Laughing!) I get stopped for many reasons but that was definitely one of the top five. It seemed to define some sort of a Spinal Tap moment for the punk generation. It had an amazing penetration in the media … and it stayed there. That show was so much fun to do.”
Ray Shasho: Michael, I want to say congrats on such an awesome and inspiring career. I’ve heard you talk about how you’ve obtained one of your first acting roles on “To Sir With Love” but it seems you’ve created so many great opportunities for yourself in the entertainment business, how was that possible for you?
Michael Des Barres: “I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of creating opportunities. I think the way you create opportunity is to believe … it wasn’t a choice to be an artist it was something that I never ever questioned. I really knew deep within that what I wanted to do most was express myself in whatever form. I could have done a sculpture, been a painter, taken photographs or whatever, there was something inside that I wanted to get out and the universe provided these wonderful ways of doing it. I never really gave it that much thought, right now I’m sounding too metaphysical for my own good. But I do believe that if you really have faith, and you trust that you have something to offer the world, you will be given that opportunity.”
“But I did work very hard … I was in boarding school for eight years and spent a lot of time reading, because I didn’t have parents, and I spent a lot of time alone. So I took advantage of my education and read everything that I could get my hands on. By the time I was 15 or 16, I knew kind of where I wanted to go. I loved the blues and I loved Shakespeare. Loved Oscar Wilde and loved Elvis, and there was this strange hybrid of influences. I wanted to act and went to drama school. Within months we were given the opportunity to work on To Sir with Love in 1967, which was a huge international success, and I tasted it, and saw what it was like, and saw how Sidney handled himself. Connery was doing Bond at the same time, so I was exposed to great charismatic actors very early on and knew the parameters of what could happen and how it could be done, so I watched and studied them. After the movie I did a lot of theater which gave me a defining discipline, which when I got addicted to everything you could become addicted to, I still had that skeleton of discipline.”
Ray Shasho: Blues and Shakespeare, Michael you are a genuine renaissance man.
Michael Des Barres: “Yea, you know … Muddy Waters and Hamlet that about sums it up. Art is both inspired and inspiring and that’s all ever wanted to do.”
Ray Shasho: I want to chat about your new CD Carnaby Street. Your voice sounds amazing man; it’s a great album, stick to being a rocker for awhile because today’s music scene really needs you.
Michael Des Barres: “You’re so incredibly kind to say that. You know what I do … I’ve been killing people on TV for years (laughing) and “Murdoc” was very good to me and I love my career as an actor… however… really what I want to do is stand on the stage of a club anywhere and plug my guitar in and sing the f-ing blues. And it’s really all I want to do. The words and feel of Carnaby Street is freedom through music… liberation with three chords. You can liberate yourself in the most simplistic way. My music is no way ironic, sarcastic, aggressive, sentimental or apologetic … it’s below the waist music. Rock ‘n’ roll is a euphemism for f-ing and dancing. And by saying that I don’t mean to be crude, I’m just saying perhaps that has been lost on a generation raised on Wellbutrin and Prozac.”
“Jack White and the Stripes, The Black Keyes, Alabama Shakes, there are innumerable bands that play authentic and genuine rock ‘n’ roll music. And I don’t mean I’m the head of an army of authenticity because I believe there are many people doing it. But I just want to add my take on it since I was there. I mean there were very few people singing rock ‘n’ roll music in 1967 at many nightclubs, and are still doing that. I am a rare breed by that definition.”
Ray Shasho: ‘Carnaby Street’ is just a natural flow of raw rock ‘n’ roll energy and reminiscent to the days when rock was king.
Michael Des Barres: “I recorded and mixed it in 10 days. Everything you hear on that record was done in the moment. There were perhaps backup vocals but no overdubs on the album. That album was done because my band is so extraordinary and so in love with that music. You don’t THINK when you’re playing that music. Everything you hear is one take. I wrote all the tunes and collaborated with the very talented country artist Jesse Dayton. I stayed in Austin, Texas for a month writing this album and met Jesse, and he was all about the music and very inspiring. And the rest of the record I wrote with Paul Hill, who is my bass player, and unbelievably talented. He’s Linda Perry’s bass player for all her productions, Tina Turner, James Blunt … the list is endless. And he has the same DNA as I do, as does the rest of the band. I’m very proud of the album and you’re the first person who I’ve spoken to who has heard it. It hasn’t even been sent out particularly yet, so I do appreciate your diligence.”
Ray Shasho: I’ve always been a huge fan of British rock … another reason why I love this CD.
Michael Des Barres: “Well that’s what it is … that’s why it’s got a Union Jack on the cover, and why I called it Carnaby Street. When I was a kid … 15, 16, 17, I would go and see Georgie Fame, Alexis Korner, Long John Baldry … Rod, Terry Reid, Beck, and then Hendrix and so on and so on. So when I was acting my little ass off, I was listening and so taken by the revolution that was happening every minute. Can you imagine what it was like in London in 1967? It was everything you think it was. Every ten feet was a gorgeous girl, with a gorgeous boy, in gorgeous clothes, listening to stunning music. It was the Garden of Eden for rock ‘n’roll.”
Ray Shasho: You’re kind of a cult figure because of the TV character ‘Murdoc’ on MacGyver, but you also have cult status for being the frontman in the bands Silverhead and Detective. Why were those incredible bands short-lived?
Michael Des Barres: “Well one word and you’ve heard it before, it begins with D and ends with S. And that’s the reason. I look back at those days and don’t regret the fact that we didn’t sell 25- million albums, for me they were some of the best rock and roll bands ever. I’m so proud of being a member of those bands and what we were capable of… even in those circumstances.”
“We were 19 in Silverhead and never experienced about going to Japan or the states, and the temptations were so incredible and we succumbed to them. In Detective we were sponsored by Led Zeppelin at the height of their decadence, so the fact that we even put an album out is a miracle. We were very indulgent and addictive and we succumbed to those things. But even given those circumstances, we made some great records and people have enjoyed them. But all I know is that I’m happy. I’m happy it happened because I’ve learned a lot about what life is.”
“The fact that I’m doing this now …money is not the issue, it’s not like I’m hungry to pay my rent, I’m doing this for the fact… I feel I’m part of a movement that is slipping away. I feel I have something to bring to the table that is endangered of being swept under the carpet.”
Ray Shasho: I heard Rod Stewart, Steve Marriott and Noddy Holder on Carnaby Street.
Michael Des Barres: “I think Noddy Holder was the best of them all. Noddy Holder had the greatest, humorous, bluesy voice of any of them. I have the deepest respect for Noddy, we came up at the same time and I adored him. His voice was like Steve’s … so big. Silverhead opened for Humble Pie a couple of times and I would just sit there and be astonished at this little tiny fellow and this incredible voice. Recently, I did a gig with Jerry Shirley and a tribute to Humble Pie. Steve was an actor, he went to drama school and played the Artful Dodger, we’d all go on auditions before the world changed and everyone was in high heels and eye makeup.”
Ray Shasho: I think you’re one of the only singers around that can hit the same notes like they could.
Michael Des Barres: “I find it really easy for some reason. (Laughing) I’m 64, and a few years ago when I decided I was going to make a record, I played every nightclub that would let me play and my voice came back, still stronger than ever.”
“It’s interesting, Robert Plant has remained a really good friend, and I love him and Jimmy you know, and there’s a reason he doesn’t want to sing those songs anymore. He turned to me one day and said, “I just can’t sing about lemon juice down my leg anymore …I just can’t do it, it would be like a 15 year old playing Romeo.” And he’s the one that has been incredibly creative with his career.”
Ray Shasho: I enjoyed the interview you did on You Tube with Pete Townshend and Gene Simmons. Did you have your own radio show too?
Michael Des Barres: “I was asked once but didn’t enjoy it very much. I love Gene, and Pete is a God you know, and love to interview people as you do, it’s a wonderful conversation to have but I don’t want to do it every day. I love to work and I have to work … it’s a compulsion.”
Ray Shasho: The Silverhead reunion this year in Japan had to be a blast.
Michael Des Barres: “Thirty-eight years I haven’t seen these guys… accept for Nigel. We all live in different countries so we had to regroup in Tokyo. Picture this… walking into a room in Tokyo with all the gear there and all these glam kids outside screaming and yelling, and we walk in there and I see these guys that I haven’t seen in 38 years, and the first half an hour is … I’m so sorry that I slept with your girlfriend … and it’s all very intimate, but within a half an hour its turn the f*** down I can’t hear myself! We only rehearsed for three days and to grasp it all in that short time frame was not an easy thing.”
“With Silverhead, we were always the band that was trying to seduce the audience; we were touring with Uriah Heep, Deep Purple etc. Always trying to win the audience over … skinny little bastards with makeup on in Mobile, Alabama in 1972 … we were a target for the boys and a different kind of target for the girls. We had a big bulls-eye on our ass!”
“When we went to Japan a few months ago and we played, everybody new every syllable to every song and for the first time in our lives, they knew who we were. It was a phenomenon and shocking to us. After that first gig, Robbie was in a corner literally with tears flowing down his cheeks. It was a very emotional closure for the band. We would have never experienced the closure if we would have gone on to make multiple albums in that one band …it would have been a different life.”
Ray Shasho: You’re the second rock star that I’ve interviewed who played a part in Seinfeld. Joe Lala of (Blues Image, Stephen Stills and Manassas), was in “The Face Painter” episode. He’s the only rocker who I know that became a veteran actor besides you. I know David Bowie and Mick Jagger played some parts but not to the extent of you and Joe.
Michael Des Barres: “I worked with Mick … I did The Man from Elysian Fields with him and Andy Garcia, James Coburn… and he was fantastic in it … great movie!”
Ray Shasho: I hope Mick and the Stones can do one more tour … maybe a goodbye tour of some sorts.
Michael Des Barres: “I don’t think it will be a tour per se, they’ll probably do 10-12 cities, 2 or 3 nights in those cities and call it a day. Maybe not even a tour, they might do a satellite thing. I can’t imagine Keith, Charlie is 71 now; I just don’t see them doing a year and a half of vigorous touring. I imagine they’ll do selective cities or a satellite show.”
Ray Shasho: You’re still good friends with Jimmy Page, how’s he doing?
Michael Des Barres: “Great… unbelievably well. Joyous, doesn’t live in the past, lives in the moment and does his thing. I would love to make an album with Jimmy. I’ve said many times to him let’s do it. But right now this record Carnaby Street is terribly important to me and I think people are going to be shocked about how I’m singing, what the songs are, and a bit of a revelation for people who didn’t get it the first time.”
Ray Shasho: Did you actually turn down singing the role for Judas on the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar?
Michael Des Barres: “I did yea. The last thing I wanted to do back then was to go into a studio at 3:20 and sing “What’s the buzz tell me what’s a happening.” There was no way that I had the discipline at that time, because I was learning about life, sex, love and how to go f*ing wild. I didn’t want to have to show up at a particular time and do someone else’s work. I wanted to create my own work.”
Ray Shasho: Michael a final question, you are incredibly fit, how do you do it man?
Michael Des Barres: “It’s very simple … I get up very early and drink a gallon of black coffee, then read about myself on the internet(laughing), then go to the gym and do my cardio … don’t have a trainer I know exactly what I’m doing. An hour and fifteen minutes in the gym, come home and shower, sit-down with a guitar around my neck or some lines to learn and get on with the work. In terms of food … I don’t eat sugar, potatoes or bread. I eat lean fish, no red meat, eat a lot of vegetables and fruit, and drink a lot of water. But I strongly suggest that sugar is the worst thing you could do. I just love being able to walk down the street with my head held high, my shoulders back, Buddy Guy in my iPod, and the love of a good woman.”
Ray Shasho: Michael, thank you so much for spending time with me today and more importantly for all the great rock ‘n’ roll music you continue to bring to us all.
Michael Des Barres: “Thank you so much Ray and have a GREAT day!”
The new release from The Michael Des Barres Band Carnaby Street will be officially released on July 10th and is available for pre-order at amazon.com or www.desbarres.com
Michael Des Barres official website www.desbarres.com
Special thanks to the great Billy James at Glass Onyon PR
Official website http://glassonyonpublicity.wordpress.com/
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