Poison first exploded onto the scene in the early eighties and wasted no time making a name for themselves in Los Angeles’ highly competitive music scene. To this day, almost four decades after the formation of the band, their musical legacy remains ingrained in the fabric of the Sunset Strip’s most notorious era. They released seven studio albums, four live albums, five compilation albums, and have issued 28 singles to radio. They’ve charted 12 singles to the Top 40 of the Billboard “Hot 100,” including six Top 10 singles “Nothin’ But A Good Time,” “Talk Dirty To Me,” “Unskinny Bop” and “Something To Believe In,” as well as the #1 smash hit, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.”
In the summer of 2018, Poison is taking the show on the road! Their highly-anticipated “Nothin’ But A Good Time Tour” will take the band on a trek across the United States with Cheap Trick and Pop Evil in support. Delivering a high energy rock show each every night, the members of Poison are living proof that some people play rock n’ roll, but others have it coursing through their veins! Such is the case with legendary drummer Rikki Rockett. Through the years, not only has he provided the crushing backbeat to the band’s biggest hits but also served as a driving force in propelling the band forward. Thankfully, he has no intentions of setting away from his kit anytime soon!
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Rikki Rockett as the current tour rumbles it’s way across the country. In the interview, Rockett offers up an inside look at his career, the challenges of bringing the “Nothin’ But A Good Time Tour” to the masses and what the future holds for him in the world of music and beyond.
Your music has been a part of our lives for decades. How did music first come into your life?
I actually saw an old standards band play at a camp that I was at and I was blown away by the drums! Blown away! Later, my older sister started dating this guy and his father was the drummer in that band, oddly enough! [laughs] It was kind of crazy! My sister babysat for me one time, she’s nine years older than me, and I got in trouble. The thing was that she wanted me to get in trouble, so she could send me to my room and not have to deal with me for the rest of the night! [laughs] I couldn’t do anything right, but she felt a little bit bad and gave me a record player and a bunch of her Beatles records and said, “Listen to some music or something!” She stuck me in the bedroom and I started playing some music. Then I got out a book and some Lincoln Logs to use as sticks and I’m playing along to Ringo Starr. That was really the beginning for me, honestly! It sounds like something you’ve heard before in a movie but that it was really and truly the beginning!
When did you come into your own and decide this was something you had to pursue?
It just evolved over time. I always wanted to be in a band and I always saw myself as that guy. Pretty soon, by the time I was 15, I was playing basement kegger parties and stuff like that. Then we actually played our first outdoor gig. We played for the neighborhood! I was in a little band called the GTO’s and we played for the neighborhood, on top of the picnic table, dressed up in suits! [laughs] I just always wanted to perform and play! Finally, even though I did other things in life from selling suits to lifeguarding to cutting hair, I still always played, and it was always the central thing in my life. It still is!
Obviously, everything worked out and you made a career out of doing what you love. What is the key to longevity when it comes to a career in music as both a band and an individual?
I wish I really, truly new! This is one of those things you wish you could bottle! Let’s start with the band thing. I think you have to be a team player. A lot of the time the reason bands don’t last very long is because music is typically a lone sport, if you know what I mean. You grow up playing with yourself … let me rephrase that! [laughs] This is something you learn on your own and you develop a lot of this on your own. However, you don’t truly develop until you’re in a situation where you’re playing with other musicians. That’s when you’re really, truly making music in my opinion. By that time, sometimes people haven’t developed those skills to be a team player. You have to develop those skills as early as possible. It doesn’t mean that you have to go play sports to develop it; just start playing with other people early on. That’s what I did. I grew up with the kid who wanted to play bass and we always had a band for years and years. Unfortunately, we didn’t continue that later in life, but I think that’s a big part of it. As far as longevity on your own, part of it is supply and demand and all those sorts of things. It’s like David Lee Roth once said, “Here today, gone later today!” This is a very vicious business and that’s true now more than ever. I don’t think there’s a record company out there that helps develop a band these days. There’s not much of that anymore and it’s almost like a singles market like it was in the 1950s where you were only as hot as your last single. Lucky because we’ve carved out a career and we did a lot of hard work at the beginning by playing every nook and cranny of the country and other countries. We built a foundation and people know who we are. We wouldn’t have been able to do that same thing on social media because it’s just not the same as actually being there. It’s just not!
I’m sure Poison experienced trials and tribulations through the years. What are some lessons learned early on that impacted your career?
I think being honest with our fans was one of the most important things, literally. This kind of answers the last question a little bit too. Being an artist really is about coming from a personal place and in everything you do. It’s not about trying to second guess what the market wants and all that kind of stuff. That stuff is very fragile, and it doesn’t work in the long run. I think that’s why a lot of artists don’t last now. Someone will come out and they are the shit for a while and you can’t get away from it. Then, all of a sudden, a few years later you are like, “What happened to them?” I think a lot of that comes from people getting in their heads and saying, “Oh, I need you to do this for social media … ” or whatever. It’s stuff that they didn’t want to do. You can see that it’s frail; you can see right through it. You go, “that person isn’t doing what they set out to do in the first place.” All this is unspoken of course and, eventually, you just see it for what it is. We just always done what we’ve done. We didn’t care that there was grunge or hip hop. All that is fantastic, it’s great but this is what we do!
Poison has seen its fair share of ups and downs through the years. What were the biggest challenges?
There’s always something hot right now. It might be a band or a look. It might even be, “Fuck you, you’re old guys!” [laughs] You have that! The flip-side of that is we’ve stuck to our guns, we are of who we are and people love that. That’s one challenge. The other part is just trying to make it work with each other. A lot of people say, “You’re like brothers!” Well, when you have a brother and you are this age, you don’t want to live with him! [laughs] Do you want to live with your brother? I don’t! [laughs] It gets harder and harder and harder. Actually, the closer you are and the more that you know about each other, the more you pick on each other. All of those things are huge personal challenges! When you’re inside of it, as much of a payoff as there is to stay together, sometimes you don’t even care because you want to kick the other guys ass! [laughs] It really takes a lot of maturity, restraint and consideration. We’ve managed to do it and that says something else about us. I think that’s overlooked sometimes, which is that we have matured as human beings and because of that I think we should write more songs because there’s a whole lot more to tell. There are many more stories to tell! We’ve had an entire career of things that have come into our lives, so we have a lot of shit to talk about!
I know you get asked all the time about a new Poison record. What I haven’t seen much of is people asking what you envision a new album to be if and when the time comes. Have you given it much thought?
No. Well, I have as an individual but as a band we really haven’t. I think one thing that we can all agree on is that it would be a fun, kick ass rock ’n’ roll record because that is, at the end of the day, what we do. We’re not suddenly going to do the Pink Floyd thing and write “The Wall.” Maybe we should! Maybe we should go out with an opus at the end! I mean, we have to do a rock opera before we bow out, right?
Very true! It does seem like everything ends up on Broadway these days!
Oh yeah! I think it would be amazing! [laughs] I don’t know the next release would be an album. It might just be a few songs here and there. How do you package and album these days? It’s not the same as it used to be and you don’t do that anymore. You can for the sake of nostalgia but, at the end of the day, I don’t know if it really sells that way. Music these days is delivered electronically.
That’s a good point. It’s interesting because there are bands who were peers of Poison who still put out amazing music, but it doesn’t necessarily get the attention it deserves.
I agree. Look, not long ago they did a thing with younger adults and asked the question, “Would you rather give up Snapchat or iTunes?” Sixty-five percent said they’d rather give up their iTunes. So, what’s that tell you about music in general? That’s scary and people have trouble wrapping their head around that, but music isn’t as important in this culture as it once was in its own right. Meaning that it’s an ancillary product to video games, a TV show or something else. To guys like us, we can’t imagine that because music is everything to us. That is our life and who we are at the end of the day but a lot of people who might be 15 years old don’t see it that way. It’s not everybody, don’t get me wrong. There is some writing on the wall with some of these new acts coming out — they’re rock bands! That’s awesome and hopefully that trend will continue!
When you look back on Poison’s career are there clear milestones when it comes to the evolution of the band?
I think every record shows a bit of the evolution. Literally, you can see the evolution from “Look What The Cat Dragged In” to “Open Up and Say … Ahh” to “Flesh & Blood” to “Native Tongue.” You can see that evolution in big steps, which is really cool. You have to understand we put a couple of years between each record. We would make a record and that would take however many months and then we would go out and tour on it for a year-and-a-half. Then we would come back and write more and go back at it again! I think there are huge evolutions in that stuff and each serves as its own milestone.
2018 brings the 30th anniversary of “Open Up and Say …Ahh.”What springs to mind when you think back on that record?
That was a pivotal record for us because, in a way, it was our first real record. I’m not saying that “Look What The Cat Dragged In” wasn’t a real record but it almost felt like it was a glorified demo. There is something really cool and special about that because it’s immediate and raw. I think with our second record we were able to spend a little bit more time examining those songs, what we were going to play in them and all that sort of stuff. With “Look What The Cat Dragged In,” it was almost like “Ready, set, go! Dazzle me! Okay, that’s good enough! We’ve got to move on!” [laughs] That’s where that record was going!
Poison is out on the road for the “Nothin’ But A Good Time Tour.” As a fan, all we have to do is show up, sit back and enjoy the spectacle. What does it take to bring a tour like this to life?
There’s a lot involved, especially when you’re doing a tour like this one. You have to plan everything from your own gear all the way to what the lighting is going to be. Now, we have video screens and various things like that. Then you have to find the right sound people, the right tour personnel and the right people to represent you when you’re out there. So much goes into it! Even things like travel itineraries play a huge role. People think you just pack up and go to a city and say, “Hey, I’m here to play!” [laughs] It doesn’t work that way! You could show up and tried to book a particular city but there are going to be 20 other events going on there on that night and that’s bad business! No promoter wants to take a chance on that! A lot of people ask me, “Why aren’t you playing such and such city this tour?” Well, if we aren’t coming to a particular city, a lot of times there wasn’t an opportunity. That’s usually the reason. It’s not like we’re turning our nose to that particular city. It’s not that at all! We want to play every place we can. But sometimes the promoter will say, “Nope. We got the Celtics game that night!” Whatever it might be! It’s like, “OK, I’m not competing with that!” [laughs] A lot of times by the time there is an opportunity to play a particular city or venue, you are on the other side of the country. Logistically, you can’t make it back to do it, if you see what I mean. These are the logistics of touring and you’re only in certain areas of the country at certain periods of time. You have to try to play those places when you can, if I’m making sense.
As you said, music has always been a part of your life and you can’t imagine doing anything else. Where are you headed when it comes to the music you’re making outside of Poison?
Well, we just shot a video a week ago for the new Devil City Angels single called “Testify.” We filmed that in Nashville. Now, I’m just trying to arrange to get this thing edited because I just can’t do it on the road with my gear that I have out here. I mean, we’re talking 8K video, RED cameras and stuff like that! We’re going to do that, release that song and see where it takes us! We’re going to do our best and hopefully drum up enough interest that it makes sense to create more music with this band, which would be great because I really love this band!
Speaking of editing video, I want to touch on something cool you’ve been up to lately — ROCKETT VLOG! How did it come about and, for those who don’t know, tell us a little bit about it!
I’m sort of toning it down so that it’s a little bit more motorcycle centric in the sense that most of the traveling or things that I do are centered around one of my bikes in some way. That’s sort of where I’m thinking this is going. I’ve been looking at who’s responding and what they been responding to. It’s so cool because you can do anything on the motorcycle, right? I can go to a concert, do an install or investigate a mystery on it! I could even travel and tour on it but, arguably that’s hard, but you can do it. I’m trying to bring that all together and show that lifestyle because being on a motorcycle is something I really love. I love the freedom! I originally started the Vlog to unite all of my passions. I’m passionate about all of these things and I want to talk about it and attract other people. That’s why I started it, honestly! It’s so cool that you can just start a channel, reach out to people and do the things that you’ve always wanted to do! That was something that wasn’t really possible years ago!
I love the recent episode where you went to Texarkana to visit the town that inspired the cult classic, “The Town That Dreaded Sundown.” It had a cool, creepy vibe and it was awesome to see a place like that through your eyes.
Thanks! God, it would be fun to do a whole tour like that. Every town has something! Every town has their little secret or something they’re not so proud of. That’s kind of a cool angle and something I’m sort of thinking about doing more of!
You have so many interests outside of music with drums, motorcycles and beyond. Thankfully you are in great health once again and excited to move forward. Where will you focus in the near future?
Absolutely! I miss building drums. I don’t know if I will go back to it, but I miss it. I really love cameras and motorcycles. Those two things really drive me, so I’m always looking for ways to incorporate them into something. Right now, the Rockett Vlog is the best way to do it, but I could really see a television show where I bring some of that stuff to a mass audience. I think that would be really cool!
That’s one of the things I love about what you’ve been doing lately. You are associated with Poison but it’s awesome you offer a look into your world.
Ya know, if I went out here and got hit by a car today, it would be “Rikki Rockett from Poison.” No matter how big my Vlog would get or anything else I would do, I would be known for that. That’s the cross I carry around and I don’t mean that in a negative way. I’m also the guy who survived cancer but hopefully that doesn’t become my whole mantra, if you know what I mean. I’m trying to put that behind me at this point. But I think if you dig deeper I’ve done a lot of interesting things in my life!
What are your thoughts about telling your story in book form?
You know, I’m looking for the right situation. I’ve been asked a bunch of times to do a book and people have come to me but they don’t come to me with any real money, just an idea. Almost like they want me to pay them to write a book. I’m not going to give my story away for free and I don’t think I should. I did start to write a book and I have many chapters that I wrote. I’m from Central Pennsylvania, which is Amish Country. I don’t know if everybody would get the joke but I tell people that I left Pennsylvania at a young age and never came back, so it’s been like 32 years of Rumspringa! [laughs] I think I’m going to name the book that! No but I have a bunch of chapters and there are a lot of poignant moments. If I wrote my own book, that’s what would be like. I think it would be poignant moments — the things that changed me. It would be moments like “Holy shit! I can get an erection” all the way to “Holy Shit! ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ is an elevator music now!” I think it would be moments like those in stories related to that. I don’t want to do a tell-all book and try to compete with “The Dirt” by Motley Crue or whatever. I can tell stories all day long about groupies and drugs but how would that be any different than anybody else’s book really?
Building on what you said, I think everybody can look to you as an inspiration. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
It sounds so basic but it’s almost laughable but try to stay positive. There are plenty of negative things to drag us down in this life! Millions of things, every single day. If you focus on that, it will take you down. So, stay positive and look to the future.
That’s what I love about you, Rikki! That positivity is infectious! Thanks for your time today and I wish you continued success!
Thank you, Jason! Take care and I hope to talk to you soon! Bye now!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.