Singer, song writer, and guitarist Bret Michaels is an international star of Rock and Reality TV. As the lead singer of Poison and a solo artist Bret has sold over 45 million records. He had 15 Top 40 singles including "Talk Dirty to Me," "Something to Believe In," "Nothing But a Good Time" and the #1 hit "Every Rose Has its Thorn."
Growing Up in Small Town Pa
Bret Michaels was born as Bret Michael Sychak on March 15, 1963 in Butler, Pa the oldest of three children. He grew up in Highfield neighborhood of the Butler suburb of Lyndora. Bret Michaels' great-grandfather Vasil Sychak,. a Carpatho-Rusyn, immigrated from Slokakia to Lyndora, Pa. sometime after 1905 taking a job at the Armco Steel plant. Lyndora was the home of many Carpatho-Rusyns families including relatives of artist Andy Warhol. Bret's grandfather Wallace and father Wally were also Armco Steel workers. When Bret's father took a job at the huge Inland Naval Depot near Mechanicsburg, Pa his family moved to central Pennsylvania. At age six Bret was diagnosed with Type I diabetes requiring him to take daily insulin shots for the rest of his life. He was hospitalized in Harrisburg for 3 weeks before they got his blood levels under control. Brett and his family returned to Butler often where he spent many of his summer vacations his cousins. Brett led an active life riding motor cycles and playing sports. He graduated from Mechanicsburg High School where he played quarterback, linebacker, and defensive end on the football team.
Bret’s mother Marge, who played acoustic guitar, was a fan of the Beatles and Elvis. His father was a country music fan. Bret took guitar lessons and learned to play the harmonica as a kid. His early musical influences were the bands Kiss, AC/DC, Sweet and Aerosmith. At age fourteen Bret formed his first band “Laser” that performed in basements. Drummer Rikki Rocket needing a lead singer and a pa system for his Kiss cover band “Spectres” brought Bret into the band in 1979. Bret was only 16 when he starting singing with the Spectres. In addition to his music career he worked in restaurants after his high school graduation.
At 21 Bret left the Spectres in 1983 to form the band Paris with Rikki Rocket, bass player Bobby Dall and guitarist Matt Smith. They found Matt through a newspaper ad. The band was originally named the Kids before the changed it to Paris. Playing original songs they gigged at pool halls, seedy bars, VFW clubs and skating rinks in the Northern Maryland and Harrisburg areas. Wearing spandex, teased hair and makeup they became known for their colorful glam rock shows. As most of the local bars wanted cover bands, Paris often rented out halls so that they could play their original music.
On the Rough Road to Stardom
Knowing that they had to move to a bigger market if they wanted to make it as rock stars, Bret and his band mates decided to move to Los Angeles. Paris made it's farewell Harrisburg appearance renting out the Fishing Creek Community Building the night before they left. They sold beer from kegs and put on a wild Kiss like show for 600 fans. The next morning at 6 AM on March 6, 1984 they left for the West with $800 and their belongings in an old ambulance van and a beat up Chevette . They arrived in L.A. five days later and headed for Sunset Strip the center of glam rock where Mötley Crüe and Ratt ruled.
After Michaels saw a banner outside an L.A. club that read “Rock ‘n’ roll is poisoning the youth of America” the band changed their name to Poison. They lived together for two years in scuzzy downtown L.A. in the back room of a dry cleaning shop that a one pipe for running water. Poison became popular through self-promotion and their “pay for play” glam pop-metal shows. They promoted their performances by handing out fliers in front of L.A. clubs. Paying to play at Sunset Strip clubs like "Madame Wongs", "Gazzarri's, and the "Roxy Theatre" they built up a following. They were voted most popular LA band in the Music Connection poll two years in a row. Poison began earning money when the Troubadour in West Hollywood agreed to pay them for shows.
Shortly after the deal with the Troubadour Matt Smith gave up and left the band in 1985. Unable to support his pregnant girl friend on band wages he took her back to Pennsylvania. Poison auditioned over 50 guitarists including Slash, before they hired C.C. Deville. In his audition Deville played the melody and hook to his original song 'Talk Dirty To Me”.
In November of 1985 Poison sold out two nights at the Troubadour with lines of fans stretching around the block. They went on play larger venues often selling more tickets than national acts who played the same clubs. Being a big draw in the L.A. club scene Poison attracted the attention of the record industry. Enigma, a division of Capitol Records, signed Poison to a contract in 1986 giving them $30,000 to record.
Poison Hits It Big
Poison released their first album, “Look What the Cat Dragged In” on August 2, 1986. The band went on a national tour playing in small show case clubs. Capitol Records then funded them record videos. The album was not selling until MTV began playing a video of the song “Talk Dirty To Me” in heavy rotation. The album reached number 3 on the Billboard Top 200 and stayed on the charts for over 100 weeks. With the hits "Talk Dirty to Me" and "I Won't Forget You" it sold over two-million copies within a year of its release. Poison became one of the biggest glam metal bands in the world with sold out arena shows and three multi-platinum albums.
Poison’s second album, "Open Up and Say...Ahh!" was their mainstream commercial break through. It went multi-platinum with the hit singles "Nothin But a Good Time", "Fallen Angel" "Your Mama Don't Dance” and the number 1 chart topper "Every Rose Has It's Thorn". Their third album "Flesh & Blood" released in 1990 also went multi-platinum selling 2 million copies in the first two months of its release. It spawned the top ten hits "Unskinny Bop", "Life Goes On", "Ride the Wind", "Something to Believe In" and "Flesh and Blood (Sacrifice)".
Guitarist C.C Deville, who was heavily addicted to drugs and alcohol, was fired from Poison after his erratic performance at the 1991 MTV awards show. Intoxicated Deville performed "Talk Dirty to Me" with his guitar unplugged instead of Unskinny Bop” and got into a brawl with the band backstage. Guitarist Rickie Kotzen replaced Deville on the band’s 1993's Native Tongue release. The album had disappointing sales with only one hit single "Stand." Kotzen was fired during Poison’s 1994 tour when he was caught in an affair with Rikki Rockett's fiancé. Guitarist Blues Sacaceno replaced Kotzen on Poison’s fifth studio album in 1996, “Crack a Smile” that was not released until 2000.
After kicking his addictions C.C. Deville reunited with Poison in 1999 for their successful reunion tour. Poison released the album “Power to the People” in 2000 with five new songs and 12 live tracks from their tour. They released the studio album Hollyweird, in the summer of 2002 and toured again.
Solo Artist and Film Producer
Bret Michaels released his first solo album in 1998 "A Letter from Death Row". It was the soundtrack album for the movie "A Letter from Death Row" that he wrote, directed, and starred in. Bret and Charlie Sheen formed the film production company, Sheen/Michaels Entertainment, They produced the films A Letter from Death Row and No Code of Conduct which Bret also directed in 1998. They also produced the feature film Free Money, with Marlon Brando and Mira Sorvino and the surfer movie In God's Hands.
In 2003, Michaels released his studio album "Songs of Life". Turning to country rock songs he released the album “Freedom of Sound in 2005. He hit #40 on the Billboard Top 200 albums in 2008 with “Rock My World”. His 2010 release “Customer Built” reached number 1 on the Hardrock album charts and number 14 in the Billboard Top 200.
Reality TV Stardom
Bret began his career as a reality TV star in 2005 serving as a judge on singing competition who Nashville Star. He starred in his own reality series called "Rock of Love" that premiere in July of 2007. It ran for three season until 2009. He was the winner of the Celebrity Apprentice in 2010.
In May of 2010 Brett was hospitalized with a brain hemorrhage and a hole in his heart. Fortunately for his family and legions of fans he recovered to rock on.
Bret launched the series "Bret Mchaels: Life As I Know It" in the Fall of 2010 on VH1. He also appeared on the Saturday Night Live, "Yes Dear", the Tony Awards, the Miss Universe Pagent, American Idol, Extreme Makeover Home Edition, and the Chris Isaak Show. He has appeared on all the late night talk shows along with Oprah and Ellen.
Rock'n in Pennsylvania
Bret keeps in touch with his family in Butler, Pa. and is a huge Steelers fan. He plays the Pittsburgh area frequently supporting local charities. Brett headlined a benefit concert for South Butler Fire Department at the Butler Days Inn on November 23, 2006. He pitched in again performing at a benefit in Kittanning, Pa to raise funds for a new Armstrong County YMCA building in April of 2009. Bret appeared at stage AE in Pittsburgh in December of 2010 leading a Steeler rally and food drive for the Pittsburgh Community Food Bank that was broadcast live on WDVE.