Michael Des Barres has appeared in over 150 hours of American television, including roles on MacGyver, Seinfeld, and Roseanne, as well as more than 40 feature films and has sold over 7 million albums as both a recording artist and songwriter, beginning with his days as the frontman for such seminal 1970s bands as Silverhead and Detective. Michael was the touring singer for the Duran Duran spin-off group, The Power Station, performing at Live Aid. He was a member of Chequered Past, which included Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols and Clem Burke and Nigel Harrison of Blondie. A documentary on his life has just been released called Who Do You Want Me To Be?
Hello and welcome to episode 48 of Sing! Dance! Act! Thrive!
I’m very excited about my guest today! Michael Des Barres is a European Marquis, raised in England and living in Los Angeles. He has appeared in over 150 hours of American television, including roles on MacGyver, Seinfeld, and Roseanne, as well as more than 40 feature films including To Sir, With Love with Sidney Poitier and has sold over 7 million albums as both a recording artist and songwriter, beginning with his days as the front man for such seminal 1970s bands as Silverhead and Detective, a band personally signed by Jimmy Page to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song records.
Michael was also the touring singer for the Duran Duran spin-off group, The Power Station, performing at Live Aid with one of the most iconic live acts of the mid-1980s. From 1982 to 1984, Michael was a member of Chequered Past, which included Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols and Clem Burke and Nigel Harrison of Blondie. In 1983, Michael penned the song “Obsession”, which later became a number one hit in 27 countries for LA new wave group Animotion; the track continues to be featured in countless movies, television shows, and commercials.
At 72 years old, he is an active musician, actor, writer, and now DJ as he starts his weekday mornings hosting The Michael Des Barres Program on Little Steven’s Underground Garage on SiriusXM Radio. A documentary on his life has just been released called Who Do You Want Me To Be? That you can watch on Amazon.
Diane Foy: I’m very excited to chat with you.
Michael Des Barres: Well here we are Darling, there’s my spectacular microphone voice. Let’s do it, Diane.
Diane Foy: Well, I could listen to you for hours.
Michael Des Barres: Me too. I chat with myself all the time.
Diane Foy: So the documentary was really great.
Michael Des Barres: Great. I’m so glad you’re oh my goodness. Amazon Prime. I’m in the so many incredible reviews all five star reviews. It’s really extraordinary. What happened?
Diane Foy: Oh wonderful.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah.
Diane Foy: So how does it feel to have like this documentary about you?
Michael Des Barres: It seems perfectly natural to me.
Diane Foy: Yeah, well you’ve had such an extraordinary life.
Michael Des Barres: Yes, crazy. You know, the thing is if you, the person and you’re experiencing these things and that you’re trying to stay alive and enjoy yourself and various things victories and triumphs and a lot of negative action and if you can survive both of those things you transcend both of those things, you know. I come to a place where I’m not really aiming at anything. I’ve spent my entire life aiming at that Bullseye, you know, but that target shifts.
Diane Foy: Right.
Michael Des Barres: You know, you’re a hundred yards from it. you’re a thousand miles from it, but I’ll be damned if that arrow doesn’t hit that Bullseye, and I think that’s that determination that is allowed me to have this longevity. This extraordinary 56 years of posing, you know what I say? It’s a glorious gift. I worked with this guy, Josh Weinstein in some TV shows, he’s a writer and he said, you know, I followed your stuff. This is like 20 years ago, maybe 15 or something and 10 maybe sometime ago and he said I’d love to do documentary on you. I’m just beginning to you know, to get my chops together on film and he did. He made it. He sorted out, he at footage. I didn’t look it up at a frame of it until it was done Diane. You know, so I trusted him that much.
Diane Foy: Right. You didn’t want to, you weren’t protective of your story.
Michael De Barres: No, absolutely not. I’ve never been. It is what it is.
Diane Foy: Right. Did you learn anything from the film?
Michael Des Barres: Yes, that I was really handsome!
Diane Foy: You are. Yeah. Very handsome.
Michael Des Barres: And I’m a great believer in lighting, you know so. I learned a lot. I learned that you know, I never ever, you know, spent weeks in bed doing something that doesn’t work. I have a few hours sleep when I get up and I do it all over again, or I do it in a new way of coming to it from a different angle. You know, I have no sense of my ego being threatened because I really at the end of the day all though I might appear to be the most crazy narcissist. I’m not. I just want to do the work and I want to have fun and I want to express myself. I don’t care if its a guitar or Hamlet and I’ve done both. You know, and at circumstances like, hey MDB which you prefer. Do you prefer acting, would you prefer music and I say I just want to express myself it doesn’t matter in what medium. You know I’ve just written this book of poetry called free association and it’s just that. It’s about absolutely explicitly writing down what you’re feeling at that moment and I’ve lived a life of being in that moment.
Diane Foy: Right. This podcast is mainly directed towards musicians and actors. I’m a publicist and coach and I help them thrive. So, talking to someone like you is an inspiration. So if you have any lessons to spread onto up-and-comers? That would be amazing.
Michael Des Barres: Yes I do. Right, very simple lesson and that’s to tell the truth.
Diane Foy: Right.
Michael Des Barres: If you are a songwriter, I’ll explain that. If you’re a songwriter and you choose a subject to write about, it’s not going to work. The subject has to choose you. So when I wrote “Obsession,” I was just getting off heroin and I was obsessed clearly with a narcotic. Now being owned by something, is dreadful you have to own it. And the only way you can do that is to tell the truth. So every song and every line as an actor, you’ve got to be honest. You can’t fool anybody. This is the thing. I think a lot of entertainers as it were the actors and actresses in rock around and since they look down upon their audience. They just see them as one thing. It’s not! It’s hot speeding everybody. When I did Live Aid and I looked down and I saw 80,000 people, I try to think of individuality and I’m not going to lie to them I just want to have a good time trying to remember the words. And this is what happened you know at the Power Station at Liveaid and I just sing to one person, you know, and I’ll pick people out. It’s the same thing so just be honest. Don’t bullshit yourself, you know. Listen. Listen, the director says no man, you know, try this. Do it! Don’t argue. You know, artists are a collaborative experience. So be a team player and you might be wrong, good heavens. What a shock you know. And you might get it right. Or you might get it right first time either way be open and honest.
Diane Foy: What drew you when you were young, like what made you. Did you always want to be a musician or an actor? What drew you to that world?
Michael Des Barres: The idea of entertaining, you understand?
Diane Foy: Right.
Michael Des Barres: There was nothing else. There was no oh I think I’d be a brick layer or you know, yeah, opera. I’d be in opera. I didn’t even think that way. That’s 16. I was interested with love. You know, I went to these boarding schools horrible experience. Came out of there went into drama school for two weeks. I was interested with love. Nothing and I didn’t plan it. It just happened. As eyes open, ready.
Diane Foy: I think that’s it. You have to be a lot of things seem to have happened to you in your career, but you have to be ready for those opportunities.
Michael Des Barres: I’ve always said, you know in terms of physical exercise. It’s very important to be in good shape, you know to be physically in good shape because your mind will destroy everything. So eating well working out is everything and the art will come to you if you are in a good physical space, you know the art and the scene as an actor or the song will come. You have to trust it. All the great songs, ever written the hits that I’ve written. I have written in 10 minutes.
Diane Foy: Has there been any songs that you worked on for long periods of time?
Michael Des Barres: No never I don’t work on anything for long periods of time. That’s why I call it free association, which my radio program is 3 hours every day to 5 million listeners. I don’t plan anything and you know these songs are Steven Van Zandt’s incredible playlist. So that’s a lot of repetition but shows a mantra if you think of the Temptations and you listen to a Temptation song, you will think it a different thing about it every time you hear it because art shifts as you shift it grows, it changes nothing remains still static in music you know. So I’ll know immediately what to say because I’m feeling it. So if I just express myself, you know on 72 so I’ve already wrote songs a thousand times and I will hopefully hear them another thousand times.
Diane Foy: You get sick of your own songs?
Michael Des Barres: Darling, are you insane? Of course not. Get sick of my own songs? No.
Diane Foy: You hear that sometimes musicians are like do I have to play the song one more time?
Michael Des Barres: Well that’s bullshit and fuck off go get another job. You know, go get another job you stupid assholes.
Diane Foy: That’s what I say.
Michael Des Barres: Are you kidding me? I’m not fucking in to tell you that I am proud of everything I do even if it sucks.
Diane Foy: Right.
Michael Des Barres: You know because I did it. That is dreadful. I can’t even imagine. I’ve never met a performer that I respected that would say that I’m tired of playing Jumpin Jack Flash, Mick Jagger would never in a million years say that. The Greats are proud of what they’ve done. And they’ve been playing those songs for 50 years 60 years is in some cases. So that’s just absolutely monstrous.
Diane Foy: It’s gotten to where you are. Its gotten you the fans.
Michael Des Barres: No they’re not fans. No, they’re friends.
Diane Foy: You have a lot of friends.
Michael Des Barres: I don’t have fans. Thats thats a ridiculous concept, you know, they are fan-tastic, but they’re my friends and I share it. I’m not like giving them a gift. You know, we’re both involved in exchange.
Diane Foy: That’s fantastic.
Michael Des Barres: It’s a friendship.
Diane Foy: Because they relate to you.
Michael Des Barres: I relate to them. We all relate to each other if we don’t, the planet is going to be even in a worse condition than it is already. We must embrace each other. We all share the same secrets. We’re equal. Get it together idiots. Love yourself and you’ll be loved.
Diane Foy: It takes a strong work ethic to make a living in the Arts.
Michael Des Barres: Yes.
Diane Foy: Where does your drive come from your work ethic?
Michael Des Barres: I think it’s a moral issue rather than an ethic. That’s sort of you know brings up the whole concept of a job. You know, I just want to live my life straight and that means if I’m on a set I don’t want, I want to be with those people. I want to collaborate with those people and when you talk about discipline, you know, I’m not in the army. You know, I don’t have to learn how to shoot and kill and to eat or the discipline of tennis or anything like that. I don’t think that way I just do it. I think if you think too much about it. You can see it on that screen. You know, I think the greatest actors are in the moment Marlon Brando, James Dean, Joaquin Phoenix people who have just operating in the moment. So when you talk about being you know disciplined and a work ethic and all that stuff, you know lawyers can do that.
Diane Foy: Right. I have worked with a lot of musicians and actors and…
Michael Des Barres: My deepest condolences Diane.
Diane Foy: I know. They drive me nuts.
Michael Des Barres: Of course they do.
Diane Foy: But I love them.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah they got to love themselves for it to work.
Diane Foy: But a lot of them they have that dream. They want your career. They want to be a rockstar. They want to be you know an actor but they don’t. Me if you want something you do whatever it takes to make it happen.
Michael Des Barres: Well you know here’s the thing. I was just happy playing 250-200 people in nightclubs in my first band. Then I was at Live Aid. Thats all I can tell you.
Diane Foy: Yeah. cuz you just love it.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah I mean if you’re looking for fame you’re fucked because famous’ the worst drug way worse than heroin. Look at these poor kids, Lisa Presley 27-year-old kid gone. You know that what was that Lil Peep guy who is so talented at 20 years old twenty-one years olds, who knows that did they are hypnotizing themselves and unfortunately that change your consciousness or ends your consciousness, but I really do believe that if I could just get a guitar and a couple of people sitting on the couch it is the same thing. I’d still be wearing makeup.
Diane Foy: Yeah it’s in your blood. I’ve followed your career and I have this little thing whenever I see you on television, I feel the need to say your name out loud in front of the television.
Michael Des Barres: That’s fabulous. That sounds great.
Diane Foy: You pop up a lot.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah 150 hours of it.
Diane Foy: That’s amazing.
Michael Des Barres: So somewhere there I am being a maitre d or an assassin somewhere.
Diane Foy: Somewhere.
Michael Des Barres: You know in Portugal I’m a clown. In Greece I’m a lover.
Diane Foy: What were some of your favorite experiences?
Michael Des Barres: All of them.
Diane Foy: All of them. Any horrible experiences?
Michael Des Barres: No because difficult, yes, and I’ve learned from that. The director was insensitive to his costume crew I’m the first person to say get yourself together man, you know, and if I’ve been done very well in my life, you know in terms of being able to support myself and my family, so that is a great conduit to be able to say fuck you. If you don’t treat your crew then I’m out of here you can sue me and I’ll sue you. So I’m not above anger. I’ll confront anybody, you know, and that’s what I’ve had to do my whole life. I don’t know if you have seen the documentary but that’s what I had to do with a funky childhood. I have no parents. I know my father was in jail. My mother was a schizophrenic and I was raised in this boarding school I had to watch my back Diane. I am and I have done ever since since fortunately one has some to have these sort of things happen to me when they do look out.
Diane Foy: Yeah, that’s something that I didn’t know about you until recently is that you grew up with no parents like who is responsible for you like did you have a guardian?
Michael Des Barres: God, God, and the attorneys.
Diane Foy: These days that would never happen would it? Or is it maybe back then to just cuz now I’m thinking you’d be in the foster system.
Michael Des Barres: No. My dad was rich and when I was one he had a lot of money and put the money down for my education which was at this boarding schools mate that you meant to be there from 8 to 18. I left at 16 in but so by the time he was in jail which when I was like two or three it was all set. Then I went to Harrods to get my little uniform and I was hooked up to buy the attorneys’ and I would stay in the school within the vacation periods. So for 8 years, I never had harm.
Diane Foy: You get in trouble a lot?
Michael Des Barres: Oh, yeah.
Diane Foy: How did that work with such a strict school environment?
Michael Des Barres: I have to defend myself, the masturbatory, sexual pedophilia is exactly what you’ve heard. And I were very careful and I was you know, I learn how to fight.
Diane Foy: Yeah.
Michael Des Barres: When people say, you know a street person, you know, you can be a street person in a British boarding school too you know. Not restricted to the downtown.
Diane Foy: And then when you went to London for theater school or acting school, what was that training like?
Michael Des Barres: Very interesting because at that time it’s in mid 60’s so working-class here was rock and roll stars and aristocracy was nothing. You know, Mick Jagger could get a better table in the restaurant than Princess Margaret, in fact he was probably stooping her at the time and so therefore the world has changed because of the Beatles and The Stones and they created this incredible working-class wet wisdom charm and brilliance the whole societal structure changed completely. I had been educated as if you know a privilege member of society and I had to reconfigure who the hell I was because the entire you know Malcolm McDowell, Judy Geeson, and all these young great actors were there in my drama school, Leonard Whiting and I learned an awful lot but I had to tell my upper class nonsense down, which I was totally wanted to do anyway, so I was in the right place at the right time with the right cheek buns.
Diane Foy: To Sir with Love Is there any lessons learned from that experience and Sidney Poitier?
Michael Des Barres: Yes. Of course, he remains the most humble noble, charismatic man I ever met to this day. And that’s what changed my life. I just watched him for three months like a hawk and I got a lot of my you know, knowledge of how to do it from him.
Diane Foy: Yeah.
Michael Des Barres: Angles, lighting, case, tempo, confidence all of those things I learned from Sidney. I picked up a lot of things along the way but that’s really was my drama school with Sidney Poitier.
Diane Foy: And that kind of brought you fame at such a young age.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah so the fame part of it was hilarious because I always thought I was famous you know. I would walk in a room. Yeah, I just felt that way. I felt just glowing. I don’t know why I have no idea. Baby is a blessing there’s a funny story though is about that is when I did British TV, and I was like 13 14 and I would play a punk or something whatever. When it aired I would go out that next day dressed in the outfit that I was on telly and walk around town. That’s how it go that’s how desperate I was for love and affection. I would wear the same outfit you know, I’d walk on like hey weren’t you in that show and you shoot at brick through that window. Yes that was me, then excuse me I have to run. So it’s all been comedic to me you know. I have taken it seriously but not really.
Diane Foy: What would have happened to you if you didn’t get these brakes?
Michael Des Barres: How the hell do I know Diane?
Diane Foy: Yeah never think of that?
Michael Des Barres: No of course not. What is not what might have been. You know if I do then I start thinking well I should have been Sting, you know, and I don’t want to be Sting.
Diane Foy: Right, you’re you.
Michael Des Barres: As much as I love Sting I wouldn’t be anybody else but me, right?
Diane Foy: Right and then from there you became a rockstar in Silverhead well you looked like a rockstar.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah, exactly. That’s all I care about. I mean you know the band we were 20. So you know and we did this band and it was so cool and we had such a great time for two-and-a-half 3 years wherever it was two albums and the two albums it were not successful like the Dolls, like the Velvet Underground, we were very influential on the scene, the Pistols loved us when they were kids and you know, that was a very glamorous but we were glamorous in the gutter, you know, with mascara that had been worn for 10 days you know, it wasn’t like at Showbiz. It was androgynous Oscar Wilde you know it was velvet poetry with three chords and Chuck Berry, you know, its amazing and we had the most incredible time, came to America opened for everybody Humble Pie, Deep Purple and then, you know, we split up and I met Miss Pamela in LA and we got married and I moved to LA in ‘74, and I’ve been here ever since.
Diane Foy: Amazing and you got signed to Led Zeppelin’s label?
Michael Des Barres: Yeah, Zeppelin you know saw Silverhead and Jimmy was with my wife Miss Pamela prior to us meeting. So that was incredible symbiosis there really interesting vibe you know our connections and you know Jimmy. I remember we played the club in Birmingham in Northern England as Silverhead you know and we were just rockin’ and the club had about 11 people in it but four of them were Led Zeppelin because they lived really close. Bonzo’s farm was 10 minutes from the club, so course we all trooped off to Bonzo’s farm and we spent the next three days in his farm, which was life changing. Yeah you hear Led Zeppelin in a room of the size that you’re sitting in right now and it was pretty amazing experience. Then when I came back to LA and I put Detective together, Jimmy was there, Led Zeppelin happen to be in town and one thing led to another.
Diane Foy: Right and he signed you but then you had to kind of sit for a year?
Michael Des Barres: It was terrible it’s awful you give a twenty-four-year-old a million dollars, what do think is going to happen?
Diane Foy: With nothing to do but cause trouble and do drugs.
Michael Des Barres: Except write songs we did we wrote enumerable songs you know we didn’t just sit on that money but you know you’re young and that we had a pocket full of everything and he wasn’t there and I think that that impetus was impotent. And therefore we didn’t get in the studio by the time we did it was everybody was in a different space, you know, we made those record,s I stand by this records today, they just came out again with a Japanese label, they just had a Detective moment you know and they always do it every decade, you know.
Diane Foy: New people discover it.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah. I mean, I just got the masters myself. I got the masters of all those records and I’m going to put them out myself.
Diane Foy: Oh, fantastic.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah but it was heavy, you know Robert’s son had died, you know, shall we say that certain members were compromised you know with narcotics so it was difficult, you know Zeppelin ended around that time too so it was tricky. That was a very, very, dark period.
Diane Foy: You also have not done any drugs since 1982. No, 81?
Michael Des Barres: 81 amazing, blessings, good heavens.
Diane Foy: And no relapses?
Michael Des Barres: Oh, fuck relapse, no. Of course not, I wouldn’t do something like that and do it again.
Diane Foy: You actually learned a lesson not everyone does.
Michael Des Barres: Well you know enough it was unseemly I mean you know, that last year I only used drugs and alcohol for 7 years and abuse them for about two but I went woah no no no, no. I can’t be it this you know as a student of the demons, you know I’ve got nothing to learn there.
Diane Foy: Do you think that musicians and creatives are more susceptible to becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol?
Michael Des Barres: I have no idea. You know, you might as well say a bus driver. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living if you’re bass player or a dentist you can fuck up. You know you don’t have to be a particular breed or those things. I think the particular breed is designed not to be yourself that you hide from the world.
Diane Foy: Yeah, that’s it.
Michael Des Barres: And I don’t want to hide I want to do the opposite.
Diane Foy: And I find a lot of musicians if they’re in a band and there’s one guy that’s like the addict. How do you deal with that when you’re the sober guy?
Michael Des Barres: Fire them.
Diane Foy: What if its their band, leave?
Michael Des Barres: Yeah, you got to be ballsy about this shit. You can’t let money or anything else get in the way because you be miserable. It doesn’t matter if you’re living in you know, a mansion. Look how many people are taking their lives living in mansions.
Diane Foy: Yeah.
Michael Des Barres: It has to be it from the heart. You’ve got to be enjoying what you’re doing or then you’re a liar.
Diane Foy: Since your mother had mental health issues. Did you struggle with that throughout your life as well or no?
Michael Des Barres: I’ve never struggled. No, I just slip away if it gets too tight, but its 99% of the time I’ll just be there for you.
Diane Foy: Right.
Michael Des Barres: I think to answer your question a little better perhaps you want a more decadent answer, there’s a fight there and you want to be victorious but there isn’t a fight. You see we’re not fighting for this thing, we are just going to express ourselves and love ourselves enough to be loved. people can tell. Audience and friends as I call them will know if they’re getting the truth. You know, it’s like if you were in a relationship, you know when it’s over but some people don’t ever acknowledge that and they live in anger and pain for the rest of their lives. So you’ve got to be able to say you know what this isn’t happening. Or I love you so much. There’s nothing other than those two things.
Diane Foy: Wonderful. I don’t even know what to follow-up that with
Michael Des Barres: Well there’s no follow up we just stay in the moment and we’ll talk about ones mad career you know it’s been a really wonderful ride. I learned a lot very early so I’ve been rowing that boat to know with no considerable effort. It’s been easy, you know there’s no ripples in the river and that there’s no tsunami in all of that because that’s all in your soul, mind, you know, we create storms. You know a storm can be the most beautiful thing you ever saw it depends how you look at it. How you look at your life. Do you accept it or do you not? Do you forgive your so-called enemies? Do you not? It’s all about forgiveness and acceptance really at the end of the day, isnt it? You know, if you hold a grudge against your wife and you marry somebody else then the new wife hates the old wife and old wife hates the kids and the kids hate everybody. I mean do you really want to live like that? You have to be honest and say look it’s not working as it should be shall we go to therapy. Okay, lets try that let’s do that. But you got to work on it. You can’t live in silence.
Diane Foy: Right and so back to your lovely career. You did WKRP scum-of-the-earth.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah I’m so stoned that whole week. I was I don’t think I slept that week. But the one story I’ll tell about it is when I got the script, you know, cuz the writer was a fan of my music so I read it and it was all ripped t-shirts and safety pins and spiky hair and I said no no, no suits suits and ties baby. That’s a lot funnier, you go in there in a suit and tie and you are throwing people out the window and he went okay, Michael, let’s do that okay that sounds good. So we did it and the audience went absolutely apeshit. And its been one of the best episodes they ever had.
Diane Foy: Because it’s so memorable and I remember it.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah it’s funny fabulous. So great and then Peter (Elbling)and Jimmy Henderson, great guys. And I became good friends with Howard Hesseman, loved him brilliant man, brilliant comedian, great writer. So they are a smart bunch. Hugh Wilson created that show, the episode and you know too, Loni, I’ve come across you know, I did a thing with Burt Reynolds when he was married to her, Loni Anderson, it’s beautiful is a great success and I learned a lot and I had a great time, end of story, Detective. It was Detective who did that.
Diane Foy: And from there did you just start getting these bit parts in all these TV shows?
Michael Des Barres: Oh they’re not bit parts, Murdock was not exactly a bit part, I got an Emmy, you know, I mean a lot of the shows I would do I had bit parts but the majority I would say 80% of them were guest starring roles and that was amazing you know, Murdock was 5 years of constant killing.
Diane Foy: Yeah.
Michael Des Barres: I made a lot of friends some of them were directors and say do you want to come into the afternoon and play the maitre d in this particular show with what was that Seinfeld and I said sure you know, and they pay me a lot of money and I’d be in and out, you know, because I was always concentrated on recording and writing songs so I was doing both at the same time at one point I was in Roseanne, Cincinnati and no no, Roseanne Show, Seinfeld Show I remember doing all of it at the same time of a quote of a few months and McGayver. It was all the same time I was in People’s magazines I work constantly on different sound stages I’d be shooting at one sound stage one episode and then I’ll go another sound stage and fo that episode same time back and forth. It was unbelievable.
Diane Foy: It was like the dream for actors you know to just be constantly be working, in demand.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah I was constantly working and as a result, was residuals from 150 hours of televison you know I was in Melrose Place for two seasons. That year I was in a lot of shows.
Diane Foy: Yeah.
Michael Des Barres: And you get checks from Sweden it mounts up.
Diane Foy: I like the Girlie Shows. So, you know Gilmore Girls, Melrose Place, Charmed, and 21 Jump Street.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah love Johnny I did the first episode of season and the second season and it was huge and incredible actor-singer Johnny Depp and I remember that we you know Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols was my dear friend we were in that band together I brought him up to Vancouver to meet Johnny Depp and I remember I was in my trailer with Steve Jones and Johnny Depp playing guitar and we were so exhausted Johnny fell asleep and Steve who is a poet a brilliant brilliant man. Nobody knows just how brilliant this guy is, he couldn’t read or write until he lived with me and Miss Pamela, but he looks at Johnny and said that is the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen in my life. And he was completely sincere it was a beautiful moment you know you hear him from Sex Pistols were he use to and then you know there it this piece of this beautiful observation of Johnny who now is you knows is going through a lot of difficult things in his life.
Diane Foy: Yeah.
Michael Des Barres: And it makes me sad.
Diane Foy: How did you get the power station gig?
Michael Des Barres: I was in this band Chequered Past, that I mentioned to you with Steve Jones and we opened for Duran in San Diego and Andy and John Taylor in the wings were watching us because it was Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, on drums from Blondie Nigel Harrison from Blondie on bass and from Bowie’s Tin Machine was Tony Sales on guitar. So it’s pretty important band for 5 minutes so they were watching cut to I’m in Texas with Don Johnson and he’s making movies he’s an old friend of mine and we would have fun and the phone rang and a hotel in Marshall, Texas and it was a promoter in New York who said MDB, I know your band broke up there’s a band that needs a singer would you come to New York and meet with them and I said who? And he said I can’t tell and then I said okay give me a you know, a suite to the Carlyle Hotel in a white limo and he said okay. So I got on a plane got in the car went to the office in Manhattan, went to the 17th floor go into an office desk John Taylor and Tony Thompson sweating profusely and looking very nervous. They had 6 months booked for a tour which will be hundreds of millions of dollars here at stake. We went to the power station studio, took Robert Palmer’s voice off the tracks. I got on the Concorde. I flew to London no sleep to meet with Andy because he was in London. So Andy after 8 hours of waiting for me in the studio arrives in a billowing marijuana smoke, you know, and two big buddy guards in a course of get it on and he hits the control button and says let’s go shopping. I bought 20 thousand dollars of worth of course, Vivian Westwood got back on the Concorde went back to New York. Check into the hotel. I mean all this is exciting. I’m putting a new outfit on that I just got in London. Don Johnson is in New York. We are planning on going to Shinh was the restaurant I get a phone call. You’re out. What? I’m out what you mean I’m out? Can I keep the clothes? And they say no no sorry the other station. Oh, the other station then I go and eat and behold John Taylors at Table Six Tables away from us Don Johnson looks at me looks at John Taylor goes over John’s table and brings him out into the sidewalk and they talked 10 minutes comes back into the restaurant doesn’t say a word to me and we get back to the hotel and I’m just devastated. 7 a.m. the phone rings you’re in. I’m in? Does that mean I get to keep the clothes? Yes, that means you get to keep the clothes and you’re rehearsing at noon. And what happened was my manager and Robert Palmer’s people had put together a Vibe of Robert getting more money on the merchandising, the merchandising alone on their shows was so huge. I can’t even give you the number it’s too embarrassing. I was lost for 3 hours in my hotel, but then I found out we were back in and we started rehearsals new and three days later. I was at Live Aid.
Diane Foy: Wow, that’s that’s an impressive first gig.
Michael Des Barres: No shit, biggest gig of all time.
Diane Foy: And just recently everyone’s posting about it cuz it’s the anniversary of that amazing concert.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah, and I’ve turned to office about interviews about that because its the 35th year of that you know and it was a fascinating afternoon you can imagine. But the real fascination was with that we all stayed in the same hotel that night, can you imagine?
Diane Foy: Anyone is anyone is there?
Michael Des Barres: Yeah that’s exactly right from Bob Dylan to Simon LeBon and back again.
Diane Foy: That’s a lot to take on is that not only like, you know staying everyone else playing Live Aid, but you’re also in a brand new band that you’ve only been in for a week.
Michael Des Barres: 3 days.
Diane Foy: Very much and intimidating?
Michael Des Barres: No, not at all.
Diane Foy: You didn’t think about that?
Michael Des Barres: No easy learn the lines get a great outfit enjoy yourself.
Diane Foy: Yeah. You’re a natural frontman.
Michael Des Barres: Well you know the thing about Robert is he’s so brilliant and I knew him 10 years before power station and we always was called Marvin Gaye because he was so funky and so on R & B I am not that you know, I could get the crowd going Robert didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want to say let me hear you say yeah, you know, he’s not that kind of an artist performer he is very very inside and he’s very difficult to penetrate a brilliant songwriter incredible voice. You know, people say when they’re offered big shoes to fill and I would say I brought my own shoes.
Diane Foy: Yeah it’s like you brought something different to that.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah rock and roll.
Diane Foy: And excitement.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah he wasn’t a rock and roll singer and because that band only had 10 songs. We did 30-somethings live. So we did white light white heat until you know, all sorts of different songs, Lou Reed, a lot of my songs, Obsession was number one all over the world we did that but like really rocking. It was an amazing experience.
Diane Foy: And so you went on the tour and what happened after that?
Michael Des Barres: I collapsed. No, what happened after that. I did Murdock within a few weeks. I did a record with Andy and Jonesy which was a fabulous record, Tower of Power on horns, Jim Keltner on drums. Fantastic. However, the label collapsed 2 weeks after its release so nobody heard it. So I get a call from my agent said you know this a role of an assassin in MacGyver would you like to go and meet with them and I said of course, you know, and I did and I got the gig and it was just a one-off but they like it the audience liked it and I did it for the next five years.
Diane Foy: And just kept coming back.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah.
Diane Foy: And now you’re in the new one.
Michael Des Barres: Yeah.
Diane Foy: And I haven’t seen the new one is it the same character or similar character?
Michael Des Barres: No, Murdock is portrayed by David Dastmalchian who is absolutely fantastic and a great actor, great writer he writes these sort of like horror comics Count Crowley is the character, he is really a brilliant man. I love him I play his mentor Nicholas Helman, that’s how they dealt with it. Because the fans just want to see me with a gun you know and it’s great, it’s been such fun when used to go down to Atlanta to do it and now because of this dreadful virus that is killing too many people.
Diane Foy: Yeah everything is on hold right now. The world is doing a bit of a reset.
Michael Des Barres: Yes, and but we must realize that some rules were made not to be broken.
Diane Foy: Yeah wear the damn mask.
Michael Des Barres: Wear the damn mask exactly, so but you know I work from home and therefore I do my 3 hour radio programs everyday. Monday through Friday at Little Stevens underground garage Sirius XM channel 21, and I love it and that that’s my job and I’m writing a book of poetry, and that’s very exciting and I’m enjoying the you know, the documentary being seen by so many and it is so delightful to talk to you Diane and I got to run because I got to work. You know, I have we’re going to do a socially distanced songwriting session with my colleague Paul El who is due any moment.
Diane Foy: Fantastic.
Michael Des Barres: I’m so sorry for not have been here ready for you but you know its been a crazy time for me with the documentary up on Amazon Prime which I love you guys to hear, you know its kind of get overlaps of my deepest apologies. Its been a wonderful conversation. You’re very smart.
Diane Foy: Yes, wonderful talking to you.
Michael Des Barres: Well absolutely Diane and I wish you all the luck in the world.
Diane Foy: Thank you so much.
Michael Des Barres: Alright Darling.
Diane Foy: Okay.
Michael Des Barres: Bye.
Diane Foy: Bye.
It was so great chatting with Michael. He had some choice words for musicians who grow to hate their own songs and said that none of the greats have ever said that. I looked it up and whether you call them one of the greats or not the list includes Robert Plant, Oasis, R.E.M., Madonna, Kurt Cobain, Radiohead, Bob Geldof, and more have all blasted their most popular hits.
Anyways, I highly recommend watching the doc Who Do You Want Me To Be? To explore the fascinating life of Michael Des Barres.