By Mark Kadzielawa
Michael Des Barres is a multidimensional artist from Great Britain. He’s made his name in the music world, as well as the acting world. In addition, he paints and takes photographs. One could say he finds different ways to express himself.
Musically, Des Barres, formed his first band, Orange Illusion, as a teenager with whom he never actually performed live. A couple of years later, things got more serious with Silverhead, with whom he released two records, and completed a few tours. By 1975, Des Barres, left his native England, and moved to Los Angeles, forming a brand new band Detective. Detective quickly signed to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records, and managed two studio albums before disbanding in 1978. Des Barres resurfaced in 1980 with a solo album, “I’m Only Human.” By 1984, he was part of a new band, Chequered Past, with whom he released a self titled album. Michael Des Barres is also known for co-writing “Obsession,” which proved to be a big hit for 80s Animotion. In 1985, he replaced Robert Palmer in The Power Station, as the touring vocalist, and appeared in Live Aid. In 1986, a solo record followed, “Somebody Up There Likes Me.” Then the acting world claimed Des Barres, but he never stopped playing, or being involved in music.
As an actor, Des Barres, is known for his portrayal of Murdoc on the MacGyver weekly hour drama. But that’s not how he got started, in fact, a very young Des Barres appears in classic “To Sir, with Love” back in 1967. Other notable acting appearance include: Nighflyers, Pink Cadillac, Under Siege, Sugar Town. He is no stranger to TV either, besides the charismatic Murdoc, Des Barres made appearances on Seinfeld, Melrose Place, Alf, Renegade, Rockford Files, and countless of others. He's got more than 90 movie credits to his name.
By 2011, Michael Des Barres, formed his own The Michael Des Barres Band, and a year later released “Carnaby Street.” The album is pure rock ‘n’ roll, it has that great feel. The combination of blues, soul, and rock. Great songs, and great delivery, needless to say there is a Grammy potential here. On the cover, there is Des Barres dressed all in black, and the Union Jack behind him, how could things go wrong? The man put some guts back in rock 'n' roll!
Michael Des Barres, talks about his return to active performing, and how he put “Carnaby Street” together.
What sparked your return to being a recording artist again?
Michael Des Barres: Now that’s a great question to start with. I have to say rock ‘n’ roll is my thing. Even though I’ve been acting since 1986 on American television, and movies, I’ve always played music. It’s never left me, the desire to play music. But after the Power Station experience, which was such a powerful experience, and every fantasy that you could ever have. But I audition for the role of Murdoc on the McGyver series, and my character went down so well. I ended up doing it for the next couple of years. And that lead to a career that lasted over 20 years. What happened to me, was that I went over to Austin to recover from an accident about two years ago. I broke a few bones, and I’ve stayed at my friend’s ranch. There were a lot of blues musicians hanging around in the studio on the property. I was incapacitated physically, and I was thinking, “what is the most wonderful thing in the world that I get the most joy out of?” And what that is, it’s standing on a rock ‘n’ roll stage, at a rock ‘n’ roll bar, with rock ‘n’ roll people, playing rock ‘n’ roll music. And so I started to write music. I came back to Los Angeles, and with the help of my collaborator, Paul ILL, we wrote a bunch of songs. We put together a bunch of guys wanting to play simple pure rocking, bluesy music. They were all accomplished, and are accomplished session musicians who play on records from Tina Turner, to Courtney Love, to Christina Aguilera, Ricky Martin. I mean the most eclectic bunch of musicians by day, and by night they rock ‘n’ roll with yours truly. And we got lucky. We play the clubs, we do exactly what I wanted to do. We play in Nashville, Atlanta, Memphis, Austin, and California, in little night clubs, really sweaty rock ‘n’ roll clubs. We do two sets a night. So when we went into the studio, we’ve made an album in a week.
That's a lot of energy to channel, and so powerful too.
I wrote them all when I was in Austin recovering from this accident about two years ago. They were all brand new. It’s just flowed out of me. The songs are all about love, and redemption. It’s about sex. It’s about rock ‘n’ roll, and rock ‘n’ roll is about sex primarily. That's the primary thrust of rock ‘n’ roll music. It’s about sex, and everything to do with it. That means revenge, redemption, joy, anger, bliss, ecstasy, pain. All of it comes under the heading of rock ‘n’ roll. The blues is the music is how the people express themselves, and I didn’t want to write about world crisis, or political economics woes, or advancing the beliefs of some political groups. I wanted to write rock ‘n’ roll music. And by making it as simple as possible is why people are going crazy. I mean, there is a reason why kids walk around in Led Zeppelin t-shirts. Young people that come and see our band play, and that’s because it’s the music that they’ve heard on the internet. The Internet has been kind to us. All of those bands like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Yardbirds, Humble Pie, The Animals, they all become part of today’s music. All of these bands have the staying power because they’re playing authentic music. It’s not compressed, it’s not auto-tuned, it’s not click-tracked, it’s not flown in, it’s real. It’s five guys or girls in a room playing. And that’s what I’ve said from the very beginning. I’ve said to the guys, “there’ll be no overdubs, whatever you play, that’s it.” I don’t want anybody going in, and thinking about fixing anything. It’s the thinking about it that messes it up.
You have to go with the feel.
Yeah, go with the feel, in everything. As an actor, in a relationship, with your parents, with your lawyer.
Especially with your lawyer!
You get the picture. You get the picture, I can feel you understand what I’m saying, it’s not complicated. Some people try to intellectualize it, they say, “it’s backwards, you’re being prejudiced against today.” And all of it is non-sense to me. You see, every 14 year old kid has a few bands that he has to listen to. The music that I’m playing on “Carnaby Street” is a reflection of that precedent setting music, because I was there. When I was 15, I was there in the clubs in London watching The Animals, watching Jimi Hendrix. I went to school with Mitch Mitchell. And what happened in London in the late 60s, those skinny white boys wanted to play black music, and they did, and it was called The Rolling Stones, it was called The Faces, Steve Marriot, Yardbirds and Jimmy Page. And that’s the music I was brought into. I’m not re-creating anything, I’m doing what I created.
Can you explain the significance of the Carnaby Street, which is also the title of the album?
It’s a street in London, where everybody bought their clothes. That was the perfect metaphor for that world. I could’ve called the album, 1967, I could’ve called it, Velvet London, I could’ve called it many things. But what it really came down to is words Carnaby Street, are so lyrical, so rhythmic, and I wrote a song, the title song, because it just sounded so great. And because it was the symbol of the look at the time, I found that fascinating. It was beautifully superficial, and light. Because the last thing I wanted this album to be was a statement. I’ll let Mitt Romney make statements. My function is to make you dance and fall in love, that’s it.
The opening track, “You’re My Pain Killer” is just such an intense rocker, what is that song about?
It’s about that love is the ultimate pain killer, and that love is the best medication that you can possibly get. It’s the ultimate anti-depressant.
So what does that make “From a Cloud 9 to Heartache” ?
“From a Cloud to a Heartache” is the bi-polar version. It’s like when you date somebody whose moods swings so fast. That’s what that song is about. It’s about mood swinging, it’s mood swinging London (laughter.)
Let’s talk about “Route 69” then.
I’m just using words to be provocative. What the song is about is two misfits who are kicked out of their home towns, and they meet on the highway, and they fall in love. It’s about misfits falling in love. I’ve dealt with a lot of kids, and this one in particular has Asperger's syndrome, but she’s the sweetest kid in the world. And she met a guy while she was hitching across America, because she didn’t know where she fit in. She didn’t fit in anywhere. Nobody understood her, everyone thought she was stupid, and she was really brilliant. I met this girl, and she told me the story about hitching around the America, and meeting a boy. The boy was mentally challenged. He had disorders that made him not able to function in the society, so he took off just like her, and they met, can you imagine that? They’ve met on the interstate, and they fell in love, and they’re still together, and that’s what this song is all about.
The whole albums has that great feel The Faces/Humble Pie used to have, and that was a feel many people were after over the years. How did you manage that?
That’s the way I was raised. I’m the same age as Rod Stewart, or the same age as Steve Marriott. When I was 15, and living in London, you went to the clubs, and everybody at that time was influenced by the same people. Those people were: David Ruffin of The Temptations, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Wilson Pickett. And those singers like Marvin Gaye, Little Richards, who sang in that raspy way. That’s why Terry Reid sounds the way he does, and the same goes for Steve Marriott, Rod Stewart, Paul Rodgers, and me. Any singer of my age that comes from London in the late 50s, that’s how we felt the music. The music is blues music with that raspy soul voice, and that’s what comes out of our your white guy throat. It’s rock ‘n’ roll DNA.
The album’s been out for a while, what feedback are you getting so far?
Amazing! Unbelievable! I mean what do you think when you hear it?
The album came out of nowhere, and just knocked me out with its simplicity, and power. The music made me feel good.
It made you feel good, and that’s it. That was my idea. My trip now is get people like yourself, who love music, to hear it. So, when you ask me about the response, it’s been amazing by the people who have heard it. People have gone crazy, and when we play live, they go even crazier, because live the music is even more driven. Even, the ballad, “Please Stay,” is very passionate and heavy. I call it heavy soul.
Do you plan to take this album on the road?
Oh, absolutely. I’m about to do some shows at the Viper Room in Los Angeles, and then I’m going to New York, and I’m playing with Steven Van-Zandt in New York. He’s getting an award, and he’s asked me to sing with him, and then we will begin our tour of the States. And that’s gonna be happening for the next year.
Speaking of the past, you were with a band Detective, you were signed to Swan Song, you had the attention of Led Zeppelin, and so on. What could possibly go wrong?
How would you compare the acting scene as opposed to the musical scene?
I’m all about self-expression, I’m an artist. I take photographs, I paint. I like to express myself. If I was put up against the wall and asked what my favorite thing to do is, it’s singing rock ‘n’ roll live. That is my answer. So that’s sort of the under-pressure answer. The overall metaphysical answer is, I like to express myself as an artist. A great theme as an actor is as exciting as me doing Live Aid. It’s the same feeling. You feel connected, you feel it’s real, you feel it’s authentic, and it’s tremendously satisfying. And that can come in many ways. I’m sure you as a writer have other things that you do that you love. To describe, would you give up writing for riding a horse, playing tennis, collecting stamps. Whatever it is, you’re expressing yourself, and that’s what I’m about. Whatever form, it’s just how great it makes me feel in any given moment.
Out of all the roles you’ve played on the screen, do you have any you particularly identify with?
The ones that are the best written. As an actor, that's what I’ve learned over the many years that I’ve been doing it. And remember, I’ve started in 1967, with Sidney Poitier, in “To Sir With Love,” when I was very young. So, I’ve been doing it much longer than you’ve been alive. And the best roles that I remember were the ones that were best written, not necessarily the biggest, or the most important. I would say the role that I think I’ve accomplished the most was “Diary of a Sex Addict." It was a movie I did with Rosanna Arquette, and Nastassja Kinsky, and to me it was just that. It was a movie about a guy who was a sexual addict. He had a wife and a kid, and he loved his wife, and he loved his kid, but he was compulsive about his behavior. And that was something I knew about. And the other role that was tremendously satisfying was playing Murdoc on McGyver. I was the master of disguise, had different accents, different characters, and I would try to kill McGyver every week. It was great. I enjoyed that tremendously. I did “The Man From Elysian Fields,” with Mick Jagger, and that was a great movie too.
You’ve mentioned Live Aid few times, and not too many people remember that you were there performing with The Power Station. Would you care to explain how that came about?
I replaced Robert Palmer in the Duran Duran offshoot, The Power Station. That is John and Andy Taylor, and Tony Thompson, from Bowie’s band and Chic. And John and Andy from Duran Duran. They made a record with Robert Palmer singing, but he didn’t want to tour. I and Chequered Past, had supported Duran Duran in the past, and they’ve remembered me, and they’ve hired me to do the tour. The first gig was Live Aid. It was hell of a way to enter. I’ve had 10 days to learn 30 songs, and they had a six month tour booked, which I did. It was one of the most extraordinary days of my life. It was an amazing day, it was also an amazing night because we all stayed in the same hotel. You could only imagine what happened that night. It was one of those decadent crazy nights, and I’ve had a few.
Finally, what do you want this music to come across as?
I just want to connect people to one another. I just want to play music that unites people in a s way. That is, don’t be afraid to connect and engage, and let yourself be open with people, because what happens is, we’re so divided as people, and we’re so divided as a country. We’re cutting ourselves off with engaging as people. That record, “Carnaby Street,” it unites people. It makes you want to go to the clubs, and meet each other, and have another party after the gig. And get us all on the same page, and that page is from the book of love.