Poison, '80s Hair Metal Band

L.A.-Based Pop Metal Band Was One of the Era's Most Popular Artists

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The glam rock-influenced hair metal group Poison formed initially as Paris in the area around suburban Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. However, Bret Michaels, Bobby Dall, Rikki Rockett, and original guitarist Matt Smith soon decided to pursue their dreams of rock and roll stardom (where else?) in the more appropriate showbiz climate of Los Angeles. After the quartet relocated to the West Coast in 1985, Smith left the band and was replaced by C.C. DeVille. With its classic lineup now in place, the group began to hone its sound in Sunset Strip clubs, exhibiting a full-tilt glam image through makeup and costumes that often overshadowed its music.

The group was formed in 1984 in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania and consisted of the following core members:

  • Bret Michaels (born Bret Michael Sychak on March 15, 1963, in Butler, Pennsylvania) – Lead vocals, guitar
  • C.C. DeVille (born Bruce Anthony Johannesson on May 14, 1962, in Brooklyn, New York) – Lead guitar
  • Bobby Dall (born Robert Harry Kuykendall on November 2, 1958, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) – Bass guitar
  • Rikki Rockett (born Richard Allan Ream on August 8, 1961, in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania) – Drums

Debut Album and Instant Stardom

After signing to Enigma records in 1986, Poison issued its debut album, "Look What the Cat Dragged In", to relatively little fanfare. What got record buyers' attention initially was the album's cover, which featured unabashedly feminized portraits of each band member, a glammed-up image far more excessive than any preceding pop metal band. Still, as it built slowly into 1987, the album's music began to gain steam, as "I Want Action," "I Won't Forget You," and, especially, "Talk Dirty to Me" became substantial hit singles. Eventually, the record would go on to sell more than two million copies within a year's time.

Poison Avoids the Sophomore Slump

If "Look What the Cat Dragged In" was a monumental success for a debut release, Poison's 1988 follow-up, "Open Up and Say… Ahh!", successfully raised the bar and made the band one of the world's biggest rock bands of the time. Musically, the record continued the band's straightforward formula of big guitars and party anthems but also injected a mild measure of variety in the serious rocker "Fallen Angel" and the hugely popular ballad "Every Rose Has its Thorn." By late 1988, Poison had staked a genuine claim to a status as one of hard rock's biggest live acts and hair metal's most serious chart threats.

One Last Success Before Grunge Sounded the Death Knell

Poison didn't skip a beat for its third release, "Flesh & Blood", issued after another two-year period. Tracks like the appallingly bad "Unskinny Bop," the vapid "Something to Believe In," and the similarly limited "Ride the Wind" may have indicated a musical decline for the band, but that didn't stop such hits from making the record another bona fide smash. Even so, the band began its implosion even before Nirvana broke, as DeVille's increasing substance abuse problems affected his performance enough at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards that he and Michaels reportedly engaged in a fistfight backstage.

This Poison Stays in the System a Long Time

Despite the subsequent firing of DeVille and a new album in 1993 without him that was pretty much ignored in a changing rock music landscape, the original lineup of Poison managed to stage a reunion by the end of the '90s. Since 1999, the original lineup has more or less stayed together, mounting largely successful summer nostalgia tours into the new millennium. Along the way, the group has kept things interesting; even as DeVille found sobriety, a dispute between Michaels and Dall erupted onstage in Atlanta in 2006. Poison continues still to persevere, regularly touring and releasing occasional records — even in the face of some health problems for Michaels, including a brain hemorrhage he suffered in 2010.