Formed by a group of aspiring rock musicians from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who moved to Los Angeles, California, in search of fame, Poison's music reflected its pedigree and, indeed, the pedigree of the music scene the band helped to create. Poison's roots, and those of hair metal in general, lay in America’s East, and in particular, the sounds and images associated with New York’s KISS, Boston’s Aerosmith, Illinois’ Cheap Trick and Baltimore’s Kix. These influences were transplated to California in the late 1970s, mutated following the release of Van Halen’s debut in 1978, and ultimately ignited into a colorful music scene on L.A’s Sunset Strip in the 1980s. Poison's music, and that of hair metal, was characterized by loud and anthemic guitar riffs, and its image, by flamboyant special effects, costumes, hair and make-up, and a preoccupation with hedonism.
Poison began life in 1984 as Paris, a band from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, comprising vocalist Bret Michaels, bassist Bobby Dall, guitarist Matt Smith and drummer Rikki Rockett. The band moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1985 to begin playing in clubs there.
Smith, who was about to father a child and was concerned about the band’s future, returned to Pennsylvania shortly after. The band auditioned for a replacement guitarist, eventually narrowing the field down to three candidates: Slash, who would later join Guns 'N’ Roses, Steve Silva from the Joe Perry Project, and Brooklyn expatriate C.C. DeVille. Although Michaels and Dall did not initially get along with DeVille, the band eventually agreed that DeVille’s “fire” made him the most appropriate candidate.
The band began to gain notoriety on the Sunset Strip for its theatrical live shows striking “glam” image. Without money for effects, they would fill the stage with old Harley Davidson and car parts, blow up car fuses and pour confetti onto themselves from boxes in the ceiling. Poison's live antics were, however, widely rumored to have been copied from Kix; Michaels’ on-stage persona, in particular, bore a striking resemblance to that of Kix lead singer Steve Whiteman. Poison had long known of Kix, which had gained a local following in Hagerstown, Maryland, a short distance from Harrisburg, Poison's original home.
The band’s efforts eventually paid off and Michaels, Dall, Rockett and DeVille signed to Enigma Records in 1986. Their debut album, Look What the Cat Dragged In, was released on August 2, 1986. It included three hits, “Talk Dirty to Me”, “I Want Action”, and “I Won’t Forget You”. Sales for the album topped two million copies.
In 1987 the band also recorded a cover of the Kiss song “Rock and Roll All Nite” for the Less Than Zero movie soundtrack.
Poison's second album, Open Up and Say . . . Ahh!, which was released on May 21, 1988, ultimately go on to sell eight million copies worldwide. The record included the band’s biggest hit, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, along with other top- ten hits, “Nothin’ But a Good Time” and the Loggins and Messina cover “Your Mama Don’t Dance”. By the time the band toured with David Lee Roth (in 1988 on the Skyscraper Tour,) it was apparent that they had become a major live act. Subsequent headlining shows in support of Open Up and Say . . . Ahh! would ultimately place the band alongside Metallica as one of the largest-grossing touring acts of the late 1980s.
Poison's third album, Flesh and Blood (1990), released on June 21, 1990 was also highly successful. The record went multi-platinum, spawning three gold singles: “Unskinny Bop”, “Ride the Wind”, and the ballad “Something to Believe In”. Flesh and Blood reached number two on the American charts, providing the impetus for a further world tour.
Poison recorded a number of performances during its 1990/1991 Flesh and Blood tour which were released in November 1991 as their fourth album, Swallow This Live.
Despite Poison's success, DeVille’s substance abuse had begun to cause strife in the band. Conflict between Michaels and DeVille culminated in a fistfight at the MTV Music Awards in 1991, provoked by Deville’s inept live performance. Deville was fired and replaced by Pennsylvanian guitar virtuoso Richie Kotzen.
Poison's fifth album, Native Tongue, was released in August of 1993. The fiery, bluesy rock record was strongly influenced by Kotzen’s fresh songwriting contributions and guitar performances. It marked a change for the band as they abandoned their anthemic party tunes to focus on more serious subjects. The record contained the single “Stand”, and received generally positive reviews. Sales for the album were comparatively sluggish only selling one million copies worldwide. The band toured in support of the album, but tensions mounted between Kotzen and the rest of Poison. Kotzen’s future in the band was sealed when it was discovered that he was romantically involved with Rockett’s fiancee Deanna Eve. Kotzen was promptly fired, and replaced by Blues Saraceno.
Poison began recording its sixth album, Crack a Smile, in 1994. Recording was brought to an abrupt halt in May 1994, when Michaels was involved in an accident in which he lost control of his Ferrari. Michaels suffered a broken nose, ribs, jaw, and fingers and lost four teeth. After his recovery in 1995, the band continued recording. In the face of a sharp decline in demand for 80s hair metal, and with a shift in staff at the label, Capitol Records offered little support for a new Poison record. Instead, the label opted for a Greatest Hits compilation. The record was released on November 26, 1996, and went platinum, despite the lack of an immediate tour to support the album.
After eight years apart, Michaels and DeVille were able to patch up their differences during the latter part of 1998. The Greatest Hits reunion tour finally took place in the summer of 1999. The original lineup intact, Poison hit the road. The band’s supporting tour was a success, with its show at Pine Knob Amphitheater in Detroit drawing a sell-out crowd of 18,000. Tour dates averaged crowds of 12,000. A summertime appearance on VH1’s Behind the Music solidified a newfound popularity for the reunited lineup.
Crack a Smile was finally released on March 14, 2000. The album, a bright and raunchy series of party anthems, contained few traces of the seriousness of Native Tongue.
Later in the same year Poison also released Power to the People marking the return of DeVille to the band. The record contained five new studio songs: “Power to the People”, “Can’t Bring Me Down”, “Last Song”, “Strange”, and “I Hate Every Bone in Your Body But Mine”. The remainder of the album featured live performances from tours in 1999 and 2000.
Poison's most recent record, Hollyweird, was released on May 21, 2002. Hollyweird is an overdue testament to where they've come from and where they've been that is sure to please fans old and new.