Michael Des Barres is a man of many talents. He was a teenage actor in “To Sir, with Love” with the iconic Sidney Poitier, the front man for underrated glam-rock band Silverhead in the early ’70s, he sang at Live Aid with “Power Station” and acted in television shows as diverse as “Seinfeld,” “ALF” and “MacGyver.” Equally impressive is Des Barre’s forthrightness, intelligence and anecdotal recall. Review Fix recently spoke to Des Barres and got his thoughts on rock ‘n’ roll, film, television, theater and life as a modern-day renaissance man.
Reviewfix.com – We featured Silverhead in the number-two spot on our top 10 underrated and under-appreciated classic-rock album list. Why was the band not recognized for its musical brilliance?
Michael Des Barres – I had no control on how the people were going to respond to me. I think one of the things I’ve learned is you don’t do things to achieve. You do things because you have no choice, and because it’s all you can do, and music to me, rock ‘n’ roll music was… I had no goal, that was the great naivete. It details the beginning of one’s journey, you know, and I think that was why Silverhead was so pure, because there was no real need for your approval, and I very quickly learned that you cannot please everyone, and if the people that you are in a room with at any given time – room, club, venues like what you are doing, then it it’s an in the moment thing. The minute that rock ‘n’ roll becomes a calculation, you are delivering product. As my career grew, I realized that I had responsibilities, and I sort of mutated that into the idea, into having to write what I thought people wanted. When I first started at about 17, 18, I was a young kid who wanted to do what I wanted. To answer your question specifically, what I believed [was that] we were hugely successful. I believed that we were the biggest, most spectacular band on any given night, like I believe every rock band is the best rock ‘n’ roll band in the world on any given night. I didn’t have those kinds of ambitions.
Reviewfix.com – What about Japan? I read in various magazines I’ve gotten a hold of that you guys were huge in Japan.
Michael Des Barres – Yeah, but you just have to be blond and wear red velvet, you know what I mean? My maid would be big in Japan. Big in Japan is such a rock ‘n’ roll cliché. It’s literally like hearing “Let me hear you say ‘yeah.’” It’s a rotten cliché. They loved us absolutely, and they still do, only because it was dirty, subversive and it was glamorous, and the Japanese had a great appreciation for all of those things.
Reviewfix.com – You had a live album from there, an import,that’s hard to get hold of here.
Michael Des Barres-Yeah, I guess [you can get a hold of it on] eBay. Yeah, the live album – it’s funny. Purple Records, which was the label we were signed to in the U.K., was basically Deep Purple’s label, like a custom label, and we were supporting some band – I think Nazareth, maybe – and they were doing a live album, and the people who were doing the recording just happened to like what Silverhead was all about, and actually recorded us and those tapes were then released. Once Purple Records realized that they had more material after we’d broken up in a cocaine coma, they said “OK, well, we got this, we’ll put this out; it’s a simple as that.”
Reviewfix.com – Why do you think of the early ‘70s was such a fertile period for English, glam and hard rock?
Michael Des Barres – I think because you brought in the idea of androgyny – I think that it was an incredible breakthrough for sexuality, because up to that point, people are scared of exploring their theatrical feminine side, which led to extraordinary performances. If you are locked in to a particular set of ideas of what masculinity is, I think it puts you in a cage of morality, and I think that era was significant because it was a free moment where I guess the lineage from the experimentation of the ‘60s was continued through the early ‘70s, but by then you started to get art students and drama school students and kids that were smart and read books and knew who Oscar Wilde was and incorporated the great British sense of intellectual eccentrics into a Robert Johnson-inspired rock ‘n’ roll. There was this wonderful hybrid of literature, blues, crushed velvet, and it was a fantastic synthesis that just exploded with carnal creativity, and so there were so many individuals there, there were so many bands that were absolutely exquisite. There were the “Heavy Metal Kids” who were like five “Artful Dodgers”– they were like Dickens, they were like rock ‘n’ roll Dickens, which is sort of what we were too. There was another band called the “Sensational Alex Harvey Band” that was so incredibly inventive and so theatrical, way before the alleged theatrical bands. “The Crazy World of Arthur Brown” – amazingly eccentric individuals that we didn’t even feel eccentric, it just seemed so natural. London streets were paved in velvet. It was such a fertile, imaginative, psychedelic time, and just to sum all that up, it was all fueled by hashish and cocaine, so we were OK.
Reviewfix.com – Did you consider the glam period to be theater, music or a combination of both?
Michael Des Barres – I never separated anything – I’ve always thought that is was an amalgam of the two. You know, I was trained as an actor in drama school, and the times t were being dictated, until the time I did that nude musical.
Reviewfix.com – Was that called the “Dirtiest Show in Town?”
Michael De Barres-That was very liberating for me then. I thought I could do all of this at once in one song, I can incorporate everything performance, performance art and drama and sex and put it all into one fabulous vehicle that would enable me to drive all around the world with it. I just wanted to have fun in New York. They said, “What would you prefer, Michael? Is it acting? Is it rock ‘n’ roll?” It is all the same to me – the most exciting thing you can do for me is live music. That would be my absolute preference.