The Michael Des Barres Interview
By Al Carlos Hernandez on July 30, 2012
HOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) — Lord Michael Philip Des Barres (AKA Marquis Des Barres) is a British actor and rock singer. He is known for playing the recurring role of Murdoc on the television show MacGyver and for replacing the lateRobert Palmer in the band Power Station, fronting the band at the 1985 Live Aid concert. Des Barre is a supporter of President Barack Obama. Michael said, “Our country, the US, is built on big and interesting ideas.” Therefore the Michael Des Barres Band has recently donated $1,000,000 to Barack Obama to record, promote and support a CD of Sam Cooke cover songs with lyrics rewritten by President Obama to reflect his vision for our country. For more information on this: http://www.MDBIMMEDIA.COM
There is a Hollywood axiom: It’s not who you know that counts. It’s who knows you that counts. If this is true then Michael Des Barres is a rock star among actors. His close friends include Led Zepplins’ Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, as well as former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones. Michael was invited by Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor to succeed Freddie Mercury as the lead singer of Queen. Des Barres turned them down because he wasn’t sure he’d be right for the task.
Des Barres is perhaps best known as the touring singer for The Power Station, a 1980’s super group with players from Duran Duran and Chic. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kupMnltNcf8 Michael has also played with the 1970’s band Detective (featuring ex-Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye) and British rockers Silverhead.
Des Barres said recently, “I had come to the realization that my life has always been about rock and roll – that’s always been my great love. We get a huge charge in playing music that gets people off. When we played Coachella, I looked out over an audience of 50,000 people and it seemed like at least half were wearing Led Zeppelin shirts.” So the next step for the Michael Des Barres Band is to get on the road and take the music to the people. His quest is to win over a whole new generation with his below the belt rock sound. He said, “Many believe they are hearing something new. And it is new to them … hearing ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ by a band that can play it is a true novelty these days.”
In order to turn his energy towards music and a touring band, this means he has to divide this time with a prolific acting career that, in many cases, has eclipsed his high profile legendary rock personae. As a much-sought-after character actor, over the past 27 years he’s appeared on such TV shows as Seinfeld, Roseanne, Rockford Files, Northern Exposure, The New WKRP and many more. Michael’s best-known recurring character was the evil mastermind Murdoc on MacGyver. Just last week he did a guest shot on the USA Network’s Suits. He was so successful as an actor that he said, “I got a little bored, was hitting my marks, was pulling out my gun and getting shot – but not dead!” he laughs. “So I could come back in another episode!” He loves acting, but he maintains his heart is firmly back into rock and roll, his first love. “If I get an acting gig that I like, I will still do it, but, if it interferes with playing with my band, I’d much rather be in a small club in Kansas City than in front of a camera in Hollywood.”
Michael has recently undertaken an new musical venture and has surrounded himself with players who share his authenticity and love for music that hits below the belt. Michael Des Barres and his band deliver a potent shot of rock and roll on the new album Carnaby Street. He said, “The album is a passionate, profound testament to the power of rock and roll, played in the classic style of British rockers Humble Pie, the Pretty Things and that band with Page-Plant.” The mission statement of Carnaby Street is its title track, where Des Barres remembers growing up as, “Oscar Wilde in velvet jeans,” and discovering rock and roll in a time when, “The Union Jack was in the hands of the Who.”
“I went to school with Mitch Mitchell and he said ‘I’m playing in a band with this black bloke, come ‘round and see us at the Marquee Club,’” recalls Des Barres. “So it’s 1967, I walk into this club and see Jimi Hendrix. It really blew my mind!” So today that feeling has never left me. The same music still moves me and gets me to moving.”
Herald de Paris Deputy Managing Editor Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez had an interesting conversation with the iconic rock star and actor Michael Des Barres.
What was the first experience in life when you realized that you wanted to be an artist?
MD: Your question is so interesting. When I really thought about my answer I realized I never made a choice to do either. It’s almost as if the arts chose me. Acting was what I was drawn to first, I can’t recall why. When I was a pre-teenager I knew I wanted to express myself artistically. This was the only way I could. I didn’t want to pursue anything else. I wanted to communicate how I was feeling by becoming someone else. A common theme throughout my life, so an artist I became. Replacing myself with someone else.
Is your first love music or acting? Which do you think you do best?
MD: Acting attracted me first, I suppose, because it was easier for me since children pretend, and that is what acting is, how well can you pretend. Then I discovered the blues and rock and roll. I was so taken by its raw power and carnality and spontaneity that was at variance with the discipline of acting. So I switched allegiances. But all of it, whatever I’ve done, comes under the umbrella of art, expressing myself in whatever way I can. Painting, photography, poetry, it’s all a device for self discovery.
Tell us about your friendships with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin) and Mitch Michel (of the Jim Hendrix experience). How did these peers effect what you do and how did your art effect them?
MD: My true friendships with fellow musicians have been a combination of respect and mutual raison d’être. Jimmy and Robert were at their peak when I met them and the power that they had while remaining generous brilliant men was a wonderful awakening that rock and roll personified by its perpetrators can be all things, aggressive, loving and human. This has remained true my entire career. The bigger the star the bigger the heart that beats within them.
You were signed by Purple records. Tell us about your friend who recently passed, Jon Lord. What are your feeling about him and how did he influence you?
MD: I did not personally connect with Deep Purple but I respected Jon Lord a great deal. He had an authority and a classicism that broke the usual description of a “rock and roller.” He was truly a gentle man and synthesized an orchestral feel to hard rock more expertly than anyone else has in my view.
What did you mean when you said that you have a love for music that is authentic and hits below the belt?
MD: My music is sexual. Rock and roll is about sex, feeling, passion, revenge, lust, love. I believe rock and roll’s heart beats below the waist. I like to move, I don’t like to think. My body I trust, my mind I don’t.
Tell us about the Power Station experience and working with the cats from Duran-Duran at their peak. Why did they choose you to replace Robert Palmer? What was that huge worldwide concert like?
MD: The Power Station was very powerful and it’s a station I’m glad I arrived at. I did a show in San Diego, CA with my band Chequered Past. We supported Duran at the peak of their fame. My band broke up soon afterward for the usual reasons, drugs and ego. I was in Texas visiting my friend Don Johnson while he was making a movie. I had just written Obsession and it was a worldwide number one so I was feeling great, reaping the rewards of that success. I got a call from a promoter in New York who said this band needed a singer and it had a hit record but the singer had just quit. They also had tour lined up. I said, “Who is it?” and he wouldn’t answer. Then he said, mysteriously, “Do you want to come to New York and find out?” It sounded fascinating, so I did.
As I entered the promoter’s office in NY I saw John Taylor and Tony Thompson looking alternately beautiful and nervous. They whisked me away to the studio and gave me their album, which was already platinum. They then gave me a version of the album with no vocals on it and put me on the Concorde to London so I could sing for Andy Taylor. I flew to London the next morning, met Andy and sang Get It On for him to the track in his studio. He liked what he heard. As a result I got back on the Concorde, returned to NY City, rehearsed for 10 days and our first real gig was Live Aid.
It was a hell of a day and a hell of a night since everyone on the show stayed in the same hotel. For me, an incredible experience. I had arrived at this place under extraordinary circumstances. I was playing the part of a rock and roll star in a band playing the biggest gig the world had ever seen. That’s how it felt, like a performance within a performance. I loved it.
You are one of the few people ever to successfully segway from a successful rock career into an impressive acting portfolio. Did you do that by design and how did the acting career manifest?
MD: If you look me up in IMDB or Wikipedia you will see that I was an actor first. To Sir with Love with Sydney Poitier was my first movie. I was 16 years old. I did theater for the next five years. Classical theater, a very disciplined profession. I was discovered by Andrew Lloyd Weber playing a rock star in a nude musical called The Dirtiest Show in Town. He introduced me to Deep Purple’s management because their singer, Ian Gillan, was singing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. He suggested I form a rock band. That was cult favorite Silverhead. My life changed overnight in August of 1971. So when I did come back to acting in 1985 I was prepared and already had the skills and technique to continue where I left off.
Did your rock persona cross over when you’d do parts like Murdoch on MacGyver or comedy like Seinfeld?
MD: Murdoc was a rock and roll assassin. I think that is why it was so successful. I loved the character; he had balls, was good with weapons, and was always seeking revenge, which is perfect for a guy who had been in three bands by then. Revenge was familiar. Acting and comedy in subsequent TV shows and movies came naturally. It’s all about rhythm. Without a sense of humor, life is intolerable.
Tell us about some of your memorable film experiences. I understand you worked with other rockers like Mick Jagger and David Bowie. Why do you think you were able to maintain a significant acting career when other rockers could not?
MD: My most memorable experiences in film are essentially all of them. I love the camaraderie of a movie set. The collaboration that goes into a movie. The intimacy that is achieved because of the long hours and the focus that is required. The most rewarding experiences are the best written scripts and the most interesting characters. If I had to single some out they would be “The Man From Elysian Fields” with Mick Jagger and Andy Garcia in which we played gigolos. “Diary of a Sex Addict” with Roseanne Arquette in which I played her philandering husband. “To Sir With Love” with Sydney Poitier and “PInk Cadillac” with Clint Eastwood in which I played a Neo Nazi biker. Playing American roles being an Englishman, accents are challenging, therefore they brought a particular sense of satisfaction and I think the discipline that I have acquired over the years has served me well in terms of longevity.
Tell us about your guest shot on the upcoming Suits program. You play a Russian ballet impresario?
MD: My roll on the new hit USA network show “Suits” was fun. We had just finished Carnaby Street, my new album, and I was offered the roll of this corrupt Russian. It was shot in Toronto. I flew up there, did my thing and was both relieved to get away from the concentration of recording and throw myself into something else.
Which acting platform do you enjoy the most, TV or film and why?
MD: The movie business is more indulgent time wise, more takes, more waiting around. TV is quicker, I like that. I don’t like directors that insist on too many takes. I lose interest. It’s the same in my music, get in there and play, give it everything you’ve got and move on.
You have said recently that, as an actor, you got a little bored: “I was hitting my marks, I was pulling out my gun, getting shot – but not dead,” so you could come back for the next episode. What did you mean?
MD: I need to reinvigorate myself on occasion. One can become stale and repetitive; I like to mix it up so I can remain fresh and interested in whatever I do.
A worldwide headline states that you have donated one million dollars to Barack Obama to record a CD of Sam Cooke cover songs, with lyrics rewritten by President Obama to reflect his vision for this country. Why did you come up with this concept?
MD: I believe in Obama. The US is built on big and interesting ideas.
Do you feel a need as an artist to enter and/or inform the political arena?
MD: I have no desire to politicize. Human behavior is my politics. Freedom and equal rights for all. Dogma has no place in my life. Love and compassion is all that matters.
You were in the Maroon 5 “Move Like Jagger” video?
MD: I did Maroon 5’s video for “Moves like Jagger” because Jonas Akerlund is a wonderful director. I’ve worked with him a number of times; I love his crew and his brilliance. He asked me to participate in the Jagger video and we had so much fun doing it.
Who are some of the new artists you listen to?
MD: In terms of new music I love so many new artists. The music business is dead but music is very much alive. Jack White, Black Keys, The Alabama Shakes, all these artists I think are amazing. So many talented people who now, in this DIY age, are finding an audience thanks to new technology and the individual freedom through which self expression can manifest.
Tell us about your latest CD Carnaby street. I am told that you reached down into your soul and that the album is a passionate, profound testament to the power of rock and roll played in the classic style of British Rockers Humble Pie. What can fans expect?
MD: “Carnaby Street” was a labor of lust. I was raised on British Blues. I was in the clubs of London when I was 16. I wanted to evoke the raw simple passionate sounds of the music that had inspired me. Our listeners can expect to dance, make love, and laugh with joy and recognition of a world full of sex and redemption and wit and wisdom.
Tell us about some of the rave reviews.
MD: In terms of the critic’s reception to our album, the reviews have been exceptional. Embracing what I have said in my last answer. You can obtain quotes from Billy our wonderful PR guy. They are amazingly accurate. I think I have hit a nerve of simplicity and joy that has gone missing in contemporary rock and roll.
You are very visible on social media. Tell us what you think about new media and how you are using it as a platform to further your interaction with your worldwide fans.
MD: I’m very much involved in social media. I believe in connection. I want my friends (I don’t think of them as fans) to know how I truly feel about everything. The internet affords me that experience. I believe if you know about my sincerity and motivation you will accept that what I am saying and singing is my truth.
What are some of the new projects you have in the works? Are you planning to tour?
MD: We will indeed tour and I hope all your readers come and see us.
How would you like the world to remember you?
MD: I would like to be remembered as the world’s greatest kisser.
Edited by Susan Acieves