Bret Michaels is "cutting up I-80" on his way to a solo show in Fort Dodge, Iowa, a little more than a week before the kickoff of the summer rock circus known as The Stadium Tour.
The indefatigable Poison frontman – who is joining his bandmates, as well as Def Leppard, Motley Crue and Joan Jett and The Blackhearts on the three-and-a-half-month outing that began June 16 in Atlanta – is squeezing in a few concerts with the Bret Michaels Band, a practice he’ll continue throughout the summer.
But his strategy is identical whether it’s a Poison show or one of the 100-plus solo gigs he plays every year: “Bring 1,000% energy.”
The amiable Michaels, 59, appreciates his longevity in the music business – 36 years since Poison’s debut album – and approaches his career with refreshing self-awareness.
“I’m a grateful guy,” he tells USA TODAY from his RV. “To be on the good side of the dirt after all I’ve been through … I live to be on the road. It’s my freedom. It’s good for my soul.”
Here's a look at life on the road with Michaels:
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Michaels manages his Type 1 diabetes with workouts in his mobile gym during the drive
Michaels has often publicly discussed living with Type 1 diabetes – he was diagnosed at age 6 – and the ensuing challenges for a rock star on the road. Controlling his blood sugar is his primary concern throughout the day, which he monitors through diet and dedication to exercise.
He’ll pull out his mountain bike for a ride at a truck stop, but for the endless hours of road travel between tour dates, Michaels fashioned a mobile gym. He drilled a “big bolt” into the ceiling of his RV for triceps and back exercises and also bolted down a stationary bike, which he rides a couple of hours at a time.
“Rather than eating my way through an eight-hour drive, I put on a movie, lock the bike down, seat belt myself in and ride for the whole thing,” he says. “I come from a family that likes to party, but as a diabetic, I have to find more balance.”
In an unexpected turn of events, Michaels pulled out of Poison's Nashville show on June 30 after being hospitalized for an "unforeseen medical complication."
"I send my deepest apologies for being unable to rock the stage tonight," Michaels wrote on Instagram. "I am working on being back 100% very soon."
The Poison singer collects his trademark bandanas at truck stops
Michaels’ TikTok showcasing his “patented headband diamond” folding technique of his trademark bandanas has generated more than 1.3 million views. He is unapologetic about both his love for the carefully arranged fabric (“It keeps me from sweating in my own face and it gives you swagger”) and the fact that he handpicks them from his favorite roadside stops.
“I have a drawer full of custom truck stop bandanas in a schmear of different colors. Just like life should be – all-inclusive,” he says.
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AC/DC is his pre-performance jam
Michaels is proud that he’s “the real deal,” meaning no backing tracks to supplement his vocals and no Pro Tools manipulating any of the instruments’ sounds.
“It’s just straight-up live music and raw,” he says. “It’s the only way I know how to play.”
As his pre-stage prep, Michaels pops on his headphones and heads to the backstage stairs. “I always listen to AC/DC’s 'Thunderstruck' as the last thing before I go on stage. Now I’m on (level) 10. It fires me up and boom! It’s like when a bull flies out of the gate.”
Poison's tourmates Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Joan Jett? Michaels is a fan of them all
The hit catalog among the four artists on The Stadium Tour could be its own Top 40. While Michaels has affection for every Poison song, from "Talk Dirty to Me" and "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" to "Nothin' But a Good Time" (“They’re like my children, I love them all for different reasons”), he’s also eager to hear some smashes from his peers.
“With Joan, my standards are ‘Bad Reputation’ and ‘I Love Rock ’N Roll' – that one is always going to be in my party playlist. Motley, I love listening to ‘Dr. Feelgood,’ ‘Wild Side’ is great, ‘Live Wire,’ and of course ‘‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ – you can’t miss with that one. And Def Leppard, I love all of their music, but ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ and ‘Photograph,’ those are really good songs with such great harmonies.”
‘I built every house from brick one’
In addition to life as a rock ’n’ roller, Michaels is an entrepreneur, dabbling in film and TV and boasting an online store with branded wares.
The musician says he learned early that maintaining a lengthy career “means you take care of business, otherwise someone else will."
With Poison, he and bassist Bobby Dall "sign all the checks" and stay attuned to the needs of hardworking crew members. In his solo band, Michaels tends to his own team.
"There's got to be gas, hotels, per diems, where is everyone eating and sleeping," he says. “But I came from a basement in Pennsylvania, so I love being part of the business. I built every house from brick one, so if something goes wrong, I can go back to that foundation.”
Next up: A Bret Michaels documentary
In November, A&E will debut “The Origins of Bret Michaels,” a multipart documentary drawn from the musician’s “Auto-Scrap-Ography Vol. 1,” his visual-heavy memoir released in 2020.
“These are stories about me standing in my basement in front of my parents’ washer and dryer and having to move it to set up our amps,” Michael says. “The book gives you a real dive into my head. And in spite of myself, I am still here and still rocking.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bret Michaels touring solo and with Poison for The Stadium Tour