As lead guitarist of Poison, hair metal's most outrageous glam-tribute drag show, C.C. DeVille scaled the heights of rock's excess long enough to sell 20 million records. But when it crashed, so did he, with little hope of becoming more than a narcotic footnote in the glittery pages of late-1980s rock history. These days, C.C. is better than ever, back on the road with Poison for a sold-out summer tour and, perhaps more interestingly, leading up a phenomenal new punk-pop outfit called Samantha 7, which just released a self-titled debut on Portrait/Columbia. And guess what? He's still one of the most colorful, brilliant and hilarious freaks the pop world has to offer. What happened underneath all of that hair?
Orlando Weekly: So I'm cracking myself up, sitting here thinking, "C.C., pick up that telephone and talk to me ..."
DeVille: Exactly! How ya doin' buddy?
I,m doing great. How are you?
I.m goin' bananas, here. I'm winding down this Poison thing and starting to wind up with the Samantha 7 thing.
Which is a fucking great record! Who knew you had it in you?
I love it. The thing is, I've always been a songwriter -- in Poison, I was a songwriter. It just seems that a lot of the stuff that I write was not really represented. The first Poison record, I had more freedom to write. And as everyone else decided to write more, what would happen is that there wouldn't be any one idea. That was a source of frustration for me all through the [early] Poison thing.
Rock doesn't necessarily have much of a sense of humor anymore -- not like yours.What's cool, though, is listening to the Samantha 7 record and hearing more obscure, irreverent influences like Smoking Popes or Jawbreaker -- younger, punk bands.
I hear a lot of the Offspring.
Yeah, which has some sense of humor, too. But it sounds really different when cast through somebody who, forgive me for saying this, most people didn't expect to come back around.
I know, I know. The sobriety thing really helps me, because you really do, you thank God for a second chance. I mean I was so bad. And you know what, it's such a cliché, but that's what's even more embarrassing. You see all of these people that go through the same thing, and then you know it's gotta be dangerous, because why is everyone going to rehab, dead or in rehab already? And then you still keep screwing it up. Or you think, "I can handle it." Or you willingly go, as if for some strange reason you feel like it's predetermined that you're going to become a junkie, so just go with it. To five years later be on the other side of this thing, it's like, wow. My life isn't anything like it was.
How hard is that, taking it back on the road with Poison?
Easy! Poison really wasn't a partying band. I mean ... me and Bob [Dall, bassist] were the only guys that partied in Poison. I mean, Bret [Michaels, vocals] and Rikki [Rockett, drums] didn't really do that much but drink a little bit.
And pour champagne on girl's boobs ...
They would always be having like a lot of the sex parties and Bob and I would be drinking and doing blow, and meeting the girls that were into that. ... But once Bob and I got sober, it was a very clean environment. So it has been very good.
I don't know how you walked through Louisiana and didn't get your asses kicked.
Listen, believe me, there have been times when I thought I was a dead man. Going to some of these truck stops? Oh my God!
You guys inadvertently did a lot for tolerance, because everyone ended up falling for you: the muscle heads, the rednecks.
It was a very unifying-type thing. With Poison, I always loved the image. I always loved that pageantry of it all. But you had to poke fun at yourself a little bit, because you didn't want to come off too strong, then they might be thrown off. But if you show a lot of boobs in the video ...
That's what I loved about you, though. I saw a little bit of the New York Dolls and the idea that there's got to be some pomp to separate it from real life.
That whole androgynous thing was very cool, I always thought. But the thing is that if you're growing up in Montana and you have a tractor, I'm not too sure that they're gonna get it. But if you show a lot of boobs in the video -- you make sure that you show a lot of girls in the video, so that the guys that are chewing tobacco don't feel alienated.
How much of that pageantry is there on this tour? You guys have grown up a little.
It takes a lot longer to put on my makeup, I'll tell you that much.
And your hair? I used to look at that bleached white poof and wonder.
You know when you look at the end of a sparkler? The end of it was like sparkler material. It was awful. It was a nightmare. My hair's a little bit shorter now, but we still try to keep the whole thing going.
So the Poison history reads like a rap sheet. How does that make you feel on the other end, coming out of the car crashes, fist fights and overdoses?
I just thank God. You know, it was fun. Poison in the beginning was really presented as like a rock & roll New Kids on the Block. And we were much more screwed up than that. Even though the image was that we were much more ...
Yeah, but behind closed doors, we were problems. There were a lot of issues there.
I wondered about all that -- all the Capitol Records people would be sitting around the conference room in their suits, and you guys would have to go in dressed up and have to market yourselves.
And the guys that are really drunk are hitting on us, you know? If you're screaming for that attention, through image and things like that, there's gotta be something worth saying.
In the beginning, I think you made your point. But it seemed like as you were pushed through to the third album, when you started selling 6 million instead of 500,000, it started to look like less fun. You started wearing browns.
We started to monitor ourselves, which was awful. We start out and everything's in technicolor -- like old Audrey Hepburn flicks in oranges and blues -- and before you know it, it's let's get back to a black-and-white western! Nooo!
Like that distance between the glam castoff of "I Won't Forget You Baby" to the faux seriousness of "Something to Believe In" and the woes of Vietnam vets.
What the fuck! None of us were in that war! No. 1, we're talking about something to believe in when everything we ever wished for we got! I mean we're talking about four spoiled fucking brats!
It finally comes out now! The notorious fights between you and Bret Michaels? Was that just the cracks in the process?
I think that the fights between Bret and I are what's fueled the band. That fire and that spark is what usually would make the best come out of us. I wouldn't normally bring up an idea unless I really thought in my heart it was right and worth fighting for. And he was the same way. So instead of getting a lot of compromise and thinking, "Let's not ruffle anyone's feathers," and say, "Maybe Bret should sing that part and I guess it's not a bad idea" -- the thing is, I would never let that go! I'd be like, "Are you kidding me, that's a fucking awful melody!"
Well, a lot of it was! I don't want to disrespect Bret, because you're on tour with him. But when you weren't in Poison, like the last record, "Crack a Smile," what's that?
Yeah, I know. And that was the tension. The tension was that Bret was the frontman, and he needed someone to tell him what to do behind the scenes. He never really liked that. And then apparently he had to admit and come to grips with that, so that was kind of a tough pill to swallow.
Did you know when it was all over?
Yeah, because I knew I wanted out.
Did the VH-1 "Behind the Music" help in pulling you guys back together?
Without a doubt. There's a point when you say, "Y'know it's rock & roll -- it isn't brain surgery." Honestly, it's not like I'm saving people's lives -- I wish I was. But you wake up and you say to yourself, "Jesus Christ, I think I'm the only one who's taking this so seriously." You wake up and you say to yourself, "Man, go have an enema!" I think we all need to fucking relax.
At what point were you standing on the top of the skyscraper, looking down, saying, "What the fuck just happened?"
I have one great time: I went through my Led Zeppelin stage, where I had every CD and I was learning all of Jimmy Page's stuff -- all the open tunings and stuff. And the band, I'm driving them nuts on the bus. Finally, it's my birthday and it's like 1990, so they fly in Jimmy Page to come out onstage and do a song with me.
It was in Lake Tahoe, Jimmy is out of his mind. Bret goes, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special treat for you tonight: Jimmy Page!" Jimmy Page comes running out and falls right off the end of the fucking stage. I look around, and he's gone. I'm like, "All right, Jimmy's here!" Then, "Where's Jimmy?"
I look at the end of the stage, and he's on his back. His Les Paul is smashed, and he's trying to get up, and it's like a bug turned over and he can't get get back on his feet. And I'm like, oh my God, this is my hero!"
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.