By Gillian G. Gaar
“I very rarely listen to anything I’ve done,” Michael Des Barres says about listening to his past recordings. “To me, it reminds me of things that happened that I didn’t want to happen, or I don't like the cymbals — you know. It’s difficult to enjoy your own work. It's like masturbating and not coming.” But Org Music’s Record Store Day reissue of the self-titled debut album by his band Detective had him listening to the record for the first time in decades — and liking what he heard.
“It really kicks ass!” he says proudly, and so it does. Detective, formed in 1976, boasted the kind of hard rocking sound and fierce vocals from Des Barres that were compelling enough to attract the likes of Jimmy Page, who promptly signed the group to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song record label. But over the years, Detective’s story has got lost in the shuffle of Des Barres’ remarkable career, coming immediately after his spin in ’70s glam band Silverhead, and subsequent bands, including Chequered Past, the Power Station, and his current outfit Michael Des Barres and the Mistakes. Not to mention his skads of television and film appearances, his co-authorship (with Holly Knight) of the song “Obsession,” which Animotion turned into a worldwide hit, his being the subject of his own documentary, Michael Des Barres: Who Do You Want Me to Be?, and his day job as a host of “The Michael Des Barres Program” on Stevie Van Zandt’s “Underground Garage” station on Sirius (Sirius XM Channel 21).
“My life has been entertainment,” he says, and Detective was a rather turbulent chapter in that story. The band released two albums on Swan Song, but never lived up to their potential, which Des Barres attributes to disinterest on the part of the label’s distributor, Atlantic (“To Atlantic, it was just a fantasy label”) and the band members’ predilection for bad behavior. But newly assessed in the light of day, Detective holds up very well, and fans of ’70s-era rock and roll won’t be disappointed. Des Barres spoke with Goldmine about the life and times of the band and its recent resurrection:
GOLDMINE: Can you summarize how Silverhead ended and how that led into Detective?
MICHAEL DES BARRES: Silverhead lasted about two or three years. Japan was amazing for us. When we came back to America, we were strung out on coke, everybody; the drugs killed it. I met Miss Pamela in LA [Des Barres’ second wife, author of I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie], and I said, “I'm not going back to England.” And that was that. So then Miss Pamela and I began our relationship. I was already married to somebody else — it was terrible! [Led Zeppelin manager] Peter Grant got me a divorce, but that’s another story. So I’m with Miss Pamela, we’re together. She goes to New York to do a sit-com, so I’m left in LA now with a coke habit. And I went to live with this guy, Seth Donahower his name was, and he was great, in Benedict Canyon. He was really good to me. And he knew a guitar player named Michael Monarch. We got the band together, we rehearsed at SIR [rehearsal studio]. And then Zeppelin had come to town.
Zeppelin loved Silverhead. We had an extraordinary night with them early on; we played Birmingham, which was Bonzo’s hometown and Robert’s hometown. The club had 20 people in it, and four of them were Led Zeppelin. Bonzo’s farm was a couple of miles from the club that we played at, and we went there and spent, shall we say a deliriously debauched 24 hours. And then we got back in the van and Zeppelin got back into the planes.
So we were in SIR, and Zeppelin were in town. And Jimmy came into a rehearsal and signed us to Swan Song. Jimmy Page is a brilliant man. There’s no question about that. And he saw something in us. And as soon as Jimmy said “Yes,” then an awful lot of money was flying around.
GM: In Bob Spitz’s Led Zeppelin: The Biography, he quotes you as saying that once Jimmy agreed to produce your album, you knew the jig was up: “You give young guys a million dollars and what do you think is going to happen? Everybody got strung out.” Is that what happened?
MDB: Absolutely. Everybody got strung out, Jimmy included! And therefore he was not available to produce. And we waited a year. Stevie Marriott was offered to us, but we ended up with the wonderful Andy Johns, Glyn Johns’ younger brother — Glyn Johns of Get Back fame. And Andy Johns finished the album off. We recorded it a couple of times; spent most of the time in the jacuzzi of the Record Plant. I mean, this made ancient Rome look like a hospital for infants.
GM: It sounds like the way to not make a record.
MDB: That's exactly what it was — and that I consider a great achievement!
GM: What did you think of it at the time when you finally got it completed?
MDB: Oh, I was so out of it, to be absolutely candid with you. It was not a good time. Drugs are not a good time. Yes, you finish it. You put everything you’ve got into it. And then you remember…what you do is you equate, however good it was, however good I felt it was, is negated by the notion that you are now living in an anxious world. That this existential angst that heroin and cocaine create is no fun anymore. And I put those two things together; I’m anxious, I got this great record and we’re touring with Kiss, and we’ve got these big gigs and everything, but I couldn’t get ahold of Jimmy. I couldn’t get a hold of anybody to say, “What moves are we making here? What can we do to get an interview on the radio?” Atlantic just didn’t care, you know?
GM: So they just of put it out and that was it.
MDB: That’s right. And then we did it again!
GM: Yes, you made another album right away; I was surprised!
MDB: We did it again. It was probably something like me speaking to Jimmy at last and him saying “Let him do another one.” Something as easy as that, and that didn’t go anywhere. And by that time, we could not get along and there was a lot of division within the band. But now it’s coming out again.
GM: How did that come about?
MDB: How did the re-release come about? One day I got a call from a lawyer saying, “Jimmy said that you can have your masters back.” And that was it. Thanks! And then John Hyde, our drummer, his sister’s a brilliant woman, Scarlett Bartlett, and she took over the reins and created this deal with Org Music, who are just wicked smart and ready to rock, and did this beautiful new cover and all the design and the publicity. And it’s been a really great journey.
GM: What was it like hearing the album again, having not listened to it for years?
MDB: Great! Unbelievable! I play it all the time now. I think it’s a brilliant album. I think everybody should have this album — immediately! Go get it! No, I'm really proud of it. I’ll tell you another thing, I’m really proud of those boys that played on it. They’re now men, but I just couldn’t appreciate the brilliance at the time, because I was so stoned, and I thought I was in between chapters of the grim book of rock and roll.
GM: So have you checked in with the other guys and said “Wow, look at this work we did”?
MDB: Oh yeah. I mean, especially John [Hyde]. Because John's drumming on that thing is ridiculous. It’s just beautiful; Bonham-inspired, but really his own thing. And the guitar player Michael, is a fantastic guitar player. And [bassist] Bobby Pickett was funky and sang his ass off. It was a great band, a great, great team. And we had moments that were beautiful, absolutely, and enjoyed them very much. We played Madison Square Garden with Kiss. I remember we walked out there, and at least 80 percent had Gene and Paul makeup on. There were no Detective makeups in the audience! And I remember it was one of the best gigs we ever did. And that’s when I became friends with Gene and Paul, which have remained to this day, and I’ve interviewed Gene many times on the radio. It was a beautiful, easy, relaxed, incredible rock and roll band. And when I’ve listened to it in the last month or so, I can’t believe we’re good as this.
GM: So despite all the drugs, you feel you've turned out something that was pretty good.
MDB: That's so interesting you should say that. That’s precisely what I felt first. I said, “How could I do this at that time? I don’t even remember it.” You know? I mean, I remember writing the songs. And when I heard it again I thought, “Well, maybe this time around, it will be recognized.”
GM: I know Detective recorded some stuff for a third album. Are those tracks around in any form?
MDB: There's bits and pieces, but they’re not really what one would want to put out, in my view. And we all discussed it and decided, “You know what, let’s stick with these two.” There is a live album that’s pretty cool that we did in New York that’s really, really rocking, and it will come out eventually. You know, it’s a very interesting thing right now for us. The word is out and it's good.
GM: So you’re going to be plugging your album on your radio show I take it.
MDB: I’m going to be playing it every day for a week! I have a feature on my show which is called “Crossroads” and I explore great albums. And we’re going to do Detective the week of Record Store Day. Every day Detective, and it will stay in rotation forever.
GM: So after the struggles, it sounds like now, perhaps surprisingly, Detective is a happy memory.
MDB: It is indeed. It is indeed,
Detective debut album tracklisting:
Got Enough Love 3:59
Grim Reaper 4:10
Detective Man 3:25
Ain't None Of Your Business 4:29
Deep Down 3:06
Wild Hot Summer Nights 4:17
One More Heartache 5:22