Pete Evick Interview: One on One With Bret Michael’s Guitarist

By: Craig Hunter Ross

Every child spends time in play pretending they are what they wish to be when they grow up. Who among us hasn’t hit the game winning home run, been crowned Miss America, taken off in a rocket or performed on stage in front of thousands of adoring fans. Reality and more likely than not our parents, dictated that we have a backup plan should our plans of fame and super stardom not come to fruition. That’s how it was for most of us. But then there’s guitarist Pete Evick.

Evick knew he wanted to be a rock musician for a living and there would be no backup plan. He’d do whatever it took to make his living making music. Years of teaching guitar and piano in addition to playing with local cover bands throughout the Washington, DC area allowed him to do just that.

Then he met Bret Michaels. The Poison front man was out on his own and looking for a new lead guitarist. Whether it was being in the right place at the right time, or just old fashioned hard work without a back-up plan, Evick is still living out those dreams he had as a youngster.

Currently on tour with the Bret Michaels Band, Evick was “back home” in Northern Virginia for a sold out show at the legendary Birchmere and took some time prior to the show to chat with Guitar International.

Pete Evick and Brett Michaels Photo: Craig Hunter Ross

Pete Evick and Bret Michaels Photo: Craig Hunter Ross

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Craig Hunter Ross: What did you hear that made you want to pick up a guitar and learn to play?

Pete Evick: The story is actually like this, my mother was a huge Elvis fan, and she was pretty interested in me becoming a musician and I got my first guitar really before I even wanted to play. But, it was in 1978 when I saw KISS on TV and that’s all it took. In ‘78, let’s see, I guess Love Gunhad recently come out and I heard “Shock Me.” I don’t know how I heard that on TV because it was never a single or anything, but when I heard that I said “That’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”

Craig: Did guitar come easy for you or did you become frustrated at times and think to yourself that “maybe this isn’t for me?”

Pete Evick: Literally, at five years old I just sort of started playing and I never thought it was hard. But I didn’t think it was easy either. I mean, I’m never gonna be the greatest guitar player in the world. I grew up in the time of Eddie Van Halen, where Eddie had changed guitar history. Most professionals in my genre or age remember that era, in which they were playing Black Sabbath or ZZ Top. Then Eddie came along and they had to “re-learn” how to play guitar.

I grew up in that era and I loved Van Halen so much right from the get go that even as a five year old kid I was going straight from KISS to Van Halen. I wanted to play like that right away. I remember being in sixth grade and playing “Eruption.” I probably didn’t play it right, [Chuckles], but I knew how to play it.

It’s funny, because to this day I can’t play some of the old ZZ Top licks or the old blues stuff that everyone else finds so easy, but growing up on the Van Halen stuff that was so innovative, I can do that. So I wouldn’t say guitar was hard or easy. It’s just something I did and I did it the way I did it.

Pete Evick Photo: Craig Hunter Ross

Pete Evick Photo: Craig Hunter Ross

Craig: It just came natural to you?

Pete Evick: Yeah, I learned by ear. I took music theory courses and I took guitar lessons from everyone I could in town. I did everything I could. It was never just picking it up and being able to play, but it always made sense to me. There was never a “now how did they do that?” I just figured out. I’m a passionate musician and I love to play by feel, but I’m a science nut too. So I wanted as much knowledge of both of those aspects as I could.

Craig: Knowing early on in life that this is what you wanted to do, did you find yourself day dreaming in school? Just doing enough to get by because you already knew “Hey I’m gonna be a rock star” or “Yeah, I’m gonna be a professional musician?”

Pete Evick: School was funny. You know I always tell the story of how my principal had a picture of me and him in his office. I’d convinced all these people that without a doubt I was going to be a rock star. I’d convinced them all. And again, my mother was very supportive.

A lot of people tell you that if you are going to be a musician, you better have a fall back plan. But my parents would stress that if you were going to be a lawyer you don’t have a fall back. If you’re going to be a doctor, you don’t have a fall back. You spend all your money, time and everything you can invest into making sure you achieve that career goal.

The entertainment industry is just as hard. So why would you half ass it? They were like, “If you’re going to make it then let’s do it.” My mom said, and I will never forget it, to “put yourself in a position so that the only thing you can do to provide for your family is make music and you’ll figure out how to do it.”

So basically, my success is based on the fact that I never learned to do anything else. That being said, in the music industry there are a lot of things that I do. I produce records. I taught piano, voice and guitar. There’s lots of stuff you can do. Most people think you’re either dirt poor or a millionaire. The truth is, there’s a lot of middle ground in there everyone forgets about. I fed my children for a lot of years teaching guitar and playing in a local cover band.

Craig: With KISS as an influence early on, then of course Poison, were you as attracted to the showmanship and spectacle of the performances as you were the music?

Pete Evick: Obviously, it all starts with KISS being my introduction. So yeah there will always be the “show” aspect that hooked the child in me. But, I do this for the right reasons. As much as I like the party and the theatrics, I like the rock and roll. So when I got into Poison, it was an evolution from KISS.

It was cool that CC Deville could run around and still play. I don’t like what I call the “shoe stare-ers.” I like to be entertained. I want to see the guitar player smiling and I want to be entertained. Poison wasn’t dark and gloomy and there were a lot of punk rock aspects to Poison that people forget about. CC was a big, big Ramones guy. Bret was a big Skynyrd guy. What people don’t understand is the magic of Poison was that meld of Bret and the southern rock against CC’s punk rock attitude.

In the ‘80s, when everything sounded very cookie cutter, take a listen to “Talk Dirty to Me.” The riff is punk with a Lynard Skynard thing put in the middle of it, which really created something very unique. It was the image and the time that stamped Poison with the glam rock thing. But, if you’re a guitar player and ever wrote off Poison as just being a glam band, I challenge you to go back and really listen. You’ll be surprised at what you find.

Pete Evick and Brett Michaels Photo: Craig Hunter Ross

Pete Evick and Bret Michaels Photo: Craig Hunter Ross

Craig: Let’s fast forward to October of 2003 at JAXX Nightclub in Springfield, Virginia. Tell me what happened that night.

Pete Evick: By 2003, I was in one of the predominate cover bands (EVICK) in the DC area. We’d released our own original record as well, so we’d always gets opening spots for national headliners that would come through the area. Being such huge Poison fans, me and my drummer Chuck (with whom in the talent show we played Poison’s “Cry Tough” in school) when we were approached about doing the Bret Michaels bill we of course did it.

When CC left Poison I did everything I could to stay in touch with Poison’s management for whatever reason, tickets, you know whatever. So we got that first show at JAXX opening for Bret. Then they put us on a whole bunch of the East Coast bills. His first two solo tours we were there as much as we could be.

The evolution of us becoming the band was through opening up for him several times. We would chat, and an opportunity came up that he was going to lose his guitar player and I was a choice to replace him. Poison was always a band and there is a difference in having a band versus just hired musicians.

Bret has always been full force, out of the gates running. He had hired world class LA musicians and boy they were great. But I think he missed the feel and camaraderie of a band.

He called me and asked me to do this little radio gig in Detroit. He told me to actually bring my whole band. I think it was called the “Downtown Hoedown.” It was a country gig, but Bret has always dabbled in country. I mean, “Every Rose” is country. So he was on this bill, we do this gig and it turned out that Bret’s idea of a little radio gig was 15,000 people.

Not my idea of a little gig and we were shocked and had not really rehearsed. Bret had felt the songs should be done like they were on the record and I felt like I had known the songs and did them. Maybe they had evolved. Maybe I should have taken the time to see how they were currently being done. Anyway, the gig did not go so great. I thought maybe my friendship with Bret was over and that we’d never speak again.

He called me the next week and was like “maybe we could have done a little better” and I was like “yeah” and apologized and he goes “well let’s try it again.” The next gig was for over 30,000 people on Memorial Day weekend opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd in Nashville. It was incredible. Bret told me before the show to just “do what you do” and I did and it went well. That was seven years ago and we haven’t looked back since.

While initially it was going to just be me becoming his guitar player, in that it was my whole band, it had the magic and chemistry of the band and became almost like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers feel. We were the Bret Michaels Band.

Pete Evick Photo: Craig Hunter Ross

Pete Evick Photo: Craig Hunter Ross

Craig: In your speaking of the songs evolving, is your situation playing the CC Deville songs somewhat similar to say a Tommy Thayer (KISS), who early on played the parts straight to what Ace (Frehley) would have and now has evolved into adding his own flair and style while still being true to the original?

Pete Evick: Bret has always been incredibly cool with the idea of “let you be you.” Inevitably it’s what he wants. But live, you know CC used a lot of whammy bar. I don’t use any tremolo. I played the melodies, but if I go out there and play the solo to “Every Rose” wrong, well to the fans, I’m in trouble.

If I went out and started shredding the solos Van Halen style, that’s not gonna go over well. Every Poison solo has some signature lick. You can hum them note for note. Melodically, I’ll play the important parts but I will add my own flair. I don’t imitate CC in anyway. I play them like Pete Evick.

Craig: You’ve had the opportunity to go to the Middle East and entertain the troops. That has to be a special honor. What was that experience like?

Pete Evick: I have to go on record as saying it’s the single most rewarding thing that has ever come from my playing guitar. My dad was military, growing up in DC around so many military folks, you know if you weren’t in the military you kind of go through life, I don’t care who you are, with this sense that maybe you should have.

Most of my life I’ve felt like maybe I didn’t contribute to my country the way I should have. I’m very patriotic. I mean even with Dean, Peavey, Pro Tone, all are American companies, my dad worked for Ford, so I’m very all American. When the opportunity came to go and they ask you about your fears and I was like “there’s people dying over there so I can be here living my dream, your damn right I’m gonna go!” It was the least I could do.

Now, being over there, and I’m not a big corporate America guy, but it blew my mind seeing how much was being done for the military and how much they were doing to help the soldiers. Little make shift Burger Kings and even Harley Davidson shops. On TV its always bad news, and what they want you to see. And here were companies that were doing what they could to give the troops some sense of home and normalcy.

You get fed things by the news, so to see things with my own eyes and talk with them, really gave me a new sense of respect for all involved. They were thankful we were there. We actually played in Saddam Hussein’s opera house with the troops watching us there and every time I see pictures of it, to me it’s like victory for the world. Music is a gift, and if you are a real artist you have an obligation to share it. To create emotion in people. It’s not a right. It’s an obligation to pass it on, and what an honor to do so to the military.

Craig: Last question. If you were told in advance you had one last show to play, who would you want on stage with you and what would you want the last song of that set to be?

Pete Evick: Phew…picking a super band or something? Is it a packed house? [Chuckles] I’ve said it a thousand times, my favorite venue is the Hard Rock in Bilouxi, Mississippi. So, I’d say there with my band, with Bret singing and Eddie Van Halen joining us.

I have the best band in the world with the best front man in the world, so with Eddie, yeah. And maybe Sammy Hagar could sing some back up too. We play that Hard Rock every Memorial Day and it’s the best gig of the year for me.

All my dreams have come true. I have everything I could ask for and more. I don’t sit around dreaming. I’m one of those guys who loves what I do. I’m happy where I’m at.

Pete Evick Photo: Craig Hunter Ross

Pete Evick Photo: Craig Hunter Ross

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