Bret Michaels boasts an unabashedly eclectic taste in music, which the multi-platinum rock star credits with getting him through life’s ups and downs and all the messy emotions in between.
When Michaels works out, he’ll blast AC/DC.
If the Poison front man and singer-songwriter is feeling reflective, he’ll throw on some James Taylor.
Shortly after his dad, Wally Sychak, a Navy veteran and longtime steelworker at Armco’s mill along Route 8 in Butler, died in August, Michaels found a quiet stretch along the Susquehanna River and listened to Luke Bryan’s “Drink a Beer.”
“And I needed it. It really, really saved me,” Michaels told the Tribune-Review. “Music 1 million percent is therapeutic for me.”
Clad in his sweat-soaked, signature bandana tucked beneath a patriotic, skull-emblazoned cowboy hat, Michaels rocked an audience spanning multiple generations Friday at The Palace Theatre in Greensburg.
The Hometown Heroes Tour show featured opening act The Stickers, a country-rock band trio of brothers from Brookline gaining national acclaim. Michaels calls them “his buddies.”
A Butler native who spent time growing up north of Pittsburgh as well as in Central Pennsylvania, Michaels is a self-dubbed “yinzer rocker” and diehard Steelers fan who never misses a chance to twirl his Terrible Towel on stage.
A custom-made Gibson guitar he dedicated to the Steelers hangs on display at the Hard Rock Cafe at Station Square in Pittsburgh.
“Pittsburgh, let me say this, has some of the damned best musicians and artists in the world,” Michaels said. “The talent that comes out of there is just unbelievable. And not just football and sports, but the arts — and the food, let’s never forget the food — and the way the city is resilient. It’s always reinventing itself.”
Michaels, 56, lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., but makes frequent trips back home to visit friends and family in Western Pennsylvania. And he’s not the type to shy away from traversing the region’s many bridges, rivers and tunnels once he gets here.
“I get to visit all the time with my kids, and the first thing that I do is I get into the car and I drive everywhere,” Michaels said. “We have good times.”
It’s been a busy several years for Michaels, who splits his time among several roles: Poison front man, solo singer-songwriter, reality TV star and producer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and proud father. The Michaels Entertainment Group includes Pets Rock Collection pet accessories, the “Rock Bands” workout programs and the “Thorns and Roses” cologne line. He’s donated more than $300,000 toward diabetes research and other charity work via the Bret Life Rocks Foundation, and helps with local causes in every city in which he performs, such as sending children to diabetes camp or donating to veterans groups.
“My dad always said I had a little extra energy, and I just try to make that productive when I can,” Michaels said.
His fans probably didn’t notice it, but Michaels still has nerve issues in his hands stemming from a 2010 brain injury that flare up now and then while jamming on his guitar. He spent three intensive months regaining his ability to talk, walk and mostly recover from the trauma caused by a brain hemorrhage and ensuing stroke that nearly killed him.
Michaels has confronted a barrage of serious medical issues, starting with his diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes at age 6. He’s also confronted serious injuries from car and motorcycle accidents, kidney problems and a hole in his heart.
He credits surviving his biggest health scares to the support of his family, “grace of God, good medical attention and goodwill of people.”
Michaels has two daughters, Raine, 19, a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model 2019 finalist who is studying broadcast journalism, and Jorja, 13, with whom he penned the song “Unbroken” earlier this year.
“This song right here is about being stronger than our storm,” Michaels says in an introduction to the video for “Unbroken,” which has hit nearly 1.3 million views on YouTube.
The Trib caught up with Michaels before Friday’s show.
Michaels touched on why he’s shied away from talking politics since performing at President Trump’s inaugural ball in 2017. He hinted about a new reality TV show in the works and hitting the road again next year with new music from Poison.
Here’s what the resilient rock star who’s sold more than 32 million records had to say about several topics — including why his toughest moments have led to his greatest hits and what he’s learned since Poison’s glam metal, tight leather pants and wild manes first stormed the rock scene in the mid-1980s and 1990s.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .