An Interview with Matt Smith of Poison

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Before achieving mainstream success and earning a spot on the Mount Rushmore of perhaps the most transcendent era in music history, the humble beginnings of Poison originated in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1983.

The earliest days featured a quartet comprised of Bret Michaels, Bobby Dall, Rikki Rockett, and guitarist Jerry Marciscano, although the latter would opt out of the band. While the band cast a wide net to find a suitable replacement, little did they know that the answer to their plight was essentially residing in their own backyard.

Merely eight miles away, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a young guitarist by the name of Matt Smith was honing his chops in a band called Dirty Angel. Prepared to take the next step in his evolution as a guitarist, Smith answered an ad in the classified section of the newspaper in response to a band from Mechanicsburg looking for a guitarist willing to uproot and move to L.A.

Smith would ultimately join forces with Michaels, Dall, and Rockett to form Paris in 1983. The group extensively played the local circuit and quickly established a following.

As told to me by Smith’s guitar tech, Paul Lipke [1983-1985]:

Matt and I went to see The Joe Perry Project in Maryland. We were outside on-line for the show, and the truck with all the gear pulls up. A guy saw us and asked if we were in a band or knew about gear; we said yes, and were immediately asked to unload gear. Turns out Joe’s crew was in jail in NYC for some shenanigans! After doing all that, the sound guy/road manager took us out for lunch.

The band was called Paris at the time, but we asked him if we can play our demo on the way, and he said yes. After listening to the tape, he said I know a guy in L.A. that would love you guys. Turns out it was the infamous Kim Fowley. There’s no doubt they were headed to L.A., but this incident put them on the fast track. After seeing Mötley Crüe at the US Festival, that was it, off they went.

By 1984, Paris headed west in hopes of capitalizing on a buzzing music scene.

However, just as Poison began to find its footing in Los Angeles and appeared to be on the doorstep of a breakthrough, Smith left the band and returned to Pennsylvania. The guitarist was credited for writing the music for two of the tracks that made it onto the band’s debut album, Look What the Cat Dragged In.

Though his tenure as a member of Poison was brief, Matt Smith will forever remain a crucial component to the band’s origins.

I briefly caught up with Matt to discuss the early days of Poison, including his initial impression of C.C. DeVille, his recollection of Los Angeles, what he’s been up to as of late, and more.

Andrew:
As a young guitarist, who were some of your most prominent influences?

Matt:
When I first started playing, I wanted to be Aerosmith. The Aerosmith from the 70s. Joe Perry was my favorite guitar player, and Keith Richards. Really, those are the major – Hendrix, too; I don’t know how much Hendrix shaped my sound or anything, but I listened to him a lot.

Andrew:
How did you ultimately connect with Bret, Bobby, and Rikki to form Paris?

Matt:
I answered an ad in the newspaper in the classifieds. I forget exactly what it said, “Looking for guitar player. Plans on going to L.A.,” or something. That was right up my alley.

Andrew:
You had already met Bobby Dall before you joined Paris, if I’m not mistaken. Pretty surreal that you managed to reconnect at the audition.

Matt:
I only met Bob once before I joined the band. We were taking guitar lessons from the same guy. He was leaving as I was coming in.

Yeah, that was unexpected. I had no idea that he was going to be there. Bobby was my best friend in the band, as it turned out.

Andrew:
You’ll have to take me through the Philadelphia club scene and what it was like at the time.

Matt:
We didn’t play Philly at all. We played Harrisburg; I think we played Baltimore; I don’t know why we didn’t play Philly. It wasn’t until after — I was in another band after I left Poison [Syn D’Cats], and we played Philly a couple of times.

There was a big club in Harrisburg called The Metron; in fact, we opened for Kix there. It was a pretty nice rock club; national acts would come there. Other than that, we played pretty small bars and whatever we could get our hands on. We rented out a couple of places and had big parties where we’d play. That was pretty fun.

Andrew:
Wow, that’s odd that you guys didn’t play Philly. So, what gave the band the confidence to bolt to L.A.?

Matt:
We knew we had to go somewhere, and L.A. was the place where bands were getting signed and taking off. It just seemed like a natural progression to go to L.A.

Andrew:
Poison adopted a drastic Glam image. Was this something that you were previously privy to before joining?

Matt:
I knew that that’s what they were gonna do. Like, my first phone calls to those guys was, you know, “We’re gonna wear makeup,” and stuff. So, I was okay with it. One of my favorite bands was the New York Dolls, so I was sort of all for it.

Andrew:
You were an early component to Poison and had a hand in writing some early tracks. While many didn’t make it on the debut album, what were some of the ones in which you contributed?

Matt:
I wrote the music to “#1 Bad Boy” and “Blame It on You” on their first album [Look What the Cat Dragged In]. Other than that, that’s the only two of mine that made the record. I actually forget a lot of songs; it’s been a long time.

Andrew:
The Sunset Strip goes hand in hand with the 80s music scene in Los Angeles. What do you recall from that moment in time?

Matt:
There was a lot happening there; it was pretty fun. I mean, if you couldn’t find it on the Sunset Strip, you couldn’t find it. It was a blast. I was out there once since I left Poison. I went out with the Syn D’Cats just to meet some of our contacts and stuff.

metalsludge on Twitter: "Poison BC. As in - before C.C. BAM ad Mar '85.  #Sludge archives! @Bretmichaels @Rikkirockett #BobbyDall #MattSmith… "

Andrew:
What were some notable venues on the Strip that you got to play?

Matt:
The Roxy and the Troubadour. The Troubadour isn’t on Sunset, but it’s very close. My last gig was at the Troubadour [3/22/85].

*Per Lipke, the set ended with “Train Kept A-Rollin’,” and the two encores were “God Save the Queen” and “Strutter.”

Andrew:
From the outside looking in, what were your thoughts on what Poison ultimately became and how did it align with your vision?

Matt:
I knew they were gonna make it no matter what. When I started out, my vision was more of what Guns ‘N Roses became, to tell you the truth. That was more, like I told you before, Aerosmith was my focus. And I think Guns ‘N Roses turned out more like that.

Andrew:
What is your recollection of what the scene evolved and subsequently devolved into? You alluded to preferring a heavier sound; what was it about the Glam scene that turned you off?

Matt:
I guess I saw it coming. I didn’t think it’d be that fast. I didn’t mind the glam so much. I mean, you can have a heavier sound and still be glam. Like the sound that the [New York] Dolls had. That was pretty heavy. But, [Glam] is sort of a pain in the ass doing shows and stuff. Putting make-up on and making sure your hair’s right. It can be a pain in the ass after a while.

Andrew:
What factored into your decision to leave the band and return home to Pennsylvania?

Matt:
My girlfriend at the time came out to visit me and she got pregnant. I waited nine months to make the decision. I couldn’t live with myself if my son was back here in Harrisburg and I was still living the Rock ‘N’ Roll life.

Andrew:
Previous to your departure, the band valued your input and included you as part of the audition process. Who were some of the hopefuls?

Matt:
They definitely asked me what I thought. I saw Slash and a couple of other guys. I think I remember C.C. [DeVille].

Andrew:
Who was your preference to be your replacement?

Matt:
Oh, Slash. I liked the way he played. I thought he was cool.

Andrew:
What was your initial impression of C.C.?

Matt:
C.C. was a nice guy. I didn’t get to know him that well. [He was] very outgoing.

Andrew:
Do you feel that his traditional playing style influenced the direction of the band?

Matt:
Oh, definitely.

Andrew:
How would you describe C.C.’s playing style?

Matt:
See, that’s hard for me to say. From the very little time that I did talk to him, I know that he was very into Cheap Trick. I can hear some Cheap Trick on him on [Poison’s] first album. Not necessarily the sound, but some of the ways he wrote songs, I think.

Poison (here as Paris) Live at Old Forge, PA 1984 - YouTube

Andrew:
Given the monumental heights that the band reached, do you have any regrets that you didn’t stick it out a bit longer?

Matt:
No.

Andrew:
I wanted to ask you about a band from your post-Poison days, the Syn D’Cats. What was the blueprint for that band?

Matt:
Ah, man. The blueprint for that band was, we were all [Rolling] Stones fans. Whenever the Black Crowes were getting going, we were already on that same path, they just sort of beat us to it. We played the Khyber Pass – I think it’s still there. I can’t remember any other places.

Andrew:
Given the immense shift of the musical landscape at the time, what was it that ultimately hindered a breakthrough?

Matt:
Because of our singer. I don’t wanna say anything bad about him. We had some showcases for some people in New York City. They said, “We like the band, we like the songs, but you gotta get a different singer.”

MATT SMITH Esta es la unica entrevista concedida por Matt Smith 14 años  despues de haber abandonado Poison. Matt concedio esta entrevista al  WebMaster del sitio llamado Poison Web Site. Jueves 15 de Abril de 1999  Como te uniste a Paris? Me uni a ...

Andrew:
Some know of know your history with Poison, but there isn’t much out there on your post-Poison life. Aside from your time with the Syn D’Cats, tell us more about your journey.

Matt:
I ended up being a full-time dad. I coached football, baseball, and basketball, and watched my kids grow up.

Andrew:
Do you still play guitar?

Matt:
Yeah, I do play. I actually played a little bit this afternoon.

Andrew:
Great to hear that you still have a passion for guitar. At this stage, would you ever consider forming another band again?

Matt:
I have the time to be in a band, but something about being an old man and playing in a band doesn’t seem right.

Andrew:
Do you still keep in touch with any of your old bandmates in Poison?

Matt:
No.

Andrew:
When the highly anticipated Stadium Tour with Poison, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, and Joan Jett makes its way to the Philadelphia area, is that something that you plan on checking out?

Matt:
I don’t know. I don’t know if I’d go or not. I’d rather see the Sixers, to tell you the truth.

1983 "Paris" Bret Michaels Bobby Dall Rikki Rockett Matt Smith | Bret  michaels, Bret michaels poison, Matt smith

Interested in learning more about Matt Smith? Check out the link below:

Dig this article? Check out the full archives of Shredful Compositions, by Andrew DiCecco, here: https://vinylwritermusic.com/shredful-compositions-archives/

About Post Author

Andrew DiCecco

Predominantly known for his NFL coverage, Andrew DiCecco is a Pennsylvania-based journalist with a profound passion for Rock music and its illustrious history. What initially began as a childhood hobby collecting CDs eventually evolved into a full-blown absorption into the world of Rock and Roll. An aspiring rock historian, Andrew seeks out every autobiography and documentary on Rock artists imaginable to further his knowledge to go along with a growing collection of vintage albums and magazines. Andrew’s musical preferences include, but are not limited to, Def Leppard, Van Halen, AC/DC, Guns N Roses, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Scorpions, Foreigner, and Journey. An innate appreciation for guitar heroes, Andrew cites Vito Bratta, Eddie Van Halen, John Sykes, George Lynch, Dave Meniketti, and Neal Schon as some of his personal favorite players. Andrew is also a regular listener to SiriusXM’s <i>Trunk Nation</i> with Eddie Trunk, his primary source of inspiration.
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