Bret Michaels Returns to His Country Roots with New Album ‘True Grit’: ‘This Has Been My Life Story’

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Singer Bret Michaels performs at the "Sing For Your Supper Campaign" Launch at Hard Rock Cafe in New York, NY, on April 15, 2014. Anthony Behar/Sipa USA/AP Images

By Deborah Evans Price  www.billboard.com

Bret Michaels is a resourceful Renaissance man. From winning Celebrity Apprentice to developing a top-selling line of products for PetSmart, the veteran rocker has continued to reinvent himself through talent, hard work and a maverick entrepreneurial spirit. With the May 5 release of his new album True Grit, Michaels is now taking aim at the country format with the single “Girls On Bars.”

Michaels penned the song with Nashville tunesmith Luke Laird, who has written hits for Carrie Underwood, Eric Church, Rodney Atkins and Blake Shelton, among others. “I was touring in the dead of winter and I said, ‘Luke, I need a Bret Michaels fun summer party song and I have an idea,’” Michaels tells Billboard. “He’s a fellow Pennsylvanian, so we completely related. No matter where you’re from or who you are, we all want to have a great time. We all need a release. Summertime makes me think of people dancing at the bars, having fun. I think of girls on bars and guys driving fast cars. People are looking for a party after a long cold winter.”

Though it might seem unusual for the Poison frontman to take a stab at country radio, Michaels isn’t new to the Nashville community. “I think I know and have partied with everyone in Nashville,” he says with a laugh.

Michaels once lived on a farm outside Music City and has frequently co-written with Music Row hitmakers such as Jeffrey Steele. He was a previously a judge on the country talent competition Nashville Star with Phil Vassar and LeAnn Rimes. He’s also performed frequently at country events, setting an attendance record at the Sikeston Bootheel Rodeo last year and most recently performing at the Toadlick Festival April 23 in Dothan, AL.

It’s been a decade since he released his first country single, “All I Ever Needed,” and Michaels is realistic about his chances at country radio. “I’m going up against a big wall. But this has been my life story,” says Michaels, who is releasing the new music on his own Poor Boy Records. “I realize there’s a lot of big labels. There’s a lot of talent and great songs out there right now. I realize what I’m going up against. Here is my theory:  if it’s a great song, people will relate to it. You work hard, and then hope it really catches fire.”

Smoke is starting to rise as CMT is set to debut the video on Monday (May 4). “Warn people! This video may cause you to have fun,” says Michaels, who has been making the rounds in Nashville with appearances on Sirius XM’s The Highway, the Bobby Bones Show and other outlets.

Michael Powers at Nashville-based Star Farm has been engaged to promote the single to country radio. “This is how I win. I surround myself with great people,” says Michaels. “And one of the best people I met was Mike over at Star Farm. He and his whole team are great people. They know what they’re doing. But I’m a ‘drealist’–a self-made word meaning I’m a dreamer and a realist. I think that understanding reality and how to make your dream happen is a lot of hard work and surrounding yourself with great people. That’s the truth. I wish there was some other secret for me, but there isn’t. So I surrounded myself with these great people that understand radio and they tell me the truth.”

Michaels is a longtime fan of country music and True Grit takes him back to his roots. “The first music I listened to growing up was my dad playing country music,” Michaels relates. “He played pedal steel guitar and I played harmonica. The harmonica was the first instrument I ever learned to play. Then I gravitated towards the guitar and the piano. I just really loved great songs and country music has great songs.”

True Grit features guest appearances by Jimmy Buffett, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Gary Rossington and Rickey Medlocke, Rascal Flatts and Loretta Lynn, who has become good friends with Michaels. “True Grit is an entire history of where I’ve been. It’s my past, my present, and my future,” Michaels says of the 21-track collection which includes new songs as well as such Poison classics as “Nothin’ But a Good Time,” “Something to Believe In” and “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn.”  “We’ve got Loretta Lynn singing on ‘Every Rose Has It’s Thorn.’  We recorded it on her ranch outside of Nashville and she nailed it.

True Grit  is really a record of just taking songs like ‘Nothin’ But A Good Time’ and re-making them from the catalog of my past, and then my present, and then my future. Songs like ‘App Song’ and ‘Get Undone’ that are going to be on this record are a taste of what will be coming in the future along with ‘Girls On Bars.’ I never ask for a ‘gimme.’ Never. All I ask for is a chance. And that’s what country music does. It gives me a chance to have a new hit, as well as play my catalog.”

Michaels has always had an affinity for the country community. “No one in country ever put up a wall. When ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ came out the first time, it was a country station that actually spun it first in Dallas.

Then the rock stations picked it up, Michaels recalls. “This was back before anyone thought about a crossover. We had ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ at  No. 1 Pop, No. 1 Rock, & top 40 Country, which was unheard of. The doors opened then because people knew I loved my southern rock and my country music. They knew that I knew a lot about it. I had come to Nashville a lot. So there was never any resistance. The toughest thing is that you’ve got a lot of great singers and songwriters that are there, so to break into the Top 40 is tough — not because there’s resistance, but because there’s a lot of talent. When you’re going to play in the big leagues, it’s not supposed to come easy.”

Michaels will continue touring this summer in support of the new album.  He has a partnership with Overstock and is featured in TV ads as well as a contest currently running on the company’s Website where fans can win a spa getaway and a chance to hang out with Michaels at his Scottsdale, AZ home.

Overstock.com/LiveBretMichaels is the sponsor of the tour, along with PetSmart, says Michaels, whose Bret’s Pets Rock Collection at PetSmart is the No. 2 selling brand for the chain. “We are partners forever and we’ve got unbelievably great products at a really affordable price — and that was important to me. In other words, I don’t want to brand slap. I don’t want to get in there and just sign my name on something. I get in there and I actually help create this stuff.”

After having an appendectomy, suffering a brain hemorrhage, heaving heart surgery and a stroke all during the spring of 2010, Michaels is fit and healthy and happy to be busy. “With the grace of God, good medical attention, and a whole lot of prayers,” he says, “we’re walking on the good side of the dirt.”