Fortunately for guitarist Richie Kotzen, Poison was looking for more than just a gun-for-hire when he auditioned to be C.C. DeVille’s replacement following his firing in 1991. If it hadn’t been that way, it’s possible the audition would have ended with the band continuing its search. But Kotzen had a song in his back pocket that saved the day.
“My A&R guy said, ‘Hey, listen, I want you to check out an opportunity,’” he told Metal Edge of the period leading up to his addition. “He said, ‘Bret Michaels has been calling me and he’s interested in you joining the band.” The musicians connected quickly.
“He’s from Pennsylvania, I’m from Pennsylvania, he starts talking about all these groups he likes, and I start getting a little more familiar with exactly who he is and what he’s about,” Kotzen recalled. “And I start thinking, ‘Wow, they’re not just looking for like some dude to step in and play, you know, D, C and G chords over and over again. They want a songwriter. They want a legitimate guy to help chart the course of the group stylistically, and still obviously retain what made the band work in the first place.’”
At the time Kotzen was 21 years old. Still, he had already secured an admirable reputation with two solo albums, 1989’s Richie Kotzen and 1990’s Fever Dream, which revealed a talented guitarist, singer and songwriter with heaps of potential. But he had fallen foul of a record label that wanted to sell him as a “heavy, guitar-slingin’ screamin’ kind of guy,” so he was looking for another direction. His connection with Michaels seemed ideal. But it proved difficult to demonstrate when they joined drummer Rikki Rockett and bassist Bobby Dall in the studio.
“Even though Bret wanted me in the band, I still had to play with them,” Kotzen said. “And I blew the audition because I had problems with my amps. I had some vintage Marshalls, and smoke started coming out of one of them. And then when I went to play one of their tunes, I was making mistakes because I thought I knew it but didn’t. So they said, ‘Well, what do you got?’ And I played ‘Stand.’ And Bret loved it.”
Watch Poison’s ‘Stand’ Video
Still, the band wanted to apply some of its personality to the song. “Bret wanted to kind of tweak the lyrics,” Kotzen said. “So in the end, he rewrote the lyrics in the verses based on what I had come up with. And it came out great.”
It was one of four songs the new guitarist brought to the table for Native Tongue – the others being “Until You Suffer Some (Fire and Ice),” “Body Talk” and “7 Days Over You.” in 2022 Kotzen told Vinyl Writer Music, “There were a few songs that [Michaels] brought in that he had written; a song called ‘Theater of the Soul’ and another one was ‘Strike Up the Band.’ Then the others came out of us jamming, and Bret and I did the lyrics together.” All 15 tracks on the LP were credited to the four band members.
Hear Richie Kotzen Solo Version of ‘Stand’
“Stand” was the first single to be released from Poison’s fourth album, arriving in January 1993 and eventually reaching No. 50 on the Hot 100 and No. 15 Album Rock Tracks chart. It was the last time Poison hit the Hot 100.
The single helped propel Native Tongue to No. 16, although a subsequent clash of characters, doubts over their musical direction and an affair with Rockett’s fiancee meant Kotzen left Poison soon after the album’s tour, opening the door for DeVille’s return in 1996.
Nevertheless, Kotzen said he retained a fondness for the work and “Stand” in particular. “Every now and then I still play this one,” he said. “And when I do play it, I do like a hybrid version of my original lyrics and some of his. It turned out to be a cool collaboration.”
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There’s nothing guilty about these pleasures.