Original Poison Guitarist on Whether He Wanted Slash or C.C. DeVille as His Successor
As the story has played out, Poison enjoyed a mid-to-late '80s breakout, with their glam look and style standing out amongst the hair metal crowd. But before Poison hit it big, they had another guitarist and a very big decision to make after he revealed his intent to leave the band. That guitarist, Matt Smith, has now shared his thoughts on his exit, what happened to his onetime band and his thoughts on the Slash-C.C. DeVille decision to replace him a new Guitar World interview.
Smith, like the other members of the band, started off in Pennsylvania, initially forming the band Paris with Bret Michaels, Bobby Dall and Rikki Rockett before they changed their name to Poison and ventured off to Los Angeles in hopes of catching their big break. According to Smith, they had a little different musical direction in those early days.
He explains, "The way I envisioned the band was different from how Poison turned out. Let me put it this way: when Guns N’ Roses came out, I said, ‘That’s the sound I was searching for.’ But I didn’t know that early on, so I was looking toward Aerosmith. Looking back on it, I would have had another guitar player in the band if I had to do it again. That will have filled the sound up more and made it more alive.”
As for why he decided to exit, the guitarist revealed that his girlfriend back home had gotten pregnant, and when a record deal didn't come immediately, he made the decision to return home to be there for the birth of his son. But while he left the group, he was around for the picking of his successor.
"By that point, I was sure I was leaving, and there was no changing my mind. So it was down to those two guys, Slash and C.C. – I don't even think they tried anybody else out," recalls Smith. "They were both great candidates, but I favored Slash. I barely remember the C.C. audition, but when Slash came, we started playing Aerosmith’’s 'Last Child,' which was a fun memory.”
When asked why he felt the band went the direction they did with DeVille eventually filling his spot, he added, “I guess because he was an East Coast guy. Considering their success, it’s hard to argue. They also wanted to go in a glammier direction, and C.C. fit that style. I found out they went with C.C. when Rikki called me after I got back to Pennsylvania and told me. And don’t get me wrong, that was cool. I hoped they’d pick Slash, but I understood.”
Interestingly enough, in a 2021, Bret Michaels revealed that he too favored Slash. "I got where Slash was coming from. But Bobby and Rikki saw it with C.C. It was one of our first arguments in the band because Slash fucking killed it," recalled Michaels in the book "Nothin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion." The singer added, "C.C. came in and barely learned our songs. He started playing his own stuff. He was like, 'I’ve got these other songs! You gotta hear 'em!' We immediately butted heads."
What Slash Recalls of His Poison Audition
Back in 2010, Slash shared his side of that famous audition with Poison in a chat with Classic Rock Revisited (as shared by Blabbermouth). He recalled, "Matt, the original guitar player for Poison, who was actually a pretty cool guy, had gotten his wife pregnant or they were getting married or something like that. He was moving back to Pennsylvania. He goes, 'You should try out for Poison.' I hated Poison but in those days you did whatever you had to do to keep moving."
"Being very ambitious, as I was, I went and auditioned for Poison. I ended up being one of two guitar players left that they were going to pick from. I remember kicking the shit out of the songs they had. There was no denying that I could play them but there was an issue about makeup and stuff," says Slash. "Bobby Dall asked me what kind of shoes I was going to wear. I was, like, 'What?' It was kind of obvious that this was going to go nowhere. As I was walking out of the audition, C.C. DeVille was walking in. He had on pancake makeup and a ton of hairspray. I actually remember thinking right then, 'That should be the guy.'"
"The next day I got a call from Bobby and he said, 'You know, you are great and all but I think we are going to pass on you and go with this other guy,'" says the guitarist. "It was C.C. and it really did make all the sense in the world. I was in a couple of bands after that and then we started Guns N' Roses."
What Happened to Matt Smith After Leaving Poison?
Once Smith returned home, he formed a band called Syn'D Cats that he calls "the best band I was ever in." The group had more of a Rolling Stones vibe, the guitarist recalled.
As for whether Smith has any regrets on missing out on the band's eventual stardom, he says, “I still text with Rikki. Aside from that, I have no regrets when I look back. I’m proud to have been a part of Poison, and I’m glad I did it. But I’m happy I made the decision to leave because my son will be 40 soon, and it turned out okay. But, man, it really blows my mind when I think back on how long ago it was.”
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Gallery Credit: Chad Childers, Loudwire