TATTOOS TO TWO-STEP

Bret Michaels of rock bank Poison and his amazing transformation.

Bret Michaels has spent the last two decades as frontman for the hardrockin', hard-partying band Poison. So what's he doing on country radio, singing the heartfelt duet "All I Ever Needed" with Jessica Andrews?

"The truth is, I've been a big fan of country music for a long time," says Bret. "If you go back and listen to the music I've written over the years, it's always had a bit of a country feel."

Sure enough, Poison hits like "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" and "I Won't Forget You" had a little more twang to them than anyone seemed to notice at the time. But only in the last few years has Bret, 41, felt comfortable enough to toss his cowboy hat into the ring. "I have no fear of going into country music," he says. "I just want to add to it."

He aims to do that with his upcoming solo album, Freedom of Sound, released on his own record label.

"I want to be in charge of my career, so I can continue to make the music that I want," explains the Pittsburgh native. "I won't be able to buy my way to No. 1 - but if the fans like it, I can work my way to No. 1. It's the underdog approach, but that's no different from what I did with Poison."

The public's first taste of Bret's new approach, "All I Ever Needed," was written after he learned his grandfather had passed away.

"My Grandpa Craig knew that we're all out there wandering and searching, but sometimes what we're looking for is standing right in front of us," says Bret, himself the father of a 4-year-old daughter. "I have some of that in me, but the other half of me is still searching."

Writing the song wound up being therapeutic for Bret - and he hopes it will have the same effect on others. "It truly helped me deal with life," he says. "It came from my heart and my soul, and I think it shines through."

Bret, who'll be a judge on the third season of the nationally televised talent show Nashville Star, is betting that his country boy credentials will shine through as well.

"I wear cowboy boots onstage, and they're not ones that I just recently bought!" he laughs. "I'm not trying to fool anybody, I'm just being myself. It's a part of who I really am. I'm a new breed of American cowboy, that's all."

- ALANNA HORNER

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