A RockStar Remedy Exclusive By Lonn M. Friend
Bacio is the brightly lit Italian eatery located on the second level of the new Tropicana Las Vegas where the top-rated revue in town, Raiding the Rock Vault, plays to sold out audiences six nights a week. The ensemble cast of veteran, venerable musicians grab classic rock hearts by their six-strings for two solid, surreal hours – a time capsule of timeless tracks performed by the likes of Bon Jovi’s Hugh McDonald, Heart’s Howard Leese, Quiet Riot’s Paul Shortino, Lynch Mob’s Andrew Freeman, Starship’s Stephanie Calvert, Masters of Rock’s Carol-Lyn Liddle, Asia’s Jay Schellen, Whitesnake’s Doug Aldrich, Survivor’s Robin McAuley, Yngwie’s Mark Boals and last but certainly and courageously not least, the 45-year-old Lita Ford and Missing Persons keyboardist scanning the menu for something healthy to munch before showtime. You see, Michael T. Ross, who spent four years banging the ivories for the Lita Ford Band, pays as vigilant attention to his diet as he does to his music. His condition demands it and his life depends upon it.
“Hey, Michael, greets our waiter warmly. Vault cast members are regulars. “Hey buddy,” responds the Mississippi native. “Think I’ll have the Caesar Salad, no dressing and a chicken breast. Balsamic on the side – you know how I like it.” If you’re familiar with the Rolling Stones classic, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” take note of this irony. “I was born in Biloxi during Hurricane Camille on August 29,1969. My dad was a physician. He delivered me in a closet. We were on lockdown at Kessler Air Force base but shortly thereafter, he was transferred to March Air Force base in Moreno Valley, California where my dad built this beautiful home. That’s where I grew up; about an hour and ten minutes east of L.A. I played keyboards with band members from the ‘70s tribute band Boogie Knights — we all lived within a two-block radius in MV. During my teens, they were all going for it, but at first, I wanted to do legal work. Michael was a healthy kid for the most part. Rarely got sick, had lots of energy, but there were signs that the party might not last forever – signs emanating directly from his DNA.
I wasn’t formally diagnosed until July of 2014. My mom told me that my fate was inevitable even though I’ve eaten consciously my whole life.
“Years ago, my older brother was diagnosed with Diabetes and four years ago my mom died of kidney failure at age 62, brought on by Diabetes. My grandfather died at an early age of Diabetes. I wasn’t formally diagnosed until July of 2014. My mom told me that my fate was inevitable even though I’ve eaten consciously my whole life. My mother was a health educator and always fed us right. I even tried going vegan for three years. But the last few months, the symptoms have gotten worse. A year ago one eye started going really bad and I started having frequent dizzy spells. Always getting updated contact lenses and yesterday just got my new prescription, third time in a year.”
As he enjoys his dry salad and gulps down two glasses of water, Michael vibrates like an excited child, anxious to get on stage and do what he does and loves best – rock the house with his lightning quick keyboard play. Some nights, given his health issues, that’s no small feat. He recalls the moment when reality and his lifestyle shifted.
“On July 8th of last year, I arrived at the LVH (former home of Rock Vault) went to eat, started walking down the hotel stairs and passed out. It was two hours before the curtain went up and I was lying on the floor, white as ghost. I got up and drove myself to Sunrise Hospital where they first said it was dehydration. I drink so much water – that wasn’t it. They checked my sugar and labs and my sugar was 300. I called my dad. ‘You’re diabetic, son,’ he said.’”
Since last summer, Michael T. has carried around a backpack with enough meds and supplements to fill several shelves at Whole Foods. He checks his sugar a half hour before performance and if it’s over 300, he’ll check it again mid-set during the Eagles classic, “Hotel California.” “If the sugar’s high, I’m gonna head bang less,” he confesses. “I’ll tailor my moves, not swing my head as much – protect myself from getting dizzy, nibble on a low carb, low sugar protein bar backstage between songs because when you’ve got a high adrenaline flow – which is what playing these great rocks songs full out every night does – it spikes the sugar and I can’t eat anything significant, and must take another pill, then I have to wait it out. What am I gonna do? Take 1000mg of cinnamon to wind down?”
Michael and his brother had a successful rock magazine back in the 80s and 90s called Mean Street Magazine, which started in Moreno Valley but eventually rose to a circulation of 70,000 all over Los Angeles with 600 locations. He’s always dug being the youngest of six. Proud of his robust heritage, he doesn’t blame his genetics for his illness. He’s accepting, even appreciative.
“Yeah, my cholesterol is bad, too,” he confides. Another drawback from having Diabetes. “I’ve been on Avrostatin for a year now. My mom had her first heart attack at 50 while she was in Honolulu on vacation. I was doing paperwork for a living but I had the fire to play music and eventually jumped ship and entered into the music business. By the time I was in 10th grade, I needed to have a Hammond B3 organ so I could kill the solo to Deep Purple’s ‘Burn.’ My cousins all lived in the San Fernando Valley, Reseda, capital of Jewish bakeries. In 2002, I moved to North Hills and rented a room with Playboy playmates. There I met Gene Simmons who bought me a menorah but I lost it while moving boxes. He was intrigued that I was playing in the band, Angel, whom he discovered and got on Casa Blanca Records back in the day. I showed him my white outfits and he nodded his head with approval.”
In Michael’s fast-moving life, some days are better than others, and lately, scaling the challenges of Diabetes has been no small hurdle. “I’ve been losing teeth, four in all since last year,” he laments. “It’s my gums; mom and grandma had the same problem. Not enough oxygen getting to the capillaries. And the neuropathy is no picnic; central nervous system shooting pins and pricks of pain throughout my body. It’s really bad when the pain works its way down into the legs or hits my fingertips. I’m rocking out during a show and bam! Charlie horse pain! I kneel down a lot – it becomes part of my performance. Despite his physical struggles, Michael T. Ross is one of most enthusiastic and positive rockers you’re ever likely to meet. No matter how lousy he feels, when the lights go down, he’ll be ready to give it his all. Last week, an hour into the show, he suffered a severe nosebleed. His tech had to keep feeding him fresh towels behind his rig and he kept it all out of audience view. Less than five years from his big 5-0, odds are still strong that as long as fans keep the rock vault alive, so shall survive its courageous keyboardist.
“Diabetes is a disease you can’t see,” he says. “People ask how me how I’m doing today at 2 pm and I reply, ‘Good’ ask me again at 4 pm ‘cause I might be heading south. Sometimes during the show I don’t feel good when it starts but the endorphins and the crowd get me going and I feel better. I’m so thankful for what I have and what I’m doing. I guess what’s missing in my life now is a kid, I want a daughter. I’m single, never been married and have no children. I went to Singapore over New Year’s to perform at Universal Studios with my (now ex) who is a Fergi impersonator and I played keys in her Black Eyed Peas tribute band. She wasn’t interested in getting married after us being together three years (she was previously married 10 years), and she doesn’t want to have kids. I’m concerned about my health because I’ve got a lot to do, feeling my mortality yeah, but I’m still in the middle of my career. I know I need to prove myself to the world what I’m capable of doing – Diabetes be damned!” Michael’s gotta get downstairs and prepare for the show. Our affable waiter returns with one last question for his VIP diner. “Would you care for some dessert?” he smiles, “perhaps our delicious Tiramisu?” The rocker with the sweet demeanor just nods. “We’re good, man. Thanks anyway.”