Story by Patrick Berkery
Photos by Alex Solca
In July of 2015, Rikki Rockett, the happy-go-lucky drummer for one of the most notorious bands to emerge from the Sunset Strip in the ’80s, was diagnosed with oral cancer. Intense chemotherapy and radiation treatment followed, but Rockett’s cancer recurred. In the midst of all this, the father of two young children went through a divorce, had to drastically cut back on drumming, and was forced to essentially cease operations of his custom drum company, Rockett Drum Works.
But after undergoing experimental immunotherapy at Moores Cancer Center in San Diego, Rockett got the best news of his life last July: He was cancer free. On top of that, the clean bill of health he received after participating in the clinical trial helped to prompt the FDA to approve the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab.
“When I walk through that hospital, or I know of other patients on that drug, I know I had something to do with it,” Rockett says. “I know [the FDA] was looking at my results. It’s not all me, obviously. But I did have a contribution. And that is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever feltin my life.”
Having beat cancer, Rockett has returned to the drums. He’s been gigging with his side band, the Devil City Angels, and Poison is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary (albeit a year late) on a tour with Def Leppard and Tesla, and mulling working on new material. Rockett is also collaborating with Vater on a series of special drumsticks, with proceeds benefitting Moores Cancer Center. The full plate is most welcome, given where Rockett has been the last couple of years.
“I was a little unmotivated, quite honestly,” the drummer says of his desire to play while undergoing treatment. “It took all my energy just to get in a workout and be with my kids and do everything I need to do. I couldn’t really travel. I had to stay away from things that might get me sick. I wasn’t allowed to do Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which has been a huge part of my life for eighteen years. I’m getting back into everything now, slowly. I can go on tour, but I have to be very careful shaking hands—things like that. It’ll normalize over time, but over the next few months I have to still worry about it.”
As for Rockett’s post-cancer outlook on life, if you were expecting the man who powered pop-metal classics like “Unskinny Bop” and “Talk Dirty to Me” to adopt a “have a good time all the time” perspective, you might be in for a surprise. “You have this appreciation for life, but you also have a little less tolerance for certain things,” Rockett explains. “Like, ‘I need to move on with my life…can we make a decision, please?’ If people say they’re going to call me back and they don’t, I’m kind of done with them quicker. It’s like my vetting system is on higher alert. I don’t have time for people that aren’t truly friends, or aren’t in my corner.”
Rockett endorses DW drums, Sabian cymbals, Vater sticks, Aquarian heads, the Kelly SHU mic system, and Rockett Drum Works custom drums.