Posted March 2018
As a pre-teen growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, my only real exposure to rock and roll was whatever Elvis music my parents listened to and the Rolling Stones records my cousin (and now business partner) had in the spare room of my paternal grandparents’ house.
Photo by Rob FennAs I crawled into Junior High, some of my friends turned me on to the Allman Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and a few others. Somehow or other, even the Osmond Brothers creeped into the mix.
Back to my baptism into rock and roll.
While in eighth grade, the fad was for us to bring battery operated cassette players to school (not Walkman size. Much bigger) and listen to the latest cassettes we’d bought or borrowed.
One night, I was at a friend’s house and he started playing this new tape he’d just bought. It was by some band called “Alice Cooper”. As I recall (and as luck would have it), the first song I heard from that tape was “Sick Things”. It creeped me to the deepest part of my pre-pubescent being. THEN, two songs later, “I Love the Dead”.
I was convinced that I was listening to the voice of the devil himself.
Who the heck was this Alice Cooper anyway and why did “she” sound like a dude . . . and a devil dude, at that? I bet they even had a house littered with satanic bibles and dead babies.
OH MY GOSH! I soon learned that Alice even had a song called “Dead Babies”. WHAT. THE. HECK!
I quickly learned that she was a he and that he was actually from right there in Phoenix, Arizona, by way of Detroit. The band and its sound quickly grew on me and I became a fan. Becoming a fan was certainly helped by the fact that my parents hated them/him and by the urban legend/rumor in my church that one of our local pastors was mentioned in the Cooper song, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”.
Here's how the rumor went and some background on it:
In the very small denomination that I grew up in, it’s largest church in the city – as well as the state – was the 44th Street Church of God. The pastor of said church was the (now late) Herschel Diffie.
Coop fans can see where this is going.
The story goes that Alice slipped into the 44th Street CoG one Sunday night and was “preached under conviction” by Rev. Diffie – so much so that he immortalized the religious experience in “No More Mr. Nice Guy”. That, alone, solidified me as a rebellious, pre-teen fan.
I’m told that the story was repeated at Rev. Diffie’s funeral many years later.Photo by Rob Fenn
But the rumor isn’t true.
Forty-plus years later, I found out indirectly from Mrs. Cooper that the rumor isn’t true. That the truth is as the lyrics are written (“. . . the Rev. Smith, he recognized me . . .”). A couple of years later, in an interview with Alice’s original bassist, Dennis Dunaway, that it was definitely “Rev. Smith”.
One more Alice Cooper story from my youth before moving on into the interview y’all are dying to read:
The School’s Out album had just been recently released. My high school girlfriend of the moment, Adrienne (RIP), had loaned me her copy for me to listen to.
Now, I’ll stop right her to ‘splain to you newbies about this album. Through shear brilliance, Alice’s manager, Shep Gordon, came up with the idea of replacing the dust sleeve that routinely protected albums within their covers with a pair of paper panties. It was shear marketing brilliance on Shep’s part.
Back to my story.
Knowing that the panties were on the album, I came home, and my parents asked me about the album. I told them that it was the new Alice Cooper album that Adrienne let me borrow. I showed them how the album cover opened like an old school desk. Then, I pulled out the album.
The look on my parents’ face was priceless as they saw the panties on the album was absolutely priceless! I shrugged my shoulders and said something to the effect of, “Oh. Adrienne must’ve lost the dust cover and improvised.” I went to my room and had a good laugh and later told them the truth.
I don’t think they believed me.
Back to the devil and Alice Cooper.
Photo by Rob FennOver the years, there were all sorts of other rumors and urban legends about our favorite Phoenician. But the fact was, Alice Cooper (born one Vincent Furnier) rocked our world with incredible – if now shocking – rock and roll as well as theater. Yes, theater. He did so before KISS. Before Marilyn Manson. Before Insane Clown Posse. Before a whole lot of other knock-off bands.
Since those days, Alice Cooper has recorded some 27 studio albums, 11 live albums that are all joined by 21 compilation albums.
Because Alice was going to be performing at a venue near me, I was given the opportunity to interview him by phone. When I called him at his Paradise Valley, Arizona, home, we made some small talk before starting the interview. When I mentioned that I grew up in Phoenix, he wanted to know what high school I went to. When I told him that I went to Moon Valley – the rival to his beloved Cortez High School, it started a great, impromptu chat about our high school days.
For instance, when I told Alice that I ran Cross Country my freshman year, sucked at it, and not invited to run the following years of high school, he said:
“Wow. That was my sport. I was a four-year letterman at Cortez. The Cortez Colts, when I was there, we couldn’t win a football game to save our life. But we were 72-0 in Cross Country. I was running a 4:40 mile and I was the seventh guy on the team. There were guys running 4:20, 4:19, 4:16 on the mile. So, I mean, we were pretty unbeatable in Cross Country. Anything else? We got killed in.”
“We ran the canal. Monday would be sort of the long run. We would do, maybe, an eight to ten mile run on Monday. Tuesday, was Hell Day, and that was eight 80’s for time. Wednesday was more of a sprint kind of thing just for kicking at the end and, then, Thursday was a little bit of a layoff because Friday was the meet.”
Just prior to our interview, Alice celebrated his 70th birthday that was celebrated via a fundraiser for his charity, the Solid Rock Foundation. His life-long career manager, Shep Gordon, put the whole thing together, including an amazing cake that looked just like Alice. When I mentioned it (and wished him a belated Happy Birthday), Cooper said:
“Shep did the whole thing. You know, it was a fundraiser for Solid Rock, which is my charity here. It was a very eventful Alice's Birthday Cake - Photo by Danny Zeliskobirthday. On my birthday was the Super Bowl. All my friends were there from Bernie Taupin to Richie Sambora. I mean, everybody was there at the party.
“Two days before that, I was in a head-on collision. It hurt my shoulder, but it wasn’t that bad. And, then, I announced that night – on my seventieth birthday – that some period during the year, I would shoot my age in golf. The very next day, I shot 69. I shot a two under par at Arizona Biltmore Country Club. It was great! I made everything!”
Before cutting to the purpose of our interview, I mentioned a mutual friend of ours, Cherylanne Devita, founder and CEO of DeVita Natural Skin Care and Color Cosmetics.
“Oh, yeah! Cherylanne is on our board – the Solid Rock board! She does a great job with Solid Rock, too. She’s one of the people that really – she’s a go-getter that we really like!”
Shifting from the personal to the paranormally professional, I asked Alice about his latest CD, Paranormal.
“You know? It’s funny. Every once in a while, you hit on an album with the right people at the right time with the right producer and the right songs. This album was in the top ten in thirty countries. It was just one of those albums that caught on. I don’t know if it was the fact that I switched things around. I used Larry Mullen, Jr. on drums – from U2 and that was a big shock to people. They said, ‘Well, that doesn’t sound like it would fit.’ It fit perfectly!
“Getting Billy Gibbons to play on, ‘Fallen In Love (and I Can’t Get Up)’. It was the perfect song for him! Roger Glover (current bassist for Deep Purple) playing on ‘Paranormal’ – the idea was to put the right person on the right song. And Bob Ezrin and I and Tommy (Denander), we sat down and our only goal on this album was we all have to get off on every song. It has to be a song that all of us go, ‘Yeah! That really works!’
“And, then, adding the original band for three songs made it even more of an eclectic kind of album but it all stayed to hard rock. That’s all we’re gonna do is hard rock. It’ll have a different flavor here and a different flavor there depending on who’s playing on it but it’s always going to be a hard rock album for Alice Cooper.”
Coop is an amazing lyricist/songwriter that is often underappreciated. I asked if writing songs was getting easier or harder for him now.
“No, that’s actually the easiest thing for me. To me, writing lyrics is, for some reason, that’s the easiest part for me. I’ve got a rhythm to it. I’ve got a certain – not a formula – but I kinda write in the same way. I try to write about things that are interesting to me about people. Not necessarily situations, but people.
“I think when Bob Dylan heard ‘Only Women Bleed’ or something like that, that was the one song that he mentioned in Rolling Stone. He said, ‘I think that Alice is the most underappreciated writer in America.’ For me to get a compliment like that from Bob Dylan was, you know, you can’t get any better than that! I didn’t think he even knew I existed! That was a nice push.
“Then, being nominated for the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame this year is one of those things, also, you never expect. I expected the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but I didn’t really expect the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. I would love to be in the same Hall of Fame as Burt Bacharach and people like that. Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney.”
When I said that I appreciated the intricacies and tongue-in-cheek humor in his lyrics, Cooper replied:
“I think that I got a little bit of that from Kurt Vonnegut. I used to read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut. His sense of humor matched up with my sense of humor. I think that shows up every once in a while in the songs.”
Even at seventy-years young, Alice is still a touring animal, performing concerts around the world for much of each year. I asked him what fans can expect from shows in the upcoming tour.
“Right now, the number one drummer in rock and roll, Glen Sobel, was just voted Best Drummer in Rock and Roll. He’s my drummer.
“I’ve got Hurricane Nita Strauss on guitar. She was with The Iron Maidens. I needed a shredder. I had Orianthi in the band and she left and went with Richie Sambora and, so, I wanted another girl guitar player. I didn’t even go after a girl guitar player, but I heard Nita play and she was exactly what I was looking for: a shredder. Because I already had Ryan Roxie, who is one of the great rock and roll players. And I had Tommy Kenriksen, who was a producer and writer.
“And, then, Chuck Garric has been with me for almost twenty years. What I love about this band is that nobody has ever heard an argument backstage.
“Everybody in the band are best friends and they all can’t wait to get onstage. They’re there for all the right reasons. It’s funPhoto by Rob Fenn being with a band that is having fun in what they’re doing rather than complaining all the time. Even on off days, a lot of bands on days off, everybody goes their own way. In this band, everybody goes to the movies together. And, then, everybody goes to the sushi bar together. And, then, I go back home with Sheryl (Mrs. Cooper) and they all go out to clubs and find clubs to play in.
“The show is just absolutely pure Alice Cooper. I mean, it’s got everything you could imagine in it. It’s got every element of Alice Cooper in it. I’ve never seen such good reviews as this tour and it’s just going to keep going on and on.”
Many feels that the music business is horribly broken. I asked Cooper if he felt that the music business is broken and, if so, what would he do to fix it.
“Well, right now, there’s very little rock and roll in the music business. It’s what I call ‘modern music’ or it’s ‘young adults music’. But there’s very few outlaws out there. There’s very few bands – Guns ‘n Roses, Alice Coopers, Aerosmiths – those were the bands whose signature was the fact that they were already pirates. They were already outlaws.
“Rock and Roll should have an outlaw attitude to it and everybody is so wimpy at this point. That’s why I like young bands that come up and they’ve got attitude. Foo Fighters. Great band. Bands like Green Day. High energy bands like that. That’s what we need. We need young kids, right now, in the garages learning Guns ‘n Roses and bands like that. And I think that’ll happen. But, right now, the most exciting guy out there is Bruno Mars. I don’t even like that kind of music and I really think he’s the most talented guy out there. But the rest of it to me is just so – I watched the Grammy’s and I went, ‘I don’t know who any of these people are!’ There was no rock and roll in the whole show.
“What’s it about now is the metal bands are the only bands that have an attitude. They’re the only ones that get up there with attitude and having fun with what they’re doing. I see bands up there that, Geez! I go, ‘How boring can you be?’ And they think it’s rock and roll. It’s not rock and roll.”
Alice Cooper has accomplished a lot in his career. Still, there has something he hasn’t done yet, professionally, that he still wants to do. What would that be?
“Well, I mean, you know, the Broadway thing, doing Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar, that’s only a one-night thing. But I would love to see Welcome To My Nightmare on Broadway. The show’s already written. I mean, all you have to do is get up and plan it. So, if somebody comes up to us and says, ‘I would like to produce Welcome To My Nightmare on Broadway,’ I would say that would be a great idea.”
When I asked if he would want to star in it or have someone else do it, Cooper replied:
“I could but at the same time, somebody else could play Alice Cooper, too. I would want to be involved in the direction of it only because I wrote the whole show. I would want to see how this guy plays Alice and sort of direct him and say, ‘Alice would never do that’ or ‘Alice would never take it there.’”
When I posited that it was kind of like the “Love, Janis” stage show, Alice piped in and said, ‘Yeah, except that usually Photo by Rob Fennhappens when you’re dead!’
Wrapping up our chat, I asked the legendary shock rocker how he wanted to be remembered and what did he hope his legacy would be.
“Well, I think that it’s pretty much written that Alice will always be the Busby Berkley meets Bela Lugosi. Shock Rock has always been termed with Alice Cooper. But, really, we brought theater to rock and roll. I mean, we brought really legitimate theater to rock and roll, and nobody had done it before us. Being very modest about this, I don’t think anybody’s ever done it better than us. That’s always been my key thing.
“If you’re going to be an Alice Cooper show, it has to be guitar rock, take-no-prisoners rock and roll. And it has to be theatrical. To me, that’s what I think I’ll be known as: maybe the Barnum and Bailey of rock and roll.”
You can keep up with Alice and the latest in his career by visiting AliceCooper.com. Be sure to see where he’ll be performing near you and snag up some tickets. It will definitely be the experience of a lifetime.