Posted June, 2015
I grew up in Phoenix after being transplanted there in the sixties from Alabama while I was in fourth grade. As my interest in music began to develop beyond Elvis, I was soon exposed – and I do mean, “exposed” – to Phoenix homeboys, Alice Cooper (at that time, the name of the entire band and not just the front man).
Me being the perpetual late bloomer boomer that I am, the exposure didn’t happen until six albums in when one of my friends had the “Billion Dollar Babies” cassette playing on his portable player. Quite frankly, I didn’t “Love It To Death” (fans, please pardon the pun) because it scared me to death.
I mean, c’mon! If your buddy had you listening to the uber creepy “I Love The Dead” or “Sick Things” during the night, wouldn’t you tinkle your Super Man underwear, too? Maybe not but that’s beside the point. The point is this: The Alice Cooper Group was like nothing I had ever seen or heard before and it scared the whiz right out of me and had me linking for sick things under my bed.
Of course, I became an immediate fan.
That original band consisted of lead singer (and Cortez High School alum), Vince Furnier, the late Glenn Buxton on lead guitar, Michael Bruce on rhythm guitar, Neal Smith on drums and Dennis Dunaway on bass. Together, they invented what quickly became known as “shock rock”. Guillotines, swords, electric chairs, toy babies, and even the mother of all boa constrictors were used as stage props and to bring over the top drama and theatrics to the stage.
As the band’s popularity and record sales grew, so did their notoriety and associated rumors and urban legends that could grow out of control in those days. Sordid tales of devil worshipping, sadistic sex, drugs, chicken mangling and various stories involving stomach pumping all became rampant – especially in the band’s hometown of Phoenix.
Speaking of Phoenix, the town seemed to have its own cluster of favorite legends to tell about the band and it seemed (and still does seem) that everyone has a “personal” story about running into one of the band, getting in a fight with one or all of them, dating the one of the band, a sister dating one of the band, went to school with the band (even if the band had already graduated from Cortez while said pontificator was still in diapers), and other such musings.
Over the years, the original band was replaced by a series of other musicians and Vincent officially changed his name to that of his stage character, Alice Cooper. Glenn Buxton passed away in 1997. Bruce, Smith and Dunaway stayed involved in music over the years. In 2011, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the remaining members rejoined Alice on three songs (“A Runaway Train”, “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” and “When Hell Comes Home”) on his “Welcome 2 My Nightmare” album.
To chronicle a small part of the legendary band’s history, Dennis Dunaway has just come out with a book entitled, “Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures In The Alice Cooper Group.” I had the distinct honor of chatting with Dennis about his book and his views on the music industry as a whole. He was generous with his time in chatting with me and very gracious in his answers. I must admit that I had so many things I wanted to talk to him about that it was hard to whittle my long list of questions down to a smaller, more relevant grouping.
Dunaway answered my question about what the initial buzz over the book had been like by saying:
“This has been an overwhelmingly busy year. Everybody in the world is messaging me. In the old days, they would have had to put some coins in the phone. Now, with social media, even if it’s
just ‘congratulations on the book’ or something, it’s just way more than I can read. It’s a tsunami of mail. I was surprised at how many people expect to have a running conversation with me while they read the book. I don’t have time to even read them all! I talked to another author who does books. He’s from Phoenix. I said, ‘Wow, my mail is getting overwhelming. I don’t think I’ll be able to keep up with it’. He said, ‘I’m looking at 4,100 unread e-mails right now’. I guess that’s par for the course.
“It’s very, very exciting. There’s been so much work going into it. There’s some of these things coming together now that I’ve been working on for years. I thought the book would be finished before it was. In fact, I thought it would be done a decade before it was finished. I held out, because I wanted to get a real publisher with a real shot at a being a published author. I held out, and I finally got it. It was starting to bleak there. I had to turn down a few deals where the people weren’t saying the right thing. The most common thing that turned me off was people saying that it had to be more about Alice, not the other guys. Well, go buy those books. They’re out there.
“I got kinda desperate, so I started just posting on Facebook, ‘I’m looking for a publishing deal’. I got a fan, Dereck Walton, who said, ‘I’m a big fan!’ And he is. I’ve gotten to know him, and he knows more about me than I do. He said, ‘My girlfriend, Sharyn Rosenblum, is a publicist for Harper Collins in New York City. How about if you show her your manuscript and see if she has any suggestions?’ Oh man, she loved the concept. She found my agent, and we landed a deal. I’m surrounded by the most professional people. It really reminds me of the good ‘ol days in the record industry when people were actually buying the product- all the experts that surrounded us back in those days. Now, it’s a similar deal, and I get to stick my toe in the exciting literary world of New York City. I walk around saying, ‘I’m not worthy!’ with all these people who have put out books about Abraham Lincoln and stuff like that. I’m like, ‘Well, we dropped panties on Hollywood Bowl’.
“I have this expert team of publicists. They really know what they’re doing, but they also keep an open mind as to what I like. This I even tested everybody on. We had the first meeting with me and my co-writer, Chris Hodenfield, who worked for Rolling Stone for a dozen years. In fact, he wrote the cover story of the Alice Cooper group in 1972 for Rolling Stone magazine- the Annie Leibovitz picture where Alice has a snake wrapped around his contorted face. We’ve known him since those days. We brought him in, because I knew I wouldn’t be spending my time explaining things to him as much. He was the same era and all. That was a perfect call.
“Anyway, I have my literary agent, Jim Fitzgerald, who is this guy who has seen it all. His voice, if you don’t look at him, sounds like Glen Buxton. He’s a salty guy, and he’s definitely worked on a lot of books with a lot of people. John Lydon, Dennis Hopper, mostly edgy people. He’s there with my publisher, Rob Kirkpatrick. I thought, ‘I know exactly what I want in my book’. I would say things to each of them during this lunch that I knew was wrong for the book. All of them passed the test. They all said, ‘Well, wait a minute. I think it should be….’ And I’m thinking, ‘Alright, you passed’. I walked out of there thinking, ‘Man, do I have the right people!’ They’re all on the right wavelength. We had a lot of fun doing it, which is appropriate. That’s really what I wanted to portray in the book. People always tend to focus on the break-up. They tend to look at the traffic accident rather than how cool the car is that somebody built. The first draft of the book had a lot of my deep resentment. When I started reading back, I said, ‘you know what? This isn’t what it was about.’ It was about a bunch of teenagers that got this goofy idea to incorporate art into music, and we talked other guys who were very unlikely personalities to get on board with us. We faced a lot of threats and danger, but we stuck with it because we all believed in it that much. We had fun doing it. That’s what the book is about, really.”
As I said at the beginning of this piece, there were tons of rumors and misconceptions about the band so I asked Dennis what was the biggest misconception about the band that he had heard.
“There have been several. That we murdered chickens was probably the most notorious. A chicken did get hurt at the Toronto festival, but we had no intention of hurting it. It was our pet. We were kids taking our favorite horror films, and adding them to a rock show for the fun of it. Even though we did deliver it with a sinister attitude, it was all in fun. That’s the biggest misconception overall. People took us more seriously than we intended.”
Writing a book is never easy and, when one writes about their own experiences, surprises often arise during the process. Dunaway shared what those surprises were.
“Two come to mind. I thought that, with the Internet, I could reach out to all these people throughout our career to get these stories from them. That didn’t work out at all. It kinda backfired, actually. I’d get twelve pages about a spaghetti dinner that somebody made for the band. I said, ‘Uh-oh. I’m going to have to rely entirely on my memory here’. I should have known that in the first place. I thought I could get these enhancements, but it didn’t quite work out. Even with Neal, I couldn’t get anything out of him. I did toward the end, but not early on.
“The other thing that I didn’t anticipate was, since I knew the story so well and how certain things happened, I had revelations. You know that Neal did this or that. You start writing them down, and you start realizing, ‘Wait a minute. He did that a lot more than I realized’. Like going onstage stoned in the early days, and he was on top of the gigantic PA speakers again. You put two and two together. At one point, Michael, Neal, and I buckled down and went on stage in a business frame of mind. We saved the partying until after the show. When I look back to the early days, it’s amazing we were able to survive. Neal jumping off the top of the PA that’s twelve feet tall, but it was the audience we got all the injuries from. Neal had a dart in his back one night. All of the M-80s and full beer cans- people would buy the beer cans just to throw at the stage. When it’d hit the stage, it burst open. We’d walk out, and there would be so many, you didn’t know which way to duck. Like the Blues Brothers in the chicken wire cage… we actually did a gig with the chicken wire in the early days. Just like the movie.”
I mentioned that there were all sorts of conflicting stories as to which high schools the band members attended. While not an interesting bit of trivia to all you readers, it is interesting to me and my former classmates and neighbors so I asked him to set the story straight.
“In ’68, the band was still coming through. At that point, we lived in L.A. and were on the road a lot. We still came back through Phoenix fairly often. My parents were there.
“Michael Bruce, I think, went to North High School. Neal went to Camelback. The rest of us were Cortez all the way. Sunnyslope was our rival. Alice and I did cross country, and they were kinda tough to beat. We were undefeated, so we managed to do it. We always had to rise to the occasion with them. Alice and I did art class, cross country, and journalism together.”
Dennis went on to share where he lives these days and why.
“I’m like an hour from New York City. Originally, the band moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, to be closer to our manager’s offices in New York City. In my opinion, it was kinda silly. We moved, because when we lived in Michigan, we thought we were chalking up an awful lot of long distance phone calls. Greenwich, Connecticut, is a much more affluent and expensive area. Also, it didn’t change the amount of phone calls, because we were never at home anyway.”
He then shared some funny stories from those days.
“The roadie had pockets full of change for the pay phone at the airports and everything. Back then, you could page people at the airport. Glen Buxton always had this running gag where you would all of the sudden hear over the PA system in the airport: ‘Mr. Beach. Mr. Sonny Beach, please report to the service counter.’
“Glen was a natural. Alice was a natural. We were all humorous. I was probably the bottom rung of the ladder. I think Glen was the head funny guy. Alice was second. Neal is very funny. His type of humor is more like doing these goofy characters. He and Glen were both born in Akron, so they have that Ohio sense of humor. A lot of great American comics came out of Ohio: Jonathan Winters, Bob Hope, Red Skelton. Since I married into Neal’s family- I married his sister- I’ve been to Ohio a lot. I’ve witnessed that humor directly. Also, our day job was to think of clever things- ideas for songs, lyrics, clever album covers. It was always just tossing something into the pool and letting the piranhas go at it.”
I didn’t want him to give away big nuggets that might hurt book sales, but I did ask what Dunaway thought was the biggest revelation he provides in the book.
“You have to divide it. The band doesn’t feel this way, but there seems to be a line in the sand as far as Alice Cooper group fans and the Alice solo fans. I think there would be two different things they would take away.
“The original fans will get some insights to the new versions of the stories they’ve heard. They’ll get more details about the writing of the songs, the recording and chemistry of the group. The younger fans will find out that it was actually a group. A lot of them don’t even know that. I’ve opened for Alice about ten times in recent years. At some of those gigs, people had no clue who I was. Did you see the hanging? Did you see the guillotine? Did you see the snake? That’s me. The snake was actually Neal. The guillotine actually goes all the way back to our very first gig at Cortez High School. The very first time we played a whole show was Halloween in 1964, and we had a guillotine.
“The other thing that may surprise people is that we’re not all mad at each other. We never have been. That’s why the line in the sand with fans is ridiculous, because the band is still all friends. That might be a refreshing feel to the book.”
Dennis squares up the “dead chicken” story in the book. One that wasn’t in the book but was the source of an urban legend amongst those in my church circle involves a line in “No More Mister Nice Guy.” The story in that line involves Alice getting punched in the nose by the pastor of a church he visits. All of the lyric sheets I’ve read show the line as either, “ . . . the Reverend Smith, he recognized me . . .” or, “ . . . the Reverend Smithy recognized me . . .”
Well, A pastor of one of the churches in the denomination I grew up in was the late Herschel Diffie (you know where I’m going with this). It became the subject of many sermons that the band was saying his name towards the end of the song. Those who attended the good reverend’s funeral tell me that the story was even shared there. I’ve always said that the story was total bull spew. I asked Dunaway to settle the dispute once and for all.
“That one’s totally fictitious. Isn’t that funny? We were brought up in the school of The Beatles. They had all of that ‘Paul is dead’ and that kind of stuff. Starting rumors was something that we did all the back at Cortez High School. Alice loved to do that. He always wanted to come up with a catchphrase that he would start, and it would spread across the country. ‘Love it to death’ was one of them. It didn’t gain that much traction. People did start saying it after it became the title of the album. If someone said, ‘Did you see that new James Bond movie?’ he wanted people to say, ‘Love it to death!’ Rumors that add to the legend were part of it, so that fits in that respect.
“Alice’s personality is kinda like what you see in live interviews. Alice never swore. In fact, he turned down an offer to be in a Quentin Tarantino movie, From Dusk Till Dawn. I think Cheech Marin ended up doing the part. Alice turned it down, because it had swearing. He wouldn’t swear. In the book, I talk about Alice flipping the bird. That’s the only time I ever saw him do that. Ever. There’s definitely some hypocrisy in that. You’re very religious and read the Bible before going to sleep, but it’s okay to simulate a murder on stage. For some reason, people take it more threateningly, because it’s a rock band out there doing that. They’re thinking, ‘They are working the minds of our children’. Yet the kids can come home and watch an old horror film that’s a lot worse than that. Or wrestling, boxing, whatever- that’s ok. The kids can sit there and watch a boxing match with you, but they can’t go to an Alice Cooper concert.”
Back in 1979 or 1980, I met and chatted a while with Reggie Vincent. He played out the church I was attending at the time and I emceed his appearance. He later
Dennis Dunaway, Albert Bouchard, Alice Cooper and Joe Bouchard
became a minister for a few years. I asked Dennis how significant was Reggie’s contributions to the band.
“Again, they whittled the book down. There’s a lot of elaboration on many characters. Some of them didn’t even make it in the book. Rockin’ Reggie was a good friend. There are certain people who showed up, and if Glen’s sarcasm didn’t drive them out the door, they were okay. Especially if you fired back- that’s just how it was. It was very funny, but anybody who walked out of the room knew they were being verbally cut to ribbons the whole time they were gone. We were all in on it. If a newcomer came into the situation and couldn’t deal with it, good- we weeded that person out. It’s like separating the mice from the men.
“Rockin’ was always in a good mood. He loved music, and he was always around. We would jam with him, and we’d ask him to join in singing background on songs in the studio. He stayed up all night with Glen Buxton, and they came down with the idea for the song ‘Billion Dollar Baby’. We knew that it would be the title of the album at that point, and we said, ‘Hey, let’s write a song to be the title song’. Next morning, he and Glen had stayed up all night, and they came down. They had this beautiful ballad. Rockin’ Reggie is an amazing songwriter. A lot of his songs are very Roy Orbison- the writing and even his voice. Lots of great hooks and stuff. He showed up with this beautiful ballad, and we kicked it around all afternoon. I decided, ‘We gotta light a fire under this song’. We beat the song up, spit it back out, and it was a much different song.”
Dunaway and the remaining members of the band worked with Alice on “Welcome 2 My Nightmare.” I thought it was poignant since its predecessor, “Welcome To My Nightmare” was the album that benchmarked Alice and the band parting ways. I asked the bassist about his thoughts on “2” and if he and the guys are going to be working on more music together.
“It was just great to all get back together. I was concerned that we wouldn’t still have our same sound. I was afraid that the chemistry and dynamics had changed. In the old days, the band was all equally involved in every bit of the music. Bob Ezrin, as well- if the five band members or Bob threw out an idea, we tried it. I thought, ‘Maybe that’ll be different’. As soon as we got in the studio, it was just like the old days. We had a blast. We knocked out three songs in two days. I think with some of the other songs on the album, we had a lot more time to do it. We were so excited that we could have recorded a whole album in a week, I think. It was fun. It was great to work with Bob again. He always gets these great sounds. Michael, Neal, and I were firing the same kind of sarcastic remarks at each other. When you’re friends to the point that you’re pretty much family, you don’t have to fill in time. You’re together, and it’s the same. We did sound like ourselves even without Glen Buxton. That is still a noticeable difference, but we had fun. There was no weirdness at all. We’re all friends, like I said. The friendship is why it started, and the friendship is why we never sued over the name. Some people would say, ‘Well, that was stupid’, but my conscience is good.”
After reading his book, I came away thinking that Dennis Dunaway showed tremendous class in how he matter-of-factly presented the parting of the ways with Alice. There’s been a lot more venom between people for a heck of a lot less. When I asked what he attributed the reason for his attitude in handling this the way did – and does –he said:
“I think it’s as simple as we started as friends, and we didn’t want to end it otherwise. We’re all still friends. Being friends was the number one thing through it. We had a driven vision that we were all obsessed with. Losing that was a big blow in my life. I spent a few years rocking in a rocking chair, pouting, and being bitter. Then, I’m like, ‘you know, why am I so bitter about music? That’s what I love. Forget this. Forget the music industry. I’m going to just start writing songs’. I wrote a couple hundred songs. I was a reclusive. I didn’t go out and play much. If somebody asked me, I’d go out. If I went to a club in New York City, I’d hide in the back corner and not want to get up and play.
“Then my health- I have Crohn’s disease. That was a long, hard road down. I ended up in critical condition in the hospital. The doctor’s didn’t think they’d be able to build up my health enough to survive the surgery. I got all of this snail mail from all over the world from fans. I’m like, ‘Wow! They do remember me’. At that point, with all of the press and stuff, everyone had reassigned credit for everything. It looked like we were just thoroughly swept under the carpet. Here comes all this mail from people all over the world, and I’m like, ‘Wow, people really are out there’. My daughters had been telling me, ‘Dad, stop correcting all of the interviews you read. Just write a book’. At that point, I decided I am going to write a book. If I make it through this, I’m going to get back out there and bury the hatchet. And that’s what I did. It was a very tough part of our lives. Cindy and I stuck together. Thank God, I had her and my daughters. Even through the worst of times, I was still friends with Alice.
“When I first started writing the book, it was before Super Duper Alice Cooper came out that revealed Alice finally talking about his addictions. I’m thinking that all I’m doing is telling the truth, but everybody is going to look at this as a challenge. There was a lot of that, because almost any story that anybody has heard, I have a bit of a different story. Some of them, I’m alone in my memory. Everybody in the band seems to remember that when we went over to Frank Zappa’s house to audition, he was asleep. That’s true. Everybody agrees to that. We showed up at nine o’clock in the morning. I think Alice moved it earlier, but he always exaggerates. Everybody remembers that we went down in his basement, set up our equipment, and started playing. Then he came down. That’s not true. We set up right outside his bedroom door in the hallway. We had the amps plugged in, and we were cranked. We were playing so loud that the picture on the wall went crooked. His bedroom door opened, and his hand came out motioning for us to stop. We stopped, then he stuck his head out and said, ‘Let me have some coffee, and I’ll listen’. Everybody else remembers that we were downstairs, but we came the next day and went downstairs for a meeting. Downstairs was full of The Mothers’ equipment. There was no room for us to set up our equipment. Little things like that- do they make a difference? Like Robby Krieger told me, ‘It doesn’t make any difference’. I’m like, ‘I know, but it’s just annoying’. I think being outside the bedroom door is a heck of a lot bolder. If somebody did that in my house, I’d probably shoot them. Frank was a real sport about it. His wife, Gail, was in the bedroom. He had gotten home late from the road. I think that’s how we got the deal. Straight Records had already stretched the budget. They weren’t looking for any more groups. We came in late after they had found all the groups. I think that he just liked how crazy we were to go to that much trouble. The GTOs all lived downstairs in the log cabin in Laurel Canyon. Miss Christine was baby-sitting Moon Unit. When we knocked on the door, she answered and freaked out. The look on her face… like, ‘What are you doing here?!’ We’re like, ‘We’re here to audition’, and she said, ‘No! I didn’t even ask him yet’. She runs down the hall to keep us from going down the hall, so we knew that’s where to go. She was freaking out, because it was her fault that we got into the house. We set up, and Zappa asked for coffee. She ran and got coffee for him. When he liked us, she was so relieved. So were we, really.”
I asked one of two hypothetical questions: Can a group of guys get together in this day and age and be trailblazers like you guys were or has everything been said and done and the only thing left is just more of the same? I mean, c’mon, Marilyn Manson had shock value but he really didn’t do anything all that compelling like you guys did, no?
“I think so. Blue Coupe just did a show in New York City for the Joey Ramone Birthday Bash, which is a benefit for lymphoma. It had, of course, all these great punk, iconic New York City
musicians from that great era. Glen Matlock from the Sex Pistols was there. David Beal…. But there was a fairly young band there called the Barb Wire Dolls. I wouldn’t say necessarily that they’re doing something that hasn’t been done before. I will say that band has that look in their eyes that we had back then. You can tell. They are driven toward their artistic goal. That’s what it takes. When people ask me, ‘What does it take to make it?’, I’m like, ‘First of all, if you have what it takes, it doesn’t matter what I say or what anybody says’. They told Elvis to go back to driving trucks. Or I could say, ‘you’re great. You’re going to make it’, but it’s still only going to happen if you have that drive that is relentless enough to overcome everything.
“The bad part is people aren’t buying the product, so how do you support the art? The Alice Cooper group lived on tuna noodle casserole for way too many years, and that was even luxury in those days. We could all afford to get a house. It wouldn’t necessarily be a very nice one, but we could afford to get a house and keep the dream going. Now, everything is so expensive. It’s really hard for a band to keep banging their head against the wall. Especially when they make a record, and try to let people know it exists, then people just take it for free. That’s the bad part.
“The good part is it basically forces you to do it for the right reasons to begin with which is because you love doing it.”
I also wanted to know what have been the biggest changes he’s seen in the music business.
“When I was younger, especially in Phoenix, the television went off the air at ten o’clock at night. You were lucky to see two decent TV shows in a week. Music was the all-powerful, most
important thing in a teenager’s life. Movies were second. Television was third. Books weren’t in my picture back then. A book meant homework. Now, people have so many other things to do- games, even your phone. It’s like a cartoon I just saw. An angel’s in heaven, and St. Peter’s saying, ‘you actually did have a good life. You were just looking at your phone and missed it’. In entertainment and what teenagers find important, music isn’t number one anymore. Back in our day, when you got that vinyl album with the gatefold cover, you open that gatefold cover up and set it on your table. You played the record over and over, and it was your shrine. You worshipped it. Now kids go, ‘Oh, listen to this song!’, and they won’t even play the whole song. They don’t have time to listen to a whole song, let alone a whole album. What’s broken is something I don’t know needs to be fixed. People have just moved on to other forms of entertainment. Their time is consumed by gadgets.
“The other thing is vinyl just sounds better. There’s this warm tone to it. Compare that ear pods. Even with the best ones, the music sounds more sterile. I’m not sure people have the best quality of music to draw them back. My back room is walls full of vinyl records. All kinds of records- I’ve got rare Elvis Presley stuff. My kids ask, ‘Dad, why do you have all that stuff? We have more music than that on our phone’. I’m like, ‘Yeah, but let’s compare the quality’. It is kind of a pain to have to walk into the other room and flip the record after five songs.
“In another respect, the digital capabilities in the studio allow you to fix any note. You can take somebody who can’t sing on pitch sound like they can. The Beatles didn’t have that. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard those isolated Beatles vocal tracks, but when you listen to that, you go, ‘They didn’t need a pitch correction machine’. The problem is you have unlimited tracks. Back then, The Beatles had four tracks! If you put something on that track, you had to do it with feel. When I recorded bass parts and had a bad note in the middle of the bass track, I would have to redo the entire bass track if we decided everything else was fine. I did that a lot of times. Bob Ezrin would drop in a note every once in a while, but when Jack Richardson was there, he’d say, ‘be a man. Record the whole things again. You’re going to be playing this song a million times anyway’. On ‘School’s Out’, I’d just redone the bass track, and a roadie walked in with Rotosound strings. I’d never had a set, so we put them on of my bass guitars. I thought, ‘Wow, these have a nice growl to them. You know what? Let’s rerecord the bass track!’ That’s what I did on the spot.
“You have to put a lot of thought into the songs. We did pre-production, and that’s the difference between ‘Love It To Death’ and our previous albums. With our previous albums, we didn’t have the proper focus on getting the song ready for the studio. We hadn’t been in the studio. We hadn’t become masters of that part of the art. Playing live is one thing. Writing is one thing. In the studio is one thing. All three of those take three different kinds of expertise. We were surrounded by experts and soaked it all in. But you had to play the song with the feel, and if the bass drum was a little bit early on that downbeat, now you can just go in and move it. If you move that one, then you go, ‘That next one is a little off’. Then another one- next thing you know, you’ve perfected the life out of the song. It becomes sterile. It loses all of its feel. Same with photography- people look at a photograph, and it could be the most bizarre photograph in the world that’s actually taken with no enhancements at all. People will just go, ‘Ok, that’s cool’, and move on. They don’t appreciate that anymore, because the ability to make gigantic armies of futuristic soldiers get blown away in a movie has desensitized us to the point where we don’t appreciate real art like we used to. In the old days, they had their own ways to doctor up a photograph in the darkroom, so I’m not saying that. Same with recording in the old days, but it gets to the point where you can just do anything. You can say, ‘I want a picture of me on mars’. No problem! The next day you’ve got it.
“It’s all changing, but it still boils down to making a record that is so good that people want to listen to it over and over. I think it was Jerry Wexler who once said as a record executive or A&R guy, it’s really easy to find somebody who is really good at something that’s already been done. He said it’s really hard to find somebody who is doing something new that’s going to be the next popular thing. That’s always been the case. As soon as somebody does something new, they are usually the ones who have to break through all of the resistance. The Alice Cooper group certainly did. They hated us! Theatrics, oh God- Bill Graham hated us. ‘You can’t do theatrics’, and we’re like, ‘well, we do’. Once we were finally able to make that acceptable, all of sudden everybody jumps on the bandwagon.”
A couple of years ago, Dennis approached Fender Guitar about producing a signature series bass that replicates his “Billion Dollar Bass.” In response to my query about how sales have been and what future plans are for the series, the legendary bassist said:
“I think it’s been good on that. I get the royalty checks, so I’m not sure what the numbers break down to. I’ve kinda not been able to keep up with anything but this book for the last few years. It’s been all consuming. I play one of my replicas that the Fender Custom Shop made- Billion Dollar jazz bass. That’s what I play onstage and take on airplanes, because it’s more replaceable than the original. It’s so much like the original. I can tell the difference, but Joe Bouchard who played bass with Blue Oyster Cult has been around my original jazz bass since ’72. So far, he’s guessed about five times whether it’s the replica or the real one, and he’s never gotten it right. You set them side-by-side, and the closer you look, the more you realize this is insane how detailed this is- down to every scratch, rust. It’s unbelievable. Out on the road in the old days, the strap got a lot of wear and tear with the way I jump around on stage. The screw would pull out of the body of the bass. I’d be like, ‘Hey, we’ve got a gig. Grab a screw’. It wouldn’t be an original Fender screw. They even went out and found two different screws to match those. It growls really nice. I love it. Fender has been so good to me.
“I talked to Richard McDonald, the vice president. To get this to happen, I thought, ‘I’d really like to have a Billion Dollar replica bass’, but I thought there’s no way. The e-mail will end up deleted right away unless I make it crazy. That’s part of the Alice Cooper way of doing things. We did the press release, and instead of five guys came from Phoenix, we were reincarnated. Alice’s sister was a witch that was burned at the stake and all that. We thought, hey, somebody will at least get an entertaining read out of it and hopefully remember us instead of filing it in the wastebasket.
“So I had that mentality when I wrote this e-mail. I said, ‘I want the Billion Dollar Bass to play at our induction to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. I want it to have real diamonds, and I want it to be insured for a billion dollars’. I got a response right away: ‘Great idea!’ Next thing I know, they flew me out to Scottsdale, Arizona, to the headquarters, and they flew all of the top Custom Shop guys in from California. Now, I’m by myself in the main office with a conference table with all these guys showing up, and I’m like, ‘I should have prepared something’. Everybody is sitting at the conference table and waiting for me to sit down. I took the bass out of the case. I just laid it in the middle of this big conference table, sat down, folded my arms, and stared at it. I didn’t say anything; I just kept looking at the bass. Then I stood up dramatically, and I said, ‘Gentlemen, the Billion Dollar Bass’.
“They loved it. I told them I wanted to change it so it’d be easier to make and less expensive. They said, ‘We’ve got to make it exactly like this’ which is what they do really. So that’s how that came about, and they’ve been so nice to me ever since. I told the vice president, ‘I spent all those struggling years, and Fender wouldn’t give me the time of day’. He said, ‘Dennis, that’s all changed. Anything you want, no matter what time of day, just call me’. It’s been like that. I say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a rehearsal’, and these Fender amps show up. I feel very privileged.
“I have these new bass picks that have the title of my new book on them, ‘Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!’. You flip it over, and it’s got a Fender logo, of course. We’re doing these swag bags for my book signings. You’ll get a big pink bag with the title of the book on it. It’ll have a barf bag, a pencil, a pick, and panties.
“Clayton picks also sponsors my Blue Coupe picks. Rotosound sends me strings. It’s funny. Now I have all of this stuff for free that I used to have to pay for every inch of the way, but I’m writing a book so I don’t have much time to play like I used to. I do play a lot, though. Blue Coupe has a lot of fun. It’s a fun band. In fact, we will be doing a show at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame on June 20. Michael Bruce is going to come. Blue Coupe is going to perform an acoustic set at the Hall with Tish and Snooky. They own Manic Panic, the hair dye company in New York City. They’ve been going for like thirty-seven years or something. Rihanna, Katy Perry, Cyndi Lauper- everybody wears Manic Panic. They also sing for a group called Sic F*cks. They call it the Sic Folks for newspapers. They’re iconic from the CBGB stage. They were there with the Barb Wire Dolls at the Joey Ramone thing. They sing with us. They sing on Blue Coupe’s two records, ‘Tornado On The Tracks’ and ‘Million Miles More’. They’ll be there at Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and we’ll do a Blue Oyster Cult/Blue Coupe set. Then we’ll bring Michael out for an Alice Cooper set. We’re going to do that at Pittsburgh on June 19, and an acoustic version at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame on June 20. On June 21, we’ll be at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland to do the full shebang.
“There’s been a lid on this for awhile, but Alice was talking about it on his radio show. I said, ‘Hey, wait, I thought we weren’t supposed to be talking about this yet’, but he said, ‘No, it’s out’. Neal and I recorded ‘School’s Out’ with ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ for Alice’s next album, ‘The Hollywood Vampires’. It’s me and Neal with a couple of people you might recognize- Brian Johnson from AC/DC, Joe Perry, Slash, Johnny Depp. Neal and I went in to kick ass, and that’s what we did.”
As for what’s on Dennis’ radar for the future, he shared:
“There are a lot of things on the radar for my book, but I’m definitely committed to it deeply. This has been really extremely busy. It’s even busier than the glory days, because I’m doing so much of it myself. I do have this team of experts that are doing a lot of the organizing. In the old days, it was basically, ‘Dennis, sit over there until I point to where you go next’. All I did was walk around in a daydream of trying to imagine the next big thing for the Alice Cooper group. It’s different now. It’s like I’m my own paparazzi. I take a selfie, and I put my hand between me and the camera so it looks like I don’t want the picture taken.
“Thierry Raynaud from Strasbourg, France, is this amazing artist who lives on a boat in a canal in France. He makes the most amazing miniature guitars you’ve ever seen from scratch. He makes the strings, everything. He’ll only make two. His house is full of these. He’ll make one for Ace Frehley, and he’ll make one for himself. He doesn’t make more than that; he doesn’t sell them. He just finished the Billion Dollar Bass. It’s not as long as a pencil, hundreds of tiny rhinestones, all of the inlays on the neck, all of the scratches and stuff I talked about that’s on the actual size replica. It’s mind-boggling. You can hold it in the palm of your hand. I met this guy. Cindy and I were in France, and we get this message from friends that we could go to this guy’s house and not worried about being bothered. He met us out in the rain, and we went to his houseboat. He starts showing us these guitars, and you couldn’t believe it. It’s so well made. Every tiny knob is recreated perfectly. He showed me that he had just the beginning of the Billion Dollar Bass. It didn’t have the jewels on it or anything. He said, ‘This is going to be exactly like your bass’. Well, here we are. He finished it today- the Baby Billion Dollar Bass.”
My final question to Dennis Dunaway is one I always ask to those who have been in the business for quite a while: When you’ve stepped off the tour bus for the final time and you’ve gone to that great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?
“I’ve always seen myself as a conceptual artist who just happens to play bass. I would like to be remembered as that and for my music. That’s pretty much it. Conceptual ideas- a lot of it is just stage theatrics like Broadway shows and stuff, but they weren’t doing that when the Alice Cooper group came along. Now you go to Madison Square Garden, and you know you’re going to see some kind of production. Nobody did that before us. I think that’s really what got us into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. ‘School’s Out’ was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame this year, and right now, they’re playing it across the country like crazy. I think we’ll always be remembered for ‘School’s Out’ and the attitude the band had. We never really played metal. The closest we came was ‘Black Juju’ which I wrote, but we had the look. We had the safety pins on the pants, which was picked up by punk. We had the attitude and stuff that a lot of metal bands adopted.”
After my conversation with Mr. Dunaway, I sat back and reflected on all I had just heard and compared it to the memories and feelings of my youth. The rumors. The feelings I had when I heard all of those great Alice Cooper songs like “School’s Out”, “Billion Dollar Babies”, “School’s Out” and so many others. I smiled as the thoughts flooded my mind. Then, I looked for sick things under my desk.
Keep up with Dennis Dunaway and his band at www.dennisdunaway.com and his band, Blue Coupe, at www.bluecoupeband.com.