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Originally Published: September 1996
Author: John "Shooter" Harrell
Translated from Japanese text by Stephen Carter
His first live album since '77! "The man who plays Alice" talks about the last 20 years.
I had made arrangements to meet Alice Cooper in his hotel penthouse. I knocked on the door for room No. 1973, and when Alice opened the door, I said to him, "1973 was a very good year." He answered, "Yeah, for me, too, because I had two hit songs in 1973!" It's hard to believe that 23 years have passed since then...but what's even harder to believe is the fact that Alice Cooper is still active now in 1996.
After the release of The Last Temptation he did only a few shows in South America, but now he's on a double-headlining tour with the Scorpions even though he has nothing new out. What's more, this September he'll release a live album with special guests Slash, Sammy Hagar, and Rob Zombie. - But let's forget about the future for a moment, and ask him to join us now. Welcome to the nightmare...
So you're on tour now?
Usually a tour is to promote an album, but that's not the case this time. The Scorpions wanted me to tour as a double headliner with them, and asked me how I felt about it. I thought it was a good idea. We both have long careers, so whatever song we played would fit into somebody's life at some point. During the last tour by the Rolling Stones, I was very happy to hear them playing tunes like "Brown Sugar" the same way they did on their records. Recently a lot of bands have been doing just the opposite. So I got together some players who could play the older songs right. They're quite talented, and they're faithful to the original sound. That's a major point about this tour.
And the performance isn't worn out.
Right, it's real rock and roll. Back in the beginning, when Alice got hold of something, it became part of the performance. This tour is the same. Anything can happen. That means every night is different. Actually, in the 12 shows so far, we haven't done the same set twice.
Alice's character used to seem a bit out of control, but now there are glimpses of humor.
In the early 70s, Alice was a victim, a beaten-down underdog. That made him familiar to everyone, because they were all beaten down, too. When I got over my problems with alcohol and came back after that, Alice was no longer a victim. He was a controller, in complete command. His attitude had changed completely, like, "Come here, you belong to me." Alice now integrates all of this, and has also added a sense of humor. I want to always keep bringing Alice back to life.
Why didn't you decide to tour with Kiss? That would really be an unforgettable show.
Oh, definitely. There was no problem at all with Gene Simmons or Paul Stanley. But to tell the truth, if I did Alice Cooper before Kiss came on, it would take away some of their sparkle. Gene's a smart guy. I used to hate going on after Iggy Pop. Iggy would get the crowd totally worked up, and they would be worn out by the time we went on.
So why now?
Because as rock and roll gets older, people can relive the past through bands like this. The people that were kids 15 years ago are all grown up and working, but they still want to rock. But they don't like the new bands. So what do they do? They go and see the Eagles. And Alice Cooper, and Page and Plant, and Kiss. I'm having fun. Because old or young, they're coming to see Alice. That's all I've ever asked - just come and have fun. That's it.
You've changed labels, and in September you're coming out with a live album of your greatest hits, right?
Yeah, though it's a bit strange to be starting out fresh with a greatest-hits album. It's the first time I've recorded live since '77. This band is perfect for making a live album. When we spent a week in Cabo San Lucas (Mexico), we played together for the first time and recorded on the seventh day. I knew how talented Reb Beach is, and the first time I heard Ryan Roxy play, he was putting out that Seventies sound. This is also the first time I've had a band that can sing this well. It gives me a lot of freedom.
You couldn't really call the members of the original band top-class players, and so you were always making up for that.
They were truly hot and unique. It's strange to say that there was none of the feel of basic hard blues, but we could jam like Pink Floyd. We were a bit of a comic band, which suited our first album. But we definitely weren't solid. It wasn't until Welcome to My Nightmare that we finally became a solid rock and roll band.
If you're making a live album because your current band is so good, why did you need to call on people like Slash and Sammy Hagar?
Slash really wanted to do this.
Did you call him?
Right. He'd always wanted to do "Only Women Bleed." There were about 50 others who wanted to do it, but Slash was perfect for it. I did "Lost in America" and "Elected" with him as well. I also get along well with Rob Zombie because we're so much alike. He understands the difference between the "on" character and the "off" character. On stage he plays Rob Zombie, then when he gets down from the stage he's a regular person. His sense of humor also matches mine. His steps when we do "Feed My Frankenstein" - they're all off! (Laughs.) And as for Sammy Hagar, we did our live album at his club, and he said he wanted to play guitar on "School's Out." I'd forgotten that he played guitar, but he did great.
Is this "Greatest Hits Live?"
This is "Greatest Hits Plus." There are also some songs that weren't hits, like "Clones."
And "I Never Cry," which you couldn't call a big hit...?
Don't be surprised, but "I Never Cry" was my biggest selling single. It even sold more than "School's Out."
Was it hard to choose the songs?
I knew which songs we had to do. "Billion Dollar Babies", "I'm Eighteen" - "Under My Wheels" is always the opening song, and "School's Out" is the last one. "Gutter Cats Vs. The Jets" wasn't a hit, but it's a part of classic Alice, it's the intro to "Ballad of Dwight Fry," and the album it appeared on went to No. 1. For me a hit is a song that got a lot of air play, or a classic like that. And "Teenage Lament" - when we first played that in '74, I did what I could, but the band couldn't do their part. But the versatile band we have now can play it just as I intended.
Is that why you never recorded live with your old band?
AC: We never discussed the idea.
There you go, avoiding the matter again! By the time you made Muscle of Love (1973), hadn't you already decided to leave the band and go solo?
The two albums before Muscle of Love were huge hits, and we mutually began to think that the time was right for Alice to change - but in opposite directions. I had no doubts and thought that now that the door had been opened, we should make this even bigger, but they thought we should scale down. They said that because we were Alice Cooper, we would do just fine even in jeans, boots, and T-shirts. I said that was suicidal. They all wanted to prove that they were great musicians, and wanted to make solo albums. The band didn't break up, they just severed their ties with me so they could do what they wanted. I used what I made from Billion Dollar Babies to set up a production outfit. I would either make it big or lose everything, one or the other. Then Welcome to My Nightmare came about. That didn't just do as well as Billion Dollar Babies, it did five times better! Usually when someone breaks away from the original band and becomes a solo artist, people lose interest in both. Motley Crue is a good example. But I didn't get caught up in the past. I've worked hard to build up a solo career.
About the only people who have made it big after going solo are you, Ozzy Orbourne, and Ronnie James Dio.
Yeah, if I had scaled down back then, I would have lost everything.
By the way, your voice sounds better than ever.
Actually, after we finished the first seven times in Mexico, I'd lost my voice completely. I was scared to death. I thought I had overdone it because this was a live album and hurt my throat. I'm delighted that I've finally gotten back in form for the last three shows, and now I'm more excited than ever. (Laughs)
I know you're enjoying life with your family and golfing, but are you interested in touring again?
This time there's no pressure, because everyone's coming to see Alice, the band is great, and I know I'm in top form. A certain amount of nervousness heightens the mood, but I used to have a hard time getting rid of that nervousness. Now, even if I'm just hanging out chatting right up until the moment when I get up on stage, as soon as I'm on stage, I become Alice.
Are there any especially emotional moments because you're doing the older songs with a great band that can really play?
When we get up on stage and do "I'm Eighteen," even though I'm 48, Alice is 18. It makes me sick now to think we'll be doing that song tomorrow night, but once I'm on stage I always feel fresh. The audience goes wild when "School's Out" starts, and it's fun to do songs like that. "Ballad of Dwight Fry" is hard because you have to set up this fear about going insane, but I enjoy doing it every night. You might think I'd be sick of it after doing it 5,000 times, but that's not true at all.
Will Steven (the character in The Last Temptation) be on your next studio album?
No. But Steven always comes out one way or another. Creating an album requires a concept, and that's the idea behind the character. I wrote The Last Temptation with an integral theme. The people who heard it said it would be a waste just to use it on one single album, and said it would even be enough for a movie or stage play. I've made five songs for a new album, but what I want to do is to find a thread - a thread that ties these songs together.
How do you want to be remembered by people?
I'd like to be remembered as the person who brought theater to rock and roll. We're a rock and roll circus. If I can keep touring the way I want then I hope to do so, but if Alice Cooper goes bald or balloons out to 200 pounds (about 90 kg), then I might reconsider. I look the just same as I did twenty years ago, don't I? I'm afraid to look in the mirror. When I look in the mirror I ask myself how come I never change! (Laughs)