Circus

Originally Published: May 26, 1977

Billion Dollar Babies: Alice's Ex-Sidemen Swing Their Own Swords

Author: Don Rush

This is not another "whatever became of" story. This is the story of three former members of the original Alice Cooper Group. Three-fifths of the original Alice Cooper Group, as a matter of fraction. Mike Bruce, Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith: the majority of the original Alice Cooper Group, fer God's sake. Whatever became of those three guys?

It's 1977, the begonias are in bloom, the birdies (okay, the pigeons) are chirping, and a young man's fancy turns to pure animal lust. It's Spring. You're sitting in a dimly-lit, cramped (okay, intimate) hotel room with a bunch of freaky rock 'n' rollers. Feathered hair, leather pants, snakeskin platforms, the whole bit.

Three faces look awfully familiar; you've seen them on the back of an album cover or upstairs at Ashley's, what's the difference? They used to be famous. Dennis Dunaway, the bass player, was the demented-looking pop eyed guy you thought was Alice Cooper. But that was back in '70, with the 'Easy Action' record, before Vincent Furnier got hip to guillotines, chickens and Revlon. And now Vincent Furnier plays golf with Georgie Jessel. What's his handicap?

Anyway, it's the Spring of 1977, and Bruce, Dunaway & Smith (plus keyboard-cohort Bob Dolin and guitar-hero Mike "Rocky" Marconi) have just released a new platter called 'Battleaxe' (Polydor). They're going out on the road as the Billion Dollar Babies and they're dying to tell you about the new album, the new tour,the new career. And you want to hear about the winter of '74, when the original Alice Cooper Group went down the tubes. You want personal stories about Alice and his manager, Shep Gordon--you want dirt. Responsibity to your readership, you explain. That's alright, because--it just so happens--Mike Bruce wants to clear up a couple of misconceptions. Bruce, the BD Babies's guitarist/vocalist, wants you to know that the original Alice Cooper Group didn't go down the tubes per se.

"A lot of people are under the impression that the band broke up," he comments. "Actually, everyone decided to start working on individual projects for awhile. After eight years, we were tired of doing the same thing. But there was never the dramatic break-up that Bob Greene depicted in the book 'Billion Dollar Babies'."

Greene's book, an inside account of the Cooper Christmas '73 tour, portrays a band in crisis, with guitarist Glenn Buxton a veggied-out road casualty. This seems to irk Neal Smith, who remembers that tour as an impossible attempt to play the Midwest in midwinter.

"We had to play three dates without ourstage," drummer Smith recalls. "When you've got a big extravaganza planned, and there's no stage, it does something to you. It's like playing in a bar ten years ago--throws your momentum off." You sympathize. You'd be pretty groggy, too--you might even curl up and go to sleep, like Mike Bruce. "I think I woke up in August, 1975," Mike laughs. 1975 was the year for individual projects. Smith and Dunaway did some woodshedding with Mike Marconi. Bruce cut an unreleased solo album. "Alice came down and sang a cut," Bruce says. "It was decided that he should pursue his career to keep the name alive. The rest of us were taking things at a leisurely pace; we didn't have an image to maintain. When I caught Alice's 'Welcome to My Nightmare' show, he was looking pretty whipped."

Neal Smith remembers visiting Alice backstage before a 'Nightmare' show in Detroit. "It was nice to be there," Smith says, "but I was glad I didn't have to be onstage. That feeling of, 'Wow, gotta get out there." I just wanted to cruise for awhile, take it easy." "All those dancers Alice hired," Mike Bruce sighs. "I'd rather go out with those dancers than pay a gig with 'em. Anyway, there were too many golf clubs."

So, with Bruce, Dunaway & Smith on sabbatical and an exhausted Alice sparring onstage with some polyurethane cyclops--where was Glenn Buxton? Like, last time we'd heard from the elusive axeman, he was... dead. According to wry Lester Bangs, in _Circus_ #150: "...and Glenn Buxton is dead." Dead? Surely a Lester-jest? Look, you're a journalist. The Woodstein of rock 'n roll. You resemble Robert Redford, even--something in the skin tones. You want to set the record straight, once and for all, so you question: "What about Glenn?"

There's a sharp intake of collective breath, followed by Neal Smith's thoughtful reply: "I don't think Glenn wants to get involved with high-pressure rock right now." Mike Bruce elaborates: "He came over to a few rehearsals when we were working in Connecticut--but I don't think he was interested." "If the time is right and he wants to work," Neal says, "then it'll follow through. Anyway, we see him all the time."

So much for cheap exploitation. Now it's time for crass commercialism--so you ask the guys why their debut LP is titled 'Battle Axe'... Turns out there's a concept lurking between the vinyl grooves. But the BDBabies aren't articulating the concept. They're reluctant to spill the beans, pre-tour. Anyway, it's something to do with organized sports and institutional violence. An amalgam of 'Rocky', 'Rollerball', and 'Slap Shot'.

"It's a rock 'n roll sports spectacular," Mike Bruce confirms. "The ultimate confrontation between futuristic gladiators." "There'll be a world champion battle axer," Neal adds. "A Muhammed Ali who takes on all comers. "Apparently, the Battle Axe theme estends only through two album cuts--the rest is described as "solid rock 'n roll." The Babies' current show segues into an athletic competition during which, says Dunaway, "Marconi gets squashed by Mike Bruce." Which is giving away way too much. With 'Battle Axe', the BD Babies revive the super-Cooper metal that's been missing since Alice went MOR. "Rock & Roll Radio," best bet for the single, features a ballsy Neal Smith vocal, punched up with horn charts courtesy guest producer Hack Douglas. On "Too Young," lead singer Bruce wails, "I am X-rated, jailbated, can't wait 'til I'm eighteen." Neither can we, Michael, neither can we. You like the Battle Axe idea--sounds fun. You observe that, with the name Billion Dollar Babies, the boys aren't exactly denying their past.

"We're not trading on past glory, either," Neal Smith responds. "It's a catchy name and, besides, we all co-wrote those original Alice Cooper hits." Mike Bruce considers the name valid for another reason: "We wanted to continue in the vein that the Cooper group started," Bruce explains. "We were the oddest bunch of guys that you'd ever seen. Our 'Love It to Death', 'School's Out' and 'Killer' shows had a gut level impact. The Billion Dollar Babies are gonna appeal to people who liked the Cooper group the way it was--and to new kids who've never seen anything like us since Cooper split up."

Bruce closes with a parting shot at the past: "Alice got into a Hollywood top-hat-and-cane thing. I think he felt like he'd been a bad boy too long, wanted to clean up his act and go legitimate.""We're having a great time being illegitimate," laughs Neal Smith, the Billion Dollar Baby.