Originally Published: July 1975
Author: Lester Bangs
I'm riding with Alice Cooper in the limousine which will take us to his plane, when a blues song by Howlin' Wolf comes on the radio. "Oh, shit," he groans. "Get that crap off! God, I hate the blues."
I suggest that he do a blues album someday. Drinking muddy water and sleeping in a hollow log are not so very different, after all, from some of the other humiliations his stage persona's endured. "Yeah," he says, and begins improvising a 12-bar deathless right on the spot: " 'I scraped out my underwear. . .' "
Once in the air, however, he brightens up considerably. Sliping on his 77 Sunset Strip horn-rimmed shades, he pops open another Budweiser, asks to be dealt in a blackjack, and says, "Wow, do I feel great today. Like Gardner in Adventures in Paradise."
"What's that?" asks Suzi Quatro.
"A TV show from the late Fifties. Gardner McKay played this guy who had a yacht and just went sailing all around the Polynesian islands, having these terrific adventures."
Alice has plenty of reason to feel pleased with himself and his latest adventure. This turbo-prop may not be Starship One, but its forty-odd passangers include not only Suzi's band and Alice's own backup musicians and road crew, but dancers, technicians, electricians, carpenters, generalized fixit men and the producer of Alice's new show, who insists he's along for the sheer pleasure of it and even brought his ten year old son. All of these people are dedicated to making the new Alice Cooper show the biggest theatrical-rock presentation in history, and with good reason, since by the time they finish hitting Europe and Australia and the rest of the outbacks round the globe Alice Cooper's corporately conceived nightmare, which this time is tied in with a TV special, should gross around four million dollars. Which is pretty good for a kid who started out lobbing chickens at the peanut gallery.
Of course, nobody said that any of that means that great entertainment, much less art, is coming out of this tour. Nobody except everybody on it, who display a pride and sense of camaraderie that's only half forced and unusual in the uptight context of the rock road life. Alice's benevolence is infectious - everybody's doing bits, cracking dumb jokes that everyone else laughs at, joining in when Alice's bodyguard, a rolypoly prankster named Frank Scinlaro who once managed Joey Dee & the Starliters and is a genuine wit, starts calling Alice Vinnie de Boss and going into his mafioso routines.
It's easy to get into the insularity of it all, to forget that Alice's "new concept" comes with the usual assortment of spiders, ghouls, skulls, largely toned-down sadism, and some youth-solidarity songs that are pale recreations of earlier Alice posturings like "Blue Turk" and "School's Out."
It's easy to forget that the old songs are the most effective part of his highly elobrate show, and that Michael Bruce, of Alice's once doubtful future band, wrote the best of those songs, against which the new material (jointly penned by Alice, guitarist Dick Wagner and producer Bob Ezrin) sounds pallid. You tend to ignore the fact that even the ragtag teen audience who embrace him when those who consider themselves more sophisticated graduated to David Bowie was now somewhat contemptuous of Alice's yearning for acceptance in the world of "legitimate" showbiz. Why bother reminding yourself that his real talents not so much on the stage as behind it, where he and Shep Gordon think up all these gimmicks and market them? It's easy as popping another beer to forget that Alice Cooper once seemed to stand for something genuinely outrageous.
Sitting in his hotel room, Alice looks a bit like a kid in his playpen: the same ripped jeans and stringy hair, a litter of beertabs and skin magazines around him, watching TV compulsively with the eternal Bud in his hand. Virtually imprisoned, but quiet and calm, fixed on the tube, preserving himself for showtime, contently watching the Mickey Mouse Club. I remark that I used to think that there was an incongruous combination of outrage and Vegas-Hollywood showbiz in his show, but now I have the feeling that he used the outrage to jimmy his way into show business.
"I never really did anything that outrageous on stage," he replies, facile but honest. "I mean, if you think about it the hanging had been done in every western. The guillotine had been done since 1925 in Vaudeville shows. It's just the fact that it had rock 'n' roll behind it that made it sound so damn notorious. What is avant-garde? There is nothing - I mean, who cares about nudity anymore, and who cares about porno? And the rock 'n' roll outlaw thing is kind of gone. There'll always be somebody out there to take that place: maybe there's someone out there that's sixteen years old with an idea that's better than the Alice Cooper idea. For the outlaw thing. So let them have it. I've already done it."
I mentioned Iggy and the Stooges and asked him if he thought that certain aspects of his "Nightmare" suffered, at least in terms of sponaneity, by comparison. "That type of thing," said Alice, "was more socially destructive than anything. I didn't want to see Iggy anymore, I didn't want to see this guy that I liked kill himself. It got to be real boring and it got to be real down. I don't like depressing things. I really don't. I didn't like to see Iggy cutting himself up onstage. I had to send him to the hospital myself two or three times personally just because the guy was going to bleed to death. It started hurting inside as a friend.
"You know, everything Alice did even in the horror thing was mock horror. I never even tried to embellish the thought of real horror. I was always an animated character onstage, very rarely serious at all. What I've been trying to say in interviews lately is why not make rock 'n' roll legal entertainment? We've been saturated with the shock thing so much. That's why Alice as a character moved out of that. I'm trying to reach a lot of markets, and not just one. And I'm not just talking about people accepting Alice Cooper and I do not mind trying to make rock 'n' roll a real entertainment entity. Why isn't there a rock roast, such as Dean Martin and things like that? I never thought Alice Cooper was ever that hip. Alice Cooper was an attitude and a character I created."
I wondered if he ever felt cheapened and depersonalized by the fact that he had turned himself into a commodity. "No. Alice was always a commodity. But like I've always said people don't realize that Alice was always a character I played, and offstage I never played Alice. And it's more than that too. I really get off going onstage with a $400,000 show, and watching as audience go 'Wowww' and 'Ooooh.' "
"Do you ever get the feeling that they might not be going 'Ooooh' and Aaaah' over you and what you're doing but over all the trappings that surround you?"
"Yeah, but the things is I designed all those trappings. That is still Alice."
The reader may be wondering at this point why I have not asked Alice how he feels about his ex-bandmembers and whether they will ever "get back together" again. It was for the same reason that I would not ask George McGovern for his opinion of Tom Eagleton.
"Don't you think Welcome To My Nightmare is a retread of all your old things?"
"Not really. I got bored with doing Billion Dollar Babies because it was just the same old thing. The sex and violence thing got boring as hell. There's hardly any violence in this show. I like the idea that it's new, that we're using the stage as a piece of theatre. I like the idea of going in with people who have done Liza Minnelli on Broadway and people who have done the real West Side Story, and when it comes off people go, 'Wow, I thought that these guys were all just brainless rock 'n' rollers.'
"I will admit that this new show is pretty calculated. But it's calculated for a reason. You can't do a Broadway or Vegas show without it being calculated. And it is cold, it does freeze the audience out to a certain point, in certain areas. It's Alice, the attitude is still there, but it's more cerebral. I got out of the fact of trying to say anything except 'This is show biz.' I don't mind being on Hollywood Squares."
I told him that I had always considered his appearance on Hollywood Squares the supreme achievement of his life's ambitions, which meant that he could have retired at that point. He disagreed, so I asked him if he really thought he had any talent as an actor.
"No, I would hate to act. Stage acting I love but film acting is much different. On stage I think that I'm a pretty good actor, but on film... The TV special is different; I think you'll like that. I didn't have to answer to anybody on that, and I finally got to used to working with cameras and Vincent Price and people like that. It came off really well."
Unfortunately I must report that I saw "Alice Cooper - The Nightmare" on ABC Wide World of Entertainment last night, and it came off not so well. Alice was right about the discrepancy between his effectiveness on film and the stage: he had almost no TV presence, as has been borne out previously in his appearances on The Snoop Sisters, Hollywood Squares, etc., and in an interesting switch, the TV show came across, for all its elaborate sets, as more of a soundtrack addendum to the stage show than anything else. Onstage he still has some of that likeably leering charisma that initally made him such a charming insult, but he gets lost in the dots on the screen, makes gestures with no meaning (running his hand through his hair pointlessly in one section of "Only Women Bleed"), and in general behaves like a performer hopelessly out of his league. It was boring where the stage show was not, and where the visuals of the latter made the new material work so well you almost felt like listening to the Nightmare album, the extreme tackiness of some of the bits on TV reasserts the lameness of most of the new songs.
Which is too bad, because as he has continually stressed throughout his career, it's TV and not rock that was always his guiding obsession. He was always more influenced by 77 Sunset Strip than Chuck Berry, and at a certain point there were too many of us who really dug his position which at the time seemed almost subversive - we too sat around all day drinking beer and watching game shows on TV, as opposed to smoking dope and listening to the Grateful Dead (or the blues) - but that was really a long time ago, and yet here he is, in the same chair, same beer, same shows... I asked if he didn't ever get desperate or uptight because of boredom.
"Yeah, being very human, that's the way things are. But I can't leave the hotel here. I shouldn't even be walking around on the day of the show. Just because it will tire out your legs. That time you spend onstage there, that hour and fifteen minutes is like a lumberjack working eight hours. So I don't have any energy to go out and shop or walk around."
"Would you ever have any aspirations towards writing and performing 'serious' material?" Some people, after all, especially in his caravan, consider "Only Women Bleed" some triumph of empathetic profundity.
"After working on the TV show I would love to direct, more than act..."
"I mean music that is something other than the Alice act," I said. "A serious thing that would represent you. Like other artists, say Bowie, or Lennon is a better example of doing music that says 'This is me, this is my soul...' "
He seemed to become slightly annoyed. "I don't like complaining. That's like a blues person, going up there and complaining about he lost his baby."
"Not that you have to complain," I said.
"Yeah, but it always comes out as a complaint, it never comes out as a positive thought. Besides which I haven't reached the point of knowing who the hell I am, so why talk about it? You're blurbing to the audience, 'Well, I think...' 'Yeah, well maybe I'm...' Who cares about that stuff? I really don't care. I would rather work in concept, a loose story, like a Helsapoppin thing and suggest. I love to suggest things to the audience and never do them. Let them make up their own stories, their own little nigtmares."
He had been clutching the same can of beer since I walked into the room, so I interjected: "How many hours do you carry around your average beer can?"
"Well, I had this beer open for two hours. I sip, I don't drink a lot. A lot of people say, 'Well, that's drinking a lot,' but what I drink...six beers a day now? I can maybe go through four quiz shows with one beer. 'Cause I use it as a prop anyway. I don't drink to get drunk. I usually drink just out of habit now. You know what I wanted to say was that a lot of people just take Alice too seriously...as a social thing. Alice is not that big of a social event. Just putting so much value on things that Alice does. Alice is fun and that's all he's there for. That's all the validity I ever wanted. I suppose some people think I should go around being like Bob Dylan all the time. People fail to realize that Bob Dylan was one of the greatest comedians ever."
We had been watching Bonanza, and I noticed that he spoke of Alice and himself in seperate entities, so I said: "Did you know that the personality of Ben Cartwright has totally taken over Lorne Greene?" It must be true; I read it in TV Guide, which Alice of course called "the best magazine in America."
"Well, I went through that with alcohol, when I was really heavy into drinking. I used to know Jim Morrison pretty well and we used to get drunk together and I really looked up to him and admired him. There are points when I still sing like him. I emulate him and that's something I don't deny. But he lived his image on and offstage. He used to fall, jump out of two story windows, jump out of sports cars and I got to the point where I though, 'Well, if he did it and he made it I guess that's the way I'm supposed to do it.' And I was drinking two bottles of whiskey a day, trying to emulate him, and I said, 'Wow, I'll wear black leather all the time and that's what I'll do.' I was a kid. I was learning. And then I realized: what am I doing this for, that's crazy. I've gotta divorce the two people or I'm gonna end up like Jim."
So Alice didn't get suckered and snuffed by his own legend. Played it safe. Which is why, likeable as he is. He really doesn't have a legend.
Robin Blythe and Sheryl Goddard are two (the female half) of the four dancers backing Alice up (and sometimes coming close to stealing the show) on this tour. Their onstage business consists of swooping around the set in bat costumes, climbing a giant net dressed as black widow spiders, performing glow-in-the-dark skeleton suits with canes, and, for Sheryl, lying back on a bed while Alice croons "Only Women Bleed" all over her. Robin has worked in Gigi at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, toured the country in Two For the Seesaw with John Gavin and Lucie Arnaz, and was phoned for this gig by David Winters, who has choreographed shows for Liza Minnelli and Linda Lovelace as well as Alice. Sheryl's background was totally ballet. She didn't even start dancing "rock jazz" or anything approximate until about 2 months before the tour; in fact, previous to working with Alice she had never been to a rock concert in her life. Both had previously worked for Walt Disney, in Fantasy on Parade, and neither possesses exactly what you would call the rock 'n' roll woman's sensibility.
"When I went to the audition," says Sheryl, a willowy blonde with large credulous eyes, "it was insane, me never being into the rock scene at all, and one Saturday after class I saw all the girls getting dolled up in the dressing room and said 'What's going on?' They said, 'It's the Alice Cooper audition, aren't you going?' And believe it or not, I actually said 'Alice Cooper, who is she?' I'd never heard of him, but I went and I said 'I'll go for the experience.' "
They're the only two women in a 40 male crew except for Linda Smith, Alice Enterprises employee hired on as a seamstress who keeps having to dodge being babysitter, so I asked them if their first exposure to the rock scene has intimidated them at all.
Robin: "The only thing we got uptight about was some of the dancing."
Sheryl: "It was quite suggestive, and me being Miss Strict Ballerina, this was quite a new experience for me. The first time I saw the audience all lighting matches, I thought they were going to burn the place up. And the costumes are hard enough to work in, but with the kids throwing stuff on the stage you never know when you're going to slip in what they throw up."
There is a positive side to the delirium, however, according to Robin. "With a musical comedy you've got your polite people going" - she claps delicately - "but with this you've got the kids out there screaming for you and you are getting so much electric energy from them that it just makes you turn harder and jump higher! And the guys on the tour, even though they come off rude and crude, they still treat us like their little girls. They really watch out for us. If another guy comes near us, they're just...eyes up and wide open, and they're there! It's a whole new experience, there's drugs going around and stuff, but it's your choice whether you want to indulge in it or not. We're pretty ignorant of all that, though; we're not involved in that."
They told me a tale of groupie escapades witnessed a fortnight or so ago, and Sheryl summed up the syndrome: "You know it's all so hard and callous; that's another thing that's hard to get used to with this group, it's like you score one one night, you score another another night..."
Robin: "And then they talk about it around us, but it really irks me... the depersonalization, and I just wish girls would wake up, I wish they wouldn't let these guys take advantage of them like that."
Sheryl: "Alice doesn't do it with any groupies."
Robin: "He's really a good guy, he's not into drugs or anything."
Sheryl: "We don't have stars in our eyes, but if that's what you're god-given talent is, to go out there and get-em!..."
Robin: "Hopefully, this has been told to me before, and I hope there's a lot of truth to it, that this tour is going to be so big and it'll probably down in history, that is my resume when I go to another audition or whatever, if I said I did Alice Cooper, it'll widen their eyes. And plus we're on the TV Special April 25th."
Sheryl, however, is still mulling the slightly perturbing audience-success of her "Bleed" pas-de-deux with Alice. "You'd be surprised at some of the things that the crowd screams."
"Screw her! Screw her! Screw her!"
They both tittered.
I am sitting in the plane on the third day when suddenly a simian with sling-shot posture comes reeling down the aisle and tumbles in to a seat next to me. This is Johnny Podell, booking agent for Alice and Gregg Allman among others. He looks something like a less-wholesome David Johansen, New York street punk mutated through drugs and push-comes-to-shove into necessary madness on the circuit. He tells me that he only slept two hours last night and launches into a rambling, half-coherent monologue: "Tell yuh somethin', y'oughta be doin' a story on me insteada Alice, because I'm the real Alice Coopuh! What the fuck, Alice's just a nice guy, tough shit, but all those things he's supposed to be - I'm all that shit, man! Pretty funny, huh. Fuck it. Lissen, I wanna talk tuh you when we get to Roanoke, come to my hotel room, because I wanna give yuh some kinduvva hook f'y'story, 'cuz I hate boring stories, man... fuckin' hate 'em!...Shit...Hey look, how about this, how 'bout if I grabbed Alice and shoved 'im up against a wall and started a fight, and he hadda swing back at me, an' we rilly got innuh it? Huh? Howzat forrun angle? Alice Cooper, Mistuh Nice Guy, Inna Punchout! Wa'me t'do it? Lissen, we'll thinka somethin', I'll do it becuz I'm a crazy mothafucka and I HATE BORING STORIES!" He is pratically shaking me by the throat by now.
Later in Roanoke his room at the Holiday Inn is next to mine. The local promoter has not only failed to put out any kind of decent advance advertising for the concert, but actually shown up earlier in the day at the hotel desk and tried to pick up one of the chicks there, telling her that he is Alice Cooper. When I see this guy later at the arena I have to laugh; he looks more like a Jewish Good Humor man. But now I can hear the screams of Podell, apex of crowbar, penetrating the wall like the smell of incipient violence. A few minutes later he comes storming into my room, interrupting my interview with Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner to tell us that the show is cancelled. He rants and raves a bit, and I hand him a copy of the latest issue of CREEM. He snarls and hurls it on the bed: "I don't read that crap."
I looked at him. "Get out of my hotel room." He stormed off. I liked that kid.
Joe Gannon is a large man in his early forties with eyes red as Bloody Marys, a somewhat Hollywoodian manner which veers between jive and precise technical talk, and a smartass prepube son right out of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore who pulled off more one-liners than anybody else on the tour. Joe Gannon is a showbiz pro from way back. Starting as a bass player for the Kingston Trio, he went on to club management ("lost a quater of a million bucks in the bar business") where he met and worked with comedians like Lenny Bruce, Bill Cosby and Tom Smothers. In the late Sixties he ran Straight/Bizarre records for Frank Zappa and signed Alice to his first contract. After parting as friends from this business association with both Alice and Shep Gordon, Gannon went on to mount Neil Diamond's debut on Broadway, after which he was contacted again by Gordon and Cooper at the height of Coopermania to design the set for the Billion Dollar Babies tour. Last year he rewrote Mac Davis' concert act, and produced Gregg Allman for small theatre. Now he is on the road, watching over the technical end of Alice's portable Pandora's toybox. We are sitting in the vast emptiness of the Roanoke sports arena, watching them assemble the set, which resembles two monstrous Alphaville girders supporting another horizontal one from which will hang spiderwebs; "magic screens," and various other contraptions essential to the transformation of gymnasium to theatre. He swings a Pabst and expounds upon Alice's talents: "Most or all of the idea in regard to Alice have always come from Alice and Shep - that is a manufactured product of their two geniuses. I refer to Alice as a genius because I consider him one of the finest actors I've ever run into in my life. This is like the ability to a guy to be able to fall down and stumble on cue, and I know plenty of excellent actors and singers who could no more get, not out of tempo, but just that much off tempo, than...well, a lot of people don't realize that this type of choreography is very difficult, and the basis of the kids' empathy with Alice: 'Shit, I could do that.'
"But what happened to me was that after I did the Broadway thing with Neil, Shep called me up and said, 'Now's the time for Alice to do real theatre, and I want it to be bigger and better and more unbelieveable than anybody else.' So I went in with Jimmy Newton, a brilliant young guy who designed this set, and we put the Billion Dollar Babies show together; we built this movie set that travels every night, and it was theoretically right but technically wrong. The whole thing was to big and bulky, it had 14 different levels, the concept was opulence but if it was hard to move around and had a tendency to break down.
"This new set is different; it looks physically massive, but it's very compact. It's gotta be, because it's playing places that are 180 degrees out of phase with theatre. There's no concentration of eye contact in here, no warmth, it's all concrete, yellow and green dumb fuckin' seats, it's monumentally hig, a huge vacuum. I mount the shows for these kinds of places, because this is where contemporary music has got to play; I'm adapting a Broadway stage to the context of a sports arena. And how do you do that? You start with a stage. What's that stage over there? It's a 48 by 48 foot piece of plywood stricking in the middle of nothing, totally mounted with amplifiers and shit, and that's not theatre. You have to do more than that. You have to go out and get dancers or singers, you have to light it according to a theatre theory of show, because these kids have seen guitar players. You have to do something. When Alice goes out there with all that stuff behind him, he doesn't look like a skinny little kid - he looks just like Alice Cooper, which is bigger than life. The transformation is my job, because when you take a guy that produces for Vegas, he's got no concept of the type of problems that are involved here.
"All these are fuckin' toilets to me, and I'm the best known toilet producer in the country."
Podell was wrong, and the show in the Roanoke toilet did go on as planned, although only a few hundred kids showed up in a building fit to accomodate thousands. I wandered through the crowd, idly wondering what Alice would give an audience this size. I noticed a boy about 16 with strange tonsure, looking at first glance somewhat like a modified Mohawk. I went over and asked him what kind of haircut that was, and he bowed his head, skull in my face shaven except for the letters "TV" in hair: "Them's mah 'nitials. Did it mahself."
Back in the dressing room the only pandemonium in the arena was growing. The band was tuning up, Hunter and Wagner running through riffs while everybody else sang, clapped or danced along. There was an uncommon spirit of loose energy, of fun that you just don't often find in dressing rooms before these shows. Steve and Dick were wailing out every conceivable old rocker, "Little Bit of Soul" turning into "Vicious," while Alice smiled and sang, drinking soda from a cup. Sheryl and Robin did ballerina splits on the floor and Eugene Montoya and Uchi Suigama, the two male dancers twisted themselves into various exotic rubberlimbed postures. Drummer Whitey Glan danced with an iron in his hand, quirky jerking and silently lip syncing at it like it was some surrealistic microphone, and suddenly in his undertaker's tophat (the whole band has to wear them for the show, poor guys) he stood revealed as the spitting unconscious impersonation of Harpo Marx. Nobody seemed to care about the size of the crowd, and by showtime Alice and the band were revving into a series of old Beatle songs. I told them their entire set should consist of same: "That audience (or any) will never know the difference."
But of course the set admitted nothing unplanned, the set was The Show upon whose concoction Shep and Alice and Dick and Bob and Joe and Jim and David and all the others and labored so long. The band plugs in, shadowy on a tier far behind the actual stage, begins strumming the first lonely Doors chords to "Welcome To My Nightmare," and a giant bed festooned with skulls and various other esoteric jujubes rolls out on wheels while the dry ice billows and the dancers cavort in voodoo devil freak masks. Alice's entrance is effective - he's still got undeniable stage charisma, and this show probably shows it off better than any previous presentation. Further more, the choreography, lights, props, and various other do-dads and special effect go a long way toward making the new material more than merely acceptable. So good, in fact, as to win over even an old diehard anti-Theatre-of-Rock curmudgeon like me. Though what really saved it from its own glitz was the band, Steve Hunter's soaring, risk-taking solo in "Eighteen," his later guitar battle with Wagner, the whole sound of the group that overshadowed Lou Reed's live sets and will probably ultimately prove too big to play backup for anybody. Without them, the show, glossy though it certainly was, would just be high-priced Laugh in the Dark ride scooped out of Coney Island concrete and toted cross country. Alice shoots for Disney and Broadway, but he's still carny, but it really doesn't matter, because it is entertaining, albeit contrived. And the best part, interestingly enough, occurs at the end, when the whole set goes dark and a movie of Alice in a graveyard smashing tombstones with baseball bats and such is projected on a "magic screen," through the slits of which Alice and the dancers jump just as their fractious flickering images seem to lunge the same way. Also, Gannon was right: Alice does indeed stumble with consummate showmanship, and even slays a clyclops at the end; I felt like I was watching Captain Kangaroo slash Geraldo Rivera.
The whole thing was like some slick blown-up Punch & Judy show, and if you don't think that's an accolade then you perhaps are not ready for the decision I made somewhere between "School's Out" and the Skeleton Dance, that if I can't have straight rock 'n' roll (where? where?) then I'll take straight entertainment, rock roast and all.
But for all the pyrotechnics, I couldn't help noticing that just in front of me, clenched and sweating, a couple about 17 years old made out the whole time. They didn't even see a single schtick!
Alice is lucky in one respect. He's got what may be the finest rock 'n' roll band in America backing him up on this tour. Steve Hunter, Dick Wagner, Jozef Chirowsky, Prakash John and Whitey Glan came from disparate backgrounds to form one of the most respected and prestigious session bands in the business, and what's even better news is that they may soon quit being underpinnings for the stars and take to the road and the studio on their own, with their own material.
Prakash (bass), Joey (keyboards) and Whitey (drums) all got here by way of Mandala, the house band at a Toronto club called the Blue Note. They gigged throughout the western United States, the band broke up, and Whitey and Prakash were eventually reunited when producer Bob Ezrin formed a band to tour with Lou Reed, which was especially ironic for Whitey, as he came fresh to that gig from doing sessions for Anne Murray. They worked with Steve and Dick on Lou's late '73 tour, which resulted in the Rock 'n' Roll Animal album, which was where this band without a name first began to gain a reputation. When Alice was collaborating with Dick on Welcome To My Nightmare songs and looking to form a touring band, it was only natural to resurrect this aggregation, which is various configurations had functioned as the house band at Ezrin's studios on Toronto.
The mainstays of the group, and one of the all-time great lead guitar combinations, are Hunter and Wagner. Their leads soar and swoop, and the two styles mesh perfectly: Steve lyrical and fluid, Dick inclined towards harsher, rawer lines. They appeared on Berlin but stole Rock 'n' Roll Animal away from Lou, turning it into a classic guitar player's album, and for any true rock 'n' roll fiend they're the best thing in Alice's new show. Not only that, but they provided much of the raunch on the last three albums by Alice's old group, filling in often for the ailing Glen Buxton. Previous to that Steve worked with Mitch Ryder, and Dick led a succession of bands in the Midwest, the best known of which were the Frost and Ursa Major. Both view their recent stints as sound-behind-the-stars with equanimity, biding their time till doing it themselves feels right - they're pros among pros. "Lou and I didn't really socialize much," says Steve, "infact we didn't even talk much. It was more like mutual respect, and we got along fine. When we did Rock 'n' Roll Animal we'd worked those song up touring Europe, so we rehearsed for two weeks, went down and did it. I'll tell you one thing: that is Lou Reed - he's the same onstage and off. Hard to get to know, for me at least.
"Alice is different. He's easy going, and I dig hanging out with him. Working with all these different people is fine to me - it's just getting more professional discipline. After this tour I don't know what I'm gonna be doing. I don't even have a regular place where I live, although I'm thinking about moving to L.A. We might just keep this band and go out on our own. I've been writing songs, but they're all instrumentals so far.
"I don't personally give a shit-all about being a star; I just want to be a good guitar player. But if that means becoming a star then I'll become one on a nutural basis. I go on pure gut feeling; I was invited to play on Bowie's tour, but I turned it down even though I really liked David, because it didn't feel right. One thing I'll never do is let this business make me crazy. I always try to pace myself when I'm on the road, and when I get some time off I go hang out with my friends that don't have nothin' to do with it."
Wagner is even more specific: "Welcome To My Nightmare is a disciplined thing, where you've gotta feel the music out of the total package of the show, as opposed to playing to some beautiful chick down in the front row. And playing with Alice is very different than playing with Lou, because you have to take on a different role. Although getting along with Lou wasn't always the easiest thing in the world, it could be very inspiring, there were some phenomenal nights. There was a tremendous interplay between the guys in the band, as well as between us and Lou, all getting off on each other. It was closer than it is with Alice, because Alice is so out front on this set. Lou's the only guy I've ever seen that could lean forward and fall on his ass. Lou was very uncoordinated and the band was super-coordinated, and I think the juxtaposition of the two things made for one thing that was really fascinating. There was something about that that had charm.
"But I don't think there's any doubt that the people in this band are eventually going to make a record or records as a unit, under some guise or other - whether it's as a band with a name or albums under each others' names. Each guy has the ability to put out a whole album of his writing. We know now that we're gonna do something; we just have to sit down and figure out how. And when we get on our own, not backing up Alice or Lou, it's definately going to be more exciting. Because with Alice, he's the star and the singer, and we've gotta fit everything around him. But when it's our band, we can fuckin' play."
I don't know about you, but I can hardly wait.
Neal & Glen & Dennis & Mike: Supergroup On Ice
If you had been in one of the world's most successful rock bands, how would you like to be left in the dust of vinyl history? The former members of the original Alice Cooper band aren't content to sit on their dwindling assets either. Originally, after the Billion Dollar Babies tour, the group, instead of calling it a day, decided to call it a year - taking a much needed vacation from rock and roll and from each other after spending ten years of starving and starring together. After that hiatus, they planned on regrouping and picking up where they left off. Now there seems to be some doubt in rock circles, since the success of Alice's solo project Welcome To My Nightmare. The smart money seems to be saying that Cooper will continue with his backup band of performing pros up another step on the stairway to success, leaving the old band stranded at the landing.
According to Alice's manager, Shep Gordon, those rumors are totally incorrect. "It is definite that the original band will reform to record together and possibly tour, although they are presently under no contract." Shep also wanted to make it clear that there "never has been any bad feelings between any of the guys." Informing us that they had all flown to Detroit to see Alice's act, and spent the entire day together, he added admantly that "They're the best of friends."
Still I wanted to recap on the rest of the Cooper stable, so in a series of interviews, I asked the remaining four how they had spent their summer vacations and if they believed that the original band would be back in business. Drummer Neal Smith found himself a little stir crazy. "I wasn't really crazy about taking a year off. Sure I like to rest, but I get bored after a couple of weeks in Hawaii." So to relieve the boredom he built himself a studio and made himself a solo album. "I love to work and I've always wanted to have total control of what I'm doing, and that's what this solo trip is." The lanky percussionist also immodestly informed me that he is very confident on stage and that "Nobody else in the whole world could do what I do in Alice Cooper..." So why didn't Alice ask him on his current tour? "If he had, I wouldn't have done it. How could I? Steve (Hunter) and Dick (Wagner) are good guys and everything, but they're studio musicians. In the old band there was electricity. Dennis is crazy, and I can relate to him and Mike really well. It's not just me drumming. I have to relate. In Alice Cooper there's love, there's hate, there's fear, all building on stage. In this new band, well..."
Well, that must mean that Mr. Smith had expectations of a rock and roll remarriage, right? "It depends on how far everybody gets into what they do solo wise and how successful that becomes."
Dennis and Cindy (The Dancing Tooth) Dunaway felt the pinch of not raking in the high rolling loot of a rock band, so they moved to a smaller place in Greenwich, Conn., where Cindy set up a boutique called La Grenouille while Dennis started painting, and, in off hours, playing bass in Neal's band. The Dunaways are content in their well-ordered life, but Dennis doesn't disregard the possibility of returning to his old job as the bass player in the Alice Cooper Band. "You know, I never considered that the group ever broke up. This is just like a solo period, like a vacation. We were working for ten years, being on the road most of that time, and it really gets to you. It got to the point where everybody needed a release. What it resulted in was everybody got a change of pace and is learning a lot by being alone. As a matter of fact, I think the next album will be the best one we ever did, because we will all have recuperated. Hey, that's what we should call it: ReCooperated."
Glen was the most world weary member of the group during the last tour; in fact, most of the burden of his guitar playing was taken over by Mike Bruce, Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner on record, but he consider's this year's vacation "the best thing that could have happened to me." So how has he spent it? "A lot of sleeping, and getting my health back. I've built a studio, and I've been writing songs and taping them with my woman, Susie Aaron." So you're getting ready for the old band getting together?
"What???" he asked incredulously.
"Shep informed us that the old band was definitely reforming," I explained.
"Oh, well, yeah, I guess I'll be in it. I haven't heard anything about that. Just rumors. Hey, by the way, when did Shep tell you that?" he asked.
Mike Bruce was always one of the strongest influences in the Alice Cooper band, writing much of the material, and providing excellent guitar work. Even before the onset of the Billion Dollar Babies tour, he had expressed a desire to make a solo album, so he hasn't idled away the past year. "What the year off meant to me was everybody had a chance to got out on their own and realize how popular the band had been; then coming back and seeing that Alice is the front man and is very popular, but this is what we like to do, and that doesn't matter. I get off going on stage playing with hundreds of thousands of people whether it's Alice, Eric Clapton, or whoever." So can we also take this as Bruce's bid for regrouping?
"There was never a formal announcement that the band had broken up. Because Alice has the name and is using it, that's what everyone assumes happened, but what did happen was the pressures of the Billion Dollar Babies tour and people wanting to do solo projects for their own recognition. Sure, if the group did an album, it'd be a financial shot in the arm for all involved - for me, since my solo project isn't off the ground financially [As Rock Rolls On produced by Gene Cornish and Dino Danelli of the Rascals]. We had a meeting in Detroit and Alice said he'd have to rest after this tour but if Dennis, Neal and I started writing music, then he could sit down and write lyrics. Then we would do an album, but he couldn't make a committment on when he'd be able to tour depending on what he's doing. Also if Neal's thing and my thing really takes off that may be true in our case."
Why were all the ex-members of Alice Cooper's former band down Detroit was for "Coop's" second show? To give their regards to the Broadwayesque review? We think not, because next morning they all huddled at the Sheraton Cadillac with Shep Gordon, for five hours, behind closed doors! When confronted Neal Smith(drummer) assured me the old band would be back together in a matter of months - but rumoris the pow-wow with Shep and Alice was about money.