Originally Published: December 1999
For those who don't remember the early days of Detroit rock, it was 1968 when a five man electrical band came to town. The ALICE COOPER band emerged from the smog filled air of L.A. looking for a place to shape their perculiar sound. The band's strange looks, aggressive music and wild stage antics were loved, not hated by the club's crowds. The ALICE COOPER band had finally found their home for their style of playing.
They had already recorded 2 albums, PFY and EA, and had established themselves on the Southern California bar circuit with a bizarre stage show and a reputation as the worst band in L.A.
The band moved to (of all places) Pontiac, Mi. before releasing their major label debut and breakthrough album, LITD featuring the AM radio smash hit "I'm Eighteen".
Their fourth album, KILLER (released in Novemeber of 1971) became the group's most critically acclaimed album. The band would soon leave the Motor City and take up residence in Conn., where they followed up with SCHOOL'S OUT. By 1974 the band was, as they say, rock-n-roll history.
You can't get past humming a Cooper song without humming the intro written by guitarist MICHAEL BRUCE. Think of "I'mEighteen", "Be My Lover" or "No More Mr. Nice Guy" it's endless. We all know what happened to Alice after the breakup, but I was always curious as to what had become of the BILLION DOLLAR BABIES.
Bruce released a solo album in 1975, IN MY OWN WAY. Along with fellow Cooper band mates DENNIS DUNAWAY and NEAL SMITH, Bruce formed Billion Dollar Babies releasing one album, BATTLE AXE in 1977. Bruce would later be found fronting Alice Cooper tribute bands in the early '90s.
Now Micheal Bruce is returning for a homecoming of sorts. Backed by a new band, featuring PAUL TOMCZAK (bass), JOHN PRUNA (guitar) and MIKE VERRECCHIA (drums). They appeared at the I-Rock in Detroit on Friday, Sept. 17. Bruce, who co-wrote nearly all of the early Alice Cooper hits, is playing them again.
I spoke to Bruce last August by phone in Philadelphia where rehearsals for the new tour were underway. Eager to reminisce about the old days I was able to clarify what they actually did while the band was based in Michigan. Something most interviewers never cover. Read On.
Davied McLaughlin: First I would like to welcome you back to the Detroit Area. How long has it been since you were in Michigan?
Michael Bruce: The last time I played Detroit was 1995. I did a show for Z-rock at one of the theaters downtown.
You're in Philadelphia right now, did you play a show there and is this tour to promote a new cd?
This is where Paul, my bass player, lives and (I've) kinda made it my home away from home from Houston. Right now, I'm sifting through musicians here, trying to find the band that I want to take into the studio in November, yes to do a disc. So, I stay here and play around this area, then I go home to Houston and take care of business then I come back and do it all over again.
You've recently published a book, No More Mr Nice Guy, about your years with the Alice Cooper Band. How was it received?
Really well. The first pressing (5000) sold out. In fact, we're updating it. GLEN BUXTON passed away, I believe in Sept. 98, and we're adding some new chapters. He came to Houston and did some shows with us. He did a concert, live simulcast and a record show, and then he went home a week later and passed away. So we're adding new photos and then will do another run of the book.
When I read the obituary for Buxton, it mentioned that he played at the reunion show. Was there any other former Alice Cooper band members playing?
Neal Smith was the only other. After the services, we spent the year raising money and we had a Glen Buxton Memorial weekend in Clarion, Iowa. We got him a nice cover. As a matter of fact, at the unveiling they lifted the shroud covering it and I saw Michael on there and I just about fainted.
Was it because of the artwork on the original album cover?
Yeah, we had the musical notes from the beginning riff of "School's Out" on there too. It (the gravestone) also reads "His gift to the world was music" and I said "Well, when I die bury me next to Glen and keep writing the music and chorus of "School's Out" on the tombstone, then when the other guys are buried here we can have the whole song written out from tombstone to tombstone.
What was Alice's response to the book?
He said "(I've) read three or four pages and didn't know whether to put it under fiction or autobiography." I thought to myself "If you only read three or four pages how could you make any kind of judgement with reading the whole thing". Neal Smith read it and he considered it about 90% right on. Neal has one of the next best memories of Alice I would say. My timeline might be off, but I remember almost everything. Tour dates and stuff like that is rough for me. Dennis has a real good memory for a lot of the other obscure things. Alice, I think, is down at the other end of the spectrum. He never remembers people's faces but lets just leave it at that.
I read in the Detroit Free Press an article on the goose lake music festival. Do you remember playing that show?
Yes I do. I remember us driving there; we played the Strawberry Fields with the Beach Boys. We made it all the way there and they weren't going to let us on for some reason, because we're an hour late and the festival was running like five or six hours behind. We thought it was kind of ridiculous, but we finally got there and it was one of those classic Michigan festivals. You know, where everyone is in an altered state and there are lots and lots of people. I think the Stooges and MC5 were there, Amboy Dukes, Jethro Tull; it was great. That's where the band blossomed. When we played a festival in Ann Arbor, we had a biker drive his motorcycle up on stage, and Alice had an inflatable adult toy, the biker tied it to the back of his bike and drive around dragging it in the dirt. It became part of the show. That was after we moved from LA to Pontiac, Mi. That's where LITD came from.
What led the band to move from LA to Pontiac? Was it because Alice had lived in Michigan before?
No, it had nothing to do with that. It was because of the response. A kindred feeling there, that people went crazy for us, which was amazing because they had a lot of good players and good bands, like Ted Nugent. When we started playing here he opened for us. At first, on a couple of shows, he wasn't really happy. We used to use feathers, break open the feathers; but there was one show where Ted was getting ready to do that on his show, opening up for us, he was stealing our gimmick, right? He concentrated so much on the music that he forgot to think about the theatrical aspect, and all of a sudden we were like one of the number one bands in the Detroit area. Then "Eighteen" broke on CKLW. That's were it all happened for us, we couldn't get arrested in LA.
Was Pontiac the only place you lived? Did you move around the Metro area?
We lived in the Shorecrest motel for about a month while we were looking for a place. The Shorecrest, I believe, was in downtown (Pontiac). We stayed in a couple different motels. There was one on 14 Mile Road. Just different hotels until we found the farmhouse on Brown Road, off I-75. That was the first house we had. They tell me the farm is no longer there. But that's the only place we lived.
What was the time span that you lived there?
I believe we lived there almost three and a half years. We moved from LA in '68 stayed 'til '71. We were doing all the pre-production for LITD and KILLER with Bob Ezrin out at the farm, before driving to Chicago to record it. We moved to Connecticut by the time SO came along.
You co-wrote almost all of those, didn't you?
YOU WROTE "BE MY LOVER" ON YOUR OWN.
I wrote a lot of "No More Mr. Nice Guy" before Alice changed it. He changed it from a guy/girl relationship to him and the press in the public eye. But I had that whole song finished back in '71.
A lot of those early Cooper classics open with heavy guitar riffs. On songs like "I'm Eighteen", "Is It My Body" and "Under My Wheels". Are you responsible for all of those guitar intro?
I'm responsible. Pretty much that's what I do. Glen, at that time, would come up with a riff or two; he opened up "School's Out". I'd say I was pretty much a "lead rhythym guitarist." In other words I wouldn't just play chords, I'd play melody, riff-oriented chord, lead type things. Very pushing the melody, not just strumming chords in a mundane sort of way.
Do you recall anymore of the early gigs in Detroit?
Boy, my best recollections are the Easttown Theatre and Grande Ballroom, where we did a show with the Who.
What about clubs like the Firebird, Silverbell and Mt. Holly...
...Mt. Holly was a little shit hole. (It was) one of those clubs where we came up with the jams for "Eighteen". It was a kind of rough lyric, "Wish I was Eighteen again, be my only high school queen, da da da something" and Alice would come up with the "I like it, I like it" thing. It came out of a jam at one of those clubs.
Another concert you played was in Toronto at the rock 'n' revival show in 1969?
It was at Varsity Stadium. That was a mind blower. There we were, wondering what we were doing with the likes of Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis and the old rock n rollers right up to the Doors, Plastic Ono Band and Clapton. Met John and Yoko. We got up there and did the chickens and everything else we did. People watched. It was starting to get dark and I think the Doors played after us. People didn't know our music then, but we kept them interested and I think that's important. It's one thing for you to get up there and be a new band and nobody knows your music and they watch you for a while and then we held them spellbound wondering what we'd be doing next.
You stated earlier that when CKLW broke "I'm Eighteen" that was the main turning point for the band.
Yeah, we turned the corner. Bob Ezrin was thorougly committed to us. He was the kind of guy that was a concert-trained pianist, came from a family of doctors in the Toronto area. He knew music and had a passion. He heard this band that was kind of rough. But he heard something there. I wrote "Crazy Little Child" that was on the MOL album when I was in the eighth grade. The song was about a kid that wanted to run away, "Daddy wasn't rich and Mama was a bitch and living wasn't easy in between". It was my little escape from home life there. I think (Ezrin) heard that passion in there. We weren't the best of players, but we were coming along rapidly, getting out there and playing all those gigs in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, all around that area just driving around. We spent more time in station wagons. But it was a good place to develop our music. Well, let me ask you a question, what are your favorite tunes?
"Is It My Body", "Unfinished Sweet"...
..."Went to the doctor and he said your gums are OK but your teeth gotta go" then it went right into the dream scene. That was when, on the BDB tour, Alice was getting the gas and you'd hear the whining of the drill and the big needle. He'd go into a dream sequence and we had a giant tooth made up. We had Neal's sister, who was also our seamstress, as the dancing tooth and Alice chases her with a giant toothbrush. In his dream he's scrubbing her between the legs and she is kicking her legs up, then there's this big table with Alice on it,this big giant drill spinning around. I had a friend of mine (Chuck Blair out in Arizona) who said that song did a lot to promote dentistry and was a big hit amongst dentists.
So prior to Alice Cooper, the band began in Arizona as the Spiders?
That was the band I joined, it featured everybody but Neal Smith. Then we changed from "The Spiders" to "The Nazz" and also changed drummers. That was when Neal came on board. Then we had to change (our name) because of Todd Rundgren's band was "The Nazz". That was the line up for the Alice Cooper group.
I have an EP that features early recordings of the Spiders. "Hitch Hike", "Why Don't You Love Me" and "Don't Blow Your Mind". Were these the first singles?
There was this place in Phoenix called the VIP club where the Spiders were the house band. It's funny because they had a big spider web and spider. It was like a poor man's version of "Welcome to My Nightmare". The owner, Jack Curtis, would take his bands and record whatever the popular songs (of the day) were, like the English Invasion. He'd take them into the studio, record it and sell records at his club. Also, the local radio station would play them. That was before I joined the Spiders. When I came on board, I had already cut two records of my own original material. I had a band of my own in Phoenix and we went into the studio and did "Don't Blow Your Mind", "No Price Tag" and "Wonder Who's Loving Her Now". That's when we were starting to break away from doing cover stuff. Those were the early experimenting years, when we were going to be the Yardbirds but couldn't. So, we knew we were going to do something original, but we didn't know exactly what it was then.
Where are Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith located now?
Dennis and Neal are up in Connecticut. Neal, of course, has a real estate business and Dennis has opened up an Antique store. They've both been down to see me play in New York. In fact, Neal got up and played with me at CBGB's. Dennis has said that he'd like to get together but his family life has kept him pretty busy. I played with Neal a week before Glen Buxton died. Dennis has also been playing with Neal and ALBERT BOUCHARD of BLUE OYSTER CULT. As a matter of fact, Neal and Dennis had a group called the FLYING TIGERS and then DEADRINGER. Then the BATTLE AXE (made up of Neal, Dennis, and BOB DOLIN (keyboard player from BILLION DOLLAR BABIES) and myself. So we've done a bit of playing.
As for as Alice, do you keep in contact with him at all?
Yeah, we see him when he plays. We catch him up there with all those young boys. God, that didn't sound right, young boys, sorry Alice. It's kind of strange, being that there's no players from the original band, just Alice.
Last year, when I saw Iggy Pop in Clarkson, I noticed that he had a lot of young boys in his band too.
Iggy and Alice have a lot in common. To me, I don't know, (there's) something about Iggy. You know he kept up. The Alice Cooper band came up there and started a revolution that included people like David Bowie and Iggy and, I mean David gets a $50 million advance on his publishing and Alice is trying to get a record deal. I don't quite understand that. What happened to Alice after he left the band? "Welcome to My Nightmare" was still, to me, part of the momentum from the band. Then he kind of floundered there. The recent comeback, I think, has a lot to do with the nostalgia. Alice has had "RYFAY", "CONSTRICTOR"and "HS" and of course his ballads, but as a rocker and an international force in selling records he isn't. I don't quite understand where he missed the mark. Iggy isn't a household (name) like Alice, but I think musically he sells a lot more records. I could be wrong.
Well, it's been a pleasure talking to you.
Thank you very much. We had a great nostalgic talk: this is one that I really want to savor. I haven't been back to Michigan since I played the Z-Rock thing and that was kind of a tribute to Alice with some guys from Toronto, but this Michael Bruce is back in music and song.