Originally Published: February 1988
Author: Chris Hunt
Kane Roberts is probably best known as Alice Cooper's guitarist and current songwriting partner - the man who's built like Rambo and plays a flame throwing guitar that looks like a M-60 machine gun. Yes, I know you must have seen him. Well. He's stepping out on his own for a while and has a self-titled solo album, released by MCA.
Built like a musclebound brick outhouse he may be, but his Arnold Schwarzenegger looks belie both a guitarist of tremendous agility and a songwriter who's played a major part in Alice Cooper's latest comeback. But how, in a world of guitar-carrying wimps, did Kane Roberts ever end up looking like Rambo on steroids?
"I just became a flesh and blood version of what I feel about rock'n'roll," explains Kane. "I kinda look like a power chord!"
But was he ever the classic 'seven stone weakling'? Did Charles Atlas make a man of him?
"It was a weird thing because I used to do a lot of drugs, I used to drink and I was 130 pounds - real skinny. A little more than five years ago when the smoke cleared I was lifting weights - and here I am 90 pounds later! It wasn't something that I planned on doing, it wasn't like I said 'boy, this is great marketing idea'."
Alice Cooper first witnessed Kane in the middle of a bar room brawl. After hearing a tape of Kane's band, Criminal Justice, Alice had turned up at a gig unannounced to see the man play. But when he arrived the small club had erupted into violence, with the equipment abandoned mid-set and the band trading punches with rowdy trouble-makers on the dance floor. Alice rang up Kane the next day and a working relationship commented immediately - "We ended up writing a song the very first day we got together," remembers Kane. The song was 'Step On You' and it appears on the new Alice Cooper album 'Raise Your Fist And Yell'.
Kane Roberts is 28 years old ("young enough to want to stay and fight and old enough to remember that Led Zeppelin totally kicks ass") and is of the right generation to have been a Cooper fan the first time round.
"Alice was one of those guys that kinda adorned my walls when I was a kid," he laughs. "I used to have his posters up there and they were the worst things I could put on my walls to really piss my parents off. So it would really fit in to any kind of rebellious thing that I was up to."
"It really was an experience stepping on the stage and playing '18' with the same guy who was my idol at one time. And the most important thing is the fact that he is just as vital and intelligent and pissed off as he was 15 years ago. It's not like I'm playing with a guy that's still drinking and is kinda washed up. I think Alice is actually more together than he's ever been."
In a way Kane's album has been a long time coming - the musicians and the songs are a legacy from his pre-Alice band. Together with bass player Steve Steele and drummer Victor Ruzzo, Kane had played the American club circuit (as Criminal Justice) for several years prior to his discovery by Cooper. With his new found fame, Kane has finally been able to record the songs that were first worked out through four years of hard gigging. But since working with Alice, Kane has been thrown into the world of the big league venue. Being a rock'n'roller to the core, he has missed the gritty reality of the club circuit.
"People keep saying how great it is now that the places I'm playing are getting bigger and bigger. But for me, the biggest I'd ever want a place to get is the 4000/5000 seater. Once you get beyond that, you're really losing touch with the audience."
"My band had been together for three or four years before I even met Alice and the songs on the album were written playing in some of the rock dungeons around the US - you know, the little clubs where there's no stage and there's 2 or 300 kids that you're trading sweat with. I really had a great time playing those clubs because in a lot of ways that's how you learn to play music, that's how you get your act together."
Kane is obviously a man who wants to stay close to his rock'n'roll roots. He's intelligent enough to realise that when you get to the top, it's all downhill.
"Every once in a while, although I'm not playing at the clubs, I usually go down and hang out in the clubs in Hollywood because it's the type of atmosphere that's more real - it's more what rock'n'roll is about. One of the things I'm sure of is even though I have some records out now and I'm making more money, I realise I'm always ten seconds away from being on the street. So I'm not kidding myself at all."
The old Kane Roberts used to drink and do drugs but this has given way to a new, clean living regime.
"I don't even think about doing that any more," he confesses. "It's mostly because I wanna be ready for everything. I wanna taste life completely. There's to many things going on, good and bad. And I'm not getting tacky about things: if I'm with a woman I'm he kinda guy who likes to have the lights on and I like us to be there for the entire experience, I don't wanna be drunk, you know what I mean? It boils down to being ready to experience life to the fullest. That's kinda the way I look at it, I have no need for that stuff any more."
Kane Roberts has said in the past that it is sex and power that inspires him to write his songs.
"If you look at the lyrics on my album, I write about sex and violence," he explains. "In almost every form of music we're dealing with either one or the other or both of those things, because they really are the extremes of what people feel. If I'm writing a song like 'Outlaw' or 'Out For Blood' - those are stories about violent emotions and I blow them up into the Kane Roberts movie - it turns into this violent kind of powerful rock'n'roll fantasy. And then there are the other songs, like 'Tears Of Fantasy' and 'Triple X', those are dealing directly with sex."
"I kinda feel that it's not that unusual to grow up with that these days... If I was home sick from school when I was a kid, I'd turn on the TV and there'd be a show on with a girl in a bikini and high heels and there'd be a guy standing next to her and the star of the show would shoot the guy: so right there you have it - sex and violence. And that's what I'm a product of."
Kane's album's are a lot more varied then people would imagine. Beneath his tough-guy image and hard, fast guitar style, there is a songwriter who prides himself in being able to combine the power of heavy rock with a strong sense of melody."
"My experience with music is a little bit broader then what I might represent. I am who I am and I'm also into a lot of different types of music and one of the things I've learnt from Alice is there's no reason to be afraid of throwing people a curve, or at least having a little more depth to what you do."
Before working with Alice Cooper, Kane did a little session work, which included the last Rod Stewart album.
"When I met Rod Stewart he said hello, and then he called his manager and he said: 'Arnold Schwarzenegger is here to play guitar, this guy can't play!' and we end up playing and he gets into it and I ended up playing a lot of the guitars on his album. And one of the best things was he requested that we did one live take together. That was another example of me getting to play with another of those guys that freaked me out when I was a kid. But the point is that you can't really be misled by my appearance or my image."
Alice Cooper has a special affection for Britain, and after the recent Reading festival appearance with Alice, it looks like Kane enjoyed the place too.
"Talk about being in the street, that's really how you learn to appreciate what England's all about, that's why it appeals to me and I think that's why it appeals to Alice. If you live in Hollywood, you step out on Hollywood and Vine and the city just entertains you, I mean it's got billboards and there's movie stars and all this stuff and it's just thrown in your face. And the thing about England is when you stop in the street, you start to really experience things - it's on such a personal kind of a street level, it really puts us a little closer to what rock'n'roll is about and what real life is about."
"There's this whole different feel about playing in England and that's why I'm sure we're gonna be coming back there. It's one of Alice's favourite places to play and it's fast becoming at the top of my list too."
If you've seen the Alice Cooper stage show, then you can't have failed to notice Kane's guitar. Built like an M-60 machine gun, it is fitted with a flame-thrower (which he uses on stage) and a surface to air missile launcher (which he doesn't). The same designer has also made Kane a tommy gun guitar and another which shoots flames from five positions on the instrument.
"This guy, Rick Johnson, came up to me and said: 'Do you want me to make you a guitar, I can make anything you want?' and I said: 'Alright, make me a gun!' because I was looking for something in a guitar and I'm really into 'Soldier Of Fortune' magazine. And six months later he showed up with it. The guy's 19 years old and I find out he's an army brat and his father is a general or something, so he's got all these gun blue-prints and he put that guitar together .... and oddly enough it plays well and really sounds great. And the funny thing about it too is that it has a surface-to-air missile launcher on it, and roman candles, and bottle rockets. But at this point we've only been able to use the flame thrower."
With such a macho/Rambo image, doesn't he worry that some kids might not see through the fantasy? Can a star be responsible if he unwittingly incites violence? Kane thinks not: "If someone is gonna see something that I do and turn it into a real act of violence, I don't feel that I'm responsible for the first 17 or 20 or 50 years of that guy's life. I mean you can't help being an inadvertent catalyst for someone's crazy behavior."
And what of the future? Now Kane has established himself as a solo star, will his working relationship with Alice continue?
"Well, Alice and I are going to take things step by step. Even if I didn't have an album out I don't know how much longer we would work together anyway because you've gotta move on to different things. And although working with Alice is an incredible experience, with all the theatrics and stuff, I come from a slightly different angle. If I were gonna do my own show it would basically be guitar, bass and drums and we'd get out there and the music and the rock aspects of it would carry the show.... not that I'm upset at all about the theatrics that Alice does, or that I don't think they're cool. Because it's the most entertaining thing for me too - I sometimes think that I'm in the audience! But you want to have your angle on things and experience things in a slightly different way. So I would say that as long as Alice and I feel that we're working together well and we're having fun, then I guess we'll stay together."
Kane Roberts may never win any prizes for his dress sense, and designer clothes probably wouldn't suit him anyway. But the good thing is, if you're built like Rambo you don't really need to dress up.
"People say to me 'What are you gonna wear tonight?' and I just go, 'I don't really worry about it - I AM my costume."