Originally Published: April 1999
Author: David Konow
When Alice Cooper needed a guiding hand, when Kiss was hellbent on delivering a knockout punch or when Pink Floyd decided to come up with an epic worthy of Cecil B. DeMille, Bob Ezrin was the man they called. While you may not know him by name, you've certainly heard Ezrin's brilliant productions on classic rock radio. "School's Out", "Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2", and " Detroit Rock City" are just a few of the landmark rockers that this unique producer helped fashion with a combination of studio expertise, arranging skills, and serious chutzpah.
Ezrin's spectacular career began when he produced Alice Cooper's 1971 breakthrough, Love it To Death, which featured the band's first hit, "I'm 18". Killer followed later that year, and in 1972 School's Out made Cooper one of the era's biggest stars and Ezrin a highly sought after commodity. In 1976 he produced what is generally regarded as Kiss' best studio album, Destroyer, which featured anthems like "Shout it Out Loud' and "God of Thunder". The producer's next milestone was Peter Gabriel's self-titled solo album, recorded in 1977, and in 1979 he solidified his reputation as a giant in his field by producing Pink Floyd's dark, double album masterpiece, The Wall.
Over the last two decades, Ezrin has maintained a relatively low profile, resurfacing to produce Pink Floyd's last two studio albums, 1987's A Momentary Lapse of Reason and 1994's The Division Bell. He has also founded 7th Level Inc., an interactive multimedia entertainment company of which he remains chief executive officer. "I've always been interested in the concept of two way entertainment," says Ezrin." In 1992 I got involved with producing a show that centered around new media and ineractivity and I was hooked. I felt this vibe and thought "Oh God, the computer is a locomotive and it's going to drag all of society with it."
Your first important production was Alice Cooper's Love it to Death (Warner Brothers, 1971). How did you first hook up with the band?
One day, Shep Gordon, their manager, realized that what Alice Cooper needed in life was to have that Guess Who sound! How he made that leap, I have no idea! But somehow he was determined that Jack Richardson, who produced the Guess Who, was the man for Alice Cooper. He showed up at the offices of Nimbus 9, where I was working as a kind of junior to Jack, and brought in the records with pictures of the band on the front - and scared everybody to death in the front office! Nobody had ever seen anything like them, and nobody wanted anything to do with them. But Shep's a very persistent guy. He kept gunning Jack Richardson to the point where he could no loner refuse. "OK, OK' he finally said."If my assistant likes them, I'll talk to the band."
Somehow they got my home phone number and called me 40 times a day! They weren't gonna let me off the hook. Finally I agreed to see the band perform at Max's Kansas City in New York City. A friend and I entered Max's and walked into a sort of underworld filled with Spandex and spider eyes. The fans were all really bone-thin and pasty and everybody had black fingernails and long muttonchops.
There were the strangest rings, bracelets, and all kinds of crap I'd never seen before. I watched the whole set at a table right in front of the stage and it felt like we'd seen "Springtime For Hitler" [a musical number from the Mel Brooks film The Producers]! When I said "What the f**k was that?", my friend answered, "I don't know, but I think I liked it." And I said " I think I loved it!" Backstage I met the boys - boys, girls, I didn't know what they were at the time! I said "You know what? I think you guys can do hit records." And they said " Well, that's cool, cause we think you guys can too." When I saw Jack Richardson, I told him "This is not about music, it's a cultural movement. This band had sets and props, the audience dressed like them, wore make-up like them... we gotta get in on this!" Finally the guys I worked for, just to get me off their backs, said "OK, OK.... if you like it so much, you do it." And that's how I became a record producer.
How long did it take to record Love it To Death?
A couple of weeks. And it was mixed in 18 hours. One shot. And then we had some success with it, so we were given a huge budget for their next album, Killer. (Warner Bros., 1971). We were allowed 5 weeks altogether. We were even able to spend 3 days on the mix! That was a major extravagance for us. "Whoah! You mean we don't have to do it all in one sitting? We can actually go and sleep between sides one and two?"
I've read that while you and Alice were recording "I'm 18" you had a sense that the song sounded edgy, and that you asked the band to capture that vibe.
What happened was, when I saw the show at Max's Kansas City, I heard him sign what I thought was [sings] "I'm edgy and I don't know what I want." I thought, "Jeez, this is f**kin great, you know? Let's put out a really edgy song - it's even called "Edgy".
And they used to laugh at me every time I said that, and I didn't know why until I realized that the name of the song was "I'm 18". But for all that, I did feel it was an edgy song, and that's what I was trying to capture.
Inserting a children's choir on certain records has almost become your trademark. You've used them on Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and on Kiss records. But the first time you used children was on Alice's "School's Out". How did you come up with the idea?
Shep called me and said "We gotta do a single. We need a new record, and the boys are working on this thing called 'School's Out'." When we finally arrived at what the song was supposed to be, and when we got to the "No more pencil, no more books" section, I said" You know what would be great? That's so kid-like that we should have little kids singing." Where do you get little kids? You call Central Casting and you get little kids - a bunch of stage brats. But when you get stage brats, you get stage parents too! Into the Record Plant came 5 sets of stage parents with 5 little primadonna kids. And I had to explain to the parents why it was ok for this group of kids to sing with this group of completely twisted individuals! They walked into the hallway, saw the group, and they were ready to turn around, get back in their taxis, and go home. The kids were scared to death, but I got them to relax ultimately, and we had a really good time. The kids were all laughing and giggling, and they loved Alice. When [the parents] came back to collect them, they couldn't believe the transformation. It was a great session. One of the best moments in rock history, I think, is when those kids come on in that record.