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Originally Published: January 1992
Author: Peter Burtz
Alice Cooper is the godfather of rock, but is he the baby killing danger to mankind of legend? He's certainly a mean poker player, as Metal Hammer's Peter Burtz found out - on the road in Germany with Alice.
In the late afternoon the security guards at the airport raise their eyebrows. A suspicious character clad in black leather jacket and denim, his long hair hidden under a baseball cap, is passing through customs. One glare from this guy and small children run to their mums. Alice Cooper has landed! If we didn't know better we'd expect to see this sinister creature in a coffin during daylight hours instead of a brightly lit airport lounge. Coop storms past the questioning glances of the custom guys towards the exit where a black limo is waiting. Although the time schedule is pretty tight, a shopping trip in the historic part of Dusseldorf has been allowed for. "Alice has already bought dozens of leather jackets during this trip," Cooper assistant Brian Nelson sighs later at the hotel. He goes on to inform me: "But of course he also buys other stuff. Socks and underwear for example - we're frequently too lazy to do the washing, you see."
Upon his return to the Hilton it turns out that Alice has purchased a leather jacket with rubber trimmings. "I don't want to get into all this disguise business," is his explanation for the modest cap masquerade, "I tried to go shopping incognito once and was promptly recognised by three girls - not because they recognised Alice Cooper, the singer, but because in my disguise, I looked like the tramp that I played in 'Prince Of Darkness'. They'd seen the film..."
The subsequent interviews with the dailies were combined in a mini press conference since questions by local journalists had dealt with only one subject for days - the campaign by the Bavarian off-shoot of the Christian Democratic Party against Alice Cooper because of his alledged slaughter of pregnant women and their babies on the 'Hey Stoopid' set. Of course the scene in question was not going to take place and never had.
Explains Alice: "The whole thing started in England when two guys from some court came to see one of our '88 'The Nightmare Returns' gigs. And believe it or not, and this is the God's honest truth: one of the two guys was blind, so the other one kept having to tell him through out the show what was going on. And the other on was stone-deaf - no kiding! The result were some wild press releases in England which some German politican happened to dig up. He was going to stop me from ripping a teddy bear apart on stage. I think in view of all that stuff that's going off over here with regard to attacks on political refugees and skinheads my teddybear should be the least of their problems..."
Question time over and Cooper turned to his favourite pastime: he watched TV, or rather he turned off the sound of his television because he doesn't actually switch off the box during interviews. Even the dressing room is equipped with a portable TV ninety minutes before the show starts. Cooper is sick and tired of hiring videos abroad - especially since he's already seen most of the films available in Europe - and arranged for 300 horror and Kung Fu films to be sent over from the States. And as the American system is different, the TV junkie also bought a television with built-in VCR and had the whole thing, together with adapter, fitted into a flightcase. Always present is a capacious piece of luggage with the action-packed tapes. So in the airport lounges, hotel receptions and backstage areas Alice Cooper, strides ahead energetically, with a huffing and puffing Brian Nelson in tow, who carries a portable TV.
From the dressing room of the Grugahalle in Essen echoed the exotic battle-cries of a film called 'Fearless Fighter'. Here I ran into an old friend: as Vinnie Moore is busy promoting his solo album, Pete Freezin' from last year's 'Trash' tour has rejoined the band. The guy with the sinister expression freely admits that nothing came of his own band Brood and that Cooper's offer came at the right time. The 24-year-old musician had a mere two weeks to rehearse the show which has hardly been altered since the 'Operation Rock' tour through the States. Added were the song 'Wind-Up Toy' and a steel play-pen which suffers a heavy attack by Cooper during the performance, as well as a re-make of the classic 'Dwight Fry'. The massive screen that almost put a premature end to the show in Essen is still there: one of supporting metal chains became loose just when the white square was to be lifted to the sounds of 'Go To Hell' and the last ten minutes of the show threatened to turn into a disaster. However, the excellent crew managed to repair the damage and fans in Essen were also able to witness the singer disappear into the film projection. Cooper manager Toby Mamis later admitted: "No idea what we would have done if the thing hadn't gone up. And I can't say that I wanted to find out either."
Alice, in the meantime, boarded a cab to the hotel in Dusseldorf. His plane to Paris was due to take off early the next morning and he wanted to use the remaining hours to have a good rest and take a good horror movie. The band boarded the tour bus around midnight which was to take them to the shores of the river Seine in nine hours. On board we listen to recordings of the gig in order to avoid possible mistakes the next time around and then everybody tried to get some shut-eye.
Upon arrival in Paris, Alice decided to give the hotel food a miss and instead visited a speciality restaurant in some remote suburb. The excursion turned into a disaster as nobody had allowed for the strike by the public transport union as well as most of the taxi drivers. We just about managed to get out of central Paris, but out in the sticks there seemed to be no chance of getting back to the city - where there was a crammed interview schedule between lunch and show. The next two hours were spent trying to flag down a cab when suddenly a black Mini Cooper (out of all things!) stopped by the curb. The 25-year-old driver had recognised the face under the baseball cap and offered to take him and his entourage back to the hotel. There he was provided with a pass for the gig when the knight in shining armour suddenly muttered shyly: "Well, the problem is my girlfriend..."
"No problem," Cooper beamed and got out another pass.
"Well, the problem is - how can I put it? She thinks you're vile and I don't think she'll let me go..."
When Alice came off stage after a show in front of the sold out venue he grinned: "I spotted the guy from this afternoon in the twentieth row - he seemed to have a great time. Guess he ditched the woman..."
A good day. When Alice arrived at the Marriott Hotel he found a courier with an express package waiting for him. The contents: American Football games of the previous weekend, red-hot off the video recorder and forwarded by an employee of the management company. Alice disappeared into his hotel room for the next few hours. Just before the show he was chauffeured to the Festhalle across the road where the familiar ritual took place: first of all there was Kung Fu (today: 'Heroes Of The Ming Dynasty'), then the master locked himself in for half an hour. The only noise that filtered through the wall was the sound of furniture being flung about and the continuous cracking of a whip. Alice revealed the secret of his strange activities behind closed doors: "In this half hour I turn into Alice. Before the ninety-minute show I need this time in order to adapt to the character of Alice. I just pace through the dressing room and work myself into a rage by cracking the whip on the furniture - the dressing rooms are usually left in pretty bad shape..."
After the band disappear onto the stage just before the start of the show, the door to Cooper's abode opened. Accompanied by bodyguard John Camp and manager Tom 'Putter' Halon, the entertainer wandered towards the stage with a fearsome look in his eye, expression and body language completely changed - nothing remained of the pleasant Yank in front of his TV screen. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And the Frankfurt audience really got their money's worth.
At the subsequent reception for the assorted media and record company folk, Cooper turned into the charming guy from next door again. Diligently he gave autographs, shook hands and had his photo taken with various record company employees. Keyboard player Derek Sherinian came up with the chat-up line of the year: - "Hi, I'm John!" is his bid for the attention of the ladies present. Strangely enough with no success. An hour later the last of the boozy zombies stumbled out of the room and Cooper had long since returned to his hotel room. Any signs of fatigue? No, but the American baseball championships were being transmitted live via satellite. What else...
An impromptu day off. Although there was no show on the tour schedule, some called 'Nightmare On Your Street' had been planned for some time. On the roof of World Of Music, Alice & Co. were due to play a surprise gig. Unfortunately some old fogey at the town council did not like the idea so there was one happening less to report on. Alice made the most of the unexpected time off and went shopping in Frankfurt, the band hung around the hotel and met up with the guys from Extreme, also staying at the Marriot. Gary Cherone turned out to be a die-hard Cooper fan and was very excited at the chance to meet his long-time idol. When Cooper returned, Cherone was obviously nervous and couldn't seem to keep his hands still. Once a fan always a fan.
In the evening, the tour promoter invited Alice and the band to a traditional restaurant called 'Grey Goat'. Should this venture into the wonders of Teutonic cuisine surprise you - Cooper himself explicitly asked for it. Along with typically German oompah music, meat dishes were served - and the next day on the tour bus Alice promised to live off salad alone for the next week or so. Keyboard man Derek 'John' Sherinian entertained his colleagues and other diners with a folk version of 'I Love The Dead' on the accordion. Tour manager Joe made the rounds with a plate in his hand and the other patron amazingly generous. Should Sherinian ever have enough of Rock he'll have no financial worries. In the course of the night the whole gang (with the exception of Cooper returned to the hotel room...you know the rest) ended up in a 'Jazz live' club. En route we picked up ex-Toto Singer Bobby Kimball which led to a spontaneous jam session with old Toto classics like 'Hold The Line'. As the night wore on the clubs got darker and talking got more and more difficult. Back in the hotel those still standing checked their stock of Aspirin and Alka Seltzer.
You may have guessed it: the next morning it was sun-glasses galore. Drummer Eric Singer was among the last to come crawling into the tour bus and it seemed amazing that his eyelids didn't dent his tinted glasses from the inside. But the hangover was soon forgotten. Somebody got out a deck of cards before the doors shut, serious gambling had began. There were countless variations on the theme, most of which Alice himself had dreamt up and given suitable names like 'Terminator', 'Gannon' or 'Guts'. In honour of the Metal Hammer scribe present old poker face came up with a new variety of this costly pastime: the 'Six Card Hammer', a dubious affair as it turned out before long. The first one to give up the game for hard cash was guitarist Stef Burns. He lost more than a fistful of dollars in one game - and while he wondered off unhappily his boss was already merrily dealing the cards. The next to drop out was the scribe himself - my three aces were no match for Cooper's royal flush. A costly hobby, I must say. At the next stop, Burger King drive-in, Cooper showed himself to be a noble winner: "Put the burgers for these two on my bill," the nouveau riche instructed the burger man, and with a glance at the still obviously unhappy Burns: "And an extra portion of ketchup for the gentleman!" That's what I call true class. Before the gig Stef Burns announced: "I've made my mind up - I'm never going to play Poker again."
However, after a successful show in front of the best audience so far he'd already changed his mind: "I'll just have to watch out. My limit is twenty bucks, and that's that."
After the bus journey and a good game of Poker, an unhappy Stef was seen wandering the catacombs underneath the venue. Whatever happened to his twenty bucks, one wondered. As the Cooper band decided to do without a soundcheck, their opening act The Almighty had all the more time to fiddle with their sound. Frontman Ricky Warwick gushed later: "This is definitely the best tour we've ever done. The bands get on really well, there are no problems with sound or lights. That's not the way people usually treat their opening act."
The Almighty delivered a killer set that night while a few floors below Alice and his merry men killed the time before their gig. From a certain dressing room we heard the battle cries of 'Four Infernos To Cross' - it was Kung Fu time again. A few doors down drummer Eric Singer talked about the recording on the new Kiss album which he worked on in breaks during the Alice Cooper U.S. tour. Pete Freezin' and Stef Burns were busy warming up before the show, Derek Sherinian checking the audience out for girls (this time around his efforts were crowned with success - maybe he introduced himself as 'Homer' this time around?) and bassman Gerg Smith was busy with a lady he referred to as 'a old friend from Kassel'. The performance was in contrast to the long hours of waiting for the gig; the band seemed to explode and played for all they were worth. With a grand gesture Cooper handed me the king of clubs in the photo pit and joked later: - "We should play Poker some time..."
Good idea. And I'll buy you a burger later, man...