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Originally Published: August 18, 1973
Bob Ezrin currently packs a fair credibility among those-who-know (the presence of a striking array of musicians -- Jack Bruce, Aynsley Dunbar,Steve Winwood et al -- now working on Reed's album has not a little to do with Ezrin's exceptional reputation as a producer within the business). His list of actual production credits is small and includes as many commercial failures as successes -- albums like Flo and Eddie's second effort, a one-off record from a Michigan power trio called Ursa Major and Mitch Ryder's Detroit (a disgracefully underated work, more than worth the effort of searching out from the reject piles) sold an almost negligible amount. But then that's all more than counter-balanced by the fact that Ezrin has probably been more responsible than anyone else for transforming Alice Cooper from a band of musically dire dementoids whose appeal was more or less confined to peeping toms and such characters into some of the finest and most musically viable trash on the boards. Now there must be a few neat stories to be gleaned from the aforementioned shift of stylistic emphasis. Mr. Ezrin, if you please: "The Coopers were my first ever project. I was hired by Nimbus 9 (a production company formed in Canada) basicially as a mangement consultant, not as a producer -- I did stuff like Coke jingles, never anything like a group.Anyway I went up to the office one day and everyone was in hysterics. The cover of 'Easy Action' (Alice Cooper's second abortive attempt at making an album) was laying around -- and we were all really straight guys y'know -- I mean, I was never really that much into rock 'n' roll. I had arrived at it more or less through things like Simon and Garfunkel. Anyway we put on the album and just broke up laughing. We didn't know if Alice Cooper was a guy or a chick and eventually it became a standing joke around the office that if anyone messed up that week we'd be forced to go and work with Alice Cooper."
A persistent Alice Cooper road manager, commissioned by manager Shep Gordon to get Jack Richardson -- another Nimbus producer -- for Cooper's future recordings put the heat on Ezrin in order to get him down to see the band.
"I wasn't interested in the least. I hated the record, but this guy made my life such hell with his persistence that I reckoned that I'd go and see 'em just so they'd get off my back. So I went to meet them at Toronto. I walked into their hotel and ....these five guys -- everyone of 'em is a faggot everyone of 'em and they're all after me. I can tell. The road manager is a faggot, the roadies are faggots. I'm sitting there in my bluejeans, with my short-hair, shaking inside, man, and here's this guy Alice Cooper -- his hair is stringy and down to his shoulders, his pants are so tight I can actually see see his penis through the crotch -- they're slit at the side. He's talking with a slight lisp .... I just could not handle it. Anyway they said, 'We're great and we want a producer'. Finally we parted company and I was like so relieved. It was such a horrendous experience -- I was such a straight guy before all this started -- and I just forgot".
More harassnnent bv the Cooper minions forced Ezrin to witness the band at Max's Kansas City.
"After the gig I went backstage. I didn't know why, but I just thought the show had been great, and I went up to the band and said, 'I think you guys can make hit records', and they said, 'That's good -- we think you can too'. It was a nice punk start. Actually I was still pretty scared because I still believed they were all faggots. It was just a riff someone had decided on as an image, but I'd just had those album covers to go on before so l didn't know better. Anyway I moved to Detroit into a shoddy motel -- hated Detroit -- and the guys just crowded into the bedroom in the morning. We started to talk and they played me tapes. The tapes were horrible. And I mean, horrible! They said, 'We like this sound. can we get it in the studio'. I almost threw up."
"The first thing we ever did was 'Eighteen'. Their original arrangement was eight minutes long and had a lot of excess bullshit. You see, my job was first to transform stage arrangements into record arrangements, which was something they'd never bothered to consider. Ultimately it was agreat rush to hear the 2 min. 38 secs. version. I knew it would be a hit from then on."
'Eighteen' actually did become a hit, reaching No. 18 in the American charts, and is still arguably Cooper's best single to date, sharing that accolade with "Schools Out". "Love it To Death", the album that followed, was both their first critical and financial success. The Coopers' days as an esoteric, bizarro trash delight were over, and Ezrin was most definitely their mentor in this respect. From then on, his work in the studio became more complex and demanding: Even session guitarists were often added to beef up the Coopers' sound.
"Steve Hunter played on a lot of 'Billion Dollar Babies'. He's my favourite guitarist and if you listen, there's just no one else who could have played lead on 'Generation Landslide' or that solo in 'Sick Things' but hlm. Rick Derringer played the stinging guitar solo that I buried so effectively on 'Under My Wheels' and the rhythm guitar on 'Yeah. Yeah,Yeah'. Derringer was the first outsider to be involved in the Coopers' recordings. Glenn (Buxton) had problems -- it was a woman or something -- and he was just not learning his guitar parts."
Finally it came to an ultimatum and one day the band walked into thestudios in Chicago and saw this guy tuning up. Now Derringer's a pro --it took him 15 seconds to tune up and it took the Coopers two hours on average to tune up in a studio. Literally. Anyway they all watched him just do it and they just said 'Shit'. That experience gave them a far more realistic approach to music. Actually in the studio they're very humble, much easier to get on with than you'd imagine, quite open to suggestions."
"Dick Wagner was another guitarist we brought in -- for 'My Stars' as it happens, which is pretty complex with all those chord changes. Actually Wagner and I wrote 'I Love The Dead'. Alice threw some lyrics in. They bought him out so don't print that -- no, print it. He deserves it as much as anyone. But mostly it's the Coopers themselves playing on the records. Alice is always there on lyrics and he can write good melodies. Mike Bruce comes up with a lot of riffs. Actually it was Glenn Buxton who worked out the chord sequence of 'School's Out'."
And how strong is the Coopers' singles consciousness in the studios?
"Alice has a strong sense of single consciousness. The rest of the band have a very strong sense of money .... Perfectionists? No, they're doing it to make money. Rock isn't art. Yeah, it is trash -- good trash entertainment and a goodway to get rich. I'm reconciled to that belief to the point that I don't even want to think about it."
"Technically, what I do isn't trash. But I have no pretence about the rest of it. I mean, the Coopers aren't really musicians or a rock 'n'roll band. you can't say that to 'em now -- they'll be very upset but primanly they're theatre. And the trick is to make the music theatre. I don't think it's what Alice claims -- which is to bring the music up to a point where audiences don't think of us as purely theatrical. I'm just bringing the music up to the theatre level and injecting a little bit of myself into it, a lot of myself actually but it's just my taste."
"I think that's what a producer's job is -- to decide what should be done and what shouldn't be used and if the group can't cut it you should supply it for them."That's the role I've always played for the Coopers and I've always been very careful to stick with that identity."