Originally Published: November 06, 1997
Obituary of Glen Buxton Guitarist who contributed a riff or two to Alice Cooper's rock horror show, which featured straitjackets and headless chickens
GLEN BUXTON, who has died aged 50, was the lead guitarist with the American rock group Alice Cooper, known for its gruesome and outlandishly theatrical stage shows.
While the name Alice Cooper came to be applied solely to the band' s singer, it originally signified the whole band. They started off as a rock band in the mid-1960s, playing covers of Rolling Stones and Who songs. Their performances - which included biting the heads off live chickens, dancing with a boa constrictor and staged deaths by guillotine, electric chair and hanging - inaugurated a type of adolescent, fake-blood-soaked performance rock which still fills stadiums today.
Though not primarily a song-writer, Buxton was responsible for many memorable guitar riffs in Alice Cooper's songs, some of which, such as School's Out, have become classic rock. Their Eighteen was the song Johnny Rotten chose to mime to when auditioning for the Sex Pistols in front of Malcolm McLaren.
As a band and an attitude, Alice Cooper still casts a long shadow over rock 'n' roll, from the stage make-up of Kiss to the style of New York Dolls, MC5 and the Stooges. Their influence is as visible today as it ever was.
Glen Buxton was born on June 17 1947 at Akron, Ohio, and educated at Cortez High School, Arizona, where he met the vocalist Vincent Furnier (who later became "Alice Cooper") and bassist Dennis Dunaway. Their band, the Earwigs, was soon renamed the Spiders, with the addition of Michael Bruce on guitar and Neal Smith on drums. They had a No 1 - in Phoenix - with Don't Blow Your Mind, (released on the local Santa Cruz label).
In 1968 the band moved to Los Angeles, where they called themselves the Nazz. However, after discovering that Todd Rundgren was already playing in an East Coast band of the same name, they decided to consult a ouija board for advice. It produced the name Alice Cooper. The band swiftly dreamed up legends to go with the name, involving a 16th-century English witch.
Establishing themselves in the Los Angeles music scene, they were signed to Frank Zappa's newly created Straight Records label, and in July 1969 released the album Pretties for You, which reached 193 in the American charts. The same year they supported such names as Gene Vincent, Little Richard and John Lennon at a rock 'n' roll festival in Toronto.
By the time they released their second album Easy Action they had a reputation as one of the worst bands in Los Angeles, encouraging them to pack up and move to Detroit.
In 1971, now signed to Warner Brothers (who had taken over Straight Records), and under the guidance of their producer Bob Ezrin, they released probably their best album, Love It To Death. The single Eighteen made No 21 in the American charts, while the album made No 35.
Touring to promote this album, the band began to find success among bored middle-American youth. Their stage sets became more elaborate and expensive, and ever more theatrical.
Around this time the scaffold and electric chair made their first appearances in the band's repertoire, while Cooper himself began to explore the use of black face make-up. He would perform The Ballad of Dwight Fry while trussed up in a straitjacket and being tortured by a nurse.
Six months later their next album, Killer, gave them the opportunity to include a gallows, boa constrictor and numerous plastic babies as props. The outrage this provoked among sensible people only fanned the band's popularity among students, who flocked to their live shows.
Alice Cooper's breakthrough came with the album School's Out, in 1972; the single of the same name reached No 7 in America and was No 1 for three weeks in Britain. The album was Warner Brothers' biggest selling album in their history, and turned the band into a global rock phenomenon.
Buxton wrote the opening riff for the song. His skill was writing guitar parts; though he didn't write songs, the credits for the songs were later split five ways between the members.
Later in 1972 the band played a triumphant set at Wembley Arena, with Roxy Music in support, and released another album, Elected.
They were now reaching the peak of their popularity. Firing on all cylinders, they released Billion Dollar Babies, partly recorded in Britain with Marc Bolan, Harry Nilsson and Donovan making contributions. It was an immediate No 1 in Britain. The group travelled in their own plane, and by now had perfected a stage show which peaked with an execution performed by guillotine.
In 1973 they had hit singles with Hello Hurray and No More Mr Nice Guy (No 10 in Britain). But all of the band were drinking heavily, Buxton in particular, and he found himself excluded when it came to recording the next album, Muscle of Love. Session musicians were brought in to supplement the sound during the subsequent tours, and soon after, Cooper fired his original band.
Cooper, as the face the public knew, was now a star in his own right, rubbing shoulders with Hollywood celebrities. He was persuaded to go solo. His first solo album, Welcome to my Nightmare, was a hit, while the former band members struggled on in an offshoot band, the Billion Dollar Babies.
Buxton later moved back to Arizona, where his deteriorating circumstances were marked by a suicide attempt and the surrender of his house to the tax man.
From this, things could hardly get worse, and, after another move to Clarion, Iowa, Buxton settled down with his wife, quietly working on their smallholding and occasionally playing guitar in local bands.