Alice Cooper: ‘None of Us Planned to Live Past 30’

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Alice Cooper: There will be blood

[This interview originally appeared here in 2016.]

There are at least four Alice Coopers out in the world right now:

• The garishly made-up and costumed Alice we’ve known and loved for all these years, singing songs of mayhem and madness, of blood and gore. It’s the never-ending rock and roll horror show.

• The Alice who’s been dressing down a bit – “vampire-ish,” he says – singing some of rock’s classics as he fronts Hollywood Vampires alongside guitarists Joe Perry and Johnny Depp. Cooper, Depp and company were in the studio, and according to Cooper, Perry walked into the room and said, “I’m in.” (The Hollywood Vampires were, at first, a famous rockers drinking club Cooper started in the early ‘70s.)

• The Alice who in 2016 met up with surviving members of the original Alice Cooper Band – the one that’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – drummer Neal Smith, bassist Dennis Dunaway and keyboardist Michael Bruce. They all brought Cooper some songs and toured the U.K. in 2017. (Guitarist Glen Buxton died from pneumonia in 1997.)

• And, of course, there’s offstage Alice the golf ace, the four-handicapper who, if he’s not on tour, will play six days a week around his Phoenix home, and if he is on tour, in the U.S. he’ll play at every tour stop and in Europe about twice a week. If that sounds trivial in the context of a rock story, well, it’s not in Cooper’s case.

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“Ask anybody who’s ever been addicted to anything,” says Cooper on how golf saved him. “When they get into golf it’s the same addiction. It’s like you hit a great shot and you will hit 10 bad shots to hit one more good shot. It’s almost like that with any drug addiction. It’s very, very similar. But it’s not going to kill you.”

Addiction, or talk about it, is never that far from Cooper, even though he’s been sober since 1983. I saw him play a Boston benefit in 2009 for a recovery organization called Right Turn. And the album and current tour with Hollywood Vampires is, in large part, a big salute to those who went down the same path but weren’t able get out alive: Keith Moon, John Entwistle, Harry Nilsson, John Bonham, Jimi Hendrix, Marc Bolan, Lemmy and John Lennon among them. Lennon?

“People think of Lennon and, of course, he was assassinated.” Cooper says, “But he was one of the hardest drinking and drugging guys that I knew. He was not a lightweight. Harry Nilsson was not a lightweight. Keith Moon, of course. It’s almost more remarkable that Keith Moon got to 34 years old than Keith Richards still being alive. I don’t know which one is the more bizarre.

“Keith Moon was the greatest live drummer I ever saw in my life. He could play anything, but the very fact was that Keith Moon was determined to be the world’s class clown. He created his own world. It was like, Keith, ‘You have made up your mind that however you go out, it will be spectacular. But there’s no talking you out of jumping off that bridge into that river, is there? No? Ok. You sat there and you let him go.”

H Vampires - Photo credit Ross Halfin

A very tanned Joe Perry, tatted-up Johnny Depp and Alice, as usual, heavy on the mascara. Photo by Ross Halfin

The main intent of Hollywood Vampires is to cover songs by some of those late artists, as well as sounding a raucous cautionary note about the lifestyle. That comes during “My Dead Drunk Friends,” an original, which closes the eponymous CD and is often played near the end of shows, followed often by what is a killer string of classics: “Ace of Spades” (Motorhead) “Sweet Emotion” (Aerosmith) “Train Kept-a Rollin’” (Yardbirds, redone by Aerosmith) and Cooper’s own big hits “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out.”

In “Friends,” we find Cooper alone in a bar. “All you know is he’s the last guy in the bar and he’s come to the bartender and he’s saying, ‘OK, let’s talk about what’s happened to us.’ I’m the last one left and this place is full of ghosts, but all these ghosts are my buddies. Let’s raise a toast to these guys – it was fashioned after that type of saloon song.” It devolves into a round of drinking, puking and fighting – in various combinations. Cooper says that when they got to that part, “I couldn’t help from thinking of Jack Sparrow in a pirates’ bar.” (Doesn’t hurt to have Depp in the band for that one.)

Drugs and alcohol are embedded in rock culture. Cooper, born February 4, 1948, says he learned from stars like Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, and he considered drinking an entry-level requirement for the job. “I happened to be in that late ‘60s/early ‘70s time when everything went,” he says. “If you weren’t getting high or drinking, you probably weren’t going to be in a band because you would have been an outsider. Now, it’s just the opposite. If you’re getting high and you’re drinking too much, you’re not going to be in a band. It’s one of those things where you can’t have a guy in the band who’s getting so high he can’t perform.”

Watch Cooper and his original band perform on May 14, 2017

“Here we are in the studio making these records of these guys, and everybody in the studio is sober. Johnny’s sober, Joe’s sober, I’m sober, [producer] Bob Ezrin’s sober. Everybody that comes in is drinking coffee or Diet Coke and we’re making this record of these guys that wouldn’t ever have a Diet Coke in their life and at the time when we were drinking with them. If you had said ’30 years from now you’re going to be doing a record honoring these guys and you’re going to be in top shape, and you’re going to be drinking Diet Coke’ I would have said ‘You’re out of your mind,’ because none of us planned to live past 30.”

So, the intent now with this side project – some people are using the word “supergroup;” Cooper prefers “bar band” – is to revisit a part of classic rock’s past. Not all artists were victims of self-abuse. For instance, the Vampires cover “I Got a Line on You,” by Spirit, whose guitarist Randy California – whose estate sued Led Zeppelin for plagiarism and lost – Cooper says, “passed away saving his son from drowning.”

Photo source: Alice Cooper Official Facebook page

Alice Cooper (Photo via his Facebook page)

Doing that song led to what Cooper calls “one of the greatest compliments. We were in the studio and [Paul] McCartney was in the studio and we were playing back everything. We’re doing ‘I Got a Line on You,’ and he said, ‘Who’s singing that?’ Johnny says, ‘Alice,’ and he says ‘Wow!’ I got a ‘wow’ from Paul McCartney. I can live on that for 10 years.” On the Hollywood Vampires album, McCartney joined on the song he wrote for Badfinger in the early ‘70s, “Come and Get It.”

In concert, Hollywood Vampires play two key songs from the original band that bore the name Alice Cooper. That band released seven albums from 1969 to 1973. Cooper has been a solo artist, albeit one with a crack touring band, since 1975 and his Welcome to My Nightmare debut. There are many fans who, while they enjoy Cooper now, cherish those bad-ass ACB days. And those days may – just may – come again.

“It kind of fell into place,” says Cooper, of the old band get-together. “It’ll be an experiment when we get these songs in the studio to see if they sound like 1971 Alice Cooper songs. I would like it to sound like Killer, part two. I’m gonna start it out with these ideas and then see where it goes.”

When Cooper tours, tickets are available here and here.

Jim Sullivan

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  1. Timflyte
    #1 Timflyte 15 May, 2021, 00:32

    Michael Bruce played/plays guitar.
    Thus is from 2016 and no one caught that ? Anyway good article
    His original band was great.

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