Q&A: Alice Cooper talks Ronnie Spector, corporate rock, and hatred of politics ahead of Clearwater show

The shock rock legend returns to Ruth Eckerd Hall on Feb. 7.

click to enlarge Alice Cooper - Caesar Carbajal
Caesar Carbajal
Alice Cooper
When you’re Alice Cooper, there’s no room for politics. Not because he’s trying to prevent division in his fanbase, but because he genuinely hates it.

“When my parents started talking about politics, I would turn on the Stones as loud as I could. I don't want to hear about politics, and I still feel that way,” he told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay during a phone interview.

Coop has certainly had his moments over the years, but he’s never decapitated bats with his teeth or come back to life after a fatal heroin overdose. He’s been married to Sheryl Goddard—a dancer on the original Welcome To My Nightmare tour—for 45 years. He’s a born again Christian, and he golfs every single day whether it’s while he’s on the road in Kentucky, or close to his place in Maui. “It’s sort of my second home over there, and it’s a great place to just cool off and chill until we get ready to go.” Cooper explained.

In one way or another, Coop has a connection to almost everyone in rock music, he even co-founded legendary drinking group—and eventual rock supergroup—The Hollywood Vampires with Joe Perry and Johnny Depp. One name he was very fond of was Ronnie Spector, whose recent passing hit him hard. The Ronettes legend appeared on the original Alice Cooper band’s final album, Muscle Of Love, alongside Liza Minnelli and The Pointer Sisters. "She was the coolest chick in rock," Cooper said.

Knowing all of the connections he has, it’s safe to say that the world has accepted Alice Cooper for who he is, and that much of his fanbase is now of the age that his old sticklers—like Ann Landers, were in 1975. Get our interview with Alice Cooper below, and go see him and his impeccable backing band at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Monday, Feb. 7.


Hey Alice, how you doing?

I'm doing great. How about you?

Great. Thanks for doing this with me.

Oh, no problem. We just got back from Maui, so everybody's all rested up and ready to go on this tour.

Maui, huh?

Yeah well, I have a place over in Maui and I've been going there for like, 45 years, so it's sort of my second home over there. It's a great place to just cool out until we get ready to go. I mean, before this, we were off for 18 months, before we did that last 25-city run. For guys that work 200 shows a year, you know, that was like coming off of a drug or something. *laughs*
I can imagine. Did you play a lot of golf in Maui?

Well, I play every day anyways, I play in Phoenix, I play on the road, and in Maui. I play every day!

I wanted to start by asking, do you enjoy playing smaller theaters like you have recently? I mean, you used to sell out stadiums and arenas back in the '70s and '80s.

You know, sometimes, we actually go out of our way to play a whole tour of theaters, like the old Midwest theaters. There’s gotta be a thousand of them out there, and I actually enjoy that more, because I think the show fits better in a theater, because it's kind of a theatrical piece. When you get into a place that's so big, you lose the details in the show. And when you're in a smaller place, there's an intensity because everybody's kind of like, in one set area, and it's much more intense musically, and much more intense theatrically.

Then we go play the arenas, and we'll do a whole arena tour. Like anything else, right now, everybody's kind of walking on ice—thin ice, wondering if things are going to close down, if they're going to open—and we always just say, “Let's not overshoot,” you know, and say, “OK, let's go in and play the big arena,” and have half the people show up. That just looks awful. I'd rather play the small places and have it packed!

I think your band is a big reason why the theaters are always packed. That said, why hasn't Nita Strauss appeared on any of your solo albums yet?

Well, that's coming up. It's so funny, because I work with Bob Ezrin, and it depends on the song. In other words, Nita is a classic Shredder, and Roxie is a rock and roll guitar player—a Jimmy Page type of player. And Tommy is much more of a Slash kind of player. So, I got three different types of rock and roll players in my band, so now, I can go to a lot of different areas, after 28 albums. I couldn't really go to any of that stuff from Brutal Planet or Constrictor, or any of that Kane Roberts stuff, because I didn't really have a shredder in the band, like Kane was. So now, I can do that. I can go back and hit some of those songs, because Nita can handle those. I mean, the other guys could handle it, but it wouldn't be as authentic, whereas she can play like Kane Roberts. And so, that does open up those albums for me.

But coming up, I’m using a lot more of my touring band, on the next couple of things. It's really a matter of Bob Ezrin sitting there saying, “what kind of guitar do we need on this?” Who do we want? Well, on one song, we went with Billy Gibbons—you gotta have Billy Gibbons. We had Vince Gill on one of those songs. We did a song called “Runaway Train” on Welcome 2 My Nightmare. And it was like a “Train Kept A-Rollin’” kind of song. At the time, we were in Nashville, and we were thinking “who are we gonna get to play lead on this?” And we went through a bunch of names, and then I said “Vince Gill lives here.” He plays a solo on that song that was startling.

My guitar players listen to it, and they'll point at each other saying “you take it.” “No, you take it!” *laughs* Because Vince used to be a rock and roll band—he knows how to play rock and roll. And the stuff he was playing with us was so insane. We were like, “oh my gosh, he was just showing up!” It was so good.
And now, he’s playing with the Eagles.

Yeah, he’s in the Eagles, and you couldn't get a better lead guitar player than him. He's perfect for that band. You know, it's sort of like…might call it soft rock. I wouldn't call it corporate rock, because the Eagles are not extremely threatening at all. I look at it this way: When I do my radio show. I always say, “OK, that's corporate rock.” And that's not an insult! Corporate rock is a real brand of music. It’s Boston, Journey, REO Speedwagon—it's all those bands that play perfect records. They make perfect records, but they're very non-threatening. Now, Guns ’N Roses, Alice Cooper, Motley Crue, The Rolling Stones, a little more threat in that music! *laughs* It’s got much more attitude, and so, I call that hard rock.

So when I say “corporate rock,” people think “oh, you're knocking that band,” I'm not—I’m just saying what it is: It's rock and roll, you know? Now a lot of stuff you hear on the radio is just not rock and roll, and I don't know how it gets classified as that, but it's just not. I wouldn’t say that it's bad, but it’s just not rock and roll. I mean, when you think of rock and roll, would you put Vampire Weekend in the same category as The Who? I don't think so. It's not the same thing at all.

Speaking of people in rock and roll: Considering all the stuff that he has said in the last few years, how is your relationship with Ted Nugent holding up right now?

Ted and I grew up together in Detroit, and he's always been the mouth that roared. When he gets going, nobody can stay with him. I kind of look at him as his own entity. I don't ever talk politics…I hate politics.

Same.

I don't think rock and roll and politics belong in the same bed together, but a lot of people think it does—because we have a voice, and we should use our voice. But again, rock and roll should be anti-political, I think. When my parents started talking about politics, I would turn on the Stones as loud as I could. I don't want to hear politics, and I still feel that way.

My music and my show is designed to give you a vacation from CNN, you know what I mean? I'm not preaching anything up there, and I'm not knocking anybody. If I do a thing like on “Elected,” which we would always do during the elections, and I’d bring out Trump and Hillary to fight, and both of them would get wiped out! That's what was funny about it. If you're in the political theater, you’d better be able to take a joke. So, that’s OK. I don't mind the satire of it, but I don't ever go up there and tell you who to vote for.

In the early days, you were, as you once said, the posterboy for everything that was wrong. Off the top of your head, what is the most laughable piece of hate mail you've ever received?

It wasn't necessarily hate mail—it was the press, which played right into our hands. Like Ann Landers—every housewife in America read Ann Landers every day in the paper, and one of the funniest things was that when Nightmare came out, she decided that “Cold Ethyl,” which is about necrophilia in a very comical way, was going to change the entire complexion of our youth. I had read the thing, and I was just laughing. I wrote a letter back saying, “Listen, Ann. If there is an incredible rash of necrophilia because of this song, then I'm guilty. I don't think there will be. Get a sense of humor,” you know? Because it was totally written as a comedy song, but it was a very cool rock and roll song, and the same time, it was part of this kid's nightmare.


A few weeks ago, Ronnie Spector passed away, and I read that she worked on the Muscle Of Love album with you and the original Alice Cooper Band. Do you have any memories with her?

She was the coolest chick in rock. No way anybody was ever cooler than her. She was truly ‘60s—switchblade in her hair, because it was all ratted up on top. She was one of those chicks that was like a ‘50s gang chick. And yet, very hip, I mean, she just had the greatest voice. When her voice came on that song she did with Eddie Money, it was exactly her vibe. If he wouldn't have had her on there, I would have called him up and said, “are you crazy? Get Ronnie Spector on there!” But when I got around there, I had her singing with Liza Minnelli and the Pointer Sisters, and it was a great combination of voices in there.


Before the Alice Cooper solo shows, how do you get into character? Because a lot of people forget that Alice Cooper is a character portrayed by Vincent Furnier.

Well, in all honesty, there was a time when it was a magnificently gray area, where I didn't know where I began, and where he ended. When I got sober, I realized that that Alice Cooper on stage did not really want to live in this world. He didn't want to go to the movies, he didn't want to play golf, he didn't want to be married. He didn't want any of that stuff, right? He belonged onstage and in the studio. He only lived up there, and I divorced him on a level of “you stay up there, and I'll live my life. And we'll talk about you.”

We talk about Alice in the third person all the time. We just say, “would Alice wear that? I don't think Alice would wear that.” You know, the same way we talk about any character, and it's a great relationship now. I cannot wait to play Alice onstage. But, I'm in church on Sunday, and I'm also taking care of grandkids, and I'm coaching Little League, and things like that. Alice would never do that! So, we have a great schizophrenic relationship.

You mentioned going to church on Sunday. How does the role of your faith tie into your public persona?

Well, for one thing, there’s the fact that there's nothing on the Alice Cooper stage that’s satanic. We're like a dark Vaudeville up there. And everything that Alice does is definitely tongue-in-cheek, and hopefully the audience gets the cleverness and gets the humor behind it. I always thought that horror movies were mostly comedies. The first time I saw Evil Dead, right? I’m sitting watching this movie, and it's just horrific to the point where I said “there can't be any more blood in this movie." And then the pipe breaks and he gets covered in blood. He’s soaking in blood! And I burst out laughing. You know, I just said “this is hysterical.” But I think I always saw the humor in a horror movie. And Rob Zombie and I agree with that, totally. Horror, comedy, and rock and roll in bed together should be a lot of fun for everybody. And that's what we keep it, we keep it at that. I don't let really any politics, or any religion in there. I mean, there are some things in there.

I mean, Alice is the villain, and when he gets killed, what does he come back out as? A white top hat and tails. He's reborn. It's almost like sins forgiven, and here he is now. He's indestructible. And the audience, I don't know if they get that. I didn't even notice that until later, that Alice had a redemption thing going on. It was like, villain, villain, villain, villain, execution—because the villain’s gotta get it. I don't care how much you love the villain in any movie. He needs to get it in the end, or it's not satisfying. And then what happens? Well, they're gone. No, this one comes back with a white top hat and tails. Glorious. School’s out. And the audience leaves with confetti all over them, fake blood, streamers… and everybody walks away going “that was the best party I've ever been to!” And that's what I want it to be! I want them to walk away going “That was really fun! And the band was killer. The music was even better than the theatrics!”

About The Author

Josh Bradley

Josh Bradley is Creative Loafing Tampa's resident live music freak. He started freelancing with the paper in 2020 at the age of 18, and has since covered, announced, and previewed numerous live shows in Tampa Bay. Check the music section in print and online every week for the latest in local live music.
Scroll to read more Show Previews articles
Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.

Newsletters

Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected]