Imagine the joy a lifelong comic book fan would feel if given the chance to interview Superman. Or the elation a kid raised on baseball would experience at the opportunity to chat with Mickey Mantle.
Multiply that euphoria by about 1,000, and it might come close to the excitement I felt when I was approached with the proposition of talking to one of my rock and roll heroes, Alice Cooper.
Witty, sharp, brutally honest and downright hilarious, I’ll admit, Cooper did a lot of the talking during our phone chat and I did a lot of laughing and listening. Open and welcoming, the veteran rocker was happy to recall his wild ascent to the top of record sales charts in the 1970s while simultaneously riding high as the most feared and nefarious rock star and performer of the decade.
It seems that these days, the character that popularized the song “No More Mr. Nice Guy” in 1973 is quite a nice guy after all. At the age of 71, the Detroit, Michigan native is still going strong. He tours with his own band as well as with a supergroup he put together, Hollywood Vampires (named after an infamous gang of hell raisers he used to run with early in his career). His sense of humor and jovial spirit are a far cry from the notorious, villainous image he became associated with while he was influencing and sparking the imagination of every kid who’d ever form a band after witnessing his onstage shtick and charisma.
Typically clad in smeared black garish makeup, leopard skin boots and a boa constrictor wrapped around his neck, Cooper was the quintessential offender in the 1970s. No one looked like Alice Cooper and no other band sounded like his rock solid group. Indisputable classic albums like Love it to Death and Billion Dollar Babies helped solidify Cooper’s ability to back his outlandish onstage antics with some of the finest rock and roll records of the era.
Nowadays, he’s still touring and still recording. And still thrilling every audience he plays for. An avid golfer, restaurateur and occasional actor, Alice Cooper shows no signs of slowing down. Ahead of his upcoming appearances at both the Spooky Empire Comic Con event and a return visit to Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall in support of his current tour, Cooper took some time out of his schedule to speak to me recently from his home in Arizona.
Hello Alice. Where are you today?
I'm in Scottsdale. I live in Arizona. It’s 117 degrees here today!
Firstly, I have to ask you: you're still out there doing it. Did you think earlier in your career that you'd still be out there doing this at this age?
You know what, none of us in the early days in Los Angeles, you know playing the Whisky a Go Go with Led Zeppelin, you know, and nobody had ever heard of either one of us and yet, we were 20 years old maybe and nobody's expecting to live past 30 because all their friends were dying at 27. You know, you're getting high with Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin you know and that whole generation was living fast and dying young and having a good looking corpse.
I think once they all died there was this kind of moment were you kind of went, "Well maybe I should just slow down a little bit." Of course, at the time, you were touring constantly. Back then you made two albums a year, you didn't make one album every three years; you made two albums a year. So if you weren't in the studio, you were on tour and people would say ‘Where do you live?’ and we’d say ‘We don't live anywhere.’ We lived on the road or we lived in the studio but we literally did not have an address so that's what the workload was like back then.
But again your 21-22-23 years old and you're indestructible at that point. It was that whole next generation after Woodstock and I just got to a point where work was work was work and pretty soon, you are 30 and you're still on the road and you're still making records and then you're 40 and you're still on the road and still making records and you know sitting there going well hey, Mick Jagger is still out there. Paul McCartney’s still out there. And now,
I'm 71 and I’m in two touring bands (laughs) and I’m sitting there going, "But I've never felt better in my life." I'm in better shape now than I've ever been. I still weigh the same that I did when I was 30. I've been sober for 37 years so why would I quit when you're still selling out every concert? To me, I've never gotten tired of it. I've never actually gotten tired of going on stage as Alice Cooper with my songs, with my show, with the best band I could put together. I never ever got tired of ever doing that… that's just in my brain. I always said this is what I do. I was surprised to hear that, Bob Dylan, who’s what, 77? He does 200 shows a year. And I mean full-out shows! I guess 70 is a rock star age! If you're in good enough shape, you can go as long as you want to go.
Well, to me, it just seems pretty evident that you're still having fun and I think that’s probably a key element to your longevity
It’s there’s a huge difference between having to tour and wanting to tour. In those days, you had to tour… that was it, that was the deal. You were on a record label you were doing a record and then they expected you to go tour and sell that album and then as soon as that tour was over and that album was over, your next album came out and then you went and toured and supported that album and you had to tour. That was the law. There was no time off. Nobody cared about time off and then it got to a point where you could retire because you had all the money you needed. You got through it without dying. You came close a few times but then you decide, "Do I want to tour?," and I always did wanna tour so there was never a time when I didn't want to tour.
Believe me, many people are so glad you're still doing it, myself included.
Looking back, I know that in the early days you were so vilified. “Shock rock” and all these other terms came about, did you really just wish people would come to see the humor in it or were you kind of laughing at the fact that people were taking it so seriously?
No, we always took it with a grain of salt. We knew what we were. We knew that the show was gonna be the show and that was it. And the show was, yes, laced with horror and shock but it was also laced with comedy. There was no internet so most people were living off of, you know, just legend and people loved to make up stuff about who you were and what you did. I heard so many stories about myself that were just ridiculous. And yet, the audience wanted Alice to be the villain.
They wanted a villain that they could say like, "OK, Paul McCartney is a Beatle, he’s a hero and Mick Jagger’s a hero of rock and roll" and they when they’d say "Alice Cooper" they’d say, "Oh yeah, he’s that villain. He’s the guy that does the scary stuff," and it took a long time, in fact, we painted ourselves into a corner and then Shep Gordon and I, my manager and I, realized at some point that we had to broaden everything out. That's when I started doing the Johnny Carson show. That's when I started going on just as a talking guest and I could make people laugh and they got a different view of me. And then I started doing acting roles and people started seeing the outside of the Alice Cooper character and they started getting it… that I played this character Alice, I wasn’t this character Alice.
That's interesting. It took that to make people understand that it was actually a character you were playing or a role you were playing.
I think they wanted me so much to be that all the time. And I think they want Marilyn Manson to be that all the time. And they want Rob Zombie to live in a castle somewhere in Salem, Massachusetts and if that's the illusion they want, then yeah, give them that, that's fine. No problem. Anybody that knows me would know that I would probably be the least guy that would go to a strip bar. I would be the least guy that would ever, ever cheat on my wife. I would be sort of the goody two-shoes and yet my image is just the opposite!
That's fascinating. That's got to be so enjoyable to be able to separate those two: your life and that role
There really was a period of time when I was drinking and taking drugs that I didn't know where I started and Alice finished. There was that gray area there where I just didn’t know if I was letting down the audience, if they saw me in a safe way without the snake and make up on, you know, and I realized when I got sober I just went, "I just can't maintain that character sober so let's change the character into this arrogant, condescending comical villain rather than this rock star that was getting thrown out of the bar with Keith Moon and the Hollywood Vampires. I was able to open up at one point when I became Christian and when I played golf that I can play golf, I can be Christian, but I can still be Alice Cooper… and scare the hell out of you.
Talk to me a little bit about in 2011, when you were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Was that meaningful to you? How did you perceive that whole thing?
Well you know, there's always those times when you sit around going ‘do you think we’ll ever get into the hall of fame?’ I don't know you know I mean look who's in there. And then you get to a point also where you start feeling you know, it’s about time. I started looking at who was in before us
and they were so less influential than we were and I was going ‘well, it’s starting to get a little bit creepy that were not in. Maybe were blackballed?’ I don't know. And a lot of people in the Hall thought we were already in! I found that out when the voting came along and my name came up. When the name Alice Cooper, the band, came up people were shocked. They said ‘I thought Alice was already in.’ So when we went in, I think it was a landslide that we were in which was really, really nice. Well, I think of it this way: when you get a ballot, and I get my ballot now of who is nominated, and the Pete Townsends and the Jeff Becks and the Paul McCartneys and the Mick Jaggers and people like that get their nominations and they vote on who should be in. So your peers are voting you in and that is the important thing to make sure it's not a popularity contest. It's a matter of your peers, you know, your teachers and it feels like you're actually graduating. If those people are voting for you then you kind of go ‘Wow! That's great!’ you know, those guys actually put my name down you know the guys that you that you learn from the guys that you kind of idolized, right.
That's got to be a great feeling.
Well, I was a little disappointed when I got in. I thought there’d be a secret handshake or a dossier on Area 51 you know and who shot Kennedy and everybody would know all this stuff. None of that happened!
Does it bother you or do you like being introduced as “Hall of Fame inductee, Alice Cooper?”
Oh no because when I was a kid I was a baseball addict. I was a Detroit Tigers fan. That’s all I did was baseball. And the fact that a Tiger would get in the Hall of Fame was like ‘Wow! That is just the coolest!’ how amazing it is to think of all the baseball players, how many guys get in the Hall of Fame? Maybe two percent? And then I started going, "Well, it's the same thing in rock."
You know, if you get in the Hall of Fame, think of all the bands out there that that will never get in the Hall of Fame. That's pretty amazing that you get singled out. When I think of us being the band that everybody hated, you know, we were like the most hated band by everybody. Even the other bands hated us because they saw what we were doing and they kind of saw that we were pushing the envelope and that they were going to have to start doing shows so we weren’t so popular with other bands
You seem do always do well when you tour through Florida. Tell me about the band you’ll be bringing on the road with you this time around.
I can tell you this the this band that I'm bringing in there is the best touring band you'll ever hear. I mean Nita Strauss is our female guitar player. I mean she looks like a Victoria's secret model and she plays like Eddie Van Halen
You always tour with great musicians.
And our drummer Glen Sobel is one of the best drummers in rock and roll. So I’m bringing a band in and a new show that, every show we’ve done so far, people are standing and cheering and wanting more in the end so, yeah, it’s great!
You always put on a fun and entertaining show and I know you're doing four shows throughout Florida in November. You’re visits to the area are always anxiously awaited so your return will make a lot of Floridians happy.
I'm doing a comic con down there too! I'm gonna be in your area twice!