The Alice Cooper
story begins on February 4, 1948, in Detroit, Michigan, when Vincent Furnier,
displaying the ear-splitting vocal calisthenics that would serve him well in
the decades to come, came kicking and screaming into an unsuspecting world.
After several years of living in the oppressive shadow of massive automobile
factories, the family decided to change their environment by relocating to the
desert ambience of Phoenix, Arizona.
This fortuitous move meant
that Vincent would be fated to enroll at Cortez High School, where his
naturally abundant supply of cheap wit landed him the opportunity to write for
the school newspaper. “Get Outta My Hair,” his wise-guy column, brought him the
friendship of two fellow student journalists: soon-to-be lead and bass
guitarists Glen Buxton and Dennis Dunaway.
As luck would have it, all
three were looking for a way to score with the female Cortezians. Vince and
Dennis decided to join the Cortez track team, of all things, whereupon their
marathon running prowess made them instant varsity heroes.
This first exposure to fame
was sufficient enough to embolden their self-confidence to the point where,
along with fellow marathoner John Speer (on drums), Glen, and Glen’s pal John
Tatum (on lead guitar), they decided to don wigs and enter their lettermen’s
talent show as a Beatles’ parody. They even went so far as to hire
several of the once-elusive Cortez beauties to scream for them from the foot of
the stage during their mock performance. That little display of adulation,
however bogus, was all it took to convince the future anarchists that this was
the life for them.
So what if they didn't know
how to play their instruments yet? Since when was musicianship a prerequisite
of forming a rock ‘n’ roll band? They would learn. They were 16. They called
themselves the Earwigs.
Michael Bruce, meanwhile,
was making his own athletic mark as a member of Cortez’s football team. An ace
axe maniac, who liked nothing better than to run rampant over the frets as well
as the turf, Michael was frustrated with his role as rhythm guitarist for a
rival band called Our Gang. What he was looking for was music that
better suited his more aggressive personality. He found it when he joined the ‘Wigs,
who were now calling themselves the Spiders.
With Michael replacing John
Tatum, The Spiders began their evolution into a Stones/Yardbirds
garage band, who were adept enough to actually record two singles—one of which,
“Don't Blow Your Mind,” was a big enough hit in Phoenix to establish the band
as a minor attraction in the Southwest.
Fresh from this success,
with high school now nothing but a memory (albeit a lasting one that would come
back to haunt AM radio for months in 1972), The Spiders changed their
name once again, this time to The Nazz (inspired by the Jeff
Beck/Yardbirds classic, “The Nazz Are Blue”), and began making treks to
Hollywood to perform.
Like all up-and-coming
bands, The Nazz suffered and starved for a long time. Their attempts to
establish themselves on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles were offset by the
reality of having to return back home to Phoenix from time to time in order to
pay bills and ease severe ego deflation.
Despite their new
surroundings and the somewhat encouraging fact that they were landing the
occasional gig as the opening act for the likes of buddy Jim Morrison and The
Doors, as well as The Yardbirds themselves (for whose audience they
played nothing but Yardbirds covers), The Nazz had not yet even reached
glorified bar-band status. Eventually, however, Hollywood became their new
By this time, due to
creative differences, John Speer was replaced by Phoenix Camelback High alumnus
Neal Smith. With Neal as their new drummer, the stage was now set for the
unleashing of a phenomenally twisted and grandiosely incendiary rock ‘n’ roll
assault on decency itself—a sharp, satiric bite from the dark side of life, the
likes of which middle-class America had never seen before.
Still, there was one vital
piece of the puzzle missing. When news from Philly arrived that a young whiz
kid by the name of Todd Rundgren had the temerity to name his new band, the
Nazz, necessitating still yet another name change, that last piece finally
fell into place. For little did Arizona's Nazz know that this time their
new name would soon become universally synonymous with outrage, delinquency,
and immorality on an international scale.
There at least a million theories
as to how Vincent Furnier transmogrified into the legendary entity doomed to be
revered and reviled the world over as Alice Cooper. First and foremost
of these is the story of what happened late one night while the group was
visiting Dick Phillips (aka Dick Christian), their manager at the time.
Phillips, a colorful character in his own right, had been urging the group to
break out of their run-of-the-mill mold. That evening, just for laughs, his
mother pulled out a Ouija board to do a reading. As soon as it began,
however, the letter indicator began wildly skipping across the board, spelling
out the name A-L-I-C-E C-O-O-P-E-R.
From that little incident,
the boys concocted a tale that would only serve to enhance the Alice Cooper
legend in the years to come: that Vince
was the reincarnation of a young woman of the very same name—a woman who had
been burned alive at the stake hundreds of years ago for being a witch!
Sometimes he claims to have
chosen the name because it had “a
of rhythm to it.” At other times, he maintains: “Alice Cooper is such an
all-American name. I loved the idea that when we first started, people used to
think that Alice Cooper was a blonde folk singer. The name started
simply as a spit in the face of society. With a name like Alice Cooper, we
could really make ‘em suffer.”
Regardless of which story
you choose to believe, of far more importance is the fact that the word “suffer”
doesn’t even begin to describe the damaging, senses-shattering assault that
these guys inflicted on the mores of common decency. The Alice Cooper
manifesto was an unrelenting, rampant commitment to the wholesale slaughter of
every civilized tenet known to society. They created a designed-to-shock
dynasty of decadence by pushing the limits of both rock ‘n’ roll and
theatricality. Alice Cooper’s relentless pursuit of a higher level of
satirical sonic brutality took outrage to its inevitable extreme.
The group was performing an
alarming Dadaist din that gained them the reputation of, in Alice’s words, “the
most hated group in Los Angeles.” No less a connoisseur of chaos than Frank
Zappa deemed the group’s auditory abrasiveness to be so sufficiently twisted
that it deserved a spot on his new record label, Straight, alongside such
esteemed labelmates as The GTO’s and Wild Man Fischer.
How corrosive was the Alice
Cooper Group? Just ask any of the Los Angeles audience who were inside the
Cheetah Club the night Alice Cooper took the stage as the first act to
perform as part of a memorial concert in honor of haunted monologist Lenny
All it took was a couple of
songs before the throng, almost as one, stood up and headed for the door in
disgust. When the feathers had settled from the group’s onstage pillow fight,
there were only four people left. Alongside two of The GTO’s and Zappa was an
aspiring entrepreneur who was more than impressed by what he saw. Shep Gordon
realized that any group capable of evoking so negative a reaction that it could
clear a room of 2000 people in the space of a few songs was not only a force to
be reckoned with but also a group destined for truly great things.
Consequently, along with Joe Greenberg (his partner at the time), Shep
introduced himself to the group and offered to become their manager. When he
promised them that he wouldn’t give up hustling on their behalf until they were
all millionaires, the fact that he knew absolutely nothing whatsoever about how
to manage a rock group didn't matter. He knew enough.
Just as the Coopers bucked
tradition by being unconventional musicians, so was Shep an equally
unconventional manager. Together they forever altered the dynamics of the
traditional manager/artist relationship by reinventing the rules of how to
generate outrage and create spectacle. Simply put, they were blissfully
ignorant of the customary constraints the music business had placed in their
You are the only censor. If
you don't like what I say, you have a choice. You can turn me off. That was the
message heard at the beginning of the final track on Easy Action, the
group’s second recording for Straight. It was a sage piece of advice that the
majority of record buyers across North America had already taken Alice Cooper
up on. They stayed away from it—as well as their debut Straight release,
Pretties For You—in droves.
Part of the reason was
because both albums were too freakishly experimental and just plain weird to
wade through. Some numbers, such as “Living,” “Reflected,” “Levity Ball,” and “Return
Of The Spiders,” exhibited more than adequate proof of the group’s songwriting
potential. Others, however, had far too many key and tempo changes, which were
beyond the audience’s tolerance at the time.
Under the watchful eye of
Zappa, the group, relying on its own ornate, twisted, and highly unconventional
arrangements, self-produced their first album. And while it’s true that Neil
Young producer David Briggs managed to marginally improve the sound of their
second album, there nevertheless was something else that was being lost in the
translation from studio to stereo: the purity of the group’s vision. Shep began
looking for the right producer—someone who would be enthusiastic enough about
the group to allow their ideas room to breathe, but tough enough to be able to
nurture their strong points.
It was at this critical
juncture in the group’s fledgling career that three key events occurred in
rapid succession—events that would lead to the group becoming a worldwide
phenomenon of legendary proportions. The first of these events was the decision
to relocate the group to Alice’s own hometown of Detroit.
At this time, the Alice
Cooper stage show was one of free-form anarchy that, in the beginning, was
just too intense an experience for most concert-goers to endure. Inevitably,
with each new performance, word began to spread across the Midwest that the Alice
Cooper Show was not your average evening in an auditorium.
Nowhere, though, were they taken
to heart more than in the Motor City. For years Michigan had spawned a
formidable array of its own legendary local talent: most powerful bands such as
The Stooges, The Amboy Dukes, MC5, and Grand Funk
Railroad. What better place, then, for Alice and his gang of noise boys to
settle down in than the real Cooperstown—Alice’s actual birthplace.
reason our music changed when we got to Detroit was
the audiences there were literally raising fists at us
of making peace signs,” recalls Alice. “That’s the
right there. I’ve said it before, and it’s absolutely
we were the group that drove a stake through the heart
the love generation.”
The second event concerned
the group’s notorious Varsity Stadium appearance at the 1969 Toronto Rock
‘n’ Roll Revival when, during their set, a live chicken was thrown on the
stage by an audience member. As he patiently explains each and every time the
subject comes up—and as evidenced in the documentary footage featured in the Alice
Cooper career retrospective video/DVD, Prime Cuts-The Alice Cooper Story—Alice,
believing that chickens could fly, swooped up the hapless bird in mid-waddle
and gracefully arced it into the air, fully expecting it to take flight. Alice
was mistaken. The chicken landed somewhere within the first ten rows, whereupon
it was promptly torn to pieces by rabid fans.
notwithstanding, once the press got hold of the story, they ran with it. The
next morning you couldn’t pick up a newspaper without seeing the sordid story
of how a sick, depraved male rock star with a woman’s name bit a chicken’s head
off onstage and drank its blood.
As a result, the ASPCA
began monitoring the group’s performances to safeguard against possible future
fowl atrocities. The truth of the matter, however, is that the inadvertent
chicken sacrifice was never repeated again. That is, until Ozzy Osbourne “borrowed”
the idea years later when he allegedly bit the head off a live dove.
In any event, it was the
kind of myth-making publicity that legends are made of. Thus began an
unprecedented spate of press items that would continue unabated for several
years. It may have been the first time, but it certainly wouldn't by any means
be the last time in his career that Alice Cooper would become notorious for
something that he didn’t actually do.
Although bands like the Ramones
and the Sex Pistols were to pose a serious threat to the idle
complacency of the rock ‘n’ roll hierarchy in the years to come, there was a
big difference between the negative reaction garnered by those bands and the
savage abuse that the Coopers received. By the time the punk movement arrived,
the world was no stranger to the bizarre, having already lived through the
shock theater of the glitter/glam era. The Alice Cooper Group, however,
in kicking open that particular door, had to take the brunt of their peers’
The third and most vital
event involved an appointment that Shep Gordon had made while the group was in
town. Toronto’s Nimbus 9 was world-renowned as the recording studio where The
Guess Who cranked out hit after hit. In a desperate attempt to get someone
to help the group attain a more palatable sound that would appeal to a wider
audience, Shep hoped to secure the services of Nimbus 9’s in-house producer,
Like it did everywhere else
Shep went, the group’s reputation had preceded him: Richardson wanted nothing
whatsoever to do with the Alice Cooper Group in any way, shape, or form.
Shep, however, wouldn’t take no for an answer. In a last-ditch attempt to get
Gordon off his back, Richardson asked his production assistant to go to New
York and see the group perform live, knowing full well that the resultant
negative review would finally get rid of the manager, once and for all. What
Richardson hadn’t counted on, however, was that not only would his assistant be
totally captivated by the group’s stage act, but he’d also want the assignment
of producing them himself. His name was Bob Ezrin.
Their days at Cortez and
Camelback may have been over, but the bell was just about to ring for the most
important class the Alice Cooper Group would ever attend. For months the
group went to summer school—first on a rented farm in Pontiac, Michigan, and
then in a studio in Chicago. Under Ezrin's tutelage, they were re-educated in
the Three R's: rehearsing, writing, and
recording. Ezrin played a key role in the group’s restructuring, taking the
group apart and putting it back together again.
At the end of the semester
they emerged with two things they’d never had before: a stage show so tight you could bounce a dime
off it and a master plan for world domination.
Love It to Death
was the first of more than ten Alice Cooper group and solo albums done
with Ezrin who is credited with having helped to create their definitive sound.
A hit single soon followed in 1971’s “I'm Eighteen”. The
band’s trailblazing mix of shock and glam theatrics stood out amongst bearded,
denim-clad hippy bands by sporting sequined costumes by the prominent rock
fashion designer Cindy Dunaway (Pink Floyd, The Who) and stage shows
that involved gothic torture modes imposed on the lead singer. In the summer of
Alice Cooper served up School's Out to their hungry audience,
their biggest success. The album reached number two on the charts and sold over
a million copies. The title song went Top 10 in the US and a number one single
in the UK.
Babies, released in 1973, was the band’s most commercially
successful album, reaching number one in both the US and Britain. That album’s
first single, “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” became a Top Ten hit in Britain, and
reached number 25 in the U.S. With a string of successful concept albums in the
bag, the band toured the world; attempts to ban their shocking act by
politicians and pressure groups only serving to fuel the myth of Alice
Cooper and generate more audience interest.
the band split - Cooper himself wanting to retain the theatrics that had
brought them so much attention, the rest of the group wanting to concentrate on
the music which had given them credibility.
His first solo album was Welcome to My
Nightmare. He was backed by Lou Reed’s band, guitarist Dick Wagner,
guitarist Steve Hunter,
bassist Prakash John,
keyboardist Joseph Chrowski,
and drummer Penti Glan. The
album was another top-ten hit for Cooper. After three further disappointing
albums, in 1977 Cooper was hospitalized in a New York sanitarium for alcoholism. This may be responsible for a
surprise return to form on the hard-rocking, semi-autobiographical album From
The Inside. Around this time Cooper led celebrities in raising money to
remodel the famous Hollywood Sign
in California. Cooper himself chipped in over
$27,000 for the project, doing it in memory of friend and comedian Groucho Marx.
His albums from the beginning
of 1980s, Flush The Fashion, Special
Forces, Zipper Catches Skin, and DaDa, were not commercially
successful, especially in comparison to previous sales. They were regarded as
very strange and bizarre at that time, and are now considered cult classics. Flush
The Fashion has a spare, edgy musical sound that was so unexpected as to
have been truly baffling to long-time fans. The songs are typically clever,
however, and hold up very well. Special Forces was a bit darker and more
cynical, but continued with the experimental sound. With only mildly positive
commercial and critical response to these experiments, Cooper then released Constrictor
(1986), a heavier album, which had more, but still very
limited, success, followed by Raise Your Fist And Yell (1987)
which had a rougher sound than its predecessor. Both Constrictor and Raise
Your Fist and Yell were recorded with guitarist Kane Roberts and bassist Kip Winger, both of whom would leave the
band by the end of 1987. Kane Roberts would go on as a solo artist, while Kip
formed Winger. Roberts’ stage attire was unusual
since he was basically a Rambo-clone –muscular
body, scanty clothing and a guitar that resembled a machine gun.
In 1989, his career experienced
a real revival with the Desmond Child-produced
album, Trash, which pawned the hit single “Poison” and a worldwide arena
the album Hey Stoopid was released, and the song with same name became
an anti-drug anthem. In 1992, he made a famous cameo in the movie Wayne's World, in which he discusses
the history of Milwaukee
in some depth. In 1994 he released The Last Temptation,
which contains deeper theological thoughts.
A pause, lasting for six years,
ended in 2000 with Brutal Planet, a musically
strong, dark and loud, with subject matter thematically inspired by the
brutality of the modern world, although set in a post-apocalyptic future. It
was succeeded by Dragontown in 2001,
which has been described by Cooper as being “the worst town on Brutal Planet.” These
two albums are the first parts of a still unfinished trilogy. People frequently
mistake “The Last Temptation of Alice” for the first installment.
In 2003, Cooper again adopted a
leaner, cleaner sound for The Eyes Of Alice Cooper. Recognizing that
many current bands were having great success with his former sounds and styles,
Cooper worked with a somewhat younger group of road and studio musicians who
were very familiar with his oevre. However, instead of rehashing the old
sounds, they updated them, often with surprisingly effective results. The
resulting Bare Bones tour adopted a less-orchestrated performance style
that had fewer theatrical flourishes and a greater emphasis on musicality. The
success of this tour helps support the growing recognition that the classic Cooper
songs were exceptionally clever, tuneful, and unique.
Cooper received a star on the Hollywood Walk of
Fame in 2003. It is located at the corner of Orange
Drive and Hollywood Boulevard.
Cooper owns a rock and roll club and restaurant called
Cooperstown in Phoenix and Cleveland. Cooper is also an avid golfer
and also has a popular syndicated radio show called “Nights with Alice Cooper,”
where classic rock and roll songs are showcased.