Alice Cooper and manager Shep Gordon have had the kind of relationship that even many married couples might envy – and it’s certainly lasted longer, at 47 years.
Phoenix concert promoter Danny Zelisko, who served as “interpreter” of a raucous conversation between the two legends Feb. 2 in the J.W. Marriott’s Platinum Ballroom, has been part of their rock ‘n’ roll circus since 1973.
“In May, 1973, Flo and Eddie were going to open Alice’s Billion Dollar Baby tour for Bill Graham Presents. I went to the show to do security,” Zelisko said in his introductory remarks. “I found my way into thinking ‘I’m gonna have a beer with Alice Cooper!’” Zelisko said, with Cooper interjecting the story of that fateful night.
“Danny was down in the front, and back then I used to wave a sword with dollar bills on it over the audience,” Cooper said. “All those kids lunged for those bills and there was Danny, right in the middle of that mob,” he said, laughing.
Later, they had that beer.
Zelisko said that Graham was none too thrilled with a bunch of Los Angeles hippies bringing along props like guillotines, baby dolls and copious amounts of fake blood
. “You can do music, or you can do Broadway, but you can’t do both!” Graham told the artist. Of course, they did.
The Billion Dollar Babies tour and album were Cooper’s most lucrative to date, and proved Gordon’s earliest theory about artist development correct: Make the parents hate you, and the kids will beat a path to your door. Gordon was the subject of a 2014 documentary produced by comedian Mike Myers called “Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon,” and followed that by writing a memoir last year, “They Call Me Supermensch.”
“I went to college in Buffalo, N.Y, and came out to Los Angeles after finishing to take a job. I quit the first day,” Gordon began “I booked a motel in Hollywood. I dabbled in pharmaceuticals. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and the Chambers Brothers were all there. As a pharmaceutical salesman, I had found my target audience!
“Hendrix said to me, ‘If the police ask where you get your money, you need a front.” Cooper said, “We were like every other act trying to make it. We were living in the Chambers Brothers basement. We met Shep, and decided ‘This is our manager!’ I love this guy.”
The day before signing with Gordon, the band Alice Cooper – Alice was not yet Alice – auditioned for Frank Zappa at his famed log cabin in Laurel Canyon. Gordon immediately turned down the offer until the deal was substantially sweetened.
During that time, L.A.’s Laurel Canyon neighborhood was churning out stars-to-be like The Byrds, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor.
Gordon and Cooper knew they had to do something different in order to stand apart. “I was thinking of that moment we first did something together that told me we were going to stay together,” Gordon said.
“It was a ‘coming out’ party at the Ambassador Hotel. We sort of hit on the concept that it would be really easy to get parents to hate us, which would get kids to love us.”
So they rented the Ambassador.
“All the wealthy families had these parties for debutantes back in those days,” Gordon continued. “So we made up invitations for this debutante party on acid for Alice Cooper, and invited all these blue bloods. We had The Cockettes (a theatrical art/glam/drag troupe) perform. Alice jumped out of a cake. L.A. society was outraged! And we were getting noticed in the papers.”
Video screenshots of Alice’s debutante ball invitations party photos flashed on a giant video screen, followed by press clips of Cooper’s similar publicity campaign in London’s Piccadilly Square.
Cooper was being somewhat ignored by the British press, until Gordon latched on to the idea of rolling billboards of Alice – nude, save for a strategically placed snake – on the back of a flatbed truck and arranging for it to “break down” in London’s Piccadilly Square at rush hour, surrounded by scantily clad go-go dancers.
It worked, landing front-page photos and banner headlines in newspapers the next day.
But the event that may have provided Cooper with the longest-lasting legacy was the Toronto Peace Festival. Gordon somehow managed to talk organizers into putting Alice Cooper onstage in between John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who were headlining, and The Doors.
“We brought out feather pillows and CO2 canisters, and blew feathers all over the audience,” Gordon said. “They loved it, and it was chaos! Then the chicken showed up.”
The chicken of Alice Cooper lore made its first and only stage entrance. Invoking a scene from “WKRP In Cincinnati,” Cooper said, “It’s a bird. It should fly!
“So I picked it up and threw it into the audience. The audience tore it to pieces. At the Peace Festival! The first six rows were all wheelchairs and they were the ones who tore up the chicken and threw the parts back.”
The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was outraged and dogged the band the rest of its tour and beyond. As for any part he unwittingly played in the history of animal cruelty, Cooper said, “You want to see animal cruelty, KFC is a mass murderer. But the SPCA checked on the show everywhere we went from then on.”
At that point, the hits were coming for Alice and Shep. They continued to attempt to top their previous, and hugely successful, publicity ploys, though the execution was sometimes wanting. A floating Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade-style balloon of Alice’s face over the Thames River, in an attempt to draw fire from England’s Royal Air Force, flopped when the balloon did. Putting the band in see-through vinyl pants wasn’t quite as scandalous as hoped when the pants fogged up.
“You are in danger of becoming Spinal Tap” when the stunts fail, Cooper admitted. “If the balloon falls in the water, we have to say that’s what it was supposed to do – it was Alice drowning. But Brits understood the Hollywood publicity stunt. They loved that we were actually going through these things and making them work.”
They didn’t, always.
“We killed Alice every way we could,” Cooper said. “So Shep says, ‘Let’s shoot Alice out of a cannon. This was at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.”
“The circus used to fire clowns out of cannons,” Shep said, obviously bemused at the memory. “So we ordered a cannon. ‘What period cannon,’ the guys said. He didn’t even blink! I figured this guy has it down. I made the mistake of putting it in the radio ads.”
The cannon failed to shoot a dummy over the field as planned, but yet Alice came out of the tunnel on the other side, no worse for “wear.” The upshot of that story was now Cooper and Gordon were stuck with a cannon they needed to get rid of.
“Somehow, Shep sold it to The Rolling Stones,” Cooper said, laughing.
“Now, Rammstein has it,” Zelisko added. Cooper’s and Gordon’s career wasn’t all publicity stunts, of course. Gordon managed other artists, including Groucho Marx before he died. There’s another famous story of Anne Murray, Canada’s squeaky clean pop goddess, being photographed at L.A.’s Troubadour club surrounded by the original Hollywood Vampires – John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Cooper, and Micky Dolenz
. It was part of a strategy Gordon calls “guilt by association.”
Put someone next to somebody else who is cool, and they become cool, too. Suddenly, Anne Murray was hip. Zelisko expanded on that theory when it came to Cooper.
“To us, Alice was a different person than the Alice character. It became important to define that person by the person he was standing next to. Like Salvador Dali,” Zelisko said. “Dali wanted me to do the first 3D hologram,” Cooper continued. “It would be something you could put your hand through. Our meeting with Dali really caught us off guard. You thought we were nuts!”
Over the years, Gordon moved on from rock ‘n’ roll artist management, but remains with Cooper.
“I never did a contract,” Gordon said. “Alice and I almost don’t exist without each other.
“For 48 years, I don’t think I asked Shep one question about money,” Cooper said. “I don’t care, and I’m lucky enough to make things work.
When Steve Vai asked guitarist Nita Strauss to take part in his new Favored Nations compilation, She Rocks, Vol. 1, the Alice Cooper Band shredder didn’t give it a second thought.
For years, Strauss has cited Vai as the reason she decided to pick up the guitar in the first place, so getting the chance to contribute an instrumental track to the project was a dream come true.
Strauss’ “Pandemonium”—which you can hear below—is a perpetual burn that showcases Strauss’ infectious style of playing while taking the listener on an extended, hook-laden journey of speed and dynamics.
In addition to the new track, Strauss is gearing up for an Alice Cooper/Deep Purple tour that’ll kick off in August. I recently spoke with her about “Pandemonium,” the upcoming tour, her gear and more.
How did you become involved in the She Rocks project, and what was it like meeting Steve Vai?
It was the most surreal thing. As most people know, I started playing guitar after seeing Steve’s scene in Crossroads. He’s always been my biggest inspiration. But I had never met him until last year, and one of the first things he asked me was if anyone had talked to me about the compilation album he was putting together with [former Guitar World editor-in-chief] Brad Tolinski and Laura Whitmore. I told him I hadn’t, and the next thing I knew, I had gotten an email from Brad.
I wrote and recorded “Pandemonium” in a single evening. My boyfriend, Josh Villalta, played drums and Katt Scarlett played keys. It really came together organically in a very cool way.
How would you describe “Pandemonium”?
I think by the title. It’s a self-explaining name. I’ve never actually said what the song is about but I really wanted to take people on a journey. An instrumental song doesn’t have any lyrics, but it tells a story, and it could be about anything. I love to hear what journey it takes people on.
What’s your writing process like?
It’s always different. Usually I’ll come up with a riff or a lick or solo and then build on it. I really like programming drums and have found that a big part of my creative process is building core drum parts for me to get inspired by and play over.
Is writing an instrumental track something you’d always wanted to do?
It’s something that’s been on my bucket list. All of my heroes are instrumental guys, guys like Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Jason Becker and Marty Friedman. I never thought I was the caliber of player to put out a song that was just guitar and music, but when Steve asked me if I wanted to do a song there was no question in my mind. I was going to jump at the chance.
Are you working on any other projects?
I’m starting to focus on a record that’s going to be with a singer and full band. I’ve also gotten a lot of interest about doing an instrumental solo album, so that’s something I could see being on the horizon as well.
We’ll be doing a lot of the same great venues we did on the Mötley Crüe tour. Since we’ve got Deep Purple and Edgar Winter, I’d have to make an educated guess and say we’ll be taking it pretty old school in the set list, which is very exciting!
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from working with Alice?
From Alice specifically, it’s about being grateful for what you have. I’ve seen him interact with a lot of people over the years I’ve been with the band, and he’s always so gracious with everyone he meets. He always takes the time and is very welcoming and will listen to everyone’s story about the fist time they heard Welcome to My Nightmare. He’s genuinely happy and grateful and takes all of his fans and the people he meets very dearly. For someone who’s been in that position for as long as he has to stay so humble is very inspiring.
What’s your current live setup like?
I’ve been using the Marshall JVM 410H since June 2016. That thing just screams and it sounds so great. After nine years with Ibanez, they made me my custom model. It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of in a guitar and more. It’s a neck-through S series with a flat, super-weathered neck and loaded up with DiMarzio Gravity Stormpickups with a True Velvet in the middle. It’s a shredding machine and is very easy to play fast. I also have my other arsenal of S series guitars that I take out as well.
What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming year and beyond?
Well, there’s football in LA now [laughs]. But I’m extremely excited to get back out with Alice. This new tour is going to be a blast. We’ve got some festivals in Europe over the summer that are always really fun. Beyond that, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a chance to write and record my own music. Working on my own stuff in a band with these super-talented musicians is a totally different feeling, and I’m really excited for that too.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.
February 13th, 2017 | Category: Featured, NEWS | Comments are closed
Nearly 25 years ago (Feb. 14, 1992), following 34 days of shooting with a relatively modest $20 million budget, Penelope Spheeris released a comedy based on a Mike Myers/Dana Carvey Saturday Night Live skit that reinvigorated Rob Lowe’s and Alice Cooper’s careers, popularized such phrases as “We’re not worthy!” “Schwing!” and “Party on!”, and boosted Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” onto the Billboard charts for the second time.
Road bumps, cool coincidences and budgetary restrictions aside, Wayne’s Worldproved itself the little film that could with a box office take of more than $183 million worldwide. It clocked in as the highest-grossing of the many films based on SNL skits, and the surprise hit brought fame and fortune to many of those involved. Here are some of their memories.
Paramount Pictures Production still from Waynes World in 1992
Alice Cooper: Wayne’s World is one of those movies that wherever you come into it, you can go from there. Like Airplane! or Caddyshack or Dumb and Dumber, you can turn it on right in the middle and it’s very quotable. I’d say it was in the Top 10 of most quotable [movies].
Penelope Spheeris: Right now we’re living in much more difficult times [than in 1992]; the world is on the verge of falling apart, unfortunately, and we’re all freaking out. So to go back to a nostalgic time that was fun and uplifting, and all that young energy that Mike and Dana had then. You have this feeling of joy when you watch the movie and I think that’s why people love it so.
AC: We were supposed to perform [“Feed My Frankenstein”] and I didn’t know anything about the dialogue. When I got to the set, Mike said, “You’re an actor, can you do some lines for us?” I went “sure” and I got like five pages of dialogue. I said, “When are we doing this?” He goes, “In about 20 minutes.” I go “OK.” So a lot of it was riffing. I think we did it in two takes. Of course, Dana and Mike, on the floor with the “We’re not worthy!” thing, were doing everything they could to get me to break up. But they didn’t realize my iron will, so I went right through that dialogue, and I think I surprised them. But if you would have seen the outtakes of “We’re not worthy, we’re scum,” it goes on for like five or six minutes. And it just gets vile. Whoever owns those outtakes owns a little treasure.
PS: When I got the script, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was already there. The studio wanted to have Guns N’ Roses in there somewhere, and Mike wanted to have Aerosmith as the performance band. Aerosmith said they didn’t want to do it. You’ll notice that Aerosmith is in Wayne’s World 2, however. (Laughs). I’m gonna call that “two bad decisions.” So when Aerosmith declined, I immediately brought up Alice, because I had just worked with him on Decline of Western Civilization Part II. Poor Alice got these lines thrown at him the day of, he didn’t even have time to rehearse overnight. I do remember thinking how amazed I was that he could spit out those lines so effortlessly. It was so unexpected for the rocker, who you’d think would know nothing historically about geography, to have so much quirky information. It got a great reaction.
AC: Airports is when everybody does “We’re not worthy!” I always try to let them think it’s the first time anybody’s ever done that. And they’re so clever. After about the fourth time a day I put my hand out like, “Kiss my ring,” like I do in the movie, and they all love to do that. I give them the credit for getting down on their knees and doing the whole thing, because it is a bit embarrassing on their part, so if they wanna go through with it, I say fine. Mike Myers told me, “I could have stuck you with something so much worse than that!”
Tia Carrere: I’ve gotten quite a few of those “We’re not worthys” even though it’s attributed to Alice Cooper. I was recently at the House of Blues, watching someone perform, and I turned around and there are three young guys in their twenties and they drop to their knees and are bowing before me, “I’m not worthy.” I was laughing my head off. I didn’t expect that. It changes your life.
AC: The appearance in Wayne’s World did bring a different audience to us. We were classic rock. We were sort of royalty, in the rock world, the young bands kinda looked up to us. Also, I think the idea that the band, who looked like all these Sunset Strip derelicts… that the guitar player would be talking about socialist governors in Minnesota made it really, really funny. That of course was the trick, the device that Michael was using in that scene that made it really, really work.
Paramount Pictures Production still from Waynes World in 1992
PS: In my memory, it was up to Alice what [song] he would perform. I don’t think I would have wanted a hit. I would rather not do that, I’d rather have something fresh and different. I know that performers like to showcase new work. Just to have Alice Cooper was the big bang for our buck right there.
AC: We didn’t want to do “School’s Out” or an Alice Cooper standard. “Feed My Frankenstein” was the perfect song for that movie. It was the right song for that generation, very heavy. “School’s Out” would have taken it back to the ’70s, whereas this was early ’90s, so I thought something more current was better. I think everybody was working on a prayer right then, hoping that this movie would get made and it would do something. It did really, really well, so it was great.
Georg Dolivo, Rhino Bucket singer (“Ride with Yourself” is on the Wayne’s World soundtrack): [The money we made from the Wayne’s World Soundtrack] was a godsend. We were always the band that would rather tour eight weeks in a van than two weeks in a bus. Everything we had we put back into the band. Wayne’s World allowed us to stay on the road and still have a roof over our heads when we came home.
TC: There’s a thing called “breakdown service” that your agent gets, it says, “18-23 Asian female, speaks with a heavy accent, but when she rocks, she rocks like nobody’s business. Martial arts.” Literally. I went to Paramount, and auditioned I think for Lorne Michaels, Penelope and Mike Myers and a whole room of people. What’s funny is they wanted to make sure the person could act, so I did that, and showed them some martial arts moves, I think. I just started singing, a cappella, in the audition room [sings], “Heartbreaker/Dream maker/Love taker/Don’t you mess around with me.” They said, “Whoa, great, you can sing, we could have dubbed your voice in.” That final callback, I was out in the waiting area, and Mike Myers came out and said, “Tia, you’re my favorite. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” That put the wind in my sails. When I walked in there, I owned it. I have to thank him for that.
PS: When you’re naming bands like Bulletboys and Rhino Bucket, that was my thing back in the day. I love Rhino Bucket. I choose those songs [on the soundtrack], and I’m proud of it. I had the first music video company back in L.A. , and that was way before MTV, so I shot all sorts of bands back in the ‘70s — Curtis Mayfield, Fleetwood Mac, Staples Singers, David Essex. When I shot Gary Wright’s video for “Dream Weaver” that was way back in the ’70s, and 20 years later I get the Wayne’s World script, and it’s got “Dream Weaver” in it.
TC: I had recorded a few demos; I was always on the path to being a singer. Then I did Wayne’s World, which had the heavy rock influence, but that’s not who I am. If you hear my Hawaiian music, it’s really beautiful, and the tone of my voice is very different, rounded, mellow and chill. I put out [my debut album] Dream in 1993. If I’d come out with a rock record right after Wayne’s World I’d still be doing that, probably, because you know, it was the logical next step to capitalize on it. But I wanted to do a pop/R&B record, because it was more to my sensibility. But there was a disconnect marketing-wise. It’s hard.
PS: The role [of Cassandra Wong] was written, but I must have interviewed, God, so many girls to play that part. But when I met Tia, I knew, right then. She was the one I’d fight for. She served so many of the requirements. My thing, having done so many music videos and movies is you gotta get a real musician up there if you’re gonna sell it as a real musician. Actors are great and they can do it, but very few can do both. But she could. Jeff Bridges can do both, Alice proved he can do both. She was so gorgeous. It was a slam dunk.
Paramount Pictures Production still from Waynes World in 1992
TC: I had to learn four songs on bass in three weeks. That, and learning the phrases in Cantonese were the hardest things about my job on that film. Penelope’s boyfriend at the time taught me to play bass. Crucial Taunt, my band, we had to rehearse live. I was dreadful, but at least my fingers moved in the right way. I never played bass again. I had much respect for Sting after that. It’s hard to keep a rhythm that’s in opposition to your vocals. I didn’t know the Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” [which she performs with her movie band Crucial Taunt] before I sang it, which is probably good, as their take on it is completely different from the one Ted Templeman and I did. The legendary Ted Templeman. Van Halen. I remember going to the Van Halen concert in L.A. at the Forum when I was 12. We were up in the last row. Here I am in the studio with their producer. I had to pinch myself. I couldn’t believe the people I was working with.
PS: “Ballroom Blitz” was my choice, I believe. You come up with five songs that you think would be great, and send it over to the music department, and they go, “Well, we can get this one for 20 grand and that one for 100 grand.” Like with “Stairway to Heaven” we were told that we could only use two notes before we’d have to pay $100,000, so to sell that he’s gonna play “Stairway to Heaven” in two notes is pretty difficult. I don’t know this to be absolutely true, but somebody told me that in the first version of the movie we play too many notes. So they had to go back in and edit a note or two out.
AC: When people ask “Which Wayne’s World were you in?” I always tell them, “The funny one.” It’s always hard to do a follow-up… In the long run, the first one was the classic, nothing to do with Aerosmith being in the second. Doing that part two, sophomore, everybody goes “Eh.” There are a couple exceptions; Godfather, Alien, but I just didn’t see it. It worked with Austin Powers; it just didn’t work with Wayne’s World. The funniest part was, of course, “Foxey Lady.” Dana Carvey doing it was hysterical.
PS: I had to fight like hell to get “Foxey Lady” in the movie where Dana dances, trying to seduce the dream girl, Donna Dixon. It was really a hassle to convince them that a Jimi Hendrix song would be funny, but it is.
TC: My daughter thought the movie was hilarious. I showed it to her last Christmas, when she was 10, but I couldn’t sit down on the couch next to her to watch it because I was too nervous. So I was in the kitchen, cleaning, and kept looking around the corner, sneaking a peek, and she was laughing her head off. The jokes still work 25 years later.
Legendary AEROSMITH guitarist JOE PERRY is pictured here after being presented with the Les Paul Award at 32nd Annual NAMM TEC Awards, Saturday, January 23.
PERRY was presented with the prestigious honor by his Hollywood Vampires bandmate Johnny Depp, who said PERRY was “his hero” and “the reason I picked up the guitar in the first place.”
The two were joined by AEROSMITH guitarist Brad Whitford, Robert DeLeo (Hollywood Vampires, Stone Temple Pilots) and Glen Sobel (Alice Cooper) for a three-song set–“Boogie Man,” “Combination,” “Walk This Way”–before PERRY‘s Hollywood Vampires partner Alice Cooperjoined in on “Train Kept A Rollin” and “Sweet Emotion.”
The annual Les Paul Award is given on behalf of the Les Paul Foundation and honors individuals that have set the highest standards of excellence in the creative application of recording technology in the spirit of the famed audio pioneer, inventor and musician, Les Paul. PERRY was honored alongside famed AEROSMITH engineer and producer Jack Douglas, who was inducted into the NAMM TEC Hall of Fame (which was created nearly thirty years ago to honor pioneers of audio technology, as well as the music industry’s most accomplished producers and audio technicians) earlier in the evening.