Alice Cooper performs at Bloodstock Open Air on Aug. 12, 2012. GARY WOLSTENHOLME/REDFERNS VIA GETTY IMAGES
Alice Cooper is a longtime fan of novelist and fellow Christian Anne Rice, whose Christ of Lord: Out of Egypt has been turned into The Young Messiah, a movie that opened this week. When the filmmakers arranged for a screening of the film for Cooper and wife Sheryl, they decided it would be fun to let the rocker interview the writer.
Read Cooper’s interview with the Vampire author below.
Alice Cooper: Was Memnoch the Devil written before or after your conversion to Catholicism? Am I correct in assuming what I read about your conversion?
Anne Riche: Memnoch was written before I returned to the Roman Catholic Church. I think the novel reflects a Catholic upbringing, a Catholic obsession with questions of meaning, a need to explore theologies and question them stridently. I remember including every major question I had, and when Lestat rejected the entire Christian system, as it was presented to him, his decision reflected my attitude. I don’t know what you read about my conversion. I can tell you that I returned to the church of my childhood in December of 1998. I gave up pondering theological absurdities and doctrines, and decided to leave it all to a higher power. I sought to go back to the fold, to the church I knew best, to the Eucharist, and I truly believed that doctrine and theology simply did not matter. What mattered was faith in God and loving God. Twelve years later I came to believe I was mistaken. Or that my approach did not work any longer for me. I left all organized religion in 2010.
Alice Cooper performs at John Varvatos Detroit Store Opening Party hosted by Chrysler on April 16, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan. TASOS KATOPODIS/GETTY IMAGES FOR JOHN VARVATOS
Gordon’s Alive Enterprises even loaned the producers Cooper’s guillotine for a scene on the show.
HBO’s Vinyl, the new series helmed by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, has received mixed reviews from music execs for its depiction of the early ’70s record business. Manager Shep Gordon, however, is a fan of the show and was pleased by its recent depiction Alice Cooper, his long-time client, in Episode 3 of the series. Gordon’s Alive Enterprises even loaned the producers Cooper’s guillotine for a scene on the show.
In the episode titled “Whispered Secrets,” Cooper’s character — played by Dustin Ingram — is courted by young American Century A&R weasel Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid), who tries to convince the frontman to leave the band that bears his name for a solo career. It’s a scene that Gordon says never happened, although Cooper did eventually split from the band, following the success of the 1973 album Billion Dollar Babies.
“If you got a million miles away to Mars, then it was accurate,” Gordon quips. “But in that moment, it wasn’t. I think the story has been told over and over again. It didn’t come out of an A&R guy’s thing. It really came out of each of the guys having the desire to do their own things.” Coincidentally, Gordon adds, Cooper and original band members guitarist Michael Bruce and drummer Neal Smith are writing together in Phoenix this week.
While Vinyl didn’t stick to the facts about Cooper’s real-life story, Gordon acknowledges that it is based in some fact. “I saw A&R guys pitching lead singers every day of the week at the Roxy or the Whisky,” he says. “As soon as a band got successful, these guys would come like locusts, telling everybody anything they wanted to hear, and I’m sure that’s the stuff they were saying behind closed doors.”
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For a 68-year-old, Alice Cooper remains surprisingly relevant. He opened for Mötley Crüe on their final tour last year, rocked the 2016 Grammys with Hollywood Vampires and appeared on Sunday’s installment of Vinyl (an episode named after his classic 1973 LP Billion Dollar Babies). We caught up with the veteran shock-rock visionary to get his take on five songs he’d love to have written.
“…Unlike previous weeks, the Stars in their Eyes treatment of the greats – this week, Alice Cooper – proved one of the episode’s strongest strands. Not least because Dustin Ingram does a passable impersonation and because it was delicious to see creepy Clark get his comeuppance. Plus the sight of Alice Cooper in golf whites is as funny in a questionable prestige drama as it is in real life. Most of all, he had an arc of his own rather than just a cameo, taking down the American Century schmuck with wit and gusto.
The joke, of course, is that for all his guys-together protests, the real Vincent Furnier would take Clark’s advice to the letter just two years later, ditching the band and keeping the name Alice Cooper as a solo artist. He later explained: “It got very basically down to the fact that we had drawn as much as we could out of each other. After 10 years, we were pretty much dry together.” Here’s solo Alice performing I Love the Dead, the song we saw the band soundcheck, years later.”
It’s impossible to overstate how popular Alice Cooper (the original band, not just “Alice” the singer) had become by the time Billion Dollar Babies hit record stores on February 25, 1973. Beginning with Love it to Death, the band’s 1971 breakthrough LP, the group had grown into a juggernaut that dominated the American rock and roll landscape. The sheer chemistry of the band—which featured Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton on guitars, Dennis Dunaway on bass, Neal Smith on drums, and “Alice” on vocals—had evolved through such colossal hits as “Eighteen” and “School’s Out.” Billion Dollar Babies marked the apex of that evolution, even as the group began to parody the “shock rock” theatrics that had helped bring them to such lofty heights.
Listening to Billion Dollar Babies today, it’s clearer than ever that Alice Cooper transcended the novelty tag that some tried to pin on the band at the time. An intensely collaborative unit, the group had sharpened their songwriting skills to perfection, churning out radio-friendly anthems, dirge-y ballads and the occasional stylistic detour with sure-handed finesse. Two hits from Billion Dollar Babies—“No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Elected”—showcased Bruce’s mastery of hook-laden guitar riffs. And while guitar greats Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner served as backups, the ailing Glen Buxton continued to contribute his distinctive lead work.
“Glen’s main guitar was a white SG with three humbuckers and a Bigsby B-5 tremolo,” recalls Smith, “and Michael played an SG–a burgundy one–as well. They each had a really different sound, especially on-stage. Michael had a big, meaty, solid sound, whereas Glen liked to use the tremolo bar a lot. There was lot more jazz in Glen’s playing.”
Smith continues: “Michael and Glen orchestrated their guitar parts. On some songs they played the same line, but one might be an octave different from the other. And sometimes, instead of two guitars playing harmony, Glen would play in a way that would reinforce the bass guitar. That was something he did that was really different.”
The initial sessions for Billion Dollar Babies took place at the Galecie Estate, a Greenwich, Connecticut-based mansion purchased by the band soon after recording their 1972 album, School’s Out. For songs such as “Slick Black Limousine” (one of the bonus tracks included on the deluxe version of the album), the group ran a microphone into an empty greenhouse room built with marble floors and glass walls, in order to capture a natural echo effect. In other instances, rooms of various sizes–usually very small–were miked to achieve particular vocal sounds. Later, the group traveled to Morgan Studios in London to work on additional tracks. During those proceedings a Who’s Who of rock stars converged on the sessions, but only Donovan Leitch (who sang with Cooper on the title song) was sober enough to make a contribution.