In a new edition of Audible’s Words + Music series, Alice Cooper digs deep into his past for a pile of stories from his early days with the original Alice Cooper band.
From near-death experiences on the freeway to encounters with Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and others, “Who I Am: The Diary of a Vampire” is an engaging and often amusing listen.
He’s also touring again after sitting at home since the pandemic hit. “It’s such a relief to be on the road again,” he tells UCR. “It’s like [we’re] kids in a candy shop. We can’t wait to get onstage after a year and a half of sitting around. … It was unbelievable. And we thought it would be maybe a month. The last show we did was with Queen in Sydney, Australia, 95,000 people. We had no idea that was the last Alice Cooper show for a year and a half. So it came as a shock to us.”
In the below interview, Cooper shares some road stories, including time spent with Kiss and writing classics like “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”
You’re doing shows right now with Ace Frehley. How did you first meet him?
We’d known [Kiss] back in the day. We were not surprised about Kiss. We knew them back when they were …. before Kiss. We told them where to buy their makeup. [Laughs] People were going, “What do you think about this band that wears makeup?” And I went, “Yeah, I know who they are. They wear Kabuki makeup, and it’s not like mine and they’re not like us. They’re their own thing.” When we first started the whole theatrics thing, I was hoping it was going to break the door down and say that theatrical bands could make hit records. We did that. Then Kiss came and [David] Bowie came, and everybody that wanted to be theatrical could be theatrical and still make hit records. That was one of the few things that we did before anybody else.
You’ve recorded new versions of some of your most well-known songs for this Audible project. How did the idea of revisiting those songs come about?
I would never have done that if Bob Ezrin wasn’t involved. Bob and I, we’re as close as it can be when it comes to writing about Alice or writing for Alice. Because we always talk about Alice in the third person. I relate to Alice more as a character than part of me. So when we did this, I always promised my fans, “You’ll never see me on MTV doing acoustic versions of our songs.” Alice Cooper is electric. We’re loud and we’re in your face, and we’re hard rock. But for a project like this, I said, “That’s kind of a cool thing to do.” To do, really, lounge versions of “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out.” I said, “As long as they have a hint of a sense of humor in it, I think it’s a great idea.”
It was kind of fun to record them with all of the production. You know: How would you treat this song if it was just a guitar or a piano? And so, yeah, I would only have done that with Bob Ezrin.
You talk about how Pink Floyd in their early days had a light show like yours. No one would expect that now.
Oh, yeah. It was back when they ran out of money and they moved in with us! We were playing the same club. We knew who they were, but I don’t think anybody on the planet knew who they were. We went to see them and I went, “That’s exactly our light show,” which was just colored lights flickering on and off. We got along with these guys so well. Because we were both kind of psychedelic at the time. I think they were impressed that we knew all of the songs from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. We knew all of those songs. Syd Barrett and [original Alice Cooper guitarist] Glen Buxton got along. They were both two of the weirdest guitar players ever!
They came over and stayed, I think, for a weekend with us, because they ran out of money. I mean, they just literally ran out of money. We always just put our money in, and we could at least eat. The funniest story there was that we did get an audition at Gazzarri’s in the afternoon. Pink Floyd decided to make brownies. Now, I had never ingested marijuana before. It’s a different high. I mean, it’s like, really, you get crazy stoned. We were up onstage trying to do these songs for an audition, and I kept falling off the stage. It was only about a foot high. The Floyd were in the audience. It was just them in the afternoon, and they were laughing their heads off because we were so stoned. But we did get the job!
What did working with Frank Zapp contribute to the development of the band’s sound? The records you made with Zappa are different from where the band eventually went.
Here was the thing about Frank: Frank did not want to produce us like a production. He listened to the songs on Pretties for You, which were very strange little songs. They were like a two-minute song with 25 changes. There were five or six of those kind of songs. He listened to them, and he goes, “I don’t get it.” I said, “Well, is that good or bad? He said, “No, it’s good. If I don’t get it, then I want to record it! But I don’t want to produce it. I want you guys to do these songs live in the studio. Because nobody’s going to believe that you do these songs live with all of these changes in them, and you don’t make mistakes.”
And he says, “Your band, for some reason, knows how to slow down and speed up exactly the same way every time.” So we were a bit of a curiosity to Frank. He said, “I’m not going to produce this album. I want you to do all of these songs live in the studio.” That’s what we did. Pretties for You was all live in the studio.
I also love the stories that you tell about Chuck Berry and Little Richard, particularly Chuck Berry making up words.
Yeah, there’s only so many syllables in that measure, and you’ve got to not only syncopate them, you’ve got to make them tell a story. And on top of it, it’s got to have a punch line and it’s gotta fit the music. People go, “Well, that must be very complicated,” and I go, “It really isn’t.” You know, write the punch line first and then work backwards. So you know you’re going to hit [that mark]. You don’t have to do the song and then go, “Okay, now what’s the punch line?” You’ve already written the punch line. You know what it’s going to be. It’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” So how do you get to that? You have to talk about what’s frustrated you to the point of saying, “No more Mr. Nice Guy.” “I used to be such a sweet, sweet thing, until they got a hold of me.” Opened doors for little old ladies, you know, helped the blind to see. Then all of a sudden you saw your name in the paper, and people started tearing you to pieces. Okay, no more Mr. Nice Guy!
That’s just one example, but I always like to write [like that]. I think the song should be the chorus. That should be the title of the song, usually. Because the old thing is, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” But I learned a lot of that from Chuck Berry, though. He did it so many times, and he did it so well. When you think about the songs that he wrote, the picture of him riding on a city bus trying to catch Nadine. You know, [the lyrics about] the coffee-colored Cadillac, I’m just saying, “That’s just so picturesque.” That’s how I want to write. I want people to close their eyes and picture everything that’s going on in the song.
What was your biggest takeaway getting to take the dive into your own history?
I don’t mind letting people in on my personal life. It’s Alice that I want to keep the mystery. You know, Alice the character is the one that has no background. He has no history. He’s a character, so he really just came out of my brain and Bob Ezrin’s brain. We developed that character, and we know what he would say and what he wouldn’t say – what he would wear, what he wouldn’t wear. All of [that kind of stuff]. But as far as my personal background, I talk about all of it. I don’t hide anything. People are always surprised that I talk about my Christianity, and I go, “Why would I hide that?” You know, I don’t hide all of the other stuff. The drug addiction and all of the alcoholism, and all of that. So why would I hide the Christianity? I don’t hold anything back when it comes to my own history.