Neal Smith: Putting his Head on the Auction Block!

By Jeb Wright

Alice Cooper was a band before it was a person.  History has made it hard to remember, but it is the truth.  The band Alice Cooper helped create Shock Rock, Glam Rock and Theater Rock.  The band was the sum of all of the members, one of which was Neal Smith. Neal has decided to auction off some of his very rare memorabilia from that era. 

The auction will take place on February 20th in Dallas, Texas he will, in association with Heritage Auctions, put up for bid many rare and very sought-after collectibles from his career with Alice Cooper. 

You can check out these items here:

http://entertainment.ha.com/c/search-results.zx?N=53+793+794+792&chkNotSold=0&Ntk=SI_Titles-Desc&Nty=1&Ntt=neal+smith&ic4=KeywordSearch-071515

We are talking about the original guillotine, stage clothes, rare posters and his amazing one of a kind mirrored drum kit.  This is a very cool auction that any fan of the Alice Cooper Band will want to check out! 

Classic Rock Revisited sat down with Neal to talk about these auction items, as well as some of the highlights of Neal’s career.


Jeb: Most people, when they have stuff to get rid of, have a garage sale and get rid of an end table, or old dishes… but when you do it, you have a guillotine. 

Neal: It comes with the territory of the original band.  I had the mirror balls from the Billon Dollar Baby Tour, too.  The reason I got all of this is that they were ready to throw it in the dump.  “They” being the Galesi Estate where we lived in Connecticut.  We’d been out of there for a while, but our roadies were still there.  They had an eight-car garage with a big storage area above it.  We stored all of our Schools Out stuff up there.  We had the hanging gallows up there.  We had the Billion Dollar Baby tour stuff up there as well. 

We were told one day that if it was not out of there in a couple of days it was all going to the dump.  I had two roadies living with me, and we went and took as much stuff as we could and the guillotine was part of it.  I already had my drums, naturally, but the stuff that was in storage was going to be thrown in the garbage, so I had to do it.  I had to go get it as I had protected all of it over the years.   This was back in like 1975.

Jeb: So where have you kept all of this stuff since then?

Neal: I had a big house.  I had a lot of storage in my basement area.  I had tons of room for it, and most of the homes I have lived in were big enough to accommodate that.  Over time, I loaned some stuff out… like the light stairs from the Billion Dollar Babies Tour. The band Dennis [Dunaway] and I had in the late ‘70s called Flying Tiger used the stairs.  After we broke up, I had some friends who borrowed them and they ended up in Hartford, Connecticut.  They are in some Baptist church in Hartford.  They are rocking and rolling on Sunday mornings with the Billion Dollar Babies light stairs.

Jeb: Nothing says Alice Cooper like a guillotine.  Is this an early version?

Neal: This is it… this is the original Billion Dollar Babies guillotine.  The Amazing Randy built it.  He was on tour with it.  There have been others that have been supposedly the original ones over the years, but this is really it. 

We were hanging Alice with the gallows on the Killers and School’s Out tours, but with Billion Dollar Babies we wanted something new.  Randy built it and it was a great illusion.  That is how it all came to be.  It was part of our stage equipment that was ready to be thrown in the dump.  I salvaged it and hung on to it for over forty years. 

Jeb: Why get rid of it now?

Neal: It is just time to let someone else have it.  It has been cool to have over the years.  There are still things I want to do and there are still drums I want to acquire and there are new sets I want to have… I have all of my drums I have ever had and this is the first set I’ve parted with from the Billion Dollar Babies Tour and the Muscle of Love Tour… maybe there will be more drums sold down the line.  I have not made my decision yet.  They are getting a lot of attention. 

Jeb: The mirrored drums… there are some iconic photos of you with your long hair with these.  These are very iconic drums...

Neal: Those are them.  I only have one set.  They were the first mirrored set.  Peter Criss copied it and had a mirrored set.  There was never a set to this magnitude.  This is the epitome of Glam Rock and Shock Rock and Theater Rock.  We had it all, and it is about time people understood that.  I feel bad for David Bowie passing away, it is a real tragedy.  Believe me, however, he didn’t start Glam Rock at all.  We were doing that before he was.  Look at Dennis Dunaway on the Pretties for You album.  Look at us on Easy Action where we had those silver suits on.  You have to give credit where credit is due.  Dennis was the one who was really into that.  It was his inspiration for the mirrored drums, too.  We had different ideas, but Dennis came up with the mirrored drums and I went to that, and that is how it came to be. 

 

Jeb: I talked to Dunaway the other day, and he wanted me to ask you if you could feel Keith Moon when he was behind you playing backstage on that one gig in Detroit…

Neal: Oh, he was back there.  I didn’t even know about it.  It was either The Grandy or the Eastown—I think it was probably the Eastown.  There was a big movie screen that came down from the ceiling.  It was a movie theater at one point.  The opening band would sit in front of it.  The headlining band had their equipment back behind. 

The opening band that night was the Who.  From behind the stage you could see right through the screen.  In front of the screen, because it was pure white there was a light show on it and you could not see behind it. 

We finished the show; this was the Love It to Death Tour, with “Black Juju.”  Goose, my drum tech goes, “Did you hear Keith playing along with you?”  He said, “He was playing with you, note for note, on ‘Black Juju.’  I was backstage and you were in front of the screen and he was behind the screen and it was like a mirror image with him playing right with you.” 

With all of the music from Glen [Buxton], and Dennis and Michael [Bruce] I could not hear the drums behind me as Keith was not mic'ed up. 

That is the story.  Goose said it was amazing.  It always reminds me of a scene from a movie.  If that had been filmed it would have been awesome. 

Jeb:  That is when you know you’ve made it…

Neal: When I get in the zone, don’t fuck with me because I am in another world.  Don’t ever have anybody come on stage with us either.  We would have probably killed them.  We weren’t up there playing blues and just kind of like smoking a joint and hanging out.  Our motto was that we were in attack mode.  We were always ‘on’ and we were always aggressive, believing that nobody could shake us from what we were doing. 

Jeb: Alice said you used to call Keith up to make sure you had one more drum than he did.

Neal: That is not true. I think the real story about Keith Moon is him playing behind me.  That is an amazing story.  If anybody has half a brain they would know that I never talked to Keith Moon on the phone.  I did talk on the phone with Pete Townshend.  I asked him to produce my Platinum God album for me.  He was producing Joe Walsh at the time, so he couldn’t do it.  He was flattered that I asked.  That was the only guy in the Who I ever talked to. 

Between Jimi Hendrix and the Who, I didn’t have to listen to any other music for the rest of my life.  I still go see the Who when they play around.  I’ve become good friends with Zak Starkey.  He is amazing on drums with that band.  I saw the Hyde Park 50th Anniversary Show on TV and it was unbelievable.  I contacted Zak and told him it was great.  Roger [Daltrey] and Pete are always featured, as they should be, but they were featuring Zak a lot on that performance and it was well deserved.  He was flattered with my compliment, but it was one hundred percent true. 

Jeb: You said The Amazing Randy made the guillotine.  Tell me more about how the idea came to make that thing. 

Neal: The story was that we were looking for something for the next execution for Alice.  We had the electric chair, which worked great.  We had the gallows, which worked great.  The next evolution was obviously a guillotine.  For us, this made perfect sense.  We played “I Love the Dead” when Alice was in the guillotine. 

At that time we had a production company putting out ideas for us.  It was over 40 years ago, like in 1972 or 1973.  I can’t remember who came up with the idea.  Ideas were always flying around.  This was the first time that the stage was a huge theatrical stage… the first time in rock and roll history.  Part of it was the guillotine. 

It made sense to find a magician to do this.  Randy was very famous at the time.  He was trying to bust all of the magicians who said they were into the occult and that their magic was real.  He would go after them and prove they were tricks.  Anything anybody could do, Randy could do and he was disproving everybody.  The magic community hated Randy’s guts.  We figured, “This is the guy for us.  We love this guy.” 

He actually built the guillotine.  He went on the road with us on the Billion Dollar Babies Tour in 1973.  He was with us on the Muscle of Love Tour the next year when we had ZZ Top open for us.  Randy was with us every night cutting Alice’s head off.  It was an amazing illusion.  We knew he could pull this off, but with his reputation we knew he was the one.  He was the rebel of magicians.  He fit right in with us.  He’s still alive.  There was a book written about him and I have a couple of things in that book.  We all became really good friends. 

 

Jeb: You got to be a famous rock star, but you also got to sit around talking about how to kill Alice.  How cool. 

Neal: You know what?  Back in the day, it was just natural for us to do that.  We would put a shopping list together and it was second nature to us.  Once we really figured out what we were all about… from the day that we came up with Alice Cooper… which could mean anything in the world… I am talking back in the days of Pretties for You with songs like “Fields of Regret” and then Easy Action with “Lay Down and Die, Goodbye” and the progression in “Black Juju” on Love It to Death, it all was coming together. 

The Doors were that way with their lyrics, but we were bringing death to the stage and killing our singer and bringing him back to life.  We had “Dead Babies” and we had “Raped and Freezing” and stuff.  You see, those songs were the reason we put him to death.  But back in those days it was not out of the ordinary for us to talk about that stuff at all.  You have to understand the five characters between Dennis, Glen, Mike, Alice and me.  It was just a day in the life of the band Alice Cooper.

Jeb: You have a Gold Record Award from the Killer album in the auction.  It is presented to Artie.  Who was Artie?

Neal: Artie King was our head roadie.  He was with us during that time.  There is a very famous picture of Alice and me sitting in a chair in 1971 when we were playing in New York.  There is a baby in Alice’s lap.  I am on the arm of the chair and I have a switch blade and Alice has a baby.  That baby is Artie King’s son.

Artie was a fixture with the band.  When he worked with Dennis and Mike Bruce and I on the Billion Dollar Babies album Battle Axe, we hung around a lot with him.  When he finally took off to parts unknown, he left a suitcase and the Killer Gold album and a 12-gauge shotgun behind. 

I’ve got all of my Gold and Platinum albums, but I do not know what happened to Artie.  It has been kept in my closet for all of these years.  The back of it was all ripped up so I had it tightened up in the back.  I guess if you’re a collector there is a sticker they like to see on the back that is now gone.  It is an original that was given to us when the album went Gold.  That is where it came from.  He had it and gave it to me and he took off and it has been over forty years, so I figure it is time for somebody else to take care of this.

Jeb: There is a cool poster in the auction with Alice in it.  I have never, ever, ever seen this poster.  It has to be very rare. 

Neal: It is the only one I have ever seen.  I had it mounted in the mid-1970s after the Billion Dollar Babies Tour.  It is a cool poster with Alice and the toothpaste tube.  I have never seen another one. 

I wanted to show the drums.  They are the drums that I am auctioning off.  If you look at the drum heads, one of them is slanted on the left and the one on the right is horizontal.  The horizontal one is this one and it is from the Billion Dollar Babies Tour.  The one that is on the angle is from the Muscle of Love Tour.  Those are both original heads from the tour and there were only two.  I was amazed to find the Muscle of Love one.  I didn’t think I had it.  I was looking through a couple of heads and I was like, “Holy shit this is one of the original heads.” 

On the bottom of the poster is says Continental… I just blew this picture up.  I have no idea what the hell that means.  As you can tell, at one time it was folded as there are crease lines.  That is one reason I had it mounted flat on a hardboard.  It is hang-able just as it is right now.  This is a very rare piece.  I’ve never seen that one anywhere.  I probably just shouldn’t be selling it.  I still have tons of stuff.  This auction is just scraping the surface of what I’ve got.

Jeb: The Billion Dollar Babies Tour poster is bad ass.

Neal: That is the original one that was done by Prairie Prince from the Tubes… one is being offered with a Billion Dollar Babies Tour book.  Then there is an auction for just the poster itself.  They are originals.  It is a good sized poster. 

Jeb: I miss the days of cool big rock posters.

Neal: To me, that was such an integral part of rock in the ‘60s through the ‘80s.  We still do it with my solo CD The Story of Killsmith & the Greenfire Empire.  I did a book with the CD.  It just doesn’t have the same impact that an album cover does.  I put it in book form so it is actually a book with a CD inside it.  It is a lot better, but this is all a lost art. 

Anybody who is old school, or are fans of that part of rock ‘n’ roll, will love these posters.  I remember getting albums by The Stones, or Cream, or the Who and you get a poster or something.  You got great packages and they were phenomenal.  It was part of the fun of the music.  School’s Out had the desk and it was cool.  Remember album covers that opened up and were double-folds?  It was great.  It is a lost art. 

Jeb: There is some stuff from the Hall of Fame induction in the auction. 

Neal:  I signed and dated the drum head I played at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  That is off the snare drum from the set I played.  Those are the sticks I played with that night as well. 

Jeb: That could be in the hall of fame.

Neal: That is rock history right there.  The other two items that are there that have to do with the hall of fame… one is the actual nomination announcement of all of the nominees.  We all signed it.  That is when we were nominated.  The drum head is from the live show that night when we played.

Jeb: What was that experience like, to be inducted into the Hall?

Neal: I always tell everybody that it is certainly not about any of us individually.  This was a labor of love and starvation and blood and sweat and tears. 

It was a shame that Glen couldn’t be there.  He was the one… I really was good friends with him and Michael Bruce.  I happened to be living with them at the time when their drummer quit in 1967. 

There is a lot of stuff that happened.  A lot of it is talked about in Dennis’ book.  A lot of it will be talked about in my book when I ever finish it.  It goes back to the days before there was Frank Zappa, or before there was Joe Greenburg, or Shep Gordon, our managers.  There were a lot of emotions tied up in that. 

As far as I’m concerned, when so many people laughed at us and told us that we could never do it… there were five of us against the whole wide world.  That was a hard uphill battle all the way.  Music was so different from what we were doing. 

We hooked up with Bob Ezrin and he actually was one of the first people to really understand what we were doing.  He turned what a lot of people thought was uncommercial into a commercial monster.  We became the number one band in the world with the album Billion Dollar Babies.  It was almost like what we projected in Love It to Death in the song “Caught in a Dream.”  We looked into the future and saw what we wanted to be.  The song “Billion Dollar Babies” got us there. 

We just said, “Fuck you” to anyone who ever doubted us.  There was nobody in the band for a second who doubted what we were doing.  It is not an ‘I told you so’ it is even worse than that. It is “Go fuck yourself and anyone else who ever criticized us.”  We didn’t care. 

Once we opened that door—we didn’t open it, we blew it open with a nuclear bomb.  Once it was open, then everyone saw you could go onstage and have theatric and wear makeup and be a commercial success.  You can be a freak. 

It opened the whole thing.  To this day we look back at the bands that followed us and some of them are in the Hall of Fame now.  

There was a lot of pride going into the Hall, but there was sadness because Glen was not there.  He was the nucleus and the heart of the band.  Dennis will say the same thing. Michael and Alice will say that as well.  He put us over the top with his influence in the song “School’s Out.”  That is what made us a household name.  It was Glen that did it. 

Our reputation was built, but we didn’t have that monster hit yet.  “School’s Out” did it. Glen had the attitude.  It was a shame he could not be there. 

We got in the first time we were nominated.  We looked at who got in on their first nomination and it was Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, the Who… and us.  I am always grateful for every single second the original band can get up and play.  I love every guy in the band and I get very emotional. 

 

Jeb:  When Alice went his own way, some were bitter or angry or hurt.  I never got that vibe from you.

Neal: You never will.  When there were rumblings of any kind of a lawsuit, I said, “There is no way in the world I will ever sue one of my best friends.”  It was not going to happen.  If somebody else wanted to do it without me, then, whatever...  I think it is one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.

I think it is one reason—I get emotional about it.  When we got into the Hall we were all able to hug each other.  We were able to just give them a hell of a show like we always did.  And that is what we did.

Jeb: The hardcore fans -like me- would love to see it happen, one more tour.  Glen couldn’t be there, but man….

Neal: You’ve got to remember, Alice just turned 68 today.  Michael will be there in March.  I turned 68 last September.  We all feel like kids when we play and Alice goes on the road and does wonderfully.  Let me put it in simple terms, it would take a few more weeks than normal to get back into shape. 

Jeb: You were the last guy in band.  You went to a different school.

Neal: I went to Camel Back and everyone else went to Cortez. 

Jeb: What did you bring to the band that they needed?

Neal: The other drummer they had was a good friend of mine, and he was a different style of drummer.  I think once I was in the band… I was always very much a showman.  I always wanted to be the biggest baddest and the best.  Even more than that, I wanted us to be the coolest musicians on the planet.  I think ultimately the group Alice Cooper was the hippest band of the era.  Nobody was cooler than us. 

We were able to keep our image and still do the dark side that made us Alice Cooper, plus make hits.  Even before that I was a little more flamboyant.  I wanted my hair to be longer than everyone else’s.  I wanted my clothes to be more outrageous. 

Dennis came up with amazing ideas for Glam Rock and we all kind of took it on.  Once that door was opened, we just could do anything we wanted. 

I was the first guy in the band to buy a car and it was a Silver Cloud Rolls Royce.  That was a goal of mine.  That was in late ’72 after School’s Out.  When I left school in 1967 I had a picture of a white Rolls Royce next to my bed and eventually it happened. 

If you go back and look at pictures of The Nazz versus the first pictures of when I was in the band.  Alice and I both permed our hair out, and the clothes get to be a little crazier.  Cindy, my sister, moved in with us when we went to Hollywood.  She was making us clothes. 

I probably fit in with Glen, Dennis and Michael musically better than the other drummer.  He is very good, but he had a different philosophy. 

I have a philosophy about making it, but it was to be a little more experimental with the music and a little more album oriented music, but still to have the hits. 

The first time we started going out into the desert we would have a couple of beers and a couple of joints and just have fun.  Alice, he was Vince at the time, was not even there.  The other drummer was still in the band and I was just going out to play with some friends.  It was nothing more, nor nothing less than that. 

Dennis and I were oil and vinegar.  We were totally different.  When we play together we just know where each of us is going and it is amazing.  He makes a change and I make a change and it just flows together.  We are on the same wavelength when we are just jamming freestyle on music.  I think we are one of the most underrated rhythm sections in rock and roll.  The chemistry just gelled better once I was there.  I really understood what they were doing. 

Jeb:  You have all of those old stage clothes in the auction.  You saved them all?

Neal: They were all in my closet over the years.  All of my boots are gone.  I had some of the coolest boots.  I am six foot three and my heels were six inches!  I was six foot nine with all of that shit on. 

I have normal clothes too, but then I have all of this crazy stuff.  Plus, my sister made the majority of these clothes and wouldn’t throw her stuff away.  It is a matter of it being family.  This is my legacy. 

Jeb: Did that make it harder to sell?  

Neal:  Yeah, but it is just time to do it.  It is important to me, but I have the beautiful pictures from Heritage Auction House that they took.  The pictures will be just as cool to me as the physical items. 

Occasionally, over the last ten years, I have sold something here and there, but these things have never been on sale in bulk like they will be in this auction.  I am just scraping the surface. 

Maybe I will do more someday, and maybe I won’t.  I just want to see what happens.  It is a lot of fun. 

There is one pink outfit that is actually Alice’s.  I was with Alice the other day, and I told him whatever I get from that I will give to his Solid Rock Foundation.  He told me years ago he didn’t want it back.  I am still happy to take the money and donate it to his foundation.  There are a lot of cool things up for sale. 

Jeb: What happened to the School’s Out desk on the cover?

Neal: It is in one of the Hard Rock Cafés.  I am not sure which one.  I have seen the display.  It’s great.

Jeb: Did you know “School’s Out” was the song?

Neal: Everybody has a spin on it, but the career we had started with two artistically successful, but commercially unsuccessful albums.  Love It to Death went Gold and Killer then went Platinum.  You pretty much have done what many bands that have made it have done.  You have Gold and Platinum and you have a hit with “Under My Wheels.” 

The only album I thought would be a hit was Love it To Death. School’s Out I didn’t know if it was meaningful and with the times.  I didn’t know if we were able to maintain the grip on what we had. 

I don’t give a fuck what anybody says, you just don’t have a crystal ball.  You might feel positive about it. I loved the song “School’s Out,” but did I ever think that in 2016 I would still get royalties for it?  Or be in the Grammy Hall of Fame for it?  Hell no.  If it would have been a Gold album, then we would have been successful.

School’s Out just skyrocketed.  Then Billion Dollar Babies was Number One in the world.  I have to honestly say I thought it was a great album. Schools Out is one of my favorite albums.

I didn’t know it was a hit until it was out there.  We released it just as school was really getting out.  The album followed in the beginning of June, a few weeks later.  The song opened the door for the album.  That element of timing and luck… if they don’t happen, then we could have ended up with another Pretties for You or Easy Action

To be a fortune teller and say I knew it was going to happen… no.  The only one that I heard and felt it might be a hit was Love It to Death.  I remember lying on the floor half asleep and I put on the headphones and I heard the album through headphones and I went “Holy fucking shit this is amazing.” 

Thank goodness “School’s Out” was such a monster hit.  Little kids these days may not know the name Alice Cooper, but they all know “School’s Out.”  They will always and forever know “School’s Out.”  It worked out on the magnitude that we could have never predicted.

Jeb: You have one of the most famous drum intros with “Billion Dollar Babies.”

Neal: That was one of the things that Bob Ezrin and I had to work out.  The original idea for “Billion Dollar Babies” was a more straight ahead drum part.  Because I am a rudimentary drummer, I love flams.  I wanted to do a big flam intro.  It was my own edition of Charlie Watts on “Get Off of My Cloud.’’  I wanted to something that was Neal Smith.  Bob said I could try it, but I had to play it perfect all the way throughout, and I did.  End of story. 

Jeb:  Why did Bill Graham hate the Alice Cooper Group?

Neal: He hated us.  I was with Shep out to dinner with Bill.  I was surprised they didn’t go to fisticuffs over a table.  What was happening… this is speculation.  I know that Shep and Bill didn’t like each other.  I saw it with my own eyes.  Bill Graham had started something with The Fillmore that was more theater rock.  He loved that style of a show where it was intimate. 

We were progressing from theaters to college gymnasium to outdoor stadiums.  Bill was not happy about that.  When he closed The Fillmore East---recently was an anniversary of the closing, which was in the ‘70s.  He said the death of rock ‘n’ roll was caused by… he doesn’t mention bands by names, but what he mentions was characteristics about bands very much like Alice Cooper. 

One of the reasons we were out of the Hall of Fame for so long was that we were not traditional.  We were never mainstream, and that is what is so weird about the Grammy and the Hall of Fame.  Everyone says Alice Cooper is mainstream.  Give me a fucking break.  Everybody used to shun us. 

“School’s Out” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame last year.  It was the first time we’d ever been mentioned at the Grammy.  Way back, the cover of the album for School’s Out may have been nominated, but that was it.  To make it short, Bill Graham didn’t like us very much and it was never a good situation. 

Jeb:  Last question: What is up musically with Neal Smith in 2016?

Neal: I am out here with Michael and Alice right now.  You never know what will happen.  We have not done anything yet, but there are some things coming down the pike.  We do some things once in a while.  There is nothing on the table and there is nothing off the table. 

I know the fans would love to hear something.  We were lucky to get three songs on the last Welcome 2 My Nightmare album.  When we’re together just hanging out, you never know what will happen.  It is just fun to hang out and to get together. 

I am still writing songs and working on my book.  I know Michael is always writing songs. 

I am taking it one day at a time and just trying to not be one of these statistics that you read about in the news.  These guys are all going out one at a time.  It is pretty crazy.

Check it the auction here

http://nealsmithrocks.com/news/heritage-auction-neal-smith-collection

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