By Jeb Wright
Dennis Dunaway is, after all of this time, a member of the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, along with the other original members of the Alice Cooper Group. It was a long road but the Hall finally figured out that the Coop Group were not only one of the most popular bands in hard rock history, they have influenced every aspect of today’s modern rock show. From the lights, to the theatrics, to the way the entire stage is set up and constructed, can be traced back to the days when a teenage Dunaway and a teenage Vincent Furnier (later to become Alice Cooper) were teammates on their high school cross country team. They dreamed of becoming rock stars and bringing the elements of old fashioned horror movies to the rock stage.
It took years to perfect their craft, and even longer to get the world to notice, but once they noticed, oh how they noticed! Alice Cooper became a phenomenon. They were loved by many, hated by parents and they terrified anyone over the age of 40 – maybe even 30. Many missed the point, the sense of humor and the tongue in cheek-ness of the whole thing but that only spurred record sales. Now, decades after they started that long road to stardom, they are getting the respect they deserve.
Dennis Dunaway still struggles for personal recognition, as many lump him in with the dozens of players that have been with Cooper since he left the original band. Even Alice admits that the concepts and designs that he earns his living on were a group effort. Real rock fans know who Dennis is but outside of the inner circle he is still not nearly as famous as his makeup wearing best friend.
In the interview that follows Dennis discuses his quest to find a book publisher. He has written a bio that will show how the band formed and rose to stardom. He also discusses his other bands, the 5th Avenue Vampires and Blue Coupe, a collaboration with ex-Blue Oyster Cult members, and brothers, Joe and Albert Bouchard. The conversation then gets back to the Cooper days, the induction into the HOF and some little known facts concerning the classic original group’s discography.
If you’ve ever wondered why the band dedicated a song to Gene Vincent, had Liza Minnelli sing on an album, wanted to learn more about paper panties or find out if that was really Alice Cooper’s penis on the original, untouched cover to Love It to Death, then read on as this interview is for you!
Jeb: I have heard you have a book you want to put out.
Dennis: Joe Hurley is a good friend, and he and Johnny Depp were the guys who read Keith Richard’s audio book. Keith’s book went through the roof and won awards. The audio book version won an award as well. The audio book is eleven CDs. Johnny Depp can’t make it to collect his award but Joe is not as busy [laughter]. Joe is based in New York City, so he will accept the award. Joe has been on a crusade to help me find a publisher. I have a couple of backup plans as well because it is really tough. People just don’t think of Alice Cooper as a band. They hear the words “Alice Cooper” and they think of one person. I get lumped in with all the other people who have played with Alice, it doesn’t seem to matter that I’m in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Jeb: You’re too humble. I think the press releases surrounding the Hall induction did a good job explaining who you were and why you were all going in the Hall and not just Alice.
Dennis: Alice was very good about it. I have even seen, in more than one interview, where he would correct the interviewer and make sure they knew it was the original band. He would then have to correct the interviewer again a few minutes later. It is like they just can’t think about Alice Cooper being a band and they didn’t even hear him. When I meet people that I’ve known for a while, and one way or another, they find out my background, they can never remember what band it was that I was in. They think of Alice in Chains, or someone else, because they just can’t think of Alice Cooper as a band.
Jeb: What is next? The Alice Cooper movie?
Dennis: Yeah, a movie. The next step will be a Broadway show, as you can tell that is really what they are targeting with Welcome 2 My Nightmare.
Jeb: What else is going on with you, Dennis? What is 2012 going to bring?
Dennis: I am hell bent on getting that book deal so I can get my story out there. It almost sounds like fiction because it is the truth. My book is about the beginnings of when I met Alice, we were in high school and we were fourteen years old. We became best friends, and we still are.
The book’s focus is on how these high school guys, who were totally green behind the ears, and how we got this artistic vision. It shows how we went through our highs and lows and how we starved and everything we went through to get this vision across to the world. The odds were really against us. People were violently against what we were doing but we all stuck together. The book is about the true spirit of the Alice Cooper Group. My book ends at the Hollywood Bowl. Why does my book end at the Hollywood Bowl? I will tell you. Up until then, we had some big success but for every person who called us a success, there was a long line of people who were still totally down on us. We would try to get on a television show and they would find out who we really were and what we were like and they would not let us on. Because of that, there are not many good videos of the original band. Parents poisoned our image and were afraid of us and advertisers for these shows didn’t want to be associated with us. A lot of doors were shut on us at that time.
When we played the Hollywood Bowl, I said to myself, “This is the Hollywood Bowl, we’ve made it.” At that point is also when things started to shift. Decisions started to be made for monetary reasons and not for artistic reasons. For me, that was the cutting off point for the spirit of the band. The original spirit of the band was being betrayed. I have a second book but that is really an entirely different story. I have not written it yet. It is like I swam the Atlantic and now I’m thinking of swimming the Pacific. The second book will be much harder to write because of the emotional things that will have to go into it. In the early days, the gigs stood out a lot more because we were experimenting so much. We were never doing the same show twice and it is easier to remember. Once we got to the big arena shows, things started being more repetitive and every city was becoming the same. It really became more of a blur.
Jeb: I have heard Neal Smith is writing a book too. Alice will write one one day. What is different about your version of the story than their versions?
Dennis: I think the advantage I have over the other guys is that I was the quite observer. I know that is hard to believe as much as I’m talking to you now, but back then I was the introvert of the group. The only time I ever talked was in the rehearsal room. When I was in the rehearsal room, I was a big crusader for doing something big and different. When I was out in public, if I said a word, then Alice would say, “Look, Dennis is having a heartbeat.” I sat in the back of the station wagon and observed. Glen [Buxton] would be up front throwing out one-liners. You could never remember all of them because he would have a million of them in one day.
Everyone knows how witty Alice is and Michael [Bruce] and Neal have a strong sense of humor, as well. I was the quite observer. I would be in the back of the station wagon and when someone would say something interesting, I would write it down on a piece of paper. When I would get home at the end of the tour, then I would have this pile of papers in the bottom of my suitcase. I saved all of these papers for all of these years. I know there were things that happened out on the road with the Alice Cooper Group that I witnessed that the other guys in the band didn’t even realize were going down because they were trying to outdo each other with jokes, or getting the attention of the groupies. All of that time, I was watching what was going on. I bring all of that to the table.
The difference in my book and Neal’s will be that Neal has the details down. He knows what night we played where and how much we got paid. Me, I didn’t care what day it was back then, so I have no idea what day it was now. My timeline is a little bit inaccurate, and intentionally so. If something interesting happened in Toledo one night and then the following night something else happened in Cleveland, then I combined some of that. Otherwise, I would have to try to build everything up and then explain we traveled. I will say “this happened and that happened” instead of saying “this happened here and then we got on a bus and drove and then that happened.” It just makes the story flow better.
My book is about the chemistry of the band, the good and the bad about everybody, including me, in an honest way. I am a fan of the other guys in the band because they are all so talented. We all had quirky things that we did, as most artists do, but there is nothing malicious. There are no sour grapes. The book is about the musical vision and the artistic dream that we set out to accomplish. When you think about it, then it really is a miracle that these five very different personalities convinced themselves that, even though cowboys were going to be busting the windows out of our cars while we were playing, this was still the direction we needed to continue going in. It is really unbelievable. Michael Bruce was a football player but Alice and I ran cross country. Cross country, back in Arizona was not very popular. We’d have a meet and the bleachers would be empty except for the janitor and his dog. The dog would be looking at his wristwatch to see if it was time to go home yet [laughter].
Jeb: Other than the book, what else will 2012 bring? Will Blue Coupe or The 5th Avenue Vampires be recording anything new?
Dennis: The Vampires have recorded some tunes. We all wrote one called “White Lady.” We also have a song I wrote called “The Wild Ones.” They worked on a lot of tracks without me as the sessions got severely interrupted when the Alice Cooper Group got inducted into the Hall of Fame. The Vampires were about to go out on tour. Blue Coupe started having a lot of things starting to happen and then I got pulled out of the picture.
Now that the dust has settled on the Hall of Fame induction – I can look at the trophy on the mantel when I feel like it. I am not getting flooded with phone calls anymore. For three months, I couldn’t do anything but answer the phone. It was great, as I had a lot of well-wishers but I couldn’t get anything else done. Now we’re back on track. Blue Coupe includes Joe and Albert Bouchard of Blue Oyster Cult fame. They are amazing to work with. They’re nothing but fun. The three of us just love to jump in a car and go. We are really down in the trenches and therefore we get a lot of gigs that my other bands would have a much more difficult time getting. A trio can fit in a car with a driver and the equipment but if you add another musician then you have to start adding more cars. We’re going to be playing in Canada on New Year’s Eve and then do a string of gigs up there. We are then headed to France and we have some other irons in the fire but they are not confirmed yet.
Jeb: I really like Blue Coupe. I doubt you did this on purpose but that band really does meld the Cooper sound and the BOC sound together.
Dennis: It is not intentional. When I write a song then I have certain influences I draw upon, and the same is true with Joe and Albert. Every musician has those things that they like and that they know how to apply. There are also a lot of compromises, as well. I really love that. Richie Scarlet may come at it from one direction, like a locomotive, but Russ Wilson comes at it from a different direction. As a drummer, he comes up with some crazy ideas and he always nails it.
When it comes to Blue Coupe, Joe, Albert and I are on the same page. We have all been around the block a few times. We did a tour back in 1972, when Blue Oyster Cult opened for Alice Cooper. It was the biggest tour that we ever did; we were on the cover of Forbes magazine. Blue Oyster Cult really took off after that and their popularity skyrocketed and they had all of those incredible hits. They had that laser light show that was way ahead of everybody else. We are from the same cut. I like that because if there is a certain thing that I think needs to be done, then usually, we don’t even have to talk about it because it’s already understood. With other musicians, I tend to find myself explaining why or why not something should be done.
Blue Coupe have recorded over thirty songs. We have that many to choose from at this time. Joe and Albert are so prolific. When I open my email up every morning I find more demos. I am like, “We don’t need more songs!” Actually, the more songs that we have to choose from, then the more likely it is that we will end up with the album that we want.
I love working with those guys. Joe and Albert are brothers and they are truly made from the same cookie cutter. Albert sings, as well, and there is something about sibling voices that work well together. There is something about their voice patterns and vibrations that make things work. Listen to the Beach Boys and the Everly Brothers and you can tell how well sibling voices blend. We have Joe and Albert, and then on some gigs we have Tish and Snookie from The Sic F*cks. Tish and Snooky are sisters. When we do gigs, and I am between two brothers and two sisters, there is this sound that is really something. Every once in a while, they will belt out a note and you can really see the audience go, “Wow.” I don’t want to sound over flattering to myself, but sometimes it sounds like something Fleetwood Mac would do.
Between Albert, Joe and I, we have so many friends who are musicians that somebody is always jumping up on stage with us. The night before Thanksgiving we had Ross the Boss and Andy Shernoff from the Dictators jump up with us. We had Jimmy Kunes, the singer for Cactus, come up and then Andy Hilfiger joined us. It went on the entire night. The first half of the night we followed the setlist but once we started inviting people up, the setlist went out the window and we were winging it baby! It was a fun night. I’m a lucky guy. I have got to work with Alice, Glen, Michael and Neal and now I am working with all of these guys. I really love it.
Jeb: We have talked many times and I know how much you love music. After the original Alice Cooper Group split up, you were away from music for a long, long time. Why?
Dennis: I got very bitter, not only about the betrayal that I thought, in my mind, came from our fans because I thought they were too sheepish to move away from the original group. I was very disenchanted with the record company for abandoning us like they did. I was even bitter about what I thought was a betrayal of friendship over money. I decided I was going to get back to doing music for what I started doing it for. I felt I had lost sight of what I loved about it. I decided to not go out and play anymore and instead, I went down into my basement and I wrote over 200 songs. I still have most of them unrecorded. Glen and Neal and various other friends would come over and we would just jam and jam and jam.
I also had a long term illness that was pecking away at me, which eventually left me in the hospital in critical condition for a month. They didn’t think I was going to be able to survive the surgery. That is when I started writing my book. I thought, “How can I die if I am writing a book?” I knew I would have to stay alive until I was finished.
I am now in a frame of mind where I am going to do what I’m going to do. I’ve spent my entire career compromising. I have goals that are so different that it loses certain musicians because they can’t relate to it because its avant-garde stuff. I’ve always had those ideas, and those ideas had a lot to do with the uniqueness of the Alice Cooper Group. Having someone whittle it down and put these ideas into a box was something that I was very resistant of. I ended up being more acceptable of that but I have changed. Being acceptable doesn’t belong in art.
Jeb: Have you always considered yourself an artist first and a musician second?
Dennis: I’m a conceptual artist who just happens to play the bass and play rock music. I began as a painter. The first thing I can remember as a little kid was having a chalkboard and I would draw a little bunny rabbit and everyone would go, “ooh” and “ah.” In grade school, the kids didn’t even know my name; they called me “The Arteest.” I met Alice in art class. We were on the cross country team, as I mentioned, and that was a bonding thing, especially out in the desert heat. We were also in journalism together.
Jeb: How is painting and writing music similar?
Dennis: The chord structures I write applies to the blotches of paint that I put on a canvas. Lines are like the lead guitar – it all relates.
Jeb: I asked Neal and Alice about the Hall of Fame induction when I interviewed them. I have one question I want to ask you about it. Tell me if I was a fly on the wall and you guys were all there and it was going to happen, what was that moment like?
Dennis: If you watched the program when it was broadcast, then you know that Rob Zombie was the one who inducted us. Once he was done, they had a big movie screen, which filled up your television screen at home, of clippings that they had put together that showed why the Alice Cooper Group deserved to be inducted. They did a great job of that, as they had some footage of Glen that I had never seen. We were standing at the bottom of the screen with our backs to this amazing audience, which was comprised of people like Bruce Springsteen and Michael Douglas, and we were watching the screen. Steve Hunter was standing to my right, Alice was to my left, Neal was ahead of me and Michael was beyond Alice. I looked over at them and I said, “Can you believe it?” Alice just said, “No.”
Jeb: You guys had come a long way from track practice.
Dennis: That’s true. We had the dream. People would ask us, “When did you think that you could be stars?” That was the dream; we always dreamed we would be rock stars. We just had to convince the rest of the world.
Jeb: How did you get back to working with Bob Ezrin and Alice on Welcome 2 My Nightmare? Was going back and recording with those two…was that a great thing for you?
Dennis: Absolutely. First of all, there had been rumors about us being nominated at that point. Every year for the past fifteen years the rumor would come around but this year it was more intense and a bit more believable. We were also very excited to be going back in the studio with Bob Ezrin. My concern was that we wouldn’t sound like the original band any more, especially with Glen missing. I took Glen’s 1956 Harvard Fender tweed amp into the studio and we got a vase of a dozen red roses and we put a bottle of Seagram’s 7 in front of it and that was our shrine to Glen. We wanted his spirit in the studio with us. Anytime I play “18” or “Schools Out” then Glen’s spirit is always with me.
Bob Ezrin was perfectly open. The dynamics could easily have changed. I have to tell you, the first time we ever worked with Bob was forty years ago, to the second day of that W2MN session. The thing that was very refreshing was that the humor was still flying. Some people might come in and see us laughing and look at the clock and see dollars ticking away while these guys are joking around. Getting all of this stuff done, under the gun, gets very intense; we had two days to record three songs. The humor helps with that. I also have to say that it was refreshing to see Bob still willing to try whatever ideas we were throwing out there; it was still the old chemistry. We kicked things around and we made the songs better by doing that. It really was like the old days.
Jeb: Will the original band ever made a new album with Alice?
Dennis: Alice has said in a few recent interviews that it is going to happen but sometimes when Alice says something is going to happen, that means it will never happen [laughter]. We’ve all been here all along, even in the worst of times. The band never really broke up. We were doing the Battle Axe album, which was going to be the next Alice Cooper album. Alice’s direction had been forged into a new path that didn’t include us.
It’s never been like what they told everybody throughout all these years that we didn’t want to do theatrics anymore. I don’t understand how anybody could believe that. All you have to do is look at the Billion Dollar Babies Battle Axe show. We sunk a fortune into that and it was the most theatrical show that we had ever done. I have heard that we just wanted to split up the money but that doesn’t make sense because we put all of our money into the Battle Axe show. It wasn’t that at all; it had all to do with someone being able to make more money without us, which is really a shame. We were ready to finally sign our biggest contract, where we would finally have the budget to do these ideas that we had but we couldn’t afford to do. We made sure that the audience never got what they expected. One of our big goals was to give the audience the unexpected. If somebody came two nights in a row, then we wanted them to see a different show. In the early days, our shows were very abstract and had a million different elements. We had people who were following our shows trying to find meanings between the different shows, as if they were clues and it would all fit together. Of course, there was no meaning.
Jeb: I have done some research and I have a lot of odd facts about the band that I didn’t know. I want to ask you about them. The first one is this: Did Frank Zappa really want to rename the band to “Alice Cookies” and make the band a comedy act?
Dennis: He wanted to call us “Alice Cookies.” As far as him wanting to turn us into a comedy act, we were dead serious about what we were doing. We were a comedy act to everyone else in Hollywood, at the time [laughter].He wanted to call us “Alice Cookies” and he wanted to have little records in tuna fish cans. Each song on the album would be its own little record and in a tuna fish can, which would be stacked on the counter at the record store. You would buy the can and take it home and open it with a can opener. Each disc would look like a cookie. When he was telling us this idea, he had this glint in his eye and he was very enthusiastic about it. He was the maestro so who were we to question him? When we drove home we were talking about it and saying how no one would take us seriously unless we were called Alice Cooper.
Jeb: The first album, Pretties for You, was supposed to have a different photo of the band. Rumor has it that Zappa lost the picture.
Dennis: Yeah, there was one picture that the band loved, hands down. We all agreed that this one picture was the best of the photo session. When we saw the mockup of the album cover, it had, what I thought, and still think, was an inferior picture of us. They said, “Well, we’re not sure where that other picture is.” They went on to say, “If you want to use a different picture, then you’ve got to get it to us right away, as this is going out to press today.” We went down to the office where the pictures were kept and we ransacked that place. We pulled out the file cabinets and looked for that frigging picture and we couldn’t find it.
Jeb: The “Levity Ball” has strings on the song, you can hear them. Legend holds that the strings are a bleed through from using a tape too many times and that they just happen to be in the same key. No way this one is true.
Dennis: We did a studio recording of that song and we didn’t like the feel of it as much as we liked the feel of the song on our demo. The demo is the one that ended up on Pretties for You. It was recorded on a Concord reel-to-reel tape recorder. We lost a lot of songs because we didn’t have a tape recorder. When we did have a recorder, we never had any tapes because we couldn’t afford tapes. Neal had recorded the soundtrack for “King Solomon’s Mine” on the tape that we ended up recording over to make “Levity Ball.” The song has this moment when the guitars crash down and Glen hits a note and then it gets really quite. You can actually hear the natives talking at that part. Michael brings in the sparse guitar notes after that. It was a tape bleed because we were using a tape that had been used a thousand times over.
Jeb: That is a happy accident.
Dennis: We loved the accidents. We thought things like that were cosmic.
Jeb: Easy Action was the next album. I have read where the lyrics to “Mr. and Misdemeanor” were about Alice and Glen.
Dennis: I don’t think so. What is interesting about that song is that when the Alice Cooper Group did our Bastille Day Party at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles – this was a huge party that was funded by Warner Brothers Records. The GTO’s were there and Richard Chamberlain, Randy Newman and a lot of celebrities were there as well. The poet Rod McKuen was there. He made a big deal about how much he loved the lyrics to “Mr. and Misdemeanor.”
Jeb: Why did you dedicate “Return of the Spiders” to Gene Vincent?
Dennis: We backed up Gene Vincent at the Rock and Roll Revival up in Toronto. John Lennon was on the bill as was Eric Clapton. This was the gig that Alice threw the chicken into the crowd. Right after that famous chicken incident, we were sweaty and were covered with watermelon juice and we had feathers sticking to us and the promoter said, “Don’t go anywhere; stay on stage as Gene Vincent is coming out now.” We said, “What? We’re supposed to go and put on jeans and be The Blue Caps, we’re not supposed to look like this.”
Gene came out and he was more shocked than anybody else. He had stage fright, which we thought we had calmed down at rehearsals the day before. We were wearing jeans at rehearsal and we were these old time looking rock n’ roll guys. The crowd freaked out over the chicken but also over how in the world our band got on the bill at the Rock and Roll Revival. John Lennon and everybody else did these old rock n’ roll songs – even the Doors did that. Here we came with this abstract assault chicken thing. They sent Gene out and we backed him up as good as we could. During rehearsal we needed to get Gene that echo he needed. Glen plugged him into a Fender amp and got the reverb going. That made Gene Vincent happy, as he was nervous. We said, “Everyone is tuned up and ready. What song do you want to do?” Gene’s answer was, “Well….” And we all knew it was going to be “Be-Bop-A-Lula.” I was so excited.
Jeb: Love It to Death was the big breakthrough. On the original cover, I have heard that Alice’s thumb was sticking out of his costume, looking like his penis.
Dennis: My wife Cindy, who is Neal’s sister, did the costumes for the band. She made all of the costumes that were sparkling and shiny, she really started what would become the Glam Rock look. She made Alice that piece of fabric and he held it around his body, like a cape. He was just holding it; it was not intentional. The album went out to the stores and then someone noticed that and they had to send all of the albums back and touch up the photos – they didn’t have airbrushing back then, they had to actually cover up the thumb. Someone once asked me if that was really Alice’s penis and I said, “No, but I’ve seen Alice’s penis and it looks the same.” I am just joking, mind you.
Jeb: Was “18” originally titled “I Wish I Were 18”?
Dennis: It was a long blues jam, originally. Michael had come up with the initial chords. When we would do a soundcheck, we used that song to warm up. It really wasn’t a song at that time but we would use that to ease into things and then we would play a couple of songs that we were going to perform at the show and then we would go back to the hotel until show time. The words changed all of the time, as Alice was just making it all up. Mostly, he would just play blues harmonica, which he is really good at. He plays it on the album but not extended like it was when it was a jam arrangement. Bob Ezrin shortened it up. We only played the original single version on stage a few times, right after Love It to Death came out, then we went back to our big jam thing.
Bob Ezrin was first attracted to us by the live version we did of that song. The first thing he said to us was, “I like that song ‘I’m Edgy.’” That night, at Max’s Kansas City, we showed up and there were like five people in the room and we were all pissed off. It is one of the only times the band was actually talking about not playing. I used to have this “One for the Gipper” kind of pep talk. So like always, I said, “The smaller the crowd, the bigger the rumors.” And Glen said, “Well, how about if we don’t play and we start a rumor that we did?”
We took all of that aggression onto the stage and did a very aggressive and violent show. Bob Ezrin, who was just a kid at the time, and looked even younger than he was, came up to us and said, “I love ‘I’m Edgy’ and I’m going to get you guys a record deal.” We were like, “Yeah, we’d buy you a drink, kid, but you’re not old enough to drink.”
Jeb: Your wife, not only made costumes, but at this time she started being a nurse in the stage show.
Dennis: We were a fly by the seat of your pants organization. When we were on the way to the stage we would grab a couple of folding chairs, or whatever else was lying around, and we would incorporate it into the stage set. When we decided to do executions, which I talked the guys into by actually going out and getting the wood, when we had no money, and building the first electric chair in the garage of the Pontiac farm. That developed into, “Why are we going to execute Alice?” We said, “We’re going to execute him because he did something bad and he is in an insane asylum.” That led to, “We need a nurse.”
Before we would play, I would make a nurses hat – it seemed like I made them every night because we would always lose them. I would take some white paper and I would get some red gaffers tape and I’d make a red ‘+’ on the hat. I got really good and fast at making these hats. Cindy would wear a white dress and she would come out on stage and be the nurse. Later on, she was the dancing tooth. In the early days, sometimes we would have the roadies pick someone out of the audience, or we would have a friend around who would do it. We were very improv back then and since Cindy was already there, we could point at her easier than somebody else.
Jeb: Is that your handwriting on the cover to Killer?
Dennis: Alice put a piece of paper in front of me and said, “Write.” I had the idea that since it was called Killer, that we should make the lettering look like something you would see in a ransom note. I really got into it. I psyched myself up and tried to get into this demented frame of mind. I decided that if I were to write it with my left hand then it was more likely to look like someone who couldn’t write very well. I put the pen in my left hand and I drew really hard and I tried to stay in this totally demented frame of mind.
Jeb: That doesn’t sound like that would be that hard for you.
Dennis: [laughter] It really wasn’t, actually. I loved the dark side of life and that is what I brought to the table. I liked the music to have minor chords. I remember “Under My Wheels” and saying, “That song is too happy.” Glen would say, “Well, it is a sappy girl song.” So I said, “Well, I will be driving my car and I'll run over her.”
Jeb: Rick Derringer played lead guitar on the studio version of that song.
Dennis: We were in Chicago and we knew Rick because Alice Cooper had opened for The McCoys in New York City for six nights. They showed us greenhorns around New York City. Rick doesn’t remember this but they took us to Times Square and said, “If you’re in New York then you have to have a Nathan’s hotdog.” I am like, “I’m a vegetarian.” They were like, “That doesn’t matter, you have to have a hotdog.” His brother was showing us how to loosen the lid on the mustard so the next guy would dump it on his lap when he goes to use it.
Rick lived near our management office in New York City. He would come down and hang at the office and we got to know him. We were in Chicago recording Killer and Rick called and said he was in town. Ezrin told him to come on down and we told him to bring his guitar. He walked in and “Under My Wheels” happened to be the song that we were working on. Glen showed him the changes. Glen was not resentful at all because we were all friends. Rick plugged in and ran through the song a little bit and then nailed it.
Jeb: Dick Wagner showed up for the first time around this time.
Dennis: That wasn’t as memorable because several people would be sitting around in the rehearsal room. Rocking Reggie was there and Steve Hunter. We were very loose. If somebody was in the room then we might just point our finger at them and have them do something. Bob Ezrin knew both Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter from way back to his Canadian days. He has always been very partial to them.
Dick was very, very serious. The rest of us always had this element of humor, whether we were really feeling the pressure or not, we still had the air that everything was still just us goofing around. Dick didn’t buy into that. We wanted to grab him around the collar and say, “Smile dammit!” Dick came up with some great riffs, especially on "I Love the Dead."Steve Hunter was around and he is just the nicest guy in the world. What you want to do with Steve is just hand him a guitar and say, “Play.”
Jeb: On Schools Out, Dennis Dunaway shined on the song “Blue Turk.”
Dennis: Way back when we were The Spiders, in rehearsal when we were warming up or kicking around ideas, we would do these pseudo jazz things. Neal had these bongos mounted on his kit and we would do these beatnik kinds of things.
When the band lived in Topanga Canyon in 1968, there was a beatnik colony at the top of the mountain where we were. It wasn’t like we were going up and bringing beatniks back to get in the mood to play the music; it was just the fact that they were there. We would just go around snapping our fingers and going, “Hey mannnn… What’s ya doing today?”
The “Blue Turk” bass line is just me pretending that I know how to play jazz. I have a deal with Rotosound strings now, but back then, I had just started using them. I had just finished my bass part on “Schools Out” when a roadie came in and showed me these round strings. They weren’t that new but they were new to me. I strung them up and I said, “We’ve got to redo the bass parts.” I redid the bass part to “Schools Out” and the next song I did was “Blue Turk.” You can hear the difference because the Rotosound strings had a very different sound than the very heavy gauge, flat wound strings that I had my bass strung with. I didn’t get the neck readjusted to accommodate that, so the lesser tension caused the strings to rattle on the frets. I thought about adjusting the neck but when I listened to it I thought it sounded more jazzy, so I let the frets rattle on that song. It was like an upright bass player slapping the strings.
Jeb: When Schools Out was released; the first pressings came with paper panties in them.
Dennis: Instead of a dust cover, we had paper panties. The hardcore collectors still argue about how many colors there were of panties. There was green, blue and pink and more. Different people claim to have different colors and it has become really controversial [laughter].
Anne Lebovitz photographed us a lot in the early days. She said that she had never seen a band that was so calculating about how they presented themselves to the public. That was very true. We would come up with these ideas that we thought would be very newsworthy. One of the things we would have loved to have planned, but we didn’t, it just happened on its own, was the panties. They came into the country by ship from a European country. They were denied entrance into the United States because, by law, paper clothing had to be flame retardant. They sent the ship all the way back to the county of origin to be treated and made flame retardant. We made the news with that around the world and it was nothing that we planned.
Jeb: Billion Dollar Babies was your most successful album and it is the most documented album in Alice Cooper history. But, there was an all star jam in London. I want to know about that and if any of that music was recorded.
Dennis: They did record it but Keith Moon was so drunk he couldn’t really play. He had on a pair of Groucho Marx glasses but the nose was a penis. Harry Nilsson was so drunk that we had to keep kicking him out of the studio because he kept falling down on the control board and moving the dials. He could hardly walk but he could sit down at the piano and this beautiful voice would come out of him. We were like, “How does he do that?” Donovan was there, as was Marc Bolan. Flo and Eddie were there and they sang on “Bang a Gong.” The jam just sounded pathetic. Guess who, of all people, was the one who pulled it altogether?
Dennis: Marc Bolan. He went into “Bang a Gong” and Flo and Eddie came in on the backgrounds and, all of the sudden, the whole jam session started sounding good. I handed my bass to Rick Gretch and told him to play. He said, “Why don’t you play?” I said, “I’m having too much fun just watching.” I have a photograph of Rick playing my bass. Harry Nilsson sits down and sings one of his most well known songs and then he goes into this other beautiful sounding song but it is called, “I Want You to Sit on My Face.” He’s got the voice of an angel but he was like an old drunk from the gutter; that’s rock n’ roll.
Jeb: Muscle of Love was not produced by Bob Ezrin. Why?
Dennis: The reason why doesn’t sound like a good reason. It wasn’t a good reason at the time, either. Michael always had a strong difference of opinion of Ezrin’s introduction of a classical feel of what we thought should be an edgy rock band. We wanted to do “You Drive Me Nervous” and not do “Second Coming.” I should say Michael wanted to do that, the rest of us were fine with it. Michael felt that the direction of the band was being comprised by too much of a classical influence.
We went to rehearsal up at Nimbus 9 up in Canada, which was Jack Richardson’s studio, which was a Bob Ezrin affiliation, and we started rehearsals for Muscle of Love, of which, Bob Ezrin was to be the producer. The feel of Muscle of Love was, to me, like going back to our band roots. The Beatles did that when they did Let It Be. We wanted to play songs that allowed us to back up a little bit and play songs like we used to instead of pushing forward all of the time like we had been. We dug up this song that we had done many, many years ago called “Woman Machine.” We worked it up that afternoon and we thought it was sounding pretty good. Bob Ezrin arrived and we were excited to let him hear the song. We started playing it and we didn’t even get past the intro and Bob stopped us and wanted to change it. We were laughing about it but Michael Bruce took offence and said, “We don’t want to change it.” It escalated rather quickly and Bob said, “Well, I guess you guys don’t need me then.” Michael replied, “I guess we don’t.” We were standing there looking like, “Wait, we do need Bob.”
It wasn’t a drastic move to bring in Jack Richardson. Nobody, other than Bob Ezrin and the band, give Jack Richardson any credit. Jack was the guy for Love It to Death and Killer. Bob was his apprentice. Jack gave Bob a lot of reign to do what he wanted to do, but when it came right down to it, getting the bass sounds was Jack Richardson and getting the songs done under deadline and under budget was Jack Richardson. Bob Ezrin is the first to admit it; Jack really was his mentor. Bob was an incredible song smith and a lightning fast learner though. But it wasn’t like we wondered who we were going to get to do the Muscle of Love album, Jack was the guy. The problems on that album were that we could tell that everything was being pulled out from underneath us. As hard as we tried to get it back to where it once was, we had that sinking feeling going on.
We wanted to rekindle what the band was about but there was just too much exhaustion by then. We were touring while we were writing, and while we were touring we were coming up with the stage productions for the album. We were doing all of that ourselves; we weren’t hiring people to come in and build a stage for us. They started doing that when they realized that they would have to get somebody to do that if we, the original band, were not going to be around.
Jeb: Was it a difficult album to make?
Dennis: I enjoyed working on that album but it was really tough because Glen’s involvement wasn’t what it should have been and there was nothing we could do about that. We had some really good songs on that album.
Jeb: I have to ask What Liza Minelli was doing on an Alice Cooper album?
Dennis: We had Liza and we had two of the Pointer Sisters and Ronnie Spector singing background vocals. That had to do with the same reason that Vince Gill plays on my song on Alice’s new album, or why Orianthi is on stage with Alice's backup band. There is nothing that is not artistic about the amazing talent of those artists but I'm not convinced that those choices were made purely from an artistic standpoint.
Jeb: In the inside of the album there is a picture that I have to ask about. Tell me the story about the nude wrestling building.
Dennis: The building that says, “The Institute of Nude Wrestling” is Pacific Eye & Ear. Drew Struzan worked there. Album covers were made there. I am in a new documentary that has Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford and Michael J. Fox in it. All of those guys are in it and me because, they tell me, I’m one of the only people who ever saw Drew work and remembers it. We just did a thing in New York City for the New York City Film Festival and Comic-Con. It was a screening of the Drew Struzan: The Man Behind the Poster documentary and I was on the panel sitting right next to Caroll Spinney, who was the voice of Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird. Drew did the Muppet poster and he did Raiders of the Lost Ark and a bunch of others. He is the most collected poster artist in the world. He also did covers for Black Sabbath.
Drew and a lot of others worked at Pacific Eye & Ear. They fixed up the outside of their facility to look like The Institute of Nude Wrestling. People were showing up with picket signs because they thought a seedy establishment was moving into their neighborhood. Pacific Eye & Ear dressed the place up for the photo shoot and we were dressed up as sailors on leave. I’m paying the pimp some money and there is a girl there. We are sailors looking for a good time. That was the daylight picture. That night, we look like we got thrown out. We’re all beat up and there is a big gorilla with a blonde wig on.
It was against my better judgment to have a comedy element to the group. We lived on humor but I didn’t think it belonged in the Alice Cooper image. I wanted everything to be scary but how do you be scary if you’re playing jokes? How can you be scary if you’re playing golf? Alice says he doesn’t think audiences can be shocked anymore. Well, not if you play golf! That is, unless it's me playing golf. I played badly enough to shock people.
Jeb: Last one: We must discuss the Greatest Hits cover. I love that cover and it has become a very iconic image.
Dennis: Drew Struzan did that. You can see on the hubcaps on the wheels that they say “Drew.” He did the outside cover. It was the greatest hits, so we thought of hit men. Look at the top and you’ll see the guys with machine guns like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. We also put in the elements of the songs on the cover. There are various signs on the album where some of the songs that are on the album are represented in a little hidden way. It was not done quite as well as we wanted, as we were thinking in terms of the old Mad Magazine where you would really have to look in the background to find things. The band lived in Detroit for a while and all they showed on TV there were gangster movies and The Three Stooges; even the humor had to have violence. It was a natural thing for us to be influenced by that.
Jeb: I do have to make one last comment. When you recorded on Welcome 2 My Nightmare you told me about bringing Glen’s amp to the session. That is what makes you such a great guy. I just wanted to say how wonderful I thought that was.
Dennis: The initial idea was to just take the amp there. The roses and the Seagram’s was Bob Ezrin’s idea. I set the amp up and said, “This is our shrine to Glen” and before I could finish the sentence he pulled some money out and had the studio guy go out and get the roses. He was specific that they had to get Seagram’s 7. That is what Glen drank when Ezrin saw us at Max’s Kansas City. Glen was always a seven and seven guy. I remember that night he ordered a triple. He was trying to figure out the math of seven times seven times three. I am not sure he ever did.
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