In the last year, Alice Cooper could be seen everywhere from special guesting on stage with Vince Gill to rocking out with Rob Zombie. This past weekend he even popped up singing Lady Gaga at Bonnaroo.
Cooper can do anything in music, entertain every audience, and still be cutting edge enough to be a premier name in music after almost 50 years in the business, countless awards and nominations and 36 albums. He shows no signs of slowing down and he is set to continue his monumental career as his band goes on the road with Iron Maiden this summer and fall.
CityBeat was privileged to speak with the legend to preview his upcoming show near Dayton before he hits the road with Iron Maiden. He spoke about longevity and told of the more bizarre stories of being a tenant in the Queen City. Alice Cooper performs at the Fraze Pavilion in Kettering this Wednesday.
CityBeat: Your show in Dayton is coming up.
Alice Cooper: Yes, we start this tour in June with Iron Maiden. We will be out there as their guest star on the show, their guests, so that’s an hour show. The show we are doing there in Dayton is our regular show which will be a full out Alice Cooper show.
CB: I am actually a photographer and I’ve photographed you many times. You are one of my favorite artists to shoot.
AC: Well we give photographers a lot to shoot. If you are going to go all that trouble to do all that theatrics and really coordinate the show like that, then I want to see lots of shots. I love seeing different angles, people will hand me an envelope full of pictures and I will go, “That’s a great shot. That’s a great shot.” And it gives me a different perspective of what the show looks like because we only see it from the stage. We never see it from the audience point of view.
CB: I have interviewed many of your past guitarists, Jason Hook and Al Pitrelli and people that have toured with you and everybody always has spectacular things to say about you as a mentor and just to be around. One of my questions is how do you choose band members on your tours now?
AC: Honestly, I am very instinctive about guitar players. Of course the guitar players are the gunslingers. They are the guys that you can sit and listen to and go, "When I quit singing, I want to hear something take over," and it better be a guitar that can take over what I’m doing when I step back, I want that guitar player to step up. So getting a Damon Johnson, when we first got Damon, every guitar player wants to stand back a little bit and I say, “No, no, no, when it is your solo, you take two steps forward into the light and let it go.”
A lot of times lead singers don’t want their lead guitar player to share the limelight. I want everybody in that band to have their moment on stage where they are the star. So when you get (young Australian guitarist) Orianthi, who is a natural, she is a natural star up there. I mean the girl is such a great player.
CB: Is she going to be with you?
AC: Yes, I mean she is such a great character for a Alice Cooper show. And you get Ryan Roxie on this tour and Ryan is a show unto himself. He has his own production going on over there which I really like because he really brings it every night. And Tommy, who I have in the middle as a rhythm guitar player, has got his own show going on. It’s great to get guys to come out of their shells and just when you get on stage be a rock star. I don’t want you to be a sideman.
CB: Again, it’s always been amazing to talk to all these people who have worked with you over the years and I know they appreciate it as well.
AC: I think it is because I let them play. I want you to play. When it is your turn to play, I want you to be Eric Clapton, I want you to be Jeff Beck, I want you to be the guy and sometimes it takes a little bit of getting used to. These guys are not used to being the center of attention, they are used to being the guys that stand in the background and play.
Sometimes it’s hard for Johnny Depp, when Johnny plays with us, I kind of have to push him forward a little bit because he likes to hang back a little bit.
CB: We are in Cincinnati. Can you tell me what your craziest Cincinnati story is from your past?
AC: I have the best Cincinnati story you have ever heard. This is a true story. We finally left L.A. We decided we had to move some place out of L.A., out of New York, some place in the Midwest.
So we played in Cincinnati and got a standing ovation, I think it may have been after the Cincinnati Pop Festival, the one we did with Iggy (Pop and The Stooges), and we found this area down by the college. It was this big, beautiful house for rent. So we came in and rented this house at the beginning of summer, and we went in and painted it and did everything like that.
For three months we lived there until in September, all of a sudden, there was a knock at the door, we walked outside and there were 10 guys that are football players and they are going “What are you doing at our house?” And I said, “What are you talking about? We rented this house indefinitely.” And the guy goes, “This is our frat house. I don’t know who rented this to you but they didn’t own the house. You are paying rent to someone that doesn’t even own the house.”
Some guy rented us a frat house and he didn’t even own it. He just walked in and put up a "For Rent" sign because nobody was there and we just assumed he just owned the house. So for these guys, it was kind of cool to them that Alice Cooper was living in their house, but we had to leave because it was their frat house.
CB: So did you pick another city or did you hang around town?
AC: We moved to Detroit then but it was really funny because we really thought Cincinnati was where we were going to live and then we got ejected by the frat house.
CB: I guess it could have worked out a lot different. You could still be in our hometown. You have spoken openly the last few years that you have become a Christian and about your Christian beliefs. Did that change how you put your show together?
AC: I think what it is, you do a certain amount of your own, not censoring, but you start shaping the show whereas there may be a couple of songs that I used to do that, now when I sing those songs, I don’t believe that anymore. So, it is hard for me to sing that.
It hasn’t been any big hits, “School’s Out”, “18”, “Billion Dollar Babies”, all those songs have nothing to do with Christianity or nothing to do with something that I couldn’t sing as a Christian. Most of it is social satire anyway, but there are a few songs that I looked at and I went, “You know what, I don’t believe that anymore,” so I am going to stay away from that show.
I am just being true to myself to be honest with you. It really hasn’t affected how I do my stage show because I don’t believe Alice was promoting anything that was anti-Christian. We were like a musical horror movie and I think if people took Alice Copper as entertainment, as pure entertainment, there is certainly a dark side to my sense of humor but I don’t think there has ever been anything in there that was, that any Christian couldn’t see and have fun with.
CB: It’s all in good fun. It’s all perspective.
AC: Yeah, and I think if you look at it as a social satire, I am fine with it. I don’t really have a problem with that. I am still very involved, I read twice a day, I have two different times of devotional for myself. I hope and I try not to just be a Christian in “Oh, I’m a Christian.” I try to live that life. It is a one-on-one relationship with Christ so I really try to keep that as my lifestyle. In other words, you aren’t ever going to see me at the strip club after a show.
CB: I know you gave up drugs and alcohol a long time ago for good reasons. Is there still ever a struggle on the road to stay sober?
AC: No, never has been. I was literally healed from that. People say you are cured, I say no, it was much different. I never went to AA. I never had to do any of that. I came out of a hospital and it was gone. It was gone as if I had cancer and cancer was gone the next day. It was totally taken away from me. I never had a struggle with alcohol. When I came out of the hospital, I was absolutely straight as an arrow. I never had a desire or a craving for alcohol which even the doctors say is weird. I know because I have a lot of friends that are in AA and they struggle with it all the time. They say, “How do you do it?” and I say “I am not an alcoholic anymore. I was one but I am not anymore.” I wouldn’t challenge myself. In other words, I wouldn’t sit around and say, “Well I think I will take a drink of beer.” Because I know that could be a trigger that takes me back to where I was. So I won’t even approach that, but at the same time I don’t have any desire to do that.
CB: Well, my Mom saw you in 1974 and she still talks about it today as I go shoot your shows. It was one of her memorable experiences with you and some chickens in Nashville at Memorial Coliseum…
AC: Well the music hasn’t changed much since the ‘70s to now, if you look at the bands that are still out there — Aerosmith, Ozzy, Alice, Thin Lizzy — we are all still playing the same kind of music. I think it is funny that 16, 17, 18 year old kids are more into Classic Rock than they are into modern Rock so I think there is a large audience for us that has never seen us. One of the reasons we are playing the Iron Maiden tour is because I don’t think the Iron Maiden audience has ever seen Alice Cooper so I want to expose them to Alice Cooper.
CB: Has touring for you changed from now to then?
AC: It’s a lot easier now. When you are physically in better shape and you are mentally and spiritually in better shape, (my wife) Sheryl and I have been together for 36 years, and I never been happier in my life. My kids are great. All my ducks are in a row. Physically, I am healthy. Touring is easy then. Physically, it is a workout and you have to get used to traveling and you have to get used to being away from your family a lot even though now my family can travel with me any time they want to. My wife will go out for three weeks then go home for a week and come back out for two or three weeks. So, touring to me is easy.
CB: You spoke about music now and what people are listening to. Are there any current bands you listen to these days?
AC: I wish there was — my pet peeve right now is that 80-90% of the modern Rock bands are just testosterone-free. I am listening to these bands and going, "Where is the spark? Where is the fire?" These bands are whining like crazy. I hear these bands and go, "What is wrong with these guys?" And then I look at a picture of the band and I could go into a mall and pick any five guys, it’s like they are trying not to be rock stars. They just want to be normal guys that play in a band with no image and no fire just we are in a band. “What is wrong with that?” That’s crazy. If you are in a Rock band, you get in a Rock band to be something different. I guess modern Rock bands really just want to blend in and I think it is the most boring time in Rock right now that I have ever seen.
CB: Well you have your Lady Gagas…
AC: There are exceptions. Jack White is amazing. The Foo Fighters are amazing. I don’t know the Black Veil Brides music very much but I love the image. At least they are going out of their way to be something that when you see them on stage you say, “That’s the Black Veil Brides.” But when I see 99% of the other bands up there I say those bands can be anybody. I just don’t get the fact that everybody is so against having image.
CB: Are you working on any new music, maybe another album?
AC: The Welcome to My Nightmare album has been out for about a year now and that was our highest charting album for quite a long time. So after this tour, we will go back in the studio again, Bob Ezrin and I will, but we were very, very happy with Welcome to my Nightmare.
CB: I briefly spoke to you at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction this year in Cleveland. I know you weren’t performing but what your favorite part of the night?
AC: You mean the last one. I thought Guns N Roses were amazing. I thought Slash and the boys were the best band there. They just rocked that place.
CB: We are heading into a critical election year, are you planning on backing any candidates this time?
AC: Boy, I’ll tell you at this point right now I almost want to go independent. I am not political in the least bit. I am not in the least bit political. So when somebody says, “Who are you voting for?” I’m going, “Wow!” It’s like saying, do you want a poke in the eye or a poke in the ear. Nobody is making me smile now.
CB: And it is very narrow now.
AC: Yeah, as far as I’m concerned, I wish there was somebody out there that had some spark that would make a difference but I don’t think either one of these guys are.
CB: Do you have any plans to slow down or stop touring?
AC: No. For me, physically everything is fine right now. Until I physically can’t tour, I think I will be touring every year.