This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Legendary hard rocker Alice Cooper called from his home in Phoenix last week to promote his concert this Tuesday at Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City. He touched on a variety of subjects, including a dare neither he nor Mötley Crüe's Tommy Lee followed through on, playing theater shows vs. arena shows, his golf habit, touring with the Hollywood Vampires, his forthcoming new album, reuniting with original bandmates, rock 'n' roll growing old, and stealing the thunder from a Jeff Beck show. You know, the proverbial "everything but the kitchen sink."
Actually, though, he talked about that, too. …
Thanks for taking a few minutes out of your day, Alice. How are you doing?
I'm great. We're here in Phoenix, it's about 105 degrees today, so … it's the calm before the storm. We just finished the first leg of the tour, and I think there's nine legs left! … Once you get out of Phoenix, everything gets back to normal! I was just in Russia, though, and it was 80 degrees in Russia. And it was 80 degrees in Paris. Pretty nice over there right now.
So, I was trying to remember was 2015 on the Mötley Crüe farewell tour the last time you were in Salt Lake City?
I think so, yeah. That was the last thing. They were gonna do their final tour, and they said, "Would you guys be our special guests?" I guess we were a big influence on them, or at least I was, in their early career. And I went, "Yeah, it'd be fun to do." The shows are totally different, so I said that would be fun for us to do. And they were friends of ours, you know.
Right. So I was at that show, because I'd done a preview for Mötley's last time in SLC, and I don't know if you remember or not, but at that show, there were not enough riggers in town, they couldn't put Tommy's Crüecifly up in time, and the show started 2 1/2 hours late.
Oh yeah, yeah.
I was wondering if you have any memories of that show and, more generally, what kind of pressure does it put on you when you're in a situation like that?
We do the same show every night. I mean, that show, we only did three-quarters of our show, it wasn't our full show. Now, on this tour, of course it's our tour, we do everything. In fact, I said, "At the end of the show, why don't we have a giant kitchen sink fall down and kill me? That would be a perfect ending for it!" People say, "Everything happens at his show except the kitchen sink!" And I thought, "Well, let's add it, then!" We did over a hundred shows with those guys, so every night it was pretty much clockwork. But I do remember the fact that there was that problem, with the union or something, going on. That was quite a contraption. I made a deal with him I said, "I'll tell you what, if you put your head in the guillotine and go through the whole guillotine thing, I'll ride your rollercoaster." And neither one of us did we both chickened out!
So, for your next show in Salt Lake, you're playing in Kingsbury Hall, a venue where the capacity is about 2,000 instead of 20,000. So how does playing in a venue that much smaller change the dynamic of the performance, if at all?
It's the same show, it doesn't matter. Most of the shows we're doing this year are festivals, where there are over 100,000 people. And it's the same exact show. I personally … you get to a point where it used to be you had to tour, now it's at a point where you tour because you like to tour, because you want to tour. That gives us, also, the ability to pick where we want to play. Now, I would rather play my show in a theater, because it is so much more intense in a theater. When we do arenas, it's great, and maybe the tour after this we'll do arenas again. But the tour before this we did all arenas. Then we did just a whole series of theaters in the Midwest, just these little 3,000-seat theaters. I think the theater shows are 100 times more intense, because you can see details in the show our show especially. It's not all pyro and stuff like that. Our show is much more detailed, where I want you to see Alice's face when he's in the guillotine, or I want you to see his face in the straitjacket, and really focus on what's going on lyrically and what's going on with Alice at that point. So it's a little more vaudeville, it's a little bit more like vaudeville.
I have to admit that I prefer playing the 3,000-seat theaters. It just fits our show so much better. Everybody has a good seat, everybody can see what's going on, it sounds incredible in a smaller place, it makes it much more pressurized in there, to where you can feel like you're part of the show, you feel like you're part of the theater of it. And to me, that's just where I live. I would rather do that. I've done the whole arena thing and I've done the football stadiums this is, to me … if they give me a choice, I go, "Do the theaters. Do two nights in the theaters instead of one night in the 6-, 7,000-seat place."
Looking at your schedule, I noticed that when you're done with your Salt Lake show, you've got three days until your next one, in Lincoln, Calif., I think it is. In situations like that, do you ever get a chance to stick around the town you're in, look around, maybe find a new favorite place to go golfing?
It just depends. Really, Salt Lake City is so close to Arizona where I live, if I've got three days, I'll probably go back home for two days. Because I live in Phoenix. Now, with the new album coming out and everything like that, there's a lot of promotion, so I would bet I'm going to L.A. to do promotion for the album. I haven't seen the schedule yet, but I'm almost sure that I would fly to L.A. and do all the press for the new album, and then fly up to wherever we're going. But I do find a way to play golf every morning. My priorities are straight!
So some lucky golfers in Salt Lake City might be running into you on the course the morning of your show, then?
Oh, absolutely. I play six days a week. I can always get nine in somewhere. My guitar player, Ryan Roxie, and I, Calloway sets up all our golf for us. They look at the schedule and they set it up a year in advance almost. So we go into town, we get in at 6 in the morning, have breakfast, go right to the golf course, play nine holes, then come back. We're done by noon, and then we have the rest of the day to get ready for the show.
Earlier, you referenced being at the point of your career where you're touring because you want to. Last year, you were touring with Hollywood Vampires. This year, you've got a pretty condensed schedule of solo shows. You're keeping yourself pretty busy at least to the point where Joe Perry couldn't keep up with you last year.
Yeah, that was one thing I miscalculated on. Robert DeLeo plays with Stone Temple Pilots, and they're on kind of the same schedule we are, where you play four to five shows a week. Generally four, but a lot of times five shows a week. And you get in better shape as you go along. It's aerobic, and nobody's a druggie and nobody's a drinker they might have a couple beers or something like that, but nobody's got an alcohol problem. So you actually get in better shape as you move along. I didn't realize with Joe that we had just done eight shows in nine days. And he was not in shape. He was not ready for it. Johnny [Depp] was in great shape, I was in great shape, everybody up there onstage felt pretty good. And I looked over and I realized that, physically, Joe was just not in good shape. I felt bad after that. I talked to Steven [Tyler], I said, 'Steven, I didn't realize you guys do two shows a week!' We talked about it. And the next time I saw Joe, he was in perfect condition. I never saw him in better shape. And he finished out the tour with us. Five days later, he was back onstage and finished out the tour, and I never heard him play so good, and I never saw him look so good. Whatever he did with the doctor, the doctor got him healthy.
What is it that keeps you motivated to stay so busy at this point?
I've always had that pace. I've always been on that pace. I was a long-distance runner when I was a kid, when I was in high school and college. In fact, I had the Arizona state record when I was 17, for long distance. And I think that has a lot to do with it. I've never smoked cigarettes. I quit drinking 35 years ago. So, I think it's a payback right now my body's paying me back for taking care of it. I think a lot has to do with stress, too. I've been married 41 years, and I'm just not stressed out about anything. And that makes the world a lot easier, when you're not stressed about things. Great kids, great wife, everything's in shape. I think if I was physically not well, or I was mentally worried about something, or if there was something really eating at me, it wouldn't be as much fun or it wouldn't be as easy. But I'm the only one who never gets sick on the road, and I'm the only one who never gets tired on the road!
You recently switched labels. I was wondering if there are any challenges to that, or are you at a point where they say, "It's Alice Cooper, just get out of his way"?
You know what it is? It's, anymore, record labels hardly exist. In the golden days of rock 'n' roll, if you were on Warner Brothers, they wanted you for 20 albums, and they were deeply involved in your life, and they were deeply involved in how you did everything. But it was great, because they were the mother. They were the mother company and they could take care of any situation that came along. It doesn't exist anymore. I feel sorry for young bands, because they don't have that big corporate thing over the top of them that can help them out. They wanted 20 albums, they didn't want two albums. Same thing with [David] Bowie, same thing with Elton [John]. When you were with a label then, you were with that label forever. And they were gonna be your other parents.
Now, that doesn't really exist. You can move around from album to album with different labels. We're with one based in Germany now [called earMUSIC] that is really interested. It's really different now when you find a record company that's really interested in what you're doing. And they go, "Well, this is what we wanna do: we wanna put this out here, we wanna put this out here, we wanna do this with the album. Can you give us three days in Europe of press? And this and this and this. …" And I haven't had that since I worked with Warner Brothers. We're willing to do the work if the record company is interested! And this record company has Deep Purple and they have us, and they really go all-out to push the record. So I'm very happy with these guys! It almost feels like the old days, where they're interested in what the album cover looks like, they're interested in what the lyric product is, they're interested in what the single's gonna be, "will you do a video for us," and this and that. That hasn't happened in years, because with technology, record companies have almost all but disappeared.
The common denominator in rock music is the fact that guitar rock trumps I don't mean "Trump" in that way but goes past. … No matter where rock goes, if it goes to punk, if it goes to grunge, if it goes to folk, if it goes to minimalist, if it goes to new wave, hard rock always has its market Aerosmith, Alice, Ozzy, bands like that, that are classic hard rockers, will always live right through that. That's why we've been around for five decades and still make records and still sell records and still sell out audiences. It's because we are a hard rock band. Certainly with a twist! But you go back to The Yardbirds and The Who and Chuck Berry and The Beatles, that's basically Alice, only you throw in a little bit of Edgar Allan Poe and "West Side Story" and Dracula, and you've got Alice Cooper there.
What the basis is, I always surround myself with guitar outlaws, with a great band that plays rock 'n' roll. That's what keeps it going. This is the first time that a grandfather, a father and a kid a teenager can go to a concert and all dig the same music. They go and the grandfather says, "I saw Alice in 1968!" And the father says, "Well, I saw him in '84!" And the son says, "Well, I'm seeing him for the first time!" You know? And it hasn't changed, it's still hard rock, it still works. So I'm in that golden sort of area my music is never gonna go away, and I can keep making hard rock albums as long as they're interesting, as long as they're fun, and as long as they tweak your imagination! Bob Ezrin, our producer, will not let us put what's called a filler on an album. "Let's just put this on there because we gotta fill up space." Every single song is thought out, every single song is filtered until it's absolutely the perfect Alice Cooper song. And that's what this album is, it's 12 perfect Alice Cooper songs.
You recently did a reunion with some of your original bandmates, both in terms of recording new songs for this album, and a performance with them last month. What brought that about and what was the experience like?
The great thing about what happened with us: We went to high school together, and the band started in high school, and we went to college together, and then we went to L.A. and starved together, and then we made it together, and we all became Hall of Famers together. When the band broke up, there was never any bad blood. When the band broke up, we just creatively ran out of gas, basically, because we never stopped. You made an album, you toured, you made an album, you toured, you made an album. … We finally got to exhaustion, and it was also creative exhaustion. And we just kind of drifted away. I went on and did "Welcome to My Nightmare," because I really had an idea for that. I probably should have taken two years off, but I didn't, and it ended up with me ending up in a hospital. Because I should have taken that time off. But one of the best creative periods of my life was right then, you know?
So the band was always in touch. I would call up Dennis [Dunaway] or Neal [Smith] and, "Hey, we're playing in your town tonight, come on down and play." "OK, yeah, we'll be there." There was never any lawsuits or bad blood between the original band. So when this came along, I called up Neal and Mike [Bruce] and Dennis and said, "Hey, we're collecting songs right now. We're gonna write 25 songs, the best 12 are gonna make the album, and it doesn't matter where they come from. So write some songs and send them to me!" And then we started working on those songs, and three of those songs of the 12 were the original band. We caught a wave with the original guys, and it was really great to hear those songs on the album, because they really do kinda sound like Alice Cooper 1973!
That is so cool. Now, not to get too maudlin or bring the mood down too much, but I was just thinking about Chris Cornell and that great tribute you gave him. And reflecting on the many great rock musicians who've died in recent years, and in considering the legends who are getting up in age, do you ever think about that infamous Gene Simmons quote "Rock is dead" in a more literal sense?
Yeah, you do think about it. If you're 70 years old now, you were a Beatles fan. You were not a Sinatra fan, you were a Beatles fan. When I was in the '60s, '70s, if you were 70 years old, you were a fan of Sinatra and those guys. Now, if you're 70, you were a Beatles fan. Rock 'n' roll is growing up. All the guys that are still rocking out there are about 70 years old. None of us ever thought that we would get this far, physically. None of us ever thought past 30. And a lot of the guys didn't get past 30 you know, Jimi [Hendrix] and Jim Morrison, Janis [Joplin] … think of all the guys that died at 27. Our generation finally learned from those guys, and at some point we stopped doing what we were doing and decided to live. Well, at 70 years old, I'm up onstage next year I'll be 70 and I've never felt so good in my life, I've never physically been in better shape. So, I can't imagine even thinking about retiring. Now, if you have a physical thing, where maybe you have a cancer, or you have a heart problem or a liver problem or something that's over a period of years, well yeah, that's gonna eventually get ya.
Chris, I had no idea Chris was clinically depressed. We had no idea that Prince was doing drugs. We had no idea that Janis Joplin was doing heroin. I mean, there's certain things where you know these people, but you don't know what's going on behind the closed doors. I had no idea that Chris … I thought that guy was maybe the most positive guy I ever worked with. I wrote two songs with him, and we had a great time. I really thought, "This guy's got the best voice in rock 'n' roll." So, the shock of him killing himself … I can't imagine what would trigger that. But when you're clinically depressed, I guess it's unbearable. It must be unbearable. I've never been there, so I don't know. But I mean, the guy had everything in front of him, and he wasn't a druggie, so what could cause that? It must have been unbearable. Same thing with Kurt Cobain but throw a little heroin in there and that's not gonna help.
OK, one more light-hearted question then in our last bit of time. Who did you see at the first concert you went to, what do you remember about it, and how, if at all, did it impact you?
The very first show I ever saw was a pure classic. I saw the Rolling Stones at the [Arizona Veterans Memorial] Coliseum in Phoenix in 1965 … '64 maybe it was … '65. They had no lighting, they just had their amps onstage. Back then, there was no arena production. None of that stuff existed. You didn't have lighting, you didn't have any of that stuff. It was just the band. Like in a bar. It was like seeing them in a bar. And it was Brian Jones and Bill Wyman, and they were doing their first album. And I'm way up in the rafters this place holds 15,000 people and these guys were the size of ant onstage, and it was the coolest thing I ever saw! To see the Stones in their element, as a bar band. I had no idea at that point what I was seeing. I wish I could go back and see that again.
Even though, in high school, we were the local hot things in town, and we played at a local club called the VIP Club. So we opened for them, the Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Yardbirds, The Lovin' Spoonful, all these bands we opened for in a club that held a thousand people. So we got to see these guys up close and personal. The Yardbirds just blew everybody away. Jeff Beck at 20 years old, can you imagine how good he was?
I would imagine he was pretty amazing.
Yeah, it was pretty amazing to see. Even to this day, I go, "Hey Jeff, do you remember playing in Phoenix in '66, and there was a band that opened for you that played all of your songs before you? That was us!" And he goes, "Yeah! I remember you guys!"
Alice, thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it. And I'm looking forward to seeing you in Salt Lake City.
You're gonna love it! I tell you what, this band is the tightest band I've ever worked with. And the great thing is, they're all best of friends, so there's never any hassle backstage. All you ever hear backstage is laughing. It's really a pressure-free thing. But that stage show, it starts in fourth gear and stays there!
When • Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.
Where • Kingsbury Hall, 1395 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $55-$90; Smith's Tix