It’s only been three days since the death of country-music legend Glen Campbell. And while millions across the world who only knew him through his music are mourning his not-unexpected passage, the man on the other end of the phone line to the Houston Press this day called him a very, very close friend: Alice Cooper.
“He lived down the street from me, and we were both members of the same two golf clubs. We would play one or two times a week when we were both in [town]. My wife is friends with his wife, and our kids grew up together,” Cooper offers. In a video interview with a Phoenix TV station, he even recalled the time they got pulled over by the police together. Imagine that cop’s surprise when he saw those speeding scofflaws.
“We were such an odd couple. Here I was, the scourge of hard rock and him being the all-purpose star,” Cooper says. “Yet, we had so much in common. We both had drug and alcohol problems. We both got past it. We’re both Christians. We love to laugh. And we loved golf!”
Cooper also praised the pure musicianship of his friend and his depth of knowledge, at least before Alzheimer’s slowly robbed him of much of his memory.
“We could be onstage and I’d say ‘hey, let’s play Paul Butterfield’s ‘Born in Chicago,’ and he’d go ‘OK!’ There wasn’t a song he didn’t know,” Cooper says. “That guy was one of the best lead guitarists on the planet. Eddie Van Halen once asked me if I could get him a guitar lesson with Glen! That’s how well he was thought of. It was impossible not to like him.”
Despite his well-known love for the links, though, Alice Cooper kind of has this other thing that keeps him busy: music. He’s just released a new record, Paranormal, is heading out on a summer tour that will find him sandwiched between Deep Purple and the Edgar Winter Band — which reaches the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on Friday — and will head to England to play shows that will feature both his current band and the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper. Which was the name of the entire group before it became the identity of its lead singer.
He also plans on more activity with the Hollywood Vampires, an offshoot group that features two pretty hot guitar players: Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and actor/musician Johnny Deep.
“Joe and I have a lot in common like Glen and I did. When you get to this age and you’re still dong it and find people in the same world, it’s pretty cool,” Cooper says. “I’ve known the guys in Deep Purple forever. We played with them in Barcelona. They don’t do a ‘show’ like we do, but the music is incredible.”
On Paranormal, there’s a little bit of everything for the Alice Cooper fan: a full, original, satirical, hard-rock album based loosely on the theme of off-kilter behavior; and two tracks that reunite him with original band members Michael Bruce (guitar), Dennis Dunaway (bass), and Neal Smith (drums; guitarist Glen Buxton passed away in 1997). Finally, a few live cuts pit Cooper’s current band playing the classics from the originals.
“We hadn’t come up with a title for the album. I asked Bob [Producer Bob Ezrin] – he’s always been kind of my George Martin – what he thought. I told him I didn’t want to do another concept album,” Cooper says. He adds that Ezrin also drafted Larry Mullen Jr. from U2 to sit in on drums, which he says changed the texture of the album…which became something he originally had tried to avoid.
“Once it was all done, I realized I had accidentally written a concept album!” he laughs. “As a lyricist, I had control of the characters. And every character had some sort of abnormal problem or issue or thinking. And the one word that summed them all up is paranormal. That doesn’t always mean ghosts or Bigfoot, it means something other than normal.”
The original Alice Cooper were together from 1968-74, and it’s hard to imagine today just how controversial they were with their gothic horror, blood-and-guillotine stage shows, parent-pissing-off publicity efforts involving paper women’s panties (Google it), and freakish songs like “Under My Wheels,” “Billion Dollar Babies,” “I’m Eighteen,” “Elected,” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”
But the song that became the band (and the man’s) signature and best-known tune is something pretty relatable: an anthem to the annual last day of forced education for teens and pre-teens, “School’s Out.”
“Teachers tell me all the time that is the national anthem on the last day of school. We had 14 Top 40 songs, and the only one I was sure would be a hit was this one,” Cooper says. “And if it wasn’t, then I should be selling shoes or something. It’s got every element, as subject all kids can agree with – even the teachers!”
Of the two tracks on Paranormal which feature the original band, one is the first single “Real All American Girl.” It started as a portrait of a traditional hellraising female, but after a few lyrics switches now features a suggested transgender protagonist. And Cooper says the reunion experience was wonderful.
“The good thing is that when we broke up, it was never with bad blood or lawsuits or anger. It wasn’t a divorce so much as a separation. We had worked seven or eight years without a break, and we had just run out of creative juice. We had to do two albums a year and tour! We were all just exhausted,” Cooper says. The singer immediately segued into solo success with the Welcome to My Nightmare album.
Next month, Eagle Rock will release a DVD that combines the much-seen concert film of the tour (which was groundbreaking for its special effects at the time), as well as the rarely-seen network TV variety special that featured Vincent Price as the narrator! Multimedia Alice Fever of recent years have also included a massive box set of 15 records in The Studio Albums 1969-1983, the documentary Super Dooper Alice Cooper, and even a fascinating one on Shep Gordon, Supermensch.
Alice Cooper has probably given hundreds and hundreds of interviews over the decades, yet manages to fully engage with each and every questioner, even as he sometimes has to repeat the same stories ad nauseam. And that’s just fine with him – he says he likes talking to people, especially when it’s about his music. It’s when the interview and autograph request stop coming is when he says musicians should be more concerned.
On a personal note, of all the rock stars I’ve interviewed over a quarter century, the two nicest guys have had to be Alice Cooper and Peter Frampton. And not just because they co-starred in the maligned (but very unfairly!) 1978 Beatles-inspired movie musical Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Cooper played the Budweiser-swilling false religious prophet Father Sun and got to sing a sickly smarmy “Because” on the soundtrack.
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“Frampton is a good guy! He just doesn’t like phones in the audience!” Cooper laughs. He’s referring to a recent incident that made news when Frampton stopped a show because of the combination of aggressive cell phone-wielding audience members and the venue’s video screen that kept hijacking attention from the stage.
For his part, Cooper says he has a similar disdain for audience members who refuse to live in the moment at a show and are hell-bent on capturing everything on their phone with video they will never actually watch or checking Facebook, annoying others all around them.
“While we’re playing and I’m there in a straightjacket and I’m sweating, and I look down and there’s somebody on their phone texting? If I could reach out there and rip it from them, I would!” he says. “The phone is so addictive. It’s more addictive than cocaine!”
Alice Cooper performs with special guests Deep Purple and the Edgar Winter Group Friday, August 18 at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands. Gates open at 6:30 p.m.; tickets start at $25.