Alice Cooper on the prophetic School's Out and his new album Detroit Stories

HE was born Vincent Furnier but the world knows and loves him as Alice Cooper.

“The only person who calls me Vince is Keith Richards,” admits the American shock rock icon.

“He’ll say, ‘Vinnie, Vinnie, how long has it been since you had a drink?’

“And I’ll reply, ‘More than 30 years’. And he goes, ‘Ah, begs the question, why???’ ”

There was a time, however, when Alice was a match for the Rolling Stones rogue when it came to hellraising.

Let’s go back to one Christmas Eve in the early Seventies when rabble-rousing anthems like School’s Out and Elected were delivering teenage kicks years before the punk explosion.

Alice and his band of renegades were playing cavernous Madison Square Garden in New York City.

It may have been bitterly cold outside but the heat was rising inside one of America’s most hallowed music venues.

“At the end of the show, Santa Claus came on stage and took a big bow,” remembers the frontman who still wears trademark ghoulish black eye make-up.

“So we just beat the hell out of him.” As you did in those days . . .  except that all the local newspapers had a giant sense of humour bypass.


“They said, ‘How dare Alice beat up Santa!’ but of course, we were laughing all the way,” continues the 73-year-old, speaking to SFTW from his home in Phoenix, Arizona.

This tale of rock ’n’ roll mayhem helps explain why Alice needed a drastic change of location before he hit the big time.

It also sets the scene for his total blast of a new album, Detroit Stories, arriving precisely 50 years after breakthrough third LP, Love It To Death.

But before more talk of that, we must return to the rock history lesson.

After forming in Phoenix, the Alice Cooper band relocated to Los Angeles and sought fame and fortune on the West Coast.

But this was the late Sixties, the hippie era of flower power, the Summer Of Love and people in kaftans going: “Far out, man!”

Alice says: “Los Angeles was just a great big love-in and everybody was on LSD except us. We were the only ones drinking beer.

“The Doors ruled the roost along with bands like Buffalo Springfield and everybody was grooving. We were NOT like that.

“We didn’t mind a little violence — we were closer to Clockwork Orange than hippies and we scared a lot of people,” adds the provocateur who used to simulate his own beheading or electrocution on stage.

“The music itself was louder than anybody’s, really in your face, and we didn’t fit in — even if our best friends were The Doors.

“San Francisco didn’t like us either because they were grooving in a whole different way to the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.”

So Alice made a vow which involved “moving to the first place that gave us a standing ovation”.

As chance would have it, that place proved to be gritty, down-to-earth Detroit, the Mid-West city where he was born in 1948.

He says: “If the West Coast was very sophisticated, all glitzy and glam, Detroit was where they made cars and everybody worked at the factory. Very blue collar.

“I remember a happy childhood there, all about playing baseball and football, watching The Ed Sullivan Show on television and seeing Elvis Presley.

“I never noticed racial problems. We played with the black kids, the Jewish kids and the Italians and there was never any talk of what race we all were.”

By the late Sixties, the city of Motown soul was exploding with a different kind of music — raw, visceral proto-punk.

Alice says: “I had never heard of Iggy And The Stooges or The MC5 or Bob Seger or Suzi Quatro — all local acts.

“Iggy was like a miniature Mick Jagger, a contortionist who wore very little on stage. Nobody was called punk at the time but Iggy was the original punk.”


Alice recalls his first show in Detroit, at a festival: “We got up on stage and did what we did.

We were louder than the previous two bands and maybe more forceful.

“When they found out I was from Detroit, we became the long- lost sons. We felt comfortable there because all the bands were aggressive.

“You had to bring it every night. You couldn’t just go up there and say, ‘Gee, I hope they like us tonight’. They’d just kill you if you did that.

“That audience wanted hard rock and they wanted their bands to have attitude, and that’s exactly what we had.”

Crucial to their progress was young producer Bob Ezrin, who helmed the third Alice Cooper band album Love It To Death, with its hit single I’m Eighteen.

“Bob did for us what George Martin did with The Beatles,” says Alice.

“He gave us an identity. He said, ‘When you hear The Doors, you know it is The Doors, same with the Rolling Stones, same with The Yardbirds’.

“When Love It To Death came out, people went, ‘Oh, Alice Cooper’.”

Fast forward half a century and Ezrin, also known for work with Pink Floyd, Lou Reed and Kiss, remains the go-to producer.

He joins Alice for Detroit Stories, a wildly entertaining tribute to the city and its hard-rocking heritage.

It begins with a rocket-fuelled reboot of The Velvet Underground’s Rock & Roll, only this time, “one fine morning”, Jenny “puts on a Detroit radio station” — instead of a New York one.

Cue another telling Alice insight: “I knew Lou at the Chelsea Hotel in the late Sixties, early Seventies. Back then, you couldn’t really talk to him . . . he was so out there. Rock & Roll was heroin chic, cool but sung in a monotone, so I said, ‘What if we bring it to Detroit and put a V8 engine in it?’

“We got (guitarists) Joe Bonamassa and Steve Hunter with Johnny “Bee” (The Rockets) on drums and we turned it into a rock monster.”

Alice recalls bumping into Reed not long before he passed away in 2013. “Lou says to me, ‘Hey Alice, I think of you pushing the ball to the right a little bit’.”

He laughs at the thought of their shared passion for golf, adding that “Iggy plays and Bob Dylan plays”. (Not exactly the obvious pastime of a rock god.)

The new album’s pivotal track is Detroit City 2021, with a guest appearance from Wayne Kramer, guitarist in the MC5, whose signature song was the scene’s defining anthem, Kick Out The Jams.

Alice says: “The MC5 and The Stooges were brothers to us. We were local bands trying to make it big and we were all surviving.

“We had our own houses and we partied the whole time. I think we were the first to actually have a hit, with I’m Eighteen, and that’s what took us out of Detroit, because we toured constantly after that.”

Detroit City 2021 gives a shout-out to another native, Suzi Quatro, who became a big star in the UK with hit singles Can The Can and Devil Gate Drive.

“We did lots of shows with Suzi opening for us,” remembers Alice. “Her original band included her sisters and was called The Pleasure Seekers.

“You’d have thought all these beautiful girls were nymphettes, but no, they were hard rock and Suzi was the catalyst.


“And she’s never stopped hard rocking. I know Suzi really well and if anybody belongs in the Hall Of Fame, she does.

“She was pre-Joan Jett and she has never let down her hard rock guard. I still talk to Suzi all the time.”

Next Alice talks about another Detroit Stories track, Hanging On By A Thread (Don’t Give Up), his life-affirming reflection on the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Instead of us all being victims, my idea was to punch the bully on the nose,” he says.

“Let’s call out this virus and say, ‘Look, you’re only going to be around for a short time, we’re going to be here for ever, we’re the human race and we’ll find a way to destroy you!’ ”

That said, Alice and wife Sheryl both had Covid over Christmas. “Though not hospitalised, I felt exhausted all the time. It’s not a fun thing to get,” he reports.

With his live show on hold, he adds: “Nobody expected us to have a year off touring. I might spend two thirds of the year on the road, 17 countries, 190 shows, that type of thing.

“My wife is in the show, playing all the characters, so we’ve had to learn how to be at home again. It’s been weird.”

With millions of children stuck at home in lockdown, I can’t resist mentioning the immortal School’s Out. “I didn’t mean that song to be prophetic at the time!” Alice quips.

As you can tell, he is a funny, and articulate guy and I’m keen to understand the difference between the man and the stage act.

“There was a long time when I couldn’t separate the two,” he says. “When I was drinking and drugging, I didn’t know if I was supposed to leave the house with make-up on.

“I felt I was going to disappoint people if I walked out without a snake around my neck.

“When I got sober, I went, ‘OK, I have to co-exist with this guy’. I mean, Alice is my favourite rock star but he stays on stage and I go back up to my normal life.

“That’s why I can speak about Alice in the third person. Somebody will bring in a costume and I’ll go, ‘No, Alice would never wear that!’

“It’s actually a very organised schizophrenia.”

One thing’s for sure, he retains the youthful energy of rock stars less than half his age.

“I don’t know what age Alice is. He could be 18, he could be 23, he could be 30,” he muses.

“I’m in really good shape because I’ve never smoked and I quit drinking 38 years ago. I can do five shows a week whereas guys my age can generally do just two.”

He takes inspiration for carrying on from the indefatigable Mick Jagger, “the prototype, the Energizer bunny who just goes on for ever. We all look up to Mick and we’ve all taken a little bit from him.

“And I’ve never lost my love for rock and roll. I do it with real enthusiasm. I never mail it in.”

Well, Alice, we’re missing you and we hope you’ll be rocking the UK again soon, pandemic permitting of course.

“I cannot wait to get back to London,” he affirms. “The first thing I do when I arrive in England is get The Sun, I swear, because I’ve got to see who’s in trouble.

“It’s my kind of newspaper!”



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