Being Alice Cooper

Detroit legend’s six degrees of separation from all rock

“Actually, it’s pronounced ‘Mill-e-wah-que.’” Like the two starry-eyed protagonists of 1992 comedy Wayne’s World, I felt wholly unworthy to speak to Vincent Furnier – better known as shock rock pioneer Alice Cooper, 68 – ahead of his return to the Moody Theater on Sunday.

Alice Cooper schooling ACL Live at the Moody Theater on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015 (Photo by Gary Miller)

Austin Chronicle: What are some of your earliest memories of playing Austin?

Alice Cooper: We played Austin when it wasn’t a music sort of place. It was just like El Paso or any other little Texas town. It becomes very forgettable. Then all of a sudden, it turned into a music town. So I don’t know who the architect was that brought all the music in, but they really did change the personality of that town into something different.

AC: Austin City Limits photographer Scott Newton recently told me that when he arrived here in the Seventies, one could just walk backstage at the Armadillo and hang out in Willie Nelson’s dressing room.

AC: It was a bit like that in early rock & roll. I remember in Los Angeles, there was such a glut of bands in the late Sixties that we were just another high school band trying to make it in L.A. We showed up one night – we’d finally got a gig at the Whisky – and I looked up at the billboard outside and I went, “Alice Cooper and... Who’s Led Zeppelin?”

Nobody had ever heard of Led Zeppelin.

Then the next night, we played a place called the Cheetah Club, and I looked up and I said, “Some guy named Pink Floyd is playing with us.” It was just like that. We were all local bands, just like all the little local bands in Austin. Everybody was just trying to stay alive.

In Detroit, it was like that too, with the Stooges and the MC5 and Alice Cooper. This was before we were all stars. We were just all trying to get a gig.

AC That’s incredible.

AC: Everybody knew everybody, and nobody knew who was gonna actually make it. We figured some of us would make it, but nobody knew who it was gonna be.

AC: With 30 or 40 years of hindsight, it seems like those bands became immediately successful, but I’m sure it didn’t feel like that at the time.

AC: Oh, not at all. I know that every single band in Detroit had a hard time keeping up with the rent, because every band had a house. We had a house in Pontiac. Ted Nugent & the Amboy Dukes had a house. Iggy & the Stooges had a place in Ann Arbor. The MC5 had their place.

And really, we were all just trying to get gigs at five or six different places, just to make the rent and eat. That was really all that was. Getting a record deal and making it big nationally was something that was gonna happen – hopefully, eventually, but at that time, we played with those bands every single weekend somewhere.

AC: Did you have any “buddy bands” you took on tour?

AC: At the time, you’re not big enough to pick who’s gonna open for you. The interesting thing though, when we did make it big, the bands we did pick to open for us all became megastars. ZZ Top, AC/DC, Guns n’ Roses, Blondie, Megadeth – all bands that opened for us and ended up becoming really big.

AC: That’s a testament to your good taste.

AC: That, and the fact that I think we gave them a nice springboard. The last time I saw AC/DC, about two years ago, I went backstage. We walked in and Angus goes, “Hey! Remember when we opened for you?” I went, “Yeah, that was a long time ago, man!” But that was great, ’cause we saw bands that we liked, and we said, “I think this band’s got a shot. Let’s put them on the tour.”

AC: Did Mötley Crüe ever open for you back in the Eighties?

AC: No, I never even knew those guys until much later. I knew pretty much all of those bands, but I didn’t know Mötley Crüe. Guns n’ Roses we knew, and Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Faster Pussycat, we knew. But most of the time we were touring, so we didn’t really have a lot of time off in L.A.

AC: You performed in San Antonio last September on Mötley Crüe’s final tour. They’re so obviously influenced by you.

AC: Well, they called us up and they said, “Listen, we want to go out with a bang. Do you want to be our special guest?” And I went, “Absolutely. That would be great. No problem.” What I wanted to do was get in front of their audience. And my band never backs off, so we were gonna give them an Alice Cooper show every night. And Mötley knew that. Mötley knew right up front that I was gonna give them both barrels.

So it was a really good show, because you had two bands that brought it every night, and we got great reviews every single night.

AC: Frankly, your band upstaged them. It didn’t feel like it was a truncated set.

AC: Yeah, and it worked really, really well together. I think people understand that if Alice is gonna go on before you – and I’m talking about Alice in the third person – the nature of that show is going to be pretty hard to upstage. That’s just the nature of that show. You’ve got the hits to back it up.

For us to go on before Mötley, a lot of our fans were really pissed off about that. And I said, “Guys, it’s their show! We’re just going on as the guest stars. We’re gonna make this a great rock & roll night.” And to me, I never think of it as being [beneath us]. I’m way past that. I’ve headlined for so long now that me going on before Mötley Crüe doesn’t demean Alice Cooper at all. The fans get vicious about it though.

AC: You, Marilyn Manson, and Rob Zombie are all coming to Austin on separate tours. Didn’t everyone try to coordinate a joint tour?

AC: You know, Alice and Manson went out together, and it was a great show, ’cause Marilyn worked up to his potential. So he did a great show, and it was great to have two bands killing it. Same with Rob Zombie. You put Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie together, and come on! That’s gonna be a killer show. I’ve always wanted to make the Unholy Trinity there and do a complete Halloween tour. Those three bands going out and doing big Halloween shows, just all of October.

AC: Those guys practically owe you royalties. You’re the reason they exist in the first place.

AC: But you know, I’ll tell you what, every one of those bands took it to a different place. Rob Zombie took it to this really chaotic, visual thing, whereas we don’t use video, and he uses a lot of video. We don’t really use that kind of pyro; he uses that kind of pyro. So he did design it to be Rob Zombie. He created Rob Zombie to be a character, the way I created Alice to be a character.

I think Marilyn did too.

Nobody really ever took the sort of vaudevillian way that I do it and tried to make that their own. They took the idea of creating characters and then doing a show around that character. Even Lady Gaga did that.

AC: You always maintained a sense of humor that other acts lacked.

AC: Yeah, you have to have that. You can’t have horror without a sense of humor to it.

AC: That’s like you only ever being Alice Cooper, the character, and never a human being.

AC: Right, exactly. Once I embraced Alice as a character, then it was a lot easier for me to live. I didn’t have to be him all the time.

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Alice Cooper, Vincent Furnier, Willie Nelson, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Stooges, MC5, Ted Nugent & the Amboy Dukes, ZZ Top, AC/DC, Guns n’ Roses, Blondie, Megadeth, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, Mötley Crüe, Lady Gaga

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