Alice Cooper Reflects on Rock Hall Induction, Looks to Future: Exclusive Interview
When Alice Cooper was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, he thought it could be a short stay. ”I kept thinking, 'Who will be the first band kicked out of the Hall of Fame?'” he quipped backstage in the press area. “And then I thought, ‘Gee, it could be us!”
But as he showed from the stage during his remarks after being inducted, he had a lot of reverence for his peers who were already in the hall. “I hope I never outgrow a Pete Townshend windmill chord,” he said. “I hope I never outgrow a Jeff Beck lead guitar. ... I wish I could tell you that being in the hall now, that we’ll never embarrass you, but I can’t really make that promise. After all, we are Alice Cooper. It’s what we do.”
Nearly a decade letter, the band maintains its status as inductees (they're even part of a recent pinball exhibit at the Hall of Fame) and Cooper continues to make new music. He released the well-received Paranormal album in 2017 and is almost constantly on the road. He even documented his tour in support of that album with a new live release, A Paranormal Evening at the Olympia Paris.
Cooper has been working on a new album with the Hollywood Vampires -- the all-star collective that also features Johnny Depp and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. His Rock Hall induction has also officially been commemorated with the pending release of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Concert: Encore -- a hefty DVD that collects nearly 500 minutes of previously unreleased highlights from the annual induction ceremonies.
We caught up with Cooper to discuss his Rock Hall induction memories, his current happenings with the Hollywood Vampires, a Wayne’s World reunion and lots more.
You’ve been wrapped up in a number of projects in recent years, including the Hollywood Vampires. For everything that you thought you knew about Joe Perry, what did you discover about him that surprises you?
I think that Joe Perry works much better on encouragement than wagging your finger in his face. It’s one of those things where he really loves playing this kind of music. We both go back to the Yardbirds. If you talk to me and him and name a Yardbirds song, we can both play it. Aerosmith and Alice Cooper were very similar in that we were both very Yardbirds-oriented. And the Who and the Kinks, all of those bands. But this is the kind of band where we let everybody have their say. I don’t think there’s ever been one argument backstage or onstage about doing a song. If somebody says, “You play the lead on this one,” then we try it. And then it’s like, “You try it” and then we just say, “Okay, that one works better, let’s go with that one.” Nobody’s going, “Oh no, I want to play that.” You don’t get all of this crybaby stuff. Everybody just does what they do and everybody respects everybody. So we’ve never had an argument in this band. It’s amazing. It’s like a bunch of brothers that don’t fight.
You mentioned the Yardbirds. With your Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction being released, I was looking back at that evening. On the night that you were inducted, you said, “I hope I never outgrow a Pete Townshend windmill chord” and “I hope I never outgrow a Jeff Beck lead guitar,” and what’s really great about that to me is that it spells out that in addition to making music and putting on a show, you’re still a fan at heart.
And that’s pretty cool. Those people you mentioned, there was probably a time where it was hard to imagine that you might wind up in the same sentence with those people.
Oh, my gosh, are you kidding? Just to think that we would ever be onstage with [them] … and then ending up [with] them all being friends with us and respecting what we do. It took a lot, and it took a big effort and there was never a time, even after 27 or 30 albums, where we didn’t refer to the Yardbirds or Pete Townshend. I mean, when we did “Elected,” that was John Lennon’s favorite song. I said, “John, this had nothing to do with politics.” I said, “This is a tribute to Pete Townshend.” You know, the beginning of that [imitating opening riff], I said, “I just wanted to find a song where we could do those big power chords and sort of tip our hat to Pete Townshend.” It ended up being a great big hit and John Lennon thought it was a very politically oriented song, where it was more satire than that. But I mean, again, “School’s Out,” half of that song is [the] Yardbirds! Because that was our influence. And then when you take it back to the Beatles and the Stones, well, you can’t even include them. Because everybody, I don’t care who it is, was influenced by the Beatles. I don’t care if it’s Cradle of Filth, they were influenced by the Beatles, somewhere in a melody -- or Frank Sinatra. They were so effective at writing melody lines. Ozzy [Osbourne] and I talked about this one time, if you go back and look at the melody lines on Love It to Death, School’s Out, Killer and all of those albums, we borrowed a lot of Beatles stuff.
I hear that from a lot of folks I talk to, so I know exactly what you’re talking about. They touched everybody who came up when you were making music and the people today. The music of the Beatles is still revealing itself to people who are just starting out.
Oh, absolutely. You listen to the Beatles to learn how to write a song and you learn in your own way. I think we learned actual songwriting from listening to the Beatles, but we learned swagger from the Rolling Stones. You’ve got to get up there and be the rooster. Nobody will ever be the rooster better than [Mick] Jagger. But a lead singer has got to have that swagger, which is kind of missing now in rock 'n' roll. It’s sort of missing. But you learn a little bit from everybody. Then there’s bands that learned a lot from us. What we brought to the table on that was, how do you make this song theatrical now? How do you take a song like “Welcome To My Nightmare,” and you don’t just say, “Welcome to my nightmare." You give them the nightmare! If you’re going to say, “Welcome to my nightmare,” then give it to them, produce it so that they can actually see the nightmare!
I love the theatrical nature of what you do, right down to the recorded intro that’s preserved on the new live record. “You have been chosen to spend the night with Alice Cooper. It’s too late now for you.” You still love to put together a show.
The funny thing, and on the Vampires show, we have Christopher Lee. The very last thing he did before he died, we asked him to read from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the very last thing he says before we go on is, “Listen to them, children of the night, what music they make!” And then we come in, we start right in. But it was such a great tribute to Christopher Lee, who all of us really admired.
It’s hard to believe it was 2011 when you got inducted into the Rock Hall. Now that it’s been close to a decade, how do you look back on that experience? What were the moments of the night that meant the most to you?
I stepped back and said, “Well, it’s very much like graduating.” Because all of your teachers are voting on you. When you think about it, all of those people we were talking about, who are in the Hall, who we learned from, they get the ballots. They look at it and go, “Alice Cooper, well, yeah, we’ve got to mark him off.” That makes you sit there and go, “Wow, they actually like what I’m doing.” You do think about that, it’s not an egotistical thing at all, it’s more of a humility thing, of saying, “Wow, I finally got the attention of these guys and they voted on me.” You know, how cool is that that these guys got this ballot and marked my name down?
Listen to Hollywood Vampires' 'Come and Get It'
Since we were talking about the Beatles earlier, the Hollywood Vampires recorded a version of Badfinger’s “Come and Get It” with Paul McCartney. I know you’ve been all over the place recently, but have you had a chance to hear his new solo record?
I was in the studio when they were mixing it in L.A. We happened to be there recording something and he was in the other studio. We walked in and I heard some of it in there actually, and I’ve heard it on the radio now. But McCartney’s such a pro. I always said, He’s not just a Beatle, he’s the Beatle. John and I drank together and everything. But he’s the guy that I think was most locked into the music. I think if Paul McCartney wasn’t in the Beatles, he would be in a pub band forever. He just likes to play. So when he walked in and sat down at the piano, he said, “Okay, Alice, you sing the middle part, I’ll sing the other part and you can double up on me on this” and I’m going, “What?” [Laughs] I’m singing with Paul McCartney, how crazy is this? He’s the one that draws the most respect of anybody.
You can really hear the enthusiasm from all involved on that version of “Come and Get It.” It’s just infectious.
And we did it in three takes. We did it live at Johnny’s house and did three takes. Everybody was on it -- you were afraid to play a bad note with McCartney there!
It was cool seeing Mike Myers at your show in New York City recently. That must have been a fun trip to have him come out with you guys at that show.
Yeah, it really was. I had dinner with him the night before. Mike and I are really good friends. He said, “I’m going to come to the show.” Which he generally doesn’t do. He sat through the whole show and loved it. He says, “You know, every single song was a piece of my childhood.” He said, “My brother and I used to sit and listen to Alice Cooper.” He had his brother on the phone while we were doing the show, the whole show. It was really cool. And then at the end, he comes out and does the “We’re not worthy” thing and, of course, everybody went crazy. But Mike’s really cool.
That whole thing just added such an interesting dimension to your career. I know that you’ve done so many things. You just never know what something you do is going to add.
Yeah, that one and Jesus Christ Superstar, I think, was something that made people go, “What?” [Laughs] Whereas to me, it was the easiest thing in the world. I was just playing King Herod instead of Alice Cooper.
Not too far of a trip, I guess.
No, it wasn’t much of a stretch, to be honest with you!