In February 2004 this interview was conducted by SickthingsUK board member Venus_and_Mars which addresses some interesting questions about Dick's work with Alice and on other projects.
V&M: First of all.. when you started playing guitar and write songs who were your influences?
Dick Wagner: I was first influenced on guitar by seeing a Michigan band called The Eldoradoes..two guitarists playing gold top Les Paul guitars. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven the sound was so powerful. I started getting into records by B.B.King. Duane Eddy, Link Wray..and jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery although that playing was far beyond what I could play. I soon discovered Classical guitarist John Williams and listened intently to his recordings trying to emulate what ever I could from what I heard. Throw in Chet Atkins and you have my basic influences on guitar.
As for songwriting I was first influenced by Roy Orbison then the Beatles. It was as I was discovering Lennon and McCartney that it dawned on me that I could maybe write songs myself..so I tried and did begin writing my own songs much to my own surprise and joy.
V&M: Tell me about your first meeting with Alice and how you got involved with him and Bob Ezrin.
Dick Wagner: I first met Alice backstage at one of my Frost concerts at Henry Ford High School in maybe 1967. I later got a call from Ezrin to play a little guitar on the "School's Out" album and it just went on from there.
V&M: I'm hoping you would like to share some thoughts about Alice and the "Alice Cooper Group". Being there before the split - as a session musician - and afterwards - as a member of Alice's solo band; what's your take on this (for us Cooper fans) dramatic event, and how do you think it affected Alice, both personally and professionally?
Dick Wagner: As for the Alice Cooper group...I was called in to play on the "Schools Out" LP as a session guitarist and played on every album after that up to "Flush the Fashion". I loved the original band..they were truly original in their entire approach and image. Alice was looking for an upward change musically when they asked me to get completely involved and I know it took him to greater heights as a solo artist. In no way do I denigrate the original band..they were perfect for their time just as the Nightmare band was for a later time.
V&M: Now I´m gonna focus on the Albums that you made with Alice starting with "Welcome to my nightmare".
How did you go from just being a studio musician on the 'School´s Out' album to being one of Alice's two sidemen on this big project.
Dick Wagner: As I began to work with Alice and Bob they liked my writing style so when it came time to come up with a new album after my band Ursa Major had toured with Cooper they called me to write with Alice. They were taking Alice into a solo career at that time so I helped bring the band from Lou Reed over to Alice and agreed to forgo a solo career of my own in order to become Alice's new co-writer and guitarist. We went to the Bahamas to work on coming up with a concept and songs for the new album which we did while weathering a tropical storm and being inspired by the 60 mile per hour winds. Picture us sitting outside with an acoustic guitar and a pencil and a pad of paper with the wind howling around us and when I started playing the opening riff to Nightmare, Alice began to sing.."Welcome to my nightmare: and voila! The concept was born.
V&M: Can you tell me the writing process that you, Alice and Ezrin had, since Cooper doesn´t play any instrument apart from a little guitar.
Dick Wagner: During the Cooper Wagner Ezrin collaborations Bob played piano, I played guitar and Alice wrote most of the lyrics. Bob and I would occasionally throw in a lyrical idea..Alice would shape a melody here and there. Thats how the songwriting went.
V&M: What was the thought behind a song like "Years ago" that starts off the brilliant triology-medley with "Steven and "The awakening". (IMO one of the best things Alice has ever done).
Dick Wagner: Years ago started with a quirky little guitar figure i played while trying to complete the thought process of the Steven story and was a reflection of the past in Steven's dream sequence during the Nightmare.
Alice and I were always coming up with little weird short pieces like that..most of which were never recorded.. most very funny and off the wall so to speak.
V&M: What was the experience like recording the "Goes To Hell" album and at the time were you dissapointed that there wasn´t a tour to follow it up?
Dick Wagner: "Go to Hell" was another follow up concept album and basically we where on a real flow from Nightmare and the Nightmare tour. It came easy and fast with Alice and I writing the bulk of the songs in Hawaii and bringing them to Bob in LA where we did some pre-production. Then on to NYC and Toronto to record. Things were in a healthy state at that time and it all went smooth as clockwork. There was no tour because we had just finished the biggest rock tour of the era and wanted to wait a bit before going out on the road again.
V&M: It´s been well documented that Alice health problems were big around the time of recording the "Lace and Whiskey" album. Did this affect the recording sessions at any time?
And how was it to write with Alice at this point?
Dick Wagner:" Lace and Whiskey" was more or less thrown together under time constraints and suffered from lack of focus on the songwriting. Alice, Ezrin and I were all suffering a bit from over indulgence in various forms of substance abuse and it shows in the quality of this record and the subsequent tour that featured chickens with machine guns prancing about on stage which was tacky and juvenile at best to me at the time.
V&M: Tell me about your involvement in the From the inside album (One of my favourites)
How much different was it to work with Alice after he became sober..
Dick Wagner: "From the inside" was a completely different experience with David Foster and Bernie Taupin involved. Alice and Bernie came to me with lyrics already written and I wrote music for them and we all got together with David Foster who wrote additional parts etc. It felt a little strange doing a record without Ezrin and Brian Christian( Our usual engineer) but there were some great moments with me and Steve Lukather and the guys from Toto doing tracks.
I really enjoyed the process but I did miss Hunter and the other guys. You do so much work with certain guys and every project is like family so This was a change for me and I suppose for Alice..but I think it was more strange for me than Cooper. Great record though, dontcha think?
V&M: Do you think the album would have sounded a lot different if Bob Ezrin would have produced it?
Dick Wagner: The record would have sounded alot different if Ezrin had been producing but I dont want to speculate on better or worse or any qualitative judgment on Ezrin vs Foster. Each man brings formidable skills to the studio and I'll leave the guesswork up to you.
V&M: You were also a bit involved in the "Zipper Catches Skin" record. Tell us about that.
Dick Wagner: "Zipper Catches Skin" was a drug induced nightmare in itself. I wont go into details..its all too painful to re-tell. I wrote a lot of the songs with Cooper and played some guitar but I left before the album was finished and felt glad to go home.
V&M: A lot of people want me to ask you about the "Dada" album so here I go:
You didn´t work with Cooper again full time until that record.
Can you tell me why you and Ezrin were brought back in for that one?
Dick Wagner: Alice was due to record his final album for Warner Brothers. Bob had been hired to produce but he wouldn't do it in Phoenix and Alice refused to go up to Toronto. So Bob called me and said he couldn't get Alice to write and record so would I please go to Phoenix and get Alice to comply. I said I'd try so I went there and found Alice in a bad emotional state..completely unmotivated. So in a few days I got him started back writing and eventually convinced him to go to Toronto to record. We went there together and spent almost every hour together working on this wonderful little record called "DA DA". It was a real hard process but musically very rewarding.
V&M: At the time the album sunk without a trace but now it seems like an overlooked masterpeice.
What is your opinion on it?
Dick Wagner: It is the most underrated Cooper album and artistically one of the best.
V&M: The sound on "Dada" was very different from anything Cooper had done.
Did you ever question the use of keyboards and electronic-drums?
Dick Wagner: I loved the use of the synths..especially on "I Love America".
V&M: Strangley enough IMO, although Alice was at his worst at this time healthwise
He sings very good on the tracks. Was he still a joy to work with or had the drinking problem
taken it´s toll?
Dick Wagner: Alice was drinking very heavily at the time but he and I became closer than ever during the "DA DA" days. As usual we laughed away all the anxiety and worry about the future after Warner Brothers. I tried to help him control his drinking everyday and to make it to the studio on time. He did sing well and his creativity was at a high level as was mine for whatever reason. Ezrin was his usual self..creative, demanding and a good friend. I even played bass on the record.
V&M: The last time you worked with Alice was for the "Hey Stoopid" album. Tell me how you got involved with Alice again after 8 years.
Dick Wagner: Basically I had been out of touch with Alice for awhile when I got a call and decided to go on down to Phoenix to do do more writing with him. We wrote several songs but they chose only Might as well be on Mars for the album. There are several great tunes sitting on the shelf that may or may not be recorded in the future Probably not recorded unless I do them myself. We did demo recordings of them in LA and they are safe in my library. I was supposed to play guitar on my song but somehow they chose to use Joe Satriani.
V&M: What do you think of albums like “The Last Temptation”, “Brutal Planet” & the latest “The Eyes of Alice Cooper”?
Dick Wagner: I really liked "Brutal Planet" but it seems to me when they (Cooper and his producers) try to cash in on current trends instead of setting the trend, the records have consistently missed the mark.
V&M: I would like to thank you so very much for taken your time to answer all of these questions.
The members of our site and forum hopefully will be very pleased. I know I am.
Take care and maybe we can hear from each other at another time.
Dick Wagner: Jimmie..Thanks for all the good questions. I've enjoyed answering them. Stay in touch with me and check out my website from time to time wagnermusic.com