Alice's version of the infamous "chicken" incident at the Toronto Rock'n'Roll festival in 1969 has been retold in almost every interview he's done for the last 40 years. Someone from the audience threw a chicken on-stage and Alice, thinking it could fly, threw it back over the audience expecting it to fly away. Instead, it "plummeted" into the crowd and the audience tore it apart. The next day the headlines read: "Alice bites head off chicken and drinks blood". Frank Zappa told Alice not to deny this story because he said you can't buy this type of publicity!
That's the basic way it's always been told. At some point he added in fans in wheelchairs at the front, but that was in fact at a different show a couple of weeks before the Toronto festival. However there could be a good reason Alice got the two shows confused... after all it's not as if Toronto was the only show a chicken appeared at!
Michael Bruce says in his book that the band thought bringing a chicken would be a fun inside joke, coming after their 'blowing feathers on the audience' antics. So which is it? Did a fan throw the chicken on-stage spontaneously? Or did the band arrange for a chicken to be a part of the act?
It's now pretty well known amongst fans (although it's rare that journalists bother to check) that the chicken incident was staged, and that the band (Shep Gordon in fact) brought the chicken to Toronto, and other shows around the same time (there are rare photos showing a chicken on stage at other shows). However Alice is still asked about it in almost every interview and it's STILL too good a story not to tell.
However it wasn't just chickens that had to be afraid. In an 1969 interview Alice refered to a rabbit killing routine, although there's no other evidence that it ever happened, and in likelyhood was just Alice playing up to the interviewer. The confirmation of repeated chicken appearances leads to the conclusion that the band cerainly repeated these incidents in order to gain notoriety.
This is entirely consistent with Alice's well-known skill at getting bad press, especially back in the earliest days of his career. Alice seemed to seek the benefits of the publicity without wanting to be associated with the actual deed itself. The CIA refers to such a cover as "plausible deniability," which is exactly what the Coop may have successfully maneuvered. One other bit of evidence in this "killing animals conspiracy" is that Alice did not deny the possibility when he was interviewed by Tom Snyder in 1981. He, in fact, gave a very revealing answer when asked if he ever killed any chickens. He said he never did, but "Alice might have."
When asked about the Chickens in February 1997, Michael Bruce had the following to say:
"The chicken incident? Do you mean throwing chicken into the audience? Which came first, the chickens or the feathers? When we first started out, we broke open feather pillows stolen from the Holiday Inns, and used them on 'Black Juju', spraying them on the audience and all over the stage. As the source of pillows at the Holidays Inns turned to foam rubber, and the club owners were reluctant to have us back before they were picking feathers out of the stage, we thought it would be clever to throw the chicken with the feathers attached. We didn't do it every time, but we threw some doves, chickens, whatever, watermelon, so I guess you could say we repeated it, it's all a blur.
Did they always tear the chicken apart?
"I don't know if they ever did, most likely. As Alice tells it, it was always the audience that portrayed the violence, and we were just the parody on stage, which I guess is what most likely happened. Mob violence. Scary. I'm sure it happened more than once. Also, we sprayed tires and painted them white and rolled them around on stage, 'cause it was the motor city."
Band friend Skip Ladd:
"This chicken thing started with 20th Century Zoo [Skip's band] playing a gig up in Prescott, Arizona at a roller skating rink. The local radio station was hosting it and was handing out promo 45's at the door back in the late 60's. After the kids got inside the door they would read what song they got and it would be junk you never heard of, so they started using them for frisbees at the stage. We were backstage hearing the records hit the stage door and our equipment. Paul Bennett was worried about his drums getting hit so our roadie Big John, a 6'4" 264 pound Negro went out on stage to cover the drums with a bedsheet. He went up to the mike and said "If anyone throws one more record these guys are going to pack up and go back to Phoenix!" I'm thinking well let's start packing, these cowboys are for sure going to throw them now! To our surprise, they didn't! But after we started playing someone threw a rubber chicken up on stage with no head. Everyone cracked up! Our lead singer tossed it back into the audience where it got tossed all around the room. I told Alice about this incident and it was so funny at the time. It was like a happening! Mentioned to Alice that just the word chicken made people laugh. It was entertainment that people could write home about. About a month later I heard about the chicken on stage in Canada and wondered if Alice had tried what I told him. Or if someone else in the crowd had it. We didn't have the rubber chicken.
(Skip Ladd, Band Friend/20th Century Zoo, August 1998)
And Dennis Dunaway in 'Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles' August 2005:
"We got this guy in Detroit we called Larry The Chicken Man, to go out and get chickens, and then they would all of a sudden appear on top of Glen's amp, and then the thing was, we decided, as a band, that we wouldn't acknowledge that they were there at all. It was like, 'What chickens? We don't know about any chickens in here.' And then the thing that was funny, that I loved, was that these chickens would sit on top of the amps, and then Glen would do these kinds of chicken-sounding noises, and then the chickens would actually tilt their heads like they were trying to understand what he was saying. These weren't in cages; they were just walking around on stage. And that's when we got the ideas to blow the feathers, to make it look like the chickens were... that something exciting was happening to the chickens."