The city of Detroit in the State of Michigan, in the United States, is famous for three main exports; cars Tamla Motown and American 'hard rock'. Arguably one of the finest and most well-known exponents of the latter was born in that gritty city on the 4th of February in 1948 under the name Vincent Damon Furnier the first son and second child of Michael and Ella Furnier. Michael Furnier had worked on the guided missile systems during the Second World War and worked as part of the Nasa team that developed those same missiles to land the first Apollo space team on the moon. He was also Minister for The Church of Jesus Christ, following in his fathers footsteps since he too had been a highly placed Minister. Together with their children, (the Furniers' already had a daughter called Nicola, who turned out to be a mathematical genius and apparently now teaches maths at Yale University), Michael and Ella spent the first few years of Vincents' life traveling across the north of the country as Michael worked on various rocket and missile projects.
It wasn't until 1959 that the family decided to settle permanently in Phoenix, Arizona close to the Mexican border. It was an ideal place all-round. In nearby Tuscon ('Jojo was a man from Tuscon Arizona'), He worked on the Apollo itself, he Space Project. In Phoenix itself worked as a missionary amongst the areas indigenous population, the Red Indians, converting them to Christianity, Although a predominantly Roman Catholic city, Phoenix had a large and well-established Protestant community where Michael's father had also been a minister as Vincent in a different guise recalled years later.
Phoenix was also ideal as a place to bring up a young family. Although set in the middle of America' s most barren region, the city, as a result of massive government investment was a boom town full of amenities. The family was happy in its All-American existence. In his earlier years, Vincent had been plagued by poor health and spent most of his 10th year bed-ridden from various illnesses, which left him looking thin and under-nourished. At 13 he was struck down by a severe case of peritonitis, which is an inflammation of the membrane which covers the abdominal organs. The cause was a ruptured appendix and as a result he required surgery. A mild case of peritonitis is cause for concern but Vince had it so bad that one night he was given a 50/50 chance of survival. During surgery, "enough poison was taken out of the stomach to kill a fuckin' army!" and there was also treatments of antibiotics and intravenous feeding to replace fluids that had escaped from the blood flow into the abdominal cavity. As a result of the surgery Vince was left with a couple of 4 inch scars across his abdomen, which he latter attributed to a collision with a Hammerhead Shark while Scuba diving. While in hospital, Vince spent hours building at least 60 or 70 model airplanes, cars, boats etc.
He often accompanied his father to the Indian reservation where he worked as a missionary. As a result he spent a lot of time playing there and so developed a keen interest in Red Indian art and culture. It was his first main interest in life. The years of constant traveling had prevented him from striking up lasting friendships with children his own age and so at first was something of a loner. He was apparently treated with suspicion because he could be ingratiatingly polite to his elders and sarcastically abrasive to those he neither knew liked. Because of this defense mechanism, the young Vincent spent his early apart from the other children:
At an early age, Vince was told by his parents that he was of French descent and as a result, he was convinced that he had a regal bearing. He would spend hours looking at paintings of French nobility, emulating their aloofness.
His teachers noted him as being extremely intelligent but very lazy, although he particularly enjoyed Art and composition Whenever he wanted anyone to talk to, he just turned on the old charm. . . .
The one real love in his life was his albino tarantula which he found on an Indian burial ground. This was replaced by a love for something which is as deep now as it was then, the images on a TV screen. It was his one real friend, always there to offer him solace during the more lonelier moments. Arizona was one of the first areas to have the embryonic cable system and this became a cornucopia for Vincent. In a relatively isolated city, TV was THE main form of entertainment. He became engrossed with the diverse number of programmes and personalities offered and as a result, showed his first, real showbiz leanings:
He had of coarse, already discovered rock and roll. While the family were moving around from one city to another, Vincent heard all the early rock and roll stars. But there were only one that stood out of the pack - Chuck Berry. Vincent was mesmerised by the tales of Cadillacs, high school bops and girls and later described Berry as "the greatest rock and roll lyricist ever" .
By 1964, Vincent had entered Cortez High School in Phoenix and it was there that the teachers described him as a "lazy intellectual", a reputation he encouraged:
However, at Cortez, he did finally manage to strike up lasting friendships with other misfits who were working on the School newspaper. Called 'THE TIPP SHEET', it featured Dennis Dunnaway (b. 9th September 1948) as sports editor, who was considered 'quiet and aesthetic'. He too had spent much of his early childhood alone and his main hobbies had been basketball, collecting arrowheads and buying anything with Elvis Presleys' name on it. He had attended Roosevelt Elementary School and Washington High before stopping off at Cortez.
Another lone-wolf on the paper was Glen Buxton (b. 11th November 1947 in Akron, Ohio). His father too, was working on the Apollo space project and was on nodding terms with Vincents' father, Glen had spent much of his childhood being teased for extreme short-sightedness which made him retaliate violently at times and had established a reputation for being 'wild and rowdy' according to school reports, He had also developed a passion for photography and so became the staff photographer, He was also one of the first boys in the school to have a greasers hairstyle with a huge pompadour on the front and in those days of crew cuts, it was a bold move.
Vincent, with his skill at the typewriter, became the papers editor and for a while the notion of becoming a journalist, He earned himself two nick-names, "the one and only Diplomat" on account of his smooth style of patter and "Muscles McNasil" because of his huge nose and skinny frame. Vince wrote the papers' editorial and entitled it "hey everybody - get out of my hair!", which he used as a platform to hurl invectives at any target he chose.
With some new friends, Vincent gradually came out of himself and discovered another passion, sports. Together with Dennis and Glen, he joined the school track team. The school running hero was John Spears who always brought his best buddy, Jon Tatum, along to training sessions and races. The trio thus became a happy five. The rigorous training sessions established a camaraderie amongst the boys and Vincent discovered that he had a talent as a runner. On a whim he entered the weekly long distance race, only to be jeered at by the other competitors:
In fact, the highlight of Vincents' running career was when he won the 24 mile Phoenix Marathon. Just as he crossed the finishing line, he tripped on the pavement and smashed his nose on the floor, flattening it and putting it out of joint!. Cars too, became another passion and a sore point, Vince had to crawl drunkenly from a burning '66. GT Fairlane, which he left to smolder on a main highway, Dennis had to leave his car wrapped around a telegraph pole.
The school paper had become very popular with the other students but the trio were renowned for their indolence, preferring to send out "some dumb chick" to do all the work. In 1964, Vince and his pals heard something that was to change their lives; not only their live's but also the lives of countless other young Americans, For the first time ever, Vincent heard The Beatles.
The success of the Beatles, opened the door for British bands and as a result, Vincent discovered The Rolling Stones, Them, The Who, The Kinks, Pretty Things and The Yardbirds, who established themselves as his favourite ever band:
It was the surly rebelliousness of The Rolling stones , their musical and onstage aggression (and long hair) that fired Vincents imagination. His parents hated them and so for a short time, Vincent became a 'rebel'. He grew his hair even longer then it was, in an effort to emulate Jagger and co. As a result, he was expelled from school eight times. In truth he presented few problems to his parents and the comfortable, middle-class existence they all led. Although he described himself as a "brat", he was never able to do "illegal things". "I could never steal" he said although he frequently stole from his mothers purse and planted evidence in his sisters room.
There was one area where he had to comply with his parents wishes - three times a week, there was religious education. He attended prayer meetings at his fathers' Church and apparently greatly resented what he regarded as "indoctrination", although in truth it all added to the general knowledge of what was already an extremely intelligent and articulate young man.
Up to this point, Vincents' involvement with the music he loved was limited to merely listening. It was quite by accident that Vincent and his cronies became a bonafide rock band. In 1964, the boys were told that they had been awarded their Varsity Sports Letters and in true All-American style, the presentations were to be at the Lettermans' Club Annual Dinner. They were all very proud of themselves to say the least but it was traditional for the Lettermen to play or perform in some way at the talent show after the awards ceremony. Out of deep respect for The Beatles and with an acute sense of parody, the trio with the other two, Tatum and Speer, borrowed instruments and Beatle wigs and after days of frantic rehearsal bounded on to the stage to play a short set of songs. They had even hired girls to sit in the audience and scream! Everyone admitted that the band were awful since they were total novices, But Vincent had just discovered his vocation in life:
Vince was hooked. He wanted to be a STAR. He wanted fame, girls, money, girls, cars, girls etc. He promised himself that he would never ever work for any boss although he did work in a car-wash for 15 minutes!, The 'band' that had 'played' at the Awards Dinner had been The Earwigs, a name chosen as a parody of Beatles and also because to 'earwig' was local slang for to 'annoy or anger'. They consisted of Vince (lead vocals and harmonica), Dennis Dunnaway (on bass), Glen Buxton (guitar), John Tatum (lead guitar) and John Speer on drums.
They pooled their resources and bought second-hand instruments and amplifiers. By now, they had all left Cortez. Vince, Dennis and Glen had been awarded scholarships to study Art at Glendale community College. All three showed a fair amount of proficiency but Vince especially, had taken on all the pretensions of the typical Art student - dressing in a certain way, talking in a certain way etc. He grew a pencil moustache and wore collar and tie ("very cool, like Peter Gunn") when the norm was t-shirts and jeans.
All the time he harbored the notion of playing in a professional band. He was well and truly hooked. At rehearsals, the bands, proficiency gradually began to grow, so they began to play more regularly at parties, school dances, youth clubs etc, playing a form of sub-Rolling Stone's R&B thrash that was all the rage at the time.
By 1965, The Earwigs became The Spiders after a short while as The Husky Babies. The Spiders achieved a major milestone in their short career, when in 1965, they band got to number 1 in Phoenix with "Don't Blow Your Mind"/"No Price Tag", their very first record. It was released on the Santa Cruz label(003), a small independent company in Phoenix and the original single is virtually untraceable. The song was a high powered sub Rolling Stones/Who number with buzzing guitars thrashing away in the foreground. A very young Vince tells the story:
"No Price Tag" was again very British R & B influenced. In his best Jagger voice, a high pitched Vince tells his girl:
In the distance you can hear Vinces' harmonica overdubs wailing away
The Spiders were by all accounts the best of the local bands, winning virtually all the local BATTLE OF THE BANDS contests:
They (the Spiders) has two main rivals. The XLS from Cortez, played surf songs a la the BEACH BOYS. Whenever they had brought new equipment the XLS would set up in the car park at college, and blast away the noise from the tiny equipment the Spiders had. That was the only time the XLS could block out the Spiders, by drowning them out with better equipment. The rivalry, was however, quite friendly and Vincent was often seen with Bill Spooner, Prairie Prince and Fee Waybill. The XLS later became The Tubes influenced to a greater extent to what Vincent, in a later guise would be doing. This coincidence was not lost on Vincent who in that later guise said:
The other rivals to the Spiders, superiority Were The Trolls, who were very Beatles influenced right down to being nice and polite and smiling onstage. The total opposite to The Spiders. One of the Trolls was Michael Bruce (b. 16th of March 1948 in Phoenix) and he was considered to be THE major local talent who had written most of the Trolls' material, He was also the local tennis and American football hero and hated all that "art school bull". However he was told to leave the Trolls because his hair was too short ! ! !. The Trolls poached Tatum from the Spiders and Mike Bruce joined the Spiders in return. Dennis Dunnaway had made it plain that the Spiders were HIS band and that Bruce was not welcome because "none of the big bands had 5 guys in it". A wrong statement of course, but Bruces' prowess as a guitarist soon made him a more than welcome addition to the band. Another advantage Bruce had was that he had a new van that was ideal for transporting the band and its equipment from gig to gig.
By 1966, the Spiders were tired of the old format of going onstage and just "playing the songs". As early as then they had realised the value and interest a more visual stage presentation would create. They began experimenting with what were considered to be strange costumes and props . Michael Bruce became Spiderman (geddit?), Glen Buxton a pirate, Vince in leather outfits and Dennis in Pink rubber!!. On other occasions they played in front of a huge green Spiders web that they made themselves, an idea repeated in 1975! At some gigs, Vincent would be carried onstage in a rusty bathtub;
The costumes varied from leather outfits to sports gear to period costumes or just things they threw together in a matter of minutes. Glenn however always wore his sharp, pointed Italian boots.
The Spiders' had established their reputation for being "an OK band". They began to play further and further away from Phoenix, into Albuquerque and Tuscon. They occasionally played to violent crowds of Mexicans, Spaniards and Italians who threatened to do the spotty young punks from Phoenix's suburbs all sorts of damage. It was left to Glen Buxtons' bravery/stupidity in throwing a lighted cigarette at a local hoods' girl to earn the crowds grudging respect. Rather than tear the band limb from limb, they allowed the band to creep home to mummy and daddy and the warm milk and TV.
The pattern of life established was this: art school during the day, rehearsals in the evening , gigs at weekends and girls, cars, sports and TV in between. Their main failing was the dearth of original material and at Mikes' insistence, they began to collaborate on new songs. Titles like "Turn The Page", "Everything's' Orange", "Help Me Out" and "Mr Machine" were all premiered. "Mr. Machine" in fact turned up in a very different form 7 years later on the "MUSCLE OF LOVE" LP as "Woman Machine ".
In 1967, a conscious decision Was made to make the band "go places". To be a major rock band in 1967, in the US, you had to go to either New York or Los Angeles. Sunny LA was nearer to Phoenix and so the Spiders ventured onto West Coast in search of gigs . What they expected to find is not known, but what they got was the start of almost 4 years of degrading poverty and squalor, the complete contrast to the easy, comfortable life at home:
The Spiders moved from Venice, to Watts and finally to Topanga Canyon, living in a shack on a steep hill. When there were no bookings in LA and funds were low, they would go to Phoenix to play the old haunts claiming they were "back from a successful tour of the West Coast"!! A little white lie never did anyone any harm...
All was not totally well within the band however. John Speer had become dissatisfied with the awful lifestyle and so decided to quit the band, He later became the manager of a very successful band called The Beans, that played jingles!!!
Speer's replacement was a close friend of the bands. He was Neal Smith and had followed the band to most of their shows in Phoenix, He had met Vince during their Sophomore year of '64. Neal(b,23rd September in Akron, like Glenn), had moved to San Francisco to work as a car mechanic in a car showroom . He fancied himself as a drummer and was offered the job which he eagerly accepted:
With little prospect of success, the Spiders changed their name to The Nazz (from The Yardbirds' "Nazz Are Blue" and nothing to do with Todd Rundgrens' band The Nazz who were based in New York). The band struggled on to the disappointed of their now anxious parents, who saw the holes in the promises from the band that they would be "big stars soon". The Nazz acquired two companions, the mysterious "Bud" who left soon after and Neal's sister Cindy who had been Dennis' girlfriend. She had ambitions to be a clothes designer and was working in a costume store where she had unlimited access to sewing machines and materials. It was she that put together many of the bands' later bizarre stage outfits.
It was in everyone's opinion, "an awful and a crazy existence to go through". Things never improved until late '70 and they frequently regretted leaving Phoenix where they were a big fish in a small pool, but they kept on plugging away hoping for that elusive 'break'.
The Nazz had planted themselves on LA's netherworld. Flower power was all the rage, The Grateful Dead, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, and Jefferson Airplane were KING. The spotty young hoods from Smallsville took their place on the West Coasts 'lysergic and laid back atmosphere, a far cry from the rough R&B that they had been weaned on, and saw a movement start and die out. For a while they were enthusiastic about their new environment, and they soon found new idols to idolise, like Frank Zappa, professional cultist and also Pink Floyd . On hearing that the Floyd were to tour the West Coast of America, the Nazz invited them to dinner at their dive in the Canyon, They tried to get a glimpse into the workings of the mind of that remarkable musician Syd Barrett, but he left them convinced he wasn't human - they just couldn't figure him out:
By now the Nazz had released another single, "Wonder Who's Loving Her Now"/"Lay Down And Die Goodbye"(Very 001). Predictably it was the most dreadful of failures. Whereas, "Don't Blow Your Mind" and "Price Tag" had been sub-Stones or Who thrashings complete with rasping vocals from Vince, "Wonder Who's Loving Her Now" and it's B-side took on a more psuedy aspects of the psychedelic era. "Wonder Who's Loving Her Now" is a mournful but poppy tune about the jealousies of love:
The song was vaguely psychedelic but its B side sounds like The 13th Floor Elevators after too much LSD! "Lay Down And Die" here is totally different to the album version, with its jangling, gauzy guitars, the rhythm being carried forward by Dennis Dunnaway:
Again the song carries a suicide statement:
All four tracks are marvelous historical artifacts and the vocal on "Wonder who's Loving Her Now" is genuinely poignant. "Lay Down And Die" is simpler version of the later album incarnation.
The Nazz continued to play the clubs, bars and college circuit in LA, but most of the time they played to the uncomprehending audiences that filled the smoky hippy clubs on Sunset Boulevard, the majority of whom were spaced out on acid or some other exotic substance. The Nazz were very unpopular, the music was too fast and too loud, for an audience that wanted to listen to a soundtrack that went with all the pretty pictures they saw on walls and ceilings, There was a general air of Complacency and apathy; it was all too laid back 'man', Vincent Furnier was high on life and beer and he felt stifled in a wishy-washy environment:
Those were tough, desperate times. The Nazz were "competing with 20,000 other fucking bands, they were forced to grab peoples attention through some other means then by their music alone. They were tired of being "fucked around":
Frustrated and embittered. the band grabbed mime make-up sticks and applied them to their faces. They wore Cindy' creations made from PVC and chiffon. Vince spent his last cents on a pair of silver lame trousers with a ruby heart sewn over the crotch. Dennis wore a tattered clown suit, while Neal had his leg in a fake plaster cast. Suddenly, the Nazz looked like a failed drag act. The image was dark and brooding or light and sensuous depending on your point of view. Either way, it was sexually ambivalent and teasing. The band improvised a rough and ready performance which had them behaving in all manner of sexual and violent ways towards each other. There was an overwhelming aura of hate and power that emanated from five thug like, make-up wearing guys. The overall effect was totally disorientating and shocking in the hippy, peace and love ridden LA.
Making use of their Art school backgrounds, Vince, Glen and Dennis with suggestions from everybody else had set about creating an image that would demand reactions form all that saw them. It is likely that even in LA in '67/68, The Nazz would have heard of the guitar smashing antics of The Who, of the amp smashing antics of John's Children featuring Marc Bolan, of the flour and water bomb attacks of the Fugs, and the bizarre image and legends surrounding the Velvet Underground and all the other Andy Warhol protegee's. The Nazz would have been aware of the 'horror' image of screaming Jay Hawkins and Lord Sutch who in the '50's and '60's had used skulls and coffins onstage. They will have known of the vaudevillian performances of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and the religious symbolism in the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, who had just had a hit with "Fire". These were the pioneers of rock theatre as were The Nazz when they were The Spiders in Phoenix; it was to be the Nazz under a different name that would take Rock Theatre to its fullest extent and it's singer would, years later, take it even further. But that was all in the future. at that point, The Nazz reached out for any sort of reaction to separate them from the mediocre:
The plan of action had thus been established. A fresh start had been made but ahead of them dawned at least another two years of disappointment and false starts. To add that final touch to the new look and stage show, The Nazz wondered whether they should invest in a new name....
And so from the half-crazed, half-starved and inebriated mind of Vincent Furnier, crawled ALICE COOPER.......
It all fitted in perfectly of course. Five tough looking creatures wearing outlandish leather and lame', acting out scenes of aggression, cruel sex and indulging in nonsensical routines onstage. Horror of horrors, they even wore eye make-up. In retrospect the name was perfect, for the band and it's lead singer. Even today, the name can strike a raw nerve among so called straight and normal society. When access to a wider public came years later, the reactions predated those of those who were shocked when the Sex Pistols swore on live TV and merely echoed those that had greeted the gyrations of Elvis Presley and the sneer of Mick Jagger.
The most frequently asked question was, of coarse, why That name? The rumours seeking to explain this are many and few have successfully shedded any light on the matter. One rumour has claimed that the name belonged to a spirit conjured up by the band during a seance. The ghost claimed to be Alice Cooper, a young girl in 16th century England burned at the stake on a charge of witchcraft. another rumour claimed that the name came to the band during a collective nightmare! Another that that the name belonged to a poltergeist. Years later, Warner Brothers claimed in their press handouts that the name was connected to the fact that Vincent Furnier was born on Christmas day under "mysterious circumstances"! (merely the fact that he was born a month early on a unusually windy day!) Vincent Furnier adopted the name as his own for stage purposes and it stuck to his off stage. He also claimed that he saw the name written on a toilet wall with a phone number written underneath it. The most interesting story emanated from Phoenix. Are you sitting comfortably? Apparently, the young Vincent was walking across an Indian burial ground when he was approached by an Indian spiritualist. She told him that her name was Vincent Furnier and that His was Alice Cooper....So one way or another, the "quiet kid that went to church" became Alice Cooper"
The Band began to work on new songs, that then developed routines to as best they could since the majority of their performances were improvised. They dropped the Stones/Who cover versions and the newer material reflected the mind-blown acid-laden works of countless other bands on the circuit of 1967/8. It is not generally known whether Alice Cooper(the band or person) 'indulged' in the plentiful supply of exotic chemicals(ahem) but Alice the person discovered he had developed a strong taste for beer - as often as possible, as much as possible:
An ironic statement as the events of 1977 would prove.
In early 1968, Alice Cooper made his/their debut. They were supporting the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Blue Cheer in Santa Barbara. The Dirt Bands' acoustic set had gone down well with the suntanned blue eyed, blonde hippies. They had just sat through 20 minutes of the bludgeoning rock and transvestite trappings of Alice Cooper. Not able to tell if the singer was male or female, the audience was somewhat shaken ( yes, the Boy George syndrome). Quietly the audience waited for the Dirt Band and Blue Cheer, their ears still ringing from the Coopers' raucous set. Backstage, Alice Cooper and the band exchanged knowing glances; they had made something of a start.
Sometime later that year, the band were booked to appear at the famed Sunset Boulevard nightclub, the Whiskey A Go Go. The audience had come to see the headliners, The Byrds and as expected the audience was kitted out in the obligatory uniform of kaftans, flowers, paisley shirts, buckskin jackets, headbands, granny glasses etc. All were trying to attain a higher state of consciousness(man), still they were celebrating the summer of love a year too late. The support band, Alice Cooper were announced. The band ran on stage dressed like transvestite Gestapo men in black leather and high heeled boots and accessories. The lead vocalist then screamed into the microphone, his long black hair streaked blonde, his hawkish features accentuated by black mascara which spread from his eyes up to his forehead and down his cheeks like a giant spider. The first 'song' was an atonal, riffing mess. The audience looked stunned, while the band riffed on at a thunderous volume, Mike Bruce(now rhythm guitarist) churned out the power chords while Glen Buxtons feedback solo was drowned out only by Alices' yells and screams. Within minutes, there was a stream of people heading for the exits. Soon the Boulevard was full of 'beautiful people' complaining about the 'freaks'!
The Image, the music and the sense of danger that oozed from that stage was too vital a force for the hippies to handle. But suddenly, everyone in LA was prepared to pay to see these 'animals', wielding brooms, feathers, garbage cans, contents thereof, whips and sundry other household appliances. After a few minutes, the audience, suitably revolted, would leave. The band had become the darlings of the club owners:
The underground press in LA picked up on the band and touted them as the most evil and garish band on the circuit. Alice became a kind of anti-hero to the street freaks and drag queens attracted by his sexually ambiguous nature onstage. They voyuerishly plied him with drink to see if he could act his stage persona in real life. He frequently did. He wore his stage clothes in bars and clubs as well as his make-up He often ended up picking fights and wreaking bars as he released his demonic alter ego on those that crossed him. In reality, this was foreign to his nature. It took him a while to realise that his own physical and perhaps mental safety depended on keeping his creation on a tight rein. Two friendships he formed at the time convinced him further of this. He became very chummy with Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison of the doors. Alice later claimed they were bad influences:
Jim Morrison usually turned up to the bands' shack in Topanga Canyon with a crate of Bourbon on which everyone got well pissed. On one occasion after hours of drinking, he suddenly announced that he had to go to a recording session. Alice accompanied him and watched in awe as the Master recorded the vocal on "Caravan":
The bands other hero was Frank Zappa, who with the Mothers Of Invention had established himself as Genus and strange person in the eyes of Alice Cooper. The band spent many an idol moment hanging around Zappas' log cabin (the one where Tom Mix had buried his horse). They rarely saw their idol but it was he that gave them their first ever record deal; the story of how this happened is swathed in legend but what basically happened was this..
Having been unable to meet Zappa, the band forced an entry into his basement and set up their instruments and equipment and started to play at full volume at 8 am. The man they regarded as god rushed down brandishing a cup of coffee, sleepily eying the weirdos playing in his house. He admitted to never having heard anything like that before, despite the fact that the Mothers were playing an eccentric form of rock and roll. He then began to get the band the occasional gig where he could see them in front of a live audience.
In mid 1968, The Mothers of Invention were supporting the Doors at a memorial birthday party for the comedian Lenny Bruce who had died in 1966. Zappa arranged for Alice Cooper to open the proceedings. Within minutes of their set there was the usual reaction - open mouthed astonishment then a rush for the doors (no pun) as in the movie 'The Producers' where the audience first hear 'Springtime for Hitler and Germany...'. In "record time", 6000 people were evacuated from the Cheetah club (for that was the venue). Zappa mused on this, impressed by the bands negative appeal. He decided that his original reactions to the band were confirmed - He would sign the band to his newly formed STRAIGHT label, one of the many independent labels that mushroomed in the psychedelic LA. Zappa had gathered around him all the local freaks and others that defied classification such as the GTO'S(Girls Together Outrageously), an all girl band, Captain Beefheart and Wild Man Fisher. Alice Cooper became yet another pet fancy.
However another member of the audience had designs on the band. Shep Gordon had met Cindy Smith in a motel just outside of LA, and she told him her brother was "in a real freaky band who needed a manager". Gordon had traveled to the west coast from New York, a born hustler. A university graduate in history and sociology, no less. He had worked in the rag trade that centered around New Yorks' polish community. He also worked in a factory making shrouds ("a great job") and also spent some time as a social worker, on a probation project in The Bronx. He and his pal Joe Greenburg a young accountant had a few thousand dollars to spare and were looking for an investment:
If you have a few grand to play with, what you don't do is put them on Alice Cooper in 1968! However, Shep had been a card shark at the Hollywood Landmark Hotel and took his risks. Years later, handsome fortunes were made. He too, had been struck by the bands negativity and amaturerishness ("they were hated so therefore someone somewhere would love them"). That night at the Cheetah, a WEA executive yelled at the band, somewhat ironically, "You're Fuckin' Shit".
Shep met the band at a party a few days later and was surprised at how easily he struck up a rapport with them. it was with Alice however that he was in complete agreement as to how to get the band 'across to more people'. Together they indulged in ideas to bring out their Malcolm McLarenesque situationalism - a trait they all shared, full of notions for stage performances and image etc. Shep signed them to a management deal (although there was no actual contract, the band, and later Alice stayed with Shep on a gentlemen's agreement, an incredible fact in any business let alone the music business which is notoriously cutthroat) with Joe as his assistant. Immediately, he set up his Alive Enterprises management company, which one day would become a multimillion dollar concern. Together with the band, Shep and Joe plotted, schemed and starved:
It was still hard for the band to get bookings ("no-one would touch a band with eye make-up"). however, with Shep negotiating a contract with Zappas' label, things were at last looking up. Straight had a distribution deal with the might of Warner Brothers record company and the band were looking forward to recording their very first album. But more disappointments were strewn in their paths before any of their albums were successful, but for the moment, life was worth living.
It was a certain Joe Gannon that had negotiated with Shep Gordon. Gannon worked on the label as an assistant to Zappa and his associate Herb Cohen, Years later, Joe Gannon was to be a major figure in the story of Alice Cooper.
The deal was that Zappa would produce the first three Alice Cooper albums for the straight label. So far so good. Zappa had adored the bands' quirky songs and the band couldn't wait to work with him. They spent as much time as they could at Zappas' cabin which had become a haven for the LA freak scene which now included Kim Fowley (who later became manager of the runaways and who co-wrote "Escape" from the "Welcome to my Nightmare" lp). Alice spent most of his dilly-dallying with Miss Christina of the GTO's and for a while they were inseparable Miss Christina is immortalized on the cover of Zappas' "Hot Rats: album.
Originally, Zappa had wanted to sign the band to a management contract whereby he would manage their affairs. They had already signed with Shep, which in light of future events was a blissful stroke of good fortune...
An air of professionalism set into the band. They hired rehearsal space behind a Health Food and Psychedelia store. Ideas flew thick and fast not only for songs but also for set pieces. For one song "Nobody Likes Me" (the studio version remains unreleased), Alice would poke his head through a door frame, walk through it and then demolish it with a mop. For "Lay Down And Die", the band put down their instruments, lay down on the floor and died. One song consisted entirely of finger clicks based on the hip jazzy TV theme tunes the band loved:
As the band developed the stage show a little farther away from improvisation, the possibilities of merging rock and theatrics gradually dawned on Alice and the band and of course Shep Gordon: Alice knew that theatrics would now be an integral part of the act, weather they be spur of the moment improvisation or carefully planned and choreographed:
The recording sessions for the first album began towards the end of 1968 with Zappa at the controls. These sessions however broke down after a few days. Even Zappa was confused by the bands Metal music and was most apologetic:
Dennis Dunnaway was equally disappointed:
Left to their own devices, the band knew little about recording, mixing and producing a record. After a burst of recording, the lp was finished in two days! Knowing nothing about a simple eight track studio, the lp is an engineers nightmare.
Bravely engineered by Dick Kane, "Pretties For You" (Straight STS1051) first saw the light of day in early 1969. In terms of sales, it was an unqualified disaster and today, the album in it's original packaging would fetch a high price. Different colour labels were printed (Yellow, orange and purple) and the straight logo on the cover was changed.
Originally Zappa had wanted the album released in 7" form packed in tune fish cans, complete with opener(see Public Image Ltds' "Metal Box" album of 1979!).
However it was the pseudo psychedelic meanderings on the platter which not even the LA crazies could stomach that made the lp the most interesting of failures. Much of it was plain junk:
The writing and production credits went to Alice Cooper (the band one presumes), the songs being published by Zappas bizarre Music Inc., a deal that would last some years. The quality of performance and mixing were amateurish at best and at times it sounds like the whole thing is just one bloody racket. The poor mix ensures that the guitars strangle the bass which rumbled out the cymbals which hissed all over the place. One paper described the record as 'non-drug induced music for stay at home hippies'!
The opener was the fabulously gothic "Titanic Overture", a short instrumental featuring Mike Bruce on piano and organ. "Ten Minutes Before The Worm" features the sort of vocal that even Marc Almond of Soft Cell would cringe at! Another short piece of nothing(in fact many of the tracks are very short by today's standards).
"Sing Low Sweet Cheerio" (perhaps a parody of George Gershwins' "Sing Low Sweet Chariot"?) captures a little madness of the time and like many of Alices' lyrics (or so I presume) may or may not be autobiographical:
"Today Mueller" is the ramshackle story of a girls attempted suicide, while the next track "Living" was released as a single at around the same time (needless to say it sold about 4 copies) and it sounds like countless other psychedelic bands on a bad night:
You know the sort of thing, really cosmic maaaaan. "Fields of Regret" fares a little better and is very Doors influenced (check out the vocals) and apparently , Glen Buxton's guitar style of the time was very influenced by the Doors' Robbie Kreiger, although I can't see it myself. This track, according to Mrs Furnier, was a result of her sons' compulsory religious education and his reaction against it:
"No Longer Umpire" is an impenetrable shambles - again maybe autobiographical:
"Levity Ball" was recorded live at The Cheetah Club and again showed the bands strong Doors fetish. A quaint guitar motif at the beginning, sets the dreamish scene:
"B.B. On Mars" is an ear-ache inducing mess with pathetic attempts at vocal harmony and the most awful (perhaps deliberately so?) bass playing in the history of recorded music (sorry Dennis!).
"Reflected" is quite easily the best track on the album, being an early incarnation of "Elected" which appeared in 1972. Neat guitar, but the track deserved the '72 treatment.
"Apple Bush" tells of Alice's unnatural fascination with his apple bush, which no doubt is symbolic for something or other:
Alice also slips in a quick harmonica solo, while no-ones' looking, but Larry Adler (virtuoso harmonica player) need not worry about the competition.
"Earwigs To Eternity" is in memory of the bands former name, again choc-full of quirky arrangements and rhythms, which didn't demand the ready attention of the listener. In this song the band were asking for a fair shot from any audience:
The closer "Changing Arranging" has a fairly conventional song structure which is unusual for this album! However the track merely plots along and it just runs out of steam. There is some half decent buzzing guitar from either Bruce or Buxton and Alice does mention the struggle of the bands' career to date, "changing" and "arranging" until Alice sees a "Carbon copy image" of himself and finds an identity for the band.
Ultimately, the record is not the most auspicious of recorded debuts, being strictly for Alice-philes only. A few years later when success came to the Alice band, the three original Straight pressings (all with different colour labels and logos) became valuable collectors items among Alice fans. But in '68, no-one wanted to know. Even today Alice can't bear to listen to it in one sitting:
It was all archetype, West Coast garage psychedelia of the most drossy kind! On its release it attracted more attention for its cover rather then the music in the grooves. It featured a cover by the painter Ed Beardsley, whereby a girl lifted her skirt to show her knickers to an old gent, who seems most disinterested. Originally, a brown sticker was put over the offending revelation just in case anybody got any funny ideas. In the background, a funeral cortege makes it's merry way somewhere. The gatefold showed the band in darkly lit portraits, with the briefest of credits and other information. Alice had dyed his hair blonde, and looked rather cute. His poor mother, who had to remember that his name was no longer Vincent but 'Alice' was mildly shocked at the collective pose. She had yet to see the band perform since they had last played in Phoenix and when she finally did, she and Michael felt not a little queasy as the band put on a sexually ambiguous show with primitive cruelties at the centre of the whole shebang. "Let me carry on like this" Alice told his parents, "and one day, I'll buy you a swimming pool and a Rolls Royce each." And so he did, years later.
The only place that the lp found favour, apart from with the bands' cult following in LA was in all places West Germany, where a critics poll announced that the album was the 'best arranged album of the year'! Didn't they realise that no-one could sound like that on purpose?
Much to Shep Gordons' fury, the guy the band idolised had become virtually uncontactable since the moment he told the band he was leaving the studio. According to the contract that the band had signed with Straight, Frank Zappa was to produce the bands' Straight lp's. He told them he would not be producing any of their records:
Alice was equally disappointed with his idol:
A lengthy court battle ensued to force Straight and Zappa to fulfil what Alive Enterprises Inc. (Shep and the band) saw as Zappas contractual obligations. The litigation went on for some time, but ultimately the band were beaten. A blessing in disguise in retrospect.
After the court case was over, later in the year, Zappa suddenly announced that the band owed him another album for 1970. He told them he was still unwilling to produce them but that he would find "the right guy" for the impossible task of disciplining the band for studio purposes.
It was probably Zappa who hired David Briggs for the job. Briggs had just finished work on the Neil Young album, recorded with Crazy Horse, "Everybody knows this is nowhere". He was surprised at how bad "Pretties For You" had been and immediately tried to get the band to write more conventional material which he would mix and produce to the best of his ability.
The band, for it was by now the summer of 1969, knew they were beaten. At least they had about six months before the album had to be released, time enough to write, rehearse and play live. With fresh enthusiasm, they tried to add and subtract to and from their presentation. Their reputation as the premier bizarros on the West Coast was assured. At all their shows, hordes of transvestites, junkies and similarly outrageous creatures flocked to voyuerishly fantasize about such a butch-looking bunch of meanies. But it was Shep who pushed the professional attitude into them. "We don't quit until each of us is a millionaire" he told them. That was a lot of millions to be earnt, but the band were shaken from their drunken stupors sufficiently enough to write some new numbers. In truth, most of the time they were as drunk as skunks, but that didn't stop them functioning.
In rehearsal, new songs were premiered. "Nobody Likes Me" was recorded and remains officially unreleased. Aptly named, it managed to capture the sense of the theatric that the band had obviously developed live:
This track is also known under the name of "My Dog Spot" since it would appear that those who hate Alice hate Spot too. Aaaah. Rehearsing hours on end, without a break, the band came up with routines that were immediately discarded once they hit the stage: