So, here we are in 1969 with a flop album on their hands and the arduous, depressing litigation with Zappa continuing, the band drank themselves out of their frustration and dejection. Booze was plentiful, food wasn't. Alice's parents were shocked when they saw the new stage act. They were further shocked when he told them how infrequently they ate. Being good parents, the Furniers and the bands folks arranged to send a few dollars a week which ensured they never went below the poverty line, but stayed firmly on it. Of coarse, Shep Gordon was not the kind of guy to go around without a few bucks in his wallet....
The band continued to write new songs, rehearse and play the occasional concert in Los Angeles, mainly around Sunset Boulevard. On one occasion, Alice's parents went to watch the band play a show and Alice was reminded of an amusing incident:
"We were watching TV one time and the Rolling Rolling Stones were on, my parents hated them and they wouldn't let me have long hair. I sussed all this and as we were watching, my mum said, 'you're not going to do that kind of thing are you?'. I just sat there grinning, cos I knew what could be done...!!"
Shep and Joe continued to hustle for the band and by some miracle got the band a gig supporting The Platters (legendary American Doo-wop band) in New York at the Felt Forum. How Alice Cooper went down before the well-heeled, mixed audience (racially), God only knows! In the summer of that year, the band were asked to play at the know incredibly famous Rock'n'roll revival festival in Toronto, Canada. The line up consisted of artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Gene Vincent and the hastily assembled Plastic Ono Band (who were John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Klaus Voorman, Alan White(Yes), and Eric Clapton) and it was at this concert that the legendary "Live Peace In Toronto" lp was recorded by the PLastic Ono Band. A slightly less famous live lp was the recorded highlights of Alice Coopers' set, which surfaced in 1982. Kim Fowley, a leading face in the LA scene, best pals with Zappa and leader of the 'Home for Homeless' groups (later manager of The Runaways and co-writer of 'Escape~) was the M.C. and on that hot sweaty night, prior to Gene Vincents' set, Fowley announced "The 8th wonder of the world - Alice Cooper!!". The whole festival was captured on film by the noted documentary film-maker D.A. Pennebaker and was released as a movie in 1970, called "Sweet Toronto" and in 1972, minus the John Lennon footage as "Keep On Rockin'". It was Pennebaker who was the brains behind the Bob Dylan documentary "Don't Look Back" and the David Bowie movie "Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars" which I personally consider to be a small disaster.
The band (Alice Cooper that is) started their set with a few Rock'n'roll standards in keeping with the occasion and as Fowley later said:
"I was a good pal of Gene Vincent's and it was me who got him the gig in Toronto, when Alice Cooper supported him. They really loved him. Most people would be shocked to know that Alice played some fine rockabilly. People bopped all over the place."
"Don't Blow Your Mind"/"Freak Out Song"/"Science Fiction Thriller" forms the basis of Pennebakers' remarkable footage of Alice Cooper circa '69 and it becomes a vital historical piece of film. For those who haven't seen the film, it's difficult to describe
It's a bewildering series of actions, movements, a flurry of bemusing events with no real purpose other then to give your eyes a treat and your brain the chance to say "what the fuck is going on?". Carefully staged movements merge with on the spot improvisations to create a surreal montage of images. No wonder Cream magazine called Alice Cooper 'the founding father of Dada rock'. The band, all togged up in silver, green, gold, blue lame and leather. Lots of long, long hair. Alice wears a top made up of two thin pieces of PVC going horizontally around his torso, his hair has been bleached blonde, and with heavily made up eyes, looks vaguely flirtatious Take a look in side the "Schooldays" album - that's Alice at Toronto '69. The hetero/homo sexual revolution had come early. A football, a chicken, a water melon, a fire extinguisher, a film camera, a broom, all meet their end....
The footage centres around the end of Alice Coopers' set at the beginning of what I shall call "Science Fiction Thriller". Over a thunderous into, Alice places an american football on a placer at the foot of the stage. Glen Buxton extracts squeaky feedback out of his Rickenbacker as Mike Bruce pounds a pair of bongos. As Neal Smith kicks the track into a start, Alice kicks the ball into the 40,000 crowd. It doesn't mean anything and it looks great! Alice sings about planets, galaxies and reincarnation as he waves a broom about, he throws the broom down to pick up a cine camera with which he films the crowd and the cameraman, while he hops like a demented toddler and minces around the stage. Suddenly the track quietens down as Neal lays down a bare rhythm. He has donned aviator goggles and, with his long wavy blonde hair, looks like a beagle. As he builds up the rhythm again, Alice gyrates into one of those wacky psychedelic dances, all arm waving and wrist flicking. Neal goes into a drum solo that lasts a good two or three minutes as Alice enters with a watermelon placed on his head. Neal is now attacking the cymbals on his kit and in time to the quirky rhythm, Alice hops towards the discarded now discarded melon, screaming and wielding a hatchet. As Neal moves around his kit on foot, lashing out at the drums, Alice, in time with Neal, starts hacking at the watermelon, egged on by Glen.
Suddenly, Neal goes absolutely berserk and screaming, he hurls several drumsticks at his kit and topples a few cymbals. He throws a punch at Alice and then passes out on the floor. Mike brings in what was to become the introduction to "Halo Of Flies" (and on the Avalon Ballroom Bootleg, he plays the intro to "Johnny B. Goode!") and then stops it as Neal, holding a knife, and Alice, holding a broom, confront each other. Mike starts to count to 7: "7 is the number of man!". Neal has scampered onto the top of the amp stacks 30 feet high and the band are into their "Prisoner" routine, a pastiche of the famous cult TV show of the '60's. "You are number six" yells Bruce. "Who am I?" asks Alice. Neal goes for Alice's throat as Bruce screams "I am not a number, I am a free man, a free man!!". Alice and Neal 'kill' each other and as they lie on the floor, Glenn plays a brilliant Hendrix-ey solo, while Dennis Dunnaway and Mike Bruce cower and crawl towards their amps. Dennis, particularly, looks a weird figure as he squats on his haunches and gently rocks from side to side. He then crawls around behind and amp as if he is hiding from thee scene of almost real violence between Alice and Neal.
Alice and Neal rise, and as Neal gingerly caresses in wonder one of the amps, Glen creates the electronic blips and blaps that attract Neal to the amp. Alice crawls to the front of the stage on all fours and taps the floor mike with one of Neal's drumsticks and glares into the camera. Glen builds up the noise from his guitar into a deafening, howling feedback solo which has Neal clutching his ears in pain. He takes his place behind his kit and as the music builds into a screaming crescendo, Alice heaves and hoes the watermelon in time to the music and then hurls it into the crowd. He dashes from one end of the stage to the other at a frantic pace, at one point throwing a roadie onto the floor. As Alice runs across the stage, he is pounded by the rest of the band as he passes them. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a fire extinguisher, a sack of feathers, and a chicken all appear in a storm of action. The stage becomes a mass of feathers and water, all hurled at the front row. As the band reach a cacophonic climax, smoke bombs and thunderflashes go off and the whole area looks like a disaster zone.
Watching the show was noted British rock writer Roy Carr, who was to give Alice Cooper many of their write ups in the early '70's. In the melee, he was almost thrown into the crowd.
The act, from the early days of Alice Cooper until approximately 1972 was made up of this extraordinary fusion of eccentric playing and astounding visuals, a charade of colour and movement, a neurotic, spaced out, sexless, transvestite production of surreal antics which left you bewildered. That was Alice Cooper in those days.... The Toronto footage gives an example of the theatrics we missed, and places particular emphasis on the importance played by all the band in the set pieces and production numbers. At the end of the set, Kim Fowley yells "Alice Cooper, ladies and gentlemen, Alice Cooper, The band of the future Alice Cooper". How right he was...
By now the band had met up with David Briggs who was contracted to try and produce the bands next album due in the first year of the new decade, 1970, a decade which Alice Cooper were to reflect with startling accuracy. The album was recorded at the sunset studios in Hollywood in late 1969/early 1970. Called "Easy Action", it is now much sought after on the original Straight label pressing (Straight 1061). It was another poorish effort but under Briggs' direction, there was a lot of improvement from "Pretties For You". The songs were more 'conventional' and the overall approach was more polished. However, the band were still not very good and Briggs did a fine job in the circumstances. The short comings of the record are more due to the band then anything else. However, one paper, years later, called it "the real undiscovered Alice Cooper album" and this was due to a cessation of much of the experimental indulgence of "Pretties".
The opener on side 1, "Mr. and Misdemeanour" (a pun), is merely average but it does feature some nice slide guitar. Lucky Luciano and Kenny Passarelli get a name check. Lucky Luciano was supposedly a gangster who had hired Alice Cooper to support John Mayall, the blues master in New Jersey. When the band asked for their fee, Luciano allegedly said "you're playing for fun - play again." With some encouragement from Lucianos' gang, the band played again - for fun!!! As for Kenny Passarelli, can this be the same guy who played with Joe Walsh, Steve Stills, Elton John and who played on "From The Inside"?
"Shoe Salesman" is a laid back, gentle ditty with some beautiful piano from Briggs. Alice actually concentrates on 'singing' here on an archetype West Coast type song about a drug dealer:
"Still No Air" is doomy and bass heavy and features the rumble from "West Side Story" which of course turns up on "Schools Out". "When you're a jet you're a jet all the way" shouts Alice and he snarls "Easy Action" as only he can.
"Below Your Means" has Alice putting on his best Jim Morrison voice. The song is fair but is spoilt by the breaks although Glens' buzzing solo a la Hendrix is a high point. From then on the track deteriorates into a beery jam.
"Return Of The Spiders" opens side two and is the very first Alice Cooper classic in which the band remember their previous incarnation and dedicate the track to Gene Vincent, an after thought from Toronto. The track is relentlessly driven by a snare attack from Neal Smith which never lets up. The twin guitars battle for superiority and as the first line comes in, you should be left breathless... It's a nasty little story about a wandering hand:
Oh stop! look and listen
There are hands, that are getting near...
I'm coming after you...
Knock knock let me in whose there?
It's me reaching in,
I'm coming after you..."
"Laughing At Me" features some stream of consciousness lyrics and is saved only by some latinesque acoustic guitar, but apart from that , it's instantly forgettable.
"Refrigerator Heaven" is, of course, a phrase that turned up in 1975 on "Cold Ethyl", and here the decent musicianship and a competent mix give the song a poppy feel and is all about someone who is frozen until a cure for cancer is found.
"Beautiful Flyaway" is a lovely piece built around some fragile piano work, a gentle love song:
Haven't I given you everything that I could give?
Where do you Live?"
"Lay Down And Die Goodbye" here is totally different to the single. It's a claustrophobic piece with endless possibilities, full of weird sound effects, the kind of stuff the NME would now call 'arty, full of the meaning of life' etc, especially if recorded by some arty German band. A voice at the beginning intones:
"You are the censor.
If you don't like what I say,
You can turn me off."
Guitars die an anguished death courtesy of Glenn the guitar mauler before launching into the riff that later turns up on the Osmonds' "Crazy Horses" in 1972! Outboard motors sound and we hear depth charges being dropped followed by scratchy noises and moans. Totally inaccessible, it sounds like somebody having a bad trip (Maaan).
The album was of course a flop of enormous proportions. Disappointed but undeterred, the band continued, aimlessly drifting from gig to gig, living from hand to mouth. They had had 3 years now of total failure and poverty, but by virtue of their gaudy stage act the gigs were attracting more and more attention. During the recording of "Easy Action", the band were extremely pleased to hear that legendary promoter Bill Graham wanted them to play the equally legendary Fillmore West in San Francisco on a residency supporting local hippies 'It's A Beautiful Day'. After the Coopers' and before the headliners, Ike and Tina Turner played their usual then fire powered set. The residency lasted from October 30th to November 2nd, 1969. In fact, in late 1971, Alice Cooper played at the closing night of the legendary Fillmore East in New York. Those two venues were landmarks in rock history and Alice Cooper were privileged to be on those bills.
Back on the west coast, the band were still as popular as a painful wisdom tooth. As Alice has often been quoted:
The decision to move eastwards came as a result of a WEA sponsored movie called 'The Medicine Ball Caravan'. WEA sponsored various West Coast bands (from 'The Grateful Dead' and 'Jefferson Airplane') to travel in an old bus across the States to the East Coast, stopping at various places for a couple of days where they played for free for the local populations along the way. Alice Cooper got themselves onto the bus where they were at least assured of some food and an audience. WEA filmed the event and an album was released of the various bands that played. "Black Juju", as yet unreleased, made its way onto the album that was released in early 1971 but is not live as the sleeve implies, so watch it. Apparently, the laid back, peace and love bands didn't show much peace and love to the Coopers. The bands' in a communal atmosphere, were supposed to share equipment. There were fights when the Coopers were denied guitars and amps, but Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane lent the JA's gear. "I dig them" he said. Alice said later that evening, "After all, we are the best band here!"
The band found themselves on the East Coast of the States and decided to concentrate on finding an audience there. By now the music was gradually changing, becoming harder with more of a Stones or Who influence. The break with Zappa was now complete and WEA immediately signed the band. Now, schemes were schemed and dreams lived - that was the pattern of the future. They played a series of one-nighters in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, traveling in Sheps' old black cadillac. Around this time, Alice was traveling in the van that was carrying their meager set of amps and lights when there was a horrific car crash. Alice remembered coming too with a bass cabinet on him and he could hear people screaming that the driver and passengers can't have survived. Luckily, Alice and fellow travelers were miraculously just shaken and bruised.
Traveling too and from endless one-nighters, the band were still not eating too well. At the beginning of each day, they filled up a huge pot with spaghetti or rice or both. That would be their meal for 7 or 8 people for the next few days. Real poverty, lads and lasses, not just the kind you read about. The deal with WEA was welcome since it brought in some money but being $40,000 in the red, that was quickly eaten up. The bands funds had run more or less out, but they now had more hope then ever of succeeding.
In late 1970, the band came to a halt in Detroit. It was Alices' birthplace and home of nasty street violence and hard, gritty, industrial, blue collar living. It was also the home of American radicalism, base of the White Panthers, a left wing revolutionary group. One of their number was John Sinclair, manager of the MC5, the prototype punk/HM band. Sinclair was the subject of a John Lennon song when Lennon was going through his political phase. Although Alice was totally non-political in a country still in the ravages of the Vietnam War, with revolution seemingly around the corner, especially in a city gripped by gang warfare, drug pushing and radical politics like Detroit. But Alice loved Detroit and he loved the MC5 and he loved other Detroit bands such as Grand Funk Railroad, the various Ted Nugent bands, Mitch Ryders Detroit Wheels, Frost (with a certain Dick Wagner) and of course, Iggy Pop and The Stooges. Iggys' unique brand of theatre was, and still is, profoundly different to Alices' despite Alices changes. Iggys' was more brutal, physically violent, sexual and more punk then the Sex Pistols ever were. Alice learnt from Iggy and Iggy from Alice. Without turning this into an Iggy fanzine, Iggy was/is great! His act consisted of vomiting, cutting himself onstage, jumping into the audience, smashing his head against the microphone stand, that sort of thing. He remains very 'street' unlike the slick 'showbizzy' Alice of later years. Despite David Bowies' patronage, Iggy remains a cult figure, rather like Alice these days. The essential difference between Alice and Iggy was that Alice had/has wit, style and verve in his performances. Iggys' great, but give me Alice anyday.
Alice Cooper began to share concert bills with Iggy and the Stooges. Dennis Dunnaway said that Iggy was the 'strangest cat' ever. Alice loved Iggy and one wonders if they ever still meet up:
In 1970, CBS TV filmed a Cincinnati show featuring Alice and Iggy which was broadcast live in the states. Some of the things Alice saw Iggy do shocked even him!
"I could never make myself bleed like he does. He's so physical. We're more mean and emotional I won't do what he does. that's his act and I do mine! Ronnie Ashton, his guitarist used to show me his Nazi collection! Detroit was a great communal thing. Every night their was a party because there were no clubs we could get into. Everything went on in Deeee-troit!!!"
The Coopers found themselves immersed in this Drug dealing, gun toting atmosphere. Everywhere there were guns and drugs. Violence was everywhere:
Everybody carries lead pipes in Detroit, Everyone's a greaser" (Dennis Dunnaway)
Detroit convinced Alice of the ravages of drugs:
"Every day a friend would die from an OD or get shot by a dealer for not paying up. In the end it just gets to you. Too many friends of mine have died as a result."
In Detroit, Alice noticed something:
"The kids went crazy for us. The other bands loved us. There was such an energy, a tribal atmosphere about the place."
In 1970, Alice Cooper played the Saginaw Free Festival on the outskirts of Detroit. The usual crowd was there - Hells Angels, a few hippies and crowds baying for some 'hard rawk 'n' roll'. The Coopers' ambivalent sexuality astonishing the mean crowds of 'straights'. 'Fags' weren't very well regarded as Bowie was to find out a year or so later. Marilyn and Boy George have got it easy - real easy. Have you ever flirted with a biker!?
Alice Cooper were on with The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, the English crazy, who was using theatrics and religious symbolism in his act. Alice was greatly influenced by Arthur Brown and Brown, years later, repaid the compliment:
Alice Cooper's definitely influenced by me, but he does it well. I think he is brilliant. They used to support us once."
Browns' band featured Carl Palmer, later of ELP. Browns act was tremendously well received and the crowd of bikers zoomed around the stage, stooping and cheering and revving up their bikes. However, there was some Altamont like violence. At the Stones show at Altamont in 1969, The Hells Angels organised the security and, as is known now, a member of the crowd pulled a gun on Jagger and was stabbed to death. It was the end of the idealism of peace and love. Street terror was the order of the day and Alice Cooper saw it a first hand and reflected it back at us. At Saginaw, the bikers had mugged the promoter and tied one guy to the back of a motorbike like a prisoner in ancient Rome. The atmosphere was one of anarchy and terror. The mob ruled. The Coopers', knowing that the inherent violence of their act with fists, chains, swords and fake blood would inflame the crowd did some drastic re-thinking. Alice needed something to take away the crowds blood lust or at least divert it away from himself. He found a toy stuffed rabbit and filled it with fake blood. At the end of the show, he threw it into the crowd. He gulped and watched the frenzied mob tear the rabbit to pieces... a fight erupted at the front and the crowd surged onto the stage where the band got caught up in the struggle. The band knew that they had had a brush with the reaper but fed the story to local journalists - anything to sell records right? Remember, you promote an image to get yourself across. The Coopers knew however that one day, someone was going to get killed. As the violence on stage increased, the violence off stage decreased:
That's catharsis, purging yourself, watching someone else do it, like in 'Clockwork Orange'."
Alice Coopers nationwide notoriety came a few weeks later, Something did get killed. A chicken met its end, when Alice threw a crate of chickens into the crowd. He hadn't intended for the birds to be torn apart, but so was born the first Alice Cooper Legend. Today, he is still asked by witless journalists: 'did you ever kill chickens?' Ozzy Osbourne please step forward....
The killing was unintentional and mainly improvised. Alice had brought along the chickens with a view to releasing them. However, when he threw them up in the air the unfortunate birds fell into the arms of the rabid crowd who promptly tore them to teeny weeny pieces:
"I never meant for the chickens to die. I would never kill anything. But, I thought chickens flew. I mean, they got fuckin' wings right? what the fuck do I know about it? I'm from Detroit. I threw them up and plop! Into the crowd. I would never kill chickens, but Alice? Well, he might..."
This was the first incidence of Alice separating his onstage persona from his off stage one, putting forward his theory on schizophrenia and split personality:
"It's a Jekyll & Hyde thing. An alternate personality. An alter ego that does things the normal you would not do, you know? I saw a psychiatrist about this when I read about some French ventriloquist that had this doll that he thought was alive. I was 19 when I saw this shrink, cos I wondered why I could release that kind of thing on stage. He told me that it was normal so long as it didn't get out of hand. He said that I was relieving myself on stage. That's great, because I have a vehicle to do it. People have fun, no one gets hurt and the law isn't broken. I never know what 'he' is going to do. Everybody should have an 'Alice'. I call 'him' when I need to. Anger is his gasoline. But I don't know why he is angry. He's a tragic clown maybe that's why. A capitalist, All-American boy gone nuts."
In 1977, it was to be Budweiser and Seagrams that was to be Alices' fuel. Later, it was rumoured to be something else....lets hope not. Even Mike Bruce has once heard to say:
"The sickness in the show can change. It depends on 'Alice', how sick he feels the audience are."
Back to those poor chickens. The very next day, newspapers along the East Coast reported that 'Singer Kills Chickens Onstage'. By the time the story appeared on the West Coast, the story had been exaggerated and sensationalised. One paper reported that Alice dynamited the chickens, another that he bit their heads off and sucked their blood, another that he attacked dogs on stage with a hammer and axe. The band encouraged the publicity, feeding it at every opportunity. As Shep Gordon realised, 'there's no such thing as good or bad publicity, only publicity'. The press adored the story and what a story it was. The Legend of Alice Cooper Was Born..........When confronted with the accusation, Alice slyly refused to confirm or deny the story. Media Manipulator Extraordinaire!!
At around this time (1970), Alice met and fell in love with the girl that was to be his companion for the next 4 1/2 years or so. Born and bred in Detroit, Cynthia (Cindy) Laing was an aspiring fashion model. She met Alice at a party he and the band had gate crashed. The first thing he asked her was "what sign of the zodiac are you, man?" He was pissed out of his brain!! It was, by all accounts, love at first sight:
"I fell in love with Alice because I wasn't looking to" (Cindy Laing)
Cindy, who at the time was only 18 (!) to Alices 22, started to date with Alice and on their first date he took her to a Detroit all night movie house showing horror and biker films! It was a few months before she saw the band live:
"I couldn't believe it was the same guy up there. He was so nice off stage and so vile on it."
Off course, Alice convinced her that it was all part of the psycho-dramatic performance he went for.
Alice and Cindy became unofficially engaged, going in for the archetype 'long engagement'. Her parents were disturbed to read fond letters signed by someone called Alice. They thought Cindy was having a lesbian affair and according to Cindy, they wished she was when they saw Alice:
"They'd read all these things about him about chickens and all and they were horrified! But when I brought him home, he absolutely charmed my Mother. She thought he was really nice, but my father never spoke to him for years!"
It was decided by the Laing's however, that Alice was good enough for their girl and from then on the two became inseparable Cindy shared the bands disappointments and frustrations and she also went on the road with them where she became extra mouth to feed. Alice shared his bowl of rice with her and sometimes an apple or a sandwich. Times were still very dire. All the while she carried on her work as a model and later became a vogue cover girl (although no doubt Alices' later success had a hand in this - no disrespect to Cindy).
The band had moved to a run down farm in Pontiac, near Detroit. In between being hounded by bikers and thugs, the band planned their next recorded venture. They knew what they wanted. Someone to produce and arrange their dramatic and great songs into 'Great Records'. There was one name only on their list. Bob Ezrin. They continued to play to adoring Detroit crowds and prepared a tape for Ezrin to listen to. Again, their enthusiasm was high. The Detroit crowds loved the Coopers and as a result the Coopers loved the Detroit crowds:
"Our music is like a clenched fist. That's what the audience want. Tough, hard assed music. It was great to be liked by a crowd for once".
Armed with a tape of their concert, Shep Gordon traveled to Toronto in 1970, to make contact with the man who was to mastermind most of Alices' future record successes Ezrin was a mere 20 years old!! He was something of a child prodigy being able to play various instruments and write and read music off a page. He had made his name as producer of the Guess Who, a band Alice adored. He was The choice. Ezrin was staff producer for the Canadian company NIMBUS 9, set up in Toronto by Jack Richardson, He had also been a studio engineer and a producer of radio jingles, but Ezrin's first major project was to be Alice Cooper. He was the man who transformed them from musical morons to well drilled performers:
I was just a normal Toronto kid, straight like all the other guys in the office. We hated most rock. Once some guy brought in "Easy Action" and we all used to laugh at it. We didn't know if Alice Cooper was a guy or a chick. It became an in-joke, that whoever in the office fouled up, they would have to work with Alice Cooper!!"
Ezrin refused Shep's' suggestion of producing the band. He was continually hassled by a friend of Shep's to persuade him change his mind:
"I just wanted the guy to stop bothering me. So I said 'ok, I'll meet them' just to get this guy off my back. They came to Toronto and I went to see them in their hotel room. all 9 of them crammed into a tiny room. I thought they were a bunch of fags. I sat their with my short hair and blue jeans, just trembling. Alice sat there with trousers so tight, his dick was showing. He spoke with a lisp and I thought I was going to be raped. Alice said 'we're great and we want a producer'. I just mumbled something and ran out. I forgot to show up at a demo session in the studio, I was so scared."
It is unlikely the band were trying to intimidate Ezrin but they did scare seven shades of shit out of him. The band flew on to the legendary NY club, Maxs' Kansas city and Ezrin flew after them to catch their gig. Maxs' was THE New York haven for underground music and street freaks. It was also the IN place. Andy Warhol took along the Velvet Underground and his entourage, The Factory, and it became the place to be seen in. The owner was Mike Ruskin and on the recommendation of Stevie Paul, manager of Johnny and Edgar Winter, booked Alice. Strangely, WEA had not publicised the event and as a result Ruskin lost a couple of thousand dollars as the band played to a near empty house. Ruskin was very impressed by Alice:
"Nice guy, I didn't think it was weird what he did."
Ezrin did think they were weird. But he also thought they would be absolutely brilliant:
"I went backstage, I told them they could make hit records. They said they could make hit records too! It was a nice punk start. I still thought they were fags. I moved into this awful motel in Detroit and at 10 am they all burst in and played me the most terrible tape I had ever heard in my life. They said 'can you get that kind of sound?' I threw up!!!!"
When he had recovered, Ezrin moved in with the band on the farm. He taught them how to structure their songs, to cut out the excess indulgence. He taught Michael Bruce how to write in a more conventional way and how to channel the bands improvisations into something more solid. His primary concern however was to reproduce the theatricality of the bands' live set onto record and to use strings and horns if necessary. Ezrins' taste for AM radio had that commercial 'feel'. Bruce summed it up perfectly:
"Before we met Bob, we didn't sell records. He could make "Pretties For You" into a million seller."
Over the next few years, Ezrin worked tirelessly on the Cooper band and solo albums, becoming the genius that was instrumental in putting together all those classic bits of vinyl. He made his name and his fortune. He more then anyone knew how the Coopers worked:
"They do this for the money. Rock is a good way to get rich. That's all they are in it for. But they want to do it well. I do too. I'm a perfectionist but I'm not sure about them!! Rock is trash but there is nothing wrong with good trash. But sometimes I think I'd like to produce other artists. More MOR guys. That's because I'm a purist, I think, sometimes it's distasteful to make rock records, but it is fun. I don't think the Coopers are musicians, but they think they are! They are theatricians and the trick, what I have to do, is make the records as theatrical. A lot of what I put into the band is my taste. I think a producer should decide what needs to be done and help the band out. If they can't cut it, I'll do it. That's my role. Alice on records wants to be a great band, whereas I want to make the music reflect them live and theatrically. It's a conflict but we have a happy balance. Besides, Alice knows what makes a good hit single." (Bob Ezrin 1974)
That quote sums up the Ezrin/Cooper relationship. Ezrin masterminding the recordings and merging the producers' personality as well as the bands' onto plastic. It was to be a phenomenally successful formula.
At the farm, Ezrin told the band to stop live shows for a while. They had to write new songs, rehearse and become more tight and streamlined. The theatrics would have to wait for a while. Under Ezrins' control the band stayed holed up for weeks rehearsing new songs written while Ezrin watched and listened. When a song was finished, he then honed and polished it with the band. When some rough demos were made, the band and Ezrin went to RCA studios in Chicago in late 1970/early '71 to record what was to become the "Love It To Death" album. All the while, Shep was negotiating a better deal with WEA. His powers of persuasion did the trick. WEA decided that they would finance a wide distribution of the records and also agreed to collaborate on the many wild publicity schemes. But Shep was very astute. Rather then taking huge advances, he took smaller sums. That meant the band would not spend the money too quickly if they should need to pay the advance back. Also, it meant that as the band became more successful, he could squeeze bigger sums from WEA for promotional extravaganzas, as well as bigger royalty rates for the band. Shep Gordon was learning fast. Gordon kept well away from Detroit:
"I'd tell the band what was happening with WEA but I kept away from the studio. I didn't want to distract them or interfere with the music side of things because I knew nothing about that."
The work on the album carried on well into 1971. In February 1971, Straight released the now classic '18'. Strangely, on 23rd April 1971, a few more were released.
With the nationwide backing of WEA's mighty machine the single edged its way to the top 20, finally settling at, aptly enough, number 18! It floated around this mark for around 3 weeks before starting a rapid descent downwards. Jubilation reigned for a few short days, then the band prepared for a tour of Detroit, New York and Chicago to coincide with the release of "Love It To Death" on February 27th 1971. The albums' release has been complicated by the two labels and at least three matrix numbers. Suffice to say, if you look at the labels for the album, you'll see it was released originally on Straight ST1065, then Straight WS1883. Then in late '72, Warner Brothers released the lp on their green label on K46177 and some early WB1883's. The cover has also become a vision in the sight of many Alice collectors. The original cover showed the band in all their sexual ambiguity, but Alice had slyly slipped his thumb over his cape in a rather strategic position so that it looked like you-know-what. Certain USA stores stuck a sticker over this or complained and despite the band trying to make a fuss over this, not many newspapers were interested strangely enough. Even stranger, when WEA re-released the lp in '72 when Alice was regarded as a cross between a child molester and psychopath, WEA airbrushed over the cape design, when surely some scandal could have been created??? Anyway, collectors have three labels and two covers to collect not counting the Italian pressing which has broad white lines across the front of the lp. When you open the lp, you are immediately confronted with the sight of Alices' mascara'd eye balls which must have startled many an unwary Alice fan on opening the fold! But as always, it's what's on the plastic that counts and "Love It To Death" was one ace lp.
However, before launching into the usual blow by blow description of the already familiar tracks, there was talk that the lp received massive North East AM radio play by default. At this time the Canadian radio stations played a certain number of records per week that were made by Canadians. This was technically true since Ezrin was a Canadian and Nimbus 9 a Canadian company, but the band were not Canadian! The radio networks thought they were Canadians. As a result, the lp was played on Canadian stations which broadcast to the Great Lakes and Detroit. Further, it was also picked up by the whole north east including Pittsburgh, Toronto and Chicago and all from K-CKLW based in Ontario. Ontario is in Canada for those who don't know....The station later realised that it was the artists that had to be Canadian. The result was that the album reached the top 30 in 1971 and stayed there for some three weeks before vanishing out of sight until 1972 and 1973. Remember the power of the Media.......
The opener on "Love It TO Death" is "Caught In A Dream" all about Mike Bruces' fears and paranoias, with a very Keith Richards type intro:
The next track is the aforementioned classic, "18", the bands first claim to a lasting contribution to rocks rich tapestry (!). It was the first teen anthem of the decade and the first since The Whos' "My Generation" - that's what rock was supposed to be about - rebellious youth venting their frustration against an uncomprehending world. The gap between "My Generation" and "18" was six years. The gap between "18" and "Anarchy In The UK" was also six years.... Over a series of cord changes and some harmonica skills:
"Lines form on my face and my hands,
Lines form from the ups and downs,
I'm in the middle without any plans,
I'm a boy and I'm a man."
Alices' first real classic lyric summed up the frustration of any young brat fed up with the usual establishment of parents, teaches and bosses. However, as Pete Townsend became aware of the contradictions of playing "My Generation" as you approach your 40's, Alice realised it was some what incongruous to be playing the song 10 years later when he was 33. "But audiences expect a little loyalty" is his excuse. The song became an instant favorite with Cooper troopers although I'd be glad to see the back of it!! It also became ample proof of the bands capabilities when they had an independent arbitrator at the helm (Ezrin) who could mould the individual members contributions and egos into a cohesive whole.
"Long Way To Go" tells us of the bands realisation of the distance yet to travel before lasting success could be achieved. Within 3 years there would be a break:
"Where is that saviour of the sidewalk life,
And the road that leads us to the crusade?
Listen to the man who's been touched all his life,
Yes he's the one they call a fool."
In desperation, Alice yells "I guess I'll love it, Love it to death!!"
As the track fades, the tom toms of Neal Smith bring in Dennis' "Black Juju" an esoteric, spacey, atmospheric track, the sort Dennis plays while painting or sculpting. It's a landscape of nightmares and a soundtrack to some legendary Alice Cooper theatrics live. The tom toms rise quickly out of the fade like an African on the warpath, the eerie organ motif clawing at the nerve ends and then the bats fly out of the closet like they do in 'Scooby Doo' cartoons and ~Bodiiieeeeeessss"....The story is of the necessities of sleep, not of resuscitation but of eternal rest:
"Under the soil, now waiting for worms
All that I feel, is all that I've learnt
All that I know is all that I think
Deaths' feelings are cool, the lower I sink."
A clock tick-tocks as Alice whispers his victim to sleep and then screams "Wake Up, Wake Up, Wake Up, Wake Up, Wake Up!!!" Nice touches of the gothic are added by the keyboards of Toronto Bob (Ezrin). The track hurtles on at a break neck speed until Alice rasps "Black Juju"...!!" The first Alice psychodrama soundtrack had arrived.
On the second side "Is It My Body" has Alice asking us what it is we see in him. Your mind, Alice...However it's a Michael Bruce song and he did say it was written after he had been indulging in some yoga.
A forlorn church organ chugs into "Hallowed Be Thy Name" written entirely by Neal Smith and it's my favorite track on the album, a derisive, thrusting attack on todays religion and an attack on the pious bigots that make up certain chunks of the population:
"The words of the present, the world of laughter
The lords and the ladies were fixing their hair-dos
Come on you sinners, in all your glory
My ears are listening to your dirty story.."
It ends with a rising guitar line and stops just so..
"Second Coming" is all Alices work and is a logical follow up to the previous track, as Christ views the modern world with disappointment:
"I couldn't tell if the bells were getting louder
the songs they ring I finally recognised...
I only know hell is getting harder,
The Devil's getting smarter all the time...
And it would be nice to walk upon the water,
Talk again to angels at my side."
Christ has returned to reverse the world to his vision not that of the modern world - Alice Cooper as religious commentator!! The track was directly influenced by the religious education his father gave him and how it conflicted with that which he saw. Bob Ezrin had a major hand in the shaping of the track:
"The band would have a million ideas for songs and they can't all be used so we have a situation where a lot of things were thrown out. There'd be 8 or 10 bar sequences that we had to flesh out a little. "Second Coming" came out of a vocal Alice came out with and I added lots of piano."
Alice has said "18" came out of a jam:
"We were out of our heads on some cheapo wine and we just jammed and "18" came out of it. Originally it was about 50 minutes long!"
Ezrin forced the band to prune and polish and refine the song:
"We worked out the arrangement and went through it live then overdubbed it with individual tracks. I chose the final mix and when we got it to 2.38 minutes I knew it was perfect."
The track segued into another all-time classic, "The Ballad Of Dwight Frye". Frye was the hollywood actor who had appeared in two of Alices' favorite films (Frankenstein and Dracula with Boris Karloff and Bela Lagosi). It tells the story of insanity and live it was the highlight of the "Love It To Death" shows. It's an epic piece, twisting and turning into 2 or 3 main segments lending itself easily and dramatically to a visual presentation - nobody did it better then Alive and the Boys:
"I was gone for all those days
But I was not alone
I made friends with a lot of people
In the Danger Zone."
As his situation becomes more desperate, Frye demands that he escapes and the song builds to its climax as Frye makes his way out of the asylum, a siren like guitar from Glen Buxton wailing eerily signals his departure:
"I grabbed my hat and I got my coat
and I ran into the street.
I saw a man who was choking there
I guess he couldn't breath..."
The track rampages along as Frye collapses into his nightmare seemingly doomed and the piece immediately segues into, by way of light relief, the old Rolf Harris song "Sun Arise" and a jolly knees up must have been had by all. The first REAL Alice Cooper album (with 'respect' to the previous two) had come to a close. it was an album full of the joys of terror, full of infinite possibilities for putting a picture in your mind as you listen and so Alice Coopers' brand of graphic tunes courtesy of the band and Bob Ezrin had now set itself apart from everything else (despite various Stones and Who influences!).
The band soon hit the circuit promoting the album where by now they had become extremely well known for being a bunch of queers and faggots who "killed chickens" and beat the shit out of each other and threatened to gang rape the drummer or vocalist. Alice Cooper had become the worlds latest sign post to the decadence that would eventually befall this society. Alice had done his homework - he saw the way society was moving. Sex was sex but was it normal to look like a woman when you were a man? Was it fair to attack peoples sensitivities about their own sensualities as Boy George and Marilyn are doing now and as Bowie did in '71 also? It was all one statement - a sign of the times and the future and without Alice Coopers ambiguous stance, particularly in 1970-72, there would be no Boy George. 'Boy' George indeed... In 1971 the band were a spaced out form of sex, even sexless, again like Boy George. It's not a question of being a transvestite - if you declare yourself homosexual/bisexual/heterosexual it answers questions and a label is attached. George/Marilyn play the game Alice played in '71 - total ambiguity as to his sexuality. Bowies 'I'm bisexual' revelation of '72 (in fact he had said it to a gay mag in '70) had different consequences, of more far reaching effect but Alices' coyness kept the interest going until he declared his heterosexuality. Boy George/Marilyn keep us guessing and the more they do that, the more interest they create for themselves. But 1970 is a long way back. The new 'younger generation' coming out of the sixties were freer with sexual matters and Alice became, for a while, the focal point of a movement to scare a very straight country like the USA out of its trousers. It all came from TV and the street according to Alice. He had started his theory of third generation rock ("sex music, sweaty, hard, exciting with a climax at the end"). By the summer of 1971, Alice Cooper were primarily associated with hit singles and album and the idea the idea that they were out to sexually corrupt the minds of the decent, clean, American youth. Literally in fear that some yankee would shoot him (as some Redneck almost did to Bowie in '71) Alice quickly explained his image:
"Parents love to hate us, kids need that. They need heroes. The image thing gets us across visually. We are expressing where we think the world is going. We might be just queer or faggy but the world is obsessed with this. If a kid puts on eye-makeup like me, it will hurt his parents more then if he became a crook. they'll think their kids' queer and that will hurt much more!"
Publicity was now easy to obtain fuelled by WEA's superb promotion t-shirts and photos showing the band in association with images of perversion, violence/downright sex. In '71, Alice turned up in a t-shirt with two tits painted across it. The photographer could not believe his eyes (Malcolm McLaren later sold the t-shirts in London in '71 where Alice brought a few back to the states). The story of the chicken became a source of a headline as suddenly America heard about Alice Cooper. Coincidentally at this time, the movie "Diary of a Mad Housewife" was opening and producer Frank Perry had chosen the band to play at a party scene (Lay Down And Die Goodbye) where they generally wreak havoc on the stage. They also filmed a TV advert for the painkiller "Excedrin". They were to represent someone's head during a headache which is a fantastic was to describe the Alice Cooper of '71 - an irritating pain, an aberration on the senses, an assault on your sensibility. However the commercial was never broadcast. Publicity came quickly and easily, all inflamed by the band, Shep and WEA. At one New York gig in May 1971 the band were picketed by Women's libbers as being 'anti-women'! Alice, tongue in cheek, mentioned that he was after the minds, not the bodies, of all 16 year olds because they have "done every sexual act by then and are still impressionable to what can be done!" No wonder he was accused of being a child molester! He knew that no one would see the black humour inherent in everything he has ever done!!
At another concert, the band were told that before they could play they had to put up a $2,500 bond in case he should say "fuck" or strip on stage. Alice was annoyed when John Mayall (also on the bill) swore during his set with no action taken, but again it made a good story for the press. Alice Cooper had slowly become the most talked about group in America, the big time was in touching distance - big as in family sized. They started a tour where they were the headline act, with some other bands supporting. They tour pushed the lp back into the charts and it stayed there for another 15 weeks. They went back to Detroit, greeted as all-conquering heroes and played the East Town club. There, they indulged in some more satire. Detroit was where the rumour of Paul McCartneys death had emanated:
"We all wore white and I had a sword, a hat and I drew on a moustache. Dennis wore black with no shoes and at the end of "Lay Down And Die Goodbye" he did just that. Nobody got the joke and the connection with McCartney. It was hilarious and they never got the obvious satire in it. They're so dumb."
Now everybody wanted to talk to the band - all the music papers, the underground press, radio, TV etc. Alice began his lengthy explanations to an uncomprehending world:
"People can't believe that we are not fags. They think we have to be 'cos of how we look. If you are threatened by us, then it's because your not to sure of your own sexuality. Everybody is part male and female. Basically it's just showbiz. Modern Vaudeville."
While at Art collage, Alice had also studied the life and work of Marcel Duchamp, the leader of the French 'Dadaists'. Duchamp had also dabbled with changing ones sexual identity, an idea exploited by Andy Warhol, Bowie and of course Boy George and Marilyn. Alice knew that by using the same tactics, he could create the same effect on the world as Duchamp had on the Parisian Art establishment. But behind Alices intellectual reasoning's (he hates intellectuals) there was one major factor to remember. It was only Rock And Roll - the music had to be good:
"The music has to back up the image and the presentation otherwise it won't work."
Alice was also surprised at how young a lot of the audiences were:
"We get a lot of 16 year old boys and girls and their so, so straight but they're almost groupies!! We are heroes, or anti-heroes. Their older brothers like boring music, the blues or something, but we're sharp, exciting and fresh. They're 15 and fucking. I never got laid until I was 20. They get off on what we are doing but they're sooo young! The girls throw up their bras and we put 'em on over our shoulder blades! Underwear too. We scrape 'em out and smoke 'em!"
YUUUECH!!! Nonetheless, the band were finally on their way. Their New York City debut was to be at Town Hall, run by the local collage. The promoter was Ron Delsener who had dated co-manager Joe's sister in High School. Joe used this to make contact with Delsener so as to book them for the 2,000 seat venue. Previously, only a few country and western and blues bands had played there, but no freaks. The attendants were startled to see every freak, weirdo, biker, drag queen and junkie file into the hall!! Tickets had been selling slowly but by the evening the place was packed. he date was May 6th '71. Delsener was visibly shaken as he watched the band prepare - all he saw was the lipstick, nail vanish and outrageous gear. During the show, one of Andy Warhol's entourage, Prindville, jumped onto the stage. As expected of a Warhol cohort, she looked stranger then the band but when Alice ripped off her skirt, she ran off stage, as Alice threatened to do rude things to her. What made the headlines was the pillow routine during the early part of the gig. The front row was doused with water and pelted with feathers from pillows. The feathers blocked the ventilators and it cost several thousand to repair. Delsener footed the bill and he recouped the cash from the band. He contemplated becoming the bands full time promoter but decided not to, a decision he later regretted.
The band started to brunch outwards again and at one gig in Oklahoma City, the band had arranged for two cops to run on stage and at the right time, pin Alice into the Electric Chair and fry him. The effect was realistic since the cops had run from out of the crowd:
"Those cops were great. They really enjoyed it, they were great actors! Strange that the cops liked us but the hippies, the alternatives on the Medicine Ball, didn't!"
In late May 1971, the band made a lightning visit to London to meet WEA reps, and do a couple of interviews and got their first write up in Melody Maker (with Roy Carr who later gave the band most of their write ups in the '70's). The band spent a day shopping in the Kings Road, popping into Malcolm McLarens "Let It Rock" boutique where they bought lots of transvestite gear etc and weird accessories. They also partied at the legendary Speakeasy club. While in London, Alice was to be interviewed by a hack from the leading hippie and underground paper, International Times. The interview was never printed but the journalist wrote an open letter to Alice which Alice replied to. Both letters appeared in June 1971. The hack described the band as "anything goes Dada rock with absurd social satire. Spontaneous theatre with a threat of danger. A product of the moonwalk generation." Alices' reply was extraordinary in its humour an philosophy Here is an extract:
"We're gonna kill the UK. Spent your bread on us. We're crazy, we won't behave. We're Amerikan pop Art and so camp. Kids are ripping up seats at last. I hate intellectuals who sit back and theorize too much. The end of our show is an orgasm, one big climax. We're into gimmix like neat Alice t-shirts and cookies that say 'drop dead'. I love the cops in the UK In the USA they're pigs. they've got military gadgets and act like Nazis. They'll gas ya for no reason. Detroit is a war zone, machine gun battles all day. We met Colonel Sanders on the plane. He hates chickens, he's just an actor hired by Kentucky Fried Chicken. Typical America!!! How come there's no dope in the UK? Can't you afford it? In Detroit you can find it in the gutter, but you gotta be careful. A cheap way to get high is hyperventilation, breathing 20 times where you'd normally breath twice. Do it until you see stars!! Iggy and us are the best. I apologies for being stoned last time. Hope this letter does the trick. Illustrate it with tit, ass and cunt photos. That's what Alice Cooper music is. Smoke dope, listen to "Love It To Death" and fuck, fuck, fuck!!!! PS. in Canada, we have to use Canadian chickens. Will we have to use UK ones here?"
The letter struck the right note that the readers if International Times wanted - anti-political, anti-establishment, anti-state, pro-dope etc. He pandered to his audience. Within a year, Alice was to prove he was no raving MC5 like revolutionary, some kind of latter day Clash. He wanted dollars and was soon to say so.
Back in the USA, WEA decided to give the band a big launch in Los Angeles. On July 14th, invitations were sent to all LA's high and low society. Record company people mingled with social climbers and junkies, hippies and transvestites. The venue(Venetian Room at the Les Ambassaduer Hotel) had presumed it was a society debutante ball for an 'Alice Cooper'. It was, but it wasn't the kind of society or debutante they had in mind. The party had been organised by Dennis Lopez, a local freak in the know with various people. On his guest list were Jack Nicholson, Richard (Thorn Birds) Chamberlain, Randy Newman, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Diamond, Rod McKuen and all the top brass at WEA. The Beach Boys arrived later. A gorilla sat at reception checking everyone in and the band, dressed in tuxedos, received their guests like royalty. Entertainment was by TV Mamma, 1 400lb who sang totally nude except for panties. The GTOs popped out of huge cakes and cigarettes were sold by the Cockettes, a local drag band led by singer Sylvestre, who in '77 had a hit with 'Mighty Real'. The scene was like a decadent Fellini-esque masquerade. The band later played a short set and then dashed off to play a collage gig for 100 kids. But they knew that at last they had made the big time...
The "Love It To Death" show itself was certainly spectacular. It was 60% staged, 40% improvised. The show took this form: After starting off with "Sun Arise", the band played a couple of older songs before launching into the lp. On 'Is It My Body', the now infamous boa constrictor was brought on and it duly slithered and slid over Alices' head and body and even gave him a French kiss!! (I think I'm going to be ill....) and Alice would even stuff it down his black jump suit, which was studded and the zip went down way below the navel... Alice and Neal loved reptiles and Kachina was Alices' 6 ft Boa. The band couldn't get anyone to look after her, so they took her on the road. As Alice explained:
"She's a natural theatrical prop. She can be taken as funny, or sexy or frightening."
Kachina set the trend for Alices' later partners being able to warm to the noise of the crowd and the lights until she responded by proudly stealing her short scenes with Alice, ("stole the hottest scene/says the Globe and Trib"). On the first night with the boa, a roadie stood in the wings ready to cut Alice loose, should the snake start to constrict!! On "Second Coming", Alice did a strip and hung his gear on a huge white cross (an Arthur Brown idea). For "Dwight Frye", a nurse (usually a girl from the crowd dressed up) led Alice off stage and he returned in the straight-jacket, ("I'd tell 'em to tie it tight/ 'cos Alice'll break out easy."). On escaping, he'd wheel on a shrouded dummy sitting on what turns out to be the Electric Chair. Alice then mutilated the dummy and sat on the chair. During the "Bodies need rest" sequence (of "Black Juju"), Alice hypnotizes the front row with a watch and after having been fried, at the songs peak, he waves a huge spotlight into the crowd and screams "Wake Up, Wake Up!!!" etc. As the stage explodes amid dry ice and thunderflashes, Alice bounds off the chair and wrecks further havoc on the stage. As he latter said:
"It creates a tension in the audience and then they get a release. We don't need the chair in "Juju" but it creates tension and it's great theatre!"