When Rob Zombie inducted the Alice Cooper Group into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2011, he called them “a murderous gang of drag queens.” When Frank Zappa first heard them, he didn’t like them … so he signed them to his record label. When Lester Bangs reviewed their debut album, Pretties For You, in Rolling Stone Magazine in 1969, he said there was no “hint of life, spontaneity, joy, rage, or any kind of authentic passion or conviction,” and concluded that the band’s music was “totally dispensable.” Twenty-five albums later, the man known as Alice Cooper is still touring and recording with the band he calls Alice Cooper. The faces may have changed but Vincent Furnier has never considered himself a solo artist. Alice Cooper has always been a band.
So when the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inducted Alice Cooper into their illustrious hall, it was five guys that walked onto the stage; five guys who once flaunted their uniqueness, their snarly charm and some beefy bass lines and wide-open guitar chords into a pop music world in desperate need of a little raunchy deflowering. Zappa saw something in these scruffy Phoenix transplants that stirred up the daisy-chain wearing hippies as well as the buttoned-to-the-top-button establishment that were afraid of such non-regimented conformity. It scared them. “We were the band that drove the stake through the heart of the love generation,” Cooper said during his speech at the induction ceremony.
Dennis Dunaway was there at the beginning and co-wrote some of Alice Cooper’s most notable songs, including "I’m Eighteen" and "School’s Out". He ran track with pre-Alice Vince Furnier in high school and prodded him to start a band after seeing the great guitar slinger Duane Eddy. And it is Dunaway who is the keeper of the memories, a title that makes him laugh when I call him this during our interview earlier this year. But his stories of days-gone-by belie his denial as they are vividly clear, told with surprising detail and in such a way that the listener is kept spellbound as if the event happened yesterday, as if you were actually there with bass player Dunaway, drummer Neal Smith, guitarists Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton (who passed away in 1997) and ringleader Cooper.
Currently making music with former Blue Oyster Cult’s Albert & Joe Bouchard in the trio Blue Coupe, Dunaway is loving life. Blue Coupe, although not a cover band, enjoy revisiting songs from their respective past groups and have a new album coming out soon called Million Miles More. Plus, Dunaway continues to prep his autobiography. “I haven’t told you everything from the book,” Dunaway said laughingly at the end of our interview. “There are so many stories. I mean, the difference in me doing an interview and what you’ll read in my book – say for instance the Hollywood Bowl story. I’ve got all of the details in there of what happened that night and it really puts you there in the room rather than me just mentioning something that happened that night. I just gave little memories but it really is just peppering to whet the appetite for the real book which is way more detailed and way more flowing in a way that makes you feel like you’re in the car with the band, that you’re on the stage with the band. That was the goal. I’ve spent a lot of years to get it to read the way that it does and now hopefully it won’t be too long before I’m able to finally put it out.”
However, what Dunaway DID share with Glide was a wonderful Oz-like peek into the world of the original Alice Cooper Band.
“The original guitar player in the Alice Cooper Group, Glen Buxton, he was the photographer at the high school where Alice and I met,” Dunaway explains after asking me how long I had been interested in photography. “And he took photography because when you turn the red light on in the dark room nobody could open the door. So he would smoke in there (laughs). Think of all the chemicals they use and have in there. I wouldn’t recommend smoking” (laughs)
Maybe we’re all more brave when we’re young.
Yeah, yeah, brave is a good word for it. Our parents used a different word (laughs) I’m married to Cindy Smith Dunaway. Her brother was the drummer in the Alice Cooper Group, so that was her big brother, and I heard plenty of stories about how nice he was to her (laughs). They lived in Ohio, grew up on a farm there, and Cindy had a big red coat that was full of down feathers. So Neal would make her turn her back and go out in the back yard and he would shoot at her with his bb gun (laughs). Cindy said that there wasn’t too much social life out there so she kind of looked at it as a form of attention (laughs)
You have an amazing memory of everything that happened through your career. Did you keep a lot of the memorabilia as well?
I have tons of the old stuff. Not because I ever set out to collect anything. Mostly it’s because I never find time to throw anything away. I’m not really a hoarder, I’m just too lazy to take the time to throw stuff away. I’d rather write a new song or whatever. And in the old days, other than in the rehearsal room or anything that had to do with music or art where I was very loud and outspoken and a crusader, outside of that, I was very quiet, I was an introvert. I grew up as an artist. In grade school people didn’t even know my name and they called me “The Artist.” I was just an observer, a visual observer, so I watched what was going on. During the days of the Alice Cooper Group touring around, while the others were drawing attention to themselves and having fun and everything, I was observing it and writing it down.
And the other factor is my wife kept diaries and she was along for the whole thing. She was with the group, living at the group’s house, before we became Alice Cooper, and she did all of the costumes for the band.
Were they all her designs or did you guys give her ideas?
Well, it was mostly her ideas because she’s the one that brought all of the shiny fabrics and things into the picture way early on. I mean, I see people always seem to give credit for glam rock starting to other bands but it was really Cindy that did it before any of the other bands. But she had the access, she knew where to find those fabrics, which were hard to find in those days. But we would kind of guide her depending on if we had an album concept. Like the Billion Dollar Babies album, we wanted to be wearing all white. So she stayed up all night making the five white costumes, the suits that we’re wearing on the picture that’s on the inside of the album.
So how is your book coming along? Are we going to get to see it anytime soon?
Right now is a very exciting time. I’ve done a lot of work for quite a few years on it. I finished it several years ago but I’ve been holding out for the right people to come along and now they have. I’ve got a great team. And my band Blue Coupe, the band I’m working with now with Albert and Joe Bouchard of Blue Oyster Cult, we’re finishing up an album that is mixed by Jack Douglas, who produced John Lennon and Aerosmith and Blue Oyster Cult and the Alice Cooper Group. So that is exciting.
Blue Coupe already has an album out called Tornado On The Tracks and that’s available through CD Baby or www.bluecoupeband.com. So that same information will get you to the new CD as well. And anything that Blue Coupe do or all kinds of things that are going on in my life is always posted on Dunaways Rock on Facebook. That is a very active website for me. I also have things that are kind of teasers for my book on there. It’s called Dr Dreary’s Magnificent Time Machine, which just followed the Billion Dollar Babies tour this year, which was thirty-nine years ago when I started it last year following the tour and now this year the Billion Dollar Babies album is celebrating it’s fortieth year.
Can you believe that?
No (laughs) Not at all. It’s like the blink of an eye.
In Blue Coupe, you guys look like you are having a lot of fun on stage.
And you know what, that’s exactly what’s great about this band. Joe and Albert are the brothers who were in Blue Oyster Cult. You know all those great songs – “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” “Burnin’ For You,” “Godzilla;” Albert wrote “Cities On Flame With Rock & Roll” and he sings it. Joe wrote “Astronomy,” which was covered by Metallica. So they’re very prolific songwriters and they’re very adept at being onstage and they always have fun. Always. It’s like there’s not a bad day in sight. And that’s exactly how we feel about it. We like to throw in different things. You know, we have the Blue Oyster Cult hits and the Alice Cooper hits to rely on but we also have new material from our two new albums now. We also like to just experiment. We always like to throw in some surprise or something unexpected each night to make it special and to keep it interesting for us. We’ve been known to play songs just on a whim. Walking to the stage, somebody called out a song that we had never played before and this was a big festival in France. So Joe just ran over the chords quickly as we were walking to the stage and we played the song.
Well, that certainly shows your musicianship.
Well, Joe and Albert are both teachers, music teachers, so that helps a lot and they’re also both very good at giving cues. So when Joe is playing rhythm guitar and playing lead and singing, he always finds time and he always knows when I’m going to need to see the next chord change, if it’s a song that we haven’t done before. And he’ll make sure that he turns so that I can see what chord he’s about to play. That’s what bass players do. I can see where his hand is going next and I can be there. It keeps you on your toes but it works with those two guys.
You also must have amazing knees because you’re still out there hopping around and getting down low to the ground.
Well, actually to be honest, I don’t feel it while I’m performing but when I get done doing a show these days my knees are complaining a little bit (laughs)
You have such a distinctive bass sound. And you play with a pick.
Yes I do. There are a few other bass players out there that play with a pick these days but most bass players play with their fingers because you get a bigger bottom kind of a sound. But I go for a very percussive sound and I also go for little picking style that you can’t really duplicate without a pick very well. It’s just a very percussive sound that works with percussive drummers. Neal Smith was a very percussive drummer. Albert Bouchard is a very percussive drummer. The drummers that I’ve always worked with fall into that category – Russ Wilson with the Dennis Dunaway Project and the 5th Avenue Vampires. So that’s just my style. But a lot of my bass sound has to do with the bass itself. I have a 1970 Fender Jazz bass that has mirrors on it that I’ve had since 1970 and it’s called the Billion Dollar Bass and Fender Music Corporation, their custom shop, duplicates it. You can actually buy your own exact replica. I mean, even down to the scratches and every tiny thing that’s changed on mine over the years, they’ve replicated to the T. It’s unbelievable. And it sounds really good too, really fun to play; but that bass has a lot to do with my sound.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Creswell, Oregon, outside of Eugene, in 1946. Then my family in 1951 moved to Phoenix, Arizona. So did pretty much everybody else in the group except for Michael Bruce who was born in Arizona. Neal Smith and Glen Buxton were both born in Ohio. They both had all these stories about back in Akron (laughs) and then Alice was born in Detroit. All of us kind of migrated to Phoenix for various reasons and that’s where we met in high school and became friends and then later on decided to start a band.
In Alice’s book, he briefly mentions that you and him were hired to paint a mural during summer break.
laughs) Oh yeah, we had a business that lasted a couple of weeks, Alice and I. We decided to apply our artistic talents to a mural painting company. So what happened is a girl that I was sort of dating at the time talked her parents into letting us paint this like pastel scene of a beach with palm trees, like a picture of Bermuda or something, a very stylized thing on their living room wall of all places (laughs). And I mean big. This was big. So we went over there and we pulled all the furniture out and put out tarps and painted and had the whole thing sketched out and the whole outline all ready and we were going to put everything away. But they said, “No, no, you’re coming back tomorrow, just leave it.” Then they made the mistake of paying us (laughs) and that kind of ended my relationship with the girl for one thing. And the whole rest of the summer I would ride by and their curtains would be open and I could still see the outline. I can’t remember if we ever even went back to finish it. I think we finally did but it took like three months.
So in the meantime, we had another gig. This guy had an ad in the paper that said, “Paint metal barrels to look like wood.” We were like, “What? That’s weird. But ok.” So we go out and the guy’s got like five barrels or something like that and he’s like this crazy old codger who had like a gypsy wagon and llamas that pulled it (laughs). And he didn’t have any teeth and every time he talked all this tobacco would spray all over and we couldn’t understand anything he’d say. So we painted the first barrel and we’re out in the Arizona sun and it’s really hot but we’re used to it cause we were long distance runners at the time, we ran cross country and the mile and whatever. So we were used to being out, but still we were out in the hot sun painting a metal barrel. The first barrel was a masterpiece. It really did look like wood. But then after that, each one didn’t look quite as good as the one before it (laughs). So finally we just dissolved the company (laughs).
How did you discover rock & roll?
Well, my family has music in their background. A couple of sisters that were my cousins were singers, this was all country, and they would do like the local dances in Eugene, Oregon, and then they would get together at my grandma’s house and have their own homemade honky tonk where the men would bring their guitars. So I had music around me but it wasn’t the kind of music that really excited me. Just the idea that they were playing it excited me but then when Elvis came out, my babysitters would come over with the latest platter and put it on and dance and that was exciting.
But then I had gone to see a movie in 1963 called Hercules Unchained. It was a double-feature and the opening movie was Disney’s Peter Pan. So I watched Peter Pan and that interested me at that age because of the artistic aspect of it but between movies this band comes out and sets up and plays and it’s Duane Eddy & The Rebels and the guitar player, Duane Eddy, played this low, clangy, guitar and then they had Boots Randolph, a saxophone player that played on most of the rock & roll records in those days, and they did three or four songs and it was really exciting. And I said, “That’s what I want to do.” So then I told my skinny little nerd friend at school, Vince Furnier, who eventually became Alice Cooper, that we got to start a band. We talked about it and stuff but we didn’t really do anything about it.
Then the next year of high school The Beatles broke and that was it, we had to start a band. So we asked Glen Buxton, who was the only guy in the school that played an instrument that we knew, and we talked him into doing this spoof on The Beatles called The Earwigs. Like a beetle is a bug, we thought, well, an earwig is a bug. Plus we were going to wear, and did wear, Beatle wigs that we bought at Woolworth’s Department Store. We did like a silly Beatles thing and we were The Earwigs and we were from Cesspool, England (laughs). Everybody had a good time. We came out at the end of a talent show and did this set. Oh man, were we excited and everybody was laughing and that was a good joke. But Vince and I were like, no, we got to keep this going. So we did.
Did you have the matching Beatles suits?
Our moms made us these matching jackets that were like yellow ochre or what we called “shitania” (laughs). So we had jackets. Vince had on like a little captain’s hat, like a ship captain, because I think John Lennon had worn one or something. It looked pretty good and it was really exciting because the Beatlemania had just hit big time that summer and it was all that really mattered to a lot of people. And even the people that didn’t like The Beatles were highly entertained because we were kind of making fun of them in their eyes.
So that must have just whetted your appetite to continue on, to really be a musician.
Yeah, everybody chose what instrument they were going to play. Glen already played guitar. Then we had another guy on our track team named John Speer who decided he was going to play drums and then we brought in another guitar player. Then we decided Vince would be the singer because he could never keep track of anything, he was always losing things all the time. So we thought, no way he can keep track of a guitar or anything so he’s the singer. Then I went back up to Oregon and worked on my grandfather’s farm to get the money to buy my first bass, which was the only instrument left that needed to be played in the band. So that’s why I became a bass player because I was the last to decide.
What did you have to do on the farm?
We raised green beans. My grandpa had a farm for many years and he had the best sweet corn, he had filberts, which are little hazelnuts, but his big crop was green beans and they used to do a whole procedure: driving stakes into the ground and putting wire across the top of the stakes and strings went up and down into the baby plants so they had something to catch onto to grow up. So I spent the whole summer doing some hard work there (laughs). We had tractors but a lot of it was by hand; all of the picking and I was the guy that weighed the bags of beans. All the people would bring their buckets of beans and then I’d put them in a bag and lift it up onto the scale and then I’d call out the amount and then I’d heave them up into a big giant bin to be hauled off to the cannery. I also kept running long-distance and kept the radio tuned into The Beatles or whatever the British Invasion new things were happening then. Then I also had letters that I wrote back and forth to Alice talking about which Beatles songs we should learn when I got back (laughs)
You’re talking all about The Beatles, who had this nice, clean-cut image. But you guys were different. When did the props and the theatrics come into the band?
Immediately. When I got back to Phoenix, you know The Beatles spoof we did, basically Glen Buxton played guitar. We didn’t know how to play. We pretended that we played guitars. He was the only one playing but he had an amp so it worked. But when I got back, then we actually learned how to play and rehearsed and did the Cortez High School Halloween Dance. This was in 1964. We had a guillotine that worked. It wasn’t very big, though. It was about seven feet tall, as I recall, and then Alice and I put spider webs we made out of white clothesline and Alice and I made cardboard coffins and painted them to look like wood. I guess we wanted to use our expertise from painting the barrels (laughs). So we had a couple of coffins on stage, but one of them had this guy inside who was dressed up like a ghoul with the dark make-up like Alice eventually wore. And he was like a ghoul and we had tombstones on stage. Alice and I were very active artists so we put this all together. Between songs the ghoul would come out of the coffin and then he would do something funny to keep the audience entertained while we decided what song we were going to do. We didn’t know what
a setlist was yet, I guess (laughs) .
When did the snake come in?
Well, when we were out touring and didn’t have any money, we would just grab anything and incorporate it into the show. Our show was different every night and part of that was we used as many different things that we could just incorporate into the show as possible. We had used rabbits and we had used chickens and stuff. So Neal Smith got this snake and that was his pet but it was just a natural thing to incorporate it into the show. We incorporated anything that was interesting, some things that weren’t interesting. We would even put a spotlight on a folding chair and then Alice would pick it up by the leg and hold it way up above his head and we’d be playing this really dramatic music. And the spotlight would just be on the folding chair and then he’d slowly hand it back to Neal, who would stand up on his drum stool and raise the chair as high as he could and we would be kind of worshiping the folding chair like it was the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I mean, we used anything that wasn’t nailed down in the show. We’d take our grandmas’ teeth out if we thought it’d work in the show (laughs).
So when Neal got the snake, of course it was going to be in the show. He took care of it. He fed it and he’s the one that had a nice travel case for it and everything. It’s name was Kachina and that’s Kachina on the cover of our Killer album. Neal was holding Kachina and I was watching the photographers photograph this. They were trying to get a picture, a really good picture of Kachina, because we wanted that to be the album cover because it was called Killer and we thought, well, this snake lives to kill (laughs). So we wanted them to get a picture of the snake with it’s tongue out. Well, the photographer kept waiting until he saw the tongue and then he’d click it. Neal’s arm was starting to shake from holding the weight of this snake up for like, I think they took like forty-eight pictures. Two rolls, I think. So Neal started getting mad: “You can’t wait till you see the tongue. You got to take the picture when you don’t see the tongue because as soon as you see the tongue it’s too late.” Anyway, when we went back and looked at all of the proof sheet, there was only one picture where the snake’s tongue was out. And that’s the one we used.
And you did the handwriting as well. Do you still have that piece of paper where you wrote the title of the album?
No (laughs). We were at our farm in Pontiac and I was sitting in the living room and Alice came up and handed me a piece of paper and said, “Here, write Alice Cooper Killer” for the album cover. And I thought, ok, this should look like a killer, like a ransom note or some demented person. So I decided to write it with my left hand, I’m right-handed, so I wrote it with my left hand and I tried to get in this frame of mind that would be like some kind of demented person. And I wrote it and handed it to Alice and that’s the last I saw of it. You know, actually a couple of years ago, Alice did a tour, The Eyes Of Alice Cooper Tour, and the guy who designed the set had the A-L-I-C-E gigantic and hanging down on stage in fluorescent colors. When I went to see Alice, he took me out to make sure I recognized that he took those letters directly off what I had written on that album cover. And he asked me if that story I just told you was true and I told him it was. He said, “Well, I hear so many stories that I’m not sure if I should believe any or not.” (laughs)
What was it like recording that first album, because you were pretty green, never been in a studio before.
The Pretties For You album? Well, here we were in the studio with our maestro Frank Zappa, who we admired what he did and of course we admired the Mothers Of Invention. They were the freaks of LA and they were the distinction between the freaks and the hippies. And we related more to the freaks, even though we made fun of everybody, including ourselves. But we didn’t know anything. Michael Bruce knew more than we did. But you know we had been early on, when we still lived in Phoenix, we were a pretty big regional group. We had hit songs and when we played people recognized our songs and we were a pretty successful garage band. Probably the biggest in Arizona at the time. So we gave all of that up when we went to LA and decided to change our style so radically.
But when we went into the studio, first of all, Frank Zappa did not have a budget. He had a new record label but he had already, in his manager’s eyes I think, spent more than they had to spend on it. But Frank said, “I want this to sound like a car is driving by and you guys are just rehearsing in a garage.” So he took down all of the baffles, which means the bass would be just as loud in the drum mics, there’s no separation and you need that for recording. We didn’t know the difference and we’re thinking, well, Zappa is a genius, this has to be a great idea (laughs). Then Frank got the flu and didn’t show up and we had to finish the album, which basically meant a bunch of guys that didn’t know much about working in a studio trying to do damage control and save something that was pretty bad. We didn’t care, though. We were so excited about doing our first album. We were going to set the world on fire (laughs)
What is a concert or a show that really stands out in your mind from during your Alice years?
There are so many fun ones. I like the Hollywood Bowl, just because that was the night I finally said, you know what, we’ve made it. Before that, we had big successes but our image was so controversial in those days that for everybody that liked us there would be ten write-ups of people that hated us (laughs). So it was hard to say, oh, did we make it or not? Who should we listen to? This one person or these ten other people? (laughs) But then I said to myself, hey, we’re playing the Hollywood Bowl. You can’t possibly play the Hollywood Bowl unless you’ve made it. And that was also going back to our stomping grounds because Pretties For You didn’t really take off. I think it made it to #110 on the charts or something like that. So we kind of left LA with our tails dragging and went out on the road. So to come back to Los Angeles and play the Hollywood Bowl, that was just a big night. Elton John was there. You know, Elton John used to wear a fringe leather vest on stage, a brown vest, and that night he was backstage raving about how we dressed. Then he started dressing crazy. I’m telling you, that’s the night he decided to start dressing crazy (laughs).
We had a helicopter drop panties on the crowd because our new album, School’s Out, had just come out and the record itself, instead of a dust cover that was made out of paper, we had like paper panties. So we dropped those from helicopters into the crowd and the problem was the wind was blowing a little bit, or maybe it was the helicopter blades or whatever, but we didn’t see that many land on the audience so we refused to pay the helicopter guy. We thought the guy just said he dropped them and he didn’t. Then the next morning in the Hollywood paper, this very affluent neighborhood surrounding the Hollywood Bowl, there were pictures of their houses and there were panties hanging in their trees and all over the roofs of their houses and stuff (laughs). So we got more publicity out of that than we did for the actual show, I think.
You’ve contributed songs to some of the albums and “Black Juju” is probably the one that stands out.
You know the thing about whether a song had my name on it or not, I mean, “Black Juju” I wrote the song but Michael wrote the organ part and Neal wrote the drum part and Glen wrote, so we were very collaborative. It was rarely somebody just bringing something in that was finished. Sometimes that happened, but usually it was us bringing an idea in and all of us working on it and making it into a song.
What’s the story with “Crazy Little Child?”
That was written by Michael Bruce and it was a different style of bass playing than my style. I wanted to play a traditional style and we had producer Jack Richardson, who had produced the Guess Who and that’s why we decided to get him. Bob Ezrin was his apprentice. So Jack Richardson and Bob Ezrin did Love It To Death and the Killer album. Jack Richardson had been a base player and quite a good one too before he became a producer. And I knew he was old school so I said, “Ok, I’m going to plug in another bass here, my Hofner bass, and I want to hear how you would play it.” So he started playing and I used that as my inspiration to get it right. So I played the part but I certainly based it on the style that he was playing because that’s what fit the song.
When you did “I’m Eighteen,” did you feel that it was something special when you were creating it?
Well, all of the songs for Love It To Death felt really strong going into the studio but we loved everything we had ever done before that. You know, everything that didn’t take off, we thought they were going to. We were just excited about everything that we did and “I’m Eighteen” felt good but so did other songs on the album. But we were really gun shy at that point. We were thinking, well, we thought Pretties For You was going to do it for us and it didn’t. We thought Easy Action would and it didn’t. So now we were not going to be popping open any champagne until it actually happened this time. But we lived in Detroit and all of a sudden here it comes on the radio. “I’m Eighteen” coming out of the little radio in our living room and we’re yelling and Neal is running down the stairs and we’ve got people calling us on the phone and we’re all standing there going, wow, our song’s on the radio.
Now, you know, we’ve had that before. Like I said, we had hits in Phoenix, Arizona. But this was different. It had been a long dry spell and also this was the first song with us with our radical new image that we had taken years to develop. Now this jockey that played it, her name was Rosalie Trombley and they called her “the woman with the golden ear” and she was from a little radio station in Windsor, Canada, right across the river from Detroit. It was a powerful station for those days. It covered the mid-west and if Rosalie Trombley played your song, it would be a hit. So now all of a sudden, we’re hearing our song. We didn’t know it was Rosalie Trombley at the time but apparently all the other disc jockeys at the station came to her, I guess this was on the third day, and said, “You can’t keep playing this song.” And she was like, “Why not?” “Well, that’s the band that threw the chicken into the audience and killed the chicken,” is probably what they said. “You just can’t play them.” And she told me that the timing couldn’t be better because every phone was ringing and every phone was ringing to request “I’m Eighteen.” And they pushed it to heavy format. Every fifth song was “I’m Eighteen.” They’d play “I’m Eighteen” and then they’d play things by The Beatles and Hendrix and the Stones and everybody else. And then they’d play “I’m Eighteen” again. They played it so much that I was even starting to get sick of hearing it (laughs).
But it certainly turned everything around. So when we went into the studio for the Killer album, we weren’t sure. “Be My Lover” we felt that could be a hit and “Under My Wheels” turned out to be something that we tried as a hit. It was a hit in some states but not as strong as “I’m Eighteen” had been. And “Be My Lover” wasn’t quite as strong as “I’m Eighteen.” Now when we wrote “School’s Out,” that’s the song where we got the tingles, where everybody knew that was going to be a hit.
“School’s Out” was basically us trying to come up with another teen anthem. “I’m Eighteen” targeted the record buying age group. You know, kids that are still living at home that can afford to go out and buy a record. Then we added that element of kids and parents. That had worked so well. Then the songs we had tried as hits after that didn’t quite have that element, not as strongly, so we just decided, ok, we’re going to write another teen hit. So what’s rebellious, what would a teenager be rebellious about? Well, the idea of school, we thought that is universal. No matter how many years it’s been since you were in school, you’ll be able to relate to that (laughs). So the seed was planted. Glen Buxton had that guitar riff that we opened the song with and like most really good songs, it kind of fell into our lap, piece by piece. It kind of wrote itself for us. You know, some songs take a lot more work. It’s like pulling teeth sometimes. And sometimes you can get a pretty good song out of it that way. But the best songs are the ones that it almost seems like the song that you’ve heard before. That’s what Paul McCartney always says about “Yesterday.”
You mentioned the Rolling Stones and you actually saw the Rolling Stones with Brian Jones playing.
It’s the only time I ever saw them. My wife was at that show; well, pretty much everybody in the band was at that show in Phoenix, Arizona. Let’s see, probably 1966 or 1967, and the opening band was Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles. She was very young at the time. And another band called the Rockin’ Ramrods, who I’ve never heard anything more about since then. But the Stones took forever to come onstage and then they did a very short but explosively exciting set.
What did you think of Brian Jones?
Well, he was just so striking, even from a distance. He had that blond hair that you hadn’t seen anywhere else before at the time. Then he had that white teardrop vox guitar. You could see it for a mile and it was different than anybody else’s guitar. So he just stood out, even with the other guys jumping around him and stuff. Brian, all he had to do was stand there and it was kind of like the spotlight was brighter on him.
Alice Cooper was always a band and it kind of surprises me that some people still tend to say it’s JUST Alice Cooper. But Alice has always surrounded himself with great musicians. So it was fitting that all five of you were inducted into the Hall Of Fame as a unit
That’s true and that’s true with all great artists. You can talk about almost anybody that does big arena shows and they have the top musicians. And Alice has had a lot of musicians that I really like a lot personally, and admire their abilities. But it was a very good thing and a very fair thing for the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame to recognize what we did as a group because it really was a group. I didn’t want to give up art for music so I decided I was going to apply my artistic visuals to whatever I did musically. We started doing the theatrics and the development of the Alice Cooper character had a lot to do with the whole band. I thought of the make-up. I have a poster here that I’m going to loan to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame that’s a poster of a clown and that poster I saw in 1970 when we came to New York City and I saw that poster at a theater, the City Center in New York City. It’s still there. This was kind of like a monster that we all created together and of course Alice took it to the moon with his abilities. But it really was a group effort in every way, to the album covers, to the song titles, how we looked and how we dressed. Every single aspect of it we brainstormed together. That’s all we did. We would go into a restaurant and we would be talking really loudly about what we thought would be the best for the group and we’d be on an airplane and people couldn’t leave and we’d all be very loudly discussing what we thought would be the best thing to do for the group. That’s just what we did. That’s all we ever did. And it was like round the clock pretty much. So it was appropriate to be inducted as a group.
When you left, you didn’t do anything for a while. Did you need that time to just get away from music?
I did. I was very bitter about what happened. And even when I did do things, nobody knew it. It’s interesting how the spin on the break-up of the group was so prominent and everybody would interview that side but nobody ever wanted to know what any of the rest of the band members had to say about it. For years, decades, nobody ever asked me my version of what happened. It seemed like we disappeared even more than we did. But I was pretty bitter. I built a studio in my house and I wrote over two hundred songs and just decided I was going to just do music for the reason that I started, which is for the fun of it. And get all of that bitterness of the unfairness I had to go through, and the other members had to go through, and all the discomfort and all the things that took every bit of fun out of music. I decided, ok, forget all that, I’m just going to go in my basement and I’m going to just do music for the fun of it. And that’s what I did. Glen Buxton would come over and Neal would come over and we’d just jam and we’d write songs and we’d just have fun. People in the New York City area knew I was still doing things because I would get out once in a while but as far as people in other parts of the country, there wasn’t an interest in whether or not I was doing anything. So I’m sure it was a blank slate there.
And here you are making music again and you’re happy with music again. You have Blue Coupe with new material coming out, not to mention you have your book.
Well, those two things are going to keep me extremely busy. But it’s the same as always every year. I just want to make the ultimate record. I still haven’t done my ultimate record. It’s like I’m the Don Quixote, I’m the impossible dreamer that’s always reaching for that thing that’s out there that nobody’s ever done before. That’s what has always driven me and it drives me with the same kind of force these days. I’m very lucky, like Alice, I’ve had the opportunity to play with a high caliber of musicians throughout my career. That makes it fun too.
Photos of Dennis Dunaway by Len Delessio; Blue Coupe photo by Bleacher & Everad