Alice Cooper’s heyday may have been back in the 1970s, when tours behind albums such as “Billion Dollar Babies” were breaking Rolling Stones concert attendance records, but the man born Vincent Damon Furnier is still vibrant nearly four decades later.
July brings the release of the Bob Ezrin-produced “Paranormal,” the duo’s first collaboration since 2011’s “Welcome 2 My Nightmare.” Like its predecessor, the new project is a star-studded affair that features cameos by the likes of U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr., ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons and Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover.
For Cooper, the odd array of unlikely guests played into the notion he and Ezrin had about not wanting these songs to be united by a singular concept.
“Bob and I decided we were going to make an album that didn’t necessarily have a story line this time, but an album that got us off,” said Cooper. “Every song is a song that we would go, ‘Yes, that’s a great song.’ And they don’t necessarily conform to any style. Alice Cooper is always going to do guitar rock. That’s always what I do. But, the styles kind of go all over the place, which is great.”
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The most interesting aspect of the project is the reunion of the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper lineup: bassist Dennis Dunaway, drummer Neal Smith and guitarist Michael Bruce (guitarist Glen Buxton died in 1997).
Those four musicians played on the albums that made Cooper one of the biggest stars of the 1970s and are widely considered artistic high points of his career – “Killer,” released in 1971, followed by 1972’s “School’s Out” and 1973’s “Billion Dollar Babies.”
By the time Cooper decided that he wanted to make what became 1975’s “Welcome To My Nightmare,” bandmates Buxton, Dunaway, Smith and Bruce had decided the wear and tear from multiple platinum albums, relentless touring, and being together nonstop all through high school and college added up to massive burnout.
“We never broke up with any bad blood. Dennis, Neal, Mike, Glen and I were all best of friends. There were no lawsuits. Nobody ever threatened anybody,” Cooper said.
But while the breakup was mutually agreed upon, Cooper pointed out that the friendship the former bandmates maintained over the years helped facilitate this mini-reunion. The end result was three of 20 songs the reunited bandmates worked on made the cut, which Cooper was elated about.
“We worked together (on the new material) and there was never one minute where I asked who was going to play on it,” he said. “We had Neal, Mike and Dennis to play on these songs and Bob absolutely agreed. They came in and nailed it. We’re very objective about it and these three songs were the ones that were good enough to make this album. I was really happy about it.”
With all this under his belt, the 69-year-old rocker finds joy in performing live. Even more so, once his current tour hooks up with fellow Rock & Roll Hall of Fame act Deep Purple later in the summer. It’s a bill he’s convinced won’t leave attendees unsatisfied.
“I kind of like the idea of two classic rock bands playing together. I think it’s really cool for the fans,” Cooper said. “Every single song that you hear on that stage is something that you heard on the radio. And that’s really a plus for the audience. We did that with Motley Crue and when we did that with them, it was really successful. We sold out every venue.”
Once his touring commitments are fulfilled, there’s a chance Cooper may pop up as part of his celebrated side band, the Hollywood Vampires, a group that also features Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry and actor/guitarist/recording artist Johnny Depp.
The group released its first album in 2015. Along with a pair of originals, it includes songs originally done by musicians who have since passed away.
Covers on the guest-filled Hollywood Vampires album included “My Generation” (by The Who), “Jump Into The Fire” (by Nilsson), as well as tunes by Jimi Hendrix (“Manic Depression”), Spirit (“I Got A Line On You”) and The Doors (“Five To One/Break On Through”). Several guest musicians pop up as well, most notably Paul McCartney, who is featured on a version of “Come and Get It” (a song he wrote for Badfinger).
Cooper said despite having a name like Hollywood Vampires, that group’s shows will be nothing like his own highly theatrical, horror-themed concerts.
“The cool thing about the Vampires is it’s a totally opposite thing than the Alice Cooper show,” he said. “I don’t think about theatrics when I think about the Vampires. It’s basically, when we put it together, all of us started out as bar bands. We all started out learning The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Chuck Berry and Paul Butterfield, all the stuff we learned from, The Beatles. We said that’s basically what we are.”