Rock legends don’t come any bigger or gorier than Alice Cooper. Since breaking out of Detroit’s hard rock scene in the ’70s, the Godfather of Shock Rock has spent 50 years living up to that very name – crafting explosive live shows that are big on hits, and even bigger on the fake blood.
Now, he’s taken things back to where it all started. His latest album, ‘Detroit Stories’, is an autobiographical letter to the city where he first cut his teeth all those years ago. Recorded in the Motor City itself, it’s a lovingly crafted tribute to the place where Cooper first kicked it with the likes of Iggy Pop and MC5.
Ahead of the album’s release, we caught up with Alice to discuss the story behind it, how he once faced the prospect of being banned from the U.K – and why rock isn’t dead after all. Here’s what we learned.
He’s had his coronavirus vaccine and is raring to hit the road once more
The rocker might have had his fair share of scrapes over the years, but he’s not taking his chances against coronavirus. Earlier this month, he headed to an Arizona vaccination centre to get his COVID jab. “It’s not a hard shot at all – it’s an easy shot and I get my next one on March 2,” Alice said of his vaccine experience. “In Arizona right now they’re doing 10,000 people a day. The light at the end of the tunnel is in sight!”
He predicts an “avalanche” of music due to the pandemic – and he’s already working on his next album
Alice might be gearing up to release ‘Detroit Stories’, but like many musicians he’s been taking advantage of unexpected downtime to focus on even more new material. “This year and next year, there’s going to be an avalanche of music coming out,” he says. “All these musicians are writing and recording, so I’m working on the next album before ‘Detroit Stories’ is even out!”
Detroit’s hard rock scene was unexpectedly close to Motown
While his fellow rockers in the Detroit scene were pretty much the opposite to the city’s other musical export, Motown, Alice says the two groups got on famously: “A regular night on a weekend would be Alice Cooper, Bob Seger and maybe The Who – who were playing ballrooms and rock clubs like all those bands from England.
“We’d look down in the audience and there’d be 1,100 rock’n rollers with black hair, black leather jackets and then you’d see Smokey Robinson, you’d see two of The Supremes and the guys from the Four Tops!”
He adds: “All of the Motown guys used to come to the rock shows and it was not unusual! If there was a big rhythm and blues festival, a huge amount of that audience would be white kids. We never saw any colour – music was just music and Motown was as valid as hard rock.”
Alice was almost banned from the UK in the ’70s – but the country had his back
Not everyone was a fan when Alice first pioneered his visceral brand of shock-rock and notoriously gory live shows. The then Home Secretary, Leo Abse, hit out at Cooper’s “commercial exploitation of masochism” and called for him to be banned from the country altogether. His British fans, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, were having absolutely none of it.
“If you tell a Brit that he can’t go see a band, then he’s going to go and see that band! Here was the establishment telling the British audience, ‘You cannot go and see Alice Cooper!'” Alice says. “We were sitting there going, ‘We couldn’t pay these to people to say anything better than that’. ‘School’s Out’ went to number one and we sold out every ticket! We gave them a show we weren’t expecting and a band we weren’t expecting.”
Gene Simmons thinks rock’n’roll is dead?– Alice says it ain’t
KISS’ Gene Simmons courted controversy earlier this year when he reiterated past claims that rock’n’roll is beyond the point of resuscitation,claiming that “new bands haven’t taken the time to create glamour and excitement”. Alice retorts: “Gene Simmons – I would like him to do my taxes because he’s a businessman and that’s valid, but I guarantee you right now that in London somewhere, in garages, they’re learning Aerosmith and Guns ‘N’ Roses.”
“There’s a bunch of 18-year-kids in there with guitars and drums and they’re learning hard rock. It’s the same with the United States, there’s all these young bands that want to resurge that whole area of hard rock.
In fact, the Godfather of Shock Rock says “rock and roll is where it should be right now”, adding: “We’re not at the Grammys; we’re not in the mainstream. Rock’n’roll is outside looking in right now, and that gives us that outlaw attitude.”