Alice Cooper continues to push boundaries of creativity
Alice Cooper's major heyday may have been back in the 1970s, when tours behind albums like "Billion Dollar Babies" were breaking Rolling Stones concert attendance records, but the man born Vincent Damon Furnier is still creatively vibrant four decades later.
July saw 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," he says. "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.
"Using Larry Mullen Jr. from U2 on drums was a great idea," Cooper says. "When we got to the studio, he asked to see the lyrics. I've never ever had a drummer ask me about the lyrics, and he said he plays to the lyrics, and I said that I loved that. It turned it into something totally different and totally not what I was expecting, yet it works all the way. You hear the whole album and it gives it a different punch to it."
Most interesting was a reunion of the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper lineup of 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.
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. Three of 20 songs the reunited bandmates worked on made the cut, which Cooper was elated about.
"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 says. "I stayed in touch with everybody. That band never got back together. Glen passed away. He was our Keith Richards. That was a huge part of the personality of that band. When that happened, that weakened the base even further. But, we always stayed together.
"We worked together (on the new material), and there was never one minute where I asked who was going to play on it," he says. "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 continues to enjoy performing live, and he's looking forward to a late-summer run with fellow Rock & Roll Hall of Fame act Deep Purple. It's a bill he's convinced will leave attendees satisfied.
"I kind of like the idea of two classic rock bands playing together. I think it's really cool for the fans," he says. "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 (which was in Pittsburgh in 2014), and when we did that with them, it was really successful. We sold out every venue."
Once his own touring commitments are fulfilled, there's also 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 from 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 says 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 my show, than the Alice Cooper show," he says. "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."
Dave Gil de Rubio is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.