PT 2 INTERVIEW WITH ALICE COOPER BASSIST DENNIS DUNAWAY
( Revison by DD)
By Alexxis Steele
Rays of light emanating from his mirrored bass. Sinister bass lines underscoring grandiose rock anthems. These are the elements Dennis Dunaway brings to the stage. It's a presence he's refined during the years of his legendary rock career, and that was recognized when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011
Alexxis: Okay! We’re back with Part 2 speaking with Dennis Dunaway, speaking about his latest book ‘Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!: My Adventures in The Alice Cooper Group.’
Where we left off was talking about ‘The Billion Dollar Babies’ album and how you were in Brazil with that big concert with 158,000. So Dennis, at this point, how were you feeling about what was going on?
Dennis: Well, at that point the band was a little bit disillusioned because during ‘The Billion Dollar Babies’ tour things had changed in respect to new people being brought into the organization. All of the people that knew the band when it was operating as a unit, knew that and treated us accordingly. But new people were being brought into the picture, like bodyguards for Alice, and things like that, that treated us like we were the backup guys, and we weren’t being included in things. In fact, they would even screen our calls when we would call Alice’s room and stuff like that, so there were resentments building because of it. It wasn't so much that we weren't invited to the after party after the gig, it was more just the fact that we were being treated differently by these new people that didn’t realize what the real background of the band was.
Alexxis: So, it’s because the band had garnered so much success with the ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ album that the tour was kind of the pivoting mark of where this came together?
Dennis: Well that’s where it started and half way through the ‘The Billion Dollar Babies’ tour, it started to sink in that Alice was surrounded by an entourage of people where everything revolves around Alice, and we were sort of excluded. So not entirely, I mean I don't want to paint a bleak picture, I’m just saying this was the bleak side of what was a great experience, because we continued to all be friends. There was a lot of joking and a lot of camaraderie, even with Glen, although, by the time we got to Brazil, drugs and alcohol was affecting the way he played, and it was very difficult for us to have our best friend not be able to come in the studio and play like we knew he could play. Even though things aren't always completely black or white, people tend to say “Glen couldn't play” so we would turn him off on the monitors, or he wouldn't be in the PA when we would play live. Well, that wasn't true every night. There was an occasional night where Glen would be too drunk to play, and there were nights when Alice would crawl around the stage. I have talked about Cindy having a drink with Alice backstage in the middle of the “The Billion Dollar Babies Tour, but she reminded me that she would have one drink before the show started. She was saying that this little makeshift dressing room, that was underneath Neal Smith’s drums up on the big stage, is where Alice would do a costume change and kind of catch his breath, and Cindy said there was more than one occasion where she would be holding his hair out of his face while he was throwing up. So you know at that point he and Glen were both functioning drunks.
Alexxis: Right, I remember Alice carrying bottles of alcohol on stage with him all the time back then.
Dennis: It would start first thing in the morning, the roadies would water down his drinks, but they had to be careful because if they watered it down too much, Alice would detect it and just grab the bottle. There was a whole secret thing going on with that because we were trying to avoid having nights when Alice was only able to crawl around the stage forgetting the lyrics and stuff. But of course, with the Alice character, the audience just loved it. [ Laughter ] He could get away with it, but they would come down heavy on Glen when he would have an off night, so Glen was very resentful over that. He would say, you know everybody's yelling at me for playing a bad note, while Alice can’t remember the lyrics, and they're tripping over each other to get him another drink. So there was unfairness like that going on, and by the time we got to Brazil that double standard was obvious. Usually, Glen was great on stage, but when we went in the studio, where every tiny flaw stands out, it got to the point where he wasn't even invited anymore. Sometimes he would be fine in the recording studio, but other times he would spend half a day trying to get it together, and then it would be very difficult for everyone to confront him, and tell him he wasn't cutting it and to go home. You know that was a big deal and it affected Glen deeply.
Alexxis: Glen ended up getting pancreatitis right?
Dennis: Yeah that was something. Glen had ongoing health issues throughout his life. The other one was pneumonia, which he had bouts with. That’s what took his life in the end. I think that was the 11th time.
Alexxis: Wow! I did not know it was that many times that he had pneumonia.
Dennis: I’m getting ahead of the story here. To get back to South America, we went to a party there, this was in 1974, and people were either outrageously wealthy or outrageously poor, there was no in between.
Alexxis: Really? That could be a problem...
Dennis: We went to a party, it was up on a hill, and beautiful! There were orchids up in the trees, natural jungle kind of thing, but beautiful, beautiful homes overlooking this valley. And as far as you could see, there were houses that looked like each family had dug a hole in the ground and put up corrugated aluminum walls with a slanted roof. And a ditch ran down the dirt path between the rows of shacks, and that was the bathroom for everybody. As far as you could see was this neighborhood, and it was just unbelievable how many people lived like that. And here you have this guy on a hill with everything he wants overlooking all of that, and I’m thinking Wow! How could your conscience allow that?
Alexxis: I know, they must have turned a blind eye to it...
Dennis: The party had giant silver trays of cocaine - very Scarface I guess, which was perfect as far as Glen was concerned. He was ready to go. Then we stayed at the Copacabana in Rio De Janeiro, we had played some shows in Rio on the same tour, and one night an old friend of ours had showed up. This girl Leslie was a flight attendant for a Learjet and often showed up in whatever town the band played. It happened so often that, when she showed up in Rio, it was hardly a surprise. We were going up to our room and saw Glen crawling up the stairs. We said, “Hey Glen, Leslie’s here!” But Glen wasn't coherent. So that kind of excessive behavior was definitely happening with Glen, and Alice was drinking heavily, and where Michael, Neal and I may have been looser in the early days - going on stage when we weren't in our sharpest frame of mind. But when we got a hit single, the three of us decided to buckle down, Ok, we’ll have a drink after the show, and we’ll party after the show, but we’re going to play tight. So that’s what was going on, and there was a little bit of resentment from the three of us who were trying to play as tight as we could, and trying to put on a great show every night, while this looseness had moved into the picture. There were nights when we felt we were definitely carrying the weight, but the thing is, the Alice character was so powerful that we could get away with an off night. When people listen back to recordings, you know bootleg cassettes or whatever from those days, and they hear us play a bad note here and there, well they're comparing it to bands that just stood there and concentrated on playing you know?
Alexxis: Yeah, sure...
Dennis: With us, a bad note meant somebody had thrown a beer can at you, or Alice was poking your hair with a sword or something. [ Laughter ] We had all kinds of things going on onstage and it was dangerous! Glen got hit in the knee with a hammer once and had to go to the hospital, Neal got a dart in his back, and it was stuck in his back.
Alexxis: Wow! That does sound dangerous!
Dennis: And M80s! especially around Toledo and Saginaw, Michigan. [ Laughter ]
Alexxis: [ Laughter ]
Dennis: Sure, we threw stuff at the audience. But we threw soft stuff like balloons and feathers, while they threw, you know, hammers and stuff!
Alexxis: Wow! They would never get away with that nowadays!
[ Laughter ]
Dennis: It still is scary to think about Brazil because this Military Government, these guys with the machine guns that spoke Portuguese were with us wherever we went. We were just going to the sound check at this gigantic venue in Sao Paulo, and they had us in these armored vehicles, and the street was solid people, and these guys just started driving right through the crowd, and we’re like “No, we have plenty of time. Its ok, take it easy!” And they just laughed and kept going.
Alexxis: But they were running over people?
Dennis: The street was crowded. At least two people looked like they got seriously hurt. So now there are these two vehicles, Alice, Neal and I are in one, and Michael and Glen were in the other. When we got out of the city, the drivers started racing down the freeway. It’s unbelievable! [ Laughter ] And these two guys were going as fast as they could, racing each other laughing and stuff, and we’re like, Whoa! This is scary! The freeway had these little hairpin exits like from what you would have from a dirt road practically, and they both raced to the exit side by side. These two vehicles were trying to make it through a one-lane hairpin turn and at the end of the exit, one swerved off and smashed into a parked car. The door of the vehicle that Michael and Glen came loose, and one of the hysterical Brazilian guys was holding it up with his arm.
Alexxis: Oh man! I would have been scared!
Dennis: Just for sound check!
Dennis: As the venue was filling up, the guys with the machine guns were standing on the stage. We couldn’t believe how many people were coming in. They had parked armored vehicles just outside the entrances to try to slow down the crowd coming in but people were climbing right over the vehicles. The crowd started pushing forward so heavily that we were worried the stage might come down. The stage was very high, and so one of the guys with the machine guns got on the microphone. I don't know what he said, he said it in Portuguese, but when he said it, this whole giant room of people like a big wave, they all just sat down. So whatever he said scared them.
Alexxis: That must have been something!
Dennis: Anyway, we came out and they got all riled up again. There’s a photograph, taken during the concert, of somebody in the crowd who had a gun. We played a strong show. We had no idea that it was our final show together. We had no idea until probably a year after the group broke up. I think the road crew knew about it before Michael, Neal, Glen, and I did. We got back to America, our equipment never came back; I lost my favorite amp a Sunn Coliseum Bass amp. It sounded wonderful so I bought a newer Sunn amplifier, but it didn’t sound like the old one.
The Copacabana kicked us out because the roadies trashed their hotel room. So Cindy and I went to another hotel for a few days. We loved Brazil, but when we got back to America, I really felt like kissing the ground.
Alexxis: I bet! [ Laughter ] I think I would have too! So was that actually the last leg of the tour, the last show for the tour for that album?
Alexxis: You said you didn’t know that was going to be the last show so, were there other shows lined up in America after that when you came back or not?
Dennis: Well the thing is, everything the band did was done by popular vote. The 5 guys in the band would vote, the majority would win, and we would all move forward without anyone having bad feelings about it. Michael wanted to do a solo album. He wanted to take a break. We had been doing 2 albums a year plus 2 stage shows a year, and we were running on empty. Michael would write beautiful songs that we would turn into something sinister, you know? [ Laughter ] He’s like “Wait a minute, I’ve got these songs that are love songs and I’ve got enough of them for an album so I would like to just record them without you guys, since you don’t want to do them. Like Glen Buxton always said, ‘we don’t do sappy girl songs,’” [ Laughter ]
Alexxis: [ Laughter ]
Dennis: He wanted to take a break and I was against it. Alice and I were against it. But Neal figured if Michael does an album, then I want to do an album. Glen’s vote almost didn’t count anymore because he didn’t really show up to meetings. And when he did, he usually expressed his opinion with snide remarks, which were edgier than they used to be, and so they didn’t go well towards counting as a legitimate vote. I argued against taking a break. I thought wow; we’re on the verge of doing the biggest tour we’ve ever done. Our next album and our next stage show will be funded by this new recording contract we’re about to sign. But considering Alice and Glen’s declining health, the point was made that a break would give them a chance to get it back together, so I voted that we should take a break. And so Michael was going to do an album, Neal was going to do an album, and by the end of the year, would record the next Alice Cooper album. So that’s what we thought we were doing. Michael started his album. Neal asked me to help him with his album, and of course I agreed. I worked very hard on it thinking we should get it finished as fast as possible. But we didn’t finish it because we started working on what was intended to be the next Alice Cooper album to be called Battle Axe. We had this futuristic concept in which a sinister Alice would oversee this fight to the death in a boxing ring that would roll out from underneath Neal’s drum riser. Hydraulic posts would lock into place with red velvet ropes. Then two gladiators in shiny futuristic uniforms – one red and one green - would fight it out until one gladiator would fall to the floor. Then sinister Alice would rise up out of his thrown and motion thumbs up or thumbs down to the crowd. Then, from in front of Neal’s drum kit, a spotlight would shine down as the special Battle Axe, made out of Plexiglas with a nasty jagged steel blade, would slowly rise up to a vertical position. Alice would clutch it in his hands, raise it high above his head, and then forcefully stab it into the fallen gladiator. It was actually jabbed behind his body. We had a wooden block in the stage floor behind the gladiator. The jagged blade on the headstock of the Battle Axe guitar would actually support the weight of the bladed plexiglass body. The whole scene was musically backed up with an elaborate composition that included a heavy song, a fight scene, and a big dramatic fanfare before ending in silence. Then everybody would stand frozen as a bank of fog rolled across the ring as it slowly moved back underneath Neal’s drum riser. The concept was inventive and dramatic. For the encore, the stage would light up and colored confetti would rain down as Alice, as we saw it, would come out in a white tuxedo popping champagne for a song called Winner. So this was all being built for the next Alice Cooper show.
Alexxis: Wow that was some concept! So you never actually saw it come to fruition?
Dennis: Yeah, we did 4 shows with it, including the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan, near where the band farm was, and got a great write up in Rolling Stone, but unfortunately our record company bailed on us, our manager bailed on us, and our band mate bailed on us. So we ended up taking a massive financial hit, and it was emotionally devastating. This was all I cared about - Alice Cooper music and our shows.
Alexxis: Well it must have been especially disturbing to you because in a way this was kind of like your brain child from when you were a teenager you know? That was kind of like your baby, you created along with Alice and you and a lot of the ideas from originated from you!
Dennis: Well, that’s true, but by then, everybody’s input was significant and it wasn’t like I stood out above the rest in that way.
Dennis: One reason we didn’t see it coming was because we were still friends. You know, Alice and I met when we were about 16 years old. Neal and Glen were both from Akron Ohio. Michael joined just after we all graduated from high school, so we were family. We had all spent years driving all over the country in a station wagon, in a hotel room, and a show.
Alexxis: Absolutely. You spent a lot of time together.
Dennis: Yeah, and we did everything together. We lived in the same house, right?
[ Laughter ] How many marriages with 2 people last that long?
Dennis: We were 5 people and more because we had other people, our roadies from the beginning like Mike Allen, we called ‘Amp Boy.’ Charlie Carnal who did our lighting since the beginning, all the way back to our early theatrics in 1965. So I don’t know if it was denial or my part, or I was just naïve, but I just I thought it was impossible that Alice would leave the band.
Alexxis: I guess you did not think that it would ever happen.
Dennis: I thought it was impossible. I didn’t believe it. It was a tailspin. And we were reading about how we were replaced because we refused to do theatrics while we’re building a giant stage for The Battle Axe Show. The thing was massive! So we’re like, why are they saying that? Every interview was like; well we had to be replaced. I went into a dark place. I was disillusioned about my friends, Shep and Alice, and with the fans who didn’t seem to really question anything to find out what was really going down. So I decided I’m just going to build a studio in my basement and I’m going to write songs and I’m not going to go out and play. If I went out to a club to hear a band, I would find the darkest corner and hide out, and I didn’t want to be called up to sit in. I decided ok, the record business has not been my friend lately, but why should I be bitter about something that I love which is music? So I’m going to get back to loving music and all the rest of the stuff can go to hell or whatever [ Laughter ] and I’m going to go in my basement and write songs. And I wrote like 200 songs.
Alexxis: Wow, well at least you were able to channel it.
Dennis: Glen Buxton would come over and we would jam and I would get together with Neal and so there was a lot of that. We were having fun again you know but—
Alexxis: So is that how the Billion Dollar Babies the band came about?
Dennis: Well that’s because we had so much of our own money invested into this giant stage, and we had written songs that we thought were good, so at that point it was really just us looking to recoup our investment. How could we go out touring with this giant stage? When we would try to get bookings people would say, how can I advertise that the Billion Dollar Babies are playing when everybody thinks you are on tour with Alice? The Welcome to My Nightmare tour didn't advertise that it was new guys in the band you know? The advertisements had our music and people bought their tickets expecting to see the original band, but that’s not what they saw when they got there. And promoters would say, how can you headline if Alice isn’t in the band? And, nobody in the world is going to want to have you as an opening band with this gigantic stage. [ Laughter ]
Alexxis: I see that was a major problem.
Dennis: We were between a rock and a hard place and it’s too bad because we did 4 shows of The Battle Axe show and it was great and it was so much fun and it would've been really good, and it would be famous if Alice had come together like we all agreed. Not that the ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’ tour wasn’t a good one, I thought that was the best one Alice has done solo even though I do think that it’s obvious that Alice is a master performer and nobody ever pays to see Alice solo and walks out not getting their money’s worth you know? I’m a fan of Alice as a solo artist and all of that. But, as talented as they were, that band was riding high on our concepts. The hard-earned road to success handed to them on a silver platter.
Dennis: The Battle Axe show would have been a really good vehicle for the band with the concept of the original group, in my opinion, we got popular by always having unexpected things happen. Each show that we did, we tried to have something new, you know? It seemed like once we got to this point of success, we had so many bookings that we we had to push ourselves to find the time to come up with new concepts, write songs, record them, build new stages. We invented new things – surprises that you had to come and see because next time around would be different. And all of a sudden, we were told we had to give people what they expect? That went against everything that we believed. So ‘The Battle Axe Show’ would have been unexpected. ‘Welcome to My Nightmare’ was pretty unexpected, but look at how many things the original group came up with that nobody had ever done before. You know, the executions and the snake and the balloons and throwing things in the audience and all of that. I still see bands doing those ideas.
Alexxis: Oh yes they still do that.
Dennis: So now it’s like, well what are you going to see the hanging or the guillotine? [ Laughter ]
Alexxis: Choices, choices!
Dennis: It’s still the same! It’s like there’s more ways to execute somebody if you have to keep executing someone. [ Laughter ]
Alexxis: [Laughter ] Right.
Dennis: Give them what they expect went totally against what we wanted to do. We had a million ideas all the way back when we were just starting out. We just didn't have the money to do them. So now when we finally were about to sign a new contract that would include a budget to do these ideas, now all of a sudden the rug was pulled from under us. It went down hard. It was a very difficult time and I had no choice but to put it all behind me. I had some dark years where thank God I had Cindy and she would come in the room where I was sitting in a rocking chair sort of pouting. And she would be like “Is this what you’re going to do? Is this what you’re going to do with the rest of your life?”
Alexxis: That is a shame; it must have been really rough for you...
Dennis: She was right you know? The good thing is that Cindy and I had decided, when we were out on the road for all those years, that we were going to have a family someday, but we were going to wait until we were done traveling, because when we do have a family, we want to be there with our kids, and all of that. So that worked out perfectly. We have two wonderful daughters and I was home to raise them, you know? And my artistic inclinations shifted from me getting things out and painting a picture, to me getting out everything that my kids needed to paint a picture. If they were doing a watercolor and needed clean water, I would run down to the kitchen and get some clean water for them. [ Laughter ]
Alexxis: Those were precious times for you.
Dennis: I got a video camera and oh boy, we have a million hours of them putting on shows, and I was home! So that was really the blessing in disguise.
Alexxis: So you were lucky that way because a lot of artists obviously if they’re touring and and having kids they miss out on all that and those years of their kids growing up you know?
Dennis: It’s tough, but some people are more cut out for that, like entertainers like Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller, people that spend their whole lives doing it. They are entertainers, and that is what they are on this earth for. I think Alice falls into that category. For me, it was more like the deep drive for creating an artistic statement, and creating a way to present it to people, that was the whole thing. And I find the road to be a lonely place. Getting out there for so long that you would wake up and not know what town you were in, and not even care, and having the Holiday Inn menu memorized. That wasn’t my thing. [ Laughter ]
Alexxis: [ Laughter ] I can imagine!
Dennis: I think Alice manages to do it well because his wife Sheryl is an amazing dancer and entertainer in her own right, and so she’s out with him often. She took a break for a while, when their kids were younger, and their daughter Calico was in the show, so you know they manage as well as they can. But Alice is still doing hundreds of shows every year.
Alexxis: Oh yes, absolutely, ok so then at this point you raised your kids, and your oldest daughter’s name is Renee right?
Dennis: Yes, she's a self-motivated person and a go getter and she decided she wanted to be a singer, and made an album called Vaso Verga, but when the record industry was starting to belly up, she was hip to that, so she decided to go corporate and said, Well it’s very unlikely I’ll make any money in music so I’ll go this other direction. And then she gave up a successful corporate job to volunteer for a special unit of the ASPCA helping animals that were busted from hoarder cases, or dog fighting rings so she’s gone back to something else that she loves. Check out Second Chance Dogs on Netflix. That’s her and her team in action. Our daughters grew up with Saint Bernard’s, Cindy and I had four of them.
Alexxis: That’s awesome!
Dennis: The first one lived with The Alice Cooper Group in Pontiac, Michigan and then it also lived at the mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut. So after Gretchen we got Daisy, then Topper, and then Oscar, one by one, not all at the same time. So our daughters grew up with Saint Bernard’s and have that love of animals. Chelsea is also a great singer, but she’s not as interested in promoting herself and getting out in front of people, even though she has been doing comedy in New York City. So she is an entertainer that gets on stage in front of people fairly often.
Alexxis: —she’s a makeup artist and jewelry designer too?
Dennis: Well she kind of does whatever she feels like doing at the time. She follows her heart and is wonderfully creative in many ways. She has a natural feel for that element of the unexpected. Whether its designing jewelry, doing make-up, designing clothing, drawing, or her quirky comedic characters, she brings pleasant surprises.
Alexxis: [ Laughter ]
Dennis: If you give our daughters an art project, Renee wants to know what is the medium, what are the rules, and what are the guidelines. Chelsea is like; don’t tell me anything, I’ll do it! [ Laugher ]
Alexxis: [ Laughter ] That’s kids for you!
Dennis: One doesn’t like rules and the other one does, but they end up the same artistic place. And Cindy and I are very accommodating. Our house is like Cindy and Neal’s mother’s house where all the musicians would go and hang out because you could talk about anything in front of June, their mom. You could hang out and have fun and stay late if you wanted. But you couldn’t get away with everything because she was a Sunday School teacher and she would correct you! Its funny because Ron Wood was over at their house once in Phoenix, in the early days
Dennis: And he’s hanging out and he flicked his cigarette ash into a big potted plant in her living room. June scolded him, and all of a sudden Ronnie turned into a little kid. He was like, Oh, I’m sorry, I guess I’m just used to being in hotel rooms. And June said, Well you don’t do that in hotel rooms either!
Alexxis: I guess she told him!
Dennis: But it wasn’t like hanging out at most parent’s house because there was this welcoming good vibe there, and so Cindy and I always try to have that. I have amplifiers set up in our dining room and when our daughters musician friends came over, they were welcome to grab the guitar, or the bass play. We would host the drama club parties, and our house would have all cool lighting. So their friends felt comfortable in our house. Cindy’s the same as her mom, you know, don’t touch the liquor closet, you’re not old enough, and that kind of a thing.
Dennis: That’s the wonderful thing about our life, Cindy and I love creative people and we know so many of them. We’re a commute from New York City and so we usually hear about anything that’s cool going on. And we can hop on the train and go and have a good time. We’ve gone out when it was way easier to stay at home and watch television, or whatever. But we’ll jump on the train and go. Even in blizzards, we’ve gone in.
Alexxis: Really? How long does it take you to get there by train?
Dennis: An hour to an hour and a half depending if it’s Upper Manhattan or Lower.
Alexxis: That’s great!
Dennis: Yeah. In fact I’m going in tonight because Albert Bouchard and I know Jack Douglas the Producer. You know he did John Lennon and still does Aerosmith. He did Alice Cooper and the Blue Oyster Cult On Your Feet Or On Your Knees album. So the school that started the year Jack Douglas graduated - the very first year it was in existence - are getting a new space and their naming it the Jack Douglas Hall. Albert and I, and David Johansen will speak to the young up and coming Producers and tell them what we remember about working with Jack, so you know its stuff like that. We probably go in like once or twice a week at best and sometimes we don’t go in for a couple of weeks and I think it’s great because it seems like people that live in New York City tend to get a little jaded because there’s always so many things going on.
Alexxis: It seems that way when you live in it and have access on a daily basis.
Dennis: Cindy and I only hear about the special things that are going on, we go in and it kind of recharges our creative batteries and we come home away from all the distractions and we can put it to good use.
Alexxis: Absolutely it does! Now going back to the later years, we’re talking about in 2011 you received The Revolver Golden God Award and the band was also inducted to The Rock and Rock Hall of Fame, which is a great thing.
Dennis: Alice got The Revolver Golden God Award and we played a set with him at the ceremony in L.A. Yes, we got a conference call from Shep and Alice. Neal, Michael, and I were also on the phone and Shep said, we’ve been nominated. We were like, oh? We were gun shy because 14 years had come and gone that we were eligible for a nomination, and every year people would say we were nominated, and then we wouldn’t be. So [ Laughter ] we were kind of like, oh yeah, right. But this time it turned out to be true, we were nominated and you know after that phone call Neal and I were like wow I wonder if they’re nominating Alice as a solo entertainer or the group? And we thought well it could go either way. Anyway it turned out it was the group was nominated and then Alice had invited us to The Christmas Pudding Show that he does with The Solid Rock Foundation in Phoenix, Arizona every Christmas.
Alexxis: That was awesome!
Dennis: So we were out there and we were rehearsing Alice, Michael, Neal and I. Steve Hunter was sitting in on guitar and Alice’s roadie comes in right in the middle of the song and says, stop playing. [ Laughter ] He said, you guys are in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.! And so Neal slammed his drumstick down on the drumhead and it went flying into the air. [ Laughter ]
Alexxis: I guess Neal was in disbelief it was really happening!
Dennis: They said, Ok, well you’re going to have to stop rehearsing because we have a million interviews for all of you from all across the country.
Dennis: So they had phones in several conference rooms and I would go in and talk to Detroit, then Michael would come in and talk to that guy while I’m over here talking to the guy from Seattle and stuff like that. [ Laughter ]
Alexxis: Oh it must’ve been crazy.
Dennis: Yeah, it was exciting. And that night when we were on stage, the curtain was still closed so it was dark. We were all ready to play and could hear Bob Ezrin talking to the crowd about 8,000 people at the Dodge Theater in Phoenix, Arizona. Bob gave this very heartwarming introduction announcing that we were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Oh man! What a great reception! That curtain opened and I felt like I was on top of the world.
Alexxis: I bet that must have been an amazing moment!
Dennis: So then had to decide what songs to do for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. By then I had a million emails and messages, my phone was ringing off the hook. It was crazy! [ Laughter ] And I’m not even Alice, you know?
Alexxis: It must have been a very busy time!
Dennis: Everybody in the world is telling us what songs we should play and all that, so the band had some rehearsals in Yonkers, New York. We decided what songs we wanted to play, which included Under My Wheels. Then Shep Gordon, Bob Ezrin, and Alice arrived. They liked our set list but they wanted another song besides Wheels. Neal said, let’s play both sets and then decide. We played the version with ‘Under My Wheels’ first. Well Neal and I kicked ass on ‘Under My Wheels’ and everybody said ok, we’re doing that!
Shep was thinking about what everyone should wear and I said, I think we should wear white tuxedos with blood splattered all over them. Shep was not sold on that idea. Well, Alice ended up doing a white shirt with the blood.
Alexxis: Yes, I remember seeing that picture, he had the boa around his neck and you were standing up at the podium, right, and that was a big snake!
Dennis: That wasn’t the regular snake. That was an albino boa I believe, or maybe a python. But so now we’re standing on stage, we’re about ready to start playing. They wanted us to accept our awards and then play and Alice said, No, we should play first. And he was right. But we’re standing with our backs to the audience with the darkened stage and above us is this screen where they were showing this video that they put together to show why the Alice Cooper Group was inducted.
Dennis: It’s like the best of the Alice Cooper Group video footage I guess all spliced together. But man, I looked up and here’s Glen Buxton playing, and oh man, it was so moving. I looked over at Alice and said can you believe it? And he said, Nope, not at all. And then Neal counted down the first song and we started playing. We turned around, walked out toward the audience and who’s there? Springsteen, Michael Douglas, Michael J. Fox, and what seemed like everybody in the world of music, including all the honchos from the music industry. Oh man, talk about a night, and it’s on the stage in the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria, so everybody’s played there!
Alexxis: Oh yeah, It must have been a very surreal moment. I’m sure it was emotional and touching when you saw Glen on the screen. He was with the band in spirit, looking down in approval.
Dennis: You name it! All of these amazing musicians that have performed on that famous stage. We ended up in the bar in the wee hours and they were trying to kick us out. Let’s see, it was me, Glen Buxton’s sister Janice, and some friends of ours. I can't remember if Neal was there or not. We were having Manhattans and Glen’s sister. Alice’s Road manager Toby Mamis showed up with my statue and gave Glen’s to Janice, and she said, this really sucks you know. Glen’s brother Ken and Janice wanted to accept his award at the ceremony.
Alexxis: Right, yeah that would have been nice. They should have allowed them to accept it for him.
Dennis: Well, the Hall of Fame decided differently. So she's going, this really sucks to get his award in the bar. And I said, are you kidding? This is perfect! Glen would love that you got his award in the bar!
Alexxis: Yea really!
Dennis: Glen was always close to all of us whenever we’d play any of those songs. He’s always in our hearts and forever will be. He was the most talented, one of a kind, funniest guys I’ve ever known.
Alexxis: Yes, he was funny and a great guy!
Dennis: Yeah, you know. It didn’t take long to find that out, did it?
Alexxis: No, he was always very personable and had a great sense of humor!
Dennis: Yeah, and you quickly learned to be careful about what you said because you might set off one of Glen’s sarcastic fire storms. [ Laughter ]
Alexxis: Oh yes! [ Laughter ]
Dennis: The Alice Cooper humor dates all the way back to our high school days. I mean a stranger might walk into a room and hear us was whittling each other to bits. It would sound brutal at times but it was just our own style of humor. If somebody walked out of the room, oh man, they were cut to ribbons until they got back. Then Glen would go, Shhh! He’s back. [ Laughter ]
Alexxis: So since then you started working with Joe and Albert Bouchard from Blue Oyster Cult and you have a trio called Blue Coupe. You were also working with the Fifth Avenue Vampires so are you still doing that?
Dennis: Two things happened with the Fifth Avenue Vampires. Like I mentioned before, when the Alice Cooper Group were inducted into The Hall of Fame, I got overwhelmed with incoming mail and couldn’t get anything done. Part of that was because Alice had announced in several interviews that the original group would be performing in several major cities. So between Blue Coupe, the Fifth Avenue Vampires, and Alice Cooper, which everybody knows is my priority, something had to give. The Fifth Avenue Vampires had laid down some basic tracks but I had to go out to LA for the Revolver thing with Alice and the Jägermeister three dimensional show that we recorded. Meanwhile, Richie Scarlet had gotten a call from Ace Frehley, he’s still out touring with Ace.
Alexxis: That’s too bad, but sometimes I guess you have to prioritize.
Dennis: So we told Joe Von T, the singer that originated the Fifth Avenue Vampires, to keep it going. And so he’s built his show into a theatrical production. As for Blue Coupe, Joe and Albert are very prolific. They’re both music teachers, even though Joe just retired.
Alexxis: Oh did he? Joe just retired?
Dennis: Albert just released a solo album, and is recording a Christmas album. Joe’s got another new solo album so they’re always doing all kinds of things.
Alexxis: They are very busy!
Dennis: Blue Oyster Cult invited them to do some shows and sit in with them, which is great. Blue Coupe do shows fairly often. We always have fun. We’ve got backup singers Tish & Snooky, who have the hair dye company Manic Panic that’s known worldwide.
Alexxis: Yes that is very popular hair colors they have!
Dennis: They sing at probably about half of our live shows, including Europe, Canada, and the good old USA. We book ourselves, so offers come our way and we say yes or no.
Alexxis: Now currently I guess the words been out that you, Michael and Neal are all writing again with Alice and working on a new CD?
Dennis: Well yeah, you know since my book came out Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!: My Adventures in The Alice Cooper Group a year and a half ago and I've been doing book tours. Well, I did this book signing event in Dallas, Texas at Good Records and the owner Chris Penn is such an enthusiastic Alice Cooper fan that he repainted the store to be the colors of the book cover, which has pink panties on it. Good Records has a very high ceiling and Chris painted all of the trim pink and even built a stage covered with a pink AstroTurf. Neal Smith and Michael Bruce attended so Chris had electric chairs built for each of us.
Alexxis: Wow. That sounds very cool!
Dennis: We signed books then went over to the stage where Neal, Michael and I played ‘Caught in a Dream’ and when started Be My Lover, Alice walked out and everybody went crazy.
Alexxis: Oh, I bet!
Dennis: Chris released a limited edition single of ‘I’m 18’ and ‘Is It My Body’ Live From The Astroturf mixed by Bob Ezrin. It was released on Record Store Day and it sold out across the country, most stores sold out in the first 15 minutes. The response for that release was so positive that the group decided do some more things together. So Neal, Michael and Alice got together in Phoenix and knocked out five songs. Then Alice called me and said, let’s write some songs. I sent 15 songs to Bob Ezrin and Alice and they picked Fireball and Sound of A for the Alice solo disc of the Paranormal album, and You And All Of Your Friends, which would be recorded by Neal, Michael, Alice and I. We also recorded a Neal Smith song called Genuine American Girl plus a Tommy Henriksen song called Rats.
Alexxis: Of course everybody is going to want to know does that mean there is going to be a reunion playing those new songs?
Dennis: I don’t know. I’m always the last to know. [ Laughter ]
Alexxis: [ Laughter ]
Dennis: The original group did two shows in Nashville with Alice. That went so well that Alice invited us to join his show in England in November. His touring band will play an hour set, then we will play a half hour set and then everybody will join together for the big finale. We will play Leeds on November 11, Glasgow on the 12th, Birmingham on the 14th, Manchester on the 15th, and Wembley in London on the 16th. I will be doing book signing events in Birmingham on the 13th and in London on the 17th.
Alexxis: [ Laughter ] Yeah, really! Oh another thing I wanted to ask you is when I saw you last time with Michael at Chiller you had outfits from the shows and bass guitars on display in all the cases. Now do you have them on display somewhere else?
Dennis: Dr. Drearys Snakes Museum of Rare Alice Cooper Artifacts will be at Chiller in Parsippany, New Jersey on October 27 – 29th. Neal and Michael will be there as well. The museum features original items from throughout the years of the original group.
Alexxis: Right, and didn’t you have some guitars or bass’ there too?
Dennis: Yeah, guitars and bass’ even though some of them are in the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has my green bass that we talked about earlier, the Gibson bass, the frog bass. By the way Cindy’s the one that named it the frog bass because she used to say when I smiled I looked like a frog. [ Laughter ]
Alexxis: Really? hahahah
Dennis: [ Laughter ] And that’s also the story of the very first night Bob Ezrin showed up at the Pontiac Firm to start working with us on the ‘Love It To Death’ Album. He had come in from the airport and we had so many people coming through that house it was like we didn’t quite realize he was new to arrive and I had dressed up like a frog with this big green frog mask, which you probably saw in The Snakes Museum, I still have that.
Alexxis: Oh yes I remember it.
Dennis: I was only going to say ribbit until Cindy kissed me and then I would turn into her Prince, you know.
Dennis: I was trying to make a boring night more interesting. So Bob Ezrin showed up and the living room is kind of dark and all he sees is me, a big giant frog. And he says “Oh, hello Mr. Frog” and I go “Ribbit” [ Laughter ]
Alexxis: [ Laughter ]
Dennis: So frogs and the color green are kind of in my DNA I guess. Now moving forward you know how working on music with Alice is, he's a natural. You know that movie Amadeus? The guys complaining that he has spent his whole life passionately caring about writing great symphonies and here this young guy Mozart, this kind of vial character just naturally writes stuff that is better than his. [ Laughter ]
Alexxis: Yes I am familiar with it.
Dennis: So well not to that extent but Alice is like that. I mean I would be working and working and working and Michael would be working, and everybody’s diligently trying to come up with great songs and putting things together and Alice would watch tv and then he would walk in and spurt out a couple ideas that were just as good as ours! [ Laughter ] Alice is very musical. I mean when you watch him onstage, whenever there’s a cue, he cues it. He knows the music inside and out. So it’s fun to work with him because it’s not like ok we’ll write the songs and then the singer can write some lyrics and then sing along with us, he’s right in there. He's the guiding part of it and with Bob Ezrin’s involvement, there is a concise approach. You know, it starts out with winging it. And there is still a lot of humor going on. We’ve always had that you know. It’s not that we don’t take things seriously, but humor helps keep things from getting tense in the studio. You know, it can get tense when everyone is recording a track and you don’t want to mess up, and the clock’s ticking away and you know you have limited time, and the dollars are ticking away and sometimes it can get very tense, especially if you’re working when you’ve had a late night or two. So yeah, we’ve always had humor to kind of keep everything from getting tense and it’s still like that. So if we’re in the studio and Neal has an idea, we’ll try it. If I have an idea, we’ll try it you know. So Bob Ezrin is still very open to that and it kind of picks up right where we left off even though the missing ingredient is Glen Buxton.
Alexxis: Yes Glen’s involvement is missed.
Dennis: That rebellious attitude was a big part of The Alice Cooper Group even though his name isn’t on a lot of songs as a songwriter he had a lot to do with the attitude. I mean that attitude showed in everything that we did you know that was the essence of the group. So like I say he’s still in our hearts so he’s still there.
Alexxis: I’m sure he is always there in spirit and always will be!
Thank you Dennis for taking us with you on your journey in the
Alice Cooper Group!
You can purchase a copy of Dennis’s book
Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!
My adventures in the Alice Cooper Group at
Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble Book Stores or I Books