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Alice Cooper Leading Twilight Rockers On the Radio

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Radio: the last refuge of superannuating rockers. Cleveland’s Michael Stanley gave up trying to make a living from his music, surrendered to his local legend status, and went to work for Cleveland classic rock station WNCX 15 years ago; the afternoon drive shift affords him a secure, cushy platform from which to foray out to semi-regular performances and occasional recording.

Former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth’s syndicated morning show — which just started in January as one of Infinity Broadcasting (now CBS Radio) replacements for Howard Stern’s departed morning cash cow — is apparently not as secure as Stanley’s, as it was announced over the weekend that Roth was taking this week off from his show after less than two months on the job. Hmm.

And of course Little Steven rocks his syndicated Underground Garage show from across the nation on a weekly basis. But the really big rockstar-on-the-radio success story is Alice Cooper’s nationally syndicated show, imaginatively entitled “Nights with Alice Cooper,” which airs “5 hours a night, 5 days a week” on over 60 stations from coast to coast, showcasing, um, classic rock, anecdotes from Cooper’s 35 years as a rock icon, interviews, “OffBEAT News” with his accomplice/dominatrix Mistress Kitty, assorted other features and whatnot.

Here’s tonight menu:

Celebrate the last day of February by listening to Nights With Alice Cooper! Coop serves up a mini-tribute to Brian Jones of the Stones, a cool cover from Styx, DOUBLE shots of your favorite bands, AND of course a very special closet classic from his vault of amazing music! Then… drum roll please- it’s a brand-new interview with Ozzy Osbourne! Yes, Ozzy spills the beans on his ‘Rasputin’ musical and encounter with Yoko Ono, and he may even snort a line of ants on the air! Then there’s a tasty Tuesday Bluesday tune, lots of listener EMAIL requests and much, much more tasty rock goodness. Don’t miss the Nights With Alice Cooper’s titillating Tuesday night meltdown, right here tonight!

Cooper adds Philadelphia’s classic rocker WMGK to his nightly nightmare Thursday, March 2 (fans of the shock rocker can welcome him to Philadelphia Thursday from 1:00pm to 3:00pm at Chickie’s & Pete’s in South Philadelphia). The show debuted just over two years ago on KDKB-FM, Phoenix, and is syndicated by United Stations Radio Networks.

It’s a fun show and Cooper does still perform and record nimbly at a spry 58, but it’s a far cry from the madness that was Alice Cooper — band and man — 35 years ago. In 1970, Shep Gordon, who managed Alice Cooper, was wandering the streets of Toronto, killing time as he awaited the arrival of funds to pay the band’s hotel bill after the Strawberry Fields Festival. His wanderings led him to the door of Nimbus 9 productions, producers of the Guess Who, and an epiphany: What Alice Cooper needed to break through to the big time was THE GUESS WHO SOUND.

According to Bob Ezrin, “Gordon plunked down the band’s first two albums and pictures of these five ‘things’ of indeterminate gender and announced his intentions. Jack and his partners were these straight Canadians in their forties who surely wanted nothing to do with this ‘Alice’ person.”

However, Gordon was persistent, and finally Richardson foisted the whole thing onto “the kid,” Ezrin. A decision was made to send Ezrin to see the band, and if he liked them, then Richardson would get involved.

Soon, a trip was set up for Ezrin to go to New York to see a few acts, including Alice Cooper at Max’s Kansas City.

In the city, Ezrin “followed the searchlights to the club, and suddenly I was in this dark den of spandex, spider eyes and black fingernails. I had never seen anything like it in my life,” he relates. A table was reserved for him in front of the stage.

“Suddenly,” he continues, “a breeze blew past my cheek, then three loud ‘whacks’ on the stage followed by an orange light each time. Then Alice launched into ‘Sun Arise’ no further than two feet from my face. With his eyes wide open, and his lips widely parted, and his red red gums, and his white white teeth, and his black black mouth and eyes, I thought I was in hell.

“I watched the show with my jaw on the table. Then my friend said, ‘What the fuck was that?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but I loved it.”

Hyped on the show and the alien atmosphere, Ezrin bounded up the stairs to the dressing room, and with a big grin on his face, announced, “We’ll do it!” Rather presumptuous, considering that Ezrin was a glorified coffee boy at the time.

He continues, “The material was almost there, and my favorite song was ‘I’m Edgy,’ which Alice kindly told me was, in fact, ‘I’m Eighteen.’ ‘Even better,’ I said. The band was terrible but wonderful. It wasn’t about ‘being good,’ it was about ‘being.’ It was the complete integration of the point of view and the personality into the presentation. They were the songs – the antics – the theatricality: they were Alice Cooper. In a world of t-shirts, jeans and beards, they were so refreshing and energizing.”

Ezrin flew back to Toronto the next day, rehearsing his speech the whole way: “This isn’t just about music, but a cultural movement. The whole building was full of people who looked like them and knew the words to the songs which weren’t even out on record yet.”

After hours of discussion, ranging from the rational to abject pleading, Ezrin finally wore down Richardson, who said: “If you like them so damn much, you do it.” Thus began, at 21, Ezrin’s production career.

He produced Cooper’s classic Love It To Death album, with the aforementioned “I’m Eighteen” – a deeply perceptive look at the ambiguities of young adulthood (“I’ve got a baby’s brain and an old man’s heart”) – and the rocking “Long Way to Go” and “Black Juju.” Shep Gordon never did get Alice THE GUESS WHO SOUND, and it’s a damn good thing.

Ezrin and the original Alice Cooper band (Alice, guitarists Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton, bassist Dennis Dunaway, and drummer Neal Smith) delivered two more stunners in a row: Killer (with “Under My Wheels”) and School’s Out, which soared to No. 2, with the great title track reaching No. 7.

These three albums conveyed danger and mystery – who was this guy with a girl’s name who chopped up babies, cuddled with his boa constrictor, and hung himself onstage? – yet delivered tuneful hard rock with a raw edge that appealed to fans of everyone from the Stones, to Aerosmith, to the New York Dolls.

The band’s greatness is evidenced by the influence it had on near-diametric opposites: the nascent punk movement, and hair-metal bands.

The original band was together for two more good, but not great albums (Billion Dollar Babies, Muscle of Love), and then Alice left them for a “better” band (Lou Reed’s Rock and Roll Animal band, with Steve Hunter on guitar). By then, it was no longer about “being,” but about “being good,” and that is something else entirely.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://101strings.blogspot.com/ Barry Stoller

    Nicely put.

  • Vern Halen

    Y’know, Alice never got the Guess Who sound, but the recordings of both those bands still hold up today without sounding grossly dated: no primitive synths, disco stylings, or eunuch rooster backing vocals. Hats off to both Ezrin & Richardson for their restraint.

  • Sharon

    The most interestingly written Cooper history lesson that I’ve read in a very long time. Well done!

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks very much Barry, Vern, and Sharon – I was just listening to the reissue of the Guess Who’s greatest hits and agree it holds up very well also: lean, melodic, sometimes even biting pop-rock with a great singer and assertive guitarist.

    But Alice was something else entirely!

  • Tina Long

    I love Alice Cooper and he still puts out some pretty good music.

  • Eric Olsen

    my friend’s wife won’t listen to anything BUT Alice Cooper, even now – talk about brand loyalty

  • Carolyn Hercik

    I am the wife of a friend that Eric mentions. Alice has been my band for 33 years. I do listen to other music but I still love Alice the best. We moved from Cleveland to Nashville recently and can not get the radio show, so Eric, please keep me up to date, you have my email– Thanks and remember–don’t count your carp before they hatch!

  • Eric Olsen

    aah, sorry I spelled your name wrong in the email Carolyn, was in a huge hurry! They need to get the show on in Nashville!

  • http://www.markbellinghaus.com/ Mark Bellinghaus

    Thank you for the interesting look behind the scene, Eric! I still see my older sister rockin’ to the sound of Alice Cooper, or KISS for that matter.
    Just let me try to analyze his name: We have a very interesting fact – a suggestion of stardom; great choice for a name! (Alice- as of in Wonderland) and Cooper- as of Garry Cooper, one of the biggest Hollywood Star’s of the early generation! What a great mix. And as KISS, Alice Cooper is still busy – just went on his website! If he sucked, I think he would have been gone for a long time. But I bet he will remain in Rock-history forever! When I grew up, I heard that name, and thought is it a woman? Alice? Wonder if the same is happening with kids these days, when they hear the name Marilyn Manson…!
    Funny, how things repeat itself.
    Keep on rockin, Alice- the world of Techno and Trance should remember that there is eternal talent. Created and performed by a human. His make-up rides along with his age and it does not bother at all. Alice Cooper is ageless and will remain so, at least for the next decade. Wonderful.

    I have my serious doubts, that “Marilyn Manson” would have made his career the same way as he did, with his birthname: “Brian Warner”?! That sounds just too friendly and nice! Despite his controvercy and huge success, even for the upgrowing generation; “MM” will most likely forever remain as the short for MARILYN MONROE, not Manson, or a rapper, who even received an Oscar, and simply wrote his two M’s into: Eminem! Marilyn never got an Oscar. She was simply snubbed by the Academy. But I bet, if Alice Cooper continues and records the right song, he will get a shot at one. He certainly would deserve one, not only for his body of work!But unfortunately the Oscars have become, or always have been very “political” indeed.

  • crug

    alice, dude play some crack the sky, remember?