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.