Hollywood Vampires: the unlikeliest, soberest supergroup ever?
The original Hollywood Vampires were the ultimate 70s hellraisers. Four decades on, Vampire-in-chief Alice Cooper has resurrected them with help from Joe Perry and Johnny Depp.
As we join them in LA, the trio reveal how this all-star supergroup rose from the grave, and how their exploits were informed by their predecessors.
Alice Cooper picks up a glass of beer, walks to the mic, then pauses momentarily while the packed audience takes his cue and attempt a respectful hush. “Alcohol and drugs killed a whole lot of Hollywood Vampires,” he warns, before making a toast. “This is dedicated to our Dead Drunk Friends.” Instantly the quiet is shattered by the raucous opening to the song that took its name from those dearly departed dipsomaniacs that inspired it.
It’s the second of two sold-out nights at The Roxy for the Hollywood Vampires, an all-star group centered on the unlikely trio of Alice Cooper, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, and Rock City Angels’ Johnny Depp, better known as movie star Johnny Depp. The previous night’s show marked the live debut for the band that have just released their self-titled debut album. With only two original songs, the bulk of the record is devoted to an illustrious collection of cover versions that includes Whole Lotta Love, My Generation, Jeepster and Cold Turkey. The only common denominator among the eclectic selection is that at least one of the original artists who performed them is dead. Indeed death is a central theme for the Hollywood Vampires, who took their name from a legendary group of drinkers that in the 70s frequented the Rainbow Bar & Grill, the club that is within throwing-up distance of The Roxy, on LA’s fabled Sunset Strip.
The fluid line-up of the original Hollywood Vampires included Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson, John Lennon, Mickey Dolenz, Ringo Starr and Bernie Taupin, while Alice Cooper was elected honorary president. For some of the original Vampires, the drinking that secured their membership ultimately proved fatal, while others managed to pull themselves back from the brink. Cooper was one of those who survived, and now, with the christening of this new venture inevitably conjuring up associations with the past, he recounts the origins of the group’s name.
“When you went up to The Rainbow, they put all the rock stars and actors up in this loft, and they gave us the name The Hollywood Vampires because they said: ‘We never see you during the day, and all you do is drink.’ So it’s more like we’re drinking the blood of the vine, not the blood of the vein. They put a plaque up there, ‘Roost of The Hollywood Vampires’.”
The new incarnation of the Hollywood Vampires has a very different relationship with alcohol, one symbolised poignantly when, back at The Roxy, Alice turns his glass upside down and the contents remain in it, revealing it to be a prop of the stage variety, and not the prop that real alcohol once provided him with. Cooper’s long battle with alcohol is a battle shared by his bandmates in the Hollywood Vampires; both Perry and Depp’s struggles with drink have been well chronicled.
“Well, we’re all still alcoholics,” Perry admits. “I’ve never considered myself not. I just don’t drink today. I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow. I could just as easily pick up a drink tomorrow, y’know. It’s like, the way I look at it, I have a choice every day: I can either give in to it, or not. That doesn’t go away. It’s always there.”
Looking at the present-day group as they tear up The Roxy, making a mockery of their years and demons, these Vampires couldn’t be more alive. As if the nucleus of Perry and Depp on guitars and Cooper on vocals didn’t possess enough star power, the trio are joined on stage by Matt Sorum on drums and his rhythm buddy Duff McKagan on bass, plus Tommy Henriksen on guitar and Bruce Witkin on keyboards. And while the tiny Roxy was barely able to accommodate the seven-piece line-up, it would have required the vast stage of the nearby Hollywood Bowl to fit all the musicians who make guest appearances on the album. The impressive list includes Sir Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Joe Walsh, Slash, Robby Krieger, Brian Johnson, Perry Farrell and Zak Starkey. One other artist contributes to the record, and while not a musician his association with vampires is renowned. In what was his last recording before his death, actor Sir Christopher Lee recites the album’s opening track, The Last Vampire. The record’s pedigree is enhanced by its cover artwork, created by clothing designer John Varvatos, and the eloquent liner notes by Bernie Taupin.