Interview: Alice Cooper on Lemmy, Raquel Welch, Elvis Presley and more...
He’s got drunk with Jim Morrison, auditioned in front of Frank Zappa, sheltered Pink Floyd, did a TV ad with Ronnie Corbett and a movie with Mae West. He's Alice Cooper.
Alice Cooper has for a long time moved in elevated show business circles. The legendary veteran shock-rocker has never been one to restrict himself to the closeted company of musicians. Indeed, one of the highlights of Alice’s career was when he was inducted into The Friars Club of Los Angeles. “It’s an exclusive society that’s reserved for comedians and people who work in mainstream entertainment. You have to be elected into it,” Alice tells Classic Rock. “I was the only rock’n’roll guy in the Friars Club. But I was totally accepted by them because they saw me as a retro character, this vaudevillian kind of guy.”
From Ronnie to Raquel, from Mae to Marc, here’s a catholic selection of recollections about the characterful personalities Alice Cooper has encountered over the years.
When I first met him back in the 70s I liked him immediately. He was a tough motorcycle type. If he’d been born in America he would’ve come from Detroit. Back then Detroit was the murder capital of the United States; there was no such thing as a nice neighbourhood. It was really rough. But it’s where I started to make a name for myself. Lemmy would’ve fit right in there.
Lemmy felt comfortable being around us. There was all this urban legend surrounding Alice Cooper, but Lemmy saw right past that. Me and the guys in the group were much more hawk than dove. We more of a gang than a band. Lemmy kind of got that. And we were hard rockers, y’know? Our lineage was The Yardbirds and The Who. That was where we came from. Throw in a bit of West Side Story and Clockwork Orange and you’ve got Alice Cooper.
People talk about my relationship with Raquel as being a boyfriend-girlfriend thing, but it was never consummated. What people forget is that Raquel wasn’t just a movie actress, she was a stage performer. She was like Ann-Margret – she could sing, dance, tell jokes. She was the full package. And of course she was beautiful. She was the Angelina Jolie of her time.
When I first met Raquel it was back when it was very trendy for movie stars to go out with rock stars. I was very complimented that she was even interested in me. But the problem was I’d just fallen in love with Sheryl [Goddard, a dancer in the Alice Cooper show, who would eventually become Mrs Cooper.] Sheryl was this little 90-pound ballerina. She wasn’t a battleship like Raquel. But I was totally smitten. When you’re in love, you’ve in love. The more I tried to move away from Raquel, the more she pursued me. Nobody ever said no to Raquel, but I just wasn’t interested. I was in love with this other girl.
Of course, any other time I would’ve been all over her. Are you kidding?! Raquel was the greatest sex-symbol bombshell on the planet. But I was in love. And that made Raquel a little bit crazy, to the point where she became obsessed. People used to say to me: “You had Raquel Welch locked in a bedroom and you didn’t do anything?” And I’d go: “Nope.” It was just one of those crazy things.
We had a house in Los Angeles. We weren’t a big deal at the time, we were just this local band called Alice Cooper. Then this group from England called Pink Floyd came over. Not many people had heard of them, but we knew all about them. We had a copy of [Floyd’s 1967 debut] The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. They were a big deal to us because they had a record out – and we didn’t.
So the Floyd came into town, ran out of money – like everyone else does in LA – and ended up staying in our house. Syd Barrett was just so out there. I’d get up in the morning and go into the kitchen, and Syd would be sitting there with a box of cornflakes in front of him. He’d be watching that box of cornflakes the way I would watch television. We’d all sit around whispering: “How can anybody get that high?” But Syd was also very bipolar. We didn’t find out until later that he was half-high, half-insane. That’s a very bad combination.
We had an audition at Gazarri’s, and Pink Floyd said they’d come down with us. They made brownies. They were totally laced, of course. I was halfway through the show, and all of a sudden I was... oooooh... errrrrr... the world went that way.
I fell off the stage, like, three times. We got the job, though. We were so whacked out that the guys at Gazarri’s said: “Okay, we’ll hire you.”
You had to be the best of the best to be in Frank’s camp. If you were a member of The Mothers Of Invention you had to be one of the top players in LA. Everything Frank did on stage was written out on sheets of music. It sounded like farts, bubbles, clicks and things, but it was all written out.
Every record company had turned Alice Cooper down. But finally The GTOs [who were signed to Straight, Zappa’s label] said they could get us an audition with Frank. We played at the Cheetah Club for 6,000 people. It was Lenny Bruce’s birthday party. We came on last and we started with a song by The Who. This was a peace and love audience, of course, and all of a sudden this horror show called Alice Cooper came on. We cleared that room in about three songs. They couldn’t get out of the door fast enough.
Don’t get me wrong, we were a pretty good band at that time. It wasn’t the music, it was the impact. We gave off an overwhelmingly bad vibe. At the end of the show, Frank turned to us and said: “I’ve got to admire anyone who can clear a room that quick. Come on over to my house at seven and play some more songs for me.”
Well, for some reason I thought he meant seven in the morning. So we set up in the basement of Frank’s log cabin and we started playing at this ungodly hour. Frank came down in his dressing gown, holding a coffee, and said: “What the hell are you doing?! I meant seven this evening.” But we had piqued his interest. He listened to some of the songs and said: “Okay, I’ll record you. Now go away.” So Frank was our first producer.
You couldn’t help but get caught up in Jim’s mystique. He was always this ethereal type of person. I remember sitting down with Jim one time. He said: “So, what’s up, man?” I replied: “Oh, I don’t know, man. I woke up this morning and got myself a beer.” And that ended up being one of the lyrics in Roadhouse Blues by The Doors.
We were in a car going up to Topanga Canyon. I was driving, and Jim and his girlfriend Pam [Courson] were in the back seat. It was all winding roads and everything. I looked back to say something to Jim, and he was gone. He’d jumped out of the car and fallen back down the hill, just for the hell of it. I stopped and yelled: “Jim?!” And a voice came back from somewhere in the distance: “I’m alright... I’m okay.” It was like something out of a Roadrunner cartoon.
The fact that Jim lived until he was 27 was a miracle. I can see how his heart gave out. He’d walk into a room, there’d be a bowl full of pills – uppers, downers, acid, you name it – and he would gobble them down the way you and I would eat M&M’s. Then he’d wash them down with whisky. I never caught him sober. But then neither was I, so we were fine together.
I did an advertisement for Sky TV with him. It was hilarious. I was cooking him gammon – with an egg on top. The funny thing is, I knew who The Two Ronnies were before I worked with him; you’d get all the British shows on cable in America. So I knew who Basil Fawlty was, and I knew who all these other characters were. When they asked me to do the commercial and said it was with Ronnie Corbett, I replied: “Oh yeah – he’s the little guy. That’ll be fine.”
Me and him being roommates was a funny idea. I can’t think of anybody more opposite me than Ronnie Corbett. When we did the commercial, all we talked about was golf. That was the one thing we had in common. Not gammon, but golf. Anybody can be a ham.
Harry Nilsson, Marc Bolan, Ringo Starr, Rick Grech
And Donovan: They called it the Billion Dollar Babies Jam. Those were the great days when people would just show up at your studio, completely unannounced. We were at Morgan Studios doing the Billion Dollar Babies album. We’d just come off of School’s Out, a hugely successful album, and we’d decided to make the follow- up in England.
Every night somebody different would turn up. Donovan was in the next studio, and one time all of our drinking buddies arrived at the same time: Harry Nilsson, Marc Bolan, Ringo Starr, Rick Grech... We did an hour-long version of Coconut (Nilsson song that ended Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs). Everybody took a verse. It was about the most vile version you could imagine. Then we did Jailhouse Rock. I’d love to hear them now, but I’m not sure they exist any more.
I know Marc Bolan played somewhere on the Billion Dollar Babies album, and I know that Keith Moon did also, but they were on different days, not that particular night. It’s all a bit of a blank, to be honest.
You have to remember that the Alice Cooper band was the scourge of rock’n’roll. Our show was weird and our image was devastatingly dark. But we were also funny. We had a sense of humour. All the old Hollywood guys got it straight away. Groucho Marx came to see us and said: “It’s vaudeville.” He was quite right. Groucho’d say things like: “Ah, yes... the guillotine. I remember The Great Guildersleeve doing the same kind of thing in Toledo in 1923.”
Groucho would bring people like Jack Benny and Fred Astaire along to see us. Fred was a big fan of our dancing skeletons. He loved that kind of stuff. One time they brought Mae West, because Mae was old vaudeville. And I ended up doing a movie with her. It was called Sextet and I played an Italian waiter. It was quite a star- studded cast: Keith Moon, Ringo Starr and George Raft were also in the film. Of course, it was just horrible. But it didn’t matter, I did a song with Mae West.
Did she come on to me? You bet she did. But then I found out she came on to everybody, you know? We ended one of our scenes, and Mae whispered to me: “Why don’t you come on back to my trailer?” I said: “Because you’re 86 years old and I’m not sure if you’re a woman or not!” But if I hadn’t have been married I would’ve gone. Definitely. Just for the experience.
Liza and I were really good friends. She was skinny, she looked great, she was a rock star. We were kind of boyfriend-girlfriend for a while. I might have been her only straight boyfriend, in fact. After me she went to all the gay guys. I don’t know why! Liza was a total, stone-cold professional. That was the great thing. I love people who are professionals. If I learned anything from the Groucho Marxes and the Fred Astaires, it was how to be a pro.
On the Muscle Of Love album  we did a song called Man With The Golden Gun. Bob Ezrin [producer] and I decided we should do a James Bond theme tune, with a view to getting it used in the next Bond movie. So I got Liza, The Pointer Sisters and Ronnie Spector together on it. We submitted it, the producers liked it, but they said: “We just signed up Lulu.” So the song ended up just being on the album. To this day I still think it’s better than Lulu’s.
I met Elvis in Las Vegas in about 1974. I was with Liza Minnelli, and we got a call from Elvis’s agent, inviting us up to Elvis’s suite at the Hilton. Actually, Elvis had taken over several floors of the place. It was like going to visit the Pope.
So Liza and I arrived at the Hilton and got in the elevator, along with Chubby Checker and Linda Lovelace. I remember thinking, three of us are going to be coming back downstairs tonight, and one person’s going to stay up there. I wonder who it’s going to be?
￼We arrived in Elvis’s suite and immediately got frisked by his minders. There was a hell of a lot of security. Then Elvis walked in and took a gun off one of the minders. The place was bristling with guns. Elvis asked me to hold the gun, and he started doing all these karate moves, demonstrating how to kick a gun out of someone’s hand. And there’s me standing there with a loaded .38, aiming it at Elvis. Part of me’s going: “Shoot him! Shoot him!” Ha-ha!
Peter Sellers saw the absurdity in Alice Cooper. And I was a big fan of his, so when he came to one of my shows it was a very big deal. It was like being in the presence of royalty. When I met Peter it was as if we had been friends all our lives. He was my soul brother. We hit it off immediately. Of course, I loved the Inspector Clouseau character. He nicknamed me Maurice Escargot, and my wife, Sheryl, was Nicole Escargot.
Peter would often phone me up in the character of Clouseau. He’d say: “’Allo? Is zis Escargot? Clouseau here. I’ll pick you up at 7.14.” I’d say: “7.14?” He’d reply: “Oui. I’m on a case. I haven’t a minute to lose.”
We’d go gambling together. We both used to carry these plastic-plunger dart guns underneath our tuxedos. Peter would walk into my hotel room, look around and say: “Escargot! You swine!” and he’d fire his dart gun at me – ping! I’d fire back at him – ping! One time I ended up with a dart stuck on the middle of my forehead. He was a good shot.
You honestly never knew when Peter was going to turn into Clouseau. I never saw that dark, depressive side of him that you read about. Peter could have been Keith Moon’s twin brother – that kind of insanity, you know?
This feature originally appeared in Classic Rock 110.