Alice Cooper and Joe Perry have every right to be jaded. Each has sold millions of records and chalked up hits over several decades. But their eyes still light up when they talk about the recent adventure they shared, recording with one of their childhood heroes.
“Paul McCartney just opened up an instrument case and there’s his Hofner, left-handed bass, the most famous guitar in the world,” Cooper says, grinning. “We were standing around it like Indiana Jones looking at it, like it’s got its own light source and our faces are melting over it.”
“I asked him a question about it, and he said, ‘Here it is. It’s OK. Pick it up,'” the Aerosmith guitarist beams. “I actually got a chance to hold it, and it was like the Holy Grail.”
“Paul says, ‘It’s just a piece of wood,’ and starts playing it and I said, ‘Holy crap!'” Cooper rejoins in his typically confident manner. “To us, that bass a symbol of how we started.”
The rockers have been thinking a lot about how they got started in recent years, while they worked on the debut album by Hollywood Vampires, a supergroup they formed with Johnny Depp (yes, that Johnny Depp). Although the record contains two urgent-sounding bloodthirsty originals — three, if you count the intro, in which late horror icon Christopher Lee recites a passage from Dracula — the heart of it is a collection of gritty, hard-edged covers of songs by the trio’s peers and inspirations: the Who, Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and more. McCartney happened to stop by Depp’s house, where they were recording, to sing a tune he wrote for Badfinger in 1969, “Come and Get It,” and the album — out September 11th — also features guest appearances by Joe Walsh, AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, Dave Grohl, Slash and Perry Farrell, among many others. What they all have in common is a set of musical roots.
“We were both the same age when we started playing,” the 67-year-old, perennially black-clad and surprisingly perky shock-rocker says, gesturing at Perry, who is three years his junior and looks relaxed with a loose, white scarf around his neck. The musicians are sitting on a couch overlooking Manhattan and, though it’s the decidedly un-vampiric hour of 9 a.m., both are sprightly and eager to parse just how all the parts of the project fell into place. “We learned the first two Stones albums, the first two Yardbirds albums, the Kinks,” the singer continues. “That’s how we learned to play and then we invented Alice Cooper and you invented what Aerosmith was going to be from that. Now, when we’re doing these songs, it comes pretty easy.”
It also came easy for Depp, age 52, who met Cooper in 2011 on the London set of Dark Shadows, the Tim Burton–directed movie in which the actor portrayed (presciently) a vampire and Cooper played another famous fictional villain: himself. When they got to talking, they realized they had more in common than was apparent, namely a love of British Invasion bands and the blues.