There’s a break in rehearsals for the Hollywood Vampires — a band made up, as singer Alice Cooper says, of men who’ve all had near-death experiences. The group recently released its self-titled debut, a blast of classic-rock karaoke featuring covers of “My Generation,” “Manic Depression” and an un-reinvented “Whole Lotta Love,” not to mention a “School’s Out”/”Another Brick in the Wall” medley. Now the band is in a Burbank warehouse, getting ready to play its first shows.
Cooper, looking gothic-casual in a black T-shirt and black jeans, gives his longtime manager Shep Gordon a big hug. Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry’s dark-copper-colored chest is covered in puka shells, and he’s mumbling something about working as a janitor in a synagogue. Natural hair color seems largely absent. Drummer Matt Sorum and bassist Duff McKagan — Guns N’ Roses’ old rhythm section — are having a laugh as a dude in a bandana, baggy jeans and black boots listens respectfully. That would be Johnny Depp, the group’s surprisingly adept second guitarist.
Things have been going well today, but now producer Bob Ezrin walks over and shakes his head. The Vampires’ set runs 44 minutes, but they’re supposed to play for an hour. Cooper suggests they pad out the set with “Brown Sugar.” Depp launches into an impeccable Keith Richards imitation, and the song reaches a joyous crescendo as Depp and Perry trade licks.
Ezrin applauds and tells the band to take a short break. Sorum talks to a hanger-on about how he used to keep it together during shows by sweating the booze out onstage. “When I was in GNR with Slash and Duff and everyone, I gauged my alcoholism on their drinking,” Sorum says. “They drank all day. I always started at happy hour. I would kind of ease into the gig. So I’m like, ‘I’m not an alcoholic.'”
Depp and Cooper met on the set of Depp’s 2012 film Dark Shadows. Hollywood Vampires started with the idea of recording a covers album, giving them an excuse to fool around in the actor’s well-appointed studio (“He has the best guitar collection I’ve seen,” says Perry). The band took its name from a 1970s L.A. drinking collective that included Cooper, Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson and guest stars like John Lennon and Ringo Starr. Eventually, the new Hollywood Vampires cut an album, with a number of tracks paying tribute to rock greats who drank or drugged themselves to death — Moon, John Bonham, Jim Morrison — some of whom were friends of Cooper. (Cooper himself quit drinking in the 1980s after his doctor told him he could either stop or join his friends in the hereafter.)
Recalling all those ghosts might’ve been a melancholy experience for Cooper, but he shrugs off that suggestion. “These are historical characters,” he says. “When you’re talking about a John Lennon, that goes beyond being a guy you drank with and into Abraham Lincoln. You’re over the sadness of it, and you’re now going, ‘All right, if John were here, what would he do?'”