Alice Cooper has performed with Johnny Depp several times over the past couple of years, building a friendship and musical bond at various gigs, and the shock rocker tells Rolling Stone he’s always impressed by the actor’s lack of ego.
“We see each other a lot,” Cooper says of Depp. “He’s become a close friend and collaborator. We’ve done a lot of recording together recently. He is really a very talented and cool guy. Johnny is a guy who doesn’t have to do anything; he does things because he wants to do them. It’s not about his ego.”
Last week, the duo went onstage at a benefit concert in Anaheim, California organized by guitar-maker Duesenberg, which manufactures a custom Johnny Depp instrument, as part of the musical instrument trade show NAMM. Joe Walsh also took the stage during the set but, despite the star power, Cooper says it was “very mellow” compared to last year’s Duesenberg show – which featured Depp playing with Cooper, Steven Tyler and Marilyn Manson – but it was “equally cool.”
At the Duesenberg gig, Depp’s group was billed as the “No Name Band,” Cooper’s website reports, and played a mix of original songs and covers, including the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy,” The Beatles’ “Come Together” and Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out” (audience-shot footage below).
Cooper says he first bonded with the newly married actor in 2011, when he made an appearance in the movie Dark Shadows. “I was on set talking to him, both of us in full makeup, and we talked about music,” he says. “We were in London about to do a club gig at the 100 Club and I said he should join us. He did. He came up and jammed some classic covers with us. He blew us away.” The next year, Depp joined Cooper for a gig at L.A.’s Orpheum to play Doors, Beatles and Hendrix covers, as well as three Cooper classics and a show in Phoenix for a covers set.
“Johnny has this old school rock & roll feel in his playing,” Cooper says. “It is very choosy and thoughtful. He gets in and out and avoids overplaying, which a lot of players should learn from. He’s also not a stage hog, which surprised me at first. He’s happy being up there and enjoying the music, but he never makes it about him.
“What I really love about Johnny is that when he does music, it is for fun and because he loves music,” he continues. “He was a musician first, so I think it is really close to his heart.”
Depp has been an active musician in recent years. He’s played live with Willie Nelson, the Black Keys, Aerosmith, Ryan Adams and Marilyn Manson. And, in the studio, he played guitar on Marilyn Manson’s cover of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” joined the New Basement Tapes band and appeared on a blues jam with Paul McCartney. Depp also performedbackground vocals on Aerosmith’s Music From Another Dimension tune “Freedom Fighter.”
Most recently, he appeared on Butch Walker’s new album, Afraid of Ghosts, playing guitar on a tune called “21+.” “He came in and was like, ‘I love this song,'” Walker tells Rolling Stone of the session. “It was pretty cool. I try not to think of that having any more merit than like a fan walking up to you on the street and saying, ‘Oh, my God, I love that song,’ but it’s still pretty fucking cool to have somebody like Johnny Depp go, ‘I’m so honored to play on it.’ I was like, what the fuck are you talking about? You’re high.”
Speaking to his own humility as a guitarist, Depp recently told a junket of reporters in Berlin that he found actors parlaying their fame into musical careers to be “sickening.” “The luxury now is, anybody with a certain amount of success, if you have a musical being, you can go out and start a band and capitalize on your work in other areas,” he said. “But I hate the idea, ‘Come see me play the guitar because you’ve seen me in 12 movies.’ It shouldn’t be [that way]. You want the people who are listening to the music to only be interested in the music.”
Prior to his acting debut in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, Depp played guitar in a band called the Kids, which later changed their name to Six Gun Method. A song he wrote called “Mary,” appeared on the 1988 album Young Man’s Blues by Rock City Angels. In the Nineties, he made appearances on albums by a number of artists, including Shane MacGowan, Oasis and P, among others.