In his more than 40-year career, Alice Cooper has accomplished almost everything, from hit singles and sold-out tours to landing in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. But there is one thing he regrets: Giving up the guitar.
Now he’s trying to help others avoid the same mistake by taking on the role of a therapist for Quitter’s Anonymous, a new program set up by Fretlight guitars. In the satirical spots, the first of which premieres here, Cooper talks about his favorite guitarists, including Jeff Beck and George Harrison.
And in this wide-ranging interview, Cooper speaks to Rolling Stone about his admiration for recently departed Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, separating the character of Alice Cooper from real life, the traits he instilled in disciples like Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson and his upcoming tour with Manson.
How is the covers record we spoke about in March going?
We’re about halfway through the record. The tour is sort of in the way, but that’s okay, because we don’t need to put the record out until next year. I always tour June through December anyway, so we knew that was coming anyway, and this is one of those records we’re doing just for the fun of it, so if it comes out next year, no big deal. But the tour is interesting. I toured with Zombie the year before and with Iron Maiden and now with Manson. It’s sort of like Dracula meets the Werewolf meets Frankenstein.
Ray was, I think, 75 percent of what the Doors sound was; he was such a unique keyboard player. And I was never a big fan of keyboards ever, at all, but all of a sudden I went, “This guy is really different. Nobody plays like this.” When I first heard the keyboards on “Light My Fire,” the long version, “Riders On The Storm,” things like that, I just went, “Wow, it’s jazz, but I like it.”
Have you had a chance to hang out more with Manson since we spoke?
I saw him at the Revolver Golden Gods Awards and then I had him on my radio show, so yeah we’re feeling each other out. We have a lot in common, stuff that other people wouldn’t have in common in the fact that we both play characters. We both created a couple of monster characters and then what we kind of talked about on my radio show is how do you deal with that character against your real life? And sometimes that character being the fact that it’s so overpowering, does it ever take over? For me, I’ve had a lot more time to work with Alice, so I know when to be Alice and when not to be Alice. I just told him it’s very hard to maintain a character 24 hours a day and there may come a time when you have to divorce yourself from the character just so you’ll like the character.
Did you give him advice on it then?
He’s very smart, he’s got very good insight. We were talking about why we created the characters, what was the idea behind it. My idea was that rock needed a consummate villain and I would be more than happy to create that villain. I thought I had to be that character all the time and it nearly killed me. I’m trying to drink with Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix and those guys, and they’re professionals, and I’m like 18 years old, it nearly killed me. That’s when I realized I have to allow myself to be me and then I really appreciate playing the character of Alice. I don’t know how long you can maintain one character 24 hours a day without having some kind of a break.
My guess is you probably would start to lose your identity.
Yeah, but again, that’s just something you have to learn. I didn’t know my limitations until I got to the point where I got to a near-death experience and then I started going, “Wait, now I know where Alice ends and I begin.” It’s one of the only things I can give him advice on, cause we and Rob Zombie are three of the people that created characters we had to deal with, our bigger-than-life mythological character. And me being that character for 40 years gave me a little more insight into it. I might handle it differently than they do, but I can at least show them where the thin ice is.
You know you’ve influenced these artists as well, so it’s interesting; you’re hearing your stuff interpreted through their eyes.
I think the difference is that my background is Yardbirds, the Who, Rolling Stones, West Side Story and Creature From The Black Lagoon, that’s my background. I come from that blues-rock and then I put my own twist on it and my own Twilight Zone twist on it, whereas these guys, Zombie and Marilyn, both come from a more industrial kind of music, much more from a techno background. When you saw Alice and Zombie, that was a very classic kind of show. Alice was pure hard rock, classic rock, lots of hits and then lots of Vaudevillian show biz, whereas Zombie was just all techno and in your face kind of theatrics. That was great. It was all video and this and that, and I sat there and watched his show and went, “This is great.” I love the way he used technology, whereas my show is much more handmade. So you get two entirely different kinds of monsters in that show. I have a feeling it’s going to be more like that with Manson also. I think Manson is also going to have more of a techno version, he is more of a techno monster than Alice, whereas Alice is more cerebral I think. These guys were influenced by Alice’s attitude and Alice’s persona whereas they weren’t as influenced by my music. Trent Reznor’s music probably influenced them more and I totally get that idea. When you see a Marilyn and a Zombie and an Alice – when you get in front of the audience, it’s in your face, it’s not shy: It’s attack the audience. Don’t just go out there and be this character, but attack the audience with that character, and that’s what I see in those guys. What I contributed to them is probably the attitude of take no-prisoners-showmanship.
Since we are talking advice, let’s move to your role with Fretlight and Quitter’s Anonymous. What would Dr. Alice Cooper say?
This is something I wish I really had taken my own advice on. I started playing guitar when I was like twenty, twenty-one and I was in a band where I had two guitars that were just great and it really didn’t matter to me, I really was a non-existent force in the guitar world. I could sit and chord and write songs, but I couldn’t start to pick up Glen Buxton’s guitar or Mike Bruce’s guitar, because they were both accomplished guitarists and then I surrounded myself with great guitar players, Kane Roberts and Damon Johnson and Orianthi now. I’ve always totally surrounded myself with really accomplished guitarists, there was no reason for me to play. So I wish I would’ve continued on guitar, but I spent much more time on the lyrics and the character. So, to me, I was a bit of a quitter. But this Quitter’s [Anonymous] thing is me playing the therapist talking to a guy and I’m saying, “So, you play around with guitars and you told your girlfriend that you’re a guitar player?” He’s like, “Yeah.” And I say, “Well, you’re probably trying to write love songs and you can’t write a love song without a guitar.” So I’m really embarrassing him into playing guitar again [laughs]. And all of the characters coming in are people that started playing and quit playing for one reason or another, and me being just so sarcastic and cynical about them getting back into guitar.
How did you hook up with Quitter’s Anonymous?
They’re fans, and I’m looking at the idea that when you hit the chord, it lights up and it’s the right chord. I’m going, “Aha, here’s this guitar that can help me learn to play guitar.” Anything that can help me be a better player, then yeah, I’m all over that. And then when they said they’d like me to represent it I said, “Well, let me see this thing.” We brought it down backstage, everybody was playing with it and looked at it, and we gave it the cool thumbs up and if my guitar players are giving it the cool thumb’s up then I’m going, “Okay.”
What will you be doing in the future with them? How many video spots?
I’ve done about eight of them so far, and we try to keep them very funny and make sure they have my sense of humor. So it’s great that they’re working with me on this and at the same time I’m not techno at all, but even this is easy. If it’s easy for me then a person that knows how to work their computer and all the other stuff that I don’t know how to do can work this guitar, anybody can. As far as I’m concerned, when you get a technology like this, it’s only going forward, I can see it getting more and more advanced.