WHO: At 28 years old, Nita Strauss has already traveled a long and varied path to her current position — shredding arena stages as a guitarist in Alice Cooper‘s band. The Los Angeles native has played everything from corrosive deathcore (with As Blood Runs Black), to classic funk (with Jermaine Jackson) and symphonic-rock renditions of video-game themes (with Critical Hit). Her most visible pre-Cooper gig, however, was as a member of the Iron Maidens, a ripping all-female tribute to the British metal legends. As for her diverse résumé, she says, “A lot of being a guitarist, especially in L.A., is being in the right place at the right time. But more than anything, you have to be prepared — be better than anyone else out there, and leave no doubt with your playing.”
DOWN TO THE CROSSROADS: Strauss comes from a long line of classical musicians — an ancestor on her father’s side of the family is the composer Johann Strauss. “What’s funny about that is people always think I’m using a classical-sounding stage name, like Sebastian Bach,” she says. “But no — it’s real.” Her father bought her a guitar when she was 13, but she didn’t find her calling with the instrument until seeing the 1986 Ralph Macchio film Crossroads. “I remember watching [Steve] Vai come in, and he’s just blazing. I sat bolt upright in my living room, like, ‘Why didn’t anybody tell me you could get those sounds out of a guitar?!’ Up until then, I had been dinking away trying to play ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ But after Crossroads, it was a snowball down the hill into that whole shred world — everyone from Vai and Joe Satriani and Paul Gilbert to Marty Friedman and Jason Becker.
FUNKY TOWN: Of her many gigs, perhaps the most unusual was the short African tour Strauss embarked on with Jermaine Jackson in 2010. “I jumped into his band right after playing with As Blood Runs Black, which was a total 180,” Strauss says. Onstage with Jermaine, she and the band performed a mix of his solo material, his brother Michael’s songs, and Jackson 5 and Jacksons classics. “I learned so much about playing funk, and I also got to work indirectly with Tito and Randy [Jackson], who were great,” Strauss says. “And we were playing in these huge soccer stadiums, in places like Gambia and Senegal, where it wasn’t safe to go out unescorted. So it was a really eye-opening experience all around. But that’s the amazing thing about this job — you have the opportunity to learn at every turn.”
MONSTER MASH: When Strauss first joined up with Alice Cooper a few years back, the shock-rock legend gave her some words of advice. “He said, ‘I’ll tell you three things: You’re gonna get paid. You’re gonna see the world. And you’re gonna get stitches.'” Fortunately, despite Cooper’s famously prop-filled stage show, Strauss has yet to experience the last of those. “I’ve been accidentally hit with the whip and backhanded by the Frankenstein’s Monster, but so far no trips to the hospital,” she says. “There are definitely a lot of moving pieces on the stage, but when I played with the Iron Maidens, we had the Eddie mascot and all that stuff going on. So I tell people it’s not much different playing with Alice — the monsters are just bigger!”
SHRED AIN’T DEAD: After Alice Cooper finishes up his year-plus run as the opening act on Mötley Crüe’s Final Tour, Strauss plans to continue writing songs for an in-the-works solo album. While she hasn’t had much free time to focus on her own music, Strauss says she wouldn’t have it any other way: “I always hear people say, ‘I would have never in a million years thought that I’d be doing this.’ But what’s funny is, I kind of never in a million years thought I wouldn’t be doing this.” Furthermore, she hopes that shred guitar will one day garner the same type of attention it did back when she was just a small child. “There are definitely more guitar solos in rock and metal again,” she says. “So I’m hoping it makes a comeback. It would be nice to see a guitar player on the cover of People magazine instead of a Kardashian, you know?”