From blasting "Schools Out" during my teenage wasteland days to jamming out to the chugging guitar in "Under My Wheels" in my office, Alice Cooper has always played a prominent position in my heavy metal playlist.
Not only did he help shape the sound and look of heavy metal with his horror and vaudeville imagery as rock and roll's first villain. By the time Cooper was 18, it was the sexual revolution and Vietnam, and the band's best friends were The Mothers of Invention, The Doors and Jimi Hendrix.
He toured with Pink Floyd and once awoke to find Syd Barrett staring at a box of corn flakes like he was watching television, laughing, to which the shock-rocker comments: "He was a paranoid schizophrenic. Add acid to the mix and you get a much deeper problem."
Alice Cooper needs little introduction, whether you're 16 or 60. Around the Valley of the Sun, that's especially true. A golf enthusiast, you're likely as not to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer out on one of his favorite courses, Legend Trail or Renegades Desert Mountain, when he's not touring. Hell, we even go to the same dentist.
But the rock legend still has some stuff he wants to do--and prove. He wishes he learned to play guitar, or piano, and he once pretended to decapitate "Britney Spears" (portrayed by his own daughter) in a home video because she represented "the softening of rock and roll." In 2011, he released Welcome 2 My Nightmare -- a sequel to 1975's chart-topping concept album Welcome To My Nightmare -- to some of his best reviews in years from critics and fans. He also thinks that there's a chance his story may hit the big stage one day.
"Alice Cooper is almost destined to end up on Broadway," he laughs. "There's so much music and so much of a story involved of how I started," he laughs. "A little band from Phoenix ended up being the biggest shock-rock band in the world, and changing the face of rock and roll."
And every year for the past decade around Christmas, he throws a bash full of rock stars that raises more than $100,000 for at-risk teens. Called Christmas Pudding, it's a variety show that showcases comedy, music and dance. This holiday season Cooper will be in good company when he's joined for the 13th annual Christmas Pudding by many of rock and roll's biggest stars, including Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Tommy Thayer, and Eric Singer of KISS, Joan Jett, Rob Zombie, Vince Neil of Motley Crue, Stephen Pearcy of RATT, Tom Keifer of Cinderella, Kip Winger of Winger, and more.
"Although I have played more than 100 shows this year, Pudding is the one I look forward to most," said Cooper. "We love bringing people together for Christmas, for the sake of music and dance and the mission of Solid Rock."
Cooper's philanthropic ventures in the Valley all started when he and Chuck Savale established the Solid Rock Foundation in 1995 to fund music and arts programs for at-risk youth. Christmas Pudding was put into effect to fund raise enough money to one day open up a center of their own. And in May 2012 they finally achieved that goal when they opened the Rock Teen Center.
The 22,000-square-foot Rock Teen Center offers teens an outlet for teens' creativity and gets them off the streets. It encompasses an auditorium, dance studio, and music rooms full of guitars and amps donated by longtime corporate partner Fender. When completed, the Center is expected to expand to 60,000 square feet with the proposed addition of a gym and indoor skate park. In Cooper's mind, the best way to get teens off the streets is to put a guitar in their hands, teach them how to play and get them into a band.
"We say 'give me your 9-millimeter and we'll give you a guitar,'" says the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. "I think that's a fair trade."
Up On The Sun talked to Alice Cooper about some of the Teen Center's success stories, his upcoming album, why modern rock and roll lacks attitude, and the first girl to ever join his band. So the Rock Teen Center opened in spring of 2012, and that was the building that inspired you to launch the annual Christmas Pudding in 2001. Tell me a bit about that inspiration. We started Solid Rock in the late '90s really, putting it together. We were a foundation so we would raise money and then give it to organizations that worked with teens, whether it was for eating disorders or anything that had to do with teenagers. But then we decided, well, we always wanted to open our own place, which would be our own teen center. It would be dedicated to teaching music and all the arts--for free.
In other words, why not let every teenager come in who wants to learn guitar, bass, drums--my wife teaches jazz and ballet--and everything is free. All they have to do is show up and decide they want to learn something. Fender gave us all the guitars we wanted, all the basses. Again, my idea with this is, when I'm down on the West side and I look at a corner, I can tell if those people are sitting there selling drugs. These teenage kids. And I think to myself, how does that kid right there know or not if he's the best guitar player in town? Because he's never picked up a guitar. He's never had that opportunity to actually pick up a guitar or sit behind a set of drums or pick up a bass.
So what you do is, you say, I challenge you. Come on in, and once you learn five or six chords you can play just about any rock and roll with that. Look, a band is a gang, you know? The only difference is you aren't getting shot at or going to jail. I understand the idea of a gang. If you don't have a family, a gang is your family and I get that. They got your back.
But when kids come to the Rock they can feel more comfortable there than they do at home. They feel safer there. A lot of these kids have some rough family life, but really we're just there to be there for them. To give them an alternative to selling drugs, going to jail, getting shot, you know; why not put all that energy into music? We average about 100 kids in there a day. There are kids whose whole lives have been changed, and we like to think that their future will hold something other than jail or getting shot at.
And Christmas Pudding was originally started just to save that money to open up the Teen Center. You know, with Christmas Pudding it was like, where do we start on this? You know, I'm not a teacher, but I have a great rolodex. If I do a Christmas show I can go through that rolodex and call different people and they will show up and do a few songs. When you get Alice Cooper, KISS, Rob Zombie, Dee Snider, Joan Jett, Vince Neil, Stephen Pearcy all on one stage in one night? That should pretty much pack the place.
And every year, all the performers perform for free as their contribution to the cause, correct? Yes. Normally we bring the whole band in and then it's a five hour show, because you have to break down the equipment, and during that time we had comedians and different stuff going on. But this year we decided we're having one band that knows everybody's songs. So we just bring in Rob Zombie, not his entire band. We bring in Paul and Gene from KISS. I mean, the whole band can come if they want.
I will be performing with this band called Hairball. They literally do everybody's songs exactly how they are on the record. So Vince Neil will do two or three Motley Crue songs, then when he's done, Rob Zombie will go up and do three or four songs. So we're just putting in the lead singer and it's a lot faster way to do it.
I love having, like, Rob Zombie and somebody who is absolute opposite of Rob Zombie up there. It's fun to watch people who should never play together be together on stage. Glenn Campbell and... the guys from Twisted Sister. It's insane combinations of people. But it's a Christmas party with all headliners.
And it is going to expand from its current 22,000 square feet, with an auditorium, dance studio and music room, to 60,000 square feet? Right now it's music rooms and a big rec room where they can play ping pong or just hang out. It's a safe place to hang out, where there's not going to be bad stuff around. The kids just sit around and talk. There are even three or four bands organized within Solid Rock. It's great.
A lot of them go, what's the catch? But there's no catch you just have to want to learn. Show up and it's free. The more you learn how to play the more you'll want to come back. How can other local supporters get involved and participate in Solid Rock and the Rock Teen Center, or help support it? Well, any more it's all about the network. You know, that's just how the world is right now. It's all based on networking. So we might go to someone and say, hey we want to put in a dance floor here, can you help us? Or a basketball court, do you know anyone at the Suns who would give us a deal on the flooring or the baskets?
As a charity we want to get as many things donated as possible. If you called up Solid Rock and asked what our needs were right now, we might say, hey, we're gonna paint the entire 20,000 square feet. Do you know anyone who could give us a deal on paint? And then that company might say they will do it for free. I mean, it just takes time but we want to grow it and make it 100,000 square feet and fit 500 kids a day.
Christmas Pudding is a local music scene tradition. What is your family tradition for the holiday at home? We are as traditional as you can imagine. I always say that our family you could never do a reality show of us because we're not exciting enough--We're more like Ozzie Nelson than Ozzy Osbourne. [Laughs]
It's just one of those things where I'm from the Midwest, all my kids come in at Christmas, it takes us probably three hours to open the presents because we just overdo it so much. If you don't have 50 presents under the tree there's a problem. And then after we do that we got on a plane and go to Maui.
My manager lives there on the beach, so we go there for a month because it's generally right after my tour is over. Of course, my kids are all working now, so they can go for a week or so but then they have to get back.
And you're currently working on a new covers album that will be out in 2014? Tell me a bit about that I've never been so far ahead but my covers album is actually finished already and it'll be out this spring. It's very unusually for me to be that far ahead. Here was my idea. I've never done a covers album, so I figured if I was going to do this material, I wanted it to be specific to a theme. So I used to have this drinking club called the Hollywood Vampires when I used to drink back in L.A. And it was John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix, and all the usual suspects.
Keith Moon, Harry Nelson?, Jim Morrison (early, early on.) And what I decided to do was dedicate the album to all my dead drunk friends. But as I was adding them up I realized how many really great rock artists there were that died that I used to drink with. So it's basically an album dedicated to all my dead drunk friends. The authority behind it is the fact that I can say I actually got drunk with every one of these people. Laughter.
Orianthi is your lead guitarist, and the first female member of your band ever. How did you choose her to come on board? Oh yeah, she has been with me about two years now. She is absolutely amazing. She is one of the great guitar players out there, and she's a true lead guitar player. When she picks a lead you know you heard a lead. Every night people walk away asking who was that guitar player?
How do you feel about the current state of heavy metal? Well heavy metal doesn't change much. It stays pretty much to what it is. The state of rock on the other hand, I've been saying is fairly anemic. There's just not enough good hard rock bands around. Where are the new Guns n Roses? To me, the Foo Fighters are probably the best band out there in hard rock. Slash's band is a great band for hard rock. Or Chickenfoot. But there's not a lot of young rock bands out there, that are trying to be Aerosmith or... you know, my son's band is a very good band. Co-op. They are a hard rock band. And I told them if they ever go acoustic I'm just going to shoot them.
When we last had an interview with the New Times, it was in 2011. You said you created Alice Cooper because you thought rock n roll needed a villain. If you had to choose a current musical act that may embody that now, who would it be? Well, I think you've got...Rob Zombie is certainly a villain to a point. And there's certain guys out there, like Marilyn, of course is always a classic villain at this point. Slipknot dips into that. Even Black Veil Brides are kind of villainous. But when I created Alice I wanted him to be a character, I wanted him to be something that when in 20, 30 years when I'm not around doing Alice Cooper, someone else is doing Alice Cooper. Like Zoro. If the original is not around you can still play the character.
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Well and nowadays it's hard for anyone to do different things in music because it's mostly been done. It is, it is. I would just love to see some young band come up and just play hard rock with attitude. Rock and roll has to have a certain amount of attitude. It has to be a little sleazy, and low-slung guitars. I've just seen so many people who are so politically correct. I've always said I'm not politically correct, I'm politically incoherent.