heavy metal

Alice Cooper Interview With Neal Smith

The Gauntlet: Hey Neal, How's it going?

Neal Smith: Good now that the storm has moved on.

The Gauntlet: Yeah, I think we have it now. You have been involved in music for most of your life now, even after Alice Cooper.

Neal: Off and on, but yeah. Mike, Dennis and I put together the ‘Babies’ and recorded the Battleaxe album which is going to be legally and licensed as a CD this year. I did some recordings with the Plasmatics on their second album. In the 80’s I was mostly playing with friends bands. At the end of the 80’s, Dennis Dunaway, Michael Bouchard [Blue Oyester Cult] and I hooked up with Charlie Hughes from Ted Nugent's band put a band together called Dead Ringer. That album was released in the late 80's. There was a period of about seven years in the nineties I didn’t really do anything musically. I was always writing, but I really wasn’t doing any public appearances. I think it was 1997 when Michael Bruce called me and he and Glenn Buxton were getting together in Houston Texas. We invited Dennis, but he was having some health issues at the time and couldn’t make it. We invited Richie Scarlet who came down and played bass. That was October of 1997. We were together for a couple weeks and it was great as it had been a long time since we played together. We simulcasted the show on some big rock station out there. It was a lot of fun to do. We also did a big showcase at a club in town. A week later I was out golfing and and I had a pager at the time. It went off and it was a call from Alice [Cooper] and then again one from Glenn’s sister. Glenn’s sister informed me that Glenn had passed away the night before. I couldn’t believe it as I was just with him less that a week before. I was shocked as hell and still pretty damn sad. That was in 1997. It was after that that I thought for the fans I’d get out their a little more. Last year, Alice [Cooper] joined us at a monster convention and we all got together and had a great weekend. We didn’t play but signed a lot of stuff together. I had continually been into it.

The Gauntlet: With some of the new material, you are now singing.

Neal: Michael Bruce sang on a few of the first albums we did with Frank Zappa. On “Love It To Death” I wrote a song called “Hallowed Be My Name” and tried to sing it but it just wasn’t happening. It wasn't right and Alice did a better job on it so we just scratched it. From then on Alice handled all the lead vocals but we all sang background vocals. I did have a band for a very short period of time where I was the lead singer of a group called The Nazz. This group later morphed into Alice Cooper. When Alice did "Welcome to my Nightmare", we took the year off. Michael did a solo album and I did the album called “Platinum God” which was produced by Jack Douglas [Aerosmith]. Dennis helped me by playing bass. We did that project and I sang those songs but I didn’t release it until the late 90’s. It is on CD Baby now. Two years ago, I released my latest project. I was listening to a lot of industrial metal in the late nineties and loved it. I came up with this character called Killsmith and the album is called “Sexual Savior”. The next album I am experimenting with other singers. I will sing the choruses though. I am having a lot of fun with it. It is definitely not classic rock. I should have the new album ready by the end of the year. At this point in my life I am not going with any trends. I just play to make me happy. If fans like it, great. If they don’t, I really don’t give a shit.

The Gauntlet: What industrial metal were you listening to?

Neal: I was listening to Pigface, Tapping the Vein from Philadelphia. They are a heavy band with huge hooks. Another band called Shirley Temple of Doom. they are a trio and I think from Texas. I saw them at CBGB in New York before it closed. Of course I listened to Rammstein from Germany. I like their music a lot. I like their music and approach. They stay true to their nationality and speak German in the songs which gives them a unique sound. I also like King’s X. Nothing you hear on American Idol, which I fucking hate. There is a place for everything. There is a place for Mariah Carey, but not everyone should sound like her. My favorite singers are Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, and Jim Morrison. None of these guys would have made it on that show. People say what they want, but I think American Idol is a talent killer. I have my doubts that anyone who comes out of American Idol will ever make the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. It is not impossible I guess as people are discovered in many different ways. These people are put into a mold to begin with. Everyone has that warmly falsetto commercial voice. It is not my thing at all. There are a lot of styles out there. I love musicians though. I love how Hendrix could do what he did and sing and play his guitar. I saw and hung out with him several times and got to know him pretty well. He was just amazing. He had an amazing personality and was an amazing musician. He hated his own voice, but it fit perfect for what he was doing. It was amazing he found those three people to put them together. Back in the day, the sound quality at shows was dismal. Everyone just used a vocal microphone for everything. It changed pretty rapidly and they started using more sophisticated mics. By the mid seventies, things changed and the sound grew very rapidly.

The Gauntlet: There is something to say about songwriting and from what I know, American Idol winners are basically singing someone else’s feeling and emotions and they are detached.

Neal: You bring up a good point. The true super stars and true groups that deserve to be in the Hall of Fame are the triple crown of talent. The triple crown of talent is to be a master of your instrument, a great showman, and to write your own material. My interest in The Nazz before we became Alice Cooper was...this is in late 1967. We were all great buddies. I was already starting to write songs. But the great thing about them and what I was the most excited about was they were playing all original material. A lot of that ended up on the early Zappa albums, “Pretties for You” and “Easy Action”. By the time we got to “Love It to Death” and “Killer”, it was all brand new stuff and we were writing together. It was really at that time pure Alice Cooper. You hit the nail on the head though, songwriting is key. Otherwise you should just be a studio musician. As good as the guys are that play with Alice, it is still not the same when we were all together. It’s a big difference.

The Gauntlet: I have only been to one Alice Cooper show. I noticed some short cuts and little differences in the drumming department when it came to some songs like “Billion Dollar Babies.”

Neal: Little difference my ass! Nobody has been able to play that god damn song right. Eric Singer does an abortion of most of my stuff. He does a good job of getting to the song. I wouldn’t want that job of playing my stuff. It is a tough song though to play. Part of my routine in rehearsals is playing Billion Dollar babies. I had to literally relearn the song and look at it from a different perspective. It is a tough song. There are some songs that Jon Bonham plays that I can’t get the feel for and a lot of drummers tell me the same about Billion Dollar Babies. There are a lot of natural rhythms and timings and time changes that you feel. It is the soul of the music. It is all about the flams. I was a student of the drum rudiments. I love that stuff. It has become a little homogenized. It almost sounds like a single stroke snare shot instead of a flam. They are played to fast now and it changes the feeling. I always have a great time when I see Alice’s show. It is a decent representation just different. It is like [Mick] Jagger going out with a copy band of the [Rolling] Stones. It will never be the same as the guys that wrote it or on the record. It is a tough song. If I tried to play some other drummers stuff, I’d have a hard time.

The Gauntlet: Did you always play the drums?

Neal: In grade school I played the trombone. I could never figure it out though but that didn’t matter as I always just wanted to play the drums. I just didn’t get the trombone. I am still amazed by people like Glenn Miller and all those guys. It is all just feel on how to slide it to a note. It’s a great soloing instrument. But man I didn’t get it and that is OK. Everybody has a gift and mine isn’t the trombone. It has a great sound that’s for sure. People had to be shocked seeing Glenn Miller and the big band guys started playing solos. That was a revolution.

The Gauntlet: In the late sixties and early seventies, a lot of bands were doing these elaborate and often awkward drum solos. Alice Cooper didn’t do this.

Neal: In my opinion, drum solos are fucking boring. That is a good point. Unless you are Gene Cooper or Buddy Rich or someone over the top - somebody up their banging the drums for five minutes doesn’t impress me at all. I have done them over the years in conjunction with the song. We did one in 1997 and it came out of ‘Muscle of Love’ with Glenn and Michael. It comes out of the song and into a drum solo and then back into the song again and it was really tight. It has to be tight and very different. There has to be dynamics and time and tempo changes. I enjoy them from that standpoint. With Alice Cooper we had a big jam session with School’s Out. From the inception of Alice Cooper, we always wanted the last song to bring the audience to a riot frenzy. A lot of times it worked. Part of that was just going as crazy as we could with our instruments. When we would end the show with “School’s Out”, Dennis and I did this special music thing. It wasn’t a drum solo because the bass was in it and wasn’t a bass solo cause the drums were in it. It was always this free flowing thing but was rehearsed in that we knew where we were going then it went back into the song “School’s Out” again. There were orchestrated bits and pieces in it, but we didn’t do what you could call a drum solo. That was basically my idea but everybody else was into it. We thought about Cream and Ginger Baker and bands that were more bluesy and did drum solos to kill time onstage. I just never felt that what we did lended itself to that sort of a concept. We had a pretty tight show on stage and I was into the theatrics as much as anyone. I really didn’t see how that would fit into the the theatrics that we were doing live. It was a little too common and we wanted to do something different than everyone else. When Dennis and I were playing that interlude part, Alice would come out and throw money and posters to everyone. It gave him a chance to get a little rapport with the audience and we provided the background music. We were more of a soundtrack than a solo that helped get everyone crazy and rush the stage. It was orchestrated and everyone agreed to it. Everything we did, we agreed to. We continually had meetings about what we were going to do. It wasn’t Alice, it wasn’t me, it wasn’t Dennis. It was everyone. And it seemed like the craziest ideas were the ones that stuck and that’s what we’d go with.

The Gauntlet: Having five guys in a band that is a democracy is always a struggle.

Neal: You are right. I always called it the party that never stopped. We were the best buddies. Alice, Glenn and I always shared a room. Then Alice and I shared a room together up to the ‘Billion Dollar Baby Tour’ and that’s when we all got our own suites. We hung out together all the time laughing and having a blast. When we sat down to talk, everyone was fluent and liquid. The ideas would flow. In the meetings came out ideas to electrocute and cut Alice’s head off. The Gallows also came out of the meetings. A lot of other stuff we tried on stage but they didn’t work. When an idea was pitched, there was a lot of support from everyone else if it was a good idea. If not, it was just thrown away. I don’t know if it was because we were so young. We were in our early twenties at the time and just very flexible. i think it was our personalities. At that time we didn’t have a leader of the band. In the bands earliest stages, Dennis was the leader ofthe band. Then it became a democracy. The only time it really mattered was when we were recording an album, if there was a disagreement, the final decision came from our producer Bob Ezrin. We all agreed to that. It was his his position. He was the one that told me to play a straighter beat on “Billion Dollar Babies”. He never liked the way I played it. He said “Neal, you gotta play it perfect”. I said “Fuck I can play it perfect and I did.” Those were the kind of things that happened. He made the final decision on a song if it wasn’t working though. All five of us could have gone in and said “this is what we want to try” and he’d say “no”. It very seldomly happened. In a situation like that where we are trying to sell gold and platinum albums, somebody has to have the final say and that was Bob Ezrin in the studio.

The Gauntlet: What you guys were doing at the time was so radical live. Were there a lot of people that dismissed it as just antics?

Neal: I think you have to go back. Los Angeles is Los Angeles and when you are in Arizona, and New Mexico with long hair, you can get your ass killed at the time for having long hair. It was as much a social statement as it was a musical statement. There were time before I was in the band, they were chased out of a town with people shooting at them when they were called The Nazz. Glenn and I got in a fight at one club with some guys that picked a fight with us. We were in many fights at the time. We had such a following though in Arizona it was basically our laboratory. We could just go there and experiment with stuff. I think it was more critical when we were in Los Angeles when we were trying to find out who we were. We were rejected many many times by record companies and by a lot of places we played. We had fans and that was when Frank Zappa heard about this band called Alice Cooper that was being chased by a couple thousand people out of a club. That caught his attention. That was also something that intrigued our manager Chep Gordon too. He said if we could take all that energy and turn it around the other way. I don’t know if that’s total bullshit or something that was a challenge for them. That was eventually what we did. It was a slow process. We would start in the clubs and then bigger venues, and larger clubs, then the Universities and big theaters and ballrooms. Eventually we were in the coliseums and stadiums. Everything was a step up. There was so much variety in music in those days. I think people enjoyed life and entertainment. We just had to make our songs better and that was the bottom line. Some people were digging it just as a standpoint that it was different. You have to realize, Arizona was the testing ground for the English Invasion that was coming over from Great Britain. We got the Beatles, The Who, The Yardbirds and Stones early one. Also The Kinks, The Undertakers and more. they would play songs on the radio there and if they did good on the radio in Arizona, they’d then push them nationally. We were hearing all kinds of crazy music there. On the other hand you had a lot of cowboys listening to country western music. It was an interesting time.

The Gauntlet: How much of what you did was to entertain yourselves and see what you could get away with?

Neal: Jason, we had a motto and that was ‘Whether people liked us or hated us, they would never forget us.” That was our number one goal. That was why we were trying to be outrageous. We could be outrageous really easily with really crazy songs. Then we had to make our music commercial for us and build our audience. After a while, that was a goal. How could be be commercial and make commercial music and not water down what Alice Cooper was all about. We were doing it for pure entertainment value. When we recorded “Pretties For You” it sold 12,000 copies. We thought it was gonna go gold. We really did. We had so much confidence in ourselves. We thought it just went over everybodies head. We thought maybe The Beatles got it. If the Beatles ever listened to it, maybe they’d get it. We were very confident and thought we were very entertaining. It just took us a cople more albums before it finally sank in. “Pretties For You” sold just over 10,000 copies, “Easy Action” was just under 10,000. Pretties broke into the Top 200 Billboard at 198. “Love It To Death” we had a tTop 40 Hit and it was a gold album. “Killer” came out and was a Platinum album. When it started happening, it was happening pretty fast. The seventies were not the sixties and we were trying a whole different music. The Beatles stopped in 1970. After the Beatles had done “Magical Mystery Tour” and Seargeant pepper”, they were bringing a lot of theatrics into the marketing. They didn’t take it to the live stage, but entertainment was changing. Bands like The Doors had a darker side to rock. We thought it could get awfully darker. We thought about Blue Cheer and knew we could really fuck up America by the gender thing. They’d hear the name Alice Cooper and would think they were seeing Marie Travers playing some classical guitar doing folk song. We’d come out with flashy hair and outfits with smoke bombs and weird weird music. We were just trying to shock people. That was our whole intention from the begining. After a while you try to make some money doing this and you fuse the elements together. That was where Bob Ezrin came in to help the songs we were writing. He arrainged them into such a way it would be a brand new sound and that was what inspired Bob Ezrin to do it. He thought it was a whole new sound in music. Jack Richardson hated us and sent Bob Ezrin down to see us. He hated us up in Canada as we had a bad reputation up in Canada. Bob Ezrin was looking for his first band to
work with and came down to see us. He told Jack afterwards that there was a whole new wave of music coming and we should work with these guys or we’ll be behind it. They worked with us and we gave them platinum and gold albums. We hooked up at the right time. That was the turning point for the band when Bob came down to see us at Max’s Kansas City in New York. I recently came across the review of that night on Ebay. It was an interesting review to say the least.

The Gauntlet: Was it positive or negative?

Neal: Oh no, it wasn’t positive. They didn’t know what to make of us. They just wrote stuff. They’d right stuff about the clothes and flashing lights and the long hair and that the music was so loud. How can this not be entertaining? They’d right about how in your face Alice was and then they sucked. There were people that were digging it. It wasn’t until “Killer” and School’s Out” that we reached our pinnacle. It was interesting writing and creative but they didn’t like us. I don’t think they really got it. They weren’t seeing us as a whole new wave of music.

The Gauntlet: Have there been any bands after the original Alice Cooper lineup that have done what you guys did well?

Neal: No, not really. I think that two musicians that I liked were Michael Bruce’s band from the UK had a drummer and he was the first person to do ‘Halo of Flies’ well. He is the first person that understands it and does the best solo. His was so true to it. He played it great. Damon Johnson who played with Alice Cooper on the last tour is phenomenal. He is a student of Glenn’s and plays as close to Glenn as possible. There are people that go up their and do their thing and that is OK, music is up to interpretation. I think that the people that listen to the music are satisfied though. I know a lot of original fans that have seen the new Alice Cooper shows and don’t like them. There was a gold series of three of our original albums and people are loving that. They were recorded from the original masters and re-mastered. As for your question, Jason, my answer is no. There is no band that captures that. You really can’t. I am such a purest. It is the music and that music is not there. Everybody has different sounds and that is great. There are a lot of good musicians and they are doing their own thing, but I think it is just a copy band playing our music. You gotta take it with a grain of salt. They are very good musicians and I can’t take that away from them.

The Gauntlet: Alice Cooper were such innovators. You guys laid a lot of the groundwork for today's heavy metal scene and you can still see it.

Neal: I think that is a great compliment. Ace Frehley and I are pretty good buddies. KISS went in their own direction with the theatrical thing. Their concept of theatrics was different than ours. KISS launched the year we really took off. A lot of this has too do with management and marketing the band. It is the songwriting with us four guys and Alice’s singing and lyrics along with our management at the time that are responsible for the music that we wrote and is still popular today. I am not a KISS fan and never will be as I don’t like their songs too much. Cheap Trick is another band that was inspired by us. Rick [Nielsen] used to come watch our shows. When I talked to him once in Chicago at a club, he said he used to come to a lot of our shows and watch us play and that it really inspired him to play his music to a level he never conceived before. He is different and a very animated guy. He has a charismatic image. If we did in fact open a whole new genre of music and there are still bands inspired by it, that’s great. I can’t believe this long after we were a band that people are still into it. Not only them but their kids. I think the big thing is, and Alice doesn’t like to talk about this, but we were scaring the hell out of people. There were a lot of death threats. People were really afraid of us. We were banned in a lot of towns. Forget about Jim Morrison exposing himself. That was nothing. Alice has kind of swept it all under the carpet. At one point I was carrying three pistols with me. I still have a permit to carry. It wasn’t that I was afraid but I said if somebody was going to come after us, I’m not going to sit there and be a sitting duck. To this day I still have a carry permit. We had bodyguards too. Somehow over the years, a lot of the history has been changed and watered down. I think this was one thing that that band was at the forefront of and this was our reputation. As Alice went solo, he watered it down a lot. There was no longer a threat. Their was no more “fuck you motherfucker” anymore. It became “you are a bad person”. It became night and day. He really commercialized and homogenized. By the time he released “Poison” I was happy that he was at least doing something heavy and metal. “Poison” came out in the late eighties. “Poison” was a great song and had a great video. It was Desmond Child at his height. It captured a lot of the early Alice Cooper feel. He has a couple songs that have done it and that was one of them. “Department of Youth” off of The Nightmare album was a real Alice Cooper song, “Women Bleed” doesn’t do it for me. I am not a ballad person.

The Gauntlet: “Poison” came out in 1989, I think it was three years earlier that “Killer” went platinum. Was that a bittersweet moment for you?

Neal: Actually it wasn’t bittersweet. More satisfying was “Love it to Death” at the end of the nineties going Platinum. That was the last of those three albums to go platinum. “Muscle of Love” hasn’t gone platinum yet though. But of “Love it to Death”, “Killer”, and “School’s Out”, “Love it to Death” was the last to go platinum. To me, that was our breakthrough album and also Bob Ezrin’s first album and for me, it was our watermark. We were selling a lot albums and making tons of money. I just watched where they were charting. “Billion Dollar Babies” went to #1 in March of ‘73. That was the thing that was unexpected. I was hoping that album would get a gold album and maybe do well on the charts. Never in my wildest dreams did I even think we would ever have a number one album in all three of the trade albums in the same month of the same year. That was the first time in the band I was actually shocked. I still have all my platinum and gold albums. I have a plaque that Johnny Podell who booked us presented to each of the five of us stating that “Billion Dollar babies” was number one in Billboard Magazine.

The Gauntlet: I am shocked that you were shocked. “School’s Out” was the album released just before “Billion Dollar Babies” and that hit number two on Billboard. You got to be thinking only one place to go and that’s to number one.

Neal: Number two is still not number one. There is always one band in the world that has a better album that you. We were sitting at the rock and roll pinnacle and still to this day, that is the one thing that gives me chills. Number two is phenomenal. I think “School’s Out” is a better album overall that “Billion Dollar Babies”. I love both, but “School’s Out” was Glenn’s [Buxton] album, it was the album that was going to really make the band. It put us on the map in Los Angeles and New York after we had four albums, our fifth album got us the airplay. “School’s Out” was a major achievement. It didn’t make number one, it made number two, you are absolutely right. There is nothing wrong with that. Number two is good, but it is like being in the top five. There is only one number one though. It was definitely a shock. At that point, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were the big bands. They weren’t above us at that point. Not even Led Zeppelin. That was a great time in our lives and the bands history.

The Gauntlet: Alice Cooper was a band the label never even wanted. So you hit number one, do you get respect from the label?

Neal: You hit the nail on the head Jason. They never wanted us first of all. We had to just record a demo to get the “Love it to Death” album recorded. Then the label said it’s success was a fluke. Our manager had to negotiate again to get the “Killer” album done, and then again with the next album. Each album that came out the label said was a fluke. Warner Brothers was our biggest enemy. Our manager literally forced them into resigning us after every album. Our label wanted to release us after each album. If you look at Linda Rondstandt and James Taylor, and Neil Young, that was Warner Brothers. They signed very safe groups. Then there was Alice Cooper that came out of nowhere. We hit so big and so fast and a lot of that had to do with our management. But we also put together some great albums and that was what people were buying. With Warner Brothers, it wasn’t a love love relationship. It was a constant struggle. When “Billion Dollar Babies” hit number one, I THINK that was when they got it. It just took them five albums. I agree with you one hundred percent. It took them a long time to get on board. But at that time, the band was having problems internally.

The Gauntlet: What were some of your favorite rumors you heard about yourselves at the time?

Neal Probably the one that Alice Cooper bit the head off a chicken and drank the blood. They really don’t get much better than that. It spread like wildfire across the press in the U.S. and Canada and then made its way to Europe. There was another one because we wore these big high boots onstage. It was around Easter and we went into this Five and Dime store and got all these blowup rabbits. We put them all over the stage and started smashing and jumping on them. We read the next day we were smashing live rabbits onstage with our six inch boots. That was great. No animals were harmed in the making of this rumor. Then the one about the snake. Actually Cochina was my snake. We put her on the cover of the “Killer” album. We took about 200 photographs and there was only one with her tongue sticking out and that was the shot for the album cover. We all worked hard to make everything work. The animal ones were the most outrageous. There was one that [Frank] Zappa shit on the stage and Alice went and ate it. Who the hell comes up with this? There are a lot of people who are a lot sicker than us.

The Gauntlet: These rumors just get recycled. I heard the shitting on stage applied to other artists like Marilyn Manson.

Neal: [laughs] And biting the head off the bat with Ozzy is the same as biting the head off a chicken with us. These things go from band to band. There was a live chicken on stage and Alice through it off. Alice said it was mauled to pieces by a bunch of handicapped fans but there is no real truth in that. We don’t know what happened to the chicken once it left the stage. I was reading a section out of Michael’s [] book and he said “I don’t know if Alice Cooper is naive or what, but he is a city boy from Detroit and said he didn’t know the chicken wouldn’t fly when thrown in the air.” He went on to say “how many times have you seen a chicken fly by your window.” That is a pretty good point. There were a lot more rumors.

The Gauntlet: Did stuff like that help or hurt you? I’m sure most bands would have their image harmed and the PR machine would start turning, but you guys had to have loved this.

Neal: Are you kidding? This was like throwing gasoline on the fire. We loved it! We were Teflon, we were bulletproof. “Tragic waste of plastic” was one of the reviews for “Easy Action”. We were hard shells coming out of the box. Once things started going good, nobody could say anything. First of all, I was armed and dangerous. Secondly, we had bomb scares at shows. There was one at the coliseum in Connecticut near where I lived. It was a significant one and they didn’t want us to go on stage. We had the dogs check the perimeter of the building, the rooms, and the stage. We had a lot of police and fire departments also searching. We figured if we were going to die, at least we’d blow up on stage. I think more than anything, our manager wanted to keep those kinds of things quiet to not give anyone ideas. There was no reason to publicize these kinds of things. I never really felt I was in danger but there were definitely movements to keep us away from certain cities.

The Gauntlet: Did you guys as a band or individually start any rumors?

Neal: No, no. We didn’t have to. Alice Cooper’s gender bending thing and these five guys that were girls...Some people in Canada actually thought I was a woman. I don’t have any tits. My doctor must have left the penis and didn’t add the tits...what good is that. There were a couple silly things, but we never really started anything. Now if our manager started anything, I don’t know about. There were a couple publicity things though and I think came from our management. I don’t have any proof, and they wouldn’t say a thing to us.

The Gauntlet: Like what?

Neal: Like when we were doing our School’s Out Tour and that big truck broke down in London with a huge thirty foot long nude picture of Alice laying there with a snake. It broke down right in the middle of Wembley Square in London, that place is like Time Square in New York. I think that was planned. That got tons of publicity in the day. It was all over the news and of course we were playing there that night. It was our big coming out party in the U.K. We had played London a couple times before but this was after “School’s Out” and now it was a whole different ball game.

The Gauntlet: I heard a rumor about fifteen years ago in a business class. When we got to the section on Trademarking, the professor mentioned Alice Cooper the band and said the original members are so well off because you guys each own an equal share of the name “Alice Cooper” and now the man Alice Cooper must pay you close to $1 million a year in fees just to use that name.

Neal: Originally we did. We still all own the corporation Alice Cooper Inc. and it is all equal. Once you split it all up, the accountants and management take their percentage. It is still a goes back to what I said before. I can’t believe the following we have after all these years. So many of our songs have been used on TV, in cable and in movies. It is substantial. If lived anywhere other than Connecticut, I could probably be really well off. It varies though. Michael and Alice wrote the most. I wrote the third most, then Dennis, then Glenn didn’t write that much. But his name appears on “School’s Out”. We did collaborate a lot on the songs. We all benefit from the royalties in some respect. The royalties from album sales is split equally 20% to each. We have all stayed really good friends and I have stayed good friends with Shep [Gordon] over the years and he still fights for the publishing. It was the business we started but I don’t do the accounting. This long after the fact that we are still generating money can’t disappoint anyone in the band.

The Gauntlet: Is it one of rocks greatest tragedies that the band went their separate ways?

Neal: Everyone has their own idiosyncrasies but we get together and play. The truth to the story is we all took a year off so we could all do solo albums. Warner Brothers was suing us for a new record but after Alice found success with “Welcome to my Nightmare” he continued on his own. Some of the guys in the band wanted to sue him as we owned the band name equally. We worked out an agreement and he wasn’t about to come back. He finished up our contract with Warner Brothers with “Go to Hell” and the next album he did. He didn’t come back. He re-nigged on the deal. Don’t ever say the band and everybody went their separate ways, that is the biggest fucking lie in rock n’ roll. It is like four different witnesses at a car wreck, everyone has their own story. Alice tells a story. Give me a fucking break. I was more flashy and into clothes than he ever was. It is an insult to me and theatrics. I had a mirrored covered drumset and it was the hottest drumset in all of rock and roll. I had two Rolls Royce's, a Bentley and a Jaguar. My whole thing was being flashy, being outrageous, partying and having a good time. Alice has done a great job with the lyrics. He is one of the most underrated lyricists of our time. He writes great lyrics and always has. That is one of the things that put the band over the top with Michael, Dennis and my songs. Everybody in the band was into what we were doing equally. Dennis and Alice were into being flashy just as equally. Anyways, the band broke up, we took a year off and Alice went back on the deal to get back together. that was what happened. There are actually people that don’t believe that is what happened. We were all good buddies. I had to look at things as the only people who get rich in a lawsuit are the attorneys. We had just been through a publishing lawsuit with Frank Zappa and the attorney’s made tons of money and I wasn’t about to do that again. A lawsuit will never make you be friends and record an album again. Everyone would come out as bitter enemies. I didn’t want to do that. Every band breaks up eventually. I was just glad we went out on top instead of playing some dive in Iowa. We went out as one of the top bands in the world. Nothing lasts forever and I wish we kept going. My regrets lie with the fans. I think we let the fans down and that has been my biggest concern. I would still like to do something.

The Gauntlet: Do you think when you finally do get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that you will all play up their together?

Neal: I don’t know Jason. We have all talked about that. Of course everybody is frustrated, myself included and maybe even more than the others. I was born thirty miles from the frickin Hall of Fame. It amazes me that these guys were in one of the most influential bands in the seventies. We were monsters. I see some of the bands that go in there and i’ll put our greatest hits album, which is substantial, against theirs. I can’t even tell you a song from some of these bands that get in there. We have sold millions of albums worldwide and gone to number one. We were one of the bands that started stadium rock for holding the largest attendance for an indoor concert for almost 25 years. I don’t know what the parameters are to get in there. To start a whole new genre of music, do the things we did, have the success we did. It is all political. I am a little bit aware of what is going on in there. There are some people in there that didn’t really like us back in the early days and they or their predecessors are still in there. So it is an issue that might not go away until they are dead, but we might be dead at the same time. Sometime it will happen, but I think there is personal or political reasons as to why it hasn’t happened.

The Gauntlet: Have you been to the museum?

Neal: Oh yeah. Dennis, Joe Bouchard and I went. After Glenn passed away, we went to do some shows. We played Iowa, Los Angeles, and we played in Cleveland as Glenn was born in Akron. We called it the Glenn Buxton Memorial Weekend. Glenn’s family came out for that. We got a private tour of the facility and we did an interview up in their radio station. It was pretty cool. There was some of our stuff there. Dennis had one of his mirrored basses up there. For a while they wanted my mirrored drum kit. I told them...I just had to behave myself. I wanted to tell them to go fuck themselves. We got two nominations this year from what I heard. But until we are in the Hall of Fame, they are not getting anything from me. They might never get anything anyway. I am not that kind of person who does that. I am not one of those cheesy people.

The Gauntlet: You have the original guillotine right?

Neal: How do you know that? It isn’t something people know about so how do you know?

The Gauntlet: It’s my job. I have heard rumors throughout the years.

Neal: That’s pretty good work there. I do. It is the one that the Amazing Randi built. It was the one used on the Billion Dollar Babies Tour. Sigfried and Roy just bought one that they think is the original one. God knows what they paid for it, but it isn’t the original one because I’ve got it. It is in the movie “Good To See You Again, Alice Cooper”, it’s the one that cuts off Alice Cooper’s head. I have it right here in my archives. I have had some pretty damn good offers. I never sold it because I don’t need to sell it. If it was the right situation, I might sell it. I still have all of my drums too. I have one Premiere Drum Set from when they first started sponsoring me when Billion Dollar Babies came out. I divided it and gave it to some friends. I never played it on stage or recorded with it though. All the others though. I love the “I Love it to Death” set. That was the one I recorded “School’s Out” on. The silver set that I played on “Love it to Death” and “Killer” on, Keith Moon played on that one. That was my silver sparkle drum kit. We were at the studios finishing up the “Billion Dollar Babies” album and had a big jam session. Keith was so fucked up then. It was recorded but was so bad. I think they burned the tape. Keith was playing the drums. I was thinking of selling that set. I actually gave part of that set away to a kid that used to mow my lawn. He moved him to Los Angeles and I tracked him down and worked it out and got it back. I restored the whole set. What was I thinking! Keith Moon played on this set and I recorded “Love it to Death” and “Killer” on it and I am going to give it to the kid who mowed my yard.

The Gauntlet: Did he know the significance of the drums?

Neal: No. He knew who I was and stuff. They were in bad shape though when I got them back. I had to locate a lot of original decals and do some repairs.

The Gauntlet: With life that crazy on the road, did you have a lot of explaining to do when you met your wife. The old this is what I did, with whom, let’s move on and never discuss until some nosey journalist starts asking.

Neal: There are enough crazy stories. There were plenty of women around, I’ll tell you that much. I don’t even remember having that conversation. She was 19 when I married her. I was twenty-five. We were still really young. Married for seven years and got a divorce. I think the explanation she wanted was at the end of the marriage and not the beginning. It was the dumbest thing I ever did in my life. That is a whole other story and won’t even be in my book as it happened after the band. There was some pretty crazy stuff as Alice, Glenn and I roomed together for many many years. Glenn ain’t around anymore and Alice isn’t talking about it, i’ll guarantee that. There was some fun stuff that happened.

The Gauntlet: You mentioned you bounced a lot of ideas off each other when creating the stage show. What were some of the ones that just didn’t work?

Neal: We tried several things that just really didn’t work. One was for the finale of “School’s Out”. We had this idea before the hanging and the gallows. We had Warner Brother’s movie prop’s department make us this big huge spring loaded cannon. We’d wheel this monstrous plywood thing out with five foot wheels. It wasn’t black, it just looked like wood which was weird. It was a cool looking thing. Alice would [laughs] Alice would climb in it, and we’d have this dummy in there and it would go flying across the stage and then Alice would walk back in for the finale. It all worked great in the rehearsals in Detroit. We drugged this thing out, put it on stage, Alice climbs in for the finale. It was pretty crazy to get into. It had a spring mechanism that was huge like the size of a lawnmower. Alice would climb in and go through a trapdoor at the bottom. Then a dummy would be in there. God forbid you have a hand or head in there and the spring goes off; It would cut your hand to pieces. Anyways, he climbs in and is down in there and the thing shoots out and the dummy goes flying. It looked like a been bag toy flailing with its arms and legs. It was embarrassing. It was so stupid. We did it at one show, maybe two shows. Then Alice decided to just get on top of it and jerk it off. We then decided to put soap suds in it and then shoot that off. Alice gets up on top the next night and the soap suds start blowing out like it is ejaculating. The soap suds just start coming out of it dismally. You could barely see it from four rows back. We just bagged that idea.

The Gauntlet: A lot of your ideas were dangerous. You guys aren’t professional stuntmen. I realize Alice was the frontman so he’d be the natural pick to be hung or fly through the air in a cannon, but did the fact that he was the youngest also play into this?

Neal: Oh absolutley.

The Gauntlet: I am sure if you were the one with your neck on the line, half of these ideas wouldn’t have even been mentioned.

Neal: Well we knew that Warner Brother’s had a million gallows in their movies. When we decided to hang Alice on the Killer tour, we knew he would wear the vest. It is an intricate part with a harness and a safety hook that will catch. If it doesn’t, the rope is rigged to come apart. It was built to do that. They were all tricks in the movies. Can they go wrong? I guess they can. There is always an element of risk in these crazy stunts. The fact is back in those days, Alice was drinking a lot of whisky. Doing these things inebriated was pretty crazy. I think the guillotine was crazy. I knew how it worked. That one was crazy to put your head in there. I do have to give Alice an awful lot of credit on some of these ideas that we came up with and that he actually went through them. I don’t think Dennis would have done them, but Alice had no problem. Maybe he just reluctantly did them. I can’t pin down any specific thing one of us came up with though. The ideas were flying fast and furiously. Some of the other guys might remember a specific thing. This was the early seventies and that was a long time ago. I remember what we did, in the hotel rooms, getting together and smoking a joint while drinking beers. We just laughed our asses off about how crazy it would be to do this and that. That was how we came up with the electric chair. It was also how we came up with the gallows for Killer and the guillotine for Billion Dollar Babies. School’s Out was a huge one. That was pretty well orchestrated and choreographed. We did the fight scene and all the stuff we were involved with in there. It was a lot of fun. I was a pretty big instigator a lot of the time. I can get pretty crazy. Alice and Glenn would come up with some crazy things. Alice was the baby of the band. He would go along with it. Everyone else in the band was an older brother. Glenn was a middle child, and Alice was the youngest in his family. It made for an interesting pecking order with the guys in the band. We were all equal though. Alice came up with a lot of crazy ideas as we all did. He was pretty much willing to try anything, that was cool and how everything worked. If it worked, it worked. If it didn’t it didn’t.

The Gauntlet: Is the book a tell all book?

Neal: I don’t consider it a tell all book. It is my life and what happened in the band. Sometimes Glenn and Alice were a part of those things. I am not saying anything that wasn’t...It is a tribute to the band. A lot has been watered down. They were crazy times. Alice has said there were no drugs. I don’t know what band he was in. There were plenty of drugs around. I did everything that everyone else in the band and other bands were doing in those days. That is the way it was. There are several stories that without being stoned wouldn’t have been much fun. Dennis has been working on a book too. He goes back to the original band in high school. I jumped in at The Nazz. He has stories that go back a little bit longer. I was in a lot of other bands at that time. Michael had written a book, it is a short book and not really well written. At any rate, I am excited about it and will make it fun. I am hoping to make it interesting for more than just fans. It isn’t a rags to riches type thing. It is going to be the true stories. Alice to this day tells people that Jimi Hendrix introduced us to Chep [Gordon]. that is the biggest fabrication in the world. Jimi had his own stuff, he didn’t even know Chep. I just want to straighten out a lot of things that have been said over the years. Only the four remaining guys know the true stories. Stuff like the true origin of the name and that kind of stuff. Alice is a journalist and comes up with great stories. He is a great lyricist with many versions to some stories. There is nothing wrong with that. I have logged a lot of things from many shows. I kept calendars. When my mother passed away, she had every letter saved in a drawer that I had ever sent her. Jason, I started reading these and was thinking ‘holy Christ’ I had completely forgotten about this and now I remember it like yesterday. Like one time I went to see Cream. I had a big cast on because Alice accidentally shot me when we were out hunting jack rabbits in the desert. We went to the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. One of Pink Floyd’s roadies, Les Braden had just jumped ship with him and joined us. He had stayed in the country with us. He was able to get us into all the big concerts. We went to see Cream at the Shrine. Since he knew the roadies, he got us backstage. We watched the first set and went back to meet Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and [Eric] Clapton and we talked to them a little bit. Since I had a cast on my knee up to my left leg, Les said they’d get me a chair. They put me up on stage right between Clapton and Baker. I watched the set from up there. I totally forgot that and when I read the letter, it all came back to me. It was amazing. It was Cream’s “Spoonful”. They would play their first normal set, then the second set they’d jam on “Spoonful” for an hour. It was for that second set of the “Spoonful” jam that I sat up their between Clapton and Baker. It was amazing. It all came back to me after reading this letter. that is where a lot of my stories are coming from. It is unbelievable that my mom didn’t through these things away. I keep a lot of stuff. I have a lot of our original things. I sold a few things as I was scaling down. I have a lot of my clothes still. I am a bit of a pack rat. I had the lit stairs and mirror balls for a while. I sold the mirror balls from the Billion Dollar Babies tour about a year ago to somebody in Australia. This guy bought both of them. They were still in the original road cases that said Alice Cooper. They were these three foot mirror balls that we hung from the ceiling and used during “My Stars”. Between that and the my drums, the stage was like a million lasers shooting out everywhere. This guy in Australia was worried about how they were packed as he lived five hours from town and where he’d be picking them up. Imagine this guy in the Outback in a mud hut with two huge giant disco balls hanging from the ceiling while playing his didgeridoo with a generator spinning these things. It probably isn’t the case but that’s my fantasy about them.

The Gauntlet: Is it hard being the drummer and stuck behind a kit in a band like Alice Cooper with so much going on?

Neal: I had the best seat in the house every night. We all burned so many calories on stage. Every time we flew into Detroit, there was this place that served these sloppy joe’s and melt cheese sandwiches. I was soaked after the first two songs with sweat and blood. I had blood all over my hands. Probably next to Keith Moon one of the hardest live drummers playing. My fingers were always band-aided. One of the last drum heads I finally took off a few years ago still had blood all over it. I smashed my fingers between the sticks and snares many times. There was a lot of blood sweat and tears and that’s not a joke. Alice would fight and tussle with us on stage. Alice would have bruised ribs and scarred shins. I still have physical injuries that go back to the School’s Out tour. I played the Death Dirge on the black draped snare drum, I’d go down to one knee and basically crushed my kneecap. I still have a pain in my right knee from that part of the performance. Over time it has gotten a little more tender.

The Gauntlet: Did the fans ever get involved with beating you guys up on stage?

Neal: They got involved in a lot of crazy incidents. In Scotland things were so crazy we couldn’t even get into the hotel. There were so many fans we had to go in through a garage underneath the place. It was so insane it made The Beatles “Hard Days Night” look like a few people mingling on the street. The show I remember the most was when the venue opened up the seating to sell more tickets. They opened up the back of the venue behind us in Chicago. I don’t remember where we were in the set, but I was playing along and all of the sudden I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder. I have been shot before and know what a bullet feels like. This wasn’t as intense. Goose, who was my main roadie was beside me. Between songs I called him up to look at me. He was looking at my shoulder and said I had blood coming out. I told him I had a pain when I tried to play. We looked on the floor and there was a dart. It was the kind you’d see at a pub. Somebody threw a fucking dart. It could have hit me in the middle of my spine or the back of my neck. After that we closed up the area behind us. The backstage area was the backstage area and people weren’t allowed back there. As the frenzy of the band grew, things got crazier and crazier. When we played the Hollywood Bowl, we stayed at the Hyatt, or Riot as we called it. I had three pistols under my pillow. I was serious. I wasn’t about to just let something happen without fighting back. I am a big guy. It was just getting crazy. I loved it, I tried to cause as much insanity when I was playing the drums as possible. that was why I was so physical. I was soaked head to foot. I would spend three hours just on my hair and in five minutes it was soaked. People were just so crazy then.

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Tags:  Alice Cooper  , Neal Smithinterviews

    February 28, 2010

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