Dennis: My band Fifth Avenue Vampires is finishing up our new album. We've only done five shows to date and all five of them we opened for Alice [Cooper]. It was really surprising how supportive the fans were to our band. The place was full and we got a great reception. I really expected it to be a third to half full for us as we were the opening act. People like to go out and smoke until the band they came to see goes on. It was a two and a half hour show so they tend to smoke early on in the night. I think it tends to cause people to smoke more in the long run because they want to make sure they have the nicotine in their body before they walk in.
The Gauntlet: Where are you guys at working on the album?
Dennis: We are working on the final mixes right now. It is a very satisfying time for me right now. I am very happy how the album is turning out and i really like the guys involved. All the artwork is ready and our release date is April 20th, which happens to be the day Bram Stoker died. It’s a lot of fun. I have a couple other albums I am working on too. I have never been like this before. I am usually loyal to just one band. As it turns out, I am finding that I am 63 years old now. I have so many songs that I have written so I want to get a lot of them done. Most musicians I know are available one day a week at best. I am working with four different bands, but I think I still have more material than we can possibly ever do. Some of the guys in the Alice Cooper group used to call me a workaholic. I don’t see it as work because it is fun.
The Gauntlet: You haven't always been this productive.
Dennis: I have but after the premature demise of the Alice Cooper group, I was very bitter towards the music industry and all the all the cards didn’t fall the way they should have. I also had some health issues. I got back to doing music for what I initially set out to do, purely the enjoyment of writing songs. I secluded my self in the basement and recorded hundreds of songs and demos. Then my health declined to the point where I was in the hospital in critical condition and on I.V.’s for a month. I started getting all these fan letters from all around the world and then all of the sudden I began to realize that people still knew I was kicking...barely kicking at the time but it was great. I knew when I got out I would start doing it again. I lived close enough to New York City so I knew I could hop in and recharge my creative batteries. I knew a lot of great musicians I could work with. Not only do I have a vault that is stock piled with music, but I also keep writing new songs. It looks like no matter what I do I’ll never get to all of them. I am passion driven. I am just an artist at heart and always have been. I met Alice in art class and we ran cross country together. We were also in journalism class so we were writers as well. My best mile was 4:36. I wasn’t at the top, but I was up there. So was Alice. For us, the longer the distance the better. Arizona was tough though. We had the Phoenix Indian school that would dominate. Their entire team would cross the finish line before the best person from the other teams. We dealt with them with denial, we just didn’t count them. We had a coach in high school that would take us out on sandy stretches once in a while. It certainly built up your leg muscles and endurance. Most of my exercise now come from walking dogs. I volunteer at the local shelter walking all the mix breed dogs. At the time, Alice and I lived up in the Topanga Canyon area. Because of our long distance running background, we’d run up through Beverly Hills and into LA.
The Gauntlet: When you were in the hospital as you mentioned, did you think people forgot about you?
Dennis: This was pre-internet, at least for me. I felt that the original band was too easily swept under the carpet and I was disappointed in our fans for not supporting us in a more enthusiastic way. It did seem as though it were not easy for me to go out and get a gig. If you talk about somebody from another band, like The Doors, you know that that is a person from The Doors. For us, if you talk about Alice Cooper, people can’t even imagine that there is a band. Even people that know me fairly well, casual acquaintances, they are always asking me what band I was in. When they go through their memory, Alice Cooper doesn’t fall into the category of ever being a band. It is a weird thing. It is like when I say I am a former member of Alice Cooper, it doesn’t make sense to people so they don’t remember it. Not that that was a big factor, but it seemed like it. There was a lot of credit not being given to the other band members over the years and stories were changed. All of that stuff added up to look like I was successfully erased from my own band which I started. Whether it was true or just imagined, there was definitely an element there that all of these great letters that everyone sent wishing me well was very surprising. It was actually the best medicine for my recovery.
The Gauntlet: Were you ever shot while hunting with Alice Cooper?
Dennis: [laughs] No, that was just Neal. That was out in the desert in Phoenix, Arizona. Tudy Muller was there. She drove her blue Mustang. Our Roadie was there, Mike Allen (Antboy). Neal was supposed to report to the draft board the next day so they decided to go into the desert and have fun with weapons and beer. Neal and Alice were sitting on the hood of the car. Neal thought he shot a jackrabbit in the headlights of the car so he handed the gun to Alice and jumped off the hood and ran to find the jackrabbit. Alice accidentally fired a shot and it hit Neal in the ankle. This was not intentional, but it actually kept Neal out of the draft as he had lead in his body from the bullet. We did our very first gig with Alice Cooper around this time, but on the poster we were still The Nazz. We opened for The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Blue Cheer in Orange County. Neal had to wear Levi’s with the jeans split up the side to accommodate his cast. He couldn’t walk. He claimed the cast was better for pounding the kick drums.
The Gauntlet: Did the fact that the members of the band were all older brothers and Alice was the youngest sibling play into the groups dynamic?
Dennis: He was a baby and was babied. It made him the perfect candidate to be the lead singer. He is perfectly comfortable sitting in a room and having people do things for him and they are perfectly happy to do it for him as he has such a great personality. For me, I’d go and get it myself before asking somebody. I am an older sibling as you mentioned. Older siblings have a tendency to go out and do things for themselves and I have a feeling that it made up the complex structure of that band. Glenn had a different dynamic too. His older brother was very successful in a way that was very appealing to his parents. Glenn was the opposite. Glenn was always being compared to his older brother which he took hard and didn’t like. Then the success of the band kinda turned that around for some time. Then you have Neal and his sister. Neal’s sister is my wife. They had a single parent, their mom. She raised them so Neal kind of took on the role of being the male of the household. Cindy became the person that turned into the mother because their mom, who was a wonderful person, was away working to make ends meet. Cindy did a lot of the sewing and things like that. That was how she became the seamstress and costume designer for the Alice Cooper group and other bands. Nobody ever gives her credit, but she was the one that started Glitter Rock. That wasn’t what they called it when we did it. Our image was very shabby but we had all of the sequins before everybody else except maybe Liberace. Michael Bruce came from a family of brothers and they were very athletic so think football. I think I was only in Michael’s room once when I went over to tell him we wanted him in our band. We looked around the room and it was all football gear and barbells. We were thinking “woah! this isn’t the world we are from”. This brought a different dynamic and element to it all. How all these personalities came together was very difficult to explain but it worked and worked well. You couldn’t plan it. They talk about the chemistry of a band, but you can’t go out and plan that as personalities are so complex. This thing of checks and balances is kind of what happened with us. Some of us needed to be kept in like more often that others. There were people that gravitated towards certain things and others to other things. It all worked out as we had five people and it came down to a vote and the majority won. I was a big instigator of the theatrical stuff as I was big into the art and surrealism as was Alice. Salvador Dali and the Dada Movement and all that stuff; I was a die hard artist. Both of my college professors urged me to quit college and move to New York as it looked like I had what it takes. How do you talk a guy like Michael who lifts weights and plays football to do what we do. Not even talk him into it, but my crusade was relentless. People found it easier to give into my ideas than resist them. Then the next stage came when the important part when everyone saw the vision. Even Michael came up with these crazy ideas. To get five people to work on this at this level was amazing. With our first album, “Pretties For You”, it was as abstract as anyone could think. To get everyone on the same page with these personalities was a major thing.
The Gauntlet: Is that why “Pretties For You” was such an eclectic mix of songs?
Dennis: That album was pretty much a free for all as far as song writing. We rehearsed all day and every day. Not too often did someone come in with a song. They would come in with what we called ‘germs’. It was either a riff, or a chorus idea or a verse idea. By the time the rest of us got done trying to make it the craziest song in the world, it wasn’t recognisable anymore. We just all had the same goal of making the most abstract album we could possibly make. We were successful in that respect. That was our most original album of them all. Unfortunately our recording ability and playing ability isn’t were it should be. Our enthusiasm was rampant and when we played live gigs, it was quite shocking in that era. It is hard to look back on it and see it as having the impact that it did. Even in Hollywood, CA, people would walk out in outrage as they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. One of the reasons was it wasn’t just somebody being crazy on stage. It was five people being full tilt as crazy as they could be. The impact of it was you don’t expect that. We were all totally over the cliff.
The Gauntlet: Do you still have any injuries from those physical live shows?
Dennis: Yes, I still have some various bumps that are still visible. It is like a badge of honor. Like that picture of Pete Townsend bleeding on his guitar. You don’t say ouch until after the show is over. We did a show for St. Patricks Day in a club called Experience. You’d walk into a giant Jimi Hendrix mouth to get into the club. They had a stage that was like half a foot off the floor. Back in those days we’d have a different theme for each show. They were all one of a kind. That night, Cindy had sewn some clear plastic clothes for us. Michael Bruce decided to do a forward flip off the stage and landed flat on the floor during his guitar break. It was one of his football moves. He used that during the School’s Out fight at the end of the show during that tour. Michael would come at Alice with a switchblade and Alice would grab his arm and flip him. Michael would do a full flip and land on his back like a wrestler. The thing is, a wrestler has a mat that gives a little, Michael was doing this on a cement floor. Even Michael, being a jock compared to the rest of us, had his own way of being totally crazy. He did that night after night on the School’s Out Tour. You could feel the stage move sometimes. I think we all have injuries that are mental.
The Gauntlet: What you were putting yourself through, did you have to be medicated?
Dennis: Not except for your traditional rock star fashion. There were injuries, but most of the serious injuries that happened to us...We had this thing where I decided that the reason we weren’t getting across to the audience in the early days was this barrier. There was this separation in what we were doing and what the audience was doing. That was when we started throwing these big giant weather balloons and confetti. Back in those days we didn’t have a budget. We’d just pick up anything we could find backstage and incorporate it into the show. One of the results of that was people would throw stuff back at us. Toledo was a really hard place for us to play early on. Every time we did, someone was injured. There was a venue there that sold beer in cans. I don’t know if they just threw beer at us or everyone that came through. they certainly bought a lot of beer and wasted it on our band. We played an outdoor festival in Saugatuck which was in that area. Alice started the set with “Sun Arise” and Alice would hit the mic stand with a hammer. The mic stand was too close to the front of the stage and somebody grabbed the hammer and threw it at Glenn [Buxton] and it hit him in the kneecap and took him down. By the end of the set, the whole stage was shoved over by the biker crowd. It was a riot. They took Glenn to the hospital. Another time in Toledo, they threw M-80’s at us. One of them exploded near Michael’s head. Neal has an old cassette of all this deteriorating. It is of me reprimanding the audience and telling them we are never going to play there again. We were concerned that Michael had lost his hearing. The injuries weren’t brought on directly by us. We threw soft stuff at them that wouldn’t hurt anybody. The toughest thing was a chicken. What they threw back was usually intended to hurt us. There are a lot of bootlegs floating around with us that might have a guitar, drum or bass mistake. A lot of people criticize the original Alice Cooper group for not being the perfect performers we should have been. But the thing is, we were dodging things and when I’d do a bass solo, Alice would come over and stab me with a sword. There was a lot of watching out so you wouldn’t be beamed in the head or something. Also we were drunker than any other band too. It was an event. All this was a part of it. It was exciting. You never knew what was going to happen, especially in the early days when people didn’t know what they were about to see. They’d expect us to be just another band. A lot of times they expected a female folk singer because of the name, and then this gigantic thing would happen.What we perpetuated was you didn’t know what was going to happen. It was a controlled free-for-all.
The Gauntlet: When I talk to people who witnessed you guys on stage, they mention that the show today isn’t as shocking as it once was.
Dennis: There are definitely similarities, but I am biased. When we did the hanging, there was a lot more commitment to our drama of carrying it out. We had much better lighting with Charles Carnel who was a pioneer in lighting at the time. He was the first guy to go out and do lighting for a rock band. He was our guy. We took these big heavy iron lights out of theaters and we created this dramatic film noir style lighting. Things would be very unexpected. When you know there is going to be a hanging, that is way different than when you don’t expect that. That is why we kept coming out with something new on every tour. We wanted to keep hitting people with something they didn't expect. A lot of the show still has those same elements from when the original crew came up with them. Alice’s most recent tour has more of a fresh look to it. It is a very fresh look and was designed by the guy that did Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. It is kind of like a review show that tries to incorporate everything that Alice has done over the years. He had these giant a-l-i-c-e letters over the stage. The guy that made the letters for the show pointed out to me that he made it a point to copy the font from the writing on the “Killer” album. He said Alice told him that I wrote it with my left hand so that it would look like a demented person wrote it and that was true. I didn’t realize that he had taken those from the album cover. They were gigantic, maybe thirty feet tall and covering the entire stage. The musicians had to walk amongst the letters that were hung lower than the others. This last tour has taken on a fresh look. Some of the previous ones had fresh makeovers but they were the same variations of the show. Alice is still the master entertainer of all. Jagger is up there, along with Lady Gaga and people like that. But Alice, since his drinking days are behind him and his health has been restored, has really been putting on a show. Look at all these younger guys in the band, they are great too. Alice is not only keeping up with them, but he takes the bull by the horns from the second he steps on stage until he walks off. It is a great show and I don’t think anyone over the years has walked out feeling they didn’t get their money’s worth. Like Dennis Hopper said, “If you remember the sixties you weren’t really there”. The impact of things...we were trying to be shocking when the censors were down our throats. We’d show up for a gig and the animal rights people would be there, the Fire Marshall would be there, everyone in the world would be there. They’d make us put up a thousand dollar deposit to insure no profanity would go out over the microphone. The censors had the magnifying glass on us. We had to be shocking despite that. Now it has gotten to the point where you can have the foulest language in the world and you don’t raise and eyebrows. It has become almost mundane. A friend of mine got me a book on The Onion. There is one article about Marilyn Manson going around door-to-door trying to shock people. He knocks on somebodies door wearing nothing but pig entrails and the guy can’t talk to him. There is truth to that humor. How do you shock somebody now? How do you shock people with how you dress? Back then, nobody expected it. If any bands attempted to shock, the establishment would keep them so down. You’d have this underground following and never break into mainstream. We wanted to break into mainstream and still shock people. There were a lot of limitations that we had to work within that are no longer there. To look back and remember the impact we had is quiet something. Just having five guys with a girls name was majorly shocking at the time. Now it is impossible to even imagine that. That is what art is. It keeps pushing the boundaries as it should. I’m not sure that shocking is always the most important thing either, but it was a biggy for us.
The Gauntlet: You guys didn’t shock because there was no musical talent. It was to accompany.
Dennis: Thank you. The theatrical part was second nature to us. We could think of a million ideas there. When it came to the music, we spent many many hours. It wasn’t unusual for us to rehearse for ten hours a day. We wanted to get the music to the ultimate level. Even with that, a lot of our songs were just a snapshot of the songs progression. A lot of songs kept evolving after they were recorded. “School’s Out” had a different arrangement on each tour we did. Back then bands put out two albums a year. It was something we woke up thinking about and often times stayed up late thinking of new ways to entertain in ways they’d least expect.
The Gauntlet: Did the musical aspect get any easier for you guys?
Dennis: It changed for us. It would take five years to get your first hit, and then you had two weeks to make your second. Everything changed and the amount of pressure changed with success. We didn’t just have to write and record an album, we had to also come up with a theatrical concept with props and things that we could afford to put together and take on the road. The “School’s Out” album was recorded while we were on tour. We would write songs while we were driving around in our station wagon and in restaurants. Then we’d go to New York and record a few songs and be out touring again. That has changed a lot, bands are given time off to record an album. That gives you the luxury to make sure everything is exactly the way you want before you enter the studio. We didn’t have that or the editing capabilities you now do with digital. If we laid down a track and didn’t like the arrangement, we didn’t have time to re-record the song. We had to live with it as we didn’t have the luxury to make the edits.
The Gauntlet: Were there a lot of artistic differences in the studio?
Dennis: Oh yeah, we had artistic differences every step of the way. But the good thing was each guy had his own idea for his part of the songs. We all worked on everything from the lyrics to stage concept and costume ideas. Every little thing had lots of fingers in the mix. There was a lot of passion for what each guy thought was the best thing to do. It was a loud process and would scare a lot of people off. It was also a good process. I liked that. In the rehearsal room, it was quiet and everyone seemed polite. To me, I liked to stir up the fire and get sparks flying. I think better things came out of that. If somebody had an idea, we had a rule we wouldn’t give it a boot until we tried it. A lot of times it led to another better idea or they realized it does work, just in a different way than they imagined. Nobody held any grudges. We just had to try the idea. The writing was a collaboration all the way. Even though Glenn was the least verbal, he would start playing when we were stuck. He would lead the way and that did it, I knew the way I was going to play after that. It was full tilt collaboration.
The Gauntlet: I love “Halo of Flies” off the “Killer” album.
Dennis: Thank you. Are you from Holland? Every year in Holland, they have the 100 greatest rock songs vote and “Halo of Flies” is always right up there. They favor those kind of songs like “Focus” by Hocus Pocus. ‘Halo of Flies’ is just gigantic. Looking at the royalties, you always can tell which came from Holland. On ‘Halo of Flies’ we were talking about germs. Germs were a good starting point, but it wasn’t a song. We had so many that we were kicking around. When we were a cover band in the mid-sixties, we prided ourselves on being able to do medley’s. Instead of trying to play all the songs we learned to play live, we’d do a Rolling Stone’s medley, or a Kinks or Beatles medley. We applied that to all of the germs we had kicking around. We got a big giant chalkboard and named the parts. There would be a galloping part, a belly dancer part and stuff like that. Then we would keep erasing and moving the different parts on the chalkboard until we got all of the parts to flow. Under the Gun, we were out in Arizona when we did that. We were out traveling and we rented a warehouse. We just went in there and setup our equipment and went back to Chicago and recorded it. We recorded it in just a couple of takes. When it gets to the drum solo section, we wanted Neal to have a completely different drum sound. When we recorded the bed track, it was me playing to the drum sound by myself. Somebody counted to like 150 or something. When we got the take we liked, the second or third take, we ran all the cables and microphones down a couple of flights of stairs at the RCA studios into the men’s bathroom in the lobby of the building. The nightwatchman was wondering what the hell we were doing. Neal setup his drums in this tile bathroom with lots of echo. Neal liked that as he could drink beer as he was recording and if he had to use the urinal, it was right there. He added that drum part after the song was recorded. The “Killer” concept didn’t reach the level we were striving for and that was due to our schedule crunch and we didn’t have the time available to get it to the point we envisioned. Every song is about a killer. You really have to use your artistic license on songs like “Be My Lover”...we just said she was a killer babe. The song “Killer” was obvious. “Desperado” was a gunslinger and the 007 agent in “Halo of Flies” had a license to kill. The thing is, “Be My Lover” wasn’t part of that concept. Michael wrote such a great song that we had to put it on the album despite that it didn’t match our initial intentions.
The Gauntlet: You guys really brought the ‘A- game’ out on “Halo of Flies”.
Dennis: There was an element of that. I am not sure if it was in foresight. It may have just simply been subconsciously that we were tired of people criticizing our ability to play and that we did theatrics to hide our inability to play. I think it was subconscious. I don’t recall thinking we were going to show them. But that is what it did do. When we played that song on stage, it put a lot of people in their place and swung them to see we were really musicians.
The Gauntlet: It’s a tough song for all instruments. Have you heard anyone since you do it justice?
Dennis: No, not exactly, but I like that. I like hearing people make it their own. The band Dimma; I re-recorded “Halo of Flies” with them. We are going to release it probably at the end of the year. Their bassist normally plays my part except he has a more percussive style than I do. He varies parts here and there which I really like. Even the guys that have worked with Alice have come up with their own versions. The new band has little segments where they vary from the original. I like that. My early training came from listening to the Rolling Stones. I’d go over to Glenn Buxtons house and he’d help me sort out what bass notes were on a blues record. So basically I am blues rooted. Most of the Alice Cooper group has blues roots in one way or another. Listen to “I’m Eighteen”. When the Yardbirds came out, that opened up our world. Paul Smith of the Yardbirds to me is as innovative as Jimmy Page , Clapton and Jeff Beck in his own right. But he was totally overshadowed by the guitar player in that band. But as a bassist, he opened my eyes. It wasn’t all of the sudden I started trying to emulate him per say, I just say that the bass could go anywhere that it wanted to go. It was like opening the door to the cage and all of the sudden you are free and have room to run. That was the end of it for me, I was off. I found my calling and that was to take the bass parts to any place.
The Gauntlet: Too many bassists nowadays seem to just simply be contempt with playing chords.
Dennis: That is generally the bassists function, to add bottom to the song. There are plenty of great bassists that have done nothing more than that. You lock in the bass to the drums, keep it tight and keep the tempo. For me it was more of weaving in and out and through these two different and intricate guitar parts and still staying with Neal on the drums. When we came to another part of the song, I would try to make the bass rhythm shift gears and go somewhere completely different without upsetting the song. Paul McCartney was a master at that. People look at him as a Beatle and that really overshadows his bass playing abilities. A lot of times when they’d go to the bridge, the bass would do a departure and it would all fit together somehow and that is not easy to do. If Paul didn’t write for The Beatles or sing for The Beatles, he’d be sighted as one of the greatest bass guitar players ever. Paul did definitely have departure type parts.
The Gauntlet: Why when people talk about the great music of the 60’s and 70’s, we don’t we hear of Alice Cooper mentioned? I never hear “There were The Yardbirds, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and Alice Cooper?”
Dennis: Well, I don’t know. That is just how this industry has always been. History changes things and this is a business of this weeks flavor of gum. Most of the time a band isn’t remembered a year after they came out. There have been a lot of great musicians to come out over the years and not all are remembered like others. I don’t know why that is. We do have a dedicated fanbase. There are a lot of people that do mention us in that kind of company, but generally you are correct. It is probably for the exact same reason I mentioned before. They looked at the theatrics and didn’t take the musical part seriously.
The Gauntlet: In hindsight, should the theatrics have been toned down?
Dennis: Are you kidding?
The Gauntlet: I would have loved to see the theatrics at the time, but I think you guys had the musical skills to carry the show. I would love to hear the original lineup play the songs more than anything. Theatrics don’t get you into the Hall of Fame.
Dennis: What got us our foot in the door on a couple of different respects was our association with Frank Zappa. That both helped and hindered us at the time. In Los Angeles, people would come to see us to see why people were outraged. They didn’t come to see us because we were good musicians. They wanted to see why people were walking out of the shows. Then our association with Frank Zappa got people thinking we were a good band. After a while that held us back as people put us under the Zappa stable. We appreciated everything he did for us, but that wasn’t really where we belonged. That got us to move from Los Angeles to Detroit. We picked up on the high energy audiences of that era which is really what we needed at that time. We got away from a lot of the Hollywood glitz and glamour craziness of our show and added an edge to it. Even The Stooges started glamming out with the silver fabric pants. There was an exchange, we landed in Detroit and we saw what each other were doing and we patted each other on the back with a competitive spirit. As an artist, you try to keep yourself moving around with different environments. As we moved from one frame of mind to another, even though we were traveling all the time, it still seemed that where you lived influenced you the most. We moved to Greenwich Connecticut and all of the sudden we had “Billion Dollar Babies”. An artist reflects his society. We even have a song called “Reflected” which eventually turned into “Elected”. People criticized us on stage but we were merely reflecting society, but the society we were reflecting was Hollyweird.
The Gauntlet: When the lights went down, was the show over, or did you take a lot of your stage persona into your real life?
Dennis: There was a metamorphosis. We were all just us off stage. When we would get to the dressing room before the gig, the transition would start. The groupies and reporters would show up, we’d put on our stage outfits and tune up. By the time we were at the bottom of the stairs to the stage, we were completely different people but we all knew each other as that person. We all knew what their character would do on stage. Once we got off stage, we would start to transition back. It was entertainment, we were actors.
The Gauntlet: A lot of bands in the 60’s and 70’s that were labeled as counter-cultural got visits by the FBI.
Dennis: I think the bands that had those kinds of things going on, Zappa claimed he had it and I don’t doubt it, were politically outspoken. We weren’t. We just played something that parents didn’t want their kids to see. Advertisers would pull their dollars from the shows that had us on. We were just undesirables in the establishments point of view but we weren’t a political threat. Alice is just really good in interviews and he can explain his way out of anything and turn things away to every ones satisfaction. By the time he’s done explaining, you realize it is just interesting entertainment. I had the idea of moving the image and music of the group into more profound areas. We weren’t together long enough to get to that point. It always had this Vaudevillian aspect that kept people from taking us too seriously. We didn’t take ourselves that seriously either. Generally our audience took us more serious than we did. I think it all happened to keep it from happening to us. I don’t know, maybe it happened to Alice Cooper’s solo career. But let’s face it, Alice Cooper wasn’t political. Our focus stayed out of politics in those days of the band. We felt there were people far more knowledgeable than we were and we weren’t needed for that. It is not that we didn’t take the subject matter of our lyrics seriously, but we didn’t feel it was a platform for us to take it in.
The Gauntlet: The rumors on the band at the time were pretty amazing too.
Dennis: There was one when we were opening for Zappa’s The Mother’s [of Intervention]. The story went that we had a gross out contest on stage between Frank Zappa and Alice Cooper and it kept escalating. It finally got to the point where Zappa took a shit on stage. Everyone knew Zappa had won, but then Alice walked over and put it in his mouth. That rumor lasted for a long time. There were millions of rumors and we liked to generate rumors. Our stage show was so abstract and symbolic and people would try to put two and two together and come up with all of these things that the show meant when it really didn’t even mean anything. We did put all those things together so somebody could create that kind of a scenario or it did seem to have meaning. Our intense delivery of the show would con notate that there was meaning to the show. The early one of Alice Cooper being a 16th century witch that came from a Ouija board was from an early press release. We looked at other press releases by other bands and thought they were all the same and typical. You’d read the first paragraph and not take it anymore. We wanted to make something up off the wall and totally entertaining that would make the person remember the band. I was the artist of the court in a previous life and blah blah blah. Alice was a 16th century witch that was burned at the stake. That witch thing hung on for years and years. A lot of people that had the press kit in different cities would have it filed away and then they’d bring it out when we were coming to their town to play.
The Gauntlet: Who had the better rumors, you guys or the press?
Dennis: I don’t know. Even in high school, Alice prided himself as a trendsetter. One time he decided to start wearing a tie to school. It was Phoenix Arizona and too hot to wear a tie. It wasn’t cool either. In art class, his paintings of his characters began having ties also. His intention was to start a new fad. Even the title of the album “Love it to Death”, Alice thought of that title to start a new catch phrase. He wanted everyone in the world to be saying “Oh yeah, I love it to death.” Alice always fancied himself as someone who could start a trend. He was good at it. He is quite the conversationalist and he can exaggerate stories in a way that is so entertaining in a way people like it. Most people do it do make themselves look better, but Alice is different. He does it for the story, they suck you in and make you want to hang out. He has always had that exceptional ability. His enhanced stories so to speak have taken off and become history so to speak. There are people that pride themselves as Alice Cooper fans and still buy into a lot of his prefabricated stories. That is how the world has always been. Look at how the politicians spin their version of the stories. It can just be a phrase that grabs peoples hearts and then that person can do no wrong.
The Gauntlet: Is it aggravating that a lot of people look at Alice Cooper as being just the man and not what you guys were?
Dennis: Oh yeah, it was aggravating to deep rooted and disturbing levels at one point in my life. But I have my own life to live. I have never really taken publicity to heart. If you start believing what you read about yourself when it is good, you get an inflated ego which isn’t good. Also the Alice Cooper group came up through negative publicity. We thrived on it in the early days and that is what got people to our shows. In the early days, if we got a good review, we were worried as that is what people came to see for a while. We were very used to that and almost defiant and kind of welcomed it.
The Gauntlet: It had to sting a little though. This was your art.
Dennis: Well, people say stupid things sometimes and catch you off guard and it it hits you like a needle. It always bounces back to I don’t exist in someway or another. It might be my interpretation in some way or my sensitivity. The majority of people over the years have grown up with Alice as a solo artist. They don’t associate any of that as an original band. I am just one of a hundred musicians that have been in his band over the years. That does hurt. That bothers me more than the money. My seclusion and going into my basement for those early years...I came out knowing that it is the music and that is why I do it. It is the process and the creativity and that is what I care about. I do care about the fans that get the music I have done and I like that and like talking to the fans. But it is still that process of moving forward and exploring new frontiers musically. In that respect, I think that the albums I have put out recently, The Dennis Dunaway Project, got a lot of reviews and none of them negative. I was working really hard working on a lot of different things and those are all going to be coming out soon. I feel like this is going to become a year where Alice Cooper fans will realize that the amount of influence I had on the Alice Cooper albums. Even though I don’t intend to do it, write a song in the style we did in Alice Cooper, I do. All I am doing is my own style. My style has an influence on the musicians around me. People comment that a certain song reminds them of an Alice Cooper song but they can’t name which one. What I think is happening is they are just hearing my bass style that is familiar to them. None of the things I am doing now are intended to be retro. I intend everything to push forward, but that is how it has always been. Now I am doing a different kind of rock. It is more in the pocket bass playing than normal for me. The songs are really coming together in a good way and the personalities are great. The Fifth Avenue Vampires are much darker and sinister with a over the top, kick out the rafters type rock and roll. It pushes me as I have Russ Wilson on drums who also played on the Dennis Dunaway Project with me. He is a jazz trained drummer who’s biggest sounding influence is John Bonham. The greatest thing about Russ is he has a different playing style than I am used to and it forces me to adapt and I force him to adapt. It really raises the bar. I also have Richie Scarlet who played bass with Mountain for ten years. That also ups the ante. He’ll come up with things that push my style and capabilities and push me in ways I like. In Blue Coupe, a lot of the songs I am playing are Joe Bouchard’s parts. So I am playing a these famous songs with the guy who wrote the bass parts now playing guitar in the band. I like that though. It raises the bar and keeps a little bit of a challenge going.
The Gauntlet: I was a long distance runner in high school. I remember tons of time for my mind to go places while running the course and in practice. How much of what went on early in the group was conceived on these runs?
Dennis: The first songs we ever wrote lyrics to were while we were running. In Arizona, long distance running was the least popular sport. There was a lot of bonding on those runs. On those desert courses, were had a lot of physical contact in the competitions. There were some tough teams, a lot of elbows, spitting and tripping. After the race, you had to pull cactus thorns out of your ankles. Alice and I dubbed ourselves ‘The Rat Pack”. We had all kinds of crazy things we would do. Some of it was due to me being the editor of the sports page of the High School newspaper and Alice followed in my footsteps. We wanted to promote our band The Earwigs. We were a spoof of The Beatles. We wore Beatles wigs at our first show. We thought of anything we could to mention our band in the articles. They would be like the high school track team did this and then it would refer to The Earwigs eventually. Glenn Buxton was the photographer and he would take pictures of us once in a while. He would doctor the photos to make it look like we didn’t have long hair. They’d kick us out of school for the long hair. Alice got kicked out of school a lot. When we were all there, we had a Ferris Bueller type network going on, but when we graduated, Alice was the only one left behind and it all fell apart. He was on his own and was kicked out of school a lot. A lot of people would inform us and hide us in dark rooms, etc and they graduated too. It was too hard for Alice to get all that support back in place by himself.
The Gauntlet: Could Alice Cooper [band] have survived as a band after the success of “Billion Dollar Babies?” You guys had no label interest during the first albums, but after the success of the album, I’m sure you became a big priority to them.
Dennis: There are a lot of factors to that. Some people are afraid to make it and they work towards making it. When they see they are about to make it, they realize that isn’t what they want. It is like all of the sudden saying you don’t want any privacy in your life and want people around you that only care about standing next to you to be with their friends. There are a lot of elements about being a celebrity that can scare you off. That isn’t what happened to us though. What happened to us was we were being mistreated because we were no longer welcome because of the money that would be saved by not having us on board. A lot of the things that went down just weren’t right. If Alice looked the opposite direction, something bad would happen to us. If we’d fight back we’d lose our temper over it. We’d paint a picture to Alice and tell him “how can you work with these guys anymore, they are too unreasonable to work with.” That would make us even more upset. We could see these people who were getting money from our paychecks and they were trying to weed us out of the picture. That was a terrible thing. I was the only one that was fighting tooth and nail to keep the band from taking a hiatus. On the other hand, it could have gone down perfectly the way we agreed for it to happen, but there were too many things already in motion. Things were already falling into place with contracts being negotiated without us. Things kind of fell into place the way it was meant to happen. I felt I was the only one that could see the writing on the wall. I think Glenn Buxton was the first to see it, but he just kind of dropped out. When you read the interviews, everyone was taking credit and that is not why we were doing it. On the other hand, I could see understandably that Michael Bruce wrote these great songs and bring them to us. They were these huge Paul McCartney type songs that could have become giant hits. They were “I love you baby” songs and we’d turn them into “I want to kick your puppy.” He was frustrated with the band for altering his songs to fit the Alice Cooper format. There was no way he was going to change that. He did write “Be My Lover” which was the song that put us on the map. We appreciated it but it was still hard for him. His songs never turned out the way he envisioned. Neal and I didn’t play exactly the way he envisioned it. If we had done everything his way, we would have been The Buckingham’s. Michael had a bunch of these songs he really wanted to record. We really needed a break anyway at that point. We had been driven into the ground. The reality of that was to have us be the biggest band on the planet when this new contract was negotiated for Alice. Even Alice’s “Welcome to my Nightmare” album was something that was written into the contract on behalf of the original group. We would have the ability in our contract to go to an outside label to do a soundtrack. That is why “Welcome to my Nightmare” was presented as a soundtrack to a television special. It was only done to go to another label to prove that Alice could continue on his own and then come back to Warner Brother’s and have them outbid. They told Warner that they were now shopping. If the album would have been a failure, Alice would have returned and done the “Battleaxe” album like he was supposed to.
The Gauntlet: So technically the original band is still just on hiatus.
Dennis: I saw an interview with Rod Stewart and he was saying he got a call from Ronny Wood who said “I finally decided I am going to join The [Rolling] Stones.” Rod Stewart said this was ten years after he left to join them and now he is finally deciding to make it official.
The Gauntlet: You should send out a press release tomorrow stating you have finally decided to not return to Alice Cooper and you are moving on with 5th Avenue Vampires.
Dennis: [laughs] I like that. After 35 years! Despite all that, I walked around for a while feeling like I had a bunch of knives. Time is healing and bury the hatchet, bridge over the water and all that. Alice, Neal, Michael and I have all managed to remain good friends and the same with Glenn when he was still alive. He was just such an amazing person to know and work with. I personally don’t see this great American way where you can screw somebody for the money and it is considered a good business move. Me even suing Alice for the name as we all have contracts stating we own the name. Everyone with any business savvy would have sued and that is what The Alice camp prepared for. I talked Alice and Neal out of it probably to our disadvantage, but my contention was we started this as friends so lets stay friends despite what went down. All we would do is line a bunch of lawyers pockets and drag this to the moon. That is how that all went down. Alice and I can put our arms around each others shoulders and we are friends...we are friends. Neal and I are friends and Michael and I are friends. There is just this kind of odd sort of bump in the road that happened years ago that seems to be continuing eternally. I really did think that at some point, at least on the anniversary of the original albums that we’d all get together for a tour or something. But you know, The gravy is good in the Alice camp so it shall continue. Things won’t change if they are running smoothly. It isn’t like I am sitting around thinking everyday wishing we were back together. I am moving forward with all of the things I enjoy doing, creating and enjoying the art of it.
The Gauntlet: Creative control was so important to Alice Cooper, with the successes of Billion Dollar Babies, you had to have been seeing that slip away due to outside forces.
Dennis: We were losing that already on the “Muscle of Love” album. People were already telling Alice how he should be singing the parts and how I should play. We had total control though back then so it would have been a hard thing to change that. When those wheels really started turning, it created this wedge of dissatisfaction between the members. We knew what we wanted to do and we were die hard passionate about what we wanted to do. To have somebody come in and tell us that is now how things are going to happen anymore in a very rude way was...and then to paint the picture that we were unreasonable. There were a lot of knives in my back at that time.
The Gauntlet: Neal told me that he carried three guns with him and even slept with them. Were you at this point with the fans?
Dennis: Ummm I was a peaceful person. Neal wasn’t as worrisome as Glenn going through customs in other countries. When they’d ask Glenn to empty his pockets, you’d get the idea that he had no idea what he was carrying. It always involved switchblades and handcuffs and stuff. He had pockets like Harpo Marx. Stuff just kept coming. Sometimes Glenn looked surprised at what came out of his pockets. There were crazy people out there. There were stalkers and people that worried us like in a Charles Manson kind of way. We had a lot of bomb threats and a lot of people that just plan hated us because they were homophobic or whatever and didn’t realize we were a bunch of heterosexual guys that liked to slap society in the face. There were some pretty crazy people out there but I wouldn’t say they got crazier. Just the volumes got bigger. We had to be careful as to who would barge in when we opened our door. The cops were always showing up. Every time someones daughter didn’t come home on time, whether she was at our concert or not, the cops would come and search our room looking for the under aged person or whatever. If anybody in our room had a joint on them, then we were responsible. The cops were always coming in and there would be people there we didn’t even know. We’d have to leave our room and find another place, but you’d often have a parade behind you. It gets weird like that. It was a good thing as far as I was concerned. Alice was very satisfied in that environment with everyone looking at him but I wasn’t. I would just crawl into a closet and lock the door if I had to get away from people. With Alice, you’d go to his room to say hi and he’d be watching TV. His room would be full of people sitting on the floor just watching Alice watch television. He would say “can someone get me a beer and thirty people would scramble.” It was weird. It was an assault on your ability to keep tabs on reality. Alice never guzzled beer, but he’d have a beer next to his bed. He couldn’t go to sleep until there was a beer sitting next to him on the nightstand. In the morning he’d pop that beer and start sipping. He’d drink beer all day long...warm beer, he liked warm beer. He even smelled like a warm beer and his microphone smelled like a warm beer. It was rock ‘n roll. Glenn would get drunk, play a little sloppy and the hammer would come down on him. Alice would get so drunk he’d have to crawl around on stage and it just magnified what people loved about his character. It was rock n’ roll. It was the times. Alcohol was out in the sixties because people smoked pot, it was superior. People didn’t want to be a drunken slob. Bill Graham blamed us for ruining the free love generation, but it wasn’t us. It burned itself out when people were more concerned with where their next fix was coming from and less about saving the world. Then here come these boys with hair longer than girls and were wearing dresses. Bill Graham pointed the finger at us and we took it as a compliment.