Seen-it-all rock 'n' roll barker/vaudvillian Alice Cooper is no stranger to Tucson. Having moved to Phoenix from Detroit in the '60s, Coop made his first moves into the punked garage rock that we now love, albeit an early version the Alice Cooper Group called The Nazz, which morphed into The Spiders.
All of that is pretty well-known to many of the most casual Cooper fans, documented heavily on the wide-selling Rhino/Warners box set. What fewer people are aware of is that The Spiders recorded some of their early sessions in Tucson.
"In the early days of The Spiders we were just getting our footing," Cooper says. "Dennis (Dunaway) and I were best friends, and we heard The Beatles and both of us were hooked. We spent a summer learning how to play. We used to do all Yardbirds songs, and there was this one show where we actually opened for The Yardbirds. I remember there being several options for band names. We were The Nazz first, but that didn't work out. We eventually settled on The Spiders after playing around with the name. And of course we'd eventually change the name to Alice Cooper, but when we were The Spiders we were recording our music for the first time, and we were still developing our sound and the idea of what we wanted to be."
More than half a century later, the man born Vincent Furnier still considers Tucson a sort of home. His national radio show does big business on KLPX, and he lives in Phoenix. His return trips to this town inspire the warmest of memories.
"Besides the memories of working with the original band back in high school, Arizona has family memories too," he says. "I moved to Arizona when I was a kid to get away from allergies ... My first major purchase with my money from music was a house in Arizona, which I still live in today. And being so close to Tucson, I end up playing golf here and at home and everywhere in-between. So it's really an extension of home for me."
This July, Cooper releases his 20th solo album (his 27th if you include the Alice Cooper "Band" full-lengthers), Paranormal, a record that Cooper describes as different from the typical Alice Cooper/Bob Ezrin collaboration. The name reflects that very thing.
"For us, a normal album would require a theme, parameters and a story," Cooper says. "But both Bob and I wanted this album to be about the songs. We wanted to pick the best songs, no matter where they came from, so the inspiration for this album is a little bit different. Of course, when I'm writing songs, I can't help but be influenced a bit by what I'm seeing in the world. But in general, I write new music for my fans. I try to write songs that I think they want to hear. I'm not under the impression that I'm going to break a new audience. I mean, if somewhere down the line someone new hears Alice for the first time, then that's great. But inspiration comes from continuing the story of this character I created for my fans. That's what it's really about these days."
It's been about six years since the last Alice Cooper album, 2011's Welcome 2 My Nightmare, and the man is thrilled with the new one. He believes his hardcore fans will love it, which is his main aim. In addition, the much-ballyhooed mini-album attached to Paranormal features new songs by the original band (Alice, Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith and Michael Bruce). It adds a whole new level of excitement to the release. Fans have been baying for this reunion for decades.
"Writing with those guys in Phoenix was really cool," Cooper says. "Neal called me up and said he had some songs so I told him to bring them over. We started working on those and then Michael showed up with a handful of his songs, and Dennis brought some of the things he'd been working on as well. He brought this song 'Sound Of A," which had this really creepy '60s vibe. He had a take of it laying around from way back in the early Spiders days. It's something a lot of our fans have asked for for a long time, so it'll be great to get the album out there to see how they react to it."
Cooper says that the original band didn't split in the mid-'70s due to shared animosity, but rather because they simply ran out of creative juices; they were collectively burned out, but nobody was suing anyone.
"I see Dennis all the time, and Neal comes out to a bunch of shows too," he says. "I don't see Mike as often as I'd like, but we do see each other more often than you might think. We all did a show at Good Records in Dallas that was recorded and released for Record Store Day, and before that in 2011 we had the Hall Of Fame induction ceremony and this weird 3D live video show that was shown in London for Jaegermeister, which we actually shot in LA."
In addition, the new album (main portion) features guest appearances by U2 skinsman Larry Mullen Jr., ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, and Deep Purple's Roger Glover. Cooper has used many backstage stars in the past, folks like Slash and Nikki Sixx. On The Last Temptation (which opened with "Sideshow," co-written by Tucson Weekly's own Brian Smith), the sadly deceased Chris Cornell collaborated with Cooper.
"Chris was an incredible talent, a really soft-spoken, professional guy," Cooper says. "He also wrote 'Unholy War' on The Last Temptation. Working with Chris was great. I was really shocked when I heard the news. It's hard to wrap your head around, because Chris was so young and he clearly didn't seem to be finished. He truly was The Voice."
The band that performs in Tucson this week won't be the original, but it's still pretty damned good. Bassist Chuck Garric and guitarist Ryan Roxie have been with Alice for years, while drummer Glen Sobel and female guitar hero Nita Strauss are highly-rated. The set will span Cooper's career and, as one would certainly expect, it's going to be hella theatrical.
"If I don't go out and deliver what fans are expecting or wanting to hear, I might as well not be doing this," Cooper says. "We have to have a snake and someone has to kill me and we have to play the hits. But I love it. I don't need to tour anymore—I do it because I want to and because my fans want to see me. That being said, we never go on stage and just phone it in. If you are a musician and you believe your best performance is behind you or that your greatest album was a decade ago, you should hang it up."
Shockingly, despite the fact that Alice is fast-approaching 70, he doesn't look like quitting anytime soon.