Sometimes I just shrug my shoulders when I think about some of the musicians I listened to during my youth. Amongst the albums in my collection, were 8-Track tapes of Alice Cooper. Yes, 8-Tracks that I kept in the car at all times. They were played so often that most of them shredded, jammed, or wrapped around the capstan mechanism. By the time I’d worn out Alice Cooper’s sixth album, I didn’t bother with him anymore.
His music was a fun detour to take along my journey of music exploration and appreciation. I still enjoy hearing one of his songs now and again for kicks, albeit sparingly. I was surprised and happy to find out that he still tours and performs.
Vincent Damon Furnier was born on today’s date in 1948 in Detroit, Michigan. His mother was Ella Mae (McCart) Furnier, and his father was Ether Furnier, a lay preacher at a Bickertonite (Mormon offshoot) church. The youngster was an active member of his church before his teens. After several severe childhood illnesses, he moved with his family to Phoenix, Arizona. He attended high school in north Phoenix, then studied at Glendale Community College.
As a 16 year old high schooler, in 1964, he put together an act for the school’s yearly athletic letterman talent show. He organized a few of his fellow runners from the cross-country team to come on stage with him. Their bogus group was named “The Earwigs”. None of the boys knew how to play music, so they just dressed up like the Beatles then mimed and lipsynced the performances to Beatle’s tunes. The Earwigs went on to win the talent contest anyway.
Because the boys liked the experience of being on stage, they decided to actually learn how to play their second-hand instruments and then form a real band. As a backhanded punnish salute to the Beatles, they named themselves “The Spiders”. The Spiders’ first recording was cut in 1965, they sang “Why Don’t You Love Me”. The record was distributed by the vanity producer “Mascot Records”. The next year, the boys graduated from high school then released their second record, “Don’t Blow Your Mind”. It was released on “Santa Cruz Records”. The song became the local number one hit in 1966.
The next year, The Spiders renamed the band “The Nazz” as a marketing ploy for their regular gigs in Los Angeles. The Nazz became regulars at small venues in L.A. Their new single was “Wonder Who’s Lovin’ Her Now”. There was one problem, Furnier found out that singer Todd Rundgren’s band was called “Nazz”. Furnier’s band needed a name change ASAP.
The boys determined that they should have some sort of gimmick to shine above the other bands. Legend has it that the band’s name “Alice Cooper” sprang forth from a session with a Ouija board. Eventually Furnier adopted the name as his own, too. The over the top band’s image was inspired, in part, by the movie, “What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?” with Bette Davis. The film “Barbarella” was another influence.
After a horrible flop at the Cheetah Club in Venice, California, the entire audience left the club after only ten minutes on stage. The music manager Shep Gordon saw the potential for national stardom in the group so he was able to sign a contract with Alice Cooper. Gordon arranged an audition with Frank Zappa who loved to sign bizarre talent for his record label.
Zappa asked Alice Cooper to come to his house at seven o’clock. The band mistakenly thought Zappa meant 7:00AM. Despite the slip-up, Zappa was positively impressed that a band was willing to play psychedelic music that early in the morning. Alice Cooper was then signed up for a three album deal.
The band failed miserably in Los Angeles so Cooper decided to relocate to his birthplace, Detroit, where the Midwesterners are more accustomed to such mischievous acts. Finally, in 1970, they had their first bonafide hit on their final contracted record on Zappa’s label. The single “I’m Eighteen” reached number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Soon, Warner Brothers Records signed Alice Cooper and bought out their contract from Zappa.
From that point onward, it was an upward ride to success for Alice Cooper, the band and the man. The combination of androgeny, brattiness, shock, and outragiousness fueled record sales and concert ticket prices. “Billion Dollar Babies” was released in early 1973 to become the band’s most successful record. Alice Cooper fans know the rest of the story of Alice Cooper’s rise and fall.
In 1986, opening act Megadeth noticed hardcore alcohol and drug abuse by band members. Alice Cooper was able to overcome his own addiction to alcohol and then continued to help other musicians suffering from addiction problems.
It came as a surprise to many of his fans, that Alice Cooper took up the game of golf. He claims that the game was a major part of his recovery from alcoholism. He says it was a case of replacing one addiction with another. The story of his relationship with golf is recounted in his autobiography, Alice Cooper, Golf Monster. The singer has competed on the Pro-Am tour. He plays six games per week and has a handicap of two.
In 2005, Alice Cooper played with his manager, Shep Gordon, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He racked up an eye-popping round of two-over par 74 on the world-class course. He has also competed in the All Star Cup in Newport, South Wales, UK.
One other surprising fact about Alice Cooper is that he has become more vocal about his born-again Christian religious beliefs, but he still tries to shy away from publicly expressing his political views. He claims to be a political moderate.
Alice Cooper received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on December 2, 2003.
The Blue Jay of Happiness has this peculiar Alice Cooper quote for you today: “Oh, I love to lie. That’s one of my favorite things in the world, coming up to somebody, especially press people, and telling them some enormous lie that couldn’t possibly be true.”