As concerts and conventions began to make a return in 2021, prior to the arrival of the Omicron variant, artists and performers took advantage of the opportunity to interact directly with their fan base following a forced break of nearly a year and a half.
His incorporation of everything from vaudeville to horror made rocker Alice Cooper a perfect fit as the Days of the Dead convention made its way throughout the country, celebrating the worlds of music, film and pop culture.
In normal times Cooper, 73, remains a road warrior, logging countless concert dates. But the Days of the Dead conventions provided an unparalleled opportunity for a closer look, giving fans a brief glimpse behind the curtain.
“Here’s the deal: Generally, I get into town, we play the show and I leave. I don’t meet anybody – except the VIP’s afterwards. You never meet the audience,” explained Cooper last month, as Days of the Dead drew to a close for 2021 just outside Chicago. “When I do these [conventions], everybody’s got a story. ‘I saw you in 1973!’ ‘I saw you in 1981!’ ‘I saw you in 1995!’ They all have great stories. And I love hearing that! This is the only time where I can really go one-on-one with fans.”
Pandemic aside, 2021 provided Cooper with once unthinkable career firsts. His 28th studio album, Detroit Stories , takes a rare look back, examining his earliest days in the Motor City, his hometown. Over 50 years removed from his debut, Alice Cooper tallied his first #1 album, scaling Billboard’s Top Album Sales chart this past March.
I spoke with Alice Cooper about working with horror icon Vincent Price on the 1975 album Welcome to My Nightmare , and its influence on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” seven years later, returning to the concert stage (a tour scheduled to resume in January 2022) and the impact of a 1973 Forbes magazine cover story entitled “A New Breed of Tycoon.” A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity follows below.
You’ve actually graced the cover of Forbes magazine. April of 1973…
ALICE COOPER : I’d get on an airplane – and at this time I was the scourge of rock and roll, so there was no businessman that wanted to be near me. When the Forbes thing came out it was like, “Oh, could you please sit here – in first class?” Because all of the sudden they related it with Forbes, you know? It was very funny. Because we were still the same guys.
1973. Wow. Well, people were not used to rock stars. That tour was so big that it got everybody’s attention. Especially for a band that everybody thought would last a week and a half because it was so extreme.
But if you have a hit record in this business, it doesn’t just speak to the radio – it speaks to all the money in the world. Because all of the sudden, they go, “Wait a minute… I gotta latch onto that…” You know, follow the money. And so all of the sudden, with those hit records, people started following us.
Instead of ignoring us, they had to start listening to us.
Well, obviously your incorporation of everything from vaudeville to horror in your live set fits perfectly with the Days of the Dead convention. What’s it been like doing that run of conventions this year?
ALICE COOPER : For one thing, we had 18 months off. Which was just absolutely unusual. I’ve been touring for 55 years. And we usually average 100 to 200 shows a year. We’re so used to being on stage that 18 months off was like insane! Just the idea that we were going to rehearse, everybody was giddy about it – couldn’t wait to get back on stage.
Because we didn’t know if there was going to be an end to this! Maybe it was all over? Now people are out doing shows again – it’s back to the grind. And we love the grind!
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Doing the conventions, even more so than the concerts, you’re really interacting with your fans. What’s that been like?
AC: Here’s the deal: Generally, I get into town, we play the show and I leave. I don’t meet anybody – except the VIP’s afterwards. You never meet the audience. But when I do these [conventions], everybody’s got a story. “I saw you in 1973!” “I saw you in 1981!” “I saw you in 1995!” They all have great stories. And I love hearing that! This is the only time where I can really go one-on-one with fans.
Alice has become the new Vincent Price. OK. It’s a character I play – it’s not even me. But it’s become so much of a household word now that grandparents, parents, and grandkids all come to the show. And it’s a family show.
Vincent Price was on the Welcome to My Nightmare album…
AC: We gave him his first gold album! Pre-Michael Jackson. In fact, I mentioned that to Michael. I made sure Michael remembered that. (Laughing) He laughed. Michael told me he considered Thriller to be an offshoot of Welcome to My Nightmare . Because Nightmare was a total concept album beginning to end – and a show with it. He was an Alice fan. And he said, “Well, we could do something different with my kind of music…” And that’s really basically it.
It certainly wasn’t anything like our show. But it was the idea that you could put horror, comedy and music together and it would make sense, you know?
Speaking of concept albums, Detroit Stories did so well this year, topping the Billboard Top Album Sales chart. It gets into your history and your story so much. How gratifying was it to see that album in particular do so well in 2021?
AC: Especially during the pandemic.
We did the album right before the pandemic hit. And I went to Detroit. I said I wanted to do a rock album – a full out rock album. You can’t do that album in Nashville – you can’t do it in L.A. and you can’t do it in New York. The only place you can do a real hard rock album is Detroit. That’s the home of hard rock. So we went there. And not only did we do it there, we wrote it about Detroit and we used all Detroit players – guys from the MC5, Grand Funk Railroad and people like that.
It comes out and my wife says, “Did you see this?” I looked and it says, “Alice’s album debuts at #1.” I went, “What?!”
And hard rock. If you look at the bands that are still here – Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper – we’re all hard rock bands. Music goes up and down and goes all over the place but the music that never goes away is hard rock.
Well, there was no live music for about 18 months. I think it was easy for fans to see their favorite artist do a livestream during that stretch and completely underestimate how dire the situation is for a lot of musicians – and roadies and bartenders and crew members, etc. – without that ability to tour. Just how important has touring become today?
AC: Oh my gosh. When we saw this coming, we put money aside for our crew. We could see that it was… something. So we put money aside as a backup for them. Because we knew that their unemployment would run out, you know? And then they’d have something to go to. I think all responsible bands did that. Hopefully.
Because these are people we live with. We work with them every day. The guys that run the stage are as important as the guys that play guitar. So we made sure that everybody was covered. And that was really important.
Hey, we thought this thing was gonna last a month! 18 months?! Unreal.