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Alice Cooper returns with ‘Detroit Stories’ and his take on the state of rock

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 18, 2021

Alice Cooper just received his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine and can’t wait to return to Spokane. The godfather of theatrical rock, who called from his Phoenix home, is familiar with the Pacific Northwest.

Cooper, 73, who performed at the Opera House, the Spokane Coliseum and the Spokane Convention Center, wishes he could showcase his forthcoming album, “Detroit Stories,” which drops on Feb. 26.

The iconic entertainer, who became a 1970s sensation courtesy of visceral hits such as “School’s Out,” “I’m 18” and “Under My Wheel,” reveals what it was like being part of a drinking club with late legends such as John Lennon, Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson, why rock stars are a dying breed and if rock will ever return.

Your songs that were written and recorded a half-century ago like “I’m 18” still sound fresh. That teenage anthem still hits you in the gut. The simplicity of the song is a big reason that it works. Can you detail how “I’m 18” was crafted?

Bob Ezrin, our producer, wanted us to keep it as simple as possible. We wanted it to be like a Yardbirds song. But Bob kept saying “dumb it down.” The power of it is in its simplicity. We didn’t understand that until we heard it on the radio. The song is so in your face.

The songs on “Detroit Stories” are in your face, as well. It’s a straight-up rock album. There’s nothing like the jolt of guitar, bass and drums.

I totally agree, and that’s why it was time to go back to Detroit, which is the home of hard rock. When we started this band, the Doors ruled the roost in Los Angeles, and they were great and did it better than anybody. In San Francisco, you had the Flower Power and Jefferson Airplane, but Detroit was totally different. In Detroit, you had the MC5, Iggy and the Stooges, Suzi Quatro and Alice Cooper. Detroit won’t stand for soft rock. You can’t be Seals & Crofts in Detroit.

What’s something we don’t know about the Detroit scene from 1970?

When we were onstage performing at the Fox Theater, we would look out and see Smokey Robinson, a Supreme and two Temptations. The Motown artists would come out to the rock shows, and we would go to the soul revues. We were welcome there. It was about good music.

Americans tend to wear their genres like badges. Some people are country. Some are rock, and others are hip-hop. Folks are missing out on music, but if you go to a house party in Europe, you never know what style of music you’re going to hear.

I’m a hard rocker. I never get tired of hearing a Pete Townshend power chord or a solo from Jeff Beck. But I can listen to Frank Sinatra or Cradle of Filth. The music just has to be good.

Why go back to Detroit to make the album?

We didn’t have a concept for this album. We wanted to write 15 great rock songs. The place to do this was Detroit. I had (MC5 guitarist) Wayne Kramer and (Grand Funk Railroad guitarist) Mark Farner on it. We had these monster players on the album. We didn’t do any layering. What you hear is us doing it live in the studio.

There are so many distinct characters in “Detroit Stories.” Did you know people like the protagonist in “Drunk and in Love”?

Absolutely. I knew people like Painkiller Jane. There are guys in Detroit like the guys in “Drunk and in Love.” They would hang out in an alley, and the highlight of their day is when Mary the secretary walks by. “Hail Mary full of grace / What you doing in this place.”

You turned the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” inside out. It’s such a fun cover.

I used to know (Velvet Underground singer-songwriter) Lou (Reed) back in the day in New York at the Chelsea Hotel during the ‘70s. The Velvet Underground made that song in a very New York heroin chic manner. Lou sings it very monotone, which is great. I said to Bob (Ezrin), “Why don’t we put a V-8 engine into that song and take it to Detroit?” So we turned “Rock and Roll” into a monster rocker. I sent it to Laurie Anderson, Lou’s wife, and she said that Lou would have loved it.

When was the last time you saw Lou?

Lou was pure rock and New York. I’ll tell you a great story. I saw Lou two years before he passed away (in 2013). I hadn’t seen him since the Chelsea Hotel days. So I ran into him, “How are you doing, Lou?” “What’s new, Alice?” Then Lou says, “I keep pushing the ball to the right.” Lou Reed played golf! I said to him that we could never imagine having this conversation when we were at the Chelsea Hotel. Lou said absolutely not.

It’s hard to imagine Lou Reed on the golf course. What other rockers play golf?

Iggy plays golf. Bob Dylan plays golf. A lot of death metal guys play. A lot of musicians were athletes, who played baseball and soccer. What are we going to do before a show, go to the mall? It’s better to get out there and take some swings at the ball, and then there are guys (like Cooper) who take part in tournaments. The weirdest guys are really good at golf. Dweezil Zappa is a great golfer. Adrian (Young), the drummer from No Doubt, is a scratch golfer.

You’ve played Spokane so many times.

I know. I love the Pacific Northwest! We’ve done so many tours in which we’ve played Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane. So much great music has come out of that area.

But whatever happened to rock stars? There were so many larger-than-life characters from the ’70s and ’80s, but there is such a big void without them. What happened?

I got to be honest. I think bands got lazy. During the ’70s, you had to do a show. The audience demanded that they got a show and loved something glitzy. We brought show biz to rock and roll, and David Bowie and Elton John jumped on it.

I thought the Darkness were going to be the elusive rock stars.

I did, too. They were very good at what they did. Why do you think it didn’t work out?

I think they ran out of songs. But so many bands from the ’80s had the look, the attitude and the sound.

Look at Motley Crue and Bon Jovi during the ’80s. They sounded and looked a certain way. They made their videos a certain way. It was fun, and then the floor dropped out when everyone was in flannel.

And then there was Van Halen with David Lee Roth, which was the last band who performed with a wink and a smile.

With Van Halen, they were the party that would never stop. They were always having a great time.

What was it like hanging night after night in your drinking club, the Hollywood Vampires, with John Lennon, Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson?

It was insanity. We drank every night and had a blast. I still remember the political conversations John and Keith had. I stayed out of those discussions.

Rob Zombie, Dave Grohl and Dave Mustaine of Megadeth have said that you were a huge influence. What advice do you have for fledgling musicians starting bands?

Young bands come to me, and I tell them to have fun. Once you get a hit, that’s when the work starts and you’re at it for 20 hours a day doing interviews and all of that. Once you have a hit, you have a responsibility to your fans.

Can hard rock come roaring back again?

I guarantee you that there are teenagers in garages learning Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith and Alice Cooper. You’ll see another resurgence of hard rock. It always does. It’s best that we’re not in the mainstream now, but rock and roll is outlaw once again. But, yes, hard rock will return.

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