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Rock-and-Roll Hall-of-Famer Alice Cooper has achieved legendary status for his many hits like School’s Out and No More Mr. Nice Guy. He still tours for six months out of the year, with performances that are part vaudeville, part Broadway, and 100% musical thunder. In keeping with his macabre on-stage persona, he slides into a guillotine for the highlight of the show. Shocking yes, but all done with a sly wink at the audience. Off stage Cooper is a reflective family man with many interests, including golf, classic cars and his foundation, Solid Rock, that helps teens explore and develop their artistic talents in his hometown of Phoenix Arizona.
Growing up in the 1970s, I was a big fan of the original Alice Cooper group and later on, Alice Cooper as a solo artist. More recently I learned that Alice collects classic cars, which I just happen to write about. Our paths crossed in his hometown of Phoenix where we conducted this interview. Alice was generous and gracious with his time and is a man of many facets.
Portions of the following interview originally appeared in the May 2019 of AAA World magazine. I’ve added a few questions that were cut from the original article for length.
Michael Milne for AAA World magazine: How did you first get interested in cars?
Alice Cooper: I’m originally from Detroit so it’s in my DNA. I’d always sit in art class designing cars. In my teens I was at that perfect age, with all the Beach Boys songs about cars and driving. A car was your declaration of independence that also reflected who you were. You had to have something that was flashy and cool.
MM: What was your first car?
Cooper: It was a 1966 Ford Fairlane GT 390, yellow with a black stripe. The band was starting to make some money while I was in high school, so my share went into a drawer. After two years I had enough to buy it new. By this time my family had moved to Phoenix because of my asthma, so my friends and I would drive out into the desert and cut loose.
MM: You mentioned cars being in your DNA?
Cooper: My dad sold used cars on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. Unfortunately for him, he was an honest used car salesman. He would point out if the odometer had been turned back or if the car had been in an accident, so he made no money at it. When that didn’t work out he ended up selling new Plymouths so we’d get a Plymouth Fury every year, watching as the tail fins grew larger and larger. By 1958 it was a battleship.
MM: What’s a car that you pined for in your youth that you now own?
Cooper: The 1963 Studebaker Avanti. People hated how the car looked but I liked it because it’s got this asymmetrical body and was just the weirdest car. When it came out I was 15 and thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen in my life. According to an FBI agent that I later met, the one I own was being driven by a Soviet spy when that agent arrested him, so I’ll have to hold on to that one.
MM: What cars do you own now?
Cooper: Let’s see, the ’66 Hertz Mustang signed by Carroll Shelby, a 2019 Dodge Challenger Hellcat, 2015 SRT with the shaker hood, 1963 Avanti, 2003 Mach One with a shaker hood and a 2017 Maserati convertible. That’s a great car. I’m normally an Aston-Martin guy but I drove the Aston-Martin and then I drove the Maserati and I really liked the Maserati. It’s got more power and it’s more comfortable. The Hertz runs as good as it looks, the guy who owned it was a mechanic.
MM: What car would you like to add to the collection?
Cooper: I’m looking for a ’34 Ford with a coyote engine, a restomod.
MM: With a rigorous touring schedule, what are some tips for staying sane on the road?
Cooper: Travel with people you like to spend time with. For the band I pick musicians I like, they all get along, and they’re professionals. I play golf every morning; nine holes if there’s a concert or eighteen if it’s an off night. My wife Sheryl, to whom I’ve been married for 43 years, is a dancer in the show and travels with us, so I bring “home” with me.
MM: What’s an item you always travel with?
Cooper: It sounds crazy, but I always bring kung fu video tapes. I try to find obscure films like Five Golden Shaolins vs. The Army of Darkness. There are thousands of them out there. The dubbing is really bad, but the fight scenes are great, and they get me charged up for the show. Before I go on stage, I watch an hour of these. I also throw knives to relax. It started about 10 years ago and since then I’ve become a ninja with my knives. There’s also a lot of knives and a real samurai sword in our show and the band members know when to avoid them. I tell them, ‘You’re gonna see the world, you’re gonna get paid, and you’re gonna get stitches.’ We used to do the knife fight from West Side Story in the show (sings the West Side Story riff) Da-DA-DA-da-da and we’d get into a fight. Sometimes someone would get nicked. It just wouldn’t be right to use a fake knife. The audience would hate it.
MM: How did the Solid Rock Teen Center get started?
Cooper: While visiting a neighborhood ministry program on a full block in the heart of a gangland part of town I saw two sixteen-year-old kids doing a drug deal on the street. I thought to myself, ‘How does that kid not know he might be the best guitar player in Arizona, while the other kid might be the best drummer or the best artist?’ I thought we could run a program, just for teenagers, where they would come in and learn any instrument for free. Gang kids or the most rich kid in Paradise Valley, what do they have in common? Music. You put them in a room together and they’re going to start talking about what music they listen to.
We started raising money for the foundation with the golf tournaments and the Christmas Pudding concert (Note: The annual fundraiser takes place in December in Phoenix. Past musical guests have included Slash, Ace Frehley, and Johnny Depp.)
We’ve expanded from music performance to art and dance. We have a recording studio. We tell kids ‘Come in and discover your talent and let us help you nurture it.’ We get 100 kids a day here, from all walks of life, who come because they are going to get something out of it that could change their life. Maybe you get a kid who used to sell meth but now he’s playing guitar in a band. You don’t just change that kid, you change his family and you change his neighborhood. Nobody ever wins being in a gang. You either day or you’re in jail. Parents see this as a way out of that, and it works.
MM: What are some of the success stories?
Cooper: Our first in-house competition was won by Jordin Sparks. When she went on to win American Idol in 2007, she wore her Solid Rock bracelet the whole time.
MM: Do these kids know who you are?
Cooper: When they get here they might have heard Schools Out or they might have seen me in a movie so they go ‘Oh, that guy.’ But a lot of them have no idea who I am but they still come and that’s good because it doesn’t all depend on me, on who I am. It depends on the fact that they come because they are going to get something valuable out of spending time here. Then they wonder what’s the catch. There is none. We use space in a church but we are not a church. We genuinely want to help them. And if they can’t play an instrument they can produce or they can get involved in our video program. These kids are so bright with technology. At 15-years-old they can do things that would take me 10 years to learn. Here they can learn how to run a recording studio and go to LA and know how to do it. So it’s vocational in a way too.
MM: You’re on the road for more than half the year. Where do you get the energy?
Cooper: In 9th grade my friend Dennis Dunaway [a co-founder of the band] talked me into going out for cross country. I didn’t know I was a distance runner until then and I ended up being a four-year letterman. That endurance still helps me. I also quit drinking 38 years ago and quit anything having to do with drugs. I never smoked cigarettes. Once you get in front of an audience the adrenaline kicks in. It doesn’t matter if you have a migraine headache or the flu or a toothache. When the curtain goes up and the audience is there, all of that takes a back seat. You do the show and the adrenaline is making you feel pretty good. Of course, when the show is over that’s a different story.
I remember back when I was drinking, I was using a sword that was owned by Errol Flynn—I still use it in the show—and I’m waving it around and decide to stick it into the stage, but instead I stuck it right through my leg. It was spurting blood and the audience thought it was a trick that was part of the show, but the band knew it wasn’t. I pulled the sword out and there’s little puddles of blood all over the stage and honestly, no pain, nothing, until after the show, when I just collapsed. I poured whiskey on it because I figured that’s what James Bond would do. The next day I could barely walk, but then the curtain goes up again and I’m out there like nothing happened. I’m flying, no problems at all. I still get that adrenaline burst because there are 10 or 15 thousand people out there who want Alice Cooper and I’m more than happy to give it to them. It’s nothing but fun.
MM: You were very close friends with Glen Campbell. What was that like?
Cooper: Here’s the thing about Glen. To everyone he was just the Rhinestone Cowboy and he had his own TV variety show and he made nice records. But in the musician’s world, Glen was considered one of the top five guitar players in America and was considered the creme de la creme. Eddie Van Halen called me up one time and asked ‘Can you get me a guitar lesson with Glen?’ Every once in a while Glen would pick up his electric guitar and jump up on a stage with a blues band and they would go WHAT?!? He could sound like Mike Bloomfield. He could play anything.
MM: What would be your ultimate rock-and-roll golfing foursome?
Cooper: Dweezil Zappa, he can really play; Adrian Young, the drummer for No Doubt, he’s a scratch golfer who played in our tournament last year; Brandon Flowers from The Killers, I heard he was on a TV show challenging me to golf, and Willie Nelson, but he’s country.
MM: You’ve spent a career giving people nightmares. What scares you?
Cooper: A few years ago I was playing in Romania with my other group, The Hollywood Vampires, that includes Johnny Depp and [Aerosmith guitarist] Joe Perry. [Movie director] Tim Burton was with us. We had a day off, so they put on a special dinner for us at Dracula’s Castle. A guy dressed up like Vlad the Impaler told us all the scary stories of the old days. It was pretty crazy. It was definitely a place you wouldn’t want to spend the night.
Here’s where to go for more information about Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock.
We’re Larissa and Michael, your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our free travel newsletter here.