Tired of hearing rigidly confined playlists on corporate radio stations, rock legend Alice Cooper has been broadcasting a more free-form approach on his nationally syndicated show "Nights With Alice Cooper."
Heard in the islands on Honolulu's classic rock station KPOI, Alice broadcasts five hours a night, six nights week, playing whatever he likes, peppering his shows with odd facts and anecdotes about the numerous rock stars he's hung with. Tunes by popular bands from the Who and Pink Floyd to Slade are interspersed with segments highlighting the Best Band You've Never Heard, such as obscure '70s Welsh rockers Man, and the "God of Hellfire" Arthur Brown.
"I had just finished seven months on the road and Dick Clark's company asked if I had a radio show what would it be?" Alice explains his show's genesis.
Alice Cooper was joined by his wife, Sheryl, and daughter, Sonora, while performing with Mick Fleetwood at the grand opening of Mala Wailea recently.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Alice joins his longtime manager and Mala partner, Shep Gordon, and fellow rocker Sammy Hagar.
Photo courtesy Mala Wailea
"I said for one thing, it would probably be a nod to'70s free-form FM radio. That means I would play not just ACDC and Zeppelin, I would play the Yardbirds and Them and the Petty Things and the Mothers of Invention and Paul Butterfield. When I started the show I had maybe 10 stations, now I have 120 and we're number one on most of them. The reason is because of that format. When corporate America runs rock, they're only going to play 50 songs. It's awful. So when you give the radio back to rock 'n' roll guys, you're going to get 3,500 songs. And on top of it, everyone I play I know them, so I'll tell a story about Mick Fleetwood or Keith Moon or Keith Richards."
Recently hanging with Fleetwood at the grand opening of the Mala Wailea restaurant, Alice also spent some time recording liners for his radio show at the KAOI studio.
"I tape the show so I can do a five-hour show in about an hour," he notes. "I try to stay 10 days ahead. So I can be driving to Wailuku to go to a restaurant and I'm listening to the show I did 10 days ago."
Relaxing on Maui, his second home, Alice is about to release his 25th studio album, "Along Came a Spider." It's a concept album, about a serial killer.
"It's pure Alice Cooper, a hard guitar rock album and very theatrical," he reports. "It's like 'Welcome To My Nightmare' with a real story line, a purely fictional story about a serial killer who falls in love with one of his victims. The spider to him is the greatest predator, and he fashions his style from the spider. The trick to the whole thing is you realize at the end he's been in an insane asylum for 28 years and he couldn't have done any of these things. It's all in his head, all imaginary."
Famous mates helping him out on the project include guitarist Slash and Ozzy Osbourne. "Slash came in and played some guitar, and Ozzy and I wrote a song and he plays harmonica on one of the songs," he continues.
Ozzy has been a guest on Alice's radio show. Discussing the current paucity of good music - Alice sums up today's crop as fast food music - they both revealed their debt to the Beatles.
"When you think of Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne you don't think Beatles, but that's how we leaned to write," says Alice. "We listened to McCartney and Jagger and Richards, and even Burt Bacharach. Those guys knew how to write songs."
The multiplatinum-selling artist who invented spectacular, theatrical rock, spawning endless imitators, and shaped the future of heavy metal, began his professional career in Phoenix, imitating the Beatles in a high school band called the Earwigs.
"Everybody did the Beatles songs, and then we started with the Rolling Stones, and then the more obscure British bands," he recalls.
Relocated to L.A., Alice was introduced to his future manager, entrepreneur Shep Gordon, by guitar god Jimi Hendrix.
"He was living in the same apartment building as Shep," Alice explains. "He also knew the Chambers Brothers and we were living in the basement of the Chambers Brothers' house. So Jimi Hendrix would come over and see the Chambers Brothers and say, 'Who's this band in the cellar?' He liked us and he went to Shep and said, 'I know a band that could use a manager,' and he introduced us. The very next day, Frank Zappa saw us and loved us and we had a record contract signed, and that's after years of trying."
Unleashed at the close of the 1960s, Alice's trailblazing mix of glam and increasingly violent stage theatrics stood in stark contrast to the peace-loving hippy movement of the time. The shadow had emerged.
"We went the exact opposite way," he says. "We had long hair and played the hippie festivals, but I saw a lot of rock heroes, a lot of rock Peter Pans and where's Captain Hook? I would gladly be Captain Hook, I would be Mr. Hyde, I would be Jack the Ripper. Rock 'n' roll needs the ultimate villain; they needed their Darth Vader. I was ripe to be that character. I created Alice to be rock's villain, and who has more fun?"
Leading legends of the time like Salvador Dali and Groucho Marx flocked to his shows. "They saw through what it was," he says. "Groucho Marx would bring Fred Astaire and Mae West and Jack Benny, and Salvador Dali and all they saw was vaudeville, very loud, rock 'n' roll, really demented vaudeville. People called it shock rock, but to us it was vaudeville."
Over in England, leading morality campaigners like Mary Whitehouse and Member of Parliament Leo Abse were totally shocked. Whitehouse intimidated the BBC into banning "School's Out" from the airwaves, and Abse petitioned to have the group banned from performing in the U.K. Talk about priceless publicity.
"We couldn't thank her enough, we were sending her flowers, and cigars to Leo Abse because he wanted to ban us," Alice recalls.
"When you get banned the record went right to number one and we sold out Wembley Arena, without anybody having seen us before. Luckily we had a great show and really good music, songs like 'Eighteen' and 'Schools Out.' We broke in England before America. 'Schools Out' went right to number one, and we kept thanking the British government for banning us."
Bad Alice would need punishing and his shows routinely featured mock executions by electric chair, guillotine and hanging rope. Dancing on the edge, at a show in London in 1988, he almost hung himself.
"I insisted on it being realistic and when you're doing the gallows, it's a trick, a way of doing it so it looks real," he says. "The more real it looks, the more dangerous it is. There was a piano wire that literally stops you from hanging. It got stressed and at one show it snapped and the rope caught me by the neck. Luckily I snapped my head back so the rope went over my chin. My hands were handcuffed behind me; I didn't have any control. I like the idea of my audience realizing there's a possibly that something could go wrong, like the circus with a trapeze guy without a net. It gets exciting, it's showbiz."
Another trap brought him to his knees. Serious alcohol abuse threatened his life, and, as he writes in his recent book, "Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: A Rock 'n' Roller's 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf Addict," he found sanctuary in playing golf.
"I reached a point where I was drinking a bottle of whiskey a day and I was getting up in the morning and throwing up blood, and all my friends were dying or dead,' he reveals.
"You get to a crossroads where you decide to live or die. I went into hospital and stayed 30 days or so, and when I came out I was healed. It was a very spiritual healing, and at that point I never had another urge to drink. The doctors were saying, 'You need to go to A.A.' I never had to go A.A. once. So now what was I going to do? I used to get up and drink and watch TV. I went to a golf seminar and took lessons and ended up becoming pretty much an addicted golfer. My wife laughs and says, I traded one bad habit for a worse one. She's kidding."
The mascara-daubed godfather of shock rock who used to chop up baby dolls on stage has in recent years surprised his former detractors by openly expressing his Christian faith. He's championed a Christian teen center in Phoenix, and has been awarded an honorary doctorate by a Christian college in Arizona for his philanthropic work.
"I grew up in a Christian home, I was a prodigal son," he says. "My dad was a pastor and my grandfather was a pastor. I went out and did everything I could to destroy myself then when I quit drinking, I became more focused and realized I was looking for something with deeper meaning, something to fill the hole, and it wasn't another car, it wasn't a mansion, and it wasn't another hit record. I was longing spiritually to get back to my home, which was the Christian church. I go to Bible studies and church on Sundays, and I have an organization that tries to persuade gang kids into a different life. But I still do my show, and play Alice Cooper to the hilt. I'm still the villain of rock 'n' roll."
As our interview comes to a close I ask Alice about the time he was coaching his son's Little League team and the kids had no clue about his rock star status, only that he had somehow showed up in the "Wayne's World" movie and was idolized by "we're not worthy" Wayne and Garth.
"I didn't realize that the kids on my team had no idea who Alice Cooper was," he reports. "But when they saw 'Wayne's World,' they were, how did coach Cooper get in 'Wayne's World?' The parents knew who I was, but not the kids. And now with 'Guitar Hero' (game) every 9-year-old kid knows 'School's Out' and listens to my albums."
So after 16 years or so do fans still "I'm not worthy" him?
"Every day, at least three times a day," he says laughing. "And they all think they're the first ones who thought of it."
The 2008 Maui Invitational Band Festival continues with a July 4 concert in Lahaina and a Blues Festival on Saturday at Wailuku's Historic Iao Theater.
Located on the Lahaina library lawn, Friday's free concert at 6 p.m. features the Maui Community Band, blues guitarist/singer Colin John, Michael Hill, vocalist Sheryl Renee and Claude Hopper. Fireworks begin at 8.
The blues fest at 7 p.m. Saturday features Colin John, Michael Hill, Sheryl Renee, Claude Hopper, and the Vince Esquire Blues Band. A suggested $10 donation will benefit music education programs.
An accomplished, versatile musician, John commands the stage with his guitar prowess and passionate singing honed from years steeped in Memphis's rich music community. His genre-defying, infectious style was described by the British music magazine Mojo as "ferociously entertaining funked-up R&B." Playing lead in the house band on Saturday afternoons at B.B. King's Beale Street club in Memphis, John would often back visiting artists from Hank Ballard and James Cotton, to Pinetop Perkins and Clarence Gatemouth Brown.
Based in Denver, Sheryl Renee is a versatile vocalist, actress and playwright. She has been featured with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, opened for Joe Cocker, and won awards for her stage roles including Hattie McDaniel and Tina Turner.
Raised in New York, Michael Hill has performed or recorded with artists such as Little Richard, Harry Belafonte, B.B. King and Buddy Guy.
California-based musician Claude Hopper plays an eclectic mix of original songs that has been described as alternafolk-truckrockin'-countrifried-bluesy music. He fronts his band as an acoustic solo artist.
* Contact Jon Woodhouse at jonwoodh@hawai iantel.net.