'Alice Cooper here, we're in Maui tonight and we have an audience. Everyone say hello."
It's a Tuesday evening in Wailuku and legendary rocker Alice Cooper is commanding the airwaves recording his syndicated show "Nights With Alice Cooper" in a KAOI-FM studio. Five contest winners and friends are huddled around him, soaking up the opportunity to hang with a rock star. It's the first time in six years Alice has recorded his show before a live audience, and he's obviously relishing the attention, joking and riffing, and drawing the fans into the broadcast.
"That was 'Destroyer' by The Kinks, who might be reforming this year. The Kinks were probably the first metal-sounding band. I love Ray Davies. When people ask, 'Where did you learn to write lyrics?' I say from Ray Davies, and Chuck Berry, who was the best lyricist of all time."
Broadcasting “Nights With Alice Cooper” from Maui last week, the star was joined by contest winners Andrew Huey (from left), Rich Lewis, Elaine Surma, Mark Peterson and Dana Evans.
JON WOODHOUSE photo
Heard on 95.1 FM, five hours a night, six nights week, Alice plays music by classic bands from The Who to Pink Floyd and Lynyrd Skynyrd to Deep Purple, interspersed with nuggets from more obscure acts like Humble Pie and The Sorrows, while peppering his shows with anecdotes about the numerous rock luminaries he's hung with.
"The radio show is the easiest thing I've ever done," says Alice. "I let the music be the star of the show and I just put the color in. People like that I'm playing different music, not just playing the same old AC/DC and Led Zeppelin."
And besides great music, his show provides a unique perspective into the lives of many of the musicians he plays. "I tell the stories behind these guys, and I can tell them because I was there," he continues. "If a regular DJ starts having fun knocking Journey or Ronnie Wood, everybody goes, 'How dare you do that,' but if you're those guys' best friend, you're allowed to do it."
Only Alice could get away with ribbing Styx's Tommy Shaw, telling him on air that their big hit "Come Sail Away," must be one of the gayest rock songs of all time.
"He comes back with, " 'Only Women Bleed' had to be one of the gayest rock songs,' " Alice recalls. "And I said, 'Yeah, but you followed it up with 'Woman,' the only song written directly for Jerry Lewis. Guys like the idea that I'll take a shot at them. I'll say, 'I'm playing a song by Boston, I hate corporate rock, but this is a good song,' or I'll say, 'I like these guys, but I hate this song.' It's all with a little tongue in cheek."
"That was Aerosmith with 'Rag Doll.' That's not my favorite Aerosmith song at all; to me it's a B side. We go way back. Years ago I was just out of rehab and Joe Perry was just out of rehab, so I called him up and said, 'Let's write some songs together.' Stephen Tyler heard about this and thought I was stealing Joe for my band. He really went nuclear; it made up him jump into rehab quick."
Celebrity guests frequently pop up on his show. During Halloween week, rocker/horror director Rob Zombie, Def Leppard vocalist Joe Elliot and "Exorcist" star Linda Blair joined the festivities.
"The craziest interview I ever did was Question Mark from Question Mark & The Mysterians (of "96 Tears" fame), who after 20 minutes started telling me that he doesn't live on Mars, he lives in Mars, and that the air is food, and they don't wear clothes, and Elvis really likes it," he reports. "All I could say was, uh huh, uh huh. It was insane, he was dead serious.
"The one person I couldn't get anything out of was Jerry Lee Lewis, who I thought would be on fire. I said, 'It must have been great knowing Elvis, and he was, 'Yeah.' I'm thinking this guy just woke up or he's not awake. Guys who are willing to talk like Bill Wyman from the Rolling Stones are great interviews, or the guys from The Doors, who talk candidly about Jim (Morrison)."
"Let's play something by Uriah Heep, 'Easy Livin'.' When I think of Uriah Heep, I think of a compost heap, things that are rotting. That's one of the worst names of all time, next to Foghat."
Tired of hearing rigidly confined play lists on corporate radio stations Alice began broadcasting a more free-form approach about six years ago. A true music fan with an encyclopedic knowledge, he passionately champions landmark music from the 1960s and '70s.
"I just believe there was so much great music in the '60s and '70s that everyone has forgotten about," he says. "And I hate the idea of corporate demographics taking over great music, and some guy in a suit saying, 'You're only gong to play these 40 songs, because that's what makes money.' I told them right up front when I got the show I want to play the bands that are forgotten like Procul Harum and Love and Paul Butterfield, and Frank Zappa. People want to hear a variety. This show is number one in most markets."
"Fun and freaky facts on band names coming up. Guess who was Wee Johnny Hays and the Bluecats? The Bee Gees. I'm a huge Bee Gees fan. 'Saturday Night Fever' was the Sergeant Pepper of disco, one of the greatest albums of all time."
Alice's classic rock programming is heard around the globe, drawing a combined audience of more than 6 millions listeners. "We just picked up Istanbul and Copenhagen," he notes. "We're on every morning in London on Planet Rock. We're on in Australia and Canada."
E-mails pour in from fans of all ages and from all over including a number of prisons.
"I am very big in mental hospitals and prisons," he says. "They're a captive audience, they can't go anywhere. I talk to them, I go, 'The guys over there in Lompoc, I know you didn't do it, but while you're there I'll play you "Jailbreak" by Thin Lizzy.' "
On Maui for the holidays, Alice just rang in the New Year at Mala Wailea at a benefit show which also featured an incendiary performance by the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band, joined by British blues legend John Mayall, and members of Nickelback.
"It's become a tradition to do that show, and it's always great to turn something like that into a charity event," he notes. "These people are here already, so why not put them to work."
Backed by Mick Fleetwood on drums, Rick Vito on guitar and vocals, bassist Lenny Castellanos, keyboardist Mark Johnstone, and Eric Gilliom and Gretchen Rhodes of Island Rumours on vocals, Alice belted out his classic hits "Schools Out" and "No More Mr. Nice Guy."
"Mick Fleetwood is such a great drummer," he continues. "You forget Fleetwood Mac was a real rock band and he was one of the best drummers out there, and Rick's a great blues guitar player. And then you have John Mayall come up, how great is that?"
This multi-platinum selling artist who invented theatrical rock, and shaped the future of heavy metal, recently completed a U.K. tour that drew rave reviews.
"Like your very worst nightmare, shock rocker Alice Cooper's 'Theatre of Death' rolled into town promising all manner of gore and gruesomeness," praised the Plymouth Herald. "Super svelt and in very fine voice throughout, Alice at sixty-something was in tip top form, as were his snake-hipped, leather-clad axemen. This was a fun theatrical spectacle from the ultimate showman."
During the completely revamped spectacular - co-designed by Broadway director Rob Roth - the "grandfather of gothic" is offed not just once, but four times. "Within minutes of the show opening, the golf-loving 60-plus-year-old was beheaded in a mock execution after the gig exploded with the iconic air guitar classic 'School's Out,' " noted the Birmingham Mail.
Subsequent fatal punishments included hanging from a gallows, lethal injection from a scantily clad nurse, and skewering in a box of giant nails.
"We changed absolutely everything," Alice explains. "We had three weeks, 12 hours a day of rehearsals. Everybody loved it; it was the perfect package that people want from Alice Cooper. (Manager) Shep (Gordon) and myself and Rob Roth masterminded it. Shep and I pretty much know what works, and we let Rob come in and upset the apple cart. So let's start with 'School's Out' and kill Alice on the fourth song, so the audience is going, 'Where are they going from here?' Even fans that come to every show had no idea what was coming next."