published: 9 /
Founder member and bassist for the original Alice Cooper Group, Dennis Dunaway chats to Lisa Torem about his contribution to Cooper’s recent Paranormal LP and his well-received memoir ‘Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group'.
Bassist Dennis Dunaway just returned from the UK, where he performed alongside guitarist Michael Bruce and drummer Neal Smith—two other remaining members of the original Alice Cooper Group - and front man Alice Cooper with guitarist Ryan Roxie for a five-song classic set, during the band’s recent tour of the UK, which included stops at Leeds, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and London.
Dunaway, in conjunction with his memoir, ‘Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in The Alice Cooper Group’ also offered British fans an opportunity to chat and get their books signed at local record shops in Birmingham and London.
Bruce, Dunaway and Smith also contributed original music to the brand-new Alice Cooper LP ‘Paranormal’. Lisa Torem caught up with Dennis Dunaway shortly after his return to the States, where he was kind enough to answer a few timely questions.
PB: It took many rehearsals to prepare for the UK tour. What was your biggest headache? What was the biggest surprise?
DD: Michael, Neal and I rehearse on our own regularly. That’s what musicians do. Sometimes I’ll play along with a record with the amps cranked, but I usually play quietly while watching television, just playing through the commercial breaks.
Even though the original group would only be playing five songs, two of them, “Billion Dollar Babies”, and “Muscle of Love” were physically demanding, especially for Neal, so rehearsing was more for building endurance than remembering parts. Let’s face it, we’ve played those songs for most of our lives.
We wanted to play the set for a live crowd, so we decided to play at the Chiller Theatre Expo in New Jersey, which is a Sci-Fi/monster convention.
Michael said he would sing the lead parts on ‘I’m Eighteen’, ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’ and ‘Muscle of Love’ and we invited guitarist Rick Tedesco to sing lead on ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ and ‘School’s Out/Another Brick in The Wall.’ We also invited Nick Didkovsky to play additional guitar at Chiller.
Before the Chiller show, we had one rehearsal at Rick Tedesco’s studio in Connecticut, where the Dennis Dunaway Project had recorded the ‘Bones from The Yard’ album in 2006. Neal had worked on some of his Kill$mith recordings there as well.
We all knew what had to be done, so I wouldn’t say anything was difficult. But the biggest task was to assign the various parts for the three guitars.
And I wouldn’t say it was a surprise, but I was pleased to hear Michael nailing all of the high notes, even though we were tuned down a half a step, which is what they do to make long tours somewhat easier for Alice’s voice.
After Chiller, we rehearsed live before an intimate crowd at Rick’s Guitar Hangar music store.
Our last rehearsal before we’d fly to the UK was back at Rick’s studio. Ironically, Nick Didkovsky wasn’t there because he had left to do a tour in the UK. Ian Hunter came to that rehearsal. He listened and he said we were definitely ready!
The final rehearsal took place at Alice’s sound check in Leeds. Michael, Neal and I ran through the set and it sounded tight. Then Ryan Roxie and Alice joined us. Again, the task was to delegate which guitar parts Ryan Roxie would play. He often plays Michael’s parts in Alice’s solo shows, but he would play Glen Buxton’s parts with us. The five of us ran through the set and it sounded even tighter. We were all happy and excited, including Alice.
PB: The signing in Birmingham brought together a very lively group of fans and, I believe, colleagues. How did London's signing compare?
DD: The day started with Cindy and I taking the Tube to Omnibus Press where I signed nearly 500 copies of my book. As I was signing, bookstores were already ordering copies, which were boxed up for shipment by the time we left the office. Other than that, the London book-signing event was similar to the one in Birmingham. People had travelled from Canada, America, France, Sweden, and Russia. Two younger guys had purchased tickets for Alice’s concert in their home country of Germany. By the time they found out the original group would only be in the UK, it was too late to get tickets for Wembley, so they flew to London just for the book signing event. They didn’t even have a hotel room, so they planned to stay awake until their morning flight back to Germany for Alice’s show the following night.
PB: 'Paranormal' is stunningly diverse. Were you able to hear the other recorded material before you submitted original music? Or was the idea to draw on the pure creativity of the songwriters, regardless of the genre?
DD: I had heard five or six songs that Neal, Michael and Alice had come up with in Phoenix, Arizona. Those were submitted, and I submitted about fifteen songs. Alice is surrounded by songwriters, so tons of irons were in the fire. Bob Ezrin (legendary producer of Cooper’s
1970s albums) and Alice chose whatever grabbed them at the time. I first heard the other songs by the studio group upon the album’s release.
PB: What came first? Melody, riff, lyric/theme?
DD: A song takes shape in many ways. That’s what keeps things interesting. ‘Fireball’ was riff driven, or more correctly, mood driven around the concept of being caught up in a devastating celestial event. I wanted everyone to capture the relentless power of a Fireball falling from the sky. Once you envision that, and stay true to that goal, everything falls into place.
Alice wrote the initial version of ‘Sound of A’ back in the 60’s. Decades later, when I revised it from the bits and pieces that I could recall, I filled in the blanks using the same inspiration that he had, which was the concept of a society that’s controlled by a sound. Again, the mood was dictated by the theme. Alice got the forlorn feel with minor chords.
‘You and All of Your Friends’ was Pete Townshend-ish guitar driven. My original lyrics were about a band rolling into a city to film a music video. It was called ‘Films of Me and My Friends’ but Alice asked if he could change them and of course I said yes.
PB: Rumour has it that a contingent of fans followed the UK tour for all five shows. Did you meet any of them? Are they on steroids?
DD: Yes, the superfans are wonderfully enthusiastic. I’ve gotten to know some of them pretty well. Cindy and I also enjoy meeting new fans. Sometimes they’ll be too nervous to speak so we’ll joke around and try to put them at ease. The superfans are ready to take them into the fold. They see that same spark of excitement that they once had, and still have. So a big part of seeing the same show five times is that shared camaraderie among fans.
PB: Is there anything you would like to say to the zillion UK fans out there?
DD: I’d like to say thanks for the warm reception on stage and off. It was an amazing tour. We love the UK for so many reasons, the British Invasion, Haley Mills, Earl Grey Tea, Jean Shrimpton, Cadbury’s Crunchies, Alfred Hitchcock, RotoSound Strings, and the Queen. We hope to vist again soon. Cheers!
PB: Thank you.
Photos by Philamonjaro