Alice Cooper on new album Detroit Stories and why rock 'n' roll isn't dead
Cooper’s new album pays tribute to the Detroit hard rock scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s
When Alice Cooper and his longtime producer Bob Ezrin set out to create their latest hard rock album, they knew there was only one place to go.
"The only place you can do a really good hard rock record is Detroit," Cooper told host Tom Power in an interview on CBC Radio's Q. "That's the home of hard rock."
Cooper was born and partly raised in Detroit, but his family moved to Phoenix, Ariz., when he was in his early teens. His new album, Detroit Stories, is a return to his Motor City roots. It pays tribute to the city's hard rock scene of the '60s and '70s, and features an array of fellow Detroit musicians, including the MC5's Wayne Kramer and Johnny Bee of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. "These two guys are Detroit," said Cooper.
Detroit's long-lost son
After graduating high school, Cooper and his band signed with Frank Zappa's record label in Los Angeles, but they struggled to connect with California crowds who found them to be too dark and menacing. In 1970, they decamped to Detroit, where they landed in the middle of a hard rock explosion that included the likes of the MC5, the Stooges and the Bob Seger System.
"We didn't fit into L.A., didn't fit into San Francisco — didn't fit in. We fit in kind of in New York in the underground," said the legendary rocker. "But as soon as we hit Detroit … and I saw the Stooges and MC5, I went, 'Oh my gosh, competition.'"
Cooper said it was the first time he'd ever seen an act that could compete with his band and its theatrical shock rock stage shows. The Stooges, in particular, were known for being wild on stage, as lead singer Iggy Pop would sometimes perform with a vacuum cleaner as a musical instrument or smear himself with peanut butter in front of the audience.
"There's this guy with no shirt on — barely anything on — walking on the hands of the audience and he's covered with peanut butter," remembered Cooper with a chuckle. "And I'm going, 'OK, the gauntlet has just been thrown down.'"
The School's Out singer said there were many who wished for a feud between him and Iggy Pop or him and David Bowie, but no such feud ever existed. He supported his fellow musicians and respected their artistry. "I just saw it was a whole brand new way of presenting rock 'n' roll," he explained.
Likewise, when the Stooges and the MC5 met Cooper for the first time, they didn't see him as an outsider encroaching on their music scene. Rather, they treated him as a "long-lost son" of Detroit.
The Alice Cooper band was uniquely appreciated in the Motor City, where audiences "want you to bring it and knock their faces off," as Cooper puts it. Unlike their Californian counterparts, Detroit audiences understood that the rocker's over-the-top stage persona was a part of the show.
"There was this character that was menacing, I mean, truly menacing," said Cooper. "This Alice Cooper character looked like, you know, he could be a serial killer. And the audience immediately got not just the drama and the power, they got the comedy behind it. There was a certain amount of humour in what we were doing."
By 1971, the band rose to fame with their first major-label album, Love It to Death, which included the hit single I'm Eighteen. The album was recorded in Detroit and owed much of its success to the city's influence. "It was the greatest hard rock scene anywhere," recalled Cooper.
The future of hard rock
While this year marks 50 years since the release of Love It to Death, Cooper said the anniversary had nothing to do with the making of Detroit Stories. He didn't even know about the milestone until someone mentioned it to him.
"I think it was just time to really do a hard rock album," he told Power. "We're coming out of the pandemic and everybody's kind of in a lull. I said, 'Let's just do a hard rock album that's just gonna blister everybody,' you know? And I think it was time for the album."
When it comes to the current decline of hard rock on the pop charts (which has sparked artists like Gene Simmons to declare that rock 'n' roll is dead), Cooper said he isn't fazed. He sees a resurgence coming.
"I'm guaranteeing you, there's going to be a tidal wave of hard rock coming out because it's almost time for it again," said Cooper. "There's always rebellion against what's going on…. There's going to be a bunch of young rock bands that are just snotty rock 'n' roll bands, and people are going to be hungry for that."
Hear the full interview with Alice Cooper near the top of this page.
Written by Vivian Rashotte. Produced by Chris Trowbridge.