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Alice Cooper tells "Detroit Stories" on his hometown-loving new album
By Gary Graff
email@example.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte
Posted: Monday, February 22, 2021
See more SOUND CHECK
The first thing Alice Cooper wants to talk about from his home near Phoenix is the Detroit Lions' trade of quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams.
That's proof you can take the boy (or man) out of Detroit, but you can't take the Detroit out of Cooper, a native who moved to Arizona as a youngster for health reasons.
More proof of that comes via the Rock and Roll Hall of fame shock-rocker's new album, "Detroit Stories," coming out Friday, Feb. 26. Following previous shout-outs to his hometown in song ("Be My Lover," "Detroit City"), "Detroit Stories" is a full-length salute, recorded with producer Bob Ezrin, mostly in Royal Oak with Detroit musicians and featuring a mix of original material alongside covers of songs by Bob Seger, the MC5, Mitch Ryder's Detroit and Outrageous Cherry.
"Bob and I did not have a concept for this album," Cooper (real name Vincent Furnier), 73, says by phone. "We were gonna do 12 or 13 really good hard rock songs, and that was gonna be it. And then we started thinking, 'Well, where does hard rock come from? Detroit! Why don't we go to Detroit, write the album in Detroit, record it there and use all Detroit players?'
"And then it became a concept. We looked at it each other and said, 'This is cool!' Me being from Detroit, it makes sense."
Ezrin, 71, adds that, "We've talked about Detroit all the time over the years, when we'd tell stories about how we met and everything. That's where Alice Cooper and I started our careers, out there in Pontiac. So we wanted to come back and do it again."
"Detroit Stories" coincidentally comes 50 years after Cooper's breakthrough album, "Love It to Death," which as Ezrin notes was written and conceived in the metro area. The band formed in Phoenix as the Nazz, and then the Spiders had been in Los Angeles and recorded two unsuccessful albums for Frank Zappa's Straight Records label. Seeking more sympathetic surroundings, Cooper and company moved to Detroit during 1970, settling into a barn in Pontiac (where patients at a nearby psychiatric hospital would react to songs), playing the local scene alongside the MC5 and the Stooges and honing the sound that include the hit "I'm Eighteen."
"L.A. didn't get us, but Detroit did," Cooper recalls. "It was that hard-rocking, blue-collar mentality. You had to be an aggressive band and get up there and really grab the audience by the throat and shake them. That's who we were, anyway, so we felt right at home."
Ezrin also was a key component in bringing the group's sonic vision to life.
"Bob said, 'Why is it when you hear a Doors song you know it's the Doors? Why do you know it's the Rolling Stones?'" Cooper says. "He said, 'It's because they have a signature to their sound, that's what gives them an identity. People know you guys for being weird. They know your great players, but they could hear one of your songs and it could be the Strawberry Alarm Clock or the Electric Prunes. You don't have a signature.'
"That was very true, so we spent that time in Pontiac developing a sound. Everybody had the sound, but we didn't how to arrange it until Bob came along. In the end 'Love It to Death' came out and all of a sudden it sounded like Alice Cooper."
For "Detroit Stories," Cooper and Ezrin balanced "a little bit of nostalgia" with fresh input. The album does put the proverbial band back together at one point, as Alice Cooper group bassist Dennis Dunaway, drummer Neal Smith and guitarist Michael Bruce contribute to the writing and playing of the tracks "Drunk and In Love," "I Hate You" and "Social Debris."
"When we started doing this I was like, 'I can definitely include the original band we broke out of Detroit and, as far as we were concerned, we were a Detroit band," Cooper says of the troupe, which broke up in 1974. "When I got together with the guys, it was effortless. I went, 'Let's just write an Alice Cooper song,' and the first thing that came up was 'Social Debris,' which could have been on 'Love It To Death' or 'Killer.'
"When our band broke up, we didn't divorce as much as we separated. There was no anger, no bad blood not for very long, anyway. It just makes total sense for us to all be together again on this album."
The bulk of "Detroit Stories," however, was recorded at Rust Belt Studios in Royal Oak, with subsequent work done in Arizona, Nashville, Toronto, the Bahamas, the U.K. and Zurich, Switzerland. Cooper and Ezrin imported a corps of Michigan music legends the MC5's Wayne Kramer, Grand Funk Railroad alumnus Mark Farner, Johnny "Bee" Badanjek from the Detroit Wheels, the Rockets and others along with comparative youngsters such as Paul Randolph, Garret Beilaniec and the Motor City Horns (other guests include Joe Bonamassa, U2 drummer Adam Clayton and Sister Sledge).
The full album was preceded by a six-song EP, "Breadcrumbs," during fall 2019, which won a Detroit Music Award last year.
"It was a wonderful experience, doing it there," Ezrin says. "To have Wayne Kramer and Mark Farner and Bee, and then someone like Paul Randolph, who wasn't part of that scene but is an amazing player with a great career of his own, and Garret, who's as good as any session guitar player I've used in Nashville or New York. It was ideal."
Cooper acknowledges that he "was a little surprised on some of the songs, and so was Bob, but it just jibed together so well. Everyone was so on the money. The whole time we were just, like, 'This is going to be an exciting album!'"
Among the biggest surprises for Cooper was Outrageous Cherry's bouncy, Mersey-tinged "Our Love Will Change the World," which he released as a single late last year, and particularly the funky, horn-laced "$1000 High Heel Shoes," which is the album's most striking change of pace.
"I felt like if we're gonna be in Detroit and we're gonna try to catch all the different flavors of Detroit, we can't ignore Motown," Cooper recalls. "I said, 'If this song already wants to be a Motown song, let's make it that, put in the girl singers and the horn section. Any other time I would have balked and said, 'No, no, none of that,' but I felt like it worked here."
Cooper regards "Detroit Stories" as his "favorite" studio experience, and he's anxious to start representing his hometown further by incorporating some of the songs into his shows whenever they can happen. After recovering from what he calls a mild case of COVID-19 and now vaccinated ("I like the idea of not getting it again," he says with a chuckle), Cooper is "very optimistic" that he'll be on stage this year, even as soon as late summer.
And he can't wait.
"I really do believe we're going to be on tour this year," he predicts, "and I think in the next sixth months you're going to see a big difference in concerts starting again. I think people are gonna feel protected and are gonna feel like, 'Enough! Let's go! I'm not afraid of this anymore!'
"And the cool thing is there's going to be an awful lot of Detroit T-shirts out there, cause of the album. It'll be great. I hope Detroit gets a boost out of this whole thing."
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