Last year, Alice Cooper returned to his shock-rockin’ roots on the EP Breadcrumbs, a tribute to his fellow Detroit legends like Bob Seger, Suzi Quatro, the MC5, and Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. Now, on his 21st studio album, Detroit Stories, he and his longtime producer Bob Ezrin continue to draw inspiration from his hometown — the Rust Belt rock hub where the young Alice Cooper Band fit right in alongside the Motor City misfits of the late ’60s/early ’70s.
“There were so many great bands back then. Detroit was the capital for hard rock,” Cooper tells Yahoo Entertainment. “It was the Stooges, the MC5, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent & the Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger. It went on and on and on. If you were a hard rock band, you didn't come from New York or L.A. — you came from Detroit. And that's what I was proud of. … I never felt more at home than I did in Detroit. I never felt at home in L.A., never felt at home in New York. I always felt at home in Detroit, though. … The Stooges were cheering for Alice Cooper. We were cheering for the MC5. It was a real fraternity, a real rock fraternity, because I think we felt like the underdogs.”
Cooper and his band did give it a go in Los Angeles, during an era when Cooper recalls, “The Doors and probably the Buffalo Springfield were the two big bands. And the Doors were great, because they were L.A. sex. You couldn't put it any more different. San Francisco was this funky country kind of rock. New York had their sound. And we didn't fit into any one of those.”
Eventually the Alice Cooper Band released their first two studio albums, in 1969 and 1970, on Frank Zappa’s Straight Records — a label that, as Cooper proudly puts it, signed “all the freaks that no other record company would touch. And that was basically it. We were the throwaways. … Nobody would touch us. They wanted the next Three Dog Nights. They wanted the next Crosby, Stills & Nash. They wanted that. And here we were! We didn't even like hippies! We may have been in the hippie generation, but we had no problem with a little sex and violence up onstage. And it wasn't a little. It was a lot!”
Cooper chucklingly recalls how his freakshow used to terrify the flower children of California and elsewhere — so much so that his concerts often came with a warning. “Anybody on LSD would have just run out of the room. In fact, one of my favorite things was when we'd play a big festival with all these big bands, and you'd hear, ‘In one hour, the Grateful Dead.’ An announcement to 400,000 people. ‘In three hours, Jefferson Airplane.’ And then it goes, ‘Warning: If you're on the brown acid, Alice Cooper is on in five hours. Please do not watch the stage!’ And I used to go, ‘I love that!’ It was the greatest thing, because we were the opposite of everything that was going to happen that day. ‘Peace and love’? We were not peace and love.”
But Cooper’s outlandish stage antics never fazed the tough kids of his native Detroit. As for what it was about that gritty city that made it such a fertile breeding ground for the early 1970s’ anti-hippie movement, Cooper says it was just art imitating life.
“The kids did not go home and say, ‘OK, there's a Stooges concert tonight. Let's go put on our black leather jackets and our Levi’s.’ That's just what they wore,” Cooper explains. “That was their everyday dress, so they didn't have to dress up to go to the show. That was what they looked like. And Mom and Dad both worked in the factories. So, it was an industrial city; there was nothing sophisticated about Detroit. Motown and hard rock, and that was really street — everything was very street-level. And that's why I just felt that we really fit in there. I could not do an album that didn't have that Detroit guts to it.”
Alice Cooper's Detroit Stories comes out Feb. 26. Check out his extended Yahoo Entertainment interview, in which he discusses his early days on Straight Records, his forgotten new wave phase, his many TV and movie roles, his many pet snakes, and more:
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— Video produced by Jen Kucsak, edited by Jason Fitzpatrick