News : The Gibson Interview: Alice Cooper’s Michael Bruce
In an era in which few things shock any more, it’s hard to imagine that, in the early ‘70s, parents were up in arms over the shock-rock theatrics of the original Alice Cooper band. Today, as evidenced by their forthcoming Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, the group is recognized more for their classic songs than for their cartoon-gore stage shows. From 1971 to 1975, the Alice Cooper band lineup of Cooper, Neal Smith, Dennis Dunaway, Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce delivered a stream of time-capsule worthy hits, including “School’s Out,” “Be My Lover,” “I’m Eighteen,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Elected.” Bruce, who wrote or co-wrote each and every one of those riff-rock classics, recently spoke with us about the Rock Hall induction, his love of SGs, and the much-talked-about reunion of the surviving members of the original band.
How did you first learn about the Rock Hall nomination?
That was an amazing week. I had gotten a call a couple of weeks earlier from [producer] Bob Ezrin, asking if I wanted to record one of my songs for the Welcome to My Nightmare sequel, which is scheduled to come out this Halloween. Neal and Dennis had each already contributed a song. I said, “Yeah, that would be great!” It was the 25th anniversary of our working with Bob. I spent a week in the studio, recording those three songs. A few days later, Neal called and said he had talked to [Cooper’s manager] Shep Gordon, and that we had been nominated for induction. It was amazing, after all this time. Alice’s late assistant, Brian Nelson, always said that when Iggy Pop got in, we wouldn’t be far behind. Sure enough, that’s how it happened.
Alice has always maintained the band broke up because he wanted to keep the theatrics, and the rest of you didn’t. But the Battle Axe album, which you and Neal and Dennis made afterwards, was pretty theatrical.
I suppose Alice had to say something, and that explanation was as good as any. We had been together for a long time, working together and even living together. We needed a break. Also, Glen started having some personal problems that really affected the band. I think Glen sort of lost his love of what we were doing. The music wasn’t sustaining him like it was us, and he went off on a wrong track. Alice, I think, didn’t want to continue with a new guitar player, which would have changed the chemistry of the group. It really took the wind out of my sails when Alice told us he didn’t want to work with us any longer, but looking back at it now, I don’t think we could have gone on. There needed to be some time for growth, and that was difficult to do, as a band.
Glen was lead guitarist and you were rhythm guitarist, but obviously there was a lot of overlap in those roles. How did you view your role in the group?
We had a different drummer back when we were called the The Spiders, a guy named John Speer. He was really good, sort of like Dino Danelli, from the Rascals. But he also had a bad temper, which made working with him very hard. When Neal came into the band, he was more about cymbals and tom-toms, as opposed to bass drum and snare. He was like a “lead” drummer. And then Dennis was all over the place, on bass, so he treated the bass like a lead instrument as well. And of course Glen played lead guitar. My job, therefore, was to hold down the rhythm, to create something everyone could play along to. I was the guy who held down the fort.
Both you and Glen played SGs. What made the SG so right for you?
My fingers aren’t very long, and other guitars just didn’t feel right. I play really hard, and press down hard on the frets. It’s not exactly the feathery touch that someone like, say, Eric Clapton has. The SG allows me to play that way. I remember my first SG, which had a single-coil black pickup. Later, I got an SG Special, with two humbuckers, and put my original single-coil pickups in that guitar. That gave it a really nice fat sound. Glen and I liked to do these long, droning things, and the SGs were perfect for that. The SG was precisely the right guitar for me.
The songs you wrote for the band were very riff-oriented and very melodic. That obviously carried over into your style of playing.
That’s true, but I also love playing something like “Muscle of Love,” which is very physical, and very in-your-face. Those riffs – “Be My Lover,” “I’m Eighteen,” “Under My Wheels,” “Elected” -- usually came from just sitting around and tinkering on the guitar. “Halo of Flies,” from Killer, was comprised of parts left over from other songs. I used to play those parts, in order, as a warm-up exercise, and we took them and created a song from them. I know my limitations. I’m not a great soloist. I can write simple leads, here and there, but I really like to go for interesting chord structures.
Are the songs you’re writing today in that same vein, stylistically?
It’s probably broadened, just a bit. It’s funny. The song of mine Alice picked for the new album was, of course, one of the darker ones. I was working on an album I’m hoping to put out called The Dark Side of Love. All the songs are about love but not the “so happy together” side of that. It’s more reality-based and more about the fact that relationships aren’t always a stroll in the park. I had this song called “Hell Hole #9” and that’s the one Alice chose for the Nightmare sequel. It’s been re-titled “When Hell Comes Home.”
Do you know which songs the band will play at the Rock Hall induction ceremony?
I believe we’re going to do “I’m Eighteen,” “Under My Wheels” and “School’s Out.”
Is there a chance you, Neal, Dennis and Alice might tour together and do some more recording?
Nothing’s certain yet, but I’ve been told that the last week in April we may do three shows at the Roxy, in Los Angeles. Places like Chicago, Detroit, New York and Toronto have been mentioned as well. The idea is that we will play smaller venues since it’s been so long since we’ve done this. It will be close-up and personal. Even though we went our separate ways, it’s great that Alice has always kept the original concept alive. And now, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honor has sort of re-energized the original idea of who we were and created a perfect time to bring the band back together. I don’t know if we’ll go into the studio or how long it will last, but at least we’re going to do some shows together. I never thought that would happen after all this time. It’s really great.
by Russell Hall
- Alice Cooper makes it to the top of Mt Everest! Sort of... May 23, 2013
- THE GUARDIAN: Calls to ban Alice Cooper from UK, From the... May 23, 2013
- NEW SHOW ANNOUNCED! Bonner Springs, KS, June 27 May 20, 2013
- Alice chats on NPR's "Wait Wait... Don't... May 18, 2013