Today we celebrate the 66th birthday of one of rock and roll’s living legends and “shock rock” pioneer, Alice Cooper!
Touted as The Godfather of Shock Rock, Alice Cooper was born Vincent Damon Furnier on this day in 1948 in Detroit, Michigan. Although he has built up a solid albeit infamous reputation as a shock rock artist, Furnier, who’s a son of a pastor, was said to be actually active in his church as a young boy.
Furnier was a 16-year old high school student when he formed his first band. Composed of his fellow cross-country running team members, they called themselves The Earwigs. The band would change its name twice more after this – The Spiders and The Nazz – before finally settling for Alice Cooper in 1969. By this time, the band had already moved from Phoenix, Arizona to Los Angeles and its lineup comprised of Furnier (now also adopting the name of the band for himself), Glen Buxton (lead guitar), Michael Bruce (rhythm guitar), Dennis Dunaway (bass), and Neal Smith (drums). All save for Smith were teammates on the Cortez High School cross-country team.
According to a popular story, the name Alice Cooper allegedly originated from an Ouija board session in which Furnier was said to have spoken with a witch doctor who was named as such. From covering songs by bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who, the new band moved on to staging extravagant, dark theatrical performances that did not really appeal to most critics. However, this became their key to getting signed by record producer Frank Zappa who apparently was on the lookout at the time for “bizarre” acts for his then-new label Straight Records.
As we all know, the Alice Cooper band was infamous for their “shocking” stage performances and effects inspired by things like horror movies, vaudeville, Salvador Dali’s work, and even by their cross-country team coach Emmett Smith, who apparently once had them build a guillotine for slicing watermelons. It turned out that the band’s “shock rock” reputation came to be only by accident, specifically after Furnier did the much-talked about “chicken incident,” as dubbed by the press, at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert in September 1969. Above is a video clip in which Furnier talks about the incident beginning from the 1:40 mark, but if you’re really curious and not the queasy type, you can the entire video of the performance here.
Up until this time, Alice Cooper remained generally unaccepted as artists: their first two albums flopped and their performances didn’t appeal to the Californian audience. As a result, they decided to move again, this time to Furnier’s birthplace Detroit. In an interview, Furnier said that LA “just didn’t get it” and believed that they “fit much more in Detroit than we did anywhere else.”
Finally, the band struck gold with their third album Love It to Death, released in January 1971. Shortly after, Warner Bros. Records bought Alice Cooper’s contract from Straight and re-released this album. This album was a success both under Straight and Warner.
Following a string of successful albums, hit songs, and countless more macabre, grand stages on tours, Alice Cooper eventually split up in 1974. The year before, Furnier was filmed by Dali himself for a hologram piece called First Cylindric Chromo-Hologram Portrait of Alice Cooper’s Brain.
As a solo artist, Furnier continued to adopt the name Alice Cooper which by then had become his legal name. His performances also remained to be in the same vein as the ones he did with his band, with him even experiencing a handful of near-death experiences. His first solo record was the concept album Welcome to My Nightmare (1975), which turned out to be a commercial success. This album featured narration by the legendary horror film star Vincent Price, years before he did another for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”), and became the soundtrack to Furnier’s latest stage show. In the same year, Furnier and Price also collaborated on the Grammy-nominated primetime TV special “The Nightmare.”
But as Furnier gains success with his new venture, his personal life began to fall apart. In 1977, his alcoholism has become so severe that he had himself admitted to a sanatorium to be treated right after his US tour. This experience would later inspire Furnier’s 1978 album From the Inside, the tour of which featured a stage designed to look like an asylum. In March during the same year, would you believe that the shock rock artist made a guest appearance on the children’s classic “The Muppet Show”?
Unlike his earlier efforts, Furnier’s subsequent records weren’t as successful. In 1983, he was hospitalized yet again for alcoholism. Happening almost at the same time was his divorce from Sheryl Cooper. Nevertheless, the now sober, avid golfer, and born-again Christian Furnier would continue on with his work, not only in music but also in the movies through cameos and even in “WrestleMania III” with wrestler Jake “The Snake” Roberts. In 1989, after being unsuccessful with his prior releases, Furnier’s album Trash became a massive success as it reached the top 10 charts both in the UK and the UK and even getting a Grammy nomination.
From then on, Furnier would continue to enjoy a very successful career. He had basically become an important icon, making guest appearances in records by successful acts like Guns N’ Roses, as well as cameos on “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare” (1991) and “Wayne’s World” (1992), and in an episode of “That 70s Show.”
Furnier remains active in the business to this day; in fact, he is set to guest in Mötley Crüe’s final tour beginning in July this year. Considered as a living legend, Furnier was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003 and the Living Legend Award at the Classic Rock and Roll of Honour event in 2006. In 2011, Furnier and the rest of the Alice Cooper band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Rob Zombie.
All information in this article were sourced from the Alice Cooper pages on Wikipedia, Bio, The Biography Channel UK. Aside from these websites, further reading may also be done through the Alice Cooper page on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website and Alice Cooper’s biography on Rolling Stone.