Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Dennis Dunaway the film, Live from the Astroturf, Alice Cooper, Captures How Much Fun We Have!
A new film, Live from the Astroturf, Alice Cooper, features the original Alice Cooper band reunited and performing live at an independent record store in Dallas, Texas back in 2015.
What started as book signing to promote Dennis Dunaway’s memories, Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group, blossomed into a historical event. The owner of Good Records, Chris Penn, accomplished one of the greatest feats in Rock & Roll history by reuniting the original 1970s Alice Cooper group 40 years after they broke up. Under the strictest of confidence by all parties, Chris had arranged for Alice Cooper to secretly perform live with Michael Bruce (guitar), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and Neal Smith (drums). With the added help of current Alice Cooper guitarist Ryan Roxie and bassist Chuck Garric on harmonica, the band performed a blistering six-song set to the surprise and shock of the fans in attendance. The film not only features the live performance but interviews with many of the band members as well as the store owner explaining how he pulled off this accomplishment. If that wasn’t enough, the audio from the show was mixed by longtime Alice Cooper producer Bob Erzin!
I caught up with Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, bassist, and songwriter for the original Alice Cooper group, Dennis Dunaway, to talk about his four-time award-winning film, how his book was at the epicenter of this monumental event, and the upcoming NYC film premiere.
Robert Cavuoto: I love the fact that your book was at the heart of this event. Before we dive in, tell me how long it took for you to write the book?
Dennis Dunaway: The book took me 18 years from the time I decided to write it until I had a copy in my hand. Growing up, I was an introvert and artist. In grade school, the kids who didn’t know my name just called me “The Artist.” Then while Neal, Michael, Alice, and Glen were showing off and trying to get the attention, I was a quiet observer. If someone said something interesting or funny, I would write it down. I always tried to write down what Glen said because he had so many one-liners that I knew he would never say again. I would take all those notes and toss them in my suitcase. When I got home from the road, my wife Cindy, would ask, “What’s all this paper doing in here? (Laughing). I think when you write something down; you tend to remember it better.
So when I started to work on the book, I went back to these notes. I then thought better of it as it was not the best way to write a book; I should just use them as references. I had about a third of the book completed and bailed only to start over again. Then I bailed on that second version! It’s easy to say that you want to play like Jimi Hendrix only to pick up the guitar and realize what you thought was going to happen isn’t happening. (Laughing) So I had to learn how to write. Like most novice writers, I added a lot of vocabulary to make the people sound smarter than they actually were (laughing). When I went back and read it, I was like, “We didn’t talk like that.” Then I started to refer to the notes to include all the collected quotes. Alice commented that nobody can remember exactly what everyone said in a given situation, but I know the things that people said or quite possibly said in a given situation. Also, I know the things that only Glen would have ever said in those types of situations. In my book, I was out to capture the personality and chemistry of the band. The hardest part was getting all the dates in order. I didn’t pay attention to the day of the week back then, but Neal can tell you exact dates. For this book, I wanted to put the readers in the station wagon with the band while we were driving around thinking up ideas.
Robert Cavuoto: The concert at Good Records in Dallas started as a book signing. How much work went into coordinating the entire event?
Dennis Dunaway: My publisher, Thomas Dunne at St. Martin’s Press, told me about Chris Penn at Good Records. Chris was very persistent and well-spoken in his emails. He wanted me to come to his store for a book signing. My publishers felt that it was a record store and put it at the bottom of the list because they were focusing on book stores and book festivals. I was quite busy, and my calendar was so booked that I couldn’t fit anything else on it. Eventually, Chris’s persistence paid off as the dust started to settle on my schedule and the publisher was more open to the idea. I told Chris I try to make each book signing very special and asked if he had the budget to have Neal and Michael attend. He said, “Sure.” I soon realized Chris picked a day that Alice Cooper would have off while on tour in the area. The next thing I knew, he was checking with the Alice camp to get Alice to come down. He was very persistent with them, and I told him, “Don’t bug them too much; otherwise you will fall into the same category with a million other people trying to contact Alice. You planted the seed; now, all you had to do is to back off and hold your breath.” I offered to follow-up with Alice’s camp. Alice agreed to come provided nobody knew he would be there. Chris busted a hole in the wall in the back of his building so Alice could come in and nobody would see him! (Laughing). Alice was hiding in the back room while Michael, Neal, and I were doing the signing and Q&A. That record store had many high caliber artists come to the store to do events. Chris had this green Astroturf on the stage for these artists, but for us, he put down pink Astroturf to match the pink panties on the cover of my book as well as the panties from the inside of the School’s Out album. He even painted the inside of the store pink, which was two stories, including the air-conditioning vents. He built these cool electric chairs for us to sit during the signing and Q&A. It showed us the level of integrity he had; he’s really a lovable guy and so enthusiastic about the Alice Cooper group.
At the start of the show I came out on stage with Neal and Michael and asked the people if they want to hear a few songs, they all cheered, and we played “Caught in a Dream.” We didn’t rehearse for this. Surprisingly it came out incredibly tight. We started playing “Be My Lover,” and out comes Alice. What I love about the film is it really captures how much fun we have because it was like in the old days of playing to a small room. You see that everyone was having a blast. The sound recording came out great since Bob Ezrin and his engineer Justin Cortelyou mixed it.
Robert Cavuoto: How did you prepare for the filming and recording of the show?
Dennis Dunaway: We never had any intention to record it. We went through a mixing board on separate tracks. Chris used it numerous times on other bands, and the recording just happened to come out surprisingly good. Chris told me that out of all the years he has been hosting and recording these shows, this was the only show where something didn’t go wrong with the recording (laughing). We didn’t set out to make this event a film either. Two days prior to the show, Chris called Steve Gaddis who ended up directing the film, to ask him if he was willing to film the show for Chris’s personal collection. He wanted to have it, so he knew it really happened! He then told Steve that Alice was going to be there and Steve brought in a few extra cameramen. When Steve put it together, he told Chris it was better than just a home movie and felt we have a real film! The actual concert was 40 minutes, but what took a long time was the color correction. The worst lighting to photograph anything is red lights, and Chris had all the lights in the store red (laughing).
Robert Cavuoto: Will we see this released as a DVD and will there be any extras?
Dennis Dunaway: When fans start hearing about the film and realize its winning awards, they will want to see it right away. Independent films typically go into the film festival circuit for about a year as you are looking for a backer to make it better or add some extra content. In this case, we are hoping Netflix will pick it up. Then a lot of people can see it.
Robert Cavuoto: It must be satisfying looking back on the day knowing you have this awesome film.
Dennis Dunaway: It’s very satisfying, particularly seeing it on a big screen. Chris, Steve, my wife, and I went to the first premier in Phoenix, AZ. We were able to get Neal, Alice, and Michael to be there as well. It was the first time they ever saw the film was on a big screen. On a big screen with a sound system it sounds like a live the band playing in the room. We then took it to Detroit and Dallas; one of the theaters had sub-woofers and cranked the bass, so it sounded like a stack of Ampeg amps on the right and left of the screen. It was so loud that after the show, everyone was standing in the lobby going, “Oh my God, the bass!” (Laughing) It was louder than I would have preferred.
Robert Cavuoto: The press release for the NYC premiere of the films mentions that you will be performing after the showing of the film and there will be special guests in attendance. Alice happens to be the area, is there a chance of him showing up?
Dennis Dunaway: There will be some surprises. What I can tell you it will be a double feature of my other film, Cold Cold Coffin which is based on a song I wrote. I originally played the song for a friend of mine who is in the film industry and he felt we needed to make a film out of it because it’s so visual. It’s not exactly a music video; we call it a rock cinema because it doesn’t have a band playing in it. It’s a complete story in five minutes. It takes place in a castle and co-stars Calico Cooper and myself. It’s hard to get it in film festivals because of the running time, but it will debut July 13th on two continents; an Indie Horror Film Festival in Illinois and the Berlin Short Film Festival. On July 14th it will be shown at Rock & Roll Hall of Fame all day during Alice Cooper Fan Day. My band, Blue Coupe, will be there as well and Alice will be playing the Pavilion that evening.
On August 14th, it will be at Theater 80 St. Marks on St. Marks Place in NYC. We will play both films with a Q&A after each then we will have some music with my friends and play Cold Cold Coffin live. Calico will be there. There will be other surprises as well. After the films and music, everyone will retire to the adjoining bar to get together. It should be a lot of fun.
Robert Cavuoto: The original band did a few shows in the UK in 2017, why do you think a tour ever materialized in the US?
Dennis Dunaway: That I don’t know. The Alice camp keeps their cards close to their vest. Ninety percent of what I have done with Alice starts with my phone ringing off the hook and people congratulating me. The first thing I do is call Alice (laughing). He’ll make an announcement, and I’ll find out after the fact. I think it has to do with economics. When he added the original band in England, it included an extra tour bus and food. The expenses add up. All five of those shows were successful and as close to sold out as possible if not sold out; even Wimbledon which seats 14,000. That was the first time we played there since 1972 and we sold it out back then too. I think England was starved to see the Alice Cooper group again. As far as getting into the States, it has to do with negotiating with the promoters. Fans are always telling me we have to do a reunion tour, but they have to tell the promoters. Michael, Neal, and I are ready. Let’s face it, the promoters don’t care who is on stage as long as Alice is up there. Alice has a great touring band, and he is doing things with The Hollywood Vampires too. He is doing a new album about Detroit which Neal and I are working on songs with him. I’m assuming Michael is too, but haven’t heard for sure. He has a lot of things going on. When Alice plays, a lot of fans complain that the original band is not included, but they still buy a ticket and go to the show. I wouldn’t try to talk anyone from not going if we are not there. If you see Alice, you are going to get your money’s worth as he always gives 110%. He and his band never phone it in. I thought this year being the 50th anniversary of the album Pretties for You; it might happen. I also thought it would have happened last year as it was the 50th anniversary from our very first Alice Cooper show. I have been urging them to do something, but they have so much on their plate that it’s hard to look back when you are so involved in looking forward. That is what an artist should do – look forward.
Robert Cavuoto: Was there ever talk about reuniting the original band when Glen Buxton was still alive?
Dennis Dunaway: I don’t think so. At that point, they were totally focused on making people believe Alice Cooper was a solo artist and we were just his first back-up band. We were being swept under the carpet for a few years and being blamed for not wanting to do theatrics while we were building this gigantic stage for the Battle Axe Tour which we thought would be the next Alice Copper album and tour. People believed what they read. There were some tough times. All of a sudden nobody wanted to hire us; we were discards. The Billion Dollar Babies Battle Axe Tour got some great reviews, but we took a massive financial hit because the record label and management wasn’t there for us. Also the singer wasn’t there for us. Not only was it a financial blow but an emotional blow. I ended up sitting in a rocking chair in a dark room pouting for a while and swearing I would never do anything else in the music business. I was very disappointed in the fans because Alice seemed to pull it off pretty smoothly. All of sudden you had Welcome to My Nightmare and nobody questioned where the original group was? So I was pretty bitter for a while. That was in one of the original drafts of my book. I was giving everyone both barrels, and my co-writer thought that was the book I should put out! I thought better of it because that is not what it was all about. It was about a bunch of high school kids who had a vision like a million other high school kids do. We made it to the very top and were successful. Then the money started making the decisions rather than the art. It wasn’t as much fun for us. It was becoming this big corporate machine. That’s not what I wanted to do.
Robert Cavuoto: The song “Schools Out” if it written now would be considered quite controversial in this overly PC world with the line “School’s been blown to pieces.” I always wanted to know your thoughts on that?
Dennis Dunaway: I think the line of blowing up the school would be controversial, but that’s was not what we really meant. It was the way a kid feels, but you really don’t want to do that. If it came out now that line wouldn’t be in there, it would probably repeat, “We can’t even think of a word that rhymes.” (Laughing)