Alice Cooper (born Vincent Damon Furnier, February 4, 1948) is an American singer, songwriter and actor whose career spans over five decades. With his distinctive raspy voice and a stage show that features guillotines, electric chairs, fake blood, deadly snakes, baby dolls, and dueling swords, Cooper is considered by music journalists and peers alike to be "The Godfather of Shock Rock". He has drawn equally from horror films, vaudeville, and garage rock to pioneer a macabre and theatrical brand of rock designed to shock people.
Originating in Phoenix, Arizona, in the late 1960s after he moved from Detroit, Michigan, "Alice Cooper" was originally a band consisting of Furnier on vocals and harmonica, lead guitarist Glen Buxton, Michael Bruce on rhythm guitar, Dennis Dunaway on bass guitar, and drummer Neal Smith. The original Alice Cooper band released its first album in 1969 but broke into the international music mainstream with the 1971 hit "I'm Eighteen" from their third studio album Love It to Death, which was followed by the even bigger single "School's Out" in 1972. The band reached their commercial peak with the 1973 album Billion Dollar Babies.
Furnier adopted the band's name as his own name in the 1970s and began a solo career with the 1975 concept album Welcome to My Nightmare. In 2011, he released Welcome 2 My Nightmare, his 19th album as a solo artist and 26th album in total. In 2011, the original Alice Cooper band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Expanding from his Detroit rock roots, Cooper has experimented with a number of musical styles, including art rock, hard rock, heavy metal, new wave, pop rock, experimental rock, and industrial rock.
Cooper is known for his social and witty person offstage, with The Rolling Stone Album Guide calling him the world's most "beloved heavy metal entertainer". He is credited with helping to shape the sound and look of heavy metal, and has been described as the artist who "first introduced horror imagery to rock'n'roll, and whose stagecraft and showmanship have permanently transformed the genre". Away from music, Cooper is a film actor, a golfing celebrity, a restaurateur, and, since 2004, a popular radio DJ with his classic rock show Nights with Alice Cooper.
Cooper was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Ella Mae (née McCart) and Ether Moroni Furnier (1924–1987). His father was a preacher in The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite) headquartered in Monongahela, Pennsylvania. He has English, Huguenot French, Irish, Scottish, and Sioux ancestry. He was named after his uncle, Vincent Collier Furnier, and the writer Damon Runyon. His paternal grandfather, Thurman Sylvester Furnier, was an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite).
Cooper was active in his church at the ages of 11 and 12. While growing up in Detroit, Cooper attended Washington Elementary School, then Nankin Mills Jr. High. Following a series of childhood illnesses, he moved with his family to Phoenix, Arizona, where he attended Cortez High School and Glendale Community College, eventually earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts.
In 1964, 16-year-old Vincent Furnier was eager to participate in the local annual Letterman's talent show, so he gathered fellow cross-country teammates to form a group for the show. They named themselves the Earwigs. Because they did not know how to play any instruments at the time, they dressed up like the Beatles and mimed their performance to Beatles songs. As a result of winning the talent show and loving the experience of being onstage, the group immediately proceeded to learn how to play instruments they acquired from a local pawn shop. They soon renamed themselves The Spiders, featuring Furnier on vocals, Glen Buxton on lead guitar, John Tatum on rhythm guitar, Dennis Dunaway on bass guitar, and John Speer on drums. Musically, the group was inspired by artists such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, the Doors, and the Yardbirds. For the next year the band performed regularly around the Phoenix area with a huge black spider's web as their backdrop, the group's first stage prop.
In 1965, the Spiders recorded their first single, "Why Don't You Love Me" (originally performed by the Blackwells), with Furnier learning the harmonica for the song. The single's B-side track was the Marvin Gaye Tamla Records hit "Hitch Hike". The single was released by local record label Mascot Records, owned by Jack Curtis, a concert promoter who also owned the Stage 7 teen club, which later became the VIP Club where the Spiders were the house band.
In 1966, the Spiders graduated from high school, and after North High School footballer Michael Bruce replaced John Tatum on rhythm guitar, the band released their second single, "Don't Blow Your Mind", an original composition which became a local #1 hit, backed by "No Price Tag". The single was recorded at Copper State Recording Studio and issued by local micro-imprint Santa Cruz Records.
By 1967, the band had begun to make regular road trips to Los Angeles to play shows. They soon renamed themselves Nazz and released the single "Wonder Who's Lovin' Her Now", backed with future Alice Cooper track "Lay Down and Die, Goodbye". Around this time, drummer John Speer was replaced by Neal Smith. By the end of the year, the band had relocated to Los Angeles.
The band adopts a new name: "Alice Cooper"
In 1968, the band learned that Todd Rundgren also had a band called Nazz, and found themselves in need of another stage name. Furnier also believed that the group needed a gimmick to succeed, and that other bands were not exploiting the showmanship potential of the stage. The legend is that the name "Alice Cooper" came from a session with a Ouija board, largely chosen because it sounded innocuous and wholesome, in humorous contrast to the band's image and music. However, in an interview with Mark Radcliffe on the Radcliffe and Maconie show on BBC Radio 2 on 30 November 2009 Alice described the incident with the ouija board as an urban legend: "We literally got that whole story about the witch thing the way you guys got it. It was like just pure urban legend. I heard about the witch thing probably the same day you did, but it was a great story." "Alice Cooper" was a character on Mayberry R.F.D. (played by Alice Ghostley) at the time, probably coincidentally. Eventually Furnier adopted this stage name as his own. Furnier, now known as Alice Cooper, later stated that the name change was one of his most important and successful career moves.
Nonetheless, at the time Cooper and the band realized that the concept of a male playing the role of a villain, a woman killer, in tattered women's clothing and wearing make-up, would have the potential to cause considerable social controversy and grab headlines. In 2007 in his book Alice Cooper, Golf Monster Cooper stated that his look was inspired in part by film. One of the band's all-time favorite movies was What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? starring Bette Davis. "In the movie, Bette wears disgusting caked makeup smeared on her face and underneath her eyes, with deep, dark, black eyeliner." Another movie the band watched over and over was Barbarella. "When I saw Anita Pallenberg playing the Great Tyrant in that movie in 1968, wearing long black leather gloves with switchblades coming out of them, I thought, 'That's what Alice should look like.' That, and a little bit of Emma Peel from The Avengers."
The classic Alice Cooper group lineup consisted of Furnier, lead guitarist Glen Buxton, rhythm guitarist Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway, and drummer Neal Smith. With the exception of Smith, who graduated from Camelback High School (which is referred to in the song "Alma Mater" on the album School's Out), all of the band members were on the Cortez High School cross-country team, and many of Cooper's stage effects were inspired by their cross-country coach, Emmett Smith (one of Smith's class projects was to build a working guillotine for slicing watermelons). Cooper, Buxton, and Dunaway were also art students, and their admiration for the works of surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí would further inspire their future stage antics.
One night after an unsuccessful gig at the Cheetah club in Venice, California, where the band emptied the entire room of patrons after playing just ten minutes, they were approached and enlisted by music manager Shep Gordon, who saw the band's negative impact that night as a force that could be turned in a more productive direction. Shep then arranged an audition for the band with composer and renowned record producer Frank Zappa, who was looking to sign bizarre music acts to his new record label, Straight Records. For the audition Zappa told them to come to his house "at 7 o'clock." The band mistakenly assumed he meant 7 o'clock in the morning. Being woken up by a band willing to play that particular brand of psychedelic rock at seven in the morning impressed Zappa enough for him to sign them to a three-album deal. Another Zappa-signed act, the all-female GTOs, who liked to "dress the Cooper boys up like full size Barbie dolls," played a major role in developing the band's early onstage look.
Cooper's first album, Pretties for You (released in 1969), had a slight psychedelic feel. Although it touched the US charts for one week at No. 193, it was ultimately a critical and commercial failure.
Alice Cooper's "shock rock" reputation apparently developed almost by accident at first. An unrehearsed stage routine involving Cooper, a feather pillow, and a live chicken garnered attention from the press; the band decided to capitalize on the tabloid sensationalism, creating in the process a new subgenre, shock rock. Cooper claims that the infamous "Chicken Incident" at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert in September 1969 was an accident. A chicken somehow made its way onto the stage into the feathers of a feather pillow they would open during Cooper's performance, and not having any experience around farm animals, Cooper presumed that, because the chicken had wings, it would be able to fly. He picked it up and threw it out over the crowd, expecting it to fly away. The chicken instead plummeted into the first few rows occupied by wheelchair users, who reportedly proceeded to tear the bird to pieces. The next day the incident made the front page of national newspapers, and Zappa phoned Cooper and asked if the story, which reported that he had bitten off the chicken's head and drunk its blood on stage, was true. Cooper denied the rumor, whereupon Zappa told him, "Well, whatever you do, don't tell anyone you didn't do it."
The band later claimed that this period was highly influenced by Pink Floyd, and especially the album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Glen Buxton said he could listen to Syd Barrett's guitar for hours at a time.
Pretties for You (1969)
Easy Action (1970)
Love It to Death (1971)
School's Out (1972)
Billion Dollar Babies (1973)
Muscle of Love (1973)
Welcome to My Nightmare (1975)
Alice Cooper Goes to Hell (1976)
Lace and Whiskey (1977)
From the Inside (1978)
Flush the Fashion (1980)
Special Forces (1981)
Zipper Catches Skin (1982)
Raise Your Fist and Yell (1987)
Hey Stoopid (1991)
The Last Temptation (1994)
Brutal Planet (2000)
The Eyes of Alice Cooper (2003)
Dirty Diamonds (2005)
Along Came a Spider (2008)
Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011)
Alice Cooper – lead vocals, guitar, harmonica (1963–present)
Ryan Roxie – guitar, backing vocals (1996–2006, 2012–present)
Chuck Garric – bass, backing vocals (2002–present)
Glen Sobel – drums, percussion (2011–present)
Tommy Henriksen – guitar, backing vocals (2011–present)