Alice Cooper Biography

Vincent Damon Furnier, 4 February 1948, Detroit, Michigan, USA. The Alice Cooper Band became widely known as the ‘masters of shock rock’ during the early 70s, enjoying notable commercial and critical success. Lead singer Furnier adopted the Alice Cooper name as his own in the mid-70s, launching a successful solo career that has stretched into the new millennium.

The Furnier family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where Vincent began writing songs while in junior high school. Inspired by a dream to become as famous as the Beatles and Rolling Stones, Furnier formed a group in the early 60s called the Earwigs. By 1965 their name had changed to the Spiders and then the Nazz (no relation to Todd Rundgren’s band of the same name). Both the Spiders and Nazz played at local dances and recorded singles that were moderately popular regionally. In 1968, the Nazz, which also included Michael Bruce (b. 16 March 1948, California, USA; lead guitar), Dennis Dunaway (b. 9 December 1948, Cottage Grove, Oregon, USA; bass), Glen Buxton (b. 11 November 1947, Akron, Ohio, USA, d. 19 October 1997, Mason City, Iowa, USA; lead guitar) and Neal Smith (b. 23 September 1947, Akron, Ohio, USA; drums), changed its name to Alice Cooper, reportedly due to Furnier’s belief that he was the reincarnation of a seventeenth-century witch of that name.

The name Alice Cooper was also attached to Furnier, who invented an androgynous, outrageously attired persona to attract attention. The band played deliberately abrasive rock music with the intention of shocking and even alienating those attending its concerts. In 1969, the Alice Cooper Band found a kindred spirit in Frank Zappa, who signed them to his new Straight Records label. They recorded two albums, Pretties For You and Easy Action, before switching to Straight’s parent label, Warner Brothers Records, in 1970. By that time, Cooper had adopted more extreme tactics in his live performances, using a guillotine and electric chair as stage props and a live snake as part of his wardrobe. The finishing touch was the thick, black eye make-up that dripped down his face, affording him his trademark demonic appearance. As the band and its singer built a reputation as a bizarre live act, their records began to sell in greater quantities. In 1971, ‘Eighteen’ was their first single to reach the US charts, at number 21. Cooper’s commercial breakthrough came the following year with the rebellious ‘School’s Out’ single and album, both of which made the US Top 10, with the single topping the UK chart. A streak of bestselling albums followed: the US and UK chart-topping Billion Dollar Babies, then Muscle Of Love, Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits and Welcome To My Nightmare, all of which reached the US Top 10. The last was his first true solo album following the dissolution of the band, and Cooper officially adopted the Alice Cooper name as his own.

In contrast to his professional image, the offstage Cooper became a Hollywood celebrity, playing golf and appearing on television talk shows, as well as developing a strong friendship with Groucho Marx, with whom he planned a television series. In tribute to the legendary comedian he purchased one of the ‘O’s from the famous Hollywood sign and dedicated it to his memory. The late 70s saw him appearing in movies such as Sextette and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In 1978, Cooper admitted to chronic alcoholism and entered a New York hospital for treatment. From The Inside, with songs co-written by Bernie Taupin, reflected on the experience. His band continued touring, and between 1979 and 1982, it featured ex-Iron Butterfly lead guitarist Mike Pinera (b. 29 September 1948, Tampa, Florida, USA). Cooper continued recording into the early 80s with diminishing results. In 1986, after a four-year recording absence, he signed to MCA Records, but neither of his two albums for that label reached the US charts. A 1989 set, Trash, his first for Epic Records, returned him to the Top 40 and yielded the transatlantic hit, ‘Poison’. Both the single and the album ended up outselling any of his 70s material. Hey Stoopid found him accompanied by Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, and Slash and Axl Rose from Guns N’Roses, while his 90s tours saw Cooper drawing a new, younger audience who considered him a heavy metal pioneer.

This impression was immortalized by Cooper’s appearance in the 1992 movie Wayne’s World, wherein the protagonists kneel before their idol proclaiming that they are ‘not worthy’. Cooper retained his popularity throughout the 90s, maintaining a healthy touring schedule and attracting an impressive list of guest artists on the inconsistent The Last Temptation and the live Fistful Of Alice. His duet with Rob Zombie on ‘Hands Of Death (Burn Baby Burn)’ from 1996’s Songs In The Key Of X album was nominated for a Grammy award. Brutal Planet, his first album of the new millennium and his best collection of material since the late 80s, boded well for the immediate future. Of his former band, Neal Smith became a property agent; Bruce is still a songwriter but is bitter about the past - he became an author with the publication of No More Mr Nice Guy. Buxton lived in Iowa and was plagued by ill health until his death in 1997, while Dunaway runs a craft shop with his wife in Connecticut.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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