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Alice Cooper has a long, illustrious history in Phoenix.
He started his band when he was a student at Cortez High School. For decades, he’s been a Valley resident, lending his time, talent, and money to numerous local causes.
But despite his status as one of Phoenix’s favorite sons, the fact remains that Cooper the man was born in 1948 in Detroit, and Alice Cooper the band achieved stardom in the 1970s in that city’s legendary hard rock scene.
So we’re a little jealous, though maybe not surprised, that Cooper’s latest album, Detroit Stories, is an homage to the city of his birth.
“Detroit has always been the outcast city. And Alice Cooper has always been the outcast band,” Cooper says. “The only place we ever felt like we belonged was Detroit.”
Cooper’s original plan was to make a straightforward hard rock album (his 28th, if you count band and solo ventures). The search for the right place to write and record the album led him to Detroit, which also changed the concept.
“It became, ‘Okay, now let’s write songs about the different aspects of Detroit — there’s Motown, there’s blues, there’s hard rock,'” Cooper says.
The talent on the album is also an homage to the city’s musical history. Former Alice Cooper band member Steve Hunter shows up, as does Johnny “Bee” Badanjek of Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, and Wayne Kramer from MC5.
“Once we put the band together, we decided right there: Let’s not layer this record. Let’s not make it like Welcome 2 My Nightmare, that was all layered and produced,” Cooper says. “I said, ‘Let’s just play these songs live in the studio and pick the best cuts. And that’s how we did it. The band was so good I didn’t want to waste them.”
Detroit Stories succeeds as a love letter to a much-maligned city and the incredible music it incubated.
Songs like “Shut Up and Rock” and “Detroit City 2021” are pure rock ‘n’ roll. Kramer’s influence can be heard on “Go Man Go,” a track he co-wrote; it’s got the same punk energy and barely restrained enthusiasm as the best of MC5.
The tribute to Motown is found on “$1000 High Heel Shoes,” a jazzy doo-wop number with backing vocals by the members of Sister Sledge and Carla Camarillo. “Drunk and in Love,” a blues song about two down-on-their-luck people finding romance while living under a bridge, features Joe Bonamassa on guitar.
Detroit Stories contains a few surprises, though, most notably “Our Love Will Change the World,” a cover of a song by Michigan psych-rock band Outrageous Cherry. The uptempo pop sound belies the nihilistic lyrics: “We have very little respect for everything / Very little regard for anything / We’ve got something against so much / And we’re only beginning.”
“It appealed to me because the music was so happy and the lyrics were totally subversive,” Cooper says. “It was like the Children of the Damned singing to our generation saying, ‘Can you please get out of the way so we can rule?’
“It ended up being the thing that’s getting played on the radio, and I don’t think people are listening to the lyrics.”
Another unexpected track is “Hanging on By a Thread (Don’t Give Up),” an anthem that was written before the pandemic in response to Detroit’s high suicide rate. It carries extra significance now.
“Yeah, I know you’re struggling right now,” Cooper sings. “We all are in different ways / It’s like a new world that we don’t even know / It’s hard to sleep, even harder to dream / But look, you’ve got seven billion brothers and sisters all in the same boat.”
The message of the song is to fight back against the darkness (whether that’s suicidal thoughts or the virus), and not to give up. The second verse was rewritten to reflect the reality of COVID (“Dreadful and merciless / It has no shape or form”), and the track ends with Cooper giving the phone number for a suicide hotline.
“Let’s punch the bully in the nose. The pandemic is the bully. Coronavirus is the bully,” Cooper says. “We’re going to beat you, we’re not afraid of you anymore, and we’re going to outlast you — that was really the whole idea of that song.”
The coronavirus is something that Cooper doesn’t take lightly. He and his wife, Sheryl, spent December fighting the virus; he’s gone to a vaccination site in Litchfield Park to sign autographs and take pictures with volunteers, and is now fully vaccinated himself.
“And I think they wanted to take pictures of me getting my shot so it would encourage other people to get their shot,” he says.
With his vaccination out of the way, Cooper is looking toward the future. He’s a member of celebrity supergroup Hollywood Vampires, who are working on their next album and planning to tour England in August.
“I got in touch with Johnny [Depp]; he’s writing and Joe [Perry] is writing, so as soon as we can get back together we’ll do another album,” Cooper says. He’d also like to tour with his band to promote Detroit Stories later this year.
And back in his adopted hometown of Phoenix, Cooper is 17 years into his radio show, Nights With Alice Cooper — “The radio show’s easy. That’s the fun part. Because all I do is play the songs I want to play and tell backstage stories,” he says — and getting ready to open a second location (in Mesa) of The Rock, his Christian-based youth outreach center, in April or May.
But despite his busy schedule, he’s taking time to appreciate the warm reception of Detroit Stories.
The album has been getting generally positive reviews from critics, and the fans dig it as well: it’s been near the top of the charts in several countries (it hit No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hard Rock chart), and reached No. 1 in Germany.
“At 73, it’s great to have a No. 1 album,” Cooper says.
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