Alice Cooper on Johnny Depp, taking the show to Broadway, and why he won't retire

Alice Cooper looking moody
(Image credit: Justin Borucki)

Classic Rock 300 logo

This interview was conducted to mark the 300th issue of Classic Rock magazine, which launched in 1998. It features interviews with Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Gene Simmons, Rick Nielsen, Geddy Lee, Slash and many more, and is available to purchase online (opens in new tab).

Throughout Classic Rock’s lifespan, Alice Cooper has been on a constant march forward. There has been a steady stream of new records from him, relentless touring, eye-popping live shows, the best Halloween bashes, collaborations with his heroes, and much more. 

It has been an era of frenetic activity for the 74-year-old, and it shows no signs of stopping. “We’re used to doing a hundred and fifty to two hundred shows a year,” he says. “I haven’t had a drug or a drink in thirty-nine years, so my drug is adrenaline and being on stage in front of an audience every night.”

Alt

Soon after Classic Rock launched, you released the career retrospective The Life And Crimes Of Alice Cooper. To what extent was that to clean the slate for what came next? 

I probably should preface this by saying that I appreciate the past, but I don’t live in the past. I’m always looking forward to the next record. If you think you’ve written your best songs, then you should quit. But I do appreciate nostalgia. A clean slate was great. We’re old-school, we want to do albums. 

You soon got into a rhythm of releasing a new record every couple of years.

Absolutely. It’s probably the same way that Bob Dylan thinks. Somebody once asked him: “Look, you do two hundred shows a year, every year, why don’t you just retire?” And he goes: “I write songs, I perform songs in front of an audience, that’s what I do.” In other words, the money and the fame don’t have anything to do with it at that point. The drive is the fact I write songs, I record songs, and then I go perform them. There’s no retirement from that. 

What is your personal highlight of the past twenty-four years? 

I think the longevity of the Alice Cooper show and the quality of the show. People keep coming to see the show because they know it’s going to be something special. It’s not just going to be a rock’n’roll show, it’s going to be an Alice Cooper show. 

Do you ever get nervous before you go on stage?

I wish I did! I kind of miss being nervous. Early on in my career, when I got up on stage at a bar I’d go: “Oh, man, what am I gonna do up here?” It was before I created Alice. Now I’ve created Alice as a character, is there anything more fun than playing the villain?

How has the musical landscape shifted over the past two decades? 

The interesting thing about it is the way music now is sold, and the way technology is great for recording. It’s really good because we can do things a lot quicker. You can make an album in your garage now. On the other hand, technology has also turned anybody at their house into a star. There’s such a glut of music out there and I think people are settling for it. 

Your radio show Nights With Alice Cooper has been a huge success. What do you get out of doing it? 

I’m on a hundred and eighty stations around the world. I have so much fun. Every single band I play I’ve got some relationship with, and the theory of my show is never let the truth get in the way of a good story. I also talk about things that were personal, great stories, especially about Keith Moon. I could tell you a hundred stories about Keith Moon, and Harry Nilsson could have told you a hundred, and John Lennon could have told you another hundred. He was like a feast of stories. 

Which is your favourite Halloween spectacular you’ve put on? 

Probably the one in Camden Town [London], at the Roundhouse. At the end of the show, we had Arthur Brown come up doing Fire. How much better Halloween can you get than that – the full Alice Cooper show with the topping of Arthur Brown on it?!

You’ve collaborated with loads of artists in this period too. Who have you learned the most from? 

I’ve worked with a lot of people, especially with the Hollywood Vampires. The Hollywood Vampires was basically a bar band, and the idea was to play songs for all of our dead drunk friends. People had no idea Johnny Depp was a great guitar player. They think he’s a movie star trying to be a guitar player. 

Well, he’s playing with Jeff Beck, Paul McCartney, the Stones. You don’t play with those guys unless you know what you’re doing. You get in that room and you’ve got Duff McKagan on bass and Joe Perry on guitar, and Joe Walsh on guitar, then Paul McCartney walks in and sits at the piano. I never thought I’d ever get to sing with Paul McCartney. Not only that, but now Paul McCartney is a Vampire. 

You sunk your teeth into him

Oh yeah. Every time I see him he goes: “Am I still a Vampire?” And I say: “You’re a Vampire for life.” 

What’s on your to-do list that you haven’t ticked off yet? 

There’s always been talk about doing a Broadway show or something in the West End. The play is already written, it’s called Welcome To My Nightmare. All the songs are already in order, just take it to Broadway and make it bigger. It’s pure Alice Cooper.

Alice Cooper and The Cult co-headline a UK tour from May 23 to June 1. Tickets are available from from AEG (opens in new tab).

Niall Doherty is a writer for The Guardian, Variety and Classic Rock, and co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former editors of Q magazine Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. Niall has written for NME, X-Ray Magazine and XFM Online and interviewed some of music’s biggest stars, including Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, St Vincent, The 1975, Depeche Mode, Radiohead and many more.