They were known as The Hollywood Vampires — a group of rowdy 1970s rock stars who met regularly at a famous Sunset Strip bar. (Not exactly your average Friends episode at Central Perk.) Well, now club president Alice Cooper is bringing the Vamp vibe back with new initiates such as Joe Perry and a slew of others.
By Ken Sharp
Forget today’s rock and roll Hellraisers, there was some real dastardly rock ‘n’ roll debauchery happening in Hollywood in the mid-1970s with a little known bunch of music hooligans known as ‘The Hollywood Vampires’ who used Hollywood’s Rainbow Bar & Grill as their clubhouse. This ad hoc assemblage included President Alice Cooper, Vice President Keith Moon, Treasurer Bernie Taupin along with the likes of John Lennon, Harry Nilsson and the Monkees’ Micky Dolenz, among others. And while many of the key Vampires have passed on, Alice Cooper has brought them back from the dead in a new musical conglomeration not surprisingly dubbed The Hollywood Vampires. And while those guzzling booze days of yore are long gone, the spitfire attitude and revelry still endures in this new project. Joining Alice in the revived Hollywood Vampires are famed Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry and Johnny Depp, actor by day, occasional rocker by night. Produced by Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper/KISS/Pink Floyd), the album features two new originals, “Dead Drunk Friends” and “Raise the Dead” alongside revved up machine gun slammin’ reinventions of ‘70s classics from Vampire brethren Lennon, Nilsson, The Who, T. Rex, The Doors, Led Zeppelin and others. A dazzling array of special guests abound with the likes of Paul McCartney, AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, Slash, Dave Grohl and Robby Krieger of the Doors joining in on the merrymaking festivities.
Goldmine: For those who aren’t aware of your history, who were the Hollywood Vampires?
Alice Cooper: Originally, the Rainbow just happened to be the place where we all ended up drinking every night. It was a place that was convenient to everybody to end up at the Rainbow. No matter what was going on, someone would say, “Where are you gonna be tonight?” I’d say, “I’ll be at the Rainbow. I’m having dinner over but afterwards I’ll see you at the Rainbow.” That was sort of like the nightcap. But the Rainbow ended up being our clubhouse. I think I was there more than anybody. I was there every night where everybody else kind of came in on different nights. But the stalwarts that were there were myself, Bernie Taupin and Micky Dolenz; we were the three that were there all of the time. It was so systematic that we all ended up there every night that pretty soon they started calling us the Hollywood Vampires because we only came out at night to drink (laughs). Being the Vampires, we came up with the idea that it’s the blood of the vine, not the blood of the vein (laughs). So we weren’t drinking blood, we were drinking wine. The Hollywood Vampires were interested more in wine than in blood (laughs).
GM: The Vampires did come out during the day occasionally to play on a baseball team, right?
AC: Yeah, we did then put together a baseball team, but it was hardly any of the guys that were the drinkers. It was the comedian Albert Brooks, the Monkees, Flo & Eddie and guys like that played baseball. But you certainly weren’t gonna see John Lennon or Harry Nilsson or any of those guys show up with a baseball.
GM: Who were the key members of the Hollywood Vampires?
AC: You mean the stalwarts? The stalwarts were myself, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, Bernie Taupin, Micky Dolenz. John Lennon when he was in town. There were guys who’d come in whenever they were in town like Ringo (Starr) who’d come in once in a while; he was a Vampire. Every once in a while a young Bruce Springsteen would show up and we’d bring him up to the lair of the Vampires. The lair was on the second floor of the Rainbow. We had one waitress named Shatzki. She was the one who knew what everybody drank. She was almost like the house mother when it came to, “I’m not gonna give Keith any more whisky” and we’d go, “OK, good idea” or she’d say “I think Harry’s had enough.” (laughs) She was kind of the one who watched over what everybody was doing. But we would sit there and pretty much wait to see what Keith Moon was gonna wear that night. One night he would come in full costume as the Queen of England and one night he would come in fully dressed as Adolf Hitler. He’d go to a costume shop and decide who he was gonna be that night. We’d sit there and go, “What do you think Keith is gonna be tonight?” “Oh, I don’t know, maybe a French maid…”
GM: What was the wildest it ever got up in the lair of the Hollywood Vampires?
AC: Well, these were pretty good drinkers. These were guys that drank on tour and they drank socially. I think the idea came from in old Hollywood days in the ’30s you had guys like Errol Flynn, W.C. Fields and John Barrymore; all the guys that were the ’30s stars would all meet at somebody’s house and they were a drinking club. And when John Barrymore died they actually went and took him from the funeral home, took him to the house and sat him up at the table. I kind of had that idea that the Hollywood Vampires was sort of that. If you’re gonna drink and your friends are in town, you might as well all be in one place. It just naturally happened. Nobody was calling anybody and saying, “I”ll see you at the Rainbow tonight;” it just worked out that we were all gonna be there that night.
GM: Share your most memorable experiences with Hollywood Vampire alumni starting with John Lennon.
AC: John and Harry (Nilsson) were best of friends. Harry and I were friends and John and I were friends, so I became the referee. I would sit between them and I would see that they were drinking. When John would say “black” and Harry would say “white;” English and the Irish, right? One guy would say “Republican” and the other guy would say “Democrat.” One guy would say “War” and the other guy would say “Not War” and then pretty soon they’d be drinking enough where they would almost come to blows, and I was in the middle going, “OK boys, sit down!” And I was extremely unpolitical. I told them, “Guys, I’m not politically incorrect, I’m politically incoherent, OK?” (laughs)
GM: How about Keith Moon?
AC: There’s gotta be a hundred Keith Moon stories that I have against a hundred Keith Moon stories that Harry had. Every day there was some unique thing that he did that made you go, “Are you kidding me?” Keith would come into town and he was everybody’s best friend. Keith would go to Harry’s house and stay for a week and then he would come over to my house and stay for a week and then he would go to Ringo’s house and stay for a week. I went to my house one night and Keith opened the door and he’s in a full French maid’s outfit. My wife is 18 years old and has no idea who he is and she’s going, “Who’s this?” And I said, “All you have to know, Cheryl, is that he’s the greatest drummer in the world.” He was such a sweetheart and so nice and I loved having him around, but he was exhausting. He’d never let you go to bed. So everybody loved Keith, and it wasn’t just because he was Keith Moon; they respected the fact that he really was the greatest rock drummer in the world.
GM: Did he know it?
AC: Oh yeah. I mean, you had Ginger Baker and you had John Bonham and Ringo and all these guys, but Keith Moon was the guy. The thing about Keith and Harry Nilsson and all of those guys, at that point we were all at the top of our game. Everybody was touring, everybody was selling records. One week I’d have a No. 1 record and the next week John Lennon would have a No. 1 record and the next week Harry would have a No. 1 record. Nobody was thinking about any kind of end to this. We all were just living in the moment. We’d be like, I was in the studio today so tonight I’m gonna go into the lair of the Vampires and drink with my friends. We just figured it would go on as long as it had a life. We were always touring and this guy would be here for a week and then that guy would be here for a week, but the cool thing about it was it was an ongoing thing.
GM: What do you miss most about those days?
AC: You’re sitting there and talking to the most creative people in the business and you know, I don’t think any of us sat and talked about music. I think that was our release from music. We’d get together at the Rainbow and it would be our way to get away from music for a while.
GM: Did you ever jam with Keith or play with Lennon?
AC: I would take the Vampires down to the Troubadour when there was somebody there that we all wanted to see. Then there were times where you were like, “Let’s not take Harry and John tonight because you know they’re gonna get thrown out.” They liked to drink and start catcalling everybody. I remember a time when Lou Reed came into town and he was playing at the Troubadour. So Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson and myself went down and we went onstage and sang background on “Walk On The Wild Side.” That was a fun night.
GM: Moving on from the ’70s to current day, what sparked the idea to assemble a super group named The Hollywood Vampires?
AC: This is kind of an interesting story. I was doing “Dark Shadows” with Johnny (Depp) in London at Pinewood Studios and we decided to play the 100 Club in London. The 100 Club is little club where acts like the Stones played and Jeff Beck and the Yardbirds played. I said, it would be great to go in and just do covers. If anybody yells out “Back in the U.S.S.R.” or somebody yells out “Brown Sugar” – almost challenging us to play those songs. I said to Johnny, “Why don’t you get your guitar and come and play with us?” and he did. We started talking and I said for my next album I was thinking of doing a covers album, as it’s something I’ve never done before. We were talking about the ’70s era and it came to me and I said, “Well, if you’re gonna do a covers album, why not do a covers album as an ode to all of our dead drunk friends, all the guys that we drank with that are now dead. So let’s just kind of confine it to that.” So you’ve got Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Marc Bolan, Harry Nilsson, John Lennon, Keith Moon and then we started thinking about all the songs we could do. Then Johnny said, “Well, I’ve got a studio in my house.” Joe Perry happened to be staying over at the house, so the idea just kind of bloomed. And as soon as it did, I said, “I think Bob Ezrin would be interested in this,” and it’s not gonna be an Alice Cooper album; it’s gonna be a Hollywood Vampires album.
GM: Did that free you up creatively?
AC: Yeah, it did free me up because now it’s not an Alice Cooper album. Now there’s not me worrying about what the cover’s gonna look like and what all this stuff is gonna be. I’m just the lead singer along with Brian Johnson from AC/DC and Paul McCartney and a few other guys that are singing on the album. So it didn’t become an Alice Cooper album; it became a Hollywood Vampires album. We were doing “Five to One” and “Break On Through” by the Doors so I said, “Let’s call Robby Krieger.” Robby came over and played. Then Johnny said, “Well, I’ll call Dave Grohl to play on this drum thing here.” Then we were sitting there one night and Johnny said, “Oh, I called McCartney” and McCartney walks in! We’re all sitting there flabbergasted by that because it’s one thing to know Paul McCartney as a friend, the other thing is to be in the studio with him; that’s a whole other thing.
GM: Joe, what was the appeal of this project for you?
Joe Perry: Well, I kind of came in near the end of this project in a real sense and also in a kind of esoteric sense. I come from Boston, so whenever Aerosmith wasn’t on the road bumping into some of these guys, we’d be back home and there just wasn’t that kind of a scene going. There was certainly a rock scene but we were always kind of outsiders even in Boston. And the Vampires really started in the ’70s with all these guys drinking up at the Rainbow. We would hear rumors about that in Boston but we — Aerosmith — never ended up getting out to L.A. and discovering the whole scene until about ’74 or ’75. I really kind of came into this in the last five years. I was staying at Johnny’s house working on my book and his studio is right next door and that’s where he was hanging out. He’d have me come down and say, “We need you on this track” or there’d be other times that I’d have a day off and he’d have a day off and there would be a session and I would fall into it. It just seemed to be the right place at the right time. And, of course, I met a lot of the guys on these tracks over the years. Alice knew a lot of these people before they passed. Basically, Johnny and Alice kind of put this idea together years ago. As for me, I consider myself a honorary member.
GM: If you could have hung out with one member of the original Hollywood Vampires, who would you have chosen?
JP: Jimi Hendrix. As far as I’m concerned he’s the most genius one of the lot; the farthest open, out there and the one that I think left us with the most intense body of work that showed his talent. His lasted only three or four years as a star. He did three albums in that time and look at the impact he’s had all these years. He’s the one I would have liked to have hung out with the most. Not to take away from any of the other guys. They were all geniuses.
GM: Joe, did you ever encounter any of those guys through the years, people like Keith Moon?
JP: No, but I got to see him play a bunch of times before Woodstock whenever they came through Boston. I always think of Woodstock as the watershed when rock ‘n’ roll exploded. Before that, the venues were like the Fillmore East, the Fillmore West, the Academy of Music, different clubs. Every city had their own version of the Fillmore. In my hometown there was the Boston Tea Party and that’s where these brand new bands like the Yardbirds and The Who played early in their career. These were new bands making their stamp for the first time. When Woodstock happened and the movie came out, it made them bigger than life and that’s when they started being arena bands and stadium bands. But I got to see all of these bands in Boston before that. I got to see The Who four or five times in a 500-seat club. I’ll tell ya, you wanna see intensity in rock ‘n’ roll at its finest? You gotta see The Who in a 500-seat club with Keith Moon and the original band playing “My Generation” or seeing the Stones in 1969. They found their sound and I got to see them play at the Boston Garden. I was in the audience and I was a rock ‘n’ roll fan and I learned my chops by seeing them, but I never got to meet these guys until much later. Living in Boston kept me out of that scene. I definitely would have been one of the guys hanging around the Rainbow but because I wasn’t, it’s probably why I’m still alive.
GM: Johnny Depp is the dark horse of the project with naysayers in the press likely to cast suspicion about the merit of his musical abilities and write him off as an actor who’s a musical wannabe. But Johnny is the real deal, right?
JP: I think he’s probably equally as good a guitar player as he is an actor, only he’s a better actor (laughs) if that makes any sense. The only reason is he just keeps getting better as an actor, but he also keeps getting better as a guitar player, too. I’m a huge fan of his acting; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched his movies. But mostly we talk about music and just jam on guitars. We hang out in the studio, play guitar and have a lot of laughs, and that’s really what our friendship is based on.
GM: When did you first meet Johnny?
JP: I first met Johnny at the Sunset Marquee working on the last Aerosmith record. I was in the studio and I noticed a couple of people come into the control room, which wasn’t unusual. People would drop by all of the time to say hi. Anyway, I finished my track and walked into the control room and there was Johnny Depp and Bruce Witkin, his lifelong friend and bandmate. They were in a band together before he was an actor, so they’re really close friends. Anyway, we started talking and after we got through the “I’m a big fan of yours” and “I’m a big fan of yours,” we talked about guitars. The bottom line is I told him I was gonna be out in L.A. for a while working on my book and he said, “Well, why don’t you check out this house of mine that no one is living in?” It’s right next to my studio. Use it. And I said, “Are you sure?” and he said, “Yeah, no problem.” So my wife and I moved in and I started working on my book there. Johnny was working on Tonto then and when he had time off we’d hang out in the studio. He always had something going on, either a recording session or something going on. He was working on a Keith Richards documentary, and Keith was over there for a couple of days and we hung out. Then I got a phone call one day and he said, “Come on down, I’m working on this thing called the Hollywood Vampires and we want you to be part of it.” I played on some tracks and there seemed to be a constant stream of people coming in and out. This was done over the course of months. This project has been in the works for at least two years.
GM: How did you wind up covering “Come and Get It?” and getting Paul McCartney to sing and play on it?
JP: I got a call from Johnny and he said that Paul McCartney was coming over today. I said, “You’re sh*ttin’ me?” Then he said, “We’re gonna do “Come and Get It’” and I said, “Alright, no problem.” I walked in the studio and it was set up just the way it would have been set up in 1964. I mean, everybody in the same room. Paul came in and he was as friendly as you can imagine and he sat down at the piano and sang at the same time. We recorded live. It was just amazing. Me and Johnny and Alice were standing in a row looking at each other and going, “I can’t believe this is happening! We’re actually recording with Paul McCartney!” I mean, talk about an ego leveler. Johnny’s got his claim to fame, I’ve got mine, Alice has got his, but you’re sitting in a room with a Beatle at the piano singing.
AC: Paul just sat down at the piano and started playing it and we just went along with it. We were like, “OK, we’ll do that.” He says to me and goes, “You sing the high part and I’ll do the melody. Johnny you take the rhythm and Joe you take the lead.” We ran through it about four times and it was done. And then he goes, “Do you want me to play bass on this?” And I went, “No Paul, we have a better bass player than you… (laughs) Of course we want you to play bass on this!” He pulled out his left-handed Hofner Beatle bass and we just all stood around like Indiana Jones and the Ark of the Covenant going, “Wow, that’s the bass…” (laughs)
JP: It was as natural as water flowing down the stream for him. We ran the song down a few times and then we rolled tape and that was it. We did the track in four or five takes. It was solid as a rock. Then he said, “Do you want me to play on it?” We all laughed in the control room, of course, so he overdubbed the bass and that was it. It was definitely one of the high points in my career. I mean, just think of the things that are running through your mind like the first time The Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. I never got to see them play live. But you think about the first time you heard them and you think about the times you sat there and tried to learn the chord to a Beatles song and he’s sitting there and he’s just one of the guys in the studio. What an incredible experience!
GM: John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” is one of the songs you tackled on the Hollywood Vampires album. Wasn’t “Cold Turkey” a song you used to do in the early days with Aerosmith?
JP: Yeah, we used to play it in the early days with Aerosmith and also in my group before them called The Jam Band. The thing about this record is everybody on it learned their craft from songs like “Cold Turkey” and the bands and artists that played them. I was doing some interviews with Alice, and we were talking about it and comparing notes. You can be friends with someone for years and certain things just don’t come up in conversation. You don’t talk shop, you’re friends. If you’re an accountant you don’t sit down and talk about accounting with another guy who does the same thing. But we were doing an interview together I learned stuff about his background that would never come up in conversation. It was interesting to hear Alice talk about the original Hollywood Vampires and share stories about people like John Lennon and Keith Moon. Alice and I have been friends for years.
GM: Alice, a few years after Joe (Perry) left Aerosmith, there was talk of him working with you and ultimately word spread back to the Aerosmith camp and led him to rejoining the band.
AC: Yeah, you’re right, it did. I think Steven (Tyler) got the wind that I was working with Joe. All I was doing with him was writing a couple of songs for a movie I was doing called “Monster Dog.” I was doing that film and we needed two songs. I was getting ready to film this movie in Spain and I was gonna be on the East Coast so I said to Joe, “Why don’t we get together and write some songs” and he said, “Great, good idea.” It never occurred to me about getting Joe Perry to join my band. The crazy thing about that story is when I was writing with Joe, we went to Copiague, N.Y. My manager Shep (Gordon) had a house up there. If you were going to want to find a house where you’d want to film a haunted house movie, this would be it. All day things were disappearing. I’d close my suitcase and come back in the room and it was open. I’d go in the bathroom and the water was on; all kinds of irritating little things were happening. And then that night at dinner it sounded like people were moving furniture in the basement. This wasn’t like the movies where you go, “Let’s go down and see what that is.” It was more like, “Let’s get the hell outta here!” And we did. And then Shep goes, “You know what? That’s the house where they wrote “The Amityville Horror.” And I went (slowly), “And you’re telling me this now?” Shep told me his mother was having a dinner party one night and the table moved a foot to the right with everybody sitting there.
JP: Here’s what went down; I went to Arizona and hung out with Alice a little bit and we wrote a little bit there. Then we went up to upstate New York at this haunted mansion and did some writing and that’s when I got to know him a lot better, and we’ve been closer friends since then. Anyhow, the bottom line is after Alice left to go work on a movie, I spent a long weekend at the house with my then-girlfriend Billie who’s now my wife, and we talked about my situation. She said, “Look, if you’re gonna play in a band or if you’re gonna work with somebody why don’t you work with your old band. What’s the problem?” She didn’t know abut Aerosmith and any of our issues. So my getting back into Aerosmith was down to her influence and her giving me a fresh outlook on things. Steven (Tyler) was in New York and I was about 45 minutes away, so I made a phone call just to see where his head was at and then the ball started to roll. Alice had his own career and his image and his band. I’m sure if I hadn’t gotten back together with Aerosmith we would have written more songs together and I might have played on his record and who knows where it would have gone from there? But the bottom line was I also was realizing that the stuff that broken Aerosmith up was a lot of bullsh*t and it was worth at least talking to Steven about it, and then things went on from there.
GM: There are several originals that appear on the album, “Dead Drunk Friends” and “Raise The Dead.”
AC: We were gonna write one original for the record but we ended up writing four or five of them. “Dead Drunk Friends’ in particular sounded like a pirate drinking song (sings “Oh we fight and we puke, and we drink and we fight…”). (laughs) But that was pretty much the story; I’m sitting here in this place in a roomful of ghosts and he starts giving a toast, here’s to all the wives and girlfriends and here’s to all the road crew and here’s to my dead drunk friends. It just sounded to me like an old pirate drinking song and it proved to be perfect for the record. The other original song, “Raise the Dead” — it was just a song that myself, Johnny and Bob Ezrin and everybody sat down and wrote. I think we wrote five originals but we didn’t know which ones would actually end up on the album. I also did one song with Marilyn Manson that’s probably gonna be on my next album. It just didn’t fit this album as much as it’s gonna fit my next album.
GM: The core lineup of the Hollywood Vampires is you, Joe and Johnny. Is there a tangible chemistry that exists?
AC: Doing the covers, we all started out in bar bands. Aerosmith was a bar band doing covers — Beatles, Stones, Yardbirds, Who — and Johnny was a band in Kentucky and that’s what they did. In fact, they did Alice Cooper songs and Aerosmith songs. We all had that background, so when it came to doing this album it became a matter of deciding what songs we were gonna do and who are we going to honor? If you’re gonna do a Harry Nilsson song that’s a little bit harder for a hard rock band because you’re trying to figure out which song is gonna work. Well, “Jump Into The Fire” works. We did a version of “One” and then we kind of put it on the backburner, and then Johnny got together with Dave Grohl and kind of juiced the track up a lot and then it worked. Johnny said “I want you to hear this; I brought Dave Grohl to play drums on this.” What it did was it actually sparked the song and made it come to life. Then it connected with “Jump Into the Fire” and even went into a little bit of “Coconut” at the end. But that was the great thing about it, when I was out on tour, Johnny went into his studio and pulled up the tracks and would go, “Let’s try this or let’s try that.” If he was working on a movie we would go in the tracks and say, “OK, why don’t we put a vocal on this?” So everybody was always working on the album at different times.
GM: What was the thinking behind combining “School’s Out” and “Another Brick In The Wall Pt.2”
AC: We did that onstage that way and the reason is Bob Ezrin produced both records. He produced “School’s Out” and “Another Brick in the Wall,” so when you put the two songs together they fit together like a glove; even the kids singing. I don’t think it’s the same kids singing on “School’s Out” as “Another Brick in the Wall” but it was close enough where we said, “You can play ‘School’s Out’ and sing ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ at the same time.”
GM: Original Alice Cooper members Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith are on that track.
AC: Yeah, they’re on it. We did a live version of it in the studio and I said that it makes sense to bring in Neal and Dennis on this, which would be just so appropriate. Then I said, “It would be great to hear Brian Johnson sing on this. He can take the second verse and take it up a notch.” So that’s what I kind of like about it, when you can get other people’s interpretations of the songs.
And then doing a song like “Jeepster,” that’s literally a song where we all looked at each other and went, “I can’t wait to do this song!”
GM: What’s the track on the album that you keep returning to?
AC: The one that I think that came out the cleanest was probably “I Got a Line on You” by Spirit. Randy California, the guitarist in Spirit, was one of my favorite guitar players and he actually died saving his son from drowning in Hawaii. Randy was just one of those guys that I always admired. In fact, he was in a band with Jimi Hendrix before Jimi made it big and he was the lead player; they were called Jimmy James and The Blue Flames. So when it came to doing that song I felt it was a great idea. And then with a song like “Itchycoo Park” by the Small Faces, it was one of those songs that I always said, “This song just needs to be roughed up a little bit.”
GM: Fill us in the touring plans for the Hollywood Vampires.
AC: We are playing a show in Rock in Rio. We’re gonna go down to Rio de Janeiro to play a Hollywood Vampires show. We’ve got Duff McKagan on bass and Matt Sorum on drums and Johnny, Joe and myself. I like the idea of the band being open enough where anybody that’s there can jump up and come in. We know the basis of the songs now so let’s say we were playing on the same bill as Iron Maiden and Bruce Dickinson wanted to do a song, I’d go, “Great! Here’s the arrangement, listen to it once. You take the first verse and I’ll take the second verse” or it could be Joe Bonamassa and I’d say, “Why don’t you play lead on this?” Anybody that’s around could go into any one of these songs and know them.
GM: What does the future hold for the Hollywood Vampires?
JP: We don’t know where this thing is gonna go. We haven’t really talked about what’s gonna happen with it. We’re all excited about getting together and playing these tunes and then, of course, doing these shows and seeing what happens. I have to believe that because we‘re put so much time into the album and then into rehearsing and doing this show that something else is gonna come up.
BOB EZRIN’S VAMP VIEW
An honorary original member of the Hollywood Vampires, producer Bob Ezrin checks in to share his memories of those halcyon days and his experience producing the new Hollywood Vampires album.
What’s your wildest Hollywood Vampires story from the ‘70s?
Bob Ezrin: Every night at the Rainbow was a surreal experience. It really boiled down to last man standing. That was basically the theme of every night. Everyone would come in and they’d be completely crazy and funny and wonderful. Then they’d start drinking really heavily, and as the night wore on it became kind of a standoff. It was like, who would be the last one left on their feet? We’d have a lot of guests: a lot of different people would show up from time to time. I wasn’t there every night, but when I was in L.A. I would come and participate as best I could; I’m a lightweight in comparison to those guys (laughs). So many nights I would kind of sit in the corner and observe. Michael J. Pollard, the actor — who is best known for his role in the film “Bonnie and Clyde” … a character actor in Hollywood and had done a bunch of things — really wanted to be one of the boys, so he used to come and try to go toe to toe. These people were professional drinkers; no, scratch that, let’s put it on another level, they were executive drinkers (laughs). You took your life in your own hands entering the room. But a number of nights Michael J. Pollard had to leave, but one night he made it almost to the end and then he passed out. As we were leaving the Rainbow as the first rays of dawn started to peek over the building top, we had to carry him out to the parking lot and we put him in his Volkswagen convertible and just left him there (laughs). I never went back to see what happened (laughs), and I felt pretty guilty about that actually when I woke up the next day.
Speaking of taking your life in your own hands, Keith Moon was one of the principal regulars.
Ezrin: That’s right. Alice was the president of the club and Keith Moon was vice president, so they were there most of the time when they weren’t on the road. Keith was around a lot and he loved it because it allowed him a safe place to be silly. I think in Keith’s case, while a lot of people might talk about him being a complete lunatic, he was given to bouts of extreme silliness. He would have done very well as a member of Monty Python if it hadn’t been for some of his excessive behavior. So Keith was a funny guy with a razor sharp wit and a great sense of timing, and he was also goofy. So he would show up on certain nights dressed as a nurse and one time he showed up in a full Nazi uniform, which I didn’t really appreciate but apparently it got a good laugh. He was really all about keeping everybody laughing and happy.
Alice told me in the past that fellow Hollywood Vampire John Lennon was a fan of the Alice Cooper Band song “Elected.” Did you ever speak to Lennon about it?
Ezrin: No, I didn’t talk to John about that. John and I would meet in the hallway at the Record Plant mostly. It would be small talk; I didn’t talk about the Alice Cooper stuff with him, but I did with Pete Townshend. We carried the “Hollywood Vampires” ethos to London with us. We were at the Speakeasy Club having a late-night dinner and a lot of alcohol with Pete Townshend, Alice, Neal Smith and, I think, Dennis (Dunaway) was there, too. I’d just flown in. In those days when you flew into London from New York you’d get in at 6 o’clock in the morning and there was nowhere to go; you couldn’t even get into your hotel at that time, so you kind of have a horrible first day. Then I went and joined up with these guys, which is a really dangerous thing to do under the best of circumstances. Then we all started to eat and I had a pepper steak and we were drinking. Pete Townshend praised “Elected” and said how much a fan he was of the song, and I went to say thank you from across the table and projectile vomited all over him. Then Neal and Dennis picked me up by the armpits and marched me to the toilet (laughs); I’ll never forget it. As I said, I’m a lightweight when it comes to these kind of drinkers. One of the great things about that era and what is great about this Hollywood Vampires project is it was a time when the rock stars were like a little club. They all knew each other, they played together, they drank together, they caroused together. But they respected each other so much. There was a real exchange of energy and jamming in hotel rooms and meeting backstage and jamming in dressing rooms and stuff. It’s become such a formulaic business now where everything is programmed to the nth degree and there’s no room for freedom. You couldn’t have Keith Moon just step up onstage and sit on your drum kit and play in a modern concert because it would mess up everything, but in those days you could. And with this project, what was really cool was getting many of those guys in a room together where they all said, “Wow! We never get to do this. This is fantastic!”
The record contains primarily new renditions by ‘70s artists. What was the approach when cutting some of these classic songs?
Ezrin: What we were trying to do was introduce the current audience to the music of our dear departed brothers, our fallen comrades. So the idea was to pick what we thought were the best and most representative and most evocative. But we could only pick one for each of these people that were OBs, original members of these bands, or OVs, original Vampires or were associated with us in some direct sense. Each song was selected because the person who passed away was a member of the Vampires or was a dear friend or played with us. There had to be direct connection; it wasn’t just out of the blue, so every song is an homage to those people.
What was the experience like working on a new version of “School’s Out,” a song you originally produced, with original Alice Cooper Band members Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway?
Ezrin: Well, it wasn’t the first time we had been back in the studio together. We did some stuff on Alice’s “Welcome to My Nightmare 2” album together. In fact, we got back into the studio 40 years to the day that we first met. It was Mike (Bruce), Dennis, Neal, Alice and me and we set up Glen (Buxton, the band’s late guitar player) and we put VO and coke on top of it and lit a cigarette and stuck it in the ashtray so he was there in spirit. So we’ve all stayed in touch. I was there when they rehearsed for their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performance and made sure it sounded good and was gonna be a suitably powerful performance. So we stayed together and we have stayed in touch. Neal and Dennis lived in Connecticut where my wife and I moved in 2003 for a couple of years, so we’ve maintained our friendship. So the family has not completely broken up. We have stayed together and stayed in touch with each other and this just came to be exactly the right thing to do. As a result of that decision, we moved that one song to New York to be recorded so that they could do it. We booked time in New York for that one song with those guys, but all the rest of it was done between L.A. and Nashville.
The melding of the two tracks you originally produced into one…
Ezrin: “School’s Out” and “Another Brick in the Wall,” works really well. When I originally recorded “Another Brick in the Wall” with Pink Floyd, Shep (Gordon) sent me a telegram and all it said was “Ha Ha.” (laughs) He heard “Another Brick in the Wall” with the kids on it so for sure there’s a connection between those two songs. I don’t know what took me so long to think about sticking them together. We had to think about this for the project because Glen (Buxton) was our fallen brother and member of the Vampires but then also in Pink Floyd we also lost Rick (Wright), and he was actually one of the guys we hung out with way, way back in the very early days. By the way, the guys in the Alice Cooper Band introduced me to Pink Floyd. When I went to Detroit to work with the Alice Cooper Band for the first time, they were listening to T. Rex and Pink Floyd, all this kind of cutting edge British stuff that I had not been aware of and they turned me on to it. When we were out on the road to promote “I’m Eighteen” — I mean they literally went from radio station to radio station to promote (it) — they brought with them copies of either “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” or “A Saucerful of Secrets.” They’d be there supposedly to promote their own records and they were more interested in talking about Pink Floyd and T. Rex and this hot new stuff coming out of England. So I think in a lot of ways they were responsible for FM radio discovering Pink Floyd.
Working with Paul McCartney on “Come and Get It” must have been a blast.
Ezrin: There is no better moment in the world than standing side-by-side with Paul McCartney singing harmony on a song (laughs). I had to do eye checks every 30 seconds, “Holy sh*t, it really is Paul McCartney!” Even though we’ve met and we’ve spoken before but that’s one thing. To actually be on a mic with the guy, that was one of the highest points of my entire career. I know Alice was thrilled and Johnny was over the moon ‘cause the McCartney stuff was done in Johnny’s studio. So to have McCartney in his house, so to speak, was so important to him and so great, and Joe Perry, too. It was a really small studio, so everybody was on top of each other and the feeling in the room as they were playing and singing and doing all this stuff was joyful. And McCartney was having as much fun as we were; for him just to be with a bunch of people that he also respects and to not have the pressure of doing this for anything other than our own satisfaction. Part of what we tried to do on this record was not let the people who were originally responsible for the song to be the ones upfront. The whole idea was to do something for our fallen brothers and to represent them. But in this case, because the song was a hit for Badfinger and was closely identified with them, had two members, Pete Ham and Tom Evans, who are also fallen brothers. So Paul wrote “Come and Get It” but it’s their song and to hear him sing it is just so spectacular.
“Raise the Dead” is one of two originals.
Ezrin: “Raise the Dead” started with a riff of Johnny’s. He came up with this really powerful riff. We had been talking about the project as our way to raise the dead. The whole idea was to bring back our fallen brothers and introduce the world to their music, so we were effectively raising the dead. So that line was hanging in the air a lot. So when Johnny came in with the riff it was such an automatic. There was that point in the song where we all start chanting, “raise the dead, raise the dead …” and from that point outwards it was pretty easy. The trick now is making sure where we’re going is a special place. The thing about this whole project is once we knew where we were going was a very special place, we just had to ensure that that was the direction in which we went and we didn’t divert from it or get too precious; we actually had to think about whether to put original songs on it at all. Sir Christopher Lee does the narration for “The Last Vampire.” That recording is the last thing he ever did. I have the outtakes, too. Originally, I was only gonna use the last three lines, (recites lines) “Listen to them, the children of the night, what music they make.” I had him read a longer passage in case there was other stuff in other places on the album, but then he died. When I played that piece as a whole and went, “I can’t cut this down. I just need to have that there.” This was a performance that Christopher Lee gave just before he died and I’m not gonna edit this.
VAMPIRES SOFTBALL TEAM
Fellow Hollywood Vampires member from the ‘70s, The Monkees’ Micky Dolenz chimes in on how the Hollywood Vampires doubled as a softball team.
Micky Dolenz: The Hollywood Vampires was a softball team that Alice Cooper and I and a couple of other people organized. We were playing softball on the weekends at a local park. Because he’s Alice Cooper, he came up with the idea of making it a little more official calling it The Hollywood Vampires. We played charity games for underprivileged kids or the police department or the fire department. We would do these charity exhibitions and we’d raise a little money and then we’d go over to the Rainbow and eat and drink (laughs). Well, there were quite a few people who drifted in and out; Mark Volman of the Turtles was one, me, Alice, Albert Brooks the comedian, Peter Tork and there were others. Keith Moon was another one. Keith played baseball a couple of times. But I think he did mostly the eating and drinking at the club (laughs) ‘cause he was English and, frankly, I don’t think he knew how to play baseball that well (laughs). Keith and I became quite good friends over the years. He was misunderstood, but he was definitely out there. And it wasn’t like he was out there just because he was always on drugs; it wasn’t like that. He was genuinely a very unique person. Today you might say he had a bit of autism or ADHD, but back then you just said he was really out there (laughs). It’s also why he was so bloody successful.