Sunday, September 28, 2008
A Conversation With One Of Rock's Original Billion Dollar Babies, Drummer Neal Smith Of The Alice Cooper Group
When it comes to rock drummers of the classic rock era, or any other era for that matter, Neal Smith is a true legend. His work on the first seven albums (eight if you count the 'Greatest Hits' album) released by the original Alice Cooper Group, which besides Smith was comprised of Alice Cooper on vocals, Michael Bruce and the late Glen Buxton on guitars and Dennis Dunaway on bass, ranks up there with the finest rock drumming ever recorded. It's Smith's drumming which propelled such classics as "Halo Of Flies," "School's Out," "Billion Dollar Babies," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," "I'm Eighteen,"...it's safe to say that without his contributions the hard rock landscape of the early to mid 1970's would've been vastly different. Smith has also recorded with Buck Dharma of Blue Öyster Cult (Flat Out, 1982),The Plasmatics (Beyond The Valley of 1984, 1984), and Deadringer (Electrocuxion of the Heart, 1989).
Keeping active ever since, Smith also recorded two albums with Bouchard, Dunaway and Smith, which saw him reunited with his former Cooper bandmate, bassist Dennis Dunaway and ex Blue Öyster Cult bassist Joe Bouchard on guitar. In 1999, he finally released the long lost debut solo effort 'Platinum God', originally recorded in 1975. He also released two albums under the group name Cinematik, with guitarist Robert Mitchell and bassist Peter Catucci, which saw the drummer exploring more of a world beat sound.
Now Smith is back with the debut album by Killsmith, 'Sexual Savior,' a dark, uncompromising collection of songs recorded over a four year period which shows this talented musician pushing the boundaries once again. Described as heavy metal garage punk with grinding guitars, at times almost lending an industrial feel, this is a far cry from the relatively (in comparison) melodic, radio friendly hard rock of Alice Cooper. Eschewing the safe world of classic rock, it clearly shows that even over three decades after the breakup of the original band, he still subscribes to the code of ruffling feathers and shocking listeners out of their comfortable existence.
Recently I had the opportunity to catch up with Smith to discuss the new album, reminisce regarding the days when the original Cooper band were personas non gratis amongst parents of the world, the possibilities of that band reuniting once again and much more. Read on as we have an exclusive conversation with one of rock's original shock rockers, Neal Smith.
Special thanks go to Billy James of Glass Onyon PR for coordinating, and a BILLION thanks once again to Neal Smith for doing this interview for Nightwatcher's House Of Rock....
Interview and text by Nightwatcher for Nightwatcher's House Of Rock
September 28, 2008
NHOR : I'd like to talk a bit about the new album which just recently came out on Kachina Records, Killsmith's 'Sexual Savior'... The first thing that strikes one when they hear it for the first time is just how dark the album is....would you agree with that assessment?
Neal Smith : I would agree 100%. It just sort of took a turn in that direction. The music was started, then I came up with the concept of Killsmith because I didn't want it to be just 'Neal Smith'. I think it turned in that direction because it needed its own identity. I loved all the stuff that we played in Alice Cooper, but as far as I was concerned the hits that we recorded were a means to an end to get the "Black Ju Ju"'s, "I Love The Dead", "Killer", "Halo Of Flies"..."Dead Babies" out to the fans. That's where I've always come from as far as my true love of the band Alice Cooper. So when it started to happen, and took that metamorphosis into a dark direction, I just said to hell with it and let's see what happens.
NHOR : What was your mood like when you were writing the songs? With titles like "Leave Me Alone," "Disturbed," "Dynasty Of Darkness." "How Do You Bleed"... just from looking at the titles here, there's no doubt that you're not going to be getting a bright, sunny pop album to say the least....
NS : It's a study of the darker side, kind of a tribute to the identity of of the dark side of what Alice Cooper was. I think a lot of people forget how terrorized parents were by the band in the 70's. Alice has somewhat sugar coated that over the years, plays golf, goes to church... and that's great. It saved his life, and God bless him for it, that's phenomenal. But, while in Cooper I was carrying three guns at one time because I was so paranoid about being shot. I carried them in my bag on the plane. Back in those days you could carry anything that you'd want. I had three pistols with me. When we played at The Hollywood Bowl, I had them underneath my drums. People forget that, and nobody talks about it. But that's what made that band. I mean, The Stones were one thing, The Doors were one thing, and it got a little bit darker and darker. The Doors were dark, had great lyrics and moody music, without a doubt, but they never killed Jim Morrison on stage. From just that point alone, and making a statement like "Dead Babies" -- which once again isn't about killing babies, but about child abuse -- when you look at the lyrics I wrote on all the songs on this album, they're more of a study than anything else. More of a fantasy type of scenario.
NHOR : This is a very uncompromising album, both in terms of the music and also lyrically. There's a dark, menacing vibe, mixed with sexual content that most likely will make it unsuitable for most radio playlists. That being said, were you trying to push the boundaries a bit with this album? The safe thing would be to make a classic rock sounding album, but you haven't done that....
NS : And I wouldn't want to. This is the year 2008, and in my mind, if the band Alice Cooper were still together, and we were recording in this day and age, I wouldn't be doing something that would be quote, unquote, "commercial". Whatever that is. Nobody ever thought we were commercial but we're selling millions of records. So I don't even know what that is. All I was trying to achieve was to write some songs and to produce something. I controlled every single aspect of this, from the concept of the album, the production, the music, the writing of the songs and the putting together of the booklet. I just wanted something I liked, that's all I cared about. If somebody says, "What audience are you trying to reach?" I don't know what audience I'm trying to reach.
When I wrote the drum part to "Billion Dollar Babies" I wrote a part that I liked. I don't think about commercial concerns. The only thing I might think about when I write something would be, if I'm a drummer, or if drummers are listening to this, are they going to think, "This is really cool". Because as far as I'm concerned drummers are the coolest musicians out there. They really are. Keyboard players put me to sleep. Although there are some phenomenal keyboard players, their personalities put me to sleep. I played some keyboards and synthesizer on this album, but I had this guy play some really good stuff on the album. "Beware Of The Dog"...I don't know if I'd say that it's the most commercial, but it's probably the most radio friendly song on the album.
NHOR : You wrote all the lyrics on the album. Where do you get the inspiration when you're writing? It would seem that some might be based on true life events, such as the Hollywood debauchery depicted in "Naked And The Raw". How much of that was based on real events?
NS : With "Naked And The Raw", first of all I wanted a real Euro Tech sounding song on the record to break up some of the flow. Still, I played all the rhythm guitars, so all the guitar pretty much stays constant, except on "Beware Of The Dog" and "Human Evolution". But the idea for "Naked And The Raw", if you listen to all the female names throughout the song, those were all starlets, movie stars and actresses from the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's.
NHOR : Right, you have Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot referenced...
NS : I just used the first names, but it all was some kind of Hollywood Babylon, with some of the most beautiful women that have ever been on the silver screen, and that was my inspiration for that song. It was kind of an ego trip too...well, not really an ego trip, but more of a fantasy. You're not just with one at a time, you're with two at a time. So every verse, every line that goes by where it talks about having fun and partying with two women, it's not just two women it's two women who were some of the most beautiful, sexy women who have ever been on the planet.
NHOR : So, it's almost like a celebration of the excess of the era then as well...
NS : To a degree, but again, being that we're all huge fans of old movies and cinema, there's always a wealth of information to research just from movies alone. So I would say that song in particular was more of a study, or a celebration if you will, of female starlets.
NHOR : There's also some wry social commentary on this album, particulary on the closing track "Human Evolution" which almost seems like a warped, dark variant or evil twin of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire" with the lyrical content being the Top 100 Stories of The 20th Century. How did you come up with the inspiration for the lyrics on this?
NS : Actually I found the 100 events in a newspaper. It was the last newspaper that was printed where I live in Connecticut in 2000. I saw all these events, and I just went, "Oh my God". These are the top 100 things which happened in the 20th century, which is more or less my century. It was just amazing. It went from The Beatles to curing polio to Hitler and World War II. Things happened which are huge in history, and whether it's good or bad it's all part of how we're evolving. That's when I came up with the idea that more than anything, good or bad, it's like a cheetah in the jungle will kill its prey. It's not good or bad it's just how it is. That's survival, and it's kind of a different thing.
But things happen and if you just look at it black and white it's all part of human evolution, so that's the angle I took on these events that occured. From the Titanic going down, one of the biggest tragedies in the history of modern civilization to putting a man on the moon. They're all big in their own way and it was just a huge wealth of information to work with. How can that inspire a song that would highlight those events? Good or bad, that's not for me to say. But there were some amazing things to happen in the last century. I'm sure more are going to be happening again in this century. It's just food for thought when I'm writing. As you can tell I really don't write love songs. Other songs on the album have social commentary in a different vein but that was a fun song. It took a long time to write. It was one the first songs I started and one of the last songs finished. The lyrics just had to be right on.
NHOR : How long did it actually take for you to complete the album from beginning to finish?
NS : It took four years. Once I actually started to be serious about writing it and putting the tracks together, to having it finished and released back in February.
NHOR : Now to the packaging of the album and the whole package...as fitting the title, there are many pictures of scantily clad women, and there are quite a few very overt sexual references throughout the lyrics. Are you concerned at all with the PC police branding you as being sexist because of this?
NS : Sexist? I was in the Alice Cooper Group. (Laughs) The most sexist band in the world. I love women and celebrate them. My mother and father were divorced when I was in grade school, and she raised my sister and myself, my sister of course being married to Dennis Dunaway. She raised us, and was the sole provider in our household. So there's nobody who's going to come down on me about women's rights. This is celebrating the sexuality of women too. I'm not gay, so I'm not going to be celebrating any men, I'll tell you that much.
The song "Sexual Savior" is yet again another great fantasy song, which may or may not have been inspired by a person now living or now dead. I put no boundaries on what I was going to do. Like in the booklet for "How Do You Bleed" there's a chick with a chainsaw ready to cut the other chick's head open with a blindfold on. That wasn't me holding the chainsaw. I can't even get into the debate concerning censorship because I'm the most liberal person in the whole wide world, and would agree with what everyone's saying, but when it comes to writing...creating movies, music, books, if someone doesn't like it they don't have to read it, watch it or listen to it. That's really the bottom line. That was true with Alice Cooper too.
But I had a lot of fun doing this. There's 11 songs on the CD, and I almost wanted 11 album covers. Like "Beware Of The Dog" where the one model is standing over the other straddling her, with the other on all fours, with a dog leash and a dog collar. That was my photographer's idea. He's a sick puppy and I love him. The girls were so into it, it was scary. Actually that's a great sequence of photographs, but I only picked out that one. I wanted it to be more visual. I know you can download music to an iPod, and it is available on CDBaby for download, but I'm very visual, and I like to have something going on with the music besides just listening to it. There's nothing wrong with that, because you can get into your own thing, but it's fun to watch. Sylvia's the girl's name who has the soaking wet 'Sexual Savior' t shirt on for the song "Sexual Savior".
NHOR : What songs on the album are your favorites and why?
NS : I pretty much like them all, but I especially like "Sexual Savior" because I think it's the most outrageous song on the album. I like "How Do You Bleed", because to me that's the song with the most social commentary that I have on there. It's regarding capital punishment. I'm one of these people who think Charles Manson should be dead, not alive, because I lived through all of that. We were in and out of California while all that stuff was happening in 1969. I think anybody who causes that much pain and horror to people shouldn't be allowed to live. There's a certain point when your get out of jail free card is no longer valid, because you've done so much damage to society. But that's the great thing about this country is that everybody can have their own opinion. And if somebody wants to leave someone in prison all their life that's great. But when they have access to the Internet and all that, and supposedly Manson has access to the Internet...and I'm not just singling out Manson, there are a lot more, like Ted Bundy who have been allowed to live for a long time.
But it's interesting because people are always trying to abolish the death penalty, but I'm not one of those people. I don't know about anybody else, but I do think that it's a deterrent. I mean by the time you've reached 40 years old, there's probably been somebody you've wanted to kill. (Laughs) But most people wouldn't do it. You don't act out on it. It could be somebody who cuts you off in traffic, it doesn't matter what it is. But somewhere in your life that's probably happened. But 99.9% of the population wouldn't think about it. The reason is because it's a deterrent. I'll just go beat up a pillow. (Laughs) There's just certain laws, commandments that you just don't break. If somebody breaks them, you just went too far and pushed it. "Monsters In The Attic" I like because of the drums. I had fun playing drums on that track."Thrill Thrill Thrill Shoot To Kill", I love the picture that accompanies that song. I always wanted to do a James Bond kind of a thing. Those are the ones I tend to like the most. "Beware Of The Dog" is a bit different with the acoustic guitar.
NHOR : It's a nice contrast...
NS : Yes, and I like to do that. I had a vibe that I was trying to keep throughout the whole album. I thought the vocals are pretty consistent throughout the whole song, or lack thereof. Again I was creating a character, a very powerful character, something which would demand your attention.
NHOR : What would make you happy sales-wise from this album, and are you happy with the response you've received so far?
NS : As far as I'm concerned, the reviews that have been positive from people who were totally not expecting something like this from me, and then there are the hard core older fans who don't like it...that's fine. I'm not targeting anybody, but I would assume that anybody who bought "Welcome To My Nightmare" wouldn't probably like this album. But the real fans might like the album. It's so different, it's like comparing apples and oranges. It's a totally different animal from anything I've done before. I would say maybe, because I played on the second Plasmatics album, 'Beyond The Valley Of 1984', and actually I tried to get Ritchie Stotts to play guitar on this album but he had prior obligations, I was trying to get that feeling from the guys who were playing lead guitar for me. Just a real speedball, punk type of feel. "Dynasty Of Darkness", I love the lead guitar solo on that. We tried to get a solo from hell, and I think it worked. Incredible sounds, the stretching of one note. I also like the military type drums on that. My background is from the high school marching band. I'll always have a lot of drums on anything I do. That makes it fun for me, as far as a drummer goes.
NHOR : Have you thought about putting a band together and doing any touring for the album?
NS : Well, I've thought about it of course, and you talked about the success...I've talked to a couple of distributors, one in the Southwest. Another thing I might do to promote it would be doing a couple of videos. That's more of where I'm leaning towards more than putting something on the road. It's certainly not impossible to do, but it's just finding the right situation. I think though at this point I'd have more fun putting a couple of videos together. I guarantee you that at least one or two of the girls from the booklet are going to be in the videos. I may have them bring their friends too. Also, this is sort of my mid life crisis album, with the sexual overtones and everything. Of course, I've just turned 61, so that means I'll have to live to be 120. (Laughs) It's like everything else, I waited awhile to do my mid life crisis album.
NHOR : It's all part of the arrested development of being a rocker...
NS : That's exactly right. You hit the nail on the head, that's true.
NHOR : A couple of Christmases ago, you, Michael Bruce and Dennis Dunaway got back together with Alice for a mini reunion at Alice's annual Christmas Pudding show in Phoenix. What was that experience like being back together again, and was there any further discussion of the the 4 of you getting back together for an album or any further shows?
NS : The 4 of us got together in Phoenix, Alice has his restaurant down there, Cooperstown, and we had the second Glenn Buxton Memorial Weekend celebrating Glen's life after he passed away. That was in 1999. That was actually the first time we had played together since we got off stage in South America in 1974. So that was 25 years. At any rate, Dennis and I, with the band Bouchard, Dunaway and Smith, we played the songs. Michael plays the songs. So to get together just to run through the songs, even without a rehearsal wasn't a big deal for that show. But for the Christmas Pudding we wanted something a little more polished. Mike and I had some musicians and worked a full week, then Dennis came and worked a couple of days, then Alice came in and worked a day with us, two rehearsals. Then we did the show. So it was a lot more polished than getting up and playing at Cooperstown. Everybody gets together, and it's always great. Without a doubt it's fantastic, it's like no time has passed at all. I don't think that's unusual for people who have gone through that type of experience like we did.
But as far as anything in the future, it really is... we're always doing research for the right thing. It would have to be the right thing. Of course there were discussions about it. If it'll ever happen, I don't know. There's always some talk about it. Recording, I don't know. I would like to do like Cream did. Three shows in one town or venue, then three shows in another town, and that's it. Have a CD and DVD available. Because there's a lot of fans that have never seen the band other from old footage, which is great, and I'm glad that was done. It was amazing how much wasn't done of our band. Things are talked about, but if something again will happen I don't know. I'm certainly the optimist in the group. The only reason being is that I'm a business person also. Because of that, I never give up when there's the possibility of doing something that would be a lot of fun. We'll see. Five years ago some of the guys wouldn't have thought we'd get back together again but we raised over $150,000 in one evening to help Alice's charity. We're all very proud of that, so it was a very cool thing to do. We'll see what the future brings.
NHOR : When's the last time you talked with Bob Ezrin? I heard rumors a few years back that he was involved with efforts to get the rest of the original band together. Was there any truth in those rumors and if so, how close did it come?
NS : Bob had lived here in Connecticut, I helped him plan a house back here. He lived here for a couple of years, and while he was here we hung out and talked a lot. Again, there's always conversations, and anything that would ever be discussed as far as I'm concerned Bob would definitely be involved. Whether it's recording, or we play a show and he plays keyboards with us. Bob was always the sixth member of the band. I love him like a brother. If he wanted to bow out, that'd be up to him, but he would always be invited to anything we do as far as I'm concerned. Since the early 90's when I first started going out to Arizona and seeing Alice again, then getting close with Mike and Glen...unfortunately I hadn't seen Glen in so long, and six days after I saw him he passed away, which was unbelievable, there's always that bond with the band. I don't know what's going to happen, but the main thing is we remain friends, and if we need each others help we're always there.
NHOR : When you, Michael, Dennis and Alice get back together, do you still feel the camaraderie that you had back then?
NS : You can't help it. It's hard to shut us up. You just put us in a room...as a matter of fact, when we were out in Arizona in December 2006, of course he had the golden opportunity as he brought in the sound engineer from 'Nights With Alice Cooper'. He set up a microphone and started taping the conversation between the four of us, and it was just pure lunacy, stupidity or genius, I don't know what it was. But it was chaos, or maybe all of the above. But it was a lot of fun. Everybody's trying to remember stories and Alice is going, "Every single time you guys try to remember a story it's wrong". Well, that's one explanation. (Laughs) Maybe YOU remember it wrong.
NHOR : There's always three sides to every story...yours, mine and the truth...
NS : That's right, you got it. I always have to remind everybody that this is coming from a person who said he was Eddie Haskell for a long time. (Laughs) So, I just sort of rest my case there.
NHOR : Along those same lines Neal, it seems that every band that was ever popular is coming back in one form or another, whether the original vocalist is with them or not. This is a hypothetical question, but would you ever had considered continuing the Cooper band without Alice, and what is your opinion on bands who have done that, such as The Doors?
NS : Certainly The Doors' situation is a bit different as Jim Morrison's not around. We've been approached about the possibility of doing something with an Alice Cooper lookalike, and believe me, if you know me, that would never happen. I would never do that in a million years. I don't have to. I'm very successful in the real estate business, and I don't have to do anything for money. I'm very lucky from that standpoint. And, I would more importantly never tarnish the reputation of the band. So doing something like that I wouldn't do. Mike, Dennis and I, we did the Billion Dollar Babies band back in the 70's, and we've played a couple of times since then and always have a good time. But it's nothing I've been interested in, trying to pursue something like that with just the three of us. I'm just not comfortable doing that.
What was fun about Bouchard, Dunaway and Smith was that we were not just playing songs from Alice Cooper, but also from Blue Oyster Cult. So that was kind of fun to do. It was a neat integration between the two bands. It was a lot of material and it drew from two different fan bases. That was kind of interesting, and I enjoyed that an awful lot. Like on "Don't Fear The Reaper" we did a version where it was almost like The Who doing the song. So it was very uptempo. When I hear a song, I don't care how it was originally written, I play it the way I play it. I do my interpretation of it. That song kicked ass, it was great when we played it. Things like that I've been interested in, but I'm not really interested in doing anything like Alice Cooper without Alice. I either want to do it 100% or not at all.
NHOR : So back in 1975 when Alice did his solo album 'Welcome To My Nightmare' during the break after the 'Muscle Of Love' tour , then Alice didn't come back to the band, there was never any consideration of continuing with another vocalist?
NS : Not really. That was why Dennis, Mike and I took off as Billion Dollar Babies. We just avoided a huge lawsuit. We were being sued by Warner Brothers because Alice reneged on the deal and wouldn't get back together with us. So we could've had a huge lawsuit that we probably could've won because all 5 of us owned the name 'Alice Cooper'. He took off with it, and we made arrangements. You just don't walk out the door like that, trust me. There was a a lot of legal talk going back and forth at the time. When the dust finally settled the only thing I cared about was that we all eventually would always be friends. That was the only thing that was important to me. The band, when we stopped, was on top. We were huge, as opposed to a band that ends up playing little dives 20 years into their career. Believe me, I'm the kind of person who would rather go out on top, then get together and do some special things once in awhile. I don't have a problem with that, I'm a survivor, I'm always going to be okay. I just think that we disappointed the fans by stopping too soon, and the music that we could've continued to write. That's the only thing that personally somewhat disappoints me.
NHOR : The original Cooper band has an association with Jimi Hendrix. What was Jimi like as a person?
NS : We partied with him 4 different times. I knew him probably better than anybody who's no longer with us. I met Jim Morrison a couple of times, I met Janis Joplin one time, but Jimi, we hung out and partied. The band and him hung out three times, then I went down to see him play at a place called The Experience in L.A. in '69. That was the last time I saw him. He was actually a pretty cool guy. He's legendary to me. He's the #1 guitar player that's ever walked the face of this earth. As I said in the book I'm writing, the only person cooler than Jimi Hendrix that walked the face of the earth was Jesus Christ. I'm definitely in awe of what he could do. He was amazing. He was pretty laid back. He liked to kick back, have a couple of beers, smoke a little pot fresh from the border.
When we were in Tuscon, it was the 5 of us in our band, and the 3 of them in their band. We were in the room, and it was in the room after the show they did in early '68. They were supposed to play in a club called The VIP Club. That's the club where The Spiders and The Nazz got really famous for in Arizona, in Phoenix. It got so big that they opened one in Tuscon also. Even before I was in the band we used to go down there and party. The Experience had just played Phoenix and went to Tuscon, and by that time we were Alice Cooper. So we went down there. They were supposed to play the club, but they sold so many tickets that the only other venue available at the time was a bowling alley. So the fans had to sit out in the lanes and then look back up to the top. They rigged up a stage there, and that's where they played, in the bowling alley. The place was mobbed, just packed, and it was an amazing show.
We went back to the hotel after that and just hung out all night, getting high with them. Mitch and Noel, they were popping pills all night long. Back in those days we all tried everything, but I would never mix anything ever. But they just kept on taking different pills out of their pockets and popping them just like they were candy. I was like, "I don't know what planet they're going to be on". I never saw another band get more out than those guys. But they were always totally cool and coherent.
NHOR : Did you ever get a chance to jam with Jimi?
NS : No we never played together. It's kind of funny, we never really played with any other musicians. We never diluted what we had. Whether that's good, bad or whatever, that never happened. A little bit after the fact we played on other people's albums, but during the duration of the band I never did. A couple of friends I did, but nobody of national or international status as far as celebrity.
NHOR : Alice was quoted earlier this year as saying he kind of likes the idea of being blackballed from the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Do you think Alice really thinks that, and would you agree with his comments, that it's more of an honor not to be in there than to actually be in there?
NS : Well, I know a little bit about the politics around the hall, so I'm not really at liberty to say anything about that. I think whatever he thinks are his thoughts and opinions. I would like to be in there, but the way I look at it the true band Alice Cooper pissed people off way back then, and apparently we are still doing it. When you think of the things we started then, there's a whole vein of music which didn't exist before us. Everybody from Kiss all the way up to Marilyn Manson. All the bands in between in that vein were one way or another inspired by Alice Cooper. I read, and hear things from people all the way up to this day all the time, that they wouldn't be playing an instrument if it weren't for us.
Steve Vai, the first album he ever learned from beginning to end was 'Love It To Death'. A lot of great musicians, and just that whole vein of music, the shock rock thing, or whatever you want to call it was brought upon by us. And to totally ignore that, and pass it over year after year just surprises me, that's all. My spin on it is if we're blackballed, who needs 'em anyway. I look at it as we're still ruffling feathers after all this time. Somewhere, somebody doesn't set easy with us. But you know what? When we were with Warner Brothers, they were ready to cancel our contract after every single album. We had to renegotiate after every single one. They kept thinking it was a fluke. The only ones who believed in us were us and Shep Gordon, our manager. That was it, and our fans. We had to cut a demo for 'Love It To Death'. It was always a fight and a struggle for us. So the fact that somewhere somebody doesn't like us, that's fine with me. (Laughs)
NHOR : Well, let's face it Neal, the Alice Cooper Band was never one of Rolling Stone Magazine's darlings, which seems to be a criteria to being inducted...
NS : I always said that, the magazine's not called, "Alice Cooper", it's called "Rolling Stone". And bearing in mind with what you just brought up, and I'm not going to elaborate on it much more, but we're talking about that whole San Francisco area there. Which does have a lot of influence on what goes on with the Hall. It's all politics, and there's nothing wrong with The Talking Heads, but when I saw that they got in I said, "You've got to be kidding me". I know they had a couple of hit songs but I can't even really tell you what they are. The Alice Cooper 'Greatest Hits' album is really a greatest hits album. How many records did they sell? I don't know.
I think they should start up a Shock And Roll Hall Of Fame. The Hall Of Fame's cool, I've been there, and it's got some great stuff. The majority of the people who are in there certainly deserve to be in there and it's cool for the fans. And the other question is, if it happens, are they going to put Alice in by himself, or the whole band? That would be the biggest kick in the head for us, if they'd put Alice in by himself. Actually, I've had a couple people I've talked to from the Hall in New York, and they've said, "Believe me, everybody knows the original band was THE band".
NHOR : Do you think that Alice would actually accept an induction without the rest of the original band being voted in as well?
NS : He didn't have any problem accepting the Alice Cooper star on Hollywood Boulevard, did he? He actually had the balls to tell me, "I actually thought of you guys". You thought about us? Gimme a break. We used to walk up and down that street starving every day, day after day, thinking someday we'd have our name there, and it gets there and you're by yourself. That's awful nice you thought about us. I think it's great that it's there, but sometimes it's better to say nothing than to say something that stupid. That band was put together through the blood, sweat and tears of 5 people. Each one of them deserves 100% credit, not just one getting 500% of the credit. That's the reason Dennis is writing a book and I'm writing a book. It's just a factual documentation of what we went through.
NHOR : How far along are you in writing your book?
NS : I'm up to the point where 'Pretties For You' is just fixing to be released. That's the 12th chapter. So, it's going to be a pretty long book. There's a bit about my family history and about when I was growing up. I started playing drums in elementary school. I had a lot of things happening musically before that, through high school, before I hooked up with the guys in college. I've got to say though going back to what we were just talking about, is that Alice is amazing with lyrics. When I wrote the lyrics for the new CD 'Sexual Savior', sort of the watermark was the stuff that Alice does. Dennis is a great lyricist too, but I'll go through many, many rewrites before I end up with something I'm happy with.
NHOR : A few years ago, 'Good To See You Again Alice Cooper' was finally released on DVD. Are there any other DVD's in the works that you're aware of from the original band that may be released in the future?
NS : The things that are on YouTube, from 'The Old Grey Whistle Test', a couple of shows in Detroit... there's things that are out there and available, but it's amazing how little there was of the band in all actuality. I don't know the reason for that other than by the time we had reached 'School's Out' and 'Billion Dollar Babies', we had the money to make our own movie of us on stage, but until then, nobody really cared about filming us. Which is pretty funny, with the exception of appearing on TV shows. We were the most theatrical band in the world, yet we were never filmed that often. There's really none other that I know of.
I just recently saw a new one on YouTube, of us playing in Europe doing "The Ballad Of Dwight Frye", where Alice breaks open a feather pillow in the studio... which I'm sure they really appreciated. (Laughs) But that was great, and I didn't even know that one existed. But again that was in a studio, it wasn't live footage, but it was still cool to see. But the 'Good To See You Again Alice Cooper' footage is the only concert footage that we have from beginning to end.
NHOR : There's been talk for years regarding the original Cooper albums being remastered and re-issued. But so far, there's only been 'Billion Dollar Babies' which was re issued several years back, and now 'Muscle Of Love'. Do you have any insight into why Warner Music or Rhino hasn't re- issued the rest? That's something that would seem to be long overdue....
NS : I would love to have them all remastered, but I haven't heard anything about them myself. I really don't have any insight on why they haven't been re-issued, I'm just waiting like you are. But I'm sure they'll sound great.
NHOR : What about the Billion Dollar Babies' "Battleaxe" album which featured you, Michael and Dennis along with Mike Marconi and Bob Dolin... that's never been released as a quality recording on CD, it would be great to see that album finally released perhaps from the original master tapes....
NS : The master tapes do exist, but the problem is the person who actually owns the publishing for the album wants way too much money to make it feasible to release it legitimately on CD. So that may or may not ever happen. All the copies that are out there are bootlegs.
NHOR : I know you follow the rest of the surviving members solo careers. What's Michael been up to? When I interviewed him a couple of years ago he played me some music that was just incredible and would go over well with fans of the original band. Has he talked to you about releasing any of that?
NS : When we were out in Arizona before we did the show with Alice, when Dennis, Mike and I were out there, the week we were there we were working on some of his stuff. And I've got to tell you it's fantastic. Again, the bottom line is can we really pull it off. All I know is that Michael should be in the studio working and writing music. Believe me, it's very different. Dennis writes, I write, Alice writes and Mike writes, but it's never the same as when we're all together. That's the chemistry, and it still exists.
I've written songs with other guitar players but when Mike and I sit down and get a groove going, it's unbelievable. It still happens, and the chemistry's still there. The songs are great. Michael's a great songwriter. He's there if it ever works out. Michael was the best songwriter in the band bar none. Dennis had some good stuff, but if Michael wrote 10 songs he'd have 10 great songs. If Dennis or I wrote 10 songs maybe 1 or 2 would be great songs. That's why Michael was the main songwriter. (Laughs)
NHOR : What's the status of Bouchard, Dunaway & Smith? Are you still planning another album? I know the last time we talked you had some tracks laid down already...
NS : When we started writing our second studio album it wasn't being written the way the first was. I wasn't too happy about that, because we wrote the first album by just getting together, jamming on songs and putting them on tape. We had 2 albums worth of material for the first, and we just took the very best and created songs out of them. That wasn't the way the second album was going down, and I wasn't too happy about it. Then Dennis started working on a solo album, I did mine, and I believe Joe did as well. I think that was probably it for that project though.
NHOR : What about Cinematik?
NS : Actually, the bass player from Cinematik, Peter Catucci, or "Peter The Cat", he played bass on the Killsmith stuff. He actually recorded it as well. He was the engineer for it. Right now I've already written around 5 or 6 songs for the new CD, the new Killsmith. That's what I'm doing right now. Cinematik was a lot of fun to do, those two CD's. But I think that if I get a chance to go into the studio, I'm just going to do Killsmith from now on.
NHOR : Looking back, what has been your biggest musical thrill in your career thus far? What meant the most to you?
NS : Actually surviving. I think the biggest thrill wasn't really a thrill, but was from the standpoint of us doing our third album, 'Love It To Death,' and we finally got noticed. It wasn't our first or second, but our third, so we were a little bit jaded by then. People will say, "You had such quick success," and I'll say, "Bullshit". We started recording in 1968, and it wasn't until 1972 with 'Love It To Death' where we started getting recognition, which was 4 years later. When you're in your early 20's four years is a long time. It didn't surprise me that we had success and the albums went gold and platinum. It may sound strange to say that, but we were really focused. Once we found our audience and the planets aligned perfectly it was appreciated. All you can do is plan and hope.
But the thing that we didn't plan for was that in 1973, 'Billion Dollar Babies' would go #1 in Cashbox, Record World and Billboard simultaneously. We were the #1 band in the world the month of April, 1973. That still gives me chills thinking of it. That's something I never, ever thought about, or knew was possible. To be #1 in all three trades simulataneously...it happens so infrequently. Even the biggest bands, it may be one month in one, then another, but to line up all in the same month, it's very, very strange. That was the one thing which sort of shocked me. It was just phenomenal. As time goes on I find it more amazing all the time.
NHOR : Do you feel like it was a case of the audience had to catch up with you? That perhaps you were just ahead of your time?
NS : I think it goes back to trying to put a band into a category. They just didn't know what to do with us. Especially because we were frightening so many people. They were taking it seriously, and we weren't explaining one way or another whether we were serious or not. That's why I think all that silly stuff in the movie 'Good To See You Again, Alice Cooper' was kind of an image breaker for us in terms of what we were doing. I think anybody who starts something new always seems like they're ahead of their time, because nobody else is doing it. The fact that years later people are still listening to the music and enjoying it, that is the other thing which surprises me. I love our music, but the fact that it finds new fans every year is... I mean, I don't care, Mike, Dennis, Alice or me, we put new CD's out, but they still don't sell as much as the original stuff from the original band does. To be quite truthful, we still get royalty checks, and it's like we have a new album out every year. It's great. Again, that's another thing which is kind of shocking to me is people still listen to the music so much.
NHOR : It just shows also that it's quality music which has definitely withstood the test of time...
NS : There are a lot of parents who maybe would've disagreed with you. (Laughs) The music has definitely held its own, even though the theatrics are no longer there. That was always the question, "Will the music hold up if the theatrics aren't there?" Obviously it has, which is another great testimonial to the writing skills of Michael and everybody in the band.
NHOR : It would seem as time goes on that it's taken on a life of its own...
NS : It has, and also as the Internet gets bigger, more movies are being done, they're always covering our songs in more and more areas as well.
NHOR : What is your take on the state of the music industry today? It's almost unrecognizable from the time when the Alice Cooper Band came up, and in a lot of ways the traditional music labels seem to be going through almost death throes...
NS : I don't know... When somebody talks about even the original band getting back together and putting an album out... A huge producer once told me that even if Led Zeppelin got together for a new album that it probably wouldn't go gold anymore. The Stones don't. It's all touring these days. Bands come and go so incredibly fast, and none of them have any legs. That's the one thing that I notice more than anything. I know there's different styles of music, and that's fine and great and always will be. As much as I don't like rap, that's why I wanted to fool around a bit with it on the song "Human Evolution" on the new CD, but do it the way I do it. I don't do it like traditional rap music.
NHOR : Well you're not from South Central or the Bronx either...
NS : That's true. I just think that from as far as the business aspect of it goes, my personal opinion is that the record labels have been way behind the curve on the technology. I understand, being the owner of a lot of published music, how important it is for a creator to be paid for their work. Whether it's Mozart, Benny Goodman, Elvis Presley or their estates, anybody who creates music should forever own that entity. The record companies couldn't figure out how to make that work and still sell records. Then all of a sudden you could download them for free, and it's a dilemna, without a doubt. And I certainly don't have the answer. I don't know what they're going to do. They're trying, and it's evolving and changing, the way the business is.
CD's are almost dead now. Everybody downloads their music. I still like the big gatefold covers of vinyl. That's why I have a 16 page booklet with this new CD. I like that visual. I always see music visually. I don't just listen to a song, the song goes by, and that's it. I visualize something, whether it be the story, a video or whatever. It's tough, and I don't have the answers. I just know it's a big screw up. The record labels are saying, "You want a song, you've got to pay for it". And I don't have a problem with that, but they've got a huge problem on their hands. In five years you may not even know the record business anymore. It's a big business, and when you're that big you don't think that the walls can come tumbling down. But, guess what? They have. I think they're dumbfounded with it all. They're still thinking inside the box, and I hate that term, unless you're talking about a woman. I'm sure that they have young people trying to figure all this out for them, but I think that's the biggest challenge for the record companies being able to survive. They all have huge inventories of classic music, whether it be swing, jazz, rock, whatever, that they can sell. But the new music that tries to fit into that old, traditional marketing just doesn't work.
NHOR : As you have a stake in all of this regarding publishing, particularly with the original Cooper albums, what affect have you seen illegal downloading have on you personally?
NS : The only thing that I know is that for the last 10 or 15 years the royalties have not gone down. Which is amazing. They just keep going up and up. So whatever they're doing with the classic stuff they're certainly doing right. But I attribute that to there are more movies coming out, bands covering the songs, and anytime the media uses it, somebody pays for it. I'm just surprised that here in 2008, the songs we wrote back in the early 70's are still selling so much. I mean, Glen Buxton was basically retired. He was just living there in Iowa. One time he told me, "Neal, somebody asked me once what do I do for a living, ad I said I go to the freakin' mailbox". (Laughs) The checks came in the mail, he went to the mailbox, gets his check and that's it. He's done his work. But that was in Iowa. I'm sure he could live a lot different than in Fairfield, Connecticut. I don't know what's going to happen but Warners has taken care of us. Warner Brothers is a big company and it seems to be pretty solid still.
NHOR : Is there anything else you'd like to say to all the fans out there?
NS : I'll always think that the Alice Cooper fans are really great. They've hung in there with us for so long. I know there were some people who were super critical of the band, and still are, as we're still not in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. But as I said, that's fine with me. If we still piss some people off I could give a rat's ass. But as far as the fans go, we owe them everything. I don't think enough artists and musicians say that. Because without a fan base, you might as well be pumping gas in some gas station. Which nowadays, probably would bring a lot of money. (Laughs) So we owe every single thing to our fans. They've always been supportive of us over the years, and it's just amazing.
I get e mail every day from all over the world from so many people. One of the things Alice lost I feel when he went solo was that we did, and still have, a lot of musicians who follow the band. In Circus magazine Dennis and I were always in the Top 5 back in the early 70's in the Reader's Polls, as a rhythm section, drummer, or as a bass player. I think a couple of times I even was #1 with Ginger Baker. There were fans who recognized what was happening with the band, and they made it happen. It was all because of them. They got it, loved it, and we touched a nerve in them. Even though I have a pretty tough side I'll always be grateful to them, and I truly appreciate where our fame comes from.
For more information on Neal Smith or Killsmith go to this location
Neal Smith with The Alice Cooper Band, 1971, during the 'Killer' tour :
"I'm Eighteen", 1972 :