|Interview with MICHAEL BRUCE
The Original Alice Cooper Group Guitarist
By Paul Unger & Mitch Barns
Paul Unger: How was it that you had the chance to audition for Frank Zappa?
Michael Bruce: Actually, what happened was, we were playing at this place called "Psychedelic Supermarket"; there were a lot of hippy candle smokers, all kinds of tattoos, clothes and little shops inside this one big old supermarket. We ran into the GTO's. They were living with Frank Zappa at the log cabin. Miss Christine told Frank about us. Frank was signing all of the weirdest bands as a tax write-off for Straight Records because they made a lot of money on "Freak Out". "Freak Out" all of a sudden became a big hit. Miss Christine was getting ready to marry Todd Rundgren. She told Frank about us and got us an audition, and that's the story that you probably heard from Alice or in my book, where we were supposed to be there like at 6:30 and we thought it was 6:30 in the morning.
Paul: Were you like "Wow, we got to get up and be there at 6:30 in the morning?" Were you pumped to get up that early to audition for Frank Zappa?
MB: Yeah. I think some of us were on illegal substances, but I won't comment on that. (laughing) We were waiting for Frank, and he came walking down the stairs with a cup of coffee saying "What the hell are you guys doing?" I think he was impressed 'cause we could play all of that music from Pretties From You at 6:30 in the morning. He offered us a record deal. We went to Burbank Studios to record and were warming up and Frank said "OK, that's a take." We were like "Frank, we haven't done it yet". Frank said, "That's a take". He didn't give a shit. He was only in it for the money. He thought we were just a write-off.
Paul: I wonder what he must have thought a few years later when you guys became so successful?
MB: Well, we spent all of our energies trying to get off of Warner Brothers because they were killing us. We were dubbed the Frank Zappa discovery and his creation. We had nothing to do with him and he had nothing really to do with us. The first two albums didn't do all that well. It wasn't like he made any money for us. So we sort of used it as a launching pad.
Paul: So in a way he hurt you, but in another way he helped you?
MB: Yes, exactly. We wanted to be known for our own thing because we weren't doing any Frank Zappa type of stuff. All of our crazy zany stuff was our own creation and had nothing to do with Frank. The first two albums were like the music was basically - someone would come up with a song and everybody would throw in ideas, whether it were appropriate or not. That's what accounted for a lot of the great deal of weirdness on Pretties For You.
Paul: There is some really great stuff hidden in the first couple of albums.
MB: Yeah, there are some gems in there.
Paul: How do you recall the reactions of your family and friends in Phoenix when the band became Alice Cooper and took on the freaky image, makeup and bizarre theatrics? Were they digging the crazy antics and theatrics?
MB: I think so. They supported us. My mother said to me, "They wouldn't be anything without your music". You know mom (laughing). We had a lot of support. I think we rehearsed at everybody's house in the band. My house, Glen's house, Alice's house. Neal's mother lived in Ohio at the time, so we didn't rehearse at his house. I can't really recall if we rehearsed at Dennis' house. A lot of that happened in Arizona. We were going back and forth from LA and that's where that truck accident happened that's in my book. That was one of our trips back from Phoenix. It wasn't like we all of a sudden came out as Alice Cooper. We had played in Arizona so a lot of people knew about us. When the album finally came out it wasn't exactly a critically acclaimed musical album, but we had a major deal with Frank Zappa, so it was a big deal. I think we were holding our own, basically. When we were the Spiders and Nazz we were doing cover band stuff, other people's material. Now we were doing our own stuff, but it wasn't like any of the stuff we played before. We were strong, musically, doing other people's stuff: now we're musically doing our own stuff. A lot of people were down on us. "You guys can't play now that you're doing your own music."
Paul: It was something that was really different for the times. A lot of people just didn't recognize the type of stuff you were doing and it was easy to slam you.
MB: Yeah, we weren't Hendrix or the Doors. We weren't Buffalo Springfield.
Paul: But you can see the influences. Actually, the Doors come to mind first.
MB: Yeah, absolutely. They were big in LA when we were living there. We were hanging out with them and going down to the studio. We wanted to be like them in a lot of ways. In some ways we kind of captured some of that dark moodiness of the Morrison-mystique. Alice always talks about how "Desperado" is his tribute to Morrison. As a writer I can see that. It wasn't so much that the song was written for that in mind. It was kind of a musical piece that I played and I'm sure it was probably influenced by the Doors. I listened to a lot of Pink Floyd, Doors and all of those bands from that time. Then when we changed drummers and got Neal, it changed musically a lot of things. The approach was a lot different. Neal was like a different kind of drummer. He was more of a showman, splashy outrageous guy rather then a meat-and-potatoes type of drummer, which changed the way we were going with the music.
Paul: Which album(s) were the coolest to write and record and why?
MB: Well, when we finally got to the third album, and finally got to Pontiac we had an area where we could be ourselves. We played the Ann Arbor Pop Festival and we had an inflatable doll and Alice was banging it around on stage and the bikers were yelling "Yeah, Yeah". The one drove his Harley on stage, up the steps and across the stage. Then they grabbed the doll and drug it through the fire. They had this big bonfire out there. It was just too cool. Arthur Brown was there as well as Iggy, MC5 and Ted Nugent. We all of a sudden felt like we were there. We got the farm in Pontiac and had this big huge horse paddock indoors where we could create, and we had a place to live and we were getting some gigs. So all of the necessary ingredients were there for us to create. That's where Love It To Death came from. That's when Bob Ezrin came in. We really didn't have a producer to help provide us with any direction. Bob came in and saw the theatrical possibilities. I think he picked up on it. That period, where we were playing around the area, we started becoming our own music identity. We started having songs that were like complete thesis. That was a first for us. Love It To Death and Killer were like that period when the band really came into their own: started at Love It To Death and then Killer came in. I remember it just seemed like a very very natural evolution. So those are two favorites of mine because that was the period where we got good. The band came together and it was a hot time. I think it's when people became interested. It set the stage for everything else after that.
Paul: On 'Love It To Death' I love the whole album but there are three songs that really stick out, "Long Way To Go," "Second Coming" and "Ballad Of Dwight Fry". Who had the most to do with those songs?
MB: "Long Way To Go" was lyrically a thing that I wrote about "Whose the savior of the sidewalk (something or another) is it love that is keeping us together (or something) there's still a long way to go" - that was kind of a thing of mine. "Second Coming" was Alice's and I helped him a little bit with the music and Bob helped add a lot of the production touches on that. "Ballad Of Dwight Fry" was Alice's sort of zany mess with horror and rock. That's where that came in. I didn't know who the fuck Dwight Fry was. I didn't really know his name. I knew who Renfield was in the Dracula movies.
Paul: What direction of music did you see the group going if there would have been another record after Muscle Of Love?
MB: The Billion Dollar Babie's Battle Axe music was originally for the last album that we were going to do. We had gotten together and discussed the parting ways of the band and there was going to be one more album, a farewell album. I don't think it fit in with Alice's plans and his management that there would be a farewell Alice Cooper because he was Alice Cooper, and he wasn't saying good-bye. I think it would have changed a lot if Alice had been there with the direction lyrically because he's a great writer. I think that would have had an influence on the music. I think there'd probably be more along the lines of the "Battle Axe" part of the song. We loved the idea of rock and roll sort of spectacle of playing to death. Future having to do with money, rock and roll and sex. I think it would have gotten to where the other Alice Cooper albums was. Where Battle Axe is not there because of Alice.
Paul: Were there any "great" songs that were written that never made it to any Alice or your solo records that you regret that never made it to an album?
MB: Well, "Battle Axe," I thought was a great song that never made it to an Alice Cooper album. "No More Mr. Nice Guy" was around from the days of Killer, but it was so up and poppy, it wasn't quite the same pop thing as "Under My Wheels". So it didn't make it on that album. Then after that, it didn't go with the School's Out thing quite either. I didn't know if we would ever use it but I thought it would be a hit. Then Billion Dollar Babies came which was poppy and up and it fit in there. So now, it's on the album but it's not the single. "Hello Hooray" first came out so it was kind of a struggle. That song ("No More Mr Nice Guy") and "School's Out" have always been the two biggest songs. "School's Out" have always been winning a bit; but then Pat Boone came out with No More More Mr Nice Guy then "School's Out" gets on a couple movies so it shoots back up.
Paul: Was there anything that was left off of Billion Dollar Babies or Muscle Of Love?
MB: There is a song going to be on the box set called "Evil," it was a song we worked on but we never took it all of the way to the end. Its a rough, very rough but it had some dramatic things on it. It could have been a great song but you're going to hear a very rough version of it. "Slick Black Limousine," have you heard that? That didn't make Billion Dollar Babies either. It was an outtake. It's going to be in the box set. It never went all of the way. Fooled around with it. Those are probably the two that come to mind.
Paul: What was the most memorable or proudest moment of being in the group?
MB: When we played in Brazil. We played in front of 125,000 people indoors. It was like I couldn't believe it, we were standing on stage and people were pushing up to the stage. It looked like waves breaking. It was amazing that there were that many people who were interested. It was exhilarating.
Paul: Were you awestruck looking at all of those people where you missed a note?
MB: No, I was awestruck when a guy came up on stage and fired a gun. These guys came out with machine guns and escorted us offstage and made everybody, sit down. I was thinking, "This doesn't happen in America too much." I guess I should have known it was going to happen because on the way to the gig we were in these military jeeps with 50 caliber machine guns mounted on, and they drove us up this freeway going in the wrong direction. They pulled over cars ahead and as we drove on the wrong side of the freeway all the way to the show. These guys had power there. It was awesome.
Paul: I saw photos on the internet where you were in the crowd at an Alice show recently. What did you think of his current band?
MB: I liked them. They did "Halo Of Flies" and a lot of the old tunes. The thing that makes it hard is to listen because I'm not up there playing.
Paul: How do you feel to stand in the crowd and see someone else playing songs that you wrote?
MB: Well, it hurts, but you know. No, you want to be up there playing it and you're trying to be subjective and at the same time objective and you're sitting there listening and people are talking to you and you're out in the crowd, but it's not like you're listening to someone else's music: you're listening to your own. Its hard to separate yourself from what's going on.
Paul: Who was the first one that started the spark of having the reunion of you, Neal and Glen last year in Houston?
MB: Well, what happened is Jeff (my manager) and I were sitting around talking, saying "Lets call Glen." I haven't talked to him for awhile so I spent time on the phone; then Jeff talked to him. Jeff said, "Let's bring Glen out and we'll do a record signing thing." There was a thing going on at the Medallion Hotel in Houston coming up. So that's how it started. Then we talked about maybe we'll do a couple of songs and we'll jam with some people. Then I got to talking to Neal. Neal goes, "Oh, Glen is coming down? I'll come along." So Neal came down. Then a gig came together. Then Stevens and Pruit (local radio guys), Alice was coming to town, and on the radio they were like "Why don't you get a hold of Michael Bruce?" So I called up, and the next thing I know I was on their show. Jeff invited Ritchie Scarlett down. Ritchie came down and we were on the show. We were on a live simulcast and slowly more and more things were added. Then we did the Bikes and Babes photo shoot. We asked Dennis to come down but he couldn't make it. He wasn't up for making the trip at that time. Stevens & Pruit were asking, "What is the real story between you and Alice? What's with this feud about (because of my book)?" I was trying to down play it. I said "There really isn't a feud. I said some things in the book that he disagreed with." So there was a little tension.
Paul: We don't see anything way that you slammed him. You basically told your story.
MB: Everybody that was there has a point of view and opinion. I was expressing mine. I think it rubbed everybody wrong. Nobody else has ever spoken out. This book "No More Mr Nice Guy" was a fluke. Actually, what it was supposed to be was Billy James was doing a book about the Mothers Of Invention. Frank had passed away. Now they're calling themselves Grandmothers of Invention. Gail wouldn't let that fly. She'd sue them if they used the word invention. So then they're now just the Grandmothers and the publisher got nervous and said he'd was dropping the whole thing. Billy came to me and said "Do you want to do a book about Michael Bruce and the Alice Cooper Band?" The publisher said "Yeah." So that's how it even came about.
Paul: Was there an invitation for Alice to join you, Glen & Neal at your show in Houston?
MB: I don't think anybody knew how to get a hold of him. Stevens and Pruit were saying "It's the Alice Cooper reunion" and Brian Nelson was going "Well, its not really a reunion because Alice isn't there". Dennis wasn't there either. I think Dennis would have been there: of course, after Glen passed away he wished he had come. I saw him at the funeral and he said he wished he would have been able to make it. He has a business and two teenaged daughters. I don't know if Alice was actually invited because I don't think we had a way to get a hold of him at that time. I think Jeff had mentioned it to Brian Nelson, but I don't think he was going to come down. I wish Dennis would have been there.
Paul: What stood out the most about Glen Buxton?
MB: Probably his off the wall-ness. Glen was always like "Yeah, yeah yeah". You know, like rude and crude. That was on the outside, but on the inside he was pretty vulnerable and sensitive. One of a kind.
Paul: What will you miss most about him?
MB: Just his sheer presence. His being off of the wall. He was not like any of the other members of the band. Maybe him and I could be very sarcastic and negative. Dennis could be too, but not Alice. Alice is soft spoken. Nobody was quite as sick and twisted as Glen. I think he liked getting reaction from people to see how they squirmed and how they dealt with it.
Paul: Give us some insight on Glen that you feel is important to be said about him.
MB: Glen was trying to sort out a lot of things musically and personally in his life. A lot of times, at least in my life, my music is kind of separate from my personal life. I think Glen, his private life overlapped into his music life in such a way that sometimes it's very hard for him to function because he was dealing with a hangover or whatever? After repeated situations like that it made it hard for him to function. You still can't take away some of the stuff that he wrote. He wrote some classic stuff.
Paul: What are some of the songs that he contributed to that really made an impact?
MB: "I'm 18" his guitar licks brought us out a jam. He affected the way I played. When I play with Glen I play differently then when I play with other people. The sustaining parts he did, no one wrote quite like he did. His guitar melodies and what not. We used to do a lot of double harmonies lines together.
Paul: Has his passing brought you closer to the rest of the guys or changed your outlook on life?
MB: I want to live longer then Glen did. I think when I saw Dennis I told him "Lets get together and do something." That's what I want to do. I realize you don't really think about it 'til someone dies and Glen was the first one to pass away. It adds a certain amount of urgency. Let's do it while we can, if it can happen. I think Neal, Dennis & I can get together. Whether anything happens with Alice at all remains to be seen. Maybe it's going to change by how he looks at it, too. We've made amends and Alice and he and I are talking. For the first time, next year the box set is coming out and there's going to be a lot of nostalgia out there regarding the band and we're all talking, if someone comes up and offers us a situation where we can play together.
Paul: How did the rehearsals go for your show in Houston with Neal and Glen? Especially the first time ya'll got together.
MB: It was rough. Before Glen came out I had asked him to learn five songs. He didn't learn any of them. He got there and he forgot a lot. We spent two weeks rehearsing and we learned so much of it. Then we'd go back and then next thing we'd have to recap it for Glen. It was frustrating for Neal and I because Glen has deteriorated a lot. Some things he played like "I'm 18" he could play well but when we played some of the other songs he'd have a problem with it. So it was a struggle. When it happened it sounded great! It captured that classic magic.
Paul: When you actually played the show was it as special for you as it was for diehard fans?
MB: Oh yeah. I was grinning from ear to ear.
Paul: Tell us about your new band and how things are going with touring?
MB: We fired our drummer. We let him go. We couldn't go any farther with the former drummer because of musical tastes. He was a big Kiss fan. His drumming kind of stopped short of Kiss. So we're trying to find someone more diverse.
Paul: Are you writing new songs?
MB: Yes, I'm still writing. I have a lot of new material.
Paul: So you have a web site where you sell lots of very cool merchandise?
MB: Yes, we have the "In My Own Way" CD on One Way Records. There is a new version of my book "No More Mr Nice Guy" in then works. We're trying to get an American publisher updated with another chapter chronicling last year with what happened with Glen's passing. We may start selling more pictures on the web site, T-Shirts and other videos and what not. We want to do another live video with some of the new material like the new song called "End Of The Line".
To contact Paul at Noisy Fans Of America write firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his web site at http://www.noisyfans.com