Forget today’s rock and roll hell-raisers, there was some real dastardly rock and roll debauchery happening in Hollywood in the mid ‘70s with a little-known bunch of music hooligans called “The Hollywood Vampires” who used Hollywood’s Rainbow Bar & Grill as their club house.
This ad hoc assemblage included president Alice Cooper, Vice President Keith Moon, and 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 booze-guzzling 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 rock by night. Produced by Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper/KISS/Pink Floyd) the album features two new originals, All My Dead Drunk Friends and Raise the Dead alongside revved-up machine gun slammin’ reinventions of ‘70s classics from Vampire brethren, John Lennon, Harry 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 festivities.
Enjoy our chat with Alice Cooper and Joe Perry about this fun new venture.
Rock Cellar Magazine: 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 for 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 kid 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)
Rock Cellar Magazine: Who were the key members of the Hollywood Vampires?
Alice Cooper: 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 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, “Okay, 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 in full costume as the Queen of England and one night he would come in fully dressed as Adolph 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…”
Rock Cellar Magazine: What was the wildest it ever got up in the lair of the Hollywood Vampires?
Alice Cooper: Well, these were pretty good drinkers. These were guys that drank on tour and they drank socially. I think the idea came from the old Hollywood days in the ‘30s, when 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 had 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.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Share your most memorable experiences with Hollywood Vampire alumni starting with John Lennon.
Alice Cooper: 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, Okay boys, sit down!” And I was extremely unpolitical. I told them, Guys, I’m not politically incorrect, I’m politically incoherent, okay?” (laughs)
Rock Cellar Magazine: What do you miss most about those Hollywood Vampires days of the ‘70s?
Alice Cooper: 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 for music for a while.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Did you ever jam with Keith or play with Lennon?
Alice Cooper: 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 cat calling 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.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Moving on from the ‘70s to current day, what sparked the idea to assemble a super group named The Hollywood Vampires?
Alice Cooper: 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, they’d be 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 starred 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.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Did that free you up creatively?
Alice Cooper: 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 5 to 1 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.
Rock Cellar Magazine: 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 starting 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 that lived 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 an honorary member.
Rock Cellar Magazine: 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?
Joe Perry: 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.
Rock Cellar Magazine: How did you wind up covering Come and Get It? and getting Paul McCartney to sing and play on it?
Joe Perry: I got a call from Johnny and he said that Paul McCartney was coming over today. I said, “You’re shittin’ 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.
Alice Cooper: Paul just sat down at the piano and started playing it and we just went along with it. We were like, “Okay, we’ll do that.” He says to me, “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)
Joe Perry: 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!
Rock Cellar Magazine: There’s a pair of originals that appear on the album, All My Dead Drunk Friends and Raise The Dead.
Alice Cooper: We were gonna write one original for the record but we ended up writing four or five of them. All My 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 is 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 original 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.
Rock Cellar Magazine: The core lineup of the Hollywood Vampires is you, Joe and Johnny, is there a tangible chemistry that exists?
Alice Cooper: Doing the covers, we all started out in bar bands. Aerosmith was a bar band doing covers–Beatles, Stones, Yardbirds, Who, and Johnny was in 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, “Okay, why don’t we put a vocal on this?” So everybody was always working on the album at different times.
Rock Cellar Magazine: What was the thinking behind doing a combining School’s Out / Another Brick In The Wall Pt.2?
Alice Cooper: 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 thin
k 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.”
Rock Cellar Magazine: What’s the track on the album that you keep returning to?
Alice Cooper: The one that I think that came out the cleanest was probably I’ve 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.”
Rock Cellar Magazine: Fill us in the touring plans for the Hollywood Vampires.
Alice Cooper: 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 fit verses 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.
Rock Cellar Magazine: What does the future hold for the Hollywood Vampires?
Joe Perry: 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 shows that something else is gonna come up.
Fellow Hollywood Vampires member from the ‘70s, The Monkees’ Micky Dolenz chimes in on his tenure in the group.
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 under privileged 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 rink. (laughs) Well, there were quite a few people that 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) ‘case 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.
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…
Rock Cellar Magazine: 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. One night, Michael J. Pollard, the actor who is best known for his role in the film Bonnie and Clyde, showed up. He was a character actor in Hollywood and had done a bunch of things and 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.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Speaking of taking your life in your own hands, Keith Moon was one of the principal regulars.
Bob 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.
Rock Cellar Magazine: The record contains primarily new renditions by ’70s artists, what was the approach when cutting some of these classic songs?
Bob 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 OB’s, original members of these bands or OV’s, 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.
Rock Cellar Magazine: 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?
Bob 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 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.
Rock Cellar Magazine: The melding of the two tracks you originally produced into one, School’s Out and Another Brick in the Wall, works really well.
Bob Ezrin: When I originally recorded Another Brick in the Wall with Pink Floyd (Alice Cooper manager) 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 as connection between those two songs. I don’t know what took me so long to think about sticking them together.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Working with Paul McCartney on Come and Get It must have been a blast.
Bob Ezrin: There is no better moment in the world that standing side by side with Paul McCartney singing harmony on a song (laughs). I had to do eye checks every 30 seconds, “Holy shit, it really is Paul McCartney!” Even though we’ve met and we’ve spoken before but that’s one thing but to actually be on a mike 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.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Raise the Dead is one of two originals.
Bob 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 out way to raise the dead. The whole idea was to bring back our fallen brothers and introduced 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 state chanting, “raise the dead, raise the dead!” and from that point outwards it was pretty easy once you know. The trick now is making sure where we’re going is a special place. The thing about this whole project is once we deiced what it was we knew that where we were going was a very special place and 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 but they informed the project so we stuck them on there.
Read full interview by Ken Sharp on Rock Cellar Magazine