Alice Cooper: Beau Rivage, Biloxi, Mississippi, 06/08/12

“So what did you think of the show? How did the guitars sound?” guitar player Ryan Roxie asked excitedly following Alice Cooper’s kick-off concert for his new tour. Roxie, a veteran of Cooper’s infamous band, has returned to the fold following a self-imposed hiatus to raise his children in his current home base of Sweden. Although he played in bands there during this time, his focus was on his son and daughter. Now that they have grown older, he has made the decision to return to his other family. And tonight was his first night back home.

Starting a new leg of the No More Mr Nice Guy tour that began last year, Alice Cooper has made a few changes, tweaked a few songs and brought the overall nucleus back to the music. Cooper, known as much for his stage theatrics as his anthemic songs and rabid raccoon eye makeup, has toned down his over-the-top spectacle just a tad and made his recorded repertoire more of a musically vivid presence. Having last witnessed him in 2009, where he brought out everything but the snake, this time around he was just Alice; albeit in black leather, studded top hat and another stellar band beside him. “He’s such an amazing showman,” guitarist Orianthi praised before the show. “He gets so into character, it’s scary (laughs).”

Making a grand entrance high above the stage, spreading his arms, including the six arachnid appendages attached to his sides, he greeted the masses amidst smoke and screaming guitars with a wicked “Black Widow”.  “I’m Eighteen” tore it up as a fan favorite come to life before barreling into “Under My Wheels”, “Billion Dollar Babies”, “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Hey Stoopid”. With the crowd now adrenalized, he broke out the Stones classic “Brown Sugar” before hitting a high point in the show with the flaming “Halo Of Flies” featuring his fretboard powersquad of Orianthi, Ryan Roxie, Tommy Hendriksen and bass player Chuck Garric, coming alive in a symphony of freight train chugging power chords that broke down into spotlight solos by Garric and drummer Glen Sobel.

Cooper definitely has one hell of a band this go-round. The aforementioned Roxie has settled back in the groove with a new vitality that shows how much fun it is to be a musician, and Orianthi continues to bring her talented finger-tapping to the forefront, splicing through zinger solos as on “Brown Sugar”, the new “Caffeine”, “Muscle Of Love” and a holy shit blistering on Cooper’s memorable first-time playing of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”; which Roxie revealed was actually a warm-up for unveiling it at the next night’s performance at Bonnaroo. “You got to see it first,” Roxie said with a mischievous smile after the show.

But it wouldn’t be an Alice Cooper extravaganza if he didn’t do something to titillate our senses: The snake was back, swaddled around Cooper’s neck, for “No More Mr Nice Guy”; the Alice money was thrown during “Billion Dollar Babies”; a blonde life-size doll was coddled during “Only Women Bleed” then thrown around like a two-bit zombie whore on “Cold Ethyl”; Cooper waved an American flag during the encore’s first song, “Elected”; and the guillotine slammed down on the maestro’s neck to end “Wicked Young Man” – summoning up Garric’s snarly sing-a-long “I Love The Dead”. And not to be outdone, the giant Alice monster stomped out after being created via “Feed My Frankenstein” and ran rampant in a Gaga wig and yellow police tape for the coda of the concert.

Alice Cooper is a legend, with or without his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. His songs are veiled serums of truth, still relevant in this century of evil living next door in suburban neighborhoods. It’s not all pet snakes and fake blood and rubber severed heads. Just check out the title to Cooper’s new song “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” and then read yesterday’s newspaper: scary in more ways than one. So while Cooper is off playing golf, he is also paying attention and still bringing some nightmare fantasies into our lair.

I had the chance to talk with two of Cooper’s talented guitar players. More of my interview with Orianthi will appear in my column MY ROOTS in July but my talk with Ryan Roxie is featured below. Roxie was definitely happy to be back in the Cooper clan and talked about his time away, his gratitude to Santa for his first guitar and being able to make music with not only Cooper but his bands Roxie 77 and Casablanca as well. And the first thing you notice about Roxie is his pure unadulterated happiness at playing music in a rock band; especially with Alice Cooper.

So how does it feel to be back?

Oh, I think I have more excitement now. It’s not so much nervousness, it’s more like just excitement to get out there and not just to prove it to people but prove it to myself that I can still play at a very high level and perform at a very high level. It’s not like I stopped playing when I stopped touring with Alice. I have done a bunch of my own bands, done a bunch of my own projects with Roxie 77 for years and I play in another band in Sweden called Casablanca. But at the same time, touring with Alice is at such a level where you know that he’s going to be giving it so much. He’s giving so much of his energy out there and I have to match that. And if I don’t match that, it’s not a competition but I want to prove to myself that I can match his energy level.

Some days we can both inspire each other with our energy and that goes with the rest of the band. And this band I feel really comfortable playing with. They’re all focused and they’re playing at such a high level and we’re taking the songs and kind of playing them in the spirit they were recorded; meaning that the tones sound similar to the tones that were recorded. If the song calls for a Les Paul, that’s what we play. If the song calls for an 80’s vibe, that’s what we do. We’re not just representing this band of Alice, we’re representing every band that he has had over his career.

The best thing that can happen for me, and I feel this band, could be if a fan came and said, “Man, I saw Alice Cooper this year and I’ve seen him a lot over the years but this band was really something special.” And that’s what we’re shooting for, that’s the level we’re at least trying for.

Are you also shooting for abs like Chuck?

Shhhh, I’m very sensitive about that (laughs). I’m getting there. By the end of the tour. Give me some time (laughs). But even then I’m not going to have six-pack abs like Chuck. And the worse thing about it is I think it just comes natural to him. He actually just has good genes. And I’m not talking about Levis.

You were with Alice for like ten years, then you left, and now you’re back. What happened? Why did you leave the first time and why are you back now?

Right now the timing is perfect for me to come back and I’ll tell you why. I joined the band in 1996 and played with him off and on from 1996 to 2006. The best tours of my life, the most exciting things, a lot of cool things happened during those years. I got to write and record with Alice Cooper. A lot of shows, like in Russia, Bulgaria, were in places that Alice had never been to and we got to do as a first. We got to do a lot of first things during those years. Also during that time, my wife and I said it was time to start having kids, and having children and touring non-stop on the road is not necessarily a good match. Advice from other rock & roll guys that I’d been touring with, when I listened to them – cause I’m a pretty good listener and I listened to what they were saying and a lot of them were saying to me, “Hey, if you have a chance to stay home and watch your kids grow up for just a few years, those formative years, it’s something that I wish I would have done.” So I actually said, “You know what? This is something that is really important to me to do.” Our son was about two years old, our daughter had just been born, and so I told the Alice Cooper camp that, “Hey, I need to stay home and watch my  kids grow up and put this family first and try and make things work.” And we did make things work as far as the kids growing up. Me and my wife split up but that’s part of life’s journey as well. To this day we live two blocks apart and the kids have two minutes walking distance from each house and we’ve committed to each other to raise the kids the best way we know how.

It’s obvious that was a decision you do NOT regret.

Yeah, Lennon is nine years old, Natasha Grace just turned seven. Those were great years and that’s the thing. They got to be this age where now they’re starting to make a lot of their own decisions and they’re actually starting to not need me around as much. In fact, it’s better when I’m not around sometimes (laughs). So when the opportunity came up with Alice where Steve Hunter was going to do something else, doing some work on his own solo stuff, there was a spot open. It was something that I put in my mind last year when the Alice Cooper Band toured Sweden, that’s where I live. I met up with Alice, we talked and I did an interview for him cause I had a Tv show in Sweden called “The Big Rock Show”. We did a great interview and at the very end of the interview I said to myself, hey, nothing’s really changed about our relationship on stage or off stage, why not ask the question. I always say you have to ask that question. If you have something on your mind, you should probably be direct and say it. So I said to him, “Alice, if you ever need a guitarist for your band, give me a ring.” And like I said, the opportunity came when Steve Hunter went to go do his solo stuff. They gave me a ring, I immediately jumped on the opportunity and it’s great.

Were you really serious when you said Keith Partridge was an inspiration? Or was that a joke?

It’s a complete truth

Was it his image or that he brought in the girls?

(laughs) Well, to be honest with you, when I was growing up, the two shows that were on back to back that probably had more influence on me than any others were “The Brady Bunch” and “The Partridge Family”. And there was “Room 222” with Karen Valentine right after that. But when “The Partridge Family” would come on, I just thought it was so cool with this guy and his haircut and he was kind of a smart ass. If you look back in the show, he’s kind of a little bit of a smart ass to his brother and his sister and he’s always giving his sister a little bit of hell. But at the very end of the day, he played in a band and that was their life and they had a bus that was kind of a weird multi-colored school bus. So all these things they had were kind of ideal except for their mother being in the band. That was the only thing that would drive me nuts (laughs).

So besides this sort of fictional character, who else inspired you musically to be a guitar player and a performer? Because you sing, play instruments, write songs, have a talk show.

As far as a performer, definitely the one band that sticks out for me that kind of changed the way I feel about music, about not really a pop song but guitar-driven songs that have pop melodies, is Cheap Trick. Because that band when I heard them, and I know they’re directly influenced by The Beatles which I’m influenced by The Beatles as well, but when I heard Cheap Trick they were my Beatles in a sense. Rick Nielsen, as far as a performer and as far as a guitarist, was the best performer I’d ever seen and Robin Zander was the best singer. So I’ve always tried to encompass both those things into my own performance. When I front my own band Roxie 77, I’m always trying to steal any sort of influence from Robin Zander that I can. And when I’m playing guitar in bands like Casablanca, and obviously Alice Cooper, I put the show into what Rick Nielsen did. So Cheap Trick is up there as far as my biggest influences.

Other big ones are Johnny Thunders from the New York Dolls who was very much a showman, and the apple not falling far from the tree would be Andy McCoy from Hanoi Rocks. So those types of guys, guys that might not be known for their technicality, you know what I’m saying, they’re not known for their technicality of playing but their vibe of playing. They play the right notes and they play the right parts for the right song. As far as technical guys go as influences, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, you can’t stop them. They didn’t just play notes and scales, they played their style. They let their style come in. I’m not a big fan of guys who just play notes and play super, super fast just for the sake of playing super, super fast. That’s not really my style and it shows because the people I’m influenced by weren’t like that.

You grew up in California?

I grew up in northern California.

What were you like as a kid?

I was told I was a pretty smart kid, although I probably made a lot of stupid decisions over the years (laughs). But it’s all part of the journey. There are no stupid decisions. You make decisions that perhaps maybe you shouldn’t have made but it leads you on a different path and hopefully that path teaches you to eventually go somewhere at a higher level of consciousness and a more positive place. I don’t mean to sound like a hippie or anything but I was a child of the 60’s so I think I might have that sort of in my backbone so to speak. But no, I think I was a pretty good kid. I had good grades and the only thing that I think maybe was different about me than any other kid was that I kind of always had a guitar in my hand.

How did you get your first guitar?

Santa Claus. And please don’t tell me any different. Please don’t disappoint me (laughs). Santa had talked to my parents and they did the right thing by getting me a real guitar. The first guitar I got was a Fender Stratocaster. The second guitar I got was a Gibson. By getting real instruments it really put my focus as a player, like, ok, this is serious. I always thank Santa for that because I had a real instrument in my hand.

A lot of the guitar players I have talked to had no-name type guitars to begin with.

I know, I was very lucky to dive right in with some real quality instruments. But my parents knew how committed I was and especially my mom, she knew how dedicated I was and this was what I wanted to do and this is what I’ve done.

The first time when you got up on stage to perform, how old were you and how natural was it to be up there?

 was playing in a 3-piece band, all three guitar players; no drummer, no bass. It was just three guitar players and we played the Alameda County Fair and we played “Your Mama Don’t Dance And Your Daddy Don’t Rock & Roll” by Loggins and Messina. And we won first prize. And I wasn’t nervous at all and that’s how I knew it was going to come natural.

You were in a band called Electric Angels that for a little while were on their way up and then poof.

It was the first real band I was in and the first time I ever recorded a record for a major label. A lot of firsts happened with that band. I always had super high hopes for that band. We were pretty much our own worst enemy but we were our own best allies as well. We were our own worst enemies because I think that we were the ones responsible for our own demise, you know. We had really tried as much as we could to go climb that wall and hit that wall. I’ve been blessed to be a musician all these years, and years later when you look back you realize that you constantly as a musician run into that wall, whether it’s a wall of people not accepting you or not ready for you or don’t see the same vision as you do. So for us we were our own worst enemy but we were also our biggest allies as well and our biggest fans. We promoted ourselves so heavily on our own. We would go jump in a van, we lived in New York City at the time, and we would just drive up and down the East Coast. Up and down the 95 and play pretty much every city from South Carolina all the way up to Portland, Maine, and any club that would have us. So pretty much every fan that we got we earned ourselves.

I heard that Electric Angels actually opened for Mother Love Bone.

That was the show that Electric Angels got our record deal. We opened up and the A&R guy came early and he thought he was seeing Mother Love Bone and he was actually seeing us. And then when he found out it wasn’t Mother Love Bone, he goes, “Well, are these guys signed?” And they said, “No” and he said, “Let’s sign them.”

What is something you remember about Andrew Wood?

One story that I remember is that one of the guys in Dogs D’Amour – it was Dogs D’Amour headlined, Mother Love Bone was in the middle and Electric Angels opened up – and the drummer at the time was a really crazy guy. And I just remember the singer of Mother Love Bone, Andrew, saying, “Oh my God, the drummer of Dogs D’Amour just put a cigarette out on my arm” (laughs). But it was that kind of road thing. It was a being on tour thing and he wasn’t bummed out about it at all. Maybe he was already partying a little too hard then.

So how did Electric Angels self-destruct?

We destroyed ourselves by, not so much with ego, but constantly running into that wall of like, we’ve done this all ourselves, somebody help us, somebody get us over this hump. And this is before Facebook and before all this social media where bands have a lot of the same tools that major labels have. Now, a band can be it’s own publicist, in that sense, whereas at the time it was very hard for us to get the word out about our band. And the only way we could do it at that time was by playing live shows. And I suppose to a certain extent today it’s still a little bit true like that but it was much harder back then to break your band or at least get recognition.

Trust me, I understand all the young bands today that it’s just as hard to break because, yes, you can get your material out there but how do you get to that next level? Looking back, my only advice now to younger bands is when you run up against that wall, don’t dissolve the band or let personality conflicts get in the way of what your true vision is, because that wall is always going to be there and it’s up to you and the band to break those walls down every step on your way up, hopefully.

Some people think that with all the available social media out there that anyone who knows how to hold a guitar can make a YouTube video and become famous so in some sense the honestly talented musicians get lost behind the ones who have more flair, so to speak.

But I think the age-old saying that the cream rising to the top will always prevail because you know you see who’s actually really, really the best and really committed to what they’re doing and those are the ones that have the staying power and the lasting power. I play with a guy that has proven himself to have that staying power. You know, Alice Cooper, he’s been through the trenches, he’s done the tours and good tours and not-so-good tours and back and forth and you know what, now he’s at that point where everyone views him for the iconic artist that he is. So I think that’s really cool. But I think if we didn’t have YouTube and we didn’t have the people doing it themselves, those little special bands that come about, those little special gems that sort of sneak through the cracks, we wouldn’t find out about.

You were also in a band called Candy with Gilby Clarke, who ended up in Guns N Roses.

Yes, me and Gilby played together and I played in his solo band. Basically, Gilby Clarke is the reason why, in a long sort of roundabout way, Gilby is the reason I am playing with Alice. Because you always get your next gig from the gig that you got before. And Gilby and I knew each other for years. We were friends before he was in Guns N Roses and I played in his solo band and then when he was doing his solo band project, Alice Cooper was interested in having both me and Gilby as his guitar players. Gilby had some commitments with his own label so he couldn’t do that but he totally gave me his blessing to go down and do an audition for Alice. He basically said, “Go for it, Ryan, you’d be perfect for Alice” and it kind of worked out that way.

I’ve always said that Gilby was never given enough credit for being a good guitar player. He went into GNR taking over somebody’s spot who was very popular.

It was never easy playing in a band, and I know from personal experience, it’s not easy playing guitar with a household name like Slash because he’s going to obviously get most of the limelight so you’re going to definitely be in that position of being a support. And that’s fine and Gilby is great at that but Gilby is also a good guitar player in his own right. That’s what I’m really happy about Alice Cooper’s music. I think just the way the music is written and the way the band wrote the songs back in the day that it’s very perfectly set up for two guitar players.

Are you still going to be doing Roxie 77?

Yeah, absolutely, Roxie 77 has something really cool coming out in the next year; well, it’s actually available right now as a pre-order box set. We’re putting out a 4 CD box set called The Roxie Box and it’s four CDs and it’s my first three albums plus another CD of unreleased stuff. So 70 songs total. So if you go on to you can easily pre-order it and if you pre-order the album, you get enrolled in this sort of lottery and I’m going to give away one of my guitars, give away a bunch of my clothing from the tour, just things I think people would find really special. And I’m going to give that away as sort of like part of the incentive.

How does Casablanca differ from Roxie 77?

The huge difference is that I front Roxie 77 and in Casablanca I take on the role of being a guitar player. I still get to put in my sort of stamp as far as the guitar parts go in Casablanca but my voice is not as prevalent as it is in Roxie 77. And my songwriting, cause even though I write a piece of the songs in Casablanca I’m not writing the majority like it is in Roxie 77.

When you write your music, what comes first to you? Is it the lyrics or the melody or a riff?

Put it this way, I never sit down to write a song saying that the riff has to come first or the lyrics have to come first. It’s always a combination of something. It’s either a really good catch-phrase lyric that comes through and then I write a riff around that or a really good riff comes in and I write the words around that. So it’s never one thing that comes first. Sometimes I have some great guitar riffs that never get good lyrics until the very end and then I can put some decent lyrics around them or sometimes I have a really good title but I don’t have the music yet and the music takes a long time to develop. Or sometimes you get that magical song where the title comes in and the riff comes in hand in hand and boom, the song is written in like three minutes. And those are the best songs.

Do you ever wake up with a song?

Absolutely. It’s better than waking up with voices in your head (laughs)

So how did you feel about the show tonight?

It was our first show and, believe it or not, there was a lot of nervous energy because we were really excited and put a lot of work into pre-production and making it right. So I think there was a lot of concentration but at the same time we had to burn a lot of that nervous energy off. Some of it was like, ok, now we know what to do for the next show. It’s going to be a learning process for the first few shows at least, until you get into that groove and say, yeah, that’s the way it’s going to be.

I thought that the fact that we made it from the beginning to the end without any major train wrecks was a major accomplishment too (laughs). Because whenever you have a show with guillotines and spots and big monsters coming up on stage, it’s like something is bound to go a little bit haywire and we managed to do the best we could; we managed to get through it without any major faux pas, at least none that I could see. But I’m happy although there’s not one part of me that says I can walk away from that show going, you know what, we did a really good job; but we wouldn’t be professional if we said, ok, that’s the best we can do and it’s not going to get any better than that. I think we can be a lot better. And we will be.

Is that normal thinking for a musician?

It should be. We wouldn’t be true musicians if we felt we were at the level we needed to be at. I think as musicians, we all want to get better and we always want to be a little bit better than we were the time before.

I mean, that’s the thing, Alice always recruits really good musicians. So for me to make a statement like, I want to be in this upper echelon of bands that he’s had over the years, it’s not an easy thing to say because he’s had such great bands. But I think we are all focused, we’re all really out here for the right reasons. Everybody is out here to really make sure that these songs are represented in the best way possible. And at the end of the day, play rock & roll. Because of the percentage of guys that are, and I’m speaking on my behalf, the percentage of guys my age that get to do this type of work for a living, get smaller and smaller (laughs) and every year I get older. And that’s why I feel more and more blessed every year to still be able to do this.

And this is something you can do for the rest of your life.

It’s pretty crazy to think of doing it to the point of being on the level of Alice Cooper but that’s what we all strive for. And at the very end of the day, that’s what keeps me inspired and sort of driven to keep doing this day after day. And with this sort of new attitude I have with this new opportunity to go out and tour again, let’s just say I’m appreciating the touring on a totally different level than perhaps I did before.

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