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.