If you are an Alice Cooper fan, then you know Dennis Dunaway. He is not just a musician who thinks outside the box; he is the bassist and co-songwriter for Alice Cooper (the band fronted by the singer of the same name) who thinks without a box, and is credited with pushing the group to come up with sounds no one ever heard before, and merging art and music with theatrical productions equally inspired by Salvador Dali and teenage rebellion.
As Dunaway said of the group’s use of guillotines, executions and creepy makeup onstage as a form of shock rock, “We didn’t care if you hated us or loved us, but we didn’t want anybody who was indifferent.”
He’ll talk about his memoir, “Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group” (co-written by Rolling Stone journalist Chris Hodenfield and originally released in 2015, but now reissued in paperback), Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. at Little City Books in Hoboken. He says of Cooper’s new introduction, “it is so flattering that when I read it, I thought I am not worthy of myself.”
Dunaway hopes to “have a very organic conversation and answer questions” at the event, co-sponsored by Hoboken’s Guitar Bar on the eve of Halloween (which seems fitting). He’ll also perform five classic Alice Cooper songs backed by his band, the Snake Charmers (featuring Guitar Bar owner and Bongos member James Mastro along with Russ Wilson, Nick Didkovsky, and Tish and Snooky Bellomo).
“Even if you are not an Alice Cooper fan, the book holds interest for observers of the cultural, social and political adventures of the ’60s and ’70s … by taking you back to L.A., Detroit, NYC in a really good way,” Dunaway said. “It all amounts to a fun, easy-to-read journey to the very tip of the top of the glittery rock pile.”
Dunaway will discuss the groundbreaking nature of the group at the event and share stories of Cooper and bandmates Glen Buxton, Michael Bruce and Neal Smith.
“I wrote the book with the intention of putting people in the band’s station wagon as we were driving around America, thinking about how we were going to make a big splash,” he said, adding “it’s very important to give people the feeling of the time – the Vietnam War and all the cultural and social changes, so people understand how controversial the Alice Cooper group was.”
While details of songwriting and recording sessions are shared in the book, Dunaway emphasized that “it is really a story about my friendship with my high school friend Alice and a love story about my wife, Cindy, who was our original costume designer and my bandmate Neal’s sister.”
Dunaway had just returned home from a doctor’s appointment before our interview, having had blood taken in preparation of further treatment of Crohn’s Disease. He explained that his most acute flare-up with the disease generated the creation of the book.
“I was in the hospital for a month on IV fluids to build up strength to get me ready for surgery in Connecticut and then all of this snail mail came in from fans all over the world.
“The Alice Cooper Group had thoroughly been swept under the rug by then and I realized fans remembered me and that inspired me to write a book, “ Dunaway said, adding that “I thought that if I wrote a book, I won’t kick the bucket because I have to finish the book … writing a book would keep me alive.”
He also said he wanted to write a book to set the record straight about many incorrect stories circulating about the band.
“I was constantly telling my daughters Chelsea and Renee that something I heard in an interview was wrong or we would go to a concert and I’d say we did that before them,” he said, adding that “there were a lot of legends spun throughout the decades. For example, my wife Cindy found our managers … people were given credit or taking credit for what the group had done. And then when the sharks and groupies came in, they acted like we were Alice’s assistants. Alice would not have done the theatrics, executions, used snakes or worn makeup without the group.”
Cooper’s challenges with alcoholism made it difficult to navigate around groupies and intermediaries when dealing with him, so the band fell apart. Dunaway noted that his “biggest regret is the premature demise of the group. With success comes money, and then the sharks moved in and everything changes.”
When Cooper gravitated to whiskey use, he could sometimes only crawl onto stage, Dunaway said, which gave the audience a thrill because they thought he was acting out the character the group created.
Dunaway sipped his coffee and added, “I also regret that I didn’t compliment people in the group more … when we got something to a level of perfection, we were silent. Though we were together constantly, a crazy-looking band with long hair … we found safety in numbers, so we were a pack.”
Dunaway discussed his early love for surrealism, which he brought to Cooper’s original rock group, The Earwigs, when in 1964 at a high school Halloween dance.
“We got boxes to make tombstones, and a dad made our first guillotine.” He explained that as they landed gigs at a popular teen club in Phoenix, he used Dali’s photographs of flying objects for inspiration and noticed that “every single musician in the shows dressed in Levis so we were never gonna dress in blue jeans again. We wanted to be different.”
As he was writing the book, he wanted to emphasize not just “the dirt, but the friendship that fueled a group of teenagers to bring art into a rock ‘n’ roll band.” He found the book to be a catalyst for the original band members to reconnect, both during their reunion tour in England in November 2017 and at other events.
“We have scars, but even during the worst of times we had fun and we knew that if we permitted lawyers to litigate during the worst of times, that would be the nail in the coffin … the book helped bury the hatchet and exorcise our demons.”
In addition to his book tour, Dunaway spends his time creating music with Blue Coupe, his band with Joe and Albert Bouchard, co-founders of Blue Öyster Cult. He enjoyed playing with them in the New York City Halloween parade and, not surprisingly, celebrates the holiday with his family in a spectacular way.
“We have an arsenal of Halloween decorations that take the good part of two days to put out. Then we carve pumpkins and bask in the orange glow of our cozy home,” Dunaway said.
He is also very excited about his collaboration with Calico Cooper (Alice’s daughter) and his wife, Cindy, on a rock video called “Cold, Cold Coffin,” featuring a song about love and revenge.
“The film team had a great chemistry” Dunaway said, adding that the project “reminded me of working with the Alice Cooper group because we all shared the same creative vision.” Both the song and video will soon be released.
Dennis Dunaway will talk and perform some music at Little City Books in Hoboken, Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. Visit littlecitybooks.com.