By Al Carlos Hernandez on November 28, 2011
HOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) — Neal Smith is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer and the co-founder for the rock group Alice Cooper from 1967 to 1974. http://www.nealsmithrocks.com
He performed on the group’s early albums Pretties For You and Easy Action, the breakout album Love It to Death and the subsequent successful albums Killer, School’s Out, and Billion Dollar Babies. His last album with Alice Cooper was Muscle of Love. When asked by Herald De Paris, “How did you meet Alice Cooper?” Neal Smith replied, “I never met Alice Cooper, but Glen Buxton, Dennis Dunaway, Michael Bruce, Vincent Furnier and I created Alice Cooper.”
Smith graduated from Camelback High School in Phoenix, Arizona while the rest of his band mates graduated from Cortez High School. Smith talks about his high school in the song “Alma Mater” sung by Alice Cooper. Neal Smith’s drum part on the title track (the number-one-album in the US and UK) Billion Dollar Babies, is considered one of the most original and dynamic drum pieces amongst musicians during that era.
Billion Dollar Babies was also the name of the band founded by former Alice Cooper group musicians Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith, along with Bob Dolin and Mike Marconi after Alice Cooper split the band in 1974.
Smith has been selling real estate in New England since the early 1980’s. He is still an active musician and has performed with Alice Cooper during a show in 1998. In 1999, he released his first solo album, Platinum God, recorded in 1975. He is also currently the drummer/percussionist and songwriter for Bouchard, Dunaway & Smith (BDS), composed of Smith, former Blue Öyster Cult bassist, Joe Bouchard, and original Alice Cooper bassist,Dennis Dunaway. The band has co-written songs with Ian Hunter. BDS has released two albums: 2001’s Back From Hell and 2003’s BDS Live In Paris. Smith has also released two albums under the group name Cinematik, with guitarist Robert Mitchell and bassist Peter Catucci, produced by Rob Fraboni. Cinematik has a loose, jam-laden world-beat sound, as opposed to BDS’s more classic-rock sound.
Smith has also recorded with Buck Dharma of Blue Öyster Cult (Flat Out, 1982), Plasmatics(Beyond The Valley of 1984, 1984), and Deadringer (Electrocuxion of the Heart, 1989). Neal played on Bruce Cameron’s CD Midnight Daydream along with an all-star cast consisting ofJack Bruce, Buddy Miles, Billy Cox, Mitch Mitchell, Harvey Dalton Arnold and Ken Hensley.
Neal Smith also has an industrial rock project Killsmith. Killsmith’s sophomore release is underway and this makes Smith the first member of the original Alice Cooper Group to have a project of original material released after the group’s induction to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Neal Smith plays on three songs on Alice Cooper’s 2011 album Welcome 2 My Nightmare.
Back in July 2010, when talking about the newly retitled album, Welcome 2 My Nightmare, Alice said (in a Radio Metal interview): “We’ll put some of the original people on it and add some new people. I’m very happy with working with Bob (Ezrin) again.” Names mentioned so far are Slash, Neal Smith, Dennis Dunaway, Steven Hunter and Dick Wagner. Dunaway and Smith have already written two songs.
Herald de Paris Deputy Managing Editor, Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez, was honored to converse with the master metal drummer:
AC: Do you have an exact memory of when you decided to become a drummer?
Neal: Yes, when I was in elementary school I sucked on the trombone and I hated it. I started banging on pots and pans with wooden spoons on my kitchen floor and I was hooked. I borrowed a snare drum from my cousin and took two years to learn to play it.
AC: What kind of early musical influences did you have?
Neal: I was hugely influenced by the rock n’ roll of the 50’s and early 60’s – drummers like Gene Krupa, Sandy Nelson, and Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys.
AC: When did you decide to become a rock star and how did your family feel about your choice of vocation?
Neal: First of all, you don’t decide to become a rock star. However, if you’re very lucky and your fans make you successful, then, and only then, do you become a rock star! I lived with my mother in Phoenix, Arizona back then and I left home to pursue my music career. Although she loved music and was very supportive of my chosen career, she never liked my extremely long hair. When I bought her a house she didn’t seem to mind my long hair anymore. My father, who lives in Akron, Ohio, hated my music, hair and lifestyle. I never bought him a house.
AC: What was high school/junior college like for you and what was the music scene like in Phoenix where you grew up? Who was your drumming hero then?
Neal: High school and college was okay for me in Arizona. I was pretty popular, played in my high school rock band, and had lots of girlfriends. But I just wanted to get out of school so I could pursue my dream as a rock drummer. I was still a big fan of drummers like Gene Krupa, Sandy Nelson, and Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys, but with the British Invasion there were a brand new crop of amazing drummers. Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts, Keith Moon, Ginger Bakerand Mitch Mitchell are at the top of a list of many fantastic English drummers.
AC: How did you meet Alice Cooper? What was your first impression?
Neal: I never met Alice Cooper, but Glen Buxton, Dennis Dunaway, Michael Bruce, Vincent Furnier and I created Alice Cooper! In 1966, when I started my second year at Glendale College in Arizona, I shared classes with three local musicians that were members of Phoenix’s most popular rock band called The Nazz. These three classmates were Glen Buxton, Dennis Dunaway and Vincent Furnier. I soon found out that Glen, like myself, was from Akron, Ohio and we became fast friends. As I got to know Dennis and Vincent, I thought that they were very talented artists as well as talented musicians. We all became friends for life that year.
AC: You went to SF while the rest of the guys went to LA. Why SF?
Neal: After college, in the summer of 1967, I was in a top Phoenix area band called the Holy Grail. Our music style was more rhythm & blues and acid rock; therefore we felt that we would fit into the San Francisco music scene better than the LA music scene.
AC: Where did you get the whole first outrageous, and then macabre, style from?
Neal: We became outrageous purely out of frustration. We were trying to get the whole world to notice us when no one gave a crap. We were all art majors and fans of old horror movies. We wanted to push the dark side of rock much farther than even the Doors, who was one of the first bands to have a very dark side lyrically. We added props to add emphasis to our songs. One thing led to another and then we started killing Alice every night on stage. All of a sudden it started working for us.
AC: Did the production come from the heavy metal music or did the music come from the macabre?
Neal: There was no such term as heavy metal music when we started making hit records in the late 60’s and early 70’s. We would refer to rock with powerful guitars like Hendrix, the Who, Blue Cheer, the MC5 or the Stooges as heavy rock or kill rock. Michael, Dennis or I would write the music, Alice would write the lyrics, and we’d all brainstorm so that our live macabre stage show would evolve from there.
AC: I am told that rock impresario Bill Graham hated you guys. He said if you guys make it, it will be the end of Flower Power. What did he mean? Was he a hater?
Neal: Bill created a monopoly when he successfully turned San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium into the hippest music venue in the US during the mid to late 1960’s. Through his efforts he also catapulted a barrage of Bay Area bands into national stardom. Almost more than anyone, he totally capitalized on the 60’s Flower Power – Peace & Love Generation. We,Alice Cooper, created a new rock experience for the generation of the 1970’s. In his mind we were threatening everything in the musical empire that he had created. By the time we were filling outdoor stadiums with our fans, his auditoriums were no longer what they once were. At our peak we still could not sell out a show in the Bay Area. I don’t know if he was a hater, but he sure hated us.
AC: I’m told that Bill was partial to Bay Area based bands to the exclusion of yours. Did it hurt the band?
Neal: Bill Graham loved Bay Area bands because that was his universe and he helped a lot of them become successful. We were from Phoenix but I don’t think that’s why he didn’t like us. Maybe he just didn’t like what we were, what we had created musically and image-wise, which totally was the opposite of his comfort zone. I can’t say for sure if that ever hurt us or not, but we were never able to break into his part of the country.
AC: Years later, SF based acts like Metallica owned the charts. Do they owe a debt to you?
Neal: I don’t think that they owe us a debt. If we inspired them then that’s cool, but it’s the same as the English bands that inspired us. Their inspiration was great but we don’t owe them anything except respect.
AC: I’m told that, as the Alice Cooper band, the whole band helped put together the band personae. What did you contribute?
Neal: Although everyone in our band’s image was evolving and moving in the same direction in ‘67 and ‘68, I wanted everything about my personal image to be bigger and better than anyone who came before me. I wanted more outrageous clothes, longer hair and a larger drum set with more drums than anyone had ever seen. I had Rolls Royces, the most expensive jewelry – the best was never good enough for me – spare no expense and so on! Along with Glen, Dennis, Michael and Alice, I was 100% into the violence and theatrics that we were all brainstorming and creating on a daily basis. I always have a blast playing my drums, but I loved when I got off of my drums and became part of the show, like in the fight scene in our School’s Out Tour.
AC: You are considered one of the best rock drummers ever, particularly in Europe. How does that make you feel?
Neal: It makes me feel lucky that I was able to play with four guys who knew no boundaries. When it came to creativity, the sky was the limit for me writing my drum parts. I’m also lucky that I worked with legendary producer Bob Ezrin, making my drums sound great on our records.
AC: Wasn’t the name “Alice” a gender-bender-type trip? What was the reaction?
Neal: That’s the exact reason the five of us chose Alice Cooper for the name of our band. And the reaction was just what we anticipated it would be. People were expecting a blond female folk singer to appear on stage – instead they got five crazy lunatics from Phoenix with extremely loud music, shiny silver clothes, a blinding flashing light show, smoke bombs, feathers and blasting air from a CO2 tank. The fans either loved us or hated us!
AC: There is a rock story/legend that claims you would call up Keith Moon (from the Who) and other rock star drummers and compare equipment. Is that true, and if so, who else did you call?
Neal: No, that story about Keith Moon is not true at all. It is a very good story, but that’s all it is. I’m Neal Smith. Why would I even give a crap about anyone else’s drum equipment except my own? I had the largest set of drums in the world at the time, end of story. No one else’s drum set came close to mine and I knew it! I did call Pete Townshend of the Who once to ask him if he would produce Platinum God, my 1975 solo album.
AC: School’s Out is a monster hit that is still played all over the world. How did the tune come about and how did you feel every time you played it?
Neal: The song came about when we were brainstorming a new concept for our fifth album, the follow up to Killer, our first platinum album. We wanted something with gang related violence, inspired by a mix between West Side Story and A Clockwork Orange. Something commercial to celebrate that last day of the school year – and also 100% explosive and dangerous, vintage Alice Cooper Band. My contribution was the bolero tom-tom beat on the School’s Out chorus. When I play the song I feel great, just like I do when I play any of our classic songs!
AC: Is the same is true for No More Mr. Nice Guy? Was the song about Alice or just folks in general?
Neal: Michael Bruce came up with the music and original concept for the song. We always wrote songs about ourselves for the most part, and No More Mr. Nice Guy is no exception.
AC: Are you still friends with Alice and the guys from the original band?
Neal: I am and will always be close friends with everyone in the band, Alice. Dennis, Michaeland Glen R.I.P. We have a special bond that has a long history that goes back to the mid 1960’s.
AC: The best Alice Cooper Group gig ever?
Neal: We had many great shows, but in my opinion our best gig ever was the ‘74 show in Sao Paulo Brazil. We headlined and drew, conservatively, 125,000 fans, although there were estimates of well over that amount. We held the record for ‘concert attendance at an indoor venue’ in the Guinness Book of World Records for decades after that.
AC: Worst Alice Cooper Group gig ever?
Neal: Our last concert in Rio de Janeiro in the spring of ‘74.
AC: Didn’t you yell at the members of Kiss for setting up behind your drum set up once?
Neal: Yes I did. I yelled at Gene Simmons when he told me that he and the other original members of Kiss sat behind my drums when we played at the Fillmore East in New York, but I was only joking – sort of.
AC: Biggest regret musically?
Neal: My biggest regret is that the band broke up in ‘75, stopping our amazing flow of songs; songs that were changing the music of the 70’s generation.
AC: Biggest success musically and who have you inspired?
Neal: My biggest success was when our album Billion Dollar Babies, went to #1 in all three US music trade magazines, at the same time, in April of 1973. #1 in Billboard, #1 in Record World and #1 in Cash Box. We had already collected gold and platinum albums for selling millions of records, but this was something only a few artists in history have achieved and it was totally unexpected. Plus the tour was the largest grossing tour in rock history up to that time. I think we inspired bands like Kiss, The Plasmatics, Merlyn Manson, Slip Knot and many, many more.
AC: How does it feel to be a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Neal: I am happiest for the fans of the original Alice Cooper Band. As I said in my acceptance speech, our induction into the Hall Of Fame was all about them and because of them. Without our faithful fans around the world, that night would never have happened. At the pinnacle of our success, the only awards we ever received (or cared about) were in the shape of gold and platinum albums – and that was only because of our fans. Even the established music business if the 70’s shunned the Alice Cooper Band and never considered us for Grammys, or any of the other music awards at the time. Living on the fringe of acceptability has always been the norm for me. Now I’ve been asked to become legitimate in the music world and that’s a roll I’m very uncomfortable with. My solo project called KillSmith keeps me on the fringe and in my comfort zone. But the party at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City was f’ing awesome; I went to bed just before the sun came up over New York City. I wished Glen Buxton was still alive to enjoy the honor and the killer party. He would have loved it to death!
AC: Which bands should be inducted but have been overlooked? Do you think the selection process is political?
Neal: We were the only overlooked band that I really cared about – overlooked for way too long. I think there are bands that got into the Hall Of Fame that don’t belong there while we were being passed over. Of course it’s political – everything in society is political – you can’t avoid that. Cheap Trick should definitely be in the hall!
AC: Do you thing Merlyn Manson, Kiss and other bands ripped you off? Or do you feel that what they did has paid homage to Alice because you were the ones doing it first.
Neal: Music and bands are constantly evolving from one generation to the next. We, the Alice Cooper Band, evolved from the British music invasion of the 60’s spearheaded by The Beatles. Being inspired by movies and television, as well as British rock, we started what eventually would be called Glitter, Shock or Theatrical Rock. Bands like Kiss, The Plasmatics, Merlyn Manson, Slip Knot, etc. that followed us, just crafted their look and sound a little differently. If we inspired bands, I wouldn’t consider that they ripped us off at all, but that their success is a homage and testimonial following the trail that we blazed before them.
AC: When did you decide to quit the rock star life and get out of the game?
Neal: Well, I never decided to quit the rock star life. No one in their right mind would just decide, out of the blue, to stop making all of that money! After we played in South America in the spring of 1974 we all agreed to take a year off so that Michael Bruce could record a solo album. Glen, Dennis, Alice and I all agreed to that. We also unanimously agreed that we would reunite one year later to record our next Alice Cooper Group album.
Unknown to us, Alice was recording a solo album of his own during that time off. With the success of Welcome to My Nightmare, his first solo album and tour, when it came time for us to reunite, Alice changed his mind and declined. He just decided not to get back with the band to record what would have been our ninth Alice Cooper Group album. All other accounts of our bands breakup are completely false!
AC: How is it that you and your wife became real estate executives?
Neal: First of all, I don’t have a wife – that’s a whole other story. I had a wife once but that didn’t work out too well. I do have a significant other; she and I are both Realtors®. I have been a licensed Realtor® in the state of Connecticut, listing and selling residential real estate, since 1985. After the band’s success I started investing in real estate, buying and selling homes around 1971. I was also involved in several Alice Cooper Group real estate investments in the early to mid 70’s. The combination of those things sparked my interest in real estate as a profession.
AC: Any parallel between rock life and real estate life?
Neal: Not really, except they are both very competitive and very difficult professions. You must always be on your game for both.
AC: Tell us all about your latest solo musical project: ‘KillSmith?’
Neal: I have written twelve brand new songs: 2000 Miles from Detroit, Suicide Highway, Cemetery of The Damned (23), Evil Voodoo Moon, Death By The Numbers, Crimes Of High Passion,Legend Of Viper Company, Die For The Night, Strip Down, Kiss My Rock, Anything, Squeeze Like A Python. (available at http://www.nealsmithrocks.com or http://www.cdbaby.com )
I think it’s the best writing I’ve ever done with industrial strength music. The fourth song on theK$2 CD is called Evil Voodoo Moon. It is the song that’s the mother of Alice’s latest single called I’ll Bite Your Face Off, featured on his great new CD Welcome 2 My Nightmare. One of the main goals I had in mind while writing K$2 was to keep my lyrics radio-friendly this time. My colorful vocabulary could make a drunken sailor blush. So I took it back a few notches for airplay, something I didn’t do on my first KillSmith CD, Sexual Savior, when I just let all hell break loose.
AC: If everything worked out 100%, what would be your highest expectation?
Neal: To have a hit record go to #1 on the Billboards charts and supported by a world tour. Just like I have in the past!
AC: What about touring again?
Neal: Along with band members Peter Catucci, Kevin Franklin, Doug Walberg, we are currently in rehearsals working on a new KillSmith show right now. Any future show dates will be announced on my web site: http://www.nealsmithrocks.com .
AC: Looking back on your life, would you have done anything differently?
Neal: I would have done three things differently: never gotten married, never gotten married and lastly I’d never have gotten married!
AC: How would you like history to remember you?
Neal: As one of the five founding members of the groundbreaking, show stopping band called Alice Cooper that changed the look and sound of Rock forever! And as a drummer/percussionist, when called upon, I could come up with some very innovative and creatively cool kick ass drum parts!
Edited by Susan Aceves