Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Frank Zappa/Alice Cooper connection; a bizarre history whose paths intersect this August at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton with Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa on Sunday, August 14th and Alice Cooper on Thursday, August 25th.

There’s little that needs to be told by way of the straight biography typical of press releases for two artists of this stature so we thought we’d connect the dots between a shared chapter of their history. 

In 1966 Vince Furnier (later Alice Cooper) and his Detroit band The Spiders graduated from high school. The band scored a local #1 radio hit and by 1967  had begun to make regular road trips to Los Angeles to play shows. They soon renamed themselves The Nazz and by the end of the year had relocated to Los Angeles permanently.

In 1968 upon learning that Todd Rundgren also had a band called Nazz, Furnier chose the gimmicky "Alice Cooper" as the band's name and adopted this stage name as his own. Cooper later stated that the name change was one of his most important and successful career moves. His look was inspired in part by one of the band's all time favorite movies; What Ever Happened to Baby Jane starring Bette Davis. "In the movie, Bette wears disgusting caked makeup smeared on her face and underneath her eyes, with deep , dark, black eyeliner." Another movie watched over and over was Barbarella. "When I saw Anita Pallenberg playing the Great Tyrant in that movie in 1968, wearing long black leather gloves with switchblades coming out of them, I thought, 'That's what Alice should look like'. That, and a little bit of Emma Peel from The Avengers".

In a 2010 interview he stated, "Why do we always have rock heroes? Why not a rock villain? I was more than happy to be rock's Darth Vader. I was more than happy to be Captain Hook.

One night after an unsuccessful gig at the Cheetah Club in Venice, California in 1968 where the Alice Cooper band emptied the entire room of patrons after playing just ten minutes, they were approached and enlisted by music manager Shep Gordon, who ironically saw the band's negative impact that night as a force that could be turned in a more productive direction. Shep arranged an audition for the band with composer and renowned record producer, Frank Zappa, who was looking to sign bizarre music acts to his new record label, Straight Records. For the audition Zappa told them to come to his house "at 7 o'clock." The band mistakenly assumed he meant 7 o'clock in the morning. Being woken up by a band willing to play that particular brand of psychedelic rock at seven in the morning impressed Zappa enough to sign them to a three-album deal. Another Zappa-signed act, the all-female GTOs, (Girl’s Together Outrageously, which included Frank Zappa’s future wife Gail) who liked to "dress the Cooper boys up like full size barbie dolls," played a major role in developing the band's early onstage look.

Alice Cooper's "shock rock" reputation apparently developed almost by accident at first. An unrehearsed stage routine involving Cooper and a live chicken garnered attention from the press, and the band decided to capitalize on the tabloid sensationalism, creating in the process a new subgenre, shock rock. Cooper claims that the infamous "Chicken Incident" at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert in September 1969 was an accident. A chicken somehow made its way onto the stage during Cooper's performance, and not having any experience around farm animals, Cooper presumed that, because the chicken had wings, it would be able to fly. He picked it up and threw it out over the crowd, expecting it to fly away. The chicken instead plummeted into the first few rows occupied by disabled people in wheelchairs, who reportedly proceeded to tear the bird to pieces.

The next day the incident made the front page of national newspapers, and Zappa phoned Cooper and asked if the story, which reported that he had bitten off the chicken's head and drunk its blood on stage, was true. Cooper denied the rumor, whereupon Zappa told him, "Well, whatever you do, don't tell anyone you didn't do it.” 

Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa- Sunday, August 14th 8PM Calvin Theatre

Led by his eldest son on guitar, Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa is devoted to performing the music of the late American composer and musician Frank Zappa. The band features Scheila Gonzalez on Saxophone, Flute, Keyboards & Vocals. Billy Hulting on Marimba, Mallets & Percussion. Pete Griffin on Bass. Jamie Kime on Guitar. Ben Thomas on Vocals, Joe Travers on Drums & Vocals and Chris Norton on Keyboards & Vocals.  "As tribute tours go, 'Zappa Plays Zappa' is a cut above the rest." - Chicago Sun Times

Alice Cooper- No More Mr. Nice Guy Tour- Thursday, August 25th 8PM- Calvin Theatre

Without Alice Cooper, there might never have been the NY Dolls, KISS, Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, Motley Crue, Slipknot or Rob Zombie ... maybe not even David Bowie, or at least not Ziggy Stardust. It's been a long and illustrious career which began in 1969 with the release of Pretties for You on Frank Zappa's Straight label. The iconic hard rocker, who literally invented the concept of the rock concert as theater, returns to what he does best on the No More Mr. Nice Guy Tour performing songs from throughout the years with a full stage show bound to horrify and delight.

Tickets for Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa at 8PM on Sunday, August 14th and Alice Cooper at 8PM on Thursday, August 25th at the Calvin Theatre are available at Northampton Box Office, 76 Main Street, 413-586-8686 and online at

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