If it were not for the Alice Cooper band, metal heavyweights such as KISS, Rob Zombie and many others might be a lot different than what we're used to. No doubt, this band from Phoenix, Arizona pioneered the art of splashy stage shows as well as the element of shock in an era that was predominated by the singer-songwriter types. Dennis Dunaway and Vince Furnier were teammates on the cross-country running team. They became friends and eventually started a band with another friend Glen Buxton and eventually Michael Bruce and Neal Smith. We all know what happened after that.
With Alice (the singer) continuing on following a break in the late '70s, the original band went their separate ways. Bassist Dennis Dunaway was a co-writer of many of the massive hits the band had, such as: "Eighteen" and "School's Out". Dennis has remained active in the music scene with various bands over the years. His latest band, the Dennis Dunaway Project has just put out a record that is one of the best hard rock releases I've heard in some time.
The Project includes Rick Tedesco who plays guitar and does lead vocals on several cuts. Russ Wilson handles drum duties and Ed Burns sings lead on a majority of the tracks as well as contributing keyboards. Dennis also sings lead on a couple of songs. The record, Bones From the Yard, has 12 cuts that range from the moody "Kandahar", to the seductive "Red Room", to the old time rock of "Me and My Boys".
I did an email interview with Dennis recently to find out about his new band and what happened when the original Alice Cooper band recently reunited for a show.
antiMUSIC: Tell us about the Dennis Dunaway Project. How did it come together and how long has it been in the works?
Dennis: I got to know Rick Tedesco when he was working with Ian Hunter on the Rant album. After that, Rick built Guitar Hangar Studios and expressed interest in getting a band in to get the bugs out. I told him that I had over 200 songs so we agreed that we would bring in some musicians and I would be the guinea pig. The quality of the recordings progressed at a rapid pace and as soon as we found Russ and then Ed, I sensed an exceptional chemistry, and as soon as we played our first live show, I knew it was solid so the Dennis Dunaway Project came to life. We all have day jobs so we got together after work every Wednesday night. Bones From the Yard took about 2 years to complete but figured by hours it went fast.
antiMUSIC: How did you connect with Rick, Ed and Russ and what are their backgrounds?
Dennis: Rick had worked with Russ for many years in several bands as well as in the capacity of studio musicians. Besides their rock endeavors, Russ also studied jazz. I would show them a song and they would have a take on the third or fourth run through. At first I thought it was a fluke but it kept happening over and over. The takes were superior to demo quality so we started thinking in terms of a solo album that I would be singing so I structured my bass lines accordingly. The energy level attracted Ian Hunter's attention and he began to show up regularly but his urging me to sing all the tracks because, as he put it, "You sound like you mean it," I felt that some the songs had risen beyond my ability to do them justice so we decided to get a singer. We remembered hearing a keyboard player who belted out a couple of songs at a benefit we had attended a year or so earlier. We contacted Ed Burns and he came over for a listen. By that time I was encouraging the others to collaborate on the music and we put Ed on the spot by asking him to invent a melody for "Kandahar." He not only created a melody but he came up with a keyboard part as well. It seemed too easy but I've been around the block a few times and I knew something special had taken place.
antiMUSIC: What can you tell us about a couple of the songs, either their lyrical inspiration or something that happened during the recording?
Dennis: Rick recently dug out an early version of "Kandahar," which we wrote from scratch. It was before Rick developed that infectious guitar line. We remembered that he thought of it for the verse and I said to continue it through the entire song. That was the key turning point for the feel.
Rick and Russ came up with the ideas for the riffs on "Needle in the Red." For the most part, I held my silence and they ran with it. Ed came up with the lyrical concept (he had just bought a Harley.)
"Little Kid (with a big, big gun)" was an incredibly easy take and seems to be a favorite. Ian played piano and Joe Bouchard hammered the Cowbell. The recording captures the unbridled fun we had on that song.
antiMUSIC: The material ranges greatly on this record, from the Kashmir-sounding "Kandahar", to the Bob-Seger-ish "Me and My Boys". I guess that's only natural when there are three writers in the band. However, you're the primary writer. Was it your intention to make the sound so diverse or was it a matter of whatever emptied out of your head was what you were going with?
Dennis: My songs are diverse because I like to explore rather than stick to safe territory. Rick, Russ, and Ed are seasoned pros at finding the right pocket for every style I threw at them. I played whatever popped into my head and they went with it. We got to a point where I was worried that the songs were too varied to fit on the same collection, especially with three singers, so we decided that Rick's guitar sound should be the identifiable glue to hold everything together, and that seems to have worked.
antiMUSIC: I like the manic nature of "Satan's Sister". Written about anybody in particular?
Dennis: Nobody in particular. I had a catchy title and a manic guitar part and the rest came together fast. My original demo was more raunchy and electric but I find it interesting that the final recording captures that same feel.
antiMUSIC: "On the Mountain" has a real Cooper-ish feel in the intro. What is this song about?
Dennis: It's about the lure, the grip, and the tragedy of drugs.
antiMUSIC: How did Ian Hunter turn up on "Little Kid…"?
Dennis: The Dennis Dunaway Project recorded "Little Kid" on a Wednesday night and the following night, Rick played the take for Ian. Rick told Ian that I had always admired his rock n' roll piano style and that I would like him to lay down a part. The following Wednesday, Ian showed up and recorded the part. Jokingly, Ian still claims I haven't thanked him enough.
antiMUSIC: One of my favorite cuts is "Red Room", which to me is really Blue Oyster Cult-ish (your bass lines sound really great by the way). Did it take a long time to get the right arrangement on that, because the subdued approach on it works really well or was it written that way out of the box? Also, who is Jessica Williams who contributes background "vocals"?
Dennis: "Red Room" was one of the first songs that I wrote on piano. The DDP arrangement didn't vary much from the original demo but the Spanish guitar treatment was Rick's idea. Upon hearing our idea about having the sounds of a Spanish prostitute on the track, a promising singer/songwriter named Rori Shapiro, who was recording demos at Guitar Hangar Studios, said her sister had a book with 1000 dirty things to say in Spanish. Rori's sister, Jessica, had never recorded before so Rick's wife, Stephany, made her an apple Martini. Jessica drank hers and then Rori's and then Stephanie's and then recorded the vocal part. Her husband, who is a policeman, wasn't too thrilled with her condition when she got home.
antiMUSIC: Probably the strongest cut on the record to my ears is "Kandahar". What was the lyrical idea behind that?
Dennis: Rick, Russ, and I wrote and recorded the instrumental track. We knew the track called for something powerful. We discussed an ancient battle but had nothing concrete. That's when Ed Burns came into the picture. We had invited him to the studio, and when he showed up, we played the song live and asked him to make up a melody on the spot. He nailed the feel and within a week the lyrics came together.
antiMUSIC: Considering the quality of this record came out so high, would you consider a sequel or does it depend on sales?
Dennis: Sales have been great but that's not what fuels this band. It's already underway because we've got a million ideas and we're busting to record them.
antiMUSIC: Why did you decide to cover some of the classic Alice Cooper songs?
Dennis: I enjoy playing them.
antiMUSIC: You're selling the CD through your website. Is it important for you to keep everything in-house at this point of your career? Are you done with major labels?
Dennis: I admit that I'm gun-shy of major labels but the real question is, are major labels done?
antiMUSIC: Are you a prolific writer or do you just record stuff when the idea comes to you?
Dennis: That's a great idea for a song! It comes in waves for me but my antennas are always scouting for ideas.
antiMUSIC: Will you be playing shows for this record?
Dennis: Absolutely. We had been playing but then we took a break to finish the CD and now we're swamped with sales, interviews, and radio shows. Our next concert will at Don Hill's in New York City on December 4th. That will be in affiliation with Sirius Satellite Radio.
antiMUSIC: What is the status of Bouchard, Dunaway and Smith?
Dennis: I tried several times to get them into the studio to record but Joe had started working on his recently released X- Bros. CD, and Neal had began recording a solo album and writing a book. I didn't want to sit around and suddenly Bones From the Yard has taken flight.
antiMUSIC: What are your thoughts towards the current Alice Cooper band?
Dennis: It's embarrassing but I'm not sure who's in the band right now. I had tickets for the Halloween show but couldn't make it. I heard that it was good though.
antiMUSIC: You recently did some reunion shows with the original Alice Cooper band. When was the last time you played altogether? And how did these shows come about?
Dennis: We get together whenever Alice is willing, which has been twice in 30 years.
antiMUSIC: What was the experience like and what sort of set did you play?
Dennis: The most recent show was in Phoenix, Arizona on December 16th, 2006. We played Six songs plus a "Jingle Bells' finale. It was an uplifting experience. The benefit sold 7000 seats and raised over $150,000 for the Solid Rock Foundation.
antiMUSIC: Did it feel strange for the first few notes after the show started?
Dennis: Only because my bass amp wasn't working until the second song and then it was just like the glory days. Michael was great, Neal was great, Alice was great and so was Damon Johnson who played the late great Glen Buxton's guitar parts.
antiMUSIC: Were these shows recorded at all for a possible future release?
Dennis: I doubt it. That wasn't the purpose of the event.
antiMUSIC: Can we expect to see future such events or more --- or was this just a one-off?
Dennis: You're asking the guy that's always been waiting.
antiMUSIC: Alice Cooper as a band has its place in Rock history. So much has been made of the stage show which obviously influenced thousands of followers such as KISS, NY Dolls, etc. Do you feel that the band has got enough recognition for the songs themselves, many of which you wrote?
Dennis: Considering the original Alice Cooper group has soared way beyond my wildest dreams, nope.
antiMUSIC: Looking back, what are your memories of the first few years of the original Alice Cooper? What events or shows particularly stand out?
Dennis: Before we named the band Alice Cooper, we called ourselves The Spiders and we had a regional hit called, "Don't Blow Your Mind," which landed us a booking at an air force base in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, near Mexico. When we arrived, the troops were ready for entertainment but the honchos took one look at us and said we couldn't go on because of our long hair. As the crowd grew increasingly restless, and as the honchos realized they had no alternative, they finally gave in and let us play. The troops recognized "Don't Blow Your Mind" and everything turned out fine. Even the honchos liked us after that. Early on, Alice Cooper got several gigs because the club owners thought we were a girl folk singer. We got used to showing up and having people freak out before we even went on.
antiMUSIC: Do you recall how the evolution began from rock band to shock rock band? Was there a lot of experimentation in terms of costumes and your stage show or did everything sort of present itself fairly clearly?
Dennis: In 1964, Alice, Glen Buxton, and I played our very first gig as a real band at the Halloween Dance at Cortez High School in Phoenix, Arizona. Our show featured spider webs, a coffin and a guillotine. We always loved gimmicks of one kind or another, even if it was a fake stage riff, fight and all. Alice went through a period where he kept his back to the audiences. We had stopped doing covers and he wasn't sure about what he should do. I suggested that he imagine a different character for each song and that helped. One of Alice's was a dark one that he had was developing on a song called "Fields of Regret," which we recorded for the Pretties For You album. The audience members, who hadn't left our show in disgust, liked that character the best so I urged Alice to expand on it, which lead to me writing, "Black Juju." Once that ball was rolling it gained momentum and Alice took it to phenomenal heights.
antiMUSIC: What were the first few sessions like with Zappa? Did he encourage a lot of experimentation with the sound or was it more put-your-nose-to-the-grindstone and pump it out?
Dennis: It was recorded like we wrote it but from sundown to dawn in two days. No time for experimentation, they had us laying down tracks before all the mics were in place.
antiMUSIC: How integral to the Cooper sound was Bob Ezrin and how did he become involved?
Dennis: We played a dead night at Max's Kansas City in New York. We were exhausted and pissed off at the turn out, about 5 people were there. One of them was Bob and he witnessed one of the most violent sets the band had ever done. Afterwards, he said he was going to get us a record deal and we said, "Whatever" and headed for the bar.
antiMUSIC: What is your favorite Cooper album and why?
Dennis: I like Killer because it was the first time the band entered the studio knowing that people would be listening and, across the board, the band was in prime form.
antiMUSIC: Hard rock and metal have always commanded loyal audiences. Bands like Deep Purple and Black Sabbath still sell records and are big concert draws. Are you surprised at the continuing level of interest in the original Alice Cooper band?
Dennis: Obviously, hard rockers and Metal heads know what's good. Yes, the whole thing is like a dream that I would wake up from, but even through the nightmare years, it continues to be a dream come true.
antiMUSIC: What are your plans for 2007 and beyond?
Dennis: Rest on New Year's Day and then get back to work. I lead a simple life so 2008-2032 will probably be the same. Hopefully, The Dennis Dunaway Project will be making tons of music during those working days.
Morley Seaver and antiMUSIC thanks Dennis for taking the time to do this interview.