ALICE COOPER: THE BREADCRUMBS EP

(10” EP; EAR MUSIC; 2019)

Alice Cooper were a product of the dirty underbelly of Detroit rock and roll and reveled in the debauchery of that scene. The band’s erstwhile singer (who, by no fluke, shares his name with the band), well known for his hedonistic tendencies during the group’s rise to the top of the rock heap, could still only claim second place in the debauching olympics behind their much-missed guitarist, Glen Buxton. Alice, along with Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith and Michael Bruce, has cleaned up his act. A devoted husband, doting father and golfing junkie, the Coop still retains a certain edge and a distinct love for Detroit and the sounds that can only be produced by someone who calls that city home and, yearning for a return to the sound that defined his band, he has brought together some of the city’s best-known (or infamous) survivors for THE BREADCRUMBS EP, seven songs spread over six tracks (can you say “medley,” children?) on a limited, numbered edition 10 inch slab of vinyl.

ALICE COOPER (Johnny “Bee” Badanjek, Paul Randolph, Garrett Bielaniec, Wayne Kramer, Bob Ezrin, Alice Cooper) (uncredited photo)

Detroit City 2020” is a reworked number, the original coming from Alice’s 2003 release, THE EYES OF ALICE COOPER. Simply put, the track is a love song to the much-maligned city, with gang vocals and some stinging, nasty, sloppy guitar from Mister Wayne Kramer, just like the original (Mark Farner and the Rockets’ new guitarist, Garrett Bielaniec, are along for this ride, too). Of course, it’s always good to hear Johnny “Bee” Badanjek pounding away behind the Coop, with memories of WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE bouncing around my brainpan. The second “original” is called “Go Man Go” and continues in the same vein as the opener. Namely, a filthy back-alley groove that dares you to ignore it; you do so at your own peril. Badanjek and his partner in rhythm, Paul Randolph, pummels away on a track that, lyrically, brings to mind the KILLER classic “You Drive Me Nervous.” Letting his Detroit show, Vince digs WAY deep, into the back of the crate for the Last Heard’s debut single, “East Side Story.” Of course, the Last Heard is best known as the precursor to the Bob Seger System. This is a cover that woulda fit right in on the first side of SCHOOL’S OUT with a chugging rhythm that’s straight out of Them’s “Gloria,” a suitably dirty, garage band guitar solo and a pounding, primal beat.

ALICE COOPER with Bob Seger (uncredited photo)

Side two kicks of with the Mike Chapman/Nicky Chinn-penned “Your Mama Won’t Like Me.” In typical Alice gender-bending fashion, the Suzi Quatro rocker is played straight, as in no changes to the defiantly feminine lyrics (“I wear my jeans too short/And my neckline too low”). While specific guitar credits aren’t listed, the solo sounds very much like something Mark Farner woulda played on Grand Funk Railroad album and, like the original, horns (provided by Nolan Young on sax and Allen Dennard, Junior on trumpet) add a funky touch to this version of what may just be Suzi’s best song. The only thing that would have improved it would have been a duet with the original artist. Remember somewhere toward the end of the introduction above that I mentioned “medley?” Well, here it is. The couplet kicks off with “Devil With a Blue Dress On.” The song, of course, was a big hit for Badanjek’s first band, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. So, it’s kind of weird hearing the Coop tackle this classic as the slow-grind Blues of Shorty Long’s original. Things speed up on the second half of the medley, “Chains of Love.” The 1967 soulful original is combined with the Dirtbombs’ more raucous cover of (more or less) three-and-a-half decades later; it still sounds sorta odd in Cooper’s hands. Some funky guitar and the hard-hitting Randolph/Badanjek rhythm section kick things into overdrive before things morph back into the chorus of “Devil… .” A nice touch has Frederick “Shorty” Long, as well as the songwriter of “Chains… ,” Mick Collins, doing vocals behind Alice. The EP comes to a close with a very cool version of “Sister Anne,” written by Kramer’s MC5 bandmate, Fred Smith. The piece features a minimalist guitar sound with a solid late-sixties type of solo (I’m assuming the solo is all Wayne). Alice breaks out the harmonica – a rarity these days – and lets loose with a solo that perfectly matches the vibe of the tune.

With the Hollywood Vampires’ debut album and this BREADCRUMB, Alice is exploring his roots and rediscovering the sound that made the five-headed beast known as Alice Cooper such a potent entity. Word is that an impending album of all-new originals from the Coop will be very much in this vein, with the EP standing as a stop-gap between 2017’s PARANORMAL and the new set, scheduled for a 2020 release. I sure wouldn’t mind the man further exploring those roots and bringing in the rest of the originals and more of the old Detroit vanguard to really tear the roof off.


HAPPY TOGETHER TOUR 2014

(August 9, 2014; THE FAMILY ARENA, Saint Charles, MO)

HappyTogether_Horizontal_2014

When I first saw that the 2014 version of the HAPPY TOGETHER TOUR was coming to our neck of the woods, I was unsure of what to expect but… I did know that I wanted to be there. After all, I grew up with the music of Mark Farner and Grand Funk Railroad and Chuck Negron and Three Dog Night; I always liked Mitch Ryder (with or without his Detroit Wheels); and, of course, I liked the Turtles but, I loved Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan’s post-Turtles work as members of the Mothers of Invention and as the Phlorescent Leech and Eddie. For the record, I was never a huge fan of Gary Lewis and the Playboys, but, hey… four outta five ain’t bad, huh?

Bassist John Montagna; Drummer Steve Murphy and guitarist Godfrey Townsend (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Bassist John Montagna; Drummer Steve Murphy and guitarist Godfrey Townsend (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

One thing I was expecting was full band participation, as the ads listed the acts as “Gary Lewis and the Playboys,” “Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels,” and the “Turtles with Flo and Eddie.” Plus, Mark Farner has been playing with the same band for quite a few years. However, there were no Playboys, no Detroit Wheels, no Turtles and no Mark Farner Band; I ran into John Montagna out front of the venue and he told me that he was playing bass in the “house band,” a group that I later learned have been playing together for several years, as backing band for everyone from Alan Parsons Live Project to Joey Molland and, yes, the Turtles. Upon entering the venue, two things were evident (if you were paying attention): First, this was a decidedly AARP-heavy crowd (now, don’t get yer granny-panties in a bunch… though I have no affiliation with the organization, I do qualify for membership) and, second, not only would there be no Playboys, their leader, Gary Lewis, would also be a no-show (apparently, he’d already missed several dates due to illness). Though I’m sure that there were a lot of people disappointed that Lewis wasn’t playing, I was more than okay with that.

Mitch Ryder (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Mitch Ryder (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

A recording of Shadoe Stevens kept us informed, like a NASA countdown, of the number of minutes left before the HAPPY TOGETHER TOUR 2014 would kick off: Ten minutes… three minutes later, the five minute mark was reached… two minutes later, we were told that we had two minutes left… five seconds later, we hit the one minute mark and the start of the show, in quick succession, as Stevens introduced Mitch Ryder. The band played a brief intro for Mitch, who ripped through a set that included “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” “Jenny Take a Ride” and, what is probably his biggest hit, “Devil With a Blue Dress On” coupled with Richard Penniman’s “Good Golly, Miss Molly” like he was a kid. Which was cool, ’cause he looked more like Mick Mars on a bender. Ryder’s voice sounded strong and it was evident that he was having a blast on stage, recounting tales of youthful conquest and commenting that when the single “Sock It To Me, Baby” was released in 1967, he wasn’t allowed to sing the lyrics as written; with a sly smile, he delivered the unedited, “dirty” version which, he opined, after three-and-a-half decades of rap, I figure you can handle the original version tonight.” Even though Mitch was on stage for less than 30 minutes, we were certainly off to a rip-roaring start!

Mark Farner (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Mark Farner (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

As Mitch walked off stage, the recorded voice of Shadoe Stevens (I coulda sworn that guy was dead!) introduced one of my all-time favorites, Mark Farner, the driving force behind Grand Funk Railroad for more than 30 years. The band, already a well-oiled rock and roll machine, seemed to tighten things up even more during Mark’s set. Kicking off with “The Loco-Motion,” it was obvious that the guitar-playing part of Grand Funk was ready to have some fun. After a joke about age and keeping hydrated, Farner introduced the band’s biggest chart success: Don Brewer’s “We’re an American Band.” He took the high road and, sensibly, also introduced “the world’s best singing drummer,” Steve Murphy, who – if you closed your eyes – sounded enough like Brewer to cause flashbacks. Murphy also handled the second vocal parts on “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “I’m Your Captain,” which Farner dedicated to all of the military personnel currently defending (as well as those who served and died to preserve) the freedoms we, as Americans, enjoy each day. If you didn’t know, Mark is a huge supporter of our military and does great work for various veterans organizations. For an old Grand Funk fan, this was the highlight of the night.

Chuck Negron (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Chuck Negron (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

After Mark’s set, there was a short (about ten minutes) break, as many in attendance had to head to the water receptacles to take their evening meds. Before getting back to the actual show, I’d like to tell you about a guy I met before the doors opened. His name is Ralph. He served our country as a Marine in the early 1970s and he is a huge Three Dog Night fan. He knew the other bands’ music, but he was here to see THE voice of Three Dog Night, Chuck Negron. I kinda kept an eye on Ralph during the show, to see if he was having a good time. Boys and girls, the smile on that man’s face when Negron walked on stage made my day! Chuck was having a good time, too. When he finished set opener “Mama Told Me (Not To Come),” he joked about messing up the words: “I forgot the last verse. I did the second verse twice.” After “Celebrate,” he noted that he had no problem remembering the title of the tune; after repeating it about sixty times, it all came back to him. Other pitch perfect hits included “Shambala,” “One,” and “Joy To the World.” I don’t think Ralph missed a single word as he sang along.

The Turtles' Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The Turtles’ Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

As Flo and Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan) took the stage, it was obvious that their set was going to be something completely different. As the pair spent a few minutes berating each other, I think a lot of people were starting to wonder just what was happening. Eventually, the guys kicked into “She’d Rather Be With Me,” and there was dancing in the aisles (so to speak). One of the Turtles’ big hits, Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” elicited a great response before one of the guys told the crowd that the next song was the one that made him a billionaire. That song, “You Showed Me,” snaked its way through a series of tunes by the Doors, including “Riders On the Storm” and “Light My Fire.” The band introductions (before “You Showed Me”) turned into another comedy bit, as Howard introduced guitarist Godfrey Townsend as the group’s musical director. Mark asked Townsend to step forward… but not too far out… back a half-step… now a bit to the left… okay, that’s good… now, get back to your spot. Okay… so that’s why the guy leading the band looked so familiar: I met Godfrey about 13 years ago, when he was a member of the John Entwistle Band. At least I can finally stop racking my brain about that!

The Turtles: Mark Volman; Howard Kaylan (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The Turtles: Mark Volman; Howard Kaylan (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

By this time, I was back in my seat with my friend, Bill, who – like me – is a huge Frank Zappa fan. I kept bugging him with, “So, do you think they’ll do ‘Bwana Dik?’ How ’bout ‘Call Any Vegetable?’ Or, maybe, they’ll do ‘What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are.’” After a fantastic version of “Elenore,” someone on stage yelled “Zappa” and the band broke into a cool take of “Peaches en Regalia.” I was grinnin’ like a buffoon! The set ended – as it should – with the Turtles’ signature tune (and the song that supplied the name of this tour), “Happy Together.” Kaylan thanked the crowd and said that it had been a great night… so great, in fact, that we should start the whole thing over. With that, Mitch Ryder came back for a short reprise of “Devil With the Blue Dress On.” Mark Farner reprised “The Loco-Motion,” Chuck Negron did “Joy To the World” and the ensemble finished with a sing-along version of “Happy Together.” A great night of classic rock and roll and pop. Plus, we were out the door and on our way home at ten sharp… some of us need our sleep, ya know.