Dennis Dunaway Interview

March 4, 2007

By his mid-20’s bassist Dennis Dunaway had already topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic as a member of the controversial Alice Cooper band. It has been over thirty years since Alice Cooper’s heyday and a lot has changed in that time, but one thing that remains the same is Dennis’ ability to write dark, haunting songs as displayed on his recent Dennis Dunaway Project ( release Bones From The Yard. Between working on new songs and writing a biography, Dennis agreed to talk about his musical career in this exclusive interview.

SR: You released your first Dennis Dunaway Project album not that long ago, how pleased are you with how the CD came out?

DD: Bones From The Yard is a creative landmark for me. I’m pleased with Rick Tedesco as a guitarist, singer, and Producer. I’m pleased with drummer Russ Wilson for his ability to capture any groove that I throw at him, and for throwing some enlightening ones back. I’m pleased with Ed Burns for having a dynamite voice and a remarkable ability to capture the energy. I’m pleased that the great Ian Hunter recognized the excitement and joined in. I’m pleased that Pete Moshay catapulted the sound quality into the stratosphere. And, most of all, I’m pleased that fans and critics have taken this music to heart.

SR: How have sales been so far?

Dennis DunawayDD: Dennis, Dennis Dunaway, The DDP Myspace, and live shows were our initial outlets but we just shipped our third batch to CD Baby and have good reports from iTunes.

SR: Have you been doing any live shows to support the CD? If so, how has the crowd response been?

DD: We’ve played several shows in New York City and I saw people in the audience that I hadn’t seen in years. Our performances focus on the music but we all love to play and when the crowd sees us having a blast, they have a blast. Then their energy magnifies our inspiration. That’s why live shows still beat the biggest Television screen you can buy. We all need to support live shows before all the venues turn into parking lots.

SR: When it comes to the live gigs, do you plan on a big production like the old Cooper days?

DD: A Dennis Dunaway Project show is solid energy. We play as tight as we can and let the music do the talking. We have some theatrical ideas in mind but they will enhance the action in the songs rather than a character plot.

SR: How hard is it for a new band to get people out to shows these days?

DD: It has always been hard for new bands. Generally, people want to hear familiar music. They would rather hear a cover band play “Honky Tonk Women” than hear them play originals. Ironically, the music they would rather hear was created by bands that played original music. It’s always been hard that way but these days it’s even difficult for established names to draw. People have become addicted to their machines. DDP write songs that people can relate to quickly but at the same time, explore uncharted territories. We mix in Cooper Classics and play our hearts out.

SR: How did the band come together, and why did you decide to form the Project at this time?

DD: What began as me doing a demo to help Rick Tedesco get the bugs out of his brand new Studio quickly soared to a higher quality. Rick’s guitar parts and Russ Wilson’s drum parts were on target for the songs, and so, despite Ian Hunter encouraging me to sing lead vocals on all of the tracks, I decided to find someone with a more dynamic range. We found Ed Burns, who has a great voice and plays keyboards. And then, to top that off, I found out that Rick had a great voice. Within a week, we played live, and halfway into the set, I knew it was solid. I knew it was a band. All the elements were in place and the music began to flow.

SR: One thing that surprised me was how dark the second half of the CD was. How big of a part did you play in that and in the darkness of the early Cooper material?

DD: I gravitate toward minor chords. I wrote the instrumental part but Rick Tedesco wrote the melody for “Stalker” and Russ, Ian Hunter, and I helped him polish the lyrics. It’s about stalking and redemption. “On The Mountain” deals with the dark subject of addiction. With the original Alice Cooper, I wrote “Black Juju” as a vehicle for Alice to build his character on. That character was born on “Fields Of Regret” off the Pretties For You album. Alice did several characters but, with songs to build on, the darkest character eventually developed into Alice.
   “Satan’s Sister” doesn’t seem dark to me. Perhaps I should seek professional help.

SR: Where does the inspiration for songs like Black Juju, with the dark sinister feel, come from?

Dennis DunawayDD: I set out to write a song that Alice could sink his teeth into. I wrote the riff in a utility room at a hotel in Rochester. I chose that room because, with the lights off, the flame from the hot water heater looked like a miniature inferno. I plugged my bass into a small amplifier and got a raw distorted sound. I stared into the inferno and the riff came together fast. I played it until Glen got back from a party so that he could help me remember it.
   A week or so later, the band moved into an empty Frat House in Cincinnati. I discovered a big dusty attic with dark corners so I spent the afternoon in there writing the lyrics. I showed them to Alice and within days, talked the band into playing the song, with only a verbal run-through of the arrangement, and for the first time ever, on a nationally broadcasted television special.

SR: What are your four favorite songs off the new CD and why?

DD: Picking four is tough because the album flows together so well. But Okay, I like “Kandahar” because, as an audition, we put Ed Burns on the spot for a melody and he came through with flying colors. “Red Room” because it proved to me that this band could understand my vision for a minimal treatment of the song (our stage version is even more bare bones minimal, and it works). Little Kid (with a big, big gun) because it captures the love that Rick, Russ, Ed, Ian Hunter, Joe Bouchard, and I have for rock and roll. “Needle in The Red” because it proves this band, as a unit, can write powerful songs. You should have asked me to pick my twelve favorite songs. Haha!

SR: Now that you are focusing on the Project, does that mean Bouchard Dunaway Smith is finished?

DD: In 2001, when BDS released Back From Hell, I had already written songs for the next BDS album, but progress was stagnant so I initiated the Live In Paris release to fill in for lost time. After writing two more songs, I negotiated studio time but the others were still busy with their own bands and recording sessions. Rather than wait loyally, and indefinitely, like I always had, and chance losing the session time, I started recording my first solo album ever. As the musicians came together, it became obvious that I had stumbled upon an exceptional group. And now Bones From The Yard is getting remarkable attention and we’re writing our next album.

SR: Do you think BDS will record again someday, and what was it like working with Neal Smith again and Joe Bouchard?

DD: Joe and Neal are exciting entertainers to work with but the songs I wrote for BDS have been waiting for six years. That’s longer than the Beatles lasted. At times I feel like I spend my life explaining why I’m not working with bands that I never chose to stop working with. Neal recorded a second release with Cinematik, and is still working on his second solo effort. Joe recorded a live album and a second studio album with the X Brothers. Choosing solo albums over BDS opened a Pandora’s Box and out flew a monumental new beginning for me. Joe Bouchard’s group, the X Brothers, and the Dennis Dunaway Project are playing a double bill at the Cutting Room in New York City. It will be a double CD release extravaganza. It’s all good news.

SR: Going back to the beginning, when did you first realize you wanted to make music your career?

DD: For me, music is the fulfillment of a desire. A career is an unlikely side effect. The Dunaway family has a history of singers, guitar players, and fiddle players, which is continuing into the next generation. I was 16 when the desire struck me. I went to a double-feature movie in Phoenix, and during intermission, between Peter Pan and Hercules Unchained, Duane Eddy and the Rebels did a surprise performance. They jumped around the stage with a bone shaking Twangy guitar sound and I said to myself, That’s what I want to do. I couldn’t wait to tell Vince (aka Alice Cooper), my new best friend at High School, and within a year, we formed a band. There would be years of dedicated sacrifice before anyone could call it a career.

SR: You managed to reach a level of success that most only dream about. How insane was it to be on top of the world at such a young age with the most controversial band of the time?

Dennis DunawayDD: You may have seen it that way but I was too busy coming up with the next idea. I was proud that we managed to outrage people with so many censors at our throats. That’s what rock is all about.

SR: We’ve all heard about Alice’s battles with alcohol, but how much of a factor was it for you?

DD: Alice and Glen drank a lot of whiskey and beer. The severe stages of that was a detrimental factor for the whole band. It was the 60’s and 70’s and we were at the top of the game. It’s hard to believe that everyone buys that we only drank. It makes me realize how easy it is to lead people by repeating over and over what you want them to believe. Exhaustion and hordes of fans offering to turn us on made up our waking lives. Surviving all we did is a miracle.

SR: I was going to ask that. You guys came from the experimental 60s, drugs had to have been a part of the band.

DD: Like Dennis Hopper said, “If you remember the 60’s you weren’t really there.” Music was always the ultimate elixer though. Michael, Neal, and I learned to exersize moderation in the arena days. That was more professional. I would have a beer during the encore and a couple after the show but that was about it. Days off, which were rare, were a different story.

SR: When someone mentions Glen Buxton, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

DD: One of a kind person. One of a kind player. A true rock rebel.

SR: What memory/story do you have of Glen that sums up the type of guy he was?

DD: Rather than stories, I’ll share some insights. Glen liked to shop for gifts but he wouldn’t give them for birthdays or Christmas because he resented doing things the way society expected so he gave them when they were least expected. He enjoyed talking to typical people on the street. He stayed up all night and slept all day every chance he got. He used boat polish on his guitar. He liked repairing gadgets but he rarely put them back together again. He saved every T.V. Guide, and had them stacked in chronological order on the floor of his bedroom. He left the price tags on everything he bought. He had a heart of gold but life wasn’t easy for him.

SR: What are your feelings on the way the original band broke-up?

DD: The band’s approaching contract renewal would have enabled us to do a lot more with our shows, our best music was still ahead of us, the methods used in cutting us out were cold, the identity that we built our careers on was highjacked, and the trust between best friends was shattered.

SR: Aside from the Billion Dollar Babies band, I don’t remember hearing much about you until BDS. What were you up to in that time?

DD: Glen and I used to get together and jam for the fun of it. Whenever Neal asked for help I was there. I wrote riffs and played on the Platinum God album. He asked me to play in several bands, the Flying Tigers, Fugitive, and Brainstorm. But mostly I became reclusive and wrote a couple hundred songs in my basement. And then ill health landed me in the emergency room. During the extended hospital stay, after receiving tons of get well letters from around the world, I decided to pursue my own brand of music again. For Bones From The Yard, Rick, Russ, and Ed helped me dig up, and breathe new life into ten of my lost basement songs.

SR: Did it amaze you that after years out of the public eye fans around the world would be sending you get well messages?

Alice Cooper BandDD: I felt abandoned by the fan’s apparent acceptance of Alice as an individual creation. It was decades before anyone asked me for my opinion about the breakup. It seemed to me that nobody ever questioned the stories about the original band refusing to do theatrics. I’m not suggesting that Alice didn’t believe those stories himself, I think he was lead to believe that. He is genuinely a good guy but I do blame him for never questioning those things.
   Amazed? Absolutely, and at a crucial time. It was like a miracle medicine for me.

SR: For someone that has been playing music for decades now, in what ways has the music business changed for the better and worse?

DD: Major labels have lost their power because stealing music has become commonplace. Radio stations and concert arenas are controlled but because of computers and home entertainment systems it’s become harder to get people out of their homes. Increasing rents and liabilities have forced club owners to be wary about taking a gamble on an unknown act. On the positive side, artists can make a quality recording in their bedroom, including graphics. And then they can market it and sell it via the INTERNET. Will they get a hit single? I doubt it but I’m not sure that there is such a thing anymore. It forces artists to create because they have the burning desire rather than because they’re out to make a fortune. That’s good for art. I made my best records when I was hungry and didn’t care if I ate.

SR: Many fans wish it would happen, but what are your feelings on an Alice Cooper reunion?

DD: Alice is the only person that calls the shots on that. So far we’ve gotten together twice in 30 years. I’d love to get back together just so I could stop answering this question.

SR: Your website says you are working on a memoir, is this going to be a full-blown biography?

DD: I got the inspiration and began writing during my hospital stay. It’s a detailed account that focuses on the early years of the band and up until the Hollywood Bowl concert. It’s not detailed in the respect of listing every tour date or redundancy like that. The detail is in my intention to put the reader in the station wagon, the rehearsal room, and on stage with the band. I was the quiet observer and have discovered that I noted details about things that nobody else remembers-things that I find to be insightful and entertaining. It’s been a slow process because I want it to be a smooth read and ring true. It is nearing completion.

SR: Sounds interesting. Neal will be hoping that you didn’t pick up any writing habits from Bob Greene.

DD: Bob Greene omitted everything positive and magnified the negative in Billion Dollar Baby. That was the image they wanted to portray to the public. Other than that, I think Bob is a talented writer.

SR: When your musical career comes to an end, how do you hope to be remembered?

DD: I would like to be remembered as a conceptual innovator in rock music and theatrics.

Thanks to Dennis Dunaway