NEAL SMITH INTERVIEW:
January 13, 2005
An original member of the Alice Cooper band, Neal Smith helped usher in heavy metal in the early 70s and in the process influenced countless bands. Often described as an octopus behind the drums, Neal took his craft to a whole new level. Despite being out of the limelight for several years he still records and performs and talks about his upcoming projects.
SR: How does someone go from the debauchery of rock to being a realtor?
NS: In 1972, I had 10 or 15 thousand dollars laying around in pocket change, and I bought my mom a house in Arizona and started investing in Real Estate. The band had several group investments, in those days known as ‘tax shelters,’ and my interest in real estate was piqued. In 1984 I had an opportunity to attend some Real Estate licensing classes in Connecticut. Passing my final real estate examination with flying colors, I received my Real Estate Sales license in 1985. A friend of mine, Jo Sherman who owned several very successful independent real estate offices, said that she had an opening in one of them and, if I was interested, I could join her Company. I said “OK, what the hell,” sold a house in the first 2 weeks and I have been enjoying my 2nd career ever since. I’ve been listing and selling homes in Fairfield County Connecticut since then. It’s been a great career for me and I’m not stopping yet. It is a lot of hard work, and I have fun with the creative marketing side of the business. Check out www.nealsmith.com my “Rock n’ Realtor” web site.
SR: Has anyone ever bought or refused to buy a home from you because of your connection to music?
NS: Never, one thing has nothing to do with the other. I live in one of the country’s most affluent areas, filled with overachievers. To be a blatant name dropper Keith Richards, Michael Bolton, Don Imus, Phil Donahue and Martha Stewart to name a few, live in the same community where I live and work. There are many successful people here from all different walks of life with diversified business backgrounds and they each have their own interesting stories.
SR: The original Alice Cooper band was able to shock the world in the early 70s, do you think any band will be able to have that much of an impact on society again?
NS: Yes, it’s possible, but it would be very different now. I’m a true believer that anything is possible, but timing and luck are key ingredients to success and a little chemistry doesn’t hurt either. Coming out of the “1960’s Peace, Love and Flower Power Generation” music scene, conditions were musically and socially ripe for a band like “Alice Cooper.” Music trends in the sixties were moving at a blistering pace. With bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Grateful Dead, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and finally the Doors, there was a musical side of rock ‘n’ roll that was getting darker and more ominous. The stereotypical band had a very limited mind set when it came to live stage performances. The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Who were actually bringing more to live shows than just simply getting on stage in front of their fans to play and promote their latest record. This paradigm set up a perfect theatrical void for our band “Alice Cooper” to fill, bringing elaborate staging, lighting, props along with some blood and gore to rock ‘n’ roll concerts. With songs like “Fields of Regret,” “Lay Down & Die Goodbye,” “Dead Babies,” “Killer,” “School’s Out,” “I love The Dead,” “Raped & Freezing” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” “I laughed to myself at the men and the ladies who never conceived of us Billion Dollar Babies”.
SR: Alice always stated that you and Keith Moon would compete with the number of drums each had, how true is that?
NS: Keith Moon was one of the drummers that influenced me into playing double bass drum sets and over the years I had the privilege of hanging out with Keith on several different occasions. I’ve never known how many drums were in Keith’s largest drum set. The story about Keith and I always outdoing each other on the number of drums that we played has taken on its own life over the years. The real point is not the number of drums but how phenomenal a drummer Keith was, and I think in my drumming career I have had my moments as well, being inspired by the musicians in Alice Cooper, Glen, Alice, Dennis and Michael.
Keith’s first double bass drum kit with The Who had a total of only 7 drums, my first double bass drum set in “Alice Cooper” had a total of just 8 drums. The largest drum set that I played was on the “Billion Dollar Babies Tour” in 1973 and it had a total of 21 drums. That was a massive drum kit I still have all of my drum sets to this day. Keith’s later drum kits were large, but I seriously doubt if they were larger than my largest drum set. Bottom line, fuck the number of drums Keith Moon played; he, Pete, John and Roger as the Who are one of the best bands in the world ever, nothing more needs to be said.
SR: So many different stories circulate but what are you views on the breakup of the original band, were there hard feelings at the time?
NS: No hard feelings at all, everything ends sooner or later and “Alice Cooper” ended at the top of our career, just the way it should have been. In 1974 we took a year off because of exhaustion from constant recording and touring. Glen was in poor health and Michael, Alice and I wanted to record our own music. We were never able to rekindle the flame as a group again. I cannot speak for anyone else, but in my opinion we were very lucky to achieve the success that we did. We were a kick ass Rockin’ monster that changed the music world and scared the hell out of people in the early 70’s. I feel very proud and positive about that and no one in the world can ever take that away from us. Our achievements and successes forever created a welded bond between Alice, Dennis, Glen/RIP, Michael and me. If there is a negative side, I feel we let the “Alice Cooper” fans down by not giving them more music from the real band. Album number 9 was never recorded when Alice refused to honor his agreement to record the next group album after we all recorded our solo albums.
SR: Now that Glen has passed away, do you think the remaining Alice Cooper members will ever reform on a big scale?
NS: As I’ve said many times, if Michael Bruce, Alice Cooper, Dennis Dunaway and myself ever thought it would be the right thing to do, then we would do a reunion. Obviously we’ve never planned it or it would have happened. A few ideas have been toyed with, but to no avail. I never foresee a full blown world tour, but who knows? Whatever we would do would be very big and a hell of a lot of fun. I’m the person pushing for it more than anyone else in the group. The reason is that I think that it would be great to do a reunion would be for the fans, as well as a great tribute to Glen RIP.
SR: Did you follow Alice’s solo career? If so, what songs/albums did you wish you would have been a part of and which made you shake your head?
NS: I follow everyone’s solo careers. I think the music and songs of Alice’s solo recordings, Michael Bruce’s solo recording, as well as my own solo recordings, are all very good and some better than others, but the songs would have been much better if they would have all been done as “Alice Cooper.” My two favorite Alice solo songs are “Department Of Youth” and “Poison” and they are the only ones I would have liked to have played on. Both Dennis and Michael have some new killer music that I would love to play on as well.
SR: Billion Dollar Babies was a great band, why do you think it failed to reach an audience?
NS: In the mid 70’s Warner Brothers Records was suing our group “Alice Cooper” for not recording our next contracted record since Muscle of Love. So Michael, Dennis, Mike Marconi (Neal Smith Solo guitarist), Bob Dolan (keyboards from Alice Cooper Billion $ Baby tour) and myself got together in my studio in Connecticut to write a new album for Warner Brothers. At the time Alice was recording his second solo album and did not want to join us, so we recorded it on our own under the band name “Billion Dollar Babies.” We had a killer album, a killer show, but our management left a lot to be desired. I guess that we were very spoiled after being managed by Shep Gordon and Joe Greenberg. In hindsight, we probably should have played out in a scaled-down show. But we spent a fortune on an extravagant stage show that was to big for most venues that we were being booked in.
SR: Is there any chance of the Battle Axe getting an official release on CD?
NS: Nothing on the near horizon. The owners of the masters and the publishing want way too much money to make a new CD release feasible right now.
SR: Why did it take so long to get Platinum God released?
NS: My first solo project in 1974/1975 “Platinum God,” gave me an opportunity to again write songs totally on my own. I wrote every song except “Rock n Roll Radio” which was a collaboration with me and four other people. Also, I had always wanted to play in a power trio format with Dennis and I as the rhythm section. That’s one reason why I presently enjoy Bouchard, Dunaway & Smith so much. As I mentioned previously, when all of us in “Alice Cooper” agreed to take a year off in the mid 70’s to do solo projects, “Platinum God” was the album that I wrote and recorded, with the combined talents and efforts of Dennis on bass and Mike Marconi on guitar. However, I never released it until Halloween 1999. I actually had lost two of the tracks from the album, and they were discovered early 1999, but they did not have vocals or lead guitar on them. So all those years later back into the studio I went, finished the vocals and my friend Richie Scarlet played some incredible lead guitar, putting the finishing touches on my “Forbidden Project.” To buy a copy of “Platinum God” go to www.nealsmith.com, also find more information regarding the recording and players on “Platinum God”.
SR: Guitarist Richie Scarlet helped you out with that album, how did you meet and what was he like to work with?
NS: Richie is a friend and a talented pro and very easy to work with, I love him to death. We met in the mid 80’s when his friend and mine, Ace Frehley took me to see Richie play. It was Richie’s birthday and Ace’s present to him was to bring me to Richie’s show so we could meet. Ace, Richie and I played on stage together and have been friends ever since. Richie joined Michael Bruce, Glen Buxton and me in Houston Texas, in November of 1997 for a 10 day Alice Cooper reunion. Richie played bass for us as Dennis was under the weather and could not make the trip. Alice was also invited but couldn’t come. We had a blast and it was just six days after we all left Houston that Glen passed away.
SR: How did Bouchard Dunaway Smith materialize?
NS: Bouchard, Dunaway & Smith, AKA BDS, is a classic rock power trio featuring Joe Bouchard from Blue Oyster Cult on guitar and vocals, Dennis Dunaway from Alice Cooper on bass and vocals and me on drums. BDS currently has two CD’s available, Back From Hell (studio album) and BDS Live In Paris, recorded live on our 2002 European tour. We (Alice Cooper) first met the Blue Oyster Cult while touring together back in the early 70’s. Joe Bouchard and Donald Roser both lived in the same part of Connecticut as Dennis and I. Joe actually only lived a few miles from me and on occasion Dennis and I would hang out, party, jam and even write and record some music together in his studio. In Connecticut a huge annual event, “The Norwalk Oyster Festival,” is held with about a million people attending every year. In 1985 Cindy Lauper was headlining the big Saturday night rock concert, but at the last minute she cancelled her performance. Joe, Dennis and I were asked to fill in the headline spot and “Bouchard, Dunaway & Smith” was born. Although we called ourselves “Brainstorm” for that show, we officially became Bouchard, Dunaway & Smith years later in the late 90’s. For bio information and CD purchase info check out www.nealsmith.com.
SR: Are there plans to release more Bouchard Dunaway Smith material?
NS: “BDS” is currently writing songs for our third album to be recorded and released later this year.
SR: Cinematik is another band you are involved in, tell us about it. Will it appeal to Alice Cooper fans?
NS: Fans who enjoy the more experimental – freeform musical side of the original Alice Cooper would enjoy Cinematik. Cinematik features Peter Catucci on bass and vocals, Robert Mitchell on guitar and vocals and myself on percussion and vocals. This band is very mellow and melodic, giving me the liberty to play and experiment with hand drums and percussion from my large personal collection. I also get some wonderful opportunities to explore more primitive and exotic drumbeats from all over the world. One of the great aspects of this group is that our engineer and producer is Rob Fraboni. Rob has worked in the studio with the Rolling Stones for many years, from “Exile On Main Street” to the present. Cinematik currently has 2 CDs available, “Cinematik” and “One Full Moon Away.” Both available at www.nealsmith.com.
SR: What are some of your fondest memories and disappointments of your music career?
NS: My fondest memory is my whole experience of being in Alice Cooper. I played in a band with my very best friends for 10 years, writing and recording hit music, selling millions of albums, receiving gold and platinum album awards. It says so much that our music is still being played worldwide today, over three decades later. Other high points include buying my Rolls Royce and Bentley, making tons of money while traveling the globe, hanging out with beautiful women every night and performing in front of millions of our Alice Cooper fans. It was the perpetual party that never ended.
Without a doubt there were two big disappointments in the legend of Alice Cooper. The first was that stupid book written by Bob Greene called Billion Dollar Baby. Enough said about that. The second was our movie Good To See You Again Alice Cooper. I thought that the idea of doing a movie for the fans was a great, but this film really missed the mark. There were two versions of the movie and for different reasons they both seriously missed what the band was really all about.
The live Billion Dollar Babies stage footage was great and recently (two years ago) our album Billion Dollar Babies was re-mastered and re-released. The new release included a second bonus live CD featuring the music from that filmed concert in Dallas, Texas. Around that time (in 1974) there were outside influences trying to come up with creative ideas for our band. But there was only one successful creative force and that was us, the band. Unfortunately, these influences crept into the movie and in my opinion both versions of the movie came out silly, corny and stupid. The film didn’t represent the threatening, gutsy, hard edge of Alice Cooper at all. The saving grace is that someday, hopefully, we will release the concert footage of the live Billion Dollar Babies Show on DVD featuring the whole band in its gory glory. When it’s the band as one unit. It has to be a killer and it will speak for itself.
SR: The music industry has changed a lot over the years, do you think for the better or worse?
NS: The music industry in many ways is worse, in some ways better and in some ways the same. Music was never meant to stand stagnant. Each new generation is forever changing and searching for something that is new, different and has never been done before, helping them create their own unique identity. With the truly great female singers of the last 30 years the most recent crop of hot, sexy, long legged lasses pretending to be singers, is the 2000’s equivalent to bubble gum music. I’m very disappointed that, thanks to shows like “American Idol,” more of an emphasis is being placed on singers while excluding musicians. Music recording technology is one of the better aspects of music, it has always and will continue to be cutting edge. Anybody who has enough money to put together a computerized recording studio can now record their own music, opening endless opportunities to talented artists and independent labels. One thing that I have never liked is music that preaches. Music should be 100% entertaining in my opinion. Consequently, I’m not crazy about any form of music including 60’s folk music, some rock music and more recently today’s rap music, that tries to preach social or political messages. It’s boring and unentertaining; write a book. If I want to be preached to I’ll go to fucking church. As for theatrical bands in recent years, I don’t care how much make-up someone smears on their face, if the music sucks it sucks. With that said, in all the many different trends of music, there are a few glimmers of true talent and greatness that appear on the musical horizon from time to time, thank god.
SR: Are there any new bands that really impress you these days?
NS: “Shirley Temple Of Doom” out of New York and “Tapping The Vein” out of Philadelphia, two of my favorites.
SR: With the recent onstage murder of Dimebag Darrell, will it affect you while onstage in a small bar?
NS: When we headlined the New Haven Coliseum in 1973, during our Alice Cooper – Billion Dollar Baby tour, the police and fire department had to sweep the entire facility before our performance because of a bomb threat. The police told us that they found nothing, but they also said that if we went on stage it would be at our own risk and they couldn’t guarantee our safety. What else was new! Their recommendation was for us to cancel the show and not to go on because, even though they found nothing they still felt it was dangerous, but the final decision would be ours. We decided hey, if we get blown up in stage we’d all die doing what we love and it will make a hell of a story. Don’t forget, we were one of the most hated bands in the history of rock. Why do you think we’re not in the Hall of Fame? I got used to threats, danger and violence a long time ago, that’s why I have a carry permit.
SR: With the crowd at same clubs being so accessible to the artist, do you think there is anyway another tragedy like that could be avoided?
NS: There are fuckin’ nuts in all walks of life. Unless were all living in bullet proof bubbles, these types of assassinations and senseless killings will always occur. Tragically it’s unavoidable and it will happen again sometime in the future.
SR: Do you ever miss the rock’n’roll lifestyle?
NS: I left the destructive side of the rock lifestyle a long time ago, I still enjoy the fun side as much as I possibly can.
SR: Do you wish you could get onstage with Alice again and show the young guns how it is really done?
NS: Whenever I’m on stage, weather it’s with Michael, Dennis, Alice or whoever, I’m always going to give a 200% Neal Smith performance for the fans. Regarding the young guns, in recent years there have been two, and only two drummers that I’ve heard authentically play my drum parts, that even begin to understand the essence of our original music. One drummer Jason Callear was in Michael Bruce’s English band and the other drummer is Tommy Clufetos in Alice’s newest band. The quintessential song from all of our Alice Cooper gold and platinum records is “Halo Of Flies.’ No drummer has ever nailed that song 100%, but Michael’s English drummer Jason Callear was the best I’ve ever heard. He played it so precise that I could even hear the scratches on the record. And Tommy Clufetos comes in a very close second with his performance. I think Tommy’s quote in Modern Drummer magazine says it all.
Modern Drummer, February 2005 – ‘Tommy admits noticing a difference in feel between playing songs from the original Alice Cooper group, featuring drummer Neal Smith, and songs from Cooper’s solo career, recorded by a variety of drummers. “There are definitely more intricate drum parts in the original Alice Cooper material, and you really have to understand that that was a band,” he explains. “I try to recreate that feeling when playing those songs and to replicate the parts as authentically as possible, adding our own energy on stage.”
SR: What can fans expect in the future from Neal Smith?
NS: I am currently working on an exciting new Neal Smith solo project to be released in the Summer of 2005. I have written about a dozen new songs, I’m singing (if you can call it that) the lead vocals and I’m playing all the rhythm guitars. I’m playing and programming a combination of live drums and computerized drums. Peter Catucci from Cinematik is playing bass and I’m inviting guest guitarists I have known over the years to play lead guitar. It is a very heavy metal-mental, industrial strength journey into the dark side of the brain of Neal Smith, it’s not for the faint of heart. I love it to death and I’m very excited!
Also in 2005 I hope to be releasing for the first time ever, a collection of songs that I wrote between 1985 and 1995. I played synthesizer keyboards and programmed all of the percussion. That CD will be released on my label, Kachina Records. Although I’m not a fan of synthesized, programmed drums, I had to take a crack at it myself at least to learn and understand it. I look at using synthesized drums on this project, as a glorified metronome, but at least the drums were programmed by a drummer not a keyboard player. I overwhelmingly prefer live acoustic drums and percussion.
Thanks to Neal Smith