LYING critically ill in a hospital bed, Dennis Dunaway, who co-wrote Alice Cooper’s supersonic rock anthems School’s Out and I’m Eighteen, clung to life by his fingertips.
“I was in a bad state, very poorly, and promised myself that if I lived, I would start performing again,” recalled Dunaway.
“I used to feel totally erased from history until I went into hospital.
“I’d dropped out of the game due to disillusionment over what I saw as a betrayal of business agreements and friendships.
“But I couldn’t believe it when fan mail arrived from all over the world, and that’s when I realised, ‘Hey, a lot of people out there still remember me and what the original Alice Cooper Band meant.
“Believe me, that made it all worthwhile and put things back into proper perspective.”
Dunaway was just 16 when he saw King of Twang Duane Eddy and the Rebels perform a bone-shaking set and couldn’t wait to tell his best mate at school Vince Furnier — Alice Cooper.
“We formed The Earwigs shortly afterwards and Alice was the singer. Our first gig was at a High School Hallowe’en Ball and we had all the props — the guillotine, a giant spider’s web, and a ghoul inside a cardboard coffin — and that, really, was the birth of The Alice Cooper Band.
“Looking back, our artistic determination nurtured those concepts from obscurity to notoriety.”
We meet at a Clitheroe hotel as the 66-year-old prepares for tomorrow’s gig at the town’s Grand Theatre with his group Blue Coupe, including the Bouchard brothers, Joe and Albert, of Blue Oyster Cult fame.
“Man,everybody hated The Alice Cooper Band, even in Los Angeles, the home of Hollyweird,” he said. “Besides, maybe, Liberace and Little Richard, we were the first band to wear ripped sequins, white satin shirts and trousers.
“Those were our street clothes, too.
“We would walk down Sunstep Strip in LA and people would stop dead in their tracks, wondering if they should cross the street.
“We would go into a loud restaurant and it would be as quiet as a funeral and the cowboys, who usually spent most of the time trying to kill each other, wanted to kill us instead.
“We were met with this massive wall of negativity — nobody got us.
“We loved it, though, because it got a reaction.”
Dennis, who is married to Cindy Dunaway, Alice Cooper’s original costume designer, added: “We didn’t have a penny then. We lived out of suitcases, playing every dive in America 10 times over.
“The owners would walk out laughing when we went for an audition. We spent a lot of time scrounging for food, that’s how poor we were.
“Why did we do it? We thought we were pioneers, you know, searching for something that had never been done in rock music before.”
When Pink Floyd arrived in America for their first US tour, they set up camp with Alice Cooper and Dunaway.
“There were great guys but their singer, Syd Barrett, wasn’t functioning too well.
“We invited them to one of our auditions but there was nobody there so we did our whole show for Pink Floyd.
“At the end, I raced over to Dave Gilmour and asked him what he thought.
“He just looked at me with this blank stare and said: ‘It looks like fun, man.’ Then, just as the ’60s turned to the ’70s, they got their big break when the legendary Frank Zappa saw them play.
“If Frank liked your stuff it was like a special seal of approval — it changed everything for The Alice Cooper Band,” said Dennis.
“When Frank found out that I loved doo-wop and electronic music, he spent long afternoons playing records for me and the whole thing was incredible.
“When we supported Led Zeppelin at the Whisky a Go Go on Sunset Strip we’d finally conquered Hollywood.
“A few weeks before we couldn’t even afford to get in the place.”
When School’s Out rocketed to number one in 23 countries, it provided Warner Brothers with the biggest-selling single in their history and transformed Cooper into a rock god.
“Even at the height of our fame there was a lot naysayers who didn’t like us,” added Dennis.
“It was a humbling group to be famous in because there were always people who had something bad to say about us.”
In 2010, the original Alice Cooper Band were inducted into America’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“For a bunch of teenage friends who set out to show the world a new way of doing things, the induction was a dream come true.
“When we got the award, I stood on the stage with the rest of the guys and they were playing School’s Out on a giant screen and I looked over at Alice and I said, ‘Can you believe this?
“I met Alice in High School Art class when I was 14 and he remains my best friend.
“It is a proof of a strong friendship, all the many things we’ve been through together.
“I’m 66 now and music keeps me going. I still love the raw intensity of playing School’s Out and I’m Eighteen.”
The Animals and Friends with Steve Cropper, Blue Coupe, The Stumble, The Grand, Clitheroe, tomorrow night. Details from 01200 421599.