DENNIS DUNAWAY TALKS ABOUT BLUE COUPE…AND ALICE
By Patrick BRZEZINSKI with the help of Serge NADEAU
Promo photo (above) : Bleacher & Everard
Other photos : Patrick BRZEZINSKI Translation : Caroline Stephenson
The news of the beginning of this new year gives me the opportunity to tell you about BLUE COUPE – a group formed by three drifters who largely contributed to the history of rock’n’roll: Dennis Dunaway (Alice Cooper Group), Joe Bouchard and his brother Albert (Blue Oÿster Cult).
It may seem incredible but to understand the origins of BLUE COUPE’s formation, you need to leap back about 40 years. America then was just hit by a tsunami, consequence of an earthquake whose epicenter was located close to the old continent’s coasts: in England.
The wave of British Invasion savagely swamped America’s main cities with names like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, The Troggs, The Who or even The Animals. Genuine musical phenomena, these groups invaded radios and put Elvis Presley, Fats Domino or Chubby Checker out to graze. They urged hundreds of teenagers to grab whatever instrument they could lay their hands on to form garage bands with their mates, just like their new idols. Thus The Earwigs were born in Phoenix, the very embryo of what was later to become one of the most influential rock bands: Alice Cooper.
Fed by the originality of these English groups, the Alice Cooper Group wanted to go even further and open new doors. Its pioneer style, as much visually as musically, would in turn influence many other groups. A few years later, it even gave birth to the Glam movement along with new trends described as Theatrical Rock or Shock Rock. Between 1969 and 1972, the Alice Cooper Group rose dazzlingly, forever moving from albums to tours.
1972 was the year when this incredible group crossed paths with that of Blue Oÿster Cult. The Alice Cooper Group loved their originality and decided to embark them in their wake, offering them the first part of several of their dates on the ‘Killer’ Tour. Together they beat audience records, filling concert halls and stadiums with dozens of thousands of people. Sharing such an experience brought the musicians of the two groups together and as they hit it off, real friendship bonds were created between some of them.
After this short collaboration, the Alice Cooper Group and the Blue Oÿster Cult went back to their respective fates, rising fast. However, a few years apart, both original formations exploded in full flight. The stars who were illuminating the sky of the 70’s planet rock finally landed back on earth.
The episode could have been fatal to the members of these groups. Indeed, it would have been understandable if after such success, the cast-off musicians had legitimately drowned in the depths of resentment and bitterness. But, thankfully, they were saved by their unconditional passion for music. They needed to deal with starting a new life. One that gives time all its meaning. A time to enjoy loved ones, a time to put things into perspective, a time to compose. Their unquenchable thirst for creation lead them to undertake many projects, each on their own, far from the commercial stress and pressure which often hinders artistic creativity.
Then, in 1975, their paths crossed again. This time, in a train between New York and Connecticut, Joe Bouchard found Dennis Dunaway. Memories came back, stories, laughter and as often in these situations, telephone numbers were exchanged. Who else but Fate could have pushed them to settle down in the same corner of the globe: Connecticut ? From then on, at any given opportunity, they gathered to jam, at Neal Smith’s place or in Joe’s studio.
Several years later, in 1999, Dennis went through a tough time as he flirted with death. During his recovery and to his surprise, he received countless expressions of support from anonymous people. With that came the realization that he could disappear from one day to the next and yet so many of his good time fans were still looking out for him! So Dennis, Joe and Neal decided to start again sharing their selfish pleasure with these veterans and thus renew with their reason for living: expressing their artistic creativity in front a forewarned audience.
So BDS was born (Bouchard, Dunaway & Smith). After composing a first album, ‘Back From Hell’, it was time to hit the road for a few rare concerts. The setlists were dynamite, skillfully mixing jewels from the Alice Cooper Group and the Blue Oÿster Cult with compositions straight from their new formation.
As I attended a few times when they came to England or France, I can definitely bear witness that their concerts had a very singular atmosphere which intensified most of the audience’s senses. First, your ears with THE sound. It is difficult to put words to the feeling it gave but you could close your eyes and go straight back to 1972 at the Hollywood Ball in Los Angeles.
Then, it was in the eyes, each with their particular moves on stage, behind the guitars or the drums. Visual memories still vivid even though they were far. And lastly, there was the touch, or more precisely the closeness between band and audience. Very cosy, each evening seemed like a genuine reunion between long-standing mates. These concerts allowed them to return, without holding anything back, all the love that they had received during their glorious years.
The brutal end to their original career had exposed them to the tough realities of life. Those that constrain you to find a job with a regular income in order to pay daily bills. Neal found he had a knack for real estate business and created his own company dealing in luxury houses whilst Dennis opened Moon Hollow, an antique and local arts and crafts shop and Joe was passing down his knowledge as a music teacher. Of course, meeting the needs of a professional life meant they could not perform as often as they wished to.
A series of various other musical and personal projects followed on until BLUE COUPE formed in 2008. No strategic plan for the future of this new group. No rehearsals before concerts as spontaneity became their golden rule.
This state of mind did put them in rather comical situations at times giving birth to endless incredible anecdotes. During their first concert, in the Pub 175 in Reeders, BLUE COUPE’s enthusiasm mixed with that of the audience got them to completely lose track of time.
If some knew that the concert was a new formation, others could have got the impression they were saying goodbye. Incapable of leaving the stage, BLUE COUPE kept going for as many as three hours of non-stop hits mixing classic themes from their original respective groups with others borrowed from the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Hendrix, MC5, the Doors, Ramones or Grateful Dead. Combining business with pleasure, they did not hesitate to take part in several charity concerts.
Not willing to miss any opportunity, they exposed themselves on a float in front of a million people during the Halloween parade in the heart of New York City. Nothing stopped them, not even when hurricane Katrina defied them whilst on their way to a concert in the Roots Café in Providence, PA.
Even though the majority of their concerts kept them on the East Coast of the United States, when an opportunity opened to play in Canada or France, BLUE COUPE jumped unconditionally in the first available plane to get there, convinced they would live unforgettable moments there.
And unforgettable they were. Each night the audience witnessed true feasts where nothing could be predicted in advance. If a known face was found in the audience, they were brought on stage to play with them. It happened in Canada with the Outrageous Canadians, Gord Lewis (Teenage Head) or even Andrew Aldridge; in France with Nono (Trust) and in the States with Michael Hannon (American Dog), Goldy McJohn (Steppenwolf), Andy Hilfiger, Mike Marconi (Billion Dollar Babies) and I have probably forgotten some. Whoever could hit a cowbell with a little rhythm was never sheltered from joining them on stage with their famous hit ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’.
Although they were satisfying the fantasies of the fans of both original groups, they lacked one thing to create a real image for themselves: an album. In 2012, they did just that with the release of ‘Tornado On The Tracks’. Once again, BLUE COUPE invited long standing friends to take part: Tish & Snooky (Sic F*cks, Manic Panic) and Robby Krieger (Doors).
The album is a skillful mix of 10 hits where the musical signatures of their original groups can be recognized on their own or sometimes mixed together. Some songs were brought forward with video clips like ‘Waiting For My Ship’ and ‘You (Like Vampies)’ which ended up being nominated for a Grammy Award.
A series of concerts followed on, with a brief pause at the beginning of 2011 when the Alice Cooper Group was introduced to the Rock Hall Of Fame. The long-awaited event with its wave of demands forced Dennis to put a hold on his work with BLUE COUPE.
The introduction ceremony, interviews, involvement in the writing and recording of the last album of Alice Cooper, rehearsals, concerts of the group back together for the occasion in Phoenix, the recording of a live 4D version and the release of the Collector ‘Old School’ Box Set took most of his time until the project of a tour of the re-united group was aborted almost as soon as it was announced.
His head still in the clouds, Dennis resumed with renewed vigor his activity with BLUE COUPE with both concerts and composition for a second album. The information about the latter remains rare but the group promises to save us a few surprises. The only available piece of news is that Jack Douglas will be the producer.
The choice of Jack, whose name is associated with groups like Aerosmith, New York Dolls, Cheap Trick, Supertramp and others like John Lennon, Miles Davies or even Slash, has not been left to chance. Indeed, he has already worked on a number of Alice Cooper and Blue Oÿster Cult albums.
The news about BLUE COUPE is also the realization of a project they had given me when they last visited France in August last year: organizing a series of concerts in England. A few months later, the project is finally coming alive with a tour of twelve consecutive dates ‘Hotrails To Hull Tour’.
A first is always an opportunity not to be missed. And when it comes to a mythical group like them it goes without saying. The English audience is awaiting them: the tour will be starting on the 23rd January until the 3rd February and will no doubt be a landmark in BLUE COUPE’s history.
To find out more about these events, I hand over my quill to Serge Nadeau whose tough job is to worm information out of Dennis on the subject. As for me, let’s meet in the next few weeks when I will deliver a full report on the English tour.
In 2004, I realized a dream. It was an interview with Mr. Neal Smith (the legendary drummer of the original group Alice Cooper). Now I’ve accomplished another dream, talking with his alter ego on the rhythm section : Mr. Dennis Dunaway, who is reputed for his innovative melodic lines on bass guitar.
In my opinion, Mr. Dunaway is very ‘arty’ and probably one of the most experimental player (avant-garde) at the time of the original Alice Cooper group. His own composition ‘Black JuJu’ (‘Love It To Death’ album) was ahead of time, and may be the last form of experimental music from the first two albums: ‘Pretties For You’ and ‘Easy Action’.
Please step into my time machine, we will dig the past like an archeologist and we will explore the present as well. It is time for Mr. Dennis Dunaway to receive all the recognition he deserves because he played an important part in rock ’n’ roll history. This interview puts an emphasis on the original Alice Cooper group and BLUE COUPE.
How did the British rock invasion influence your musical choice (listening) and your way of playing hard rock music ?
The Beatles turned on the lights and became the only thing that mattered. And then came the Stones, The Kinks, The Who and the Yardbirds. Those bands had everything to do with the way I played music. And the surrealist artist had everything to do with the way I wanted to present myself musically.
What is your favorite band from that period of time ?
For me, choosing one band, one album, or one song is like choosing one of my children. It’s impossible because I love different things about each of them.
Back to the 60’s at Cortez High School?
How did begin your history in rock ’n’ roll music ? And why did you choose the bass guitar instead of another instrument ?
In 1963, I went to the Fox Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona to see the movie, Hercules Unchained. In those days they had double features with an intermission between the two movies. I had spent all my popcorn money so I stayed in my balcony seat during the intermission and Duane Eddy and the Rebels did a surprise performance, yakety sax, go cat go, and everything. I thought to myself (loudly), “That’s what I want to do!”
And when I got back to Cortez High School and told Vince Furnier about it, we decided to do a Beatles spoof and we called ourselves The Earwigs because it was an insect like a beetle and we planned to wear wigs. We enjoyed performing so much that we decided to become a real band, Glen Buxton included. I ended up with bass because everyone else chose their instruments first.
During The Spiders years, did the song ‘Don’t blow your mind’ become a local hit ? Would you explain how the context of the song was born ?
‘Don’t Blow Your Mind’ was a hit in the southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, and Mexico. The title came from a slang term that was popular among teenagers at the time.
It had a drug connotation but we didn’t intent to use it that way. Vince’s boy/girl relationship lyrics focused more on rhyme than content, which was the garage-band style at the time.
The song took us a week to record. We worked every day and slept on the studio floor. Glen Buxton had a new gadget called a fuzz-tone and we decided to feature it, so the song came out like Buzzz?Buzzz?Buzzz?Buzz-buzz. It was thrilling to hear our song on the radio.
The fabulous first album?
Your first album Pretties For You was misunderstood at the time?
Are you suggesting that somebody understands it now? That person must be a genius. Perhaps he could explain it to me !
Did that have a link with the Stockhausen ideas that we find in the album ?
I loved Stockhausen’s approach as far as eliminating traditional scales in composition. I called our rock excursions “sound collages” and ‘Pretties for You’ only scratched the surface of where I wanted to take it. I imagined ever-changing “sound collages” that would be free of notation. Free of any pre-conceived thought. Even free of thought.
The “sound collages” were to be combined with total spontaneous abstract visuals. Our visuals were spontaneous but, to me, that album seemed commercial in comparison to my vision. ‘Lay Down and Die, Goodbye’ from ‘Easy Action’ came closer.
What are your own compositions on Pretties For You (for example : ’10 minutes before the worm’) ?
‘B.B. On Mars’ was one but the majority of the tunes were chewed up, ravaged, raped, spit on, groomed and then befriended by all of us.
Why was the painting by Ed Beardsley that you used on the cover censored ?
Because the major record seller, Woolworths Department Store, said, No, and the trunk of our manager’s Cadillac Hearse couldn’t compete. But in keeping with rock n’ roll’s obligation to get kids to want what their parents forbid, the sticker actually caused a boost in sales.
What was the stage act for ‘Pretties For You’ ?
Extreme on unbridled energy and sparse on budget. As we headed for the stage, anything we could grab became a prop. We would have yanked your grandma’s false teeth out of her head if we thought they had entertainment value. But we would have treated her to a Budweiser after the show.
Why did the people at your shows walk out after a few songs ?
Because our image shattered boundaries and they felt threatened. Hollywood was shocked, New York was shocked, so you can imagine what the Warden thought when we showed up to play at a prison in New Mexico. But that audience already wanted to leave before we arrived.
Is that when you met the lovely Miss Cindy Smith (Neal Smith’s sister) ?
I got off to a rough start with Cindy. In 1965, there was a Back to School Bash at the Arizona State Fairgrounds and, to expedite the show, all the bands agreed to share the same equipment.
It went smoothly until a drummer from a surf band called the LazerBeats decided to have all the equipment moved so he could set up a drum riser. During the long lull, I was in the audience ranking on Neal. I was saying stuff like, “He’s stopping the whole show, and for what, ‘Wipe Out’ ?”. The girl in front of me turned around and said, “He’s the greatest drummer in the world and he’s my brother.”
When she began to work for the band, did she design the clothes on the back of the Pretties For You album cover ?
Yeah, most of them. That picture is the first documented example of Glitter Rock, which Cindy invented.
A scoop from the past?
Did you have a secret story to tell from an Alice Cooper past tour ?
I had two beautiful girls in my room in Stockholm, but we had a language barrier so we spent the evening with me watching them say things in each other’s ears, then looking toward me and giggling.
Life after the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame?
How is your life now after being inducted at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame ?
I get into the museum for free, which is something that I’ve always wished for.
Did that special event help you to promote “DD” outside the concept of Alice Cooper ?
I think so. It validated the significance of our contribution to the history of rock as it should be, as a band.
About BLUE COUPE?
How did begin the story of BLUE COUPE ?
In 1972, Blue Öyster Cult’s career got a great boost when the Alice Cooper group chose them as an opening act because we thought they were unique. And so both bands set out on a record-breaking tour of outdoor festivals and sold-out arenas that socially and musically bonded Joe and Albert and I ever since.
In January of 2008, Blue Coupe started as three friends simply accepting a good offer to play a gig. And without any rehearsals, we managed to come up with two hours of rock as agreed. But then the club owner begged us to play another hour. We told him that we were winging it, but he offered us another thousand dollars anyway. And so we picked things out of the air for another hour. And so began a very fun band.
What did it take to play bass in formula trio like BLUE COUPE instead of Alice Cooper ?
Both groups feature heavy percussion so I play the same as always. I’m lucky to work with musicians that play with full commitment and unbridled passion. I’m a better singer than I used to be, which helps with a trio, but it gives me more things to think about. I still love writing, recording and performing on stage as much as I ever did.
What are the highlights of the first BLUE COUPE’s CD ‘Tornado On The Tracks’ ?
‘You (Like Vampires)’ is one of those exceptional songs that seems to play itself as easy as a girl on a flying trapeze. ‘Angel’s Well’ is a highlight because Robby Krieger of the Doors plays on it. I wrote ‘God, I Need You Tonight’ for Alice years ago. I still think it would be a great song for him.
Our cover of the Byrds ‘Dolphin’s Smile’ was a pleasant surprise. I didn’t think we could capture the relaxed essence of the original but we played it for Chris Hillman and he said he liked it. ‘Untamed Youth’ is a musical journey about a lone biker who meets a waitress named Dixie in a small desert town.
Did you expect that title will cause you a real trouble for a certain gig in Providence ?
Driving two hours through the beginnings of the hurricane spelled trouble. Playing a show with the hurricane raging outside spelled trouble. Driving home in the tail end of it spelled trouble. But it all worked out fine and the people who were at that show will always remember it as a special evening. And so will we.
Will Blue Coupe release an another studio CD ?
BLUE COUPE just finished the final overdubs of our new CD, which Jack Douglas and Warren Huart will soon be mixing. The songs are as diverse as they are on Tornado On The Tracks but we had more time and studio experience together. And Tish and Snooky (Sic F*cks, Manic Panic) were added as an afterthought on our first release, where as we wrote most of the new songs with their inclusion in mind.
Much of the music has an etherial feel over hard percussive rock that is majestic at times, while other songs, like “Hellfire Hurry” are just full throttle scorchers. And for the rainbow after the storm, I sing my first love song to Cindy, besides “B.B. On Mars” of course.
How is going to be the upcoming “Hot Rails To Hull Tour” for the fans ?
We will be working our asses off to deliver twelve consecutive killer evenings of what we do best. I guarantee that BLUE COUPE will have fun, and we hope that every single night will be as special for our fans as it will be for us.
For more details: www.bluecoupeband.com
What are your expectations for that tour ?
We plan to sit in the pubs shedding tears about glory days gone by and we expect our fans to feel sorry and buy us beers.
The future now?
What’s next for the future ?
In real life, nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. But as a dreamer, I’m certain that working hard to remain true to my artistic integrity, the skies will open up in several satisfying ways. That will happen in print, in film, in photographs and musically. Stay tuned !
Thank you very much, Mr. Dunaway, for your precious collaboration on this interview.
Thank you Serge, I’ve enjoyed it.
HOTRAIL TO HULL TOUR DATES :
Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013: Marton Hotel Stokesley Road Marton Middlesbrough TS7 8DS
Thursday, January 24th, 2013 Hertford Corn Exchange 9 Fore Street Hertford SG14 1AL UK
Friday, January 25th, 2013 Hessle Town Hall Hall South Lane Hessle Hull HU13 0RR UK With Special Guest Del Bromham & Stray
Saturday, January 26th, 2013 Mickleton Blues Club Old School House Mickleton, Barnard Castle Co Durham DL12 0LQ
Sunday, January 27th, 2013 Butlins Big Weekends – The Great British Rock and Blues Festival Skegness Lincolnshire PE25 1NJ UK 0845 070 4754 and press 3 With Hawkwind, The Animals, Colin Blunstone
Monday, January 28th, 2013 The Dutchess Stonebow House York York The Duchess, Stonebow House, York, YO1 7NP UK
Tuesday, January 29th, 2013 The Yardbirds Rock Club Church Street Grimsby Lincs DN32 7DD UK 07771520374
Wednesday, January 30th, 2013 Robin 2 28 Mount Pleasant Bilston West Midlands WV14 7LJ UK 01902 497860
Thursday, January 31st, 2013 The Mill Arts Centre Spiceball Park Banbury Oxfordshire OX16 5QE UK
Friday, February 1st, 2013 The Raven Hall Rockingham Road Corby Northants NN17 1AG UK Tel: 01536 202313 Fax: 01536 203159
Saturday, February 2nd, 2013 JERSEY Opera House 3 Gloucester Street Jersey Jersey JE2 3QR UK 01534 511 115 Special Guest Del Bromham & Stray
Sunday, February 3rd, 2013 Grand Theatre 18 York Street CLITHEROE Lancashire BB7 2DL UK 01200 421599 With ANIMALS & FRIENDS & Special Guest the legendary STEVE CROPPER, plus The Stumble
BUY BLUE COUPE’S TORNADO ON THE TRACKS CD AT :
In his show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio on Sunday 29 March David Randall featured a selection of tracks from “Albums of the Month” (January-March 2020) (29:45)
Listen in to Get Ready to ROCK! Radio…
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Featured Albums w/c 30 March (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 HARTMANN 15 Pearls And Gems (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 H.E.A.T. II (earMUSIC)
14:00-16:00 GRAHAM GOULDMAN Modesty Forbids (Lojinx)
Power Plays w/c 30 March (Mon-Fri)
LOUISE LEMON Devil (Icons Creating Evil Art )
BLACK ORCHID EMPIRE Winter Keeps Us Warm (indie)
ONE DESIRE Shadowman (Frontiers)
CRYSTAL IGNITE Black Mamba (indie)
PICTURESQUE ATTN: (Rude Records/Equal Vision Records)
SKARLETT RIOT Human (indie)
THE COVASETTES Spin (indie)
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