NITA STRAUSS AND CHUCK GARRIC
INTERVIEW AND PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA
There is no doubt that Alice Cooper is one of the biggest and most legendary rock stars of our time. The man’s career has lasted more than four decades and there is no end in sight. Originally, Alice Cooper was a band that consisted of Cooper, bassist Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith, drummer and guitarists Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton (RIP). In 1975, before the release of WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE, he scattered the band and continued as a solo artist with the same name. To this day he still follows this path. There have been a large number of fine musicians who have played in the band Alice Cooper. Names such as Reb Beach, Eric Singer, Kip Winger, Al Pitrelli, and Jimmy Degrasso, are all well-known world-class artists who have either created the early career of the Alice Cooper band or have played there at some point. Today, the Alice Cooper band consists of a drummer Glen Sobel, bassist Chuck Garric, and a trio of guitarists – Ryan Roxie, Tommy Henriksen, and Nita Strauss (she joined Alice’s band a year ago). I met a good-humored Strauss and Garrick after the gig in Helsinki in June and here is a summary of what was recorded on tape … Read on!
You just finished a show at the Tuska-Festival and I have to say it was excellent, it was amazing!
Chuck Garric: Thank you.
I saw this line-up last year in New York opening for Motley Crue and I have to say that this band is one of the best Alice Cooper line-ups I have ever seen. The band sounds fresh, energetic and it sounds even a bit dangerous. “Laughs”
Chuck Garric: Yeah, yeah. Its Rock and Roll, it’s got to have a little bit of sense of danger to it or else no fun.
Nita Strauss: Yeah, I hit my head today.
Chuck Garric: We always try to keep it fresh. We always try to keep it musical; we make sure that our parts are down. Everybody is always playing great, tones are great. That’s just part of the job.
This time you don’t have a new album to promote. Is it more difficult to tour when you actually don’t have anything completely new to present to the crowd?
Chuck Garric: No, I don’t think it’s difficult at all.
Nita Strauss: We need to promote Alice Cooper. How many good albums does he have to promote? We’re just here, letting the legacy…. Helping the legacy live on and contributing to the great legacy of Alice Cooper. What a great honor it is for us to get to be a part of that it some way.
Chuck, you have been in the band a long time… And I think are the longest surviving band member ever in Alice Cooper’s band?
Nita Strauss: Yeah, everyone else is dead “Laughs”
Chuck Garric: I killed them all; I killed everybody that ever played with… No, I think that this is going to my 13th year. It’s been a great experience and I hope for another 13 more years.
What has changed the most in the band during all these years?
Chuck Garric: Yeah, band members. Seven different drummers, like eight different guitar players. The nice thing is like being, it is cool having been in the band for so long and having so many different drummers from Eric Singer, Brent Fitz and Tommy Clufetos and Glen Sobel and Jimmy DeGrasso. All these guys that come in and play and then the different guitar players. It’s kind of neat to just sit back and you get to experiment, experience so many cool different styles of music. Everybody brings in their own unique style and their own cool little vibe to it and I like that. It’s like I’ve always considered myself as one of the luckiest bass players, I’ve had a chance to play with some of the best drummers in the business. Then I get to play with some of the best guitar players and it’s a killer experience. So I consider myself one of the lucky guys. Then every once in a while, every other year. So will go back and re-learn the stuff and make sure it’s still fresh, and we’re not getting lazy. It’s fun man.
THE BEST ALICE COOPER BAND LINE-UP?
Nita, how is your Alice Cooper history?
Nita Strauss: Interesting fact, this show in Finland is actually my one year anniversary show. One year ago I think yesterday was my first show with Alice Cooper. My history with Alice Cooper, it is one year long, but I’m hoping for one year more at least.
How do you see yourself in this band because like Chuck said there’s a great line of names who have been in this band before you?
Nita Strauss: I’m a guitar player and every guitar player out there knows the great history of musicians that Alice has had in his band. From Steve Hunter, Reb Beach and Al Pitrelli. He’s had some of the greatest of the great guitar players come through his lineup. So it’s just really been surreal for me. If I look at Wikipedia and I see this list of guitar players, I see my name right there next to Reb Beach. Even Ryan Roxie who I grew up with a picture, I always had pictures of guitar players on my wall. I had a picture of Ryan Roxie on my wall, now I look over and I see Ryan Roxie next to me on stage all time and Tommy Henriksen is a phenomenal guitar player. I just feel very, very lucky to be a part of this band.
So it sounds that you both are very happy about this line-up. Do you think that it’s probably the best line-up Alice has played? “Laughs”
Chuck Garric: Of course. I’m going to say…
Nita Strauss: Obviously.
Chuck Garric: To be quite honest with you, like I said before previously is that, everybody brings… Alice doesn’t have hacks in his band, he has real solid musicians. That all bring different things to the music. So it’s always been a great lineup for me. Sure, I think some lineups may have jelled a little bit better. There may have been maybe a different band connection in other lineups. But I love the way this band sounds right now. So I kind of just live in the moment, that’s just the way I am. I don’t have to look back, I don’t think about anything else other than; how does this thing sound right now. I think this band is firing on all these cylinders. I think it’s a great sounding band. So as far as being the best lineup, I love it.
Nita Strauss: It’s the best obviously. In my experience as…”Laughs”
Chuck Garric: Is it one year?
Nita Strauss: Having been in the band with this lineup only, I can safely say I have never seen this band any better or any worse.
Chuck Garric: I will not argue with her.
When Nita joined in the band, she then replaced Orianthi who was also a phenomenal player but she was also the first female member in the band’s history. When she joined the band, was it any different for you to have a girl in the band like this?
Chuck Garric: To be honest with you, it wasn’t really that strange. We had Calico Cooper in the band before, she wasn’t a musician but she was an entertainer. She was part of the show. So when I first joined the band, female band members whether they were musicians or dancers or whatever was part of the act. So for me it wasn’t; there is a girl in the band? For me as a bass player, it was like; shit, now there is three guitar players. How do I fit the parts in there? How do we make this work? For me it was musical, it was not so much girl player. Because I thought to be honest with you, Orianthi was a killer guitar player. She played great. Nita the same way. She comes in, she learned the parts. She was seamless. So to me it was professional, it was no big deal. The only thing, you deal with a little bit of the girly stuff every once in a while. But that’s no big deal.
Nita Strauss: I cry on the bus all the time, I throw stuff. Always kicking my feet and breaking bottles, we are all friends “Laughs”
Chuck Garric: Tripping over her makeup.
Nita Strauss: Yeah. I think everyone else in the band wears more makeup than me, Ryan sure does. I have never felt any weird pressure or anything from the guys, it came right in and once they saw that I learned the parts and they didn’t have to teach much; they’ve just accepted me right in as a little sister of the band. I feel really lucky to have my four big brothers around all the time.
Chuck Garric: A lot of band members.
Nita Strauss: A lot of big brothers.
Chuck Garric: It took 15 minutes to just to introduce everybody tonight.
Like I mentioned, Orianthi was the first female player ever in this group, and she did a great job. Did you, Nita, have any pressure about that?
Nita Strauss: Honestly I feel like the pressure came from the whole line of guitar players. Orianthi is absolutely a phenomenal player, I have a lot of respect for her. But like I said before, if you look at the line of guitar players. Al Pitrelli, Reb Beach. The pressure is from Alice, the pressure doesn’t come from following another female guitar player. The pressure just comes from just me. I love this music, I love being in this band. I wouldn’t call it pressure, I would call it excitement rather than pressure.
THREE GUITAR PLAYERS IN THE BAND
You now have three guitar players in the band. And as Chuck mentioned, it’s sometimes challenging to make it work or is it?
Nita Strauss: No, it’s a dream come true. Let’s get two more, let’s get five. Says the guitar player “Laughs”
Chuck Garric: It’s unique. It was kind of a nice challenge from the musical aspect of it to arrange everything work.
How and when did Alice first came up with an idea of having three guitarists in the band?
Chuck Garric: I think it was something that came about during the recording of the WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE record. Steve Hunter was such a big part of that sound of that record, and I think Steve wanted to get back and play with Alice again. With Steve playing and a little bit of Steve disability with his eyes and stuff. We didn’t want to put too much pressure on him to be so much a performer, we just wanted Steve’s tone and Steve’s playing. So it just made sense for Alice and Bob and then to bring somebody else in, and they wanted to just have a guy that could back up. They play some rhythms and not really worry about being a soloist. So when they made that decision they had Damon Johnson still in the band, and they got Tommy and who was a really good solid rhythm guitar player. Then you add Steve Hunter to the mix, which was great.
Nita Strauss: What a great lineup!!!
Chuck Garric: Yeah. I think it was just an experiment…
Nita Strauss: Damon is just so fantastic.
Chuck Garric: Yeah. I think they wanted to get rid of the theatrical side, not get rid of it but maybe just replace it and start turning Alice into more of a guitar band. Then that gave birth to the three guitar. It was kind of unique and it was fun to have to go back and start from zero, and refigure out your guitar parts and the musical side of it and everything; and come up with these parts that were on the record, and Steve has that history of playing with Alice since BILLION DOLLAR BABIES. So it was really great to get the perspective from him and realize, maybe those are some of the chords we were missing. So from a musical standpoint it was a lot of fun. Nita comes in and she learned from those parts that we had given her, and then she adds her own style to it and her own flairs. Now it’s really become this really big monster.
Nita Strauss: It’s sort of a very carefully put together immense wall of sound, it’s the way we kind of think about it. Each piece of the wall is in its place. You have to be really mindful in a three guitar lineup, no extra string noise. No notes ringing out, because if all three guitar players are doing that; doing picks grips and slides and the stuff, it’s as mess. There are a three guitar player bands like that that aren’t necessarily as careful with their parts.
Chuck Garric: Who? “Laughs”
Nita Strauss: I’m not going to say who I’m talking about, but I’m wearing their shirt right now. But with us we’re very, very mindful of each other. Where our volumes are, where we are in the stage basically. You won’t see us running into each other, you won’t see us stepping all over each other’s parts either. It’s all about being mindful of what’s going on.
I was just thinking that when you’re playing, especially those ’70s classic songs, you have to think really carefully how to play and who is playing this and that part etc.?
Chuck Garric: Exactly. We listened again to that record and we sat in a room with Bob Ezrin and we went over the parts, and we really did think about every part that was going to be played. To make it sound classic, but at the same time it’s almost impossible. Because of the new technology and the new guitars and pick-ups and just trying to house these stuff. Some of the modern sounds and…
Nita Strauss: To gently usher it into the 21st Century. It’s funny you mentioned the classic songs and Chuck just mentioned the record. I learned the set from listening to the live recordings of the last band when Orianthi was in the band. So I hardly listen to the records at all. Getting ready for the tour, I only had a few week notice to come on the tour with them last year. So I just studied the live show. I learned a lot of the classic solos from listening to Orianthi play them, and she’s such a great blues player. She took the classic songs and really made them her own, made the solos her own. Did her own thing. So Tommy our guitar player took me inside, the day of the first show and keep in mind I only had one rehearsal with the band. Like one real rehearsal. Tommy goes; Strauss! He goes; you’ve got learn the solo like it was on a record. I was like; I thought I did. He goes; no, you learned the other solo. You got to learn like the record. He sat me down and he showed me some videos on YouTube of people playing it. He was; you got to do it like that tonight. So from just the very first show, everyone really put the idea on like; let’s give the respect to the classic songs. Let’s do the “Billion Dollar Babies” solo, a really iconic solo. Let’s give them that respect and do them just from the record, which has been great.
THE UPCOMING ALICE COOPER ALBUM
Alice Cooper is going to release his long awaited covers album HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES this fall but you guys don’t play on it, right?
Chuck Garric: The record has already been recorded.
Nita Strauss: It’s done. This was all finished before I was in the band, maybe I’ll just go and like take a beer bottle and pour it down over the masters or something. But I don’t think that will work? “Laughs”
Chuck Garric: You probably know more than we all know about; what the deal is or whatever. But from what I heard it’s pretty killer album.
How do you like about this project when you’re not going to be a part of it. But instead there are names like Johnny Depp, Joe Perry and … whoever else will be on it?
Nita Strauss: Yeah and our Tommy yeah.
Chuck Garric: Yeah, he’s going to go in there and back him up.
Nita Strauss: We think it is cool thing for Alice. He’s our singer; we support him in whatever he does.
Do you know if it’s going to be only like one-off thing or do they have plans for a full tour or whatever?
Chuck Garric: I don’t know anything about that?
Nita Strauss: They’re doing Rock in Rio, which is so cool. What a cool experience that will be for them and we wish them, very, very well.
How about the next actual Alice Cooper album, have you discussed about the subject already?
Nita Strauss: I can’t say anything more about that at this time “Laughs”
Chuck Garric: You just keep your…
Nita Strauss: Keep it right.
Chuck Garric: Something like that, it’s maybe in the works. “Laughs”
SOLO ALBUM(S) TALK
Nita Strauss: But until that happens Chuck has his amazing band Beasto Blanco, you guys have a new album coming out. Is that right?
Chuck Garric:: Yeah.
I loved the first album LIVE FAST, DIE LOUD. It was an excellent album!
Chuck Garric: Thank you, I appreciate.
That album sounded like mix of Rob Zombie and heavier Alice’s stuff, like BRUTAL PLANET. It was really good album.
Nita Strauss: Chuck’s album makes me want to buy a motorcycle and like drive up to like some club and like outside, listen to that shit.
Chuck Garric: Thank you. I’m very proud of that record.
Nita Strauss: I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this, but I’ve heard some of the songs from the new Beasto Blanco record. My God! If you guys liked the last record, you’re going to need to get this one. It is so unreal how great these song run.
Chuck Garric: Thank you so much.
Nita Strauss: I can’t wait for it to come out so I can buy it.
Chuck Garric: Me too, I can’t wait to hear it.
I just bought Tommy Henriksen’s solo album, TOMMY! TOMMY! TOMMY! That was one strange album…
Nita Strauss: I think it’s fantastic.
There’s musically so many styles on that album everything from from metal to disco, techno, pop etc…
Nita Strauss: That’s Tommy, he’s so creative. Like that mind of his; I hear Tommy talk about producing and arranging songs and it’s just like; man! How cool that is? He’s so good at that stuff.
Chuck, Tommy and Ryan have all released solo albums but how about you Nita? Any plans to release your own solo material some day?
Nita Strauss: I actually have a solo album coming up but I can’t say anything more about this.
But you cannot say anything about anything. “Laughs”
Nita Strauss: No. I’m in the writing stages of my first solo album at this time, and it’s been such a blessing to be as busy we’re and such a curse for writing. Chuck is actually one of the most dedicated people I know; always working and recording on the road, every day, on the bus, days off, all the stuff. So I’m trying to take a little page out of the Chuck’s book of solo album dedication, and really get some work done while we’re on this tour. So hopefully it will be out in early 2016.
Are you going to sing by yourself?
Nita Strauss: No, I want people to buy it. I think it’s going to probably be mostly instrumental. I’m a big instrumental guitar fan; Steve Vai and Satriani and all these kind of stuff. So I was going to have some instrumental stuff, maybe some stuff with some different singers that I’m a fan of. Hopefully I can reach out to some singers, get some of the guys on my band to sing on it and play on it.
Chuck Garric: That will be awesome. And we will do whatever you need us to do.
PLAYING WITH RONNIE JAMES DIO AND L.A GUNS
I have one question for Chuck and it goes a way back. I remember that you also played with Dio back in the day?
Chuck Garric: Yeah.
The late 90’s wasn’t the best time for traditional metal, and many bands, but I think that Dio was still doing ok at the time?
Nita Strauss: Let’s just clarify something. Dio is always great, Dio has always been great. There was never a time when Dio wasn’t great.
I agree, but I mean that it was a difficult time for bands like Dio?
Chuck Garric: It was a difficult time. I started with Dio, it was the November of ’99. It was us and Motorhead and Manowar. We did a Scandinavian tour; it was my first time over here. It was unbelievable.
Nita Strauss: What a line up!
Chuck Garric: I thought it was incredible. Coming from Los Angeles at the time where metal sort of wasn’t as popular, I came over here and it just was like it never went away. That’s an experience, for me I might as well been in The Beatles or something. Playing with Ronnie Dio was truly one of the most fantastic experiences ever. The guy taught me so much about song writing and being a professional, and how to just perform and touring. He was just an amazing professional always, just a great friend. I miss him, I think about him probably every day. I thank him every time I’m on stage, because if it wasn’t for him I truly believe I wouldn’t be here.
I have met hundreds of rock stars during the years but Ronnie was maybe the kindest guy of them all. He was always nice for everybody including his fans.
Chuck Garric: He was the nicest guy in the world. Both Ronnie and Wendy treated me like their adopted son or something, they were great to me.
Before joining Dio you also played briefly with Tracii Guns. How was that time for you?
Chuck Carrick: Yeah, L.A Guns. For sure, it was great. It was a good Rock and Roll, a sleazy Rock and Roll band. Killer, yeah. I love Tracii, I love Steve and Jizzy Pearl was a singer at the time. They’re still my bros. They were a killer band. Being on the road with Ratt and Poison and Great White, I met new friends and that was a great summer. Yeah, it was a great summer. Playing Rock and Roll. What could be wrong with that? Of course I didn’t make any money “Laughs”
I’m not surprised to hear that. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why have had over 100 members in the band “Laughs”
Chuck Garric: They did? I think I was like number 100 or maybe I was like 98 or something. L.A Guns. Yeah, I did the summer run with them. Right before I got in Dio’s band.
Nita Strauss: I did know that actually, I just forgot. But I do know that.
Chuck Garric: Yeah, now you learn. Your L.A Guns history.
Nita Strauss: I saw a picture of you in those times and that’s how I found out…
Chuck Garric: Metalheads magazine?
Nita Strauss: No, I’ll tell you where I saw the picture after this.
THE LAST WORDS
Chuck, do you have any plans to do something with ESP (Eric Singer Project) in the future?
Chuck Garric: Yeah, hopefully. If our schedule freeze up, we’re blessed with being busy. Eric and I and Bruce and John are busy musicians, we are working musicians. When our schedule freeze up, 100% I’m all for it. I love playing with these guys.
Speaking about John, it amazing that he is now playing with Dead Daisies and he’s back in bigger stages again. That is really great thing for him.
Chuck Garric: Cool, yeah. We’re very happy for him. Any time, anybody can have some success. We are always happy, we are all in this together as one big family, brothers and sisters.
Nita Strauss: I’m looking forward to seeing Dead Daisies actually, I have never seen them. I have never had the chance, I’m always on tour when they come to L.A.
It’s time to sum this interview up. In brief, you both have new solo albums coming up and there’s a change for another Alice Cooper album in the future. So I thank you both for your time and hopefully we see again in Finland on November.
Chuck Garric: Right on man, thanks for having us and you can go to livefastdieloud.com and…
Chuck Garric:Live Fast! ”Laughs”
I will “Laughs”
LIVE PHOTOS FROM TUSKA FESTIVAL SHOW BY MARKO SYRJALA