INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJALA
Steve “The Deacon” Hunter is an American guitarist best known for his collaborations with Alice Cooper and Lou Reed. Hunter is also well known about his long term association with record producer Bob Ezrin with whom they’ve been doing collaboration since the early 70’s. Hunter appeared on five classic Alice Cooper albums: BILLION DOLLAR BABIES, WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE, LACE AND WHISKEY and ALICE COOPER GOES TO HELL. Hunter, alongside with guitarist Dick Wagner, also appeared on the classic film ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’, which released on home video in 1976 and it featured the guitar battle between Hunter and Wagner. Both had played together in many different occasions before and after Alice Cooper including Lou Reed’s BERLIN and ROCK’N ROLL ANIMAL albums, Peter Gabriel’s solo debut and many more. Hunter quit working with Cooper in 1978 and since then the man has released several solo albums and worked with such names as Jack Bruce and David Lee Roth just to name a few in here. In March of 2011 Alice Cooper announced that Hunter would be returning to the band for the upcoming tour and brand new album entitled WELCOME 2 MY NIGHTMARE which is once again produced by Bob Ezrin. Cooper’s latest NO MORE MR. NICE GUY tour reached Finland in early July and then we had a pleasure to talk with Mr. Hunter himself and hear the latest from Cooper’s camp as well as some great stories from the past as well.
THE RE-UNION WITH ALICE COOPER
The first of all, tell us something about how you and Alice ended working again after all these years. It must have been something to do with Bob Ezrin who is producing the new Alice Cooper album, right?
I think it was Bob Ezrin because he wanted me to play on the new album and of course I was thrilled to do that because I hadn’t seen Alice, I hadn’t worked with Alice since ’75, ’79 I think was the last tour I did with him. And Bob, it all sort of happened in a funny way. I got up on stage and jammed with him on “I’m Eighteen” in Nashville where I was working on the album. And it was just like kind of the old times you know. Playing “Eighteen” and seeing over to my right seeing Alice singing in the fog and everything, it was just like ’75 all over again. So it sort came out of that I think you know that well maybe we should tour together again and yeah I’ve love to. I’d love to and so I was thrilled to do it, yeah.
Now when you’re playing with Alice again, doesn’t it feel any strange when there’s only you and Alice left from the “old school” while the rest of the band are younger generation?
Yeah I wasn’t sure how that was going to work because you know I am old school in a lot of ways but I mean I’ve been playing for 40 years through you know– with all kinds of different things, yeah. But as soon as we played, I mean the first time we got together to rehearse we played “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and it sounded like we’d been playing together for a month already, and that was the first day and the first song. So I was glad to see, there was a lot of people said they were worried about how I was going play the drop D stuff, the metal kind of stuff, but to me guitar is guitar you know. And it’s all rock and roll; Alice is rock and roll to me. So I don’t have any trouble fitting into that. But these guys are really good, so it’s a great band you know, and sitting and playing with them was really wonderful.
So it’s not a problem for you to play Alice’s newer stuff like “Poison” and “Brutal Planet”?
No, not at all, not at all because it’s good rock and roll so you know. I mean of course “Brutal Planet” and stuff like that… it’s more of a drop D metal verging on metal. But we sort of play it more rock and roll than metal and it still works. If they’re good songs they’ll work you know.
Also what is different with this new Alice Cooper band is, if I’m right, is that this is the very first time you are playing in a band with three guitar players, right?
Yeah, that’s the first time I’ve done a three guitar band and we sort of wondered how that was going to work but I think we all like the idea of a three guitar band because a lot of the album stuff has more than two guitars on it. Sometimes many you know and we thought well how cool it would be if we could reproduce a lot of that live you know, if we could get all those, especially songs like “Halo Of Flies” and stuff like that where there’s a lot of intricate guitar stuff. We decided it would be cool to try to do it all so that was exciting to do that and Tommy, Tommy Henriksen; he is a great rhythm guitar player. That’s not all he can do but that’s what he’s really good at so it frees Damon and I up to do the lines and stuff while he’s keeping a really solid rhythm. And you can only do that with three guitar players so it’s a great thing.
Yeah, and Tommy is a great bass player too so he knows lot about playing rhythm for sure?
Yeah that’s right, he’s a bass player so he has a sense of rhythm that’s really good and it translates in the guitar really well.
How much did you keep following Alice’s career after you quit working with him in the 70’s?
Well now you know a lot of people ask me that, I don’t know what happened. We didn’t get angry at each other or anything, you just sort of drift apart you know. Alice went sort of this way and I went sort of in another way. And I didn’t stay in touch but I kept sight of his career because he’s an old friend, I mean we go back so far now we’re like brothers you know and we share a lot of road miles and we share a history together. So he’s a friend, so I always checked up on him to see what he was doing you know and listening to the new whatever new song it was like “Clones” and things like that and “Poison”. But I just figured I had gone off in another direction and so had he so that’s all right, you know no problem. But it’s just really bizarre when you kind of go way out like this and it all comes back again. Yeah, it’s really bizarre but it’s cool you know.
The Alice Cooper band in 2011: Chuck Garrick, Steve, Damon Johnson, Tommy Henriksson and Glen Sobel
THE IMPORTANCE OF BOB EZRIN
I was just thinking about listing some of the most important people who you’ve been working with your career and the first name on my list is Bob Ezrin. He’s been really important for you, right?
Yeah, there’s no question about it. I met Bob, I was playing with Mitch Ryder, and he had a band called Detroit. He had broken up Detroit Wheels and the band was reforming in more of a rock and roll kind of thing, sort of like an American Stones almost or something, a blues based kind of rock and roll. And Bob was signed on to be the producer of the first album with Mitch Ryder. And that was my first recording, it’s the first time I met Bob and we just sort of hit it off. Now Bob wasn’t successful yet, he was working with Jack Richardson at the time but he hadn’t really established his own career yet, neither had I, so we were kind of growing and learning stuff together. So we really loved working in the studio with him because he’s got great ideas.
You kind of grew up together but you were just doing different careers, you know what I mean here?
Yeah, that’s right, so and then the next thing you know “I’m Eighteen” comes out and it’s a huge success and all the sudden Bob’s on the map you know and the very next thing I do with him is MILLION DOLLAR BABIES, I did some over dubs on that and that just sort of started the whole ball rolling. He and I worked together on lots of stuff, Peter Gabriel, a bunch of Alice, a bunch of different things. And it was great, I learned a lot about recording and production and just the overall musical side of production which I didn’t know much about. And you know I learned a lot and he always was one of these producers who get the best performance out of you, that’s one of the reasons why I really liked working with him. I mean I think I played some of my best things working with him you know.
Okay, the next name on my list is guitarist Dick Wagner. You guys have been working together like forever in many different occasions?
Yeah, Dick Wagner, it’s really funny how we sort of met, we sort of kept running into each other on different things before I associated him with Bob. I saw him down in Florida playing with his band Ursa Major at the time. And I thought he was great and it was cool to see a three piece band make that much noise, he made a lot of music out of–sort of like the James Gang, like that but more like Dick Wagner’s songs and singing and stuff. And we jammed a couple of times and then next thing I know we’re working on the Lou Reed thing together and it was sort of just quickly. And that was with Bob Ezrin because Bob knew Dick too from working on Ursa Major and he knew him from other things. So Dick and I, just it’s one of those things where we just hit off as guitar players like we never had to work too hard, I mean I would play one thing and he would play the other and then vice versa, we just never seemed to get in each other’s way, it was perfect. And we could play lines together that would sync up and sound like they should you know. It’s a rare thing with guitar players. Now with these guys, with Damon and Tommy it’s the same sort of thing, we are very careful about how we play everything but everything has its place and we stay out of each other’s way just naturally and that’s unusual, that’s an unusual thing. And Wagner and I did a lot of stuff together, a lot of touring, Lou Reed stuff before Alice and then Alice.
And you also did something together for the new Alice Cooper album?
Yes and Dick wrote a beautiful ballad, he’s an incredible writer. I mean he’s written some beautiful things for Alice, “Only Women Bleed” and lots of things. And he wrote a song that’s on the new album and he got to play a little bit on the new album. He had a little trouble with his left arm and it’s hard for him to play.
I did read about his health problems he had some time ago. How he is doing now?
Yeah, from what I understand it’s a lot better. He had a really bad heart attack and then I don’t know if that had something to do with his left arm but his left arm was messed up for a year or so and it was hard for him to play but I think he’s getting that back now.
He’s not able to tour at the moment but you think he’s going to be fine after all?
No, I think he’s a little fragile with tour yet, I know what that’s like and we’re about the same age. And I have a little problem with my heart too and you got to be really careful when you tour because touring is very strenuous. It’s really difficult you know physically so it’s all the flying and all, I mean once you get on stage it’s a blast, it’s all the other stuff you know amongst touring is difficult. But I think he’s going to be all right.
That’s great to hear. Maybe sometime we will hear some more of you two playing together on stage again?
I hope so, I really hope so, and it would be great to do. I mean I miss, you know I miss playing with him. It was always a blast to play with him.
Live shot from the FROM THE INSIDE -tour.
Okay the next name on my list is David Lee Roth. You first worked with him on A LITTLE AIN’T ENOUGH –album in 1991?
I know it’s a kind of odd isn’t it, that I would be–but you know what? That was Bob Ezrin too because Bob was working with David on LITTLE AIN’T ENOUGH and then they had some problem, there was some falling out and they got Bob Rock to produce it. But before that happened Bob had introduced me to Dave and Dave wanted me to teach Jason Becker some blues because Jason Becker knew everything and Jason’s still a dear, dear friend of mine. As a matter of fact when I go on stage I use his pick to play because he’s still very close, we’re best buddies. And so Jason and I became immediate friends, we just loved each other, as soon as I met him and we jammed and had a blast you know. And Dave called me up one time and said do you want to write some songs and Brett Tuggle was also a good friend of mine and so Brett and I got together and wrote five songs on there and Dave wanted me to play rhythm guitar and I said I’d love to. You know you need Jason to play solos because he’s great you know. I’m happy to do rhythm guitar, guitar playing is guitar playing to me whether it’s soloing or rhythm, and it’s the same. So I was happy to play rhythm on the album and I liked working with Dave. Dave, you know he’s a character but he’s a character in a good way, he’s a rock and roll character and that’s why everybody loves him so much you know.
How about the next David Lee Roth album YOUR DIRTY LITTLE MOUTH?
I just did one song for that album and I actually liked the way he sang it, it was a very cool song. But I only came in to do the one song so I didn’t really get the whole vibe of the album like I did with LITTLE AIN’T ENOUGH. He flew me into New York, I played the song and I flew home so I didn’t get as much of an impact on the record as I did the first one, LITTLE AIN’T ENOUGH.
WORKING WITH LOU REED
Then I have Lou Reed in my list. You guys have been working first time together in early 70’s, before Alice, and there’s still something going on if I’m right?
Yeah, I just toured with Lou Reed too two years ago. You probably saw, you mentioned it?
Right, you did play here in Helsinki back then.
That’s right. Lou, the funny thing about Lou, when I got back together with him to do the BERLIN album we were going to do a start to finish live as you know. When I got back together with him it was the same thing as with Alice, it was like 35 years had not happened. We looked at each other and it was like yeah, you know I remember, remember when we, yeah, I remember. Remember Paris when that weird guy came, yeah I remember. So when you have that sort of history, it somehow or other intensifies on the road and all you have to do is remember one show and it brings it all back you know. So Lou, as soon as we saw each other we gave each other a big hug and I just e-mailed him because he’s touring right now.
Yeah, I know.
And I was kind of hoping maybe there would be time off I could do some of the tour with him right in the middle of Alice because we’re taking some of July off but they overlap so I didn’t get a chance to. So I wished him well on the tour and he wrote back and said I hope you’re doing well and have fun on the road. We’re going to be good friends forever I think you know. Another thing and we have so much history in common you know?
Yeah I know, I have read Wikipedia as well “laughs”
Yeah, sometimes Wikipedia’s wrong though you know.
But when you do read many versions from different sites you’ll get the picture.
That’s right, that’s a good way to do it, yeah, yeah. Well there’s another Steve Hunter that is a bass player from Australia and the guy’s an amazing bass player. And we’ve actually emailed you know and he said I’m getting tired of people asking me about Lou Reed, I’ve never met him, I don’t know him you know. I said yeah I understand and it’s a problem. He’s a real nice guy.
THE EARLY DAYS WITH ALICE COOPER
Okay the last name on my list, we already went through four, but there’s one left and he’s Alice Cooper.
When you two first met each other, was it once again through Bob Ezrin?
I actually met him not through Bob Ezrin when I first met him. I was playing with Mitch Ryder and occasionally we would just run into each other because we were playing the same venues, you know like there were these great–man if you remember in the early ’70s Detroit had some amazing clubs and theaters to play, the Grande Ballroom, East Town Theater, those were great places to play. Cream, Jimi Hendrix and so on, everybody played there.
Yes, MC5 broke up walls down in that place. So we would play a show and then Alice would be there and we got to know each other before he got signed and before “I’m Eighteen” became a hit. We knew each other really well. We would do shows together you know, we’d be on the same bill and stuff. And I got to know all the guys really well–Glen, everybody, Glen, Neal, all of them. And we were good friends. It was just bizarre to me though that virtually overnight “I’m Eighteen” just hit the roof, it was number one virtually overnight and they went from crazy wild rock and roll guys like we were to famous people just like overnight. And that was like wow, so it can happen, you know it really can happen overnight because it was literally like a month and they were headlining 20,000 seaters. It was unbelievable. But we stayed friends and then Alice and Bob hooked up because Alice and Bob and Jack Richardson worked on the–that was the “I’m Eighteen”. And then Jack was working on the Guess Who, he was doing a lot of stuff with the Guess Who so Bob sort of took over Alice Cooper and worked on KILLER I think and I don’t know if he worked on SCHOOL’S OUT, I’m not sure, but I know he did BILLION DOLLAR BABIES because I got called in to do some over dubs. But I actually met Alice long before I met Bob and it was really kind of cool you know that we were friends before the group became really famous.
How is Alice different now to work with if you compare it to the ’70s?
Well not that much, I mean that’s the beauty of it to me was when I jammed with him in Nashville we did “I’m Eighteen” and I thought oh man we haven’t played together in 35 years, what’s that going to be like you know, I don’t even know what I’m going to do you know. How am I going to feel about it? As soon as we played the first note it was like 35 years ago and to see him–I think he’s even a better performer today than he was then if that’s possible. I mean he is an amazing performer. I get to watch him out the corner of my eye you know on stage, I can’t see very well so I can’t see a lot but when he comes over by me and I get to watch him up close I mean it’s amazing, he’s an amazing performer you know, I mean he blows me away every night. So I think he’s become a better performer, just more polished, he’s the real deal. But he was great even then, in ’75, and he had the same great sense of humor and the stuff he used to do on stage and stuff. Some of the things he would do with it, I mean it’s wonderful. And he still does it, you know he still does it but now it’s got a little extra zing to it. And I think that’s just you know years of performing, you hone your craft you know and he’s amazing. We did that show in England, in London, the 100 Club.
I read about it. That was the one where Johnny Depp was a special guest, right?
Yeah, that was with Johnny Depp. That was the first time I’d played with Alice as just himself not the character Alice, just him singing rock and roll tunes and it was magnificent. I thought wow, this is like a whole other career you know, and I mean this is amazing. He’s a great front man you know, he is, he’s a really good front man and when he does his Alice that’s another guy, that’s another person. So it was great, you know, it was really cool. I enjoyed that, we really had a blast that night.
Is it ever a problem to find out when he’s Alice or some another person, you know what I mean?
No, not a problem, it’s not a problem. I’ve known him so long that I know it’s just a character, it’s like an actor. You know Johnny Depp’s not, you know he’s not the “Pirate of the Caribbean”, he’s not “Edward Scissorhands”, he’s Johnny Depp, and he’s an actor. And that’s, the only difference, and it’s only a subtle difference, is that with Alice it just so happens that it’s a character that sings rock and roll, not an actor, so much that’s playing a role in a film or a play or something. It’s somebody playing a character, it’s sort of like “Rocky Horror Picture” maybe, you know, but a whole lot more band than that. But it’s a singing character not just a character. So that puts a whole new slant, that’s what attracted me to it, is the fact that oh he’s not just a singer and he’s not just acting, he’s both of those things. So when the show starts it’s a show and you know–
He’s the real deal.
Yeah, he’s the real deal, yeah.
WELCOME 2 MY NIGHTMARE
The new Alice Cooper album WELCOME 2 MY NIGHTMARE album is coming out in the fall.
I think so. I’ve heard a couple of different times so I don’t want to give you the date. I heard September, I heard October, and so I don’t know when it’s coming out yet exactly?
So what I’ve understood, the album is coming out in a big way, you know, with big promotion and so on. Do you know something more about it?
Now I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know too much about–I know there’s something about an iPad or something, is that what it was? It’s on their website how they’re going to do it. I don’t really know all the particulars, I just know I played on the record you know and it’s going to be out soon. They’re probably doing a lot of things like a lot of current bands are doing fan packs and all kinds of other stuff I suppose. But I just want it to be out because I think it’s a great record.
When the actual tour starts, is it going to be the same line up what you have now?
That’s the plan, yeah. I mean it’s one of the best bands that I’ve played in, I mean these guys are amazing players, everybody, everybody–Chuck, Damon, Tommy and Glen are all amazing players and we’ve had to do some things under some strain and they’ve always performed you know, there’s a great band. So I hope so?
Do you have any plans to redo the old WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE show or use at least some elements of it?
Yeah, now see I don’t know. That’s really not up to me and I usually don’t hear until we start rehearsing. I mean we have–like when we do our 90 minute set we do have some of the old Alice Nightmare thing, like we have “Only Women Bleed” and of course we have to do “Black Widow”. We’ll try to incorporate a few more like “Cold Ethyl” in the set. That’s one of my favorite songs, always has been. So we do incorporate a lot bit you got to remember he’s got a 35, 40 year history of songs so there’s only so many things you can do you know. I don’t know yet how we’re going to incorporate the new WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE album but I’m sure that will all be worked out soon enough you know. We’ll figure something out.
Okay Steve. Thanks for your time and hopefully we’ll see again on “Welcome 2 My Nightmare” –tour?
I think we will. Thank you!
FOR MORE INFO GO TO: