INTERVIEW AND PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA
There is no doubt that Alice Cooper is one of the biggest and most legendary rock stars of all 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 guitarist duo of 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. To this day, he still follows this path. There have been a large number of fine musicians who have played Alice Cooper’s band. 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 Alice Cooper band’s early career have played there at some point. Nowadays, 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, as always, 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 lineup is one of the strongest Alice Cooper ever had. The band sounds fresh, energetic and, shall I say, dangerous. “Laughs”
Chuck Garric: Yeah, yeah. It’s Rock and Roll, and 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 challenging to tour when you 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, helping the legacy live on and contributing to the great legacy of Alice Cooper. It is a great honor for us to get to be a part of that in some way.
Chuck, you’ve been in the band for a long time. In fact, you’ve been playing with Alice longer than anyone else?
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, and 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 just to sit back, and you get to experiment and experience so many cool different music styles. Everybody brings 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 I 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, and how does it feel to be a part of such a legendary group of musicians who have performed with Alice during the years?
Nita Strauss: Interesting fact, this show in Finland is my one-year anniversary show. One year ago was my first show with Alice Cooper. My history with Alice Cooper is one year long, but I’m hoping for one year more at least. 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 see this list of guitar players, I see my name right 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.
It sounds that you both are pleased 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, Alice doesn’t have hacks in his band. He always has really 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 just live in the moment. That’s just the way I am. I don’t have to look back, and I don’t think about anything other than; how it sounds 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 the band, she replaced Orianthi, a phenomenal player and 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?
Chuck Garric: To be honest with you, it wasn’t 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 are three guitar players. How do I fit the parts in there? How do we make this work? For me, it was musical, and it was not so much a 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, and 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, and it came right in, and once they saw that I learned the parts and didn’t have to teach much, they’ve just accepted me right in as a little sister of the band. I feel fortunate 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 just to introduce everybody tonight.
As 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, and 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, and the pressure doesn’t come from following another female guitar player. The pressure just comes from just me. I love this music, and 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 to work.
How and when did Alice first come up with the 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’s 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 just to have a guy that could back up. They play some rhythms and do not worry about being a soloist. So when they decided, they had Damon Johnson still in the band, and they got Tommy and 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 guitars. 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 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. Now it’s become this really big monster.
Nita Strauss: It’s sort of a very carefully put together an 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 mindful in a three-guitar lineup, with no extra string noise. No notes are ringing out because if all three guitar players are doing that, doing picks, grips, and slides and the stuff, it’s a mess. There are 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, and 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 carefully about 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 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 this stuff. Some of the modern sounds and…
Nita Strauss: We are trying to usher it into the 21st Century gently. It’s funny you mentioned the classic songs, and Chuck just mentioned the record. I learned the set from listening to the last band’s live recordings 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 weeks’ notices to come on the tour with them last year. So I just studied the live show. I learned many classic solos from listening to Orianthi play them, and she’s such a great blues player. She took the classic songs and made them her own, made the solos her own.
She 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 actual rehearsal. Tommy goes, Strauss! He goes, you’ve got to 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 it is 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 first show, everyone put the idea on, like, let’s respect 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 will release his long-awaited covers album HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES this fall, but you guys don’t play on it.
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 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 a 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 a 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 a 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 an incredible experience that will be for them, and we wish them very, very well.
How about the next actual Alice Cooper album? Have you discussed 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 fantastic 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 it.
That album sounded like a mix of Rob Zombie and heavier Alice’s stuff, like BRUTAL PLANET. It was an excellent 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 songs 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 are musically so many styles on that album, everything from metal to disco, techno, pop, etc.
Nita Strauss: That’s Tommy. He’s so creative. I hear Tommy talk about producing and arranging songs, and it’s just like, man! How cool is that? 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 solo material someday?
Nita Strauss: I 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 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 Chuck’s book of solo album dedication and 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 be mostly instrumental, probably. I’m a big instrumental guitar fan; Steve Vai and Satriani and all this 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 ’90s 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, and 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 lineup!
Chuck Garric: I thought it was incredible. Coming from Los Angeles when metal 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 have been in The Beatles or something. Playing with Ronnie Dio was indeed one of the most fantastic experiences ever. The guy taught me so much about songwriting and being a professional, and how to perform and tour. He was just an amazing professional always, just a great friend. I miss him. I think about him probably every day. Every time I’m on stage, I thank him because I truly believe I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.
I have met hundreds of rock stars during the years, but Ronnie was maybe the kindest guy of them all. He was always nice to 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, and 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 we 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. 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 about you.
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 frees up, we’re blessed with being busy. Eric and I and Bruce and John are busy musicians. We are working musicians. When our schedule freezes up, 100% I’m all for it. I love playing with these guys.
Speaking about John, it amazing that he is now playing with the Dead Daisies, and he’s back in bigger stages again. That is an excellent thing for him.
Chuck Garric: Cool, yeah. We’re very happy for him. Any time, anybody can have some success. We are always happy, and 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, and 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 chance for another Alice Cooper album in the future. So I thank you both for your time, and hopefully, we see each other again in Finland in November.
Chuck Garric: Right on, man, thanks for having us, and you can go to livefastdieloud.com
Chuck Garric: Live Fast! ”Laughs”
I will “Laughs.”
LIVE PHOTOS FROM TUSKA FESTIVAL SHOW BY MARKO SYRJALA