Let’s get one thing straight: Alice Cooper never publicly decapitated a chicken or drank its blood.
Rumors about the bird’s foul fate have been circulating since 1969, when the Grammy Award-nominated shock rocker, assuming all poultry can fly, tossed the hapless hen into the crowd at a Toronto concert. Audience members reportedly tore the chicken to shreds.
“People will swear they saw me bite the head off of a chicken live on stage,” Cooper, 67, said with a chuckle. “It’s the same people who say they were at Woodstock. … Seven million people must have been at Woodstock.”
Not that the platinum-selling performer minds. “I like the idea of being the showman. I like the idea of being the Busby Berkeley of rock,” he said.
Known for his garish eye makeup, grandly theatrical stage shows and long string of hit songs including “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” “School’s Out” and “I’m Eighteen,” Cooper has influenced everyone from Rob Zombie to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga.
“It’s absolutely a perfect fit,” Cooper said of the first-ever pairing. “Both bands get on stage and bring it every night.”
The birth of shock rock
Born Vincent Damon Furnier in Detroit, Cooper moved with his family to Phoenix, Ariz., where he formed a band with his high school friends. (Contrary to legend, the group didn’t stumble upon the name “Alice Cooper” during a Ouija board session; they took the name of a character on the television show “Mayberry R.F.D.”)
Alice Cooper caught the attention of music manager Shep Gordon. He, in turn, introduced the band to rock pioneer and producer Frank Zappa, whose Straight Records released their debut album, 1969’s “Pretties For You.”
In order to set themselves apart from the pack, Cooper and his band mates decided, “‘Let’s provide something that no other band has provided,’ ” he recalled. “Let’s be rock villains instead of rock heroes.”
The central baddie would be the band’s frontman, playing a fictionalized version of himself.
“I had this idea that Alice Cooper was this arrogant villain” with a sly sense of humor and the physicality of a silver-screen swashbuckler, explained the performer, who legally changed his name to Alice Cooper in 1973. “He might slit your throat but he might also slip on a banana peel.”
According to Cooper, the band’s shock rock aesthetic drew on such disparate elements as gory horror movies, James Bond composer John Barry and the Broadway musical “West Side Story.” A fascination with surrealist art — and its most prominent prophet — also played a part.
“Salvador Dali was as much a hero to us as Bela Legosi,” Cooper said, noting that three of the band’s original members were art majors in school.
In addition to his connection to Dali, Cooper relished his friendship with actor and comedian Groucho Marx, who would watch his concerts from the wings of the stage. Often, Marx would bring along his friends, including Jack Benny, George Burns, Fred Astaire and Mae West.
“He said we were the last hope for vaudeville,” recalled Cooper, who in 1978 sponsored the “O” in the Hollywood sign in honor of Marx.
A talent for music
According to Cooper, who worked with master illusionist and skeptic James “The Amazing” Randi to perfect his Grand Guignol-style stage antics, Alice Cooper’s appeal has as much to do with good, old-fashioned talent as it does with electric chairs, guillotines, boa constrictors and copious amounts of fake blood.
“You have to be a great rock band first,” Cooper explained. “You have to have the cake before you have the icing. In my mind, the cake is the music.”
Cooper, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his original band mates in 2011, has released an impressive 26 albums as a member of Alice Cooper and as a solo artist.
He’s appeared in movies including “Wayne’s World,” “Dark Shadows” and “Prince of Darkness,” and served as the subject of a 2014 documentary, “Super Duper Alice Cooper.” Plus, he hosts the radio show "Nights with Alice Cooper."
A new side project, The Hollywood Vampires, finds Cooper collaborating with “Dark Shadows” star Johnny Depp, Paul McCartney and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, among others. The supergroup takes its name from a group of 1970s celebrity drinking buddies that included Cooper, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon and Micky Dolenz.
The Hollywood Vampires will debut in September at Brazil’s Rock in Rio festival.
Cooper attributes his career longevity to good health — “I always had a runner’s body,” he said — and smart lifestyle choices.
A born-again Christian, he’s never smoked cigarettes, quit drinking 30 years ago and has been married to dance instructor and choreographer Sheryl Goddard since 1976.
“(With) a lot of people, you can see they have a lot of stress in their life, whereas I have none,” said Cooper, a self-professed “golf addict” who has a handicap of 4. “I get on stage and have fun.”
Mötley Crüe with Alice Cooper
7:30 p.m. Saturday
Paso Robles Event Center, 2198 Riverside Ave., Paso Robles
$45 to $150
800-909-FAIR (3247) or www.midstatefair.com