One of the most surprising revelations to come out of the memoir from Alice Cooper’s former bassist is not the fact that Cooper was an alcoholic (Cooper has admitted that himself), it’s not how callously he ditched his childhood friends for interchangeable band mates once he started to make it big and go solo; rather it’s the fact that Cooper, long since sober, ended up not only reading the memoir, but handing over a blurb for the author to put on the book’s jacket.
Bassist Dennis Dunaway met Cooper (then going by his given name of Vincent Furnier) in Phoenix, where the two along with another future member of the band, all ran track. Along with the band’s early beginnings, the book focuses on the group struggling for an identity when they moved to California and humorously forcing an audition at the home of Frank Zappa, who would eventually sign the band to his label.
There are plenty of cameos by other musicians who would stop in and party with the band at their rundown crash pad in Laurel Canyon, including The Doors and Pink Floyd. And tales of the bandmates making props for what would become the legendary Alice Cooper Band shows – almost as memorable as the songs – are particularly interesting.But more impressively is how Dunaway is both frank about the band’s problems with drugs, alcohol and ego, without coming off as bitter. The group’s ultimate unraveling in the mid-70s, just as they were finally discovering success, is written about in vague terms, not as a way of avoiding what happened but because as Dunaway explains, he still doesn’t understand entirely what happened as he and his others in the band were never officially fired; they just found out that Cooper was pulling together other musicians to record and tour with.
Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! could have easily been just another clichéd tell-all from a disgruntled band member, rather it’s an honest, sometimes sweet recollection of being in one the country’s most bizarre and influential hard rock bands in the late 60s early 70s.
Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in The Alice Cooper Group by Dennis Dunaway and Chris Hodenfield/Hardcover/290 pages/Thomas Dunne Books/2015