Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s of Rock – B

Letter B, Letter B, Letter B, Letter B
Whisper words of wisdom, Letter B

Billion Dollar Baby (The Book)

This is the second greatest rock’n’roll book ever written (we will get to the best in the D’s). Published in 1975 the book is long out of print and extremely hard to find. Back in 1998 I lent my paperback copy to either Patsy, Branko or Hershel from The Interpreters and never saw it (or them again). I still remember the look on Mike Bullard’s face during the inaugural season of “Open Mike” when a parka-clad Hershel jumped on his desk in the middle of an Interpreters performance.

In 1973 Alice Cooper was the biggest, and most talked about, rock star on the planet. With hit singles “School’s Out” and “Eighteen” under his studded belt Alice has just unleashed rock’s greatest live spectacle the “Billion Dollar Babies” tour. There were life sized dentist drills, a guillotine, snakes, babies, hatchets, bubble machines, you name it. Stories in Newsweek and Time heralded Alice as a threat against American morals and values. In most books Alice was Public Enemy #1. Enter Bob Greene. Greene was a writer for The Chicago Sun-Times back in the seventies and although not full time rock critic he did dabble in pop culture. After an informal dinner with Alice’s manager Shep Gordon (who manages Alice to this day) it was decided that Greene would join the band on their Christmas “Holiday” portion of the tour, have total access to everything involved in the touring process and chronicle his findings.

The book begins with Greene joining the original Alice Cooper band for the recording of what would become their last studio album “Muscle of Love” in New York city. Greene would add background vocals. Under the leadership of Canadian producer Jack Richardson and his young assistant Jack Douglas this is one of the few books from that era that actually took us in to the recording studio and tried to explain the process, and the tedium of making a record. It’s a very interesting and historical look at the relationship between the two legendary producers as well as their respective styles to their craft. It also gives us out first glimpses at Alice at his creative peak relying on a diet of Budweiser and Seagram’s VO to get him through the day. Although not the main premise of the book this is some of the most interesting reading.

Bob Greene

After the pre-Christmas release of “Muscle Of Love” the “Holiday” tour was hatched. It was basically the “Billion Dollar Babies” tour with a few new songs and a few Christmas twists thrown in.  The boys headed out across North America complete with their jet “The Starship”.  Greene was to come out on stage near the end of every show dressed as Santa where he would be happily greeted by the band and then brutally pummelled.

The story focuses more about the relationship between the five original members of the band (Alice, Neal Smith, Dennis Dunaway, Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton), and their dealings with the crew and management personnel which moved the tour from city to city. It tells the story of being a road manager before fax machines, cell phones and emails, the story of middle America, and the story of a band falling apart. It also de-bunked many a myth about Alice and showed him to be much more the maniacal character he portrayed on stage. I have read this book so many times I feel like I was on that tour.

Years later when I had the good fortune of working with the now sober Alice he was the funny, engaging man portrayed in many parts of this book.

BILLION DOLLAR BABIES (The Album)

Open for debate but this is the quintessential Alice Cooper album. From the grand opening of “Hello Hooray” to the creepy finish of “I Love The Dead” there is not a weak moment. Produced by Canadian Bob Ezrin, the record covered everything from necrophilia to politics, dentistry to debauchery and covered them in a layer of dark humour.

The package itself makes one mourn for the demise of vinyl. Those who thought the band had peaked with the inclusion of a pair of paper panties in the desk of the “School’s Out” album were happy to find a billion dollar bill and a collection of “hockey” cards in the wallet-inspired packaging.

The English voice on the title track is pop star Donovan and the track “Hello Hooray’ was written by Canadian Rolf Kemp and first recorded by Judy Collins. Extra musicians on the album included Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter who would become part of Alice’s new band built around the album “Welcome To My Nightmare”.  Bob Ezrin and Alice reunited on the just released “Welcome 2 My Nightmare”.

Be Bop Deluxe

This summer I was standing out front of a King street West coffee shop discussing great concerts from the seventies with a friend of mine. I happened to mention a Be Bop Deluxe/City Boy double-bill at Seneca college and a passer-by sopped in his tracks and said “The band Be Bop Deluxe?” The three of us chatted for the next twenty minutes.

In what is sure to become a re-occurring theme in this column I bought their first album “Axe Victim” back in 1974 on the strength of it’s cover. I had befriended Don Ierullo who was one of the owners of Records On Wheels. Started in a double-decker bus the operation soon moved to their most famous location at 629 Yonge Street. I spent a lot of money at that store and their staff were usually right when they made a recommendation. I saw the album, a pricey $15 import, but there was no denying the power of the cover. If it was cool enough for the store it was cool enough for me. On the back of the cover they band looked like a harder version of The Sweet but on the inside the surprises were aplenty. Songs like “Adventures In A Yorkshire Landscape” with its John McLauglin style noodling and bird and jet sound effects and “Jet Silver And The Dolls Of Venus” with its Hunky Dory era Bowie-like sounds made me realize I had stumbled on to an important new band.

In 1975 the band has solidified in to their classic line-up of Bill Nelson, Simon Fox, Andrew Clarke and the late Charles Tumahai (one of  New Zealand’s first international rock stars). They recorded the album “Futurama”  with Roy Thomas Baker who was hot on the heels of his success with Queen. His influence could be heard on songs such as ‘Maid In Heaven’ and “Music In Dream Land”. As much as they looked glam they sounded a lot like guitar-driven prog rock.

With “Sunburst Finish”, featuring another provocative cover, the band finally found some chart success in their native England. “Ships In The Night” was a semi-successful single and “Fair Exchange” and “Music In Dream Land” solidified Nelson’s reputation as a guitarist.

For their last two studio albums “Modern Music” (1977) and  “Drastic Plastic” (1978 – released on white vinyl by Capital Records in Canada) the band shifted their sound to a more synth heavy Euro/New Wave style. It was at this point the band paid a few visits to Toronto with shows at Seneca College and a support gig for Nazareth at Maple Leaf Gardens. I interviewed the band for The New Music Magazine around this time and was struck by their charm. Charles and I kept in contact via post for years to come and somewhere buried are a couple of  handwritten letters on Be Bop stationary.

Nelson formed Red Noise at the end of the decade with Andrew Clarke and after one album moved on to a solo career. He had a couple of great singles with “Flaming Desire” and “Do You Dream In Colour” but his solo work never captured my imagination the same way that Be Bop Deluxe did. For a great overview of the band’s music pick up “Raiding The Divine Archives – The Best Of  Be Bop Deluxe”.

The Buddy Holly Story (Movie)

If you only know Gary Busey  from Entourage or Celebrity Apprentice do yourself a favour and hunt down a copy of this 1978 movie.  Busey is phenomenal as Holly and the under rated Charles Martin Smith makes a great Cricket. This one is available on DVD.

We now have an email where all of us here at Don’t Believe A Word I Say can be contacted dbawis@rogers.com. Please use it to ask questions, tell us what you would like to read about, links you would like to share, and, let’s hear what you have to say.

Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity. The Eye Opener, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

One Response to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s of Rock – B”

  1. Great insights on Alice Cooper, Cam. Him and Ezrin actually reunited in between “Nightmare 1” and “Nightmare 2”. Between 1980 and 1985, Ezrin was working regularly out of Phase One Studio in Scarborough where, in quick succession he recorded the monumentally derided KISS album ‘The Elder’, the grossly under appreciated Murray McLauchlan ROCK record “Storm Warning” (featuring guest appearances by KISS, Greg Godovitz, Mr. Zero from The Kings, and Carole Pope among others)….and, of course, Alice Cooper’s “Da Da” album which had some truly surreal material on it as Alice was trying to find his way through the post-new wave wasteland. “I Love America” is a stand-out track. The remainder, which was completed and mixed at ESP Studio in Buttonville [because they owned the only CMI Fairlight keyboard set-up in Canada] seems more like an Ezrin solo release with Alice special guesting…which is probably why fans mention this album in hushed tones 🙂

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