Tag Archives: Alice Cooper

From Straight To Bizarre: Zappa, Beefheart, Alice Cooper and L.A.’s Lunatic Fringe

Going back to the first time I ever heard Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, I remember wondering, “What is going on here?”

The second thought immediately following this was “Who on Earth would release this?”

Even today, Trout Mask Replica stands out as a left-field landmark, an impressive opus that may not sound like a masterpiece upon first listen, but its creative seeds begin to plant themselves immediately afterwards causing each subsequent listen to reveal an additional layer of complete brilliance.

So it goes without saying that the record company that had the impossible foresight to allow such a document to grow to fruition must most certainly be run by a special person.

The label was originally called Bizarre and it eventually transformed into Straight Records. The men responsible for these forward-looking labels were Frank Zappa and his manager Herb Cohen. Together, they drew up a contract with Warner Brothers for Zappa’s material, and they secured a vanity label with the company so that Frank and Herb could offer artists an outlet for their creativity.

From Straight To Bizarre: Zappa, Beefheart, Alice Cooper and LA’s Lunatic Fringe chronicles the origins of Zappa and Cohen’s record company all the way to its ultimate collapse amid bad feelings and obligatory lawsuits. It’s recommended to any fan of Zappa or Beefheart that’s interested in learning more about this very creative time for both of them and the strange business plan that Zappa hatched in turning documents of L.A.’s self-described freaks into recording stars.

What’s striking is how patient Zappa seems to be with these people, some of whom have clear mental issues that far outweigh any attempt at assisting their artistic endeavors. Others are just plain opportunistic, part of the scene because they invited themselves and invented a second-life persona that was either hiding their real history because of how awful it was or how bland it looked on paper.

For some reason not explained on film, (none of the interviews presented in this feature Zappa) Frank felt these enigmatic characters deserved documenting. He began on a quest to transform a paranoid schizophrenic named Wild Man Fischer who spent his days selling his stream-of-questionable-consciousness songs for a dime, essentially panhandling his lunacy for tourists and passers-by.

For most of us, these characters are minor annoyances on our way to work, but to Frank, Fischer was part of the landscape of this social freak culture he was attempting to document. Fischer thought he’d sound like the Beatles when Frank finished, but when Zappa presented an album with not only Fischer’s primitive compositions, but his crazed existence in the form of field recordings, he got mad.

The Wild Man–true to his name–flung a flower pot too close for comfort at the head of a very young Moon Unit Zappa, trying to process how An Evening With Wild Man Fischer wasn’t as big as Meet The Beatles.

After that event, Fischer was never allowed in the Zappa house again and his debut record has never been re-released to this day because of bad feelings. I verified this online where the lowest priced copy of An Evening With I found on a recent scan of eBay (VG rating) had a starting price of $20 with better quality copies ranging from $50-$100.

The GTO’s get ample screen time on From Straight To Bizarre with Pamela Des Barres and Miss Mercy spouting on about meaningless stories of getting high with the Magic Band and defining what exactly constitutes being a groupie. Out of all of the label’s releases, the GTO’s Permanent Damage may stand as the most unnecessary record ever made, but according to the film, Zappa tolerated their limit talents and unprofessional behavior in the studio.

Thankfully, a great deal of time is spend on Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica and the power that he exerted over the band during this period. It’s clear from Magic Band members John French (Drumbo) and Bill Harkleroad (Zoot Horn Rollo) that the Captain initiated a regime of cultdom that French later referred to as “Masonesque.”

You get the sense that Zappa himself was aware of this treatment, yet gave a wide birth between being concerned with their welfare and allowing his old friend Don Van Vliet to have what he wanted most: total creative freedom. In his defense, Zappa did give the Magic Band a hot meal every so often out of pity.

During the period where they were considered a band, Alice Cooper also maneuvered into a contract with the label based on an audition that Vince Furnier misheard to take place at nine in the morning at the Zappa cabin in Laurel Canyon instead of Frank’s preferred time of nine in the evening.

Frank also caught an Alice Cooper gig that witnessed half the audience leaving in disgust, which meant that Zappa simply had to agree to sign them based on principle alone. By the time of their third album Love It To Death, the band had finally found a new producer who captured their essence into a palatable offering, led by the enormously successful “I’m Eighteen.”

With that record in 1971, the logo of Straight Records was all that was left before the Zappa/Cohen project was phased out of discussion along with Zappa’s own contract with Warners.

I haven’t even touched on signings like the a capella gospel vocal group The Persuasions, Tim Buckley’s Starsailor release, as well as Mother’s member Jeff Simmons’s solo album. They’re all included in the discussions during From Straight To Bizarre, which makes the film a bit heavy at over two-and-a-half hours in length.

You may get a bit winded by all of the talking heads throughout the feature, helping to assist in the film’s girth and you may get very sick of the original musical music they use each time the conversation focuses on Beefheart. There are samples of some of the label’s artists, but as a matter to save money, the producers must have bargained a lower number to someone familiar with Beefheart’s repertoire to come up with a cheesy facsimile.

Cheap tactics aside, the film does prove to be a good reference point for any up-and-coming Zappa fan looking to see how far his influence extended into the late sixties. It’s also a nice document of one of the most successful avant-garde record companies that ever benefited from a major record label and a reminder of how different the system was when it came to harvesting talent beyond the pool of commercial ambition.

Trailer: Frank Zappa – Straight To Bizarre

Note: Amazon pulled its listing for some reason (Google cache) but you can still order it from MVD or Chrome Dreams UK.

Lost Classic: Alice Cooper – Love It To Death

Alice Cooper - Love It To DeathAlice CooperLove It To Death (Warner Bros.)

Thanks to his recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I pulled out my old vinyl copy of Alice Cooper’s Love It To Death and confirmed: It’s about fucking time.

I’m one of those “Alice Cooper is a band” supporters, the kind of fan who understands that theatrics are only half of the equation. The other half is a raw outfit of musicians who made those theatrics frightening.

Continue reading Lost Classic: Alice Cooper – Love It To Death

Alice Cooper – Detroit City

The Eyes of Alice CooperAmazon: Alice Cooper: “Detroit City” (Free MP3)

I missed this when it came out in 2003. But Amazon’s got the MP3 for free, so I checked it out. And if you’re a fan of big, dumb rock and roll, you should check it out too. He had me at the opening verse: “Me and Iggy / were giggin’ with Ziggy / and kickin’ with the MC5.” AMG says that the MC5‘s Wayne Kramer even plays guitar on this track.

After namechecking both the Nuge and the Seeg, we’re brought relatively up to date with an explanation of what the current roster of the Detroit music scene was up to back then: “The Kid was in his crib / Shady wore a bib / and the Posse wasn’t even alive.” I wonder if Jack White feels slighted. Then again, this was recorded before Elephant launched the White Stripes into the mainstream stratosphere.

Alice Cooper: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki

101 Reasons This Is the Greatest Rock and Roll Photo Ever

©1970 & 2009 Pat Appleson Studios, Inc. - www.appleson.com   All Rights Reserved, Used by Permission

©1970 & 2009 Pat Appleson Studios, Inc. – www.appleson.com All Rights Reserved, Used by Permission

1. The bass player’s mustache.

2. The drum set-up: six (count ’em!) kick drums.

3. Seger’s pants.

4. The fact that Seger’s guitar strap matches those pants.

5. The absolutely blissed out look on the drummer’s face.

6. Are they playing on the top floor of a barn?

7. The custom paint job on Seeg’s guitar. That’s the same guitar he played when he looked like this.

8. Drummer’s wearing a dog collar.

9. That sheet covering the piano (or is it the PA?) has little pink flowers on it.

10. Seger’s brown wifebeater.

11. Seriously, look at that drum concoction over the drummer’s head. Have you ever seen anything like that? Even Tommy Lee never dreamed up anything as insane as that.

Continue reading 101 Reasons This Is the Greatest Rock and Roll Photo Ever

Louder Than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story

Video: Louder Than Love – The Grande Ballroom Story

This looks awesome. I love that the trailer uses the Bob Seger System‘s “Heavy Music.” De-fucking-troit!

The filmmakers’ Facebook page claims a release date of Summer 2010, but they also say they “have more scheduled interviews in early 2010,” so we’ll see. Let’s hope this one has better luck than the ill-fated MC5 documentary, A True Testimonial.

Check out flickr’s collection of recent rotted interior shots. It’s way beyond repair. Sad.