Legendary manager Shep Gordon and music icon Alice Cooper spent a hilarious and endearing 75 minutes at Pollstar Live in Los Angeles detailing how they made illustrious careers out of pissing off parents. The duo, who have worked together for 47 years, shared anecdote after anecdote about how they built and maintained the persona of Alice Cooper through shocking marketing and elaborate stage shows. The keynote shed light on how the unlikely pair fed off of mutual respect, trust, and a knack for shock and awe to create a lasting manager/artist relationship and friendship.

Shep and Bill Graham

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The discussion began with moderator and promoter Danny Zelisko, describing the first time he met Gordon in 1973. Zelisko was working security at an Alice Cooper show when he got knocked over backstage by two men in a fist fight.

“I get knocked over by two guys in the biggest brawl, the biggest fist fight I’ve ever been around in my life and it is Shep and Bill Graham,” Zelisko said.

“It was my first show with Bill and he had a reputation for having to have a fight at every show,” Gordon explained. “I came around the corner and he had Alice’s father up against the wall. I said ‘Leave him alone. That’s Alice’s father. You want to pick on someone pick on me.’ And he did.”

According to Shep, chairs were thrown and everything backstage ended up on the walls with food and drinks being thrown in all directions. Shep said he and Graham eventually patched up their relationship.

“If you could sell tickets, you got along with Bill. If you couldn’t sell tickets, you didn’t,” Shep said.

How Shep and Alice Met

supermenschAs detailed in his book Supermensch, Shep moved out to Los Angeles as a probation officer and quit the first night. He checked into a motel “dabbled with pharmaceuticals,” and heard a woman in distress. Shep ran to her aid, separated her from a guy, and she punched him because they were in the middle of making love.

“In the morning when I went to the pool it was Janis Joplin,” he said. “She was sitting with Jimi Hendrix and the Chambers Brothers. For me, as a ‘pharmaceutical salesman’ this was my target audience. I had struck gold.”

He had found his customers, but Hendrix told him that he needed a cover if the police inquired about his finances.

“[Hendrix] said, ‘You Jewish?’ and I said, ‘Yeah’ and he said you should be a manager,” Shep said. “Alice can take it from here.”

“Like any other band trying to make it in LA, we ended up living in the Chambers Brothers’ basement in Watts during the riots,” Alice chimed in.

Good friends with the Chambers Brothers, Hendrix got to know Alice and his band and told Shep they needed a manager. They went to meet Shep at the Landmark Hotel and entered a room that Cooper described as a “fog bank” with the likes of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin.

“I see Shep and he says, ‘I’m your new manager,'” Alice says. “He has a drawer full of grass and I said ‘This is our manager.'”

The Coming Out Party

“We sort of hit on the concept that it would be really easy to get parents to hate us which would get kids to love us. That was easier than getting hit records,” Shep said.

Shep was reading through a newspaper (a reliable resource for many of his gimmicks), when he noticed the flood of debutant parties happening in Pasadena, Calif.

“Alice Cooper sounded like a debutant,” Shep said. “What would get parents more disgusted than if we did an LSD coming out party for a debutant named Alice Cooper who was a guy?”

Shep sent out invitations to the Pasadena “blue bloods” and informed the LA Times’ debutant writers about a coming out party for an Alice Cooper. When they got to the door on the night of the party they were greeted by The Cockettes, a psychedelic theater group from San Francisco. The greeters were men dressed in drag and the group was notorious for their LSD fueled performances.

“Alice wanted to do a big cake and have someone come out of the cake and there was this 300 lb singer named TV Mama. So we made this pink cake for her to come out of and during rehearsal I thought wouldn’t it be great if TV Mama came out of the cake naked. That would really piss everybody off,” Shep told the audience. “So I went over to her manager and I said It’s a private audience, there won’t be any photos, is there any way I could get TV Mama to come out topless and he said ‘Son, to you she may be TV Mama, but to me she’s TV dinner. That’ll be $300.'”

Shep added, “I think that was the moment that Alice and I knew were different and that we could make this work.”

“The one thing we had in common was a vaudevillian sense of humor,” Cooper said.

Alice Cooper

The Piccadilly Poster

The first time Alice Cooper was headed to England, Shep incorrectly assumed their success in the States would carry over. Ticket sales were puny, according to Shep so he needed a way to bolster sales.

“We needed to get to the parents so they would tell their kids not to see Alice, which we knew would sell the tickets,” Shep said.

He asked a local what the most popular form of media was and was told it was the morning shows that mostly covered weather and traffic. He inquired about where the most traffic was, which turned out to be Piccadilly Circus in London. Alice had just done a naked photo shoot with a boa constrictor around his genitals so they blew one of the images up to 40-feet long and placed it on a truck at Piccadilly. Then they added girls in hot pants in front of the sign passing out flyers for the show. They did this twice, causing a traffic to backup and their pickup driver to be arrested.

“We wake up the next morning and we made the front page,” Shep said, displaying a photo of that day’s headline that read “Ban Alice the Horror Rocker.” “The show sold out in that day.”

“That was our formula,” he said. “What could we do that was disgusting enough to make people ban us.”

“There was nothing like this in rock’n’roll,” Cooper said. “There was no definitive villain in rock’n’roll and I wanted Alice to be the definitive villain.

Cooper continued, “We realized the more we could get banned, the bigger we’re going to be. We got banned in London and the record went right to number one.”

alice cooper

The Chicken Incident

In 1969, Gordon was asked to help put on the Toronto Peace Festival. Shep secured The Doors, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, among other big names. When the producers asked him how much money he wanted he said he didn’t want any money, but he wanted his relatively unknown band Alice Cooper to go on between John Lennon and The Doors. The producers of the event obliged.

Towards the end of the performance, the band had a machine blowing around thousands of feathers and unbeknownst to Cooper, Shep releases a live chicken onto the stage.

“I’m from Detroit. I’ve never been on a farm in my life,” Cooper said. “It had feathers. It had wings. It should fly. So I pick it up and throw it in the audience and chickens don’t fly so much as they plummet.”

The audience at the Toronto Peace Festical tore the bird to pieces, creating a legendary music story that continues to be told.

“The kicker to that is the first six rows were all in wheelchairs. They’re the ones that tore the chicken apart and through the parts back on stage. The next day on the paper it was Alice Cooper Kills Chicken and Eats Its Blood.”

Cooper added, “There was no internet then. It was all word of mouth. If I brought a two-foot snake on stage the next day it was 35-feet long and it ate three people in the audience.”

The Faulty Cannon

For their first stadium show at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Shep went to one of the prop guys to inquire about a cannon to shoot Alice out of. The prop guy exuded confidence about the stunt and Gordon made the mistake of announcing in the papers that Alice would be shot out of a cannon.

Shep explained the plan was to have Alice enter the cannon then crawl into a trap door. The dummy would get put in and they would have a distraction that would waste time while Alice went to where the dummy would land.

“When we first got the idea of pissing off parents we did a show with see-through clothes so we could get busted for indecent exposure,” Shep said. “By the time the police came the clothes had fogged up so we didn’t get arrested. We learned you have to rehearse.”

When they tested the cannon, the dummy barely sputtered out and Shep called it the worst thing he had ever seen.

“Alice gets to the show the next day and asks if I’ve figured it out. I said yeah, but you’re probably not going to like it,” Shep explained. “I have a feeling you’re going to end up in a hospital tonight.”

That night they set up the cannon to explode and staged the entire incident with ambulances and fake blood. Shep fed a story to the newscasters that the band may not be able to perform the following night due to injuries.

“Then I had a roadie dress as a doctor and he did a press conference saying the band could do the show, but a few guys might be in wheelchairs, Shep said. “We went and did the show with Dennis in a wheelchair and had nurses come out and changed plasma. And the next day the paper said this is the greatest entertainer in the world. Who else would come from a hospital bed to do this show?”

Shep said, Alice “never beats me up if I make the wrong choice, which I think is the strength of our relationship. We support each other when either one of us has a weak moment.”

“If something ever happens that is a disaster, the very first thought for both of us is how do we make this work?” Cooper added.

“This is a great example of how important it is in a relationship with artists that the artist allows you to fail, because we had plenty of failures,” Shep said. “That’s the strength of our relationship for 47 years. Alice lets me go out on the cliff and sometimes you fall off.”

“Sometimes I push him,” Alice responded.

Taylor Mims

Taylor Mims

News Editor at Amplify
Taylor Mims is Amplify's News Editor. She is a Los Angeles native and received her Masters in Creative Writing from Cal State Long Beach.
Taylor Mims

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