For a period of the early 70's, there was no band in America as big as Alice Cooper. Despite being named after the iconic frontman, Alice Cooper were a true rock n' roll band. A group of musicians whose energy and chemistry were as tight and focused as the image. Made up of Neal Smith (drums), Dennis Dunaway (bass), Michael Bruce (rhythm guitar), Glen Buxton (lead guitar) and, of course, Alice on vocals, the band created a wave of riff-laden rock as visceral and commanding as anything heard to this day.
Speaking to Gibson.com, the band open up about their sound and style of playing which played such a huge part in the evolution of the band.
"We always tried to make the guitar parts as meaningful to the tunes as we could," Dunaway says. "Michael had a clean, cutting sound, and distinct notes, whereas Glen was more about feel, and was more edgy and loose. Glen's playing was like an angry hornet. He would bend notes, and play notes where he didn't pick every note. And he used a spoon for a slide. He did lots of things that were unconventional."
Both Bruce and Buxton used Gibson SGs to compose and play the band's dual-guitar rockers. Guitar forums are rife with speculation about the gear each used, but Smith and Bruce offered clarification.
"Glen's main guitar was a white SG [Custom] with three humbuckers and a Bigsby B-5 tremolo," said Smith, in 2010. "Michael played an SG - a burgundy one - as well. They each had a really different sound, especially on-stage. Michael had a big, meaty, solid sound, whereas Glen liked to use the tremolo bar a lot. There was lot more jazz in Glen's playing." (Note: Buxton also played an early '60s SG Custom fitted with a maestro tailpiece.)
Bruce spoke about why the SG was, for him, the perfect guitar. "My fingers aren't very long, and other guitars just didn't feel right," he said. "I play really hard, and press down hard on the frets. It's not exactly the feathery touch that someone like, say, Eric Clapton has. The SG allows me to play that way. I remember my first SG, which had a single-coil black pickup. Later, I got an SG Special, with two [P-90] humbuckers, and put my original single-coil pickups in that guitar. That gave it a really nice fat sound. Glen and I liked to do these long, droning things, and the SGs were perfect for that."
"I love [riffs and melodies]," said Bruce, "but I also love playing something like 'Muscle of Love,' which is very physical, and very in-your-face. Those riffs - 'Be My Lover,' 'I'm Eighteen,' 'Under My Wheels,' 'Elected' - usually came from just sitting around and tinkering on the guitar. 'Halo of Flies,' from Killer, was comprised of parts left over from other songs. I used to play those parts, in order, as a warm-up exercise, and we took them and created a song from them. I know my limitations. I'm not a great soloist. I can write simple leads, but what I really like to do is go for interesting chord structures."
"Michael would often play in the open-chord position, and Glen would play the same chord further up the neck," Dunaway reveals. "The intro to 'Long Way to Go' is a good example. It sounds like one rhythm guitar, but it's actually two guitars, doubled. But the real dynamic, in the case of Glen and Michael, is that they had totally different styles and sounds, and yet they complemented one another without creating distraction or conflict. They were masters of that."
Smith agrees: "Michael and Glen orchestrated their guitar parts. On some songs they played the same line, but one might be an octave different from the other. And sometimes, instead of two guitars playing harmony, Glen would play in a way that would reinforce the bass guitar. That was something he did that was really different."
Unfortunately, Buxton's death in 1997 occurred years before the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Still, according to Cooper, much of the band's original chemistry is ignited whenever the surviving members play together. Smith, Bruce and Dunaway all contributed to Cooper's most recent album, Welcome 2 My Nightmare.
"When we played together at the Hall of Fame ceremony, it was like we had never missed a day," Cooper said, in September of 2011. "I know exactly how Neal plays, and the same is true of Mike and Dennis. They each have their own touch when it comes to our music. It's in their DNA, and it's built into the way they play."