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Talking with Alice Cooper Music Producer Bob Ezrin

Talking with Alice Cooper Music Producer Bob Ezrin

Many years ago, talking to Bob Ezrin was a great thrill for me because he produced some of the records that were most important to me throughout my life, like the ‘70s work of Alice Cooper, Destroyer from Kiss, and of course, Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Now, for MadeLoud, I revisited my talk with Ezrin. It has given me an even greater appreciation for him as a producer and for the albums he guided to greatness.

Bob Ezrin: I’ve been into music my whole life. I started studying music when I was five and I took classical piano, jazz piano, and composition lessons. I really taught myself how to orchestrate. I bought a couple of books and called a couple of friends when I had questions. I also learned a lot just by doing it. Some of the world’s most expensive demo sessions happened by simply deciding that on an Alice Cooper album we were going to have a string section and a couple of horns! I didn’t tell anybody at the time that I really didn’t know how to write for them, but that I was going to learn by the day of the session.

One day, Alice Cooper’s manager, Shep Gordon, realized what Alice Cooper really needed in life was to have that Guess Who sound. How he made that leap I have no idea, but somehow he determined their producer, Jack Richardson, was the man for Alice. I was working as a kind of junior to Jack. Shep brought in the early Alice Cooper records and scared everybody to death in the office. Nobody wanted anything to do with them.

I agreed to go see the band at Max’s Kansas City. I walked into an underworld of people who looked stranger than any group of people I’d ever seen in my life. They were all really bone thin, pasty, had black fingernails, long muttonchops, had all the strangest accessories, rings, bracelets and all kinds of crap I’ve never seen before.

My friend and I sat down at the table in front of the stage, and when the lights came up I found myself eighteen inches away from Alice Cooper. I watched the whole set and by the time it was over were wide eyed and slack jawed. Overwhelmed. I said, “What the fuck was that?” He said, “I don’t know, but I think I liked it." I said, "I think I loved it."

I went back to Toronto and stood on Jack Richardson’s desk. I wouldn’t stop talking about what I’d seen. “This is not about music, it’s a cultural movement. This is the beginning of something where they had sets and props, the audience dressed like them, wore make-up like them, and we’ve got to get in on this.” Finally, the guys I worked for said, just to get me off their back, “Okay, if you like it so much, YOU do it.” That’s how I became a producer.

At Max’s Kansas City, I heard Alice playing a song, and I thought what he sang was, “I’m edgy, and I don’t know what I want.” So I thought the song was “Edgy.” Jeez, this is fuckin’ great, I thought. Let’s put out a really edgy song. And it’s even called "Edgy"! The band used to laugh at me every time I said that until I realized the name of the song was “Eighteen.” But I did feel it was an edgy song, and that’s what I was trying to capture. When I worked with Alice, the music got a little more disciplined and focused. We kept a lot of the madness; we just controlled it and aimed it.

Love It To Death took a couple of weeks to record, and was mixed in eighteen hours, one shot. Then we had some success with it, so we were allowed a huge budget for Killer. We were allowed five weeks altogether. We were even able to spend three days on the mix! That was a major extravagance for us. “You mean we don’t have to do it all in one sitting? We can actually go to sleep in-between sides one and two?”

On Welcome to My Nightmare, I was the one who talked Vincent Price into doing the album. I said, “Mr. Price, how would you like to make your rock and roll debut?,” which he thought was such a ridiculous concept he couldn’t pass it up.

We did the session for “The Black Widow” on the telephone. I was in Toronto, he was in L.A.. I wrote the script the night before, got him on the phone the next day in a studio. We read the script over the phone to someone who was working for Alice, he gave a copy to Mr. Price, and we discussed what we were looking for. He did a read, I listened over the phone, I’d give him a few pointers...the whole thing took an hour at best.

With the Destroyer album, I think we consciously went after trying to reinvent Kiss. In fact, I’ve sort of done that with them three times. Twice successfully, with Destroyer and Revenge, and once unsuccessfully with The Elder. Basically that seems to be my role in their lives when they need something to push them forward or make some kind of change. When they’ve needed someone to help them find a direction when they’ve seemed to be lost, that’s when they’ve turned to me. Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re wrong, but when we were right, we were really right. On Destroyer, we were extremely right.

The Wall was a concept Roger (Waters, of Pink Floyd) first talked to me about in ’76 or ’77 when they were going through North America on the Animals tour. We were on our way to a show, and he was saying, “You know, I hate them,” meaning the audience. “I want to spit on them. I want to piss on them. I feel like there’s such a separation between me and them; I feel like I should build this wall between us. In fact, I’m going to do this show where I play on the other side of a wall.” Then I got the call asking if I’d like to work on it.

I went to Roger Waters’ place in England, and he played me the original demo for The Wall which was like a ninety-minute long song. It started, and just kept going, but at that time it didn’t really have any sort of commercial potential. In fact, it wasn’t even really organize able in its form. But it was the genesis of a great idea.

It became quite apparent that there were some holes in the storyline, some shortcomings in the concept, and certainly some musical holes in that we had no (David) Gilmour at this point. Roger really wanted it to be his baby, his project, his thing.

David Gilmour and I immediately hit it off. I lobbied for Gilmour to be more involved and got more of his stuff in there, plus I’m trying to make Roger’s stuff more musical. I really lobbied to fill holes in the structure with Gilmour material because my feeling was we had a lot of Roger’s angst and intellect at that point, (but) what we were really missing was Gilmour's influence and heart.

I knew “Another Brick in the Wall Part Two” was a hit the first time I heard it. At first, there were no kids on it. It was one verse, one chorus and out. I said to the band, “That’s too short, we need it as a single.” Roger didn’t want any singles. “It’s a smash and we have to have it. We need two verses and two choruses,” and they said “Nope.” I copied it, and if you listen, it’s the same verse and chorus twice.

We went to the Arts High School around the corner of the studio, and recorded these kids in the stairwells. Having done “School’s Out” with Alice Cooper, I knew the effect of kids, particularly in anything that has to do with school! I played it for Roger as a surprise, the grin on his face was unbelievable. From that point on, he not only got it, but I think he probably believed it was his idea in the first place (laughs)!

The helicopter on the album was a real helicopter that we recorded out at Edwards Air Force Base. We put a couple of PZM mics out on the tarmac, and got some seriously good stereo! We didn’t do anything by half measure, and I loved that about Roger. He never opted for the easy way, or rather, you’d be surprised because he’d go for easy things on some of the stuff that other musicians would drive themselves crazy over, like a harmony part. He’d sing it, “Close enough! Great! Next!” But, if you wanted a sound effect, you went for the real thing. If you wanted the sound of English school kids, you went to an English school.

The Wall was the hardest album I’ve ever done from the point of view of just sheer work and bulk. It was a very difficult job, but it was thrilling because it was such a pure vision, and it worked. When I finally got all four sides of the album done and I could play them 1,2,3,4 in order, I broke down and cried because it was such a release. So many months in construction, pounding away, fighting with things, bending, adapting, and going without to get that final product.

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