True-Life Rock Tales

    Hitchhiking with Alice Cooper

    Issue 132

    It was late 1968 when my friend, the late Barry Byrens, said to me, “Linc,” (he loved calling me that), “you need to get rid of that motorcycle and get a car, a convertible.” At the time I was subletting a cabin in Laurel Canyon and in fact had not thought about a car. I liked my motorcycle, but it was winter in LA and riding the bike at night was chilly.

    Ken Sander looking pretty mod back in the day.

    Ken Sander looking pretty mod back in the day.

    Two days later I was at his house in West Hollywood up in the hills at 8929 St. Ives, just above Gil Turner’s liquor store at Doheny and Sunset Blvd. Barry had the newspaper open and said, “I found you a car at this car lot on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood.” He drove me down there in his Lincoln, a hardtop convertible.

    We got there and it was a 1964 copper-colored Chevy Corvair convertible. Barry, me, and the salesman took it for a test drive. On a side street south of Sunset I tried to turn the car around and stalled it. It had a stick shift, so I pushed in the clutch and brake. I turned the key to restart it and the Corvair rolled backwards a foot or so and hit a fire hydrant. I don’t think I pressed the brake hard enough. Getting out, we saw a small ding put in the trunk just above the license plate. I was horrified at what I had done, but the salesman said “no sweat” and we continued the test drive, then left.

    Two days later Barry found another Corvair convertible but this one was a light blue 1966. We went down and after the test drive, I was sold. It was $999. I plunked down $250 down and the payments would be $48 a month. I drove it back to Barry’s house. Later that day the salesman from the first car lot called and said, “your car is ready to be picked up.” I looked at Barry (I did not know what to say) and he took the phone from me. Barry said, “he doesn’t want the car!” “Why not?” the salesman asked. “He just doesn’t want it,” and then the salesman started getting pushy. Finally, after a back-and-forth Barry says, “he doesn’t want it because it has a dent in the trunk!” The salesman was speechless, and Barry told him to fu*k off and hung up.

    A 1966 Corvair like the one Ken owned.

    A 1966 Corvair like the one Ken owned.

    My best new toy ever, it is my first car, and driving with the top down is a beautiful thing. Barry was right. One night I am driving up Doheny Drive going to Barry’s house to hang out and I see a hitchhiker. He has long hair and looks like one of us, so I pull over and pick him up. He introduces himself as “Alice Cooper.” Interesting, I think to myself; there must be a story here. “Unusual name,” I say to Alice, and he explains that it is his stage persona and the name of his band. “This is not a sexual identity thing either,” he quickly adds. He goes on to explain that he had recently formed the band and they were in rehearsal here in Hollywood.

    Alice Cooper in the early days.

    Alice Cooper in the early days.

    I tell him I am from New York City and he says he is from Phoenix. I say that is not far from Los Angeles, and Alice answers that in fact it is very far from LA We both have a laugh at that one. They are getting ready for their debut. I had met more than a few musicians in Los Angeles who had told me that they were forming a band and rehearsing – and never heard of them again. But I got the feeling that this Alice Cooper guy was more realistic and solid, so I thought it might happen with for him. We got to Alice’s destination and he asked me to stop and drop him off.

    I loved this Hollywood life; so friendly with everyone just hanging out. Whenever I had no plans for the evening, I would go to Ben Frank’s on Sunset to hang out. the parking lot was always packed with girls and long-haired guys, a couple of hundred young folks just milling around and getting to know each other. In New York we had something similar to that at the Bethesda fountain in Central Park, where the hippies, freaks and musicians would hang out, but the scene would only be happening on Sunday afternoons.

    One night I am at Ben Frank’s with Jon Lane, my (late) friend from New York City who was visiting me, and these two girls I had seen around came up to us and asked if we wanted to go party with them. Tempting, but we were hungry and were planning to go inside to Ben Frank’s and have dinner, so we passed. A couple of nights later we were back in the parking lot and this kid I kind of knew came over to us and said, “you know Audrey and her friend, right?” The guy tells me they had died. What? Yeah, he says, they overdosed on heroin; the police found them. Jonny turned to me and said, “that could have been us.” Even though we didn’t do smack, they might have convinced us to try it.

    That, I was beginning to find out, was the other side of Hollywood life. As open and friendly as things were, there was another side that was dangerous, with quick turns and sudden deaths. All kinds of different people come to Southern California. New York City is the melting pot of the world, and Los Angeles is the melting pot for young Americans.

     

    Maybe a couple of weeks or so later I see Alice Cooper hitching again. He jumps in my car and I told him I was going to a friend’s house to hang out and if he wanted, he could come too. It wouldn’t quite be a party but there would be people there listening to music and most would be smoking. Alice says, “I don’t smoke pot.” I replied, “really?” He answered, “I don’t have a problem with it but I personally do not like it.” “Oh, so what do you do? “I love beer’ Budweiser in fact.” I am not sure if they will have beer and Alice says, “let’s stop somewhere so I can pick up some Bud.”

    I think we stopped at Gil Turner’s and he ran in and bought a six pack of Bud. Then we drove to my friend’s house and joined the scene. That was the thing about LA – you could just drop in on anyone you knew, and it was okay. You would show up they would invite you in and ask if you wanted to smoke.

    After about a half an hour I look over and see Alice on the floor sitting with his back leaning against the wall and drinking a can of beer. He had two empties on the floor and was working on his third. No one was drinking with him; it was a pot crowd, but he looked comfortable, fit in and seemed like he was enjoying himself. The evening went on and after a couple of hours I left with a girl and we went to my cabin in Laurel Canyon.

     

    One afternoon the rock group Love showed up to the cabin and we all hung out and partied. Love, led by the brilliant but eccentric Arthur Lee, were one of the leading bands on the LA scene during the mid to late 1960s. However, Arthur Lee wasn’t with them when they showed up. I asked about it and the band said that they had parted ways. The often-unruly Lee was quick to fire musicians.

    I have been told that Roger Daltrey said that Arthur Lee was on the spectrum. In their earlier days, the members of Love lived in a decrepit Hollywood mansion once owned by Bela Lugosi, and consumed large quantities of drugs. Arthur Lee and Love evolved from the group formerly known as Grass Roots (not the Grass Roots that had many hit singles) and were known in LA for their spirited and entertaining live performances. Arthur was immensely proud of his racially-mixed band, one of the first in rock and roll. In late 1966 the three hottest bands in Los Angeles were The Byrds, The Doors and Love.

    Love’s Forever Changes was released in 1967 and was and still is considered a masterpiece. The name of the album comes from a story Arthur had heard. This guy had broken up with his girlfriend. She exclaimed, “You said you would love me forever!” and the guy replied, “Well, forever changes.” The album was brilliant but did not sell as well as expected. Arthur, being very volatile, changed band personnel frequently. (In 1995 he was wrongfully convicted of a gun charge and, being his third strike, his career was interrupted by a prison sentence until 2001. After prison, Arthur formed a new band and toured and made some records. However, even though he was much more disciplined, he never again achieved his earlier promise. Sadly, he passed away from leukemia in 2006 at the age of 61.)

     

    Some weeks later I am driving my Corvair with the top down and see Alice Cooper walking up on Sunset. I yelled to him asking if he needed a ride. With a friendly wave he said no and kept on walking east towards the Old World restaurant. The next time I saw Alice was when I was in Chicago on tour with Nektar in 1974. By this time he had become a huge star with songs like “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out.” We said a quick hello to each other in the lobby of the upscale Chicago Holiday Inn on Lake Shore Drive.

    In 1994 I was an on-air technology correspondent and host for The Cable Doctor Show, and was covering the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. I saw that Alice Cooper was making a celebrity appearance. “Meet Alice Cooper and his Mother.” An unusual scenario, but there he was in an exhibitor’s booth, posing for Polaroid pictures with his mother. I went over and he introduced me to his mom and said, “you look different with short hair! And what is with the jacket and tie?” In response I told him I was a technology journalist on television, but that he looked exactly the same, and as you can see, that made him smile. That smile reminded me of when I first met him. He certainly has come a long way for a kid named Vince from Phoenix. I think this is pretty much the way he planned it.

    Alice Cooper, Ken Sander and Alice's mom, CES 1994.

    Alice Cooper, Ken Sander and Alice’s mom, CES 1994.

    Postscript: Alice Cooper is still making new music. On February 26 he released his latest album, Detroit Stories.

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