Elected! A Brief History of Alice Cooper’s Amazing Guitarists
Like his peers David Bowie and Lou Reed, Alice Cooper always has had an exceptionally keen eye for selecting guitarists who were perfect for what he was trying to accomplish at any given time. In the beginning, of course, those recruitment skills were unnecessary, as the original Alice Cooper group had a ready-made, sensational six-string duo in place. But starting with his debut solo album, Welcome to My Nightmare, the veteran shock rocker has partnered with a series of players who invariably have dazzled. Below are 10 of those richly talented MVPs.
Had he done nothing more than come up with his best-known riff – for “School’s Out” – Glen Buxton’s place in rock history would be assured. Fact is, along with fellow SG aficionado Michael Bruce, Buxton helped shape the original Alice Cooper band into textbook practitioners of riff-stoked garage pop. “Glen was about ‘feel,’ and was edgy and loose,” bassist Dennis Dunaway told Gibson.com in a 2007 interview. “His 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.”
“Be My Lover,” “Under My Wheels” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy” merely skim the surface of great Alice Cooper songs that came primarily from the pen of guitarist Michael Bruce. Interestingly, Bruce came to see his role in the original Alice Cooper band as analogous to a rhythm section. “Neal [Smith] was more about cymbals and tom-toms, as opposed to bass drum and snare, so he was like a ‘lead’ drummer,” Bruce explains. “Dennis [Dunaway] was all over the place on bass, so he treated the bass like a lead instrument as well. And of course Glen played lead guitar. My job was to create something everyone could play along to. I was the guy who held down the fort.”
Having filled in for Glen Buxton on much of Billion Dollar Babies and Muscle of Love, Steve Hunter remained with Alice when the singer launched his solo career. He and his six-sting cohort Dick Wagner comprised one of rock’s greatest-ever dual-guitar teams, packing Welcome to My Nightmare and subsequent Cooper albums with an explosive one-two punch. Hunter toured with Cooper for four years – from 1975 through 1978 – before moving on to work with Peter Gabriel, Meat Loaf and other artists.
So formidable was Dick Wagner’s role in the Hunter-Wagner powerhouse partnership, people sometimes forget that he was also an indispensable co-writer in the first phase of Cooper’s solo career. “Only Women Bleed,” which he penned with Cooper for the first Nightmare album, may well be the most covered song of Alice’s career. A prototypical Wagner-Cooper power ballad, “Something to Remember Me By,” appears on the just-released Nightmare follow-up, Welcome 2 My Nightmare.
Mike Pinera is one of those rare guitarist-songwriters whose name recognition pales in relation to his best-known work. With his early ’70s band, Blues Image, Pinera co-wrote and sang the 1970 smash hit, “Ride Captain Ride,” which is now a classic-rock staple. Ten years later, in 1980, he became Cooper’s main guitarist, serving as the driving six-string force on 1981’s Special Forces album and the 1982 disc, Zipper Catches Skin. Pinera performs to this day as a member of the Classic Rock All-Stars.
Not only did Alice embrace sobriety in the mid-’80s, he also made a stellar six-string choice in the person of Kane Roberts. Known for his muscle-man physique, Roberts helped lead a Cooper comeback with the albums Constrictor and Raise Your Fist and Yell, both of which featured Kane’s co-writing as well as his searing guitar work. “Alice wanted a heavier image in terms of sonic impact, something that would deliver the new music, the new show, with a deep resonance while preserving the essence of the Alice Cooper experience,” Roberts later commented. “As we began to write, we soon sensed that a resurgence of Alice was about to hit, and we rode that energy.”
Stef Burns’s first big break came in 1984, when he landed a cherished role as Sheila E.’s guitarist. For two years he toured with the gifted drummer-singer, honing his chops while opening for Prince during the latter’s Purple Rain tour. Years later, Joe Satriani recommended Burns to Alice during the making of the 1991 album, Hey Stoopid. Burns shared the six-string spotlight with many other guitarists on that album, but on the stellar 1994 disc, The Last Temptation, he alone played every six-string note.
Tommy Henriksen joined the Cooper team in the wake of 1991’s Hey Stoopid, first as a guitar and keyboard technician, and then as a touring player. Twenty years later, Henriksen came back on-board as Alice’s primary co-writer, guitarist, bassist and all-round Man Friday for the Welcome 2 My Nightmare album. He’s now part of Alice’s touring band.
Ryan Roxie joined the Cooper brigade in 1996, having been recommended by Gilby Clarke. What began as a “one-year” tour stretched to nearly a decade, as Roxie applied his brilliant six-string work (and co-writing skills) to 2000’s Brutal Planet, 2001’s Dragontown, 2003’s The Eyes of Alice Cooper and 2005’s Dirty Diamonds. To this day, Roxie refers to his cherished Les Paul Goldtop, procured when he was a still a teenager, as “his first girlfriend.”
Tapped by Michael Jackson to be his lead guitarist for the This is It extravaganza, guitar sensation Orianthi might have seen her career stumble in the wake of Jackson’s tragic death. Instead, she’s since comported herself with grace and maturity, moving on to mix solo work with several high-profile collaborative projects. Alice recently recruited the amazing six-stringer to be part of his touring band. “She’s a premier lead guitarist,” he said. “She can really shred.”