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
"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
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
"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
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
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."
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