Catching Up With…
Known for his blistering attack on hits like “School’s Out,” “I’m Eighteen,” and “Billion Dollar Babies” by Alice Cooper, with whom he played between 1967 and 1974, Neal Smith has since expanded his skills to include producing and composing. In 2011 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with the rest of the “shock rock” band (lead singer Vincent Furnier legally adopted the group’s name for his own solo career in the mid-’70s) and appeared on three songs on the singer’s album Welcome 2 My Nightmare. Last year he released the third installment of his KillSmith series, KillSmith and the Greenfire Empire, which he’s currently using as the jumping-off point of an ambitious concert/film/stage presentation.
“The story begins in tranquil, Walt Disney–esque environs,” Smith explains, “while on the other side of the world a poor boy is born in the jungles of South America. He becomes a bully with no friends and sets out to explore the world around him. He discovers a tablet that was used as a sacrificial drug by his ancestors. Through a snake called a bushmaster whose venom is mixed into the drug, one can travel to the future or past. As you might guess, trouble ensues as individuals battle over its acquisition. There will also be a thirty-page booklet of illustrations and song lyrics to accompany the CD. My short-term goal is to produce some videos and see if we can find an audience.”
About his recent involvement with his old Cooper bandmates, Smith says, “It was great. For ten years I’d been trying to do something with the original crew, including producer Bob Ezrin, but everybody was so busy. Initially, since we were all scattered across the country, I needed workable demos along with click tracks. So Bob and Alice brought some outside players in and recorded demos with rough vocals. I had those to work with and just elaborated on the drum parts from there.”
Smith chuckles when asked about a running gag between him and the Who’s Keith Moon about who had the most drums on stage. “That’s kind of an urban legend that Alice started,” Neal says. “But yes, I was surely influenced by Keith, and by Ginger Baker, especially in terms of playing double bass. Cozy Powell and Mitch Mitchell as well. And my mom loved big band swing, so my first idol was Gene Krupa, and of course Buddy Rich. Later on, with the surf sound of the ’60s it was guys like Sandy Nelson and Dennis Wilson.” And for all you Alice Cooper fans who ever wondered what became of the iconic mascot snake named Kachina, Smith says, “We lost her on the School’s Out tour—but she’s forever memorialized in my naming my record company after her!”
Photo by Len DeLessio