The Hollywood Vampires were born in 1972, in the upstairs bar of the Rainbow Bar & Grill on Los Angeles’ notorious Sunset Strip. The bar infamously was a gathering place for the rock stars living in or passing through (or even passing out in) LA during the heady days of the Seventies and Eighties.
“To join the club, one simply had to out drink all of the members,” remembers Alice Cooper, a founding member of the Vampires. “I would walk in on a typical night and John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon—who would usually be in a costume like a maid or a chauffeur—Bernie Taupin, Jim Morrison and Mickey Dolenz would be there. The next week might be Bernie Taupin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Mickey Dolenz.”
Three years ago, Alice and good friend Johnny Depp got together and decided the spirit of the Hollywood Vampires should live again… only this time in music and minus the drinking, and provide n environment for great artists to hang, laugh and play together. The duo soon hooked up with another mutual old mate, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, to record this self-titled debut album – an unashamed tribute to the original Hollywood Vampires,and particularly their musical legacy, with a selection of covers mixed with a few original tracks.
I first heard about this project about six months ago from a post on Johnny Depp’s Twitter account, which was followed by one from Joe Perry. Being a big fan of both Aerosmith and Johnny I was intrigued; when I discovered Alice Cooper was also involved my curiosity spiked – and so I demanded that my other half track down a copy for me.
The intro to this adventure is the eerie, atmospheric ‘The Last Vampire’, recorded by the late, great master of horror that was Sir Christopher Lee – and unfortunately his last recording. The next track and first original song on the album, ‘Raise The Dead’ is upbeat and raunchy. The three guitars of Depp, Tommy Henriksen (Alice Cooper/Warlock) and Bruce Witkin blend beautifully with the tightness of Glen Sobel (drums) and Witkin’s double duty bass. Cooper’s vocals kick in with him screaming “Hey You…” and goes on to tell us to “Raise the dead and get a little creepier”.
‘My Generation’ again with Alice, Depp and Henriksen, Witkin, but with Zak Starkey on drums, is very close to The Who’s version, but with a bit of Alice’s personality thrown in. ‘Whole Lotta Love’, on the other hand, is a homage to Zep’s song. It opens with a harmonica play by Alice. Vocals on this track are swapped between Alice and Brian Johnson. Depp and Henriksen are joined on guitar by Joe Walsh, Orianthi and Bruce Witkin with Starkey again on drums and Kip Winger on bass.
On ‘I Got A Line On You’, Alice is joined by Perry Farrell on vocals, with Depp, Henriksen, Witkin and Walsh on guitars, Winger on bass and the drums are played by Abe Laboriel Jr. It’s another raunchy bouncy ditty. Track six is two of The Doors’ hits, ‘Five To One’ and ‘Break On Through’ spliced together. Alice proves that he has not lost either his voice or passion, but stays close to the original versions. Depp and Henriksen are joined by Robby Krieger on guitars, drums and bass Abe Laboriel Jr and Witkin respectively, while the farfisa (whatever the fuck that is) duties are by Charlie Judge.
‘One / Jump Into The Fire’ again joins two songs seamlessly and pairs Alice and Perry Farrell on vocals again. Guitars are Depp, Henriksen, Witkin (who plays bass and keyboards on this track) and Krieger,with producer Bob Ezrin on additional keyboards and Dave Grohl joining in the fun on drums. Again, it stays true to the original version. ‘Come And Get It’ sees Sir Paul McCartney joining the rest of the guys, playing piano and bass as well as singing along with Alice. Guitars are handled by Depp and Joe Perry with Abe Laboriel Jr on drums again. With McCartney on vocals this is a straight cover of The Beatles. ‘Jeepster’, on the other hand, brings more of the HV personalities into this cover with Perry’s guitar style obvious throughout. Alice’s vocal style is shining through on this version: he has made it his own, a homage to T Rex’s song with a fun twist.
John Lennon’s ‘Cold Turkey’ also has been given the HV treatment with the same line up as the last track (with Johnny and Tommy Henrikson also on guitar, Glen Sobel on drums and Bruce Witkin on bass). Again, it stays close to original with Perry taking the solo on in his trademark style. HV give Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Manic Depression’ a twist all of their own. This is old school Alice very reminiscent of his ‘…Nightmare’ days. With Joe Walsh, Depp and Henriksen on guitars, Zak Starkey returning to the drums and Witkin on bass.
Alice’s vocals on ‘Itchycoo Park’ brings the meaning of the lyrics to the fore. This version takes you on a psychedelic trip. With Depp and Henriksen on guitar, Sobel on drums and Witkin on bass, this funny version also has the HV twist to it.
With Alice Cooper playing such a lead role in this project they did have to include one of his own songs – BUT it’s another mix, merging ‘School’s Out’ with Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ with AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson once again joining in on vocals. Johnny is joined on guitar by Joe Perry and Slash, while Neal Smith is on drum duty and Dennis Dunaway on bass. The first half of this is pure Alice: no remix but Slash takes on the solo in his true style, as only he can; the second half sees Alice and Johnson duet beautifully on ‘Another Brick…’ before bringing it straight back to ‘School’s Out’ for the finale.
Closer (and the only other original song) ‘My Dead Drunk Friends’ is a lyrical ode to all the HV were and are: a tribute to all the friends that unfortunately lost their lives due to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, but left behind a lasting legacy that we all still remember fondly.
With all the rock royalty involved with this project it is, as expected a masterpiece, but full of fun. With the blend of original material and covers done with a twist, as you listen you can clearly hear that this motley bunch had a lot of fun making it. I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to it (and will be adding a few songs to my set list when I am DJing). My only negative thought would be the likelihood of them ever touring (yes, I know they played a few gigs in LA, as well as their amazing performance at Rock In Rio earlier this month)… I mean, how would they all be able to go out on the road together?
Hollywood Vampires are:
Alice Cooper / Johnny Depp / Dennis Dunaway / Bob Ezrin / Perry Farrell / Dave Grohl / Tommy Henriksen / Brian Johnson / Robby Krieger / Abe Laboriel Jr / Sir Christopher Lee / Sir Paul McCartney / Joe Perry / Slash / Neal Smith / Glen Sobel / Zak Starkey / Joe Walsh / Kip Winger / Bruce Witkin
The Last Vampire / Raise The Dead / My Generation / Whole Lotta Love / I Got A Line On You / Five To One – Break On Through (To The Other Side) / One – Jump Into The Fire / Come And Get It / Jeepster / Cold Turkey / Manic Depression / Itchycoo Park / School’s Out – Another Brick In The Wall / My Dead Drunk Friends
Recommended listening: My Dead Drunk Friends
‘Hollywood Vampires’ is out now on UMC.