WHEN you have a side project with a group of friends, you really have to plan ahead because pesky day jobs always get in the way. When your pal happens to be Johnny Depp (one third of rock band the Hollywood Vampires, alongside shock rocker Alice Cooper and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry), schedules get complicated.
‘It’s a very odd thing for all of us to be off tour at the same time,’ says Alice. ‘Johnny’s either making a movie or Joe’s with Aerosmith and I’m with my band. We had to carve out this time like a year in advance in order to honour everybody’s schedule. Johnny had to do five movies last year, just so he could take off enough time to work on the album and go on tour.’
The Hollywood Vampires is all about honouring ‘dead, drunk friends’. The idea originated in the 1970s in the Rainbow Bar & Grill on Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip. The upstairs bar was frequented by hedonists such as Jim Morrison, Keith Moon and Jimi Hendrix, and to join the club you simply had to outdrink the existing members. What could go wrong?
The lifestyle took its toll on dozens of stars, and today’s Hollywood Vampires’ setlists comprise cover versions of their music, as well as a few tracks that Alice, Johnny and Joe have written themselves, including one called My Dead Drunk Friends, which includes the lines: ‘We drink and we fight/and we fight and we puke/and we puke and we fight and we drink/we drink and we puke/and we fight and we puke/and then we die.’
Alice laughs: ‘One of my friends said, “Hey, you guys never do any of my songs,” and I go. “You really don’t want us to. You don’t want to be in the group: they have one thing in common that you don’t want to have in common with them.”’
Alice’s onstage persona terrified middle America and beyond in the mid-1970s, thanks to a clever cocktail of nightmarish make-up and urban myths (he never killed a chicken at a concert but let the rumour flourish because the publicity was dynamite).
In reality, the man behind songs such as School’s Out, Poison and Only Women Bleed is an avuncular, clean-living, golf-loving, family man who probably has an assiduous skincare regime. Asked whether he has any regrets, he says: ‘You would think that the alcoholism would be something I would have avoided and yet, in a lot of ways, it shaped me. But I haven’t had a drink or any drugs in 37 years now. I’m 70 now and I’m never tired. Everybody calls me the Energizer bunny.’
Given that alcohol may have played a large role in Johnny Depp’s problems (including allegations of domestic violence), does it question the band’s celebratory approach to legendary boozers? Alice leaps to his friend’s defence.
‘I know Johnny pretty well,’ he says. ‘When I read all the stuff I go, “Wow, this is such bull.” He’s the sweetest person you’ll ever meet in your life. There’s not a mean bone in the guy’s body.’
He’s also full of praise for the actor’s musical abilities. ‘He can play with anybody. If you throw a lead at him he’ll throw it right back at you. He originally went to Hollywood to be a guitar player and became an actor by accident. Some director saw him and said, “Hey we want you to do this film,” and he said, “Yeah, I’ll do it for a bit to support my band,” and ended up being one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood.
‘He’s also the most humble guy I’ve ever seen. I’m the one who makes him stand up in front on stage, and when he says, “I don’t wanna sing that song — I can’t sing,” I say: “You did Sweeney Todd!” and he says, “Oh, right. I did.”’
Alice is also very good-natured when people repeat the ‘We’re not worthy’ line immortalised by Wayne’s World to him. ‘I always try to pretend that nobody’s ever done that. Like, “Oh, how clever.” I’ve just had dinner with (Wayne’s World star and creator) Mike Myers. I see him all the time. He said, “I could have stuck you with something much worse than that.”’ And you can’t argue with that.
■ June 16, Genting Arena. Birmingham, June 17, Manchester Arena, then touring, hollywoodvampires.com
While the members are always changing, there’s a hardcore three:
Born Vincent Furnier, the ‘Godfather of Shock Rock’ cultivated a distinctive, heavily made-up look early on in his career, taking inspiration from horror films. Formerly a member of the Alice Cooper band, he changed his name in the 1970s when they broke up, and hit it big with his 1975 album Welcome To My Nightmare. He’s also an unlikely world-class golfer.
The actor, who once hoped to be a full-time musician, first leapt to stardom playing Edward Scissorhands in Tim Burton’s gothic 1990 movie. He’s been the director’s muse ever since, and has since starred in more than 80 films. More recently he’s been better known for playing Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Joe is Aerosmith’s lead guitarist. Although left-handed, he learnt to play right-handed at 10, and was ranked 84th in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time in 2001. In the 1980s, he and Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler were known as the Toxic Twins because of their excessive rock’n’roll lifestyles, but has calmed down quite a lot since then.
The Hollywood Vampires are not short of star power…
While Macca’s never been synonymous with wild living, John Lennon spent time at LA’s Rainbow Bar & Grill, boozing it up with Alice. Paul sings and plays piano and bass on Come And Get it. Hollywood Vampires’ titular album.
Best known for playing villains in films like Dracula and The Wicker Man, Lee provides the creepy, narration on The Last Vampire. He died three years ago.
Famously one of the nicest blokes in rock, the former Nirvana drummer is on stick duty for the cover version of Harry Nilsson’s One/Jump Into The Fire.