Interview by Devorah Ostrov & Michelle Castro
Written by Devorah Ostrov
|Neal Smith and his famous Premier drum kit|
Promo photo from the
Billion Dollar Babies LP
These days, Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith both live in a small Connecticut town and have respectable jobs: Dennis owns a video store and Neal is a real estate agent.
And both are in Deadringer — a hard rock group fronted by onetime Ted Nugent vocalist Charlie Huhn, with Blue Oyster Cult's Joe Bouchard on keyboards, and Archangel's J. Jesse Johnson on guitar.
The guys have just issued their debut album, Electrocution of the Heart (Grudge Records), but Deadringer actually came into existence almost five years ago — although no one, including the band, knew it.
"Joe and Dennis and I had started writing songs together," Neal told us. "It wasn't really a band we put together to record or anything. Joe moved; Dennis got a job... So, I started writing with Jesse, who was another friend of mine."
Deadringer - Electrocution of the Heart
Grudge Records (1989)
The folks at Grudge loved the material and wasted no time in signing what some people are calling the first "supergroup" of the '90s.
But why did they opt to go with a niche label (mostly known for a Godz LP and a Roy Orbison compilation), instead of using their famous connections to sign with a major?
"We wanted to be involved in a situation where if we made it, the label would make it too," replies Neal.
At that point, Deadringer still lacked a vocalist powerful and professional enough to front the band. So once the deal was sorted, the search was on. "My first choice was Charlie Huhn," says Neal. "I saw him once with Ted Nugent [with whom Charlie shared vocal duties] and I was knocked out! I thought, why the hell isn't he singing all the songs?"
Deadringer - Grudge Records publicity photo
L-R: Neal Smith, Joe Bouchard, J. Jesse Johnson, Charlie Huhn & Dennis Dunaway
"There might be some influences but they're going to be small," stresses Neal. "A lot of people have commented on the rhythm section — the way Dennis and I play together. That's something you might recognize more than anything else."
"I'd like it to be 'Balls Out' or 'When You're in You're In,'" he states. "But 'Secret Eyes' is getting a lot of attention." (Following the interview, we heard that "Secret Eyes" had been chosen.)
When the Alice Cooper Group broke-up in 1975, rumors of rip-offs and band members done wrong flew fast and furious.
While we were eager to get the dirt on Alice, we were also hesitant to broach the subject. Much to our relief, Neal was happy to chat about old times and we can report that all those rumors are completely untrue.
"We've always got along," says Neal of the band and Alice. "We've known each other since high school. We were like brothers for years. You don't burn those kinds of bridges. What happened was that we were at the height of our career when the band stopped playing. We had intended to take a year off and do solo projects, but we never got back together. That's basically it. There was no reason to hate each other. He [Alice] couldn't rip us off, there was no way. We all made the same amount of money."
|An early pic of the Alice Cooper Group (circa 1969)|
"Alice's voice sounded great," remarks Neal. "He was really healthy. It was really positive to work with him again."
This seemed like a good time to mention that we'd just found a rare copy of Pretties for You (Alice Cooper's first LP) but hadn't played it yet. "Don't listen to it!" Neal shouted at us.
After he calmed down, Neal explained: "It was a real experimental album. We worked with Frank Zappa on that album. This was in 1968, and he wanted to make what would now be CD-sized discs... Put one song on each side for a total of six discs and put them in a tuna fish can. His idea was to call it Alice Tuna. We figured we were weird enough as it was on standard format!"
"The Ballad of Dwight Fry," "Under My Wheels," "School's Out," "Sick Things," and "Generation Landslide" rank among Neal's favorite Alice Cooper tracks. And there's an amusing story that goes with the last tune on that list...
|Neal and his lady in Rock Scene magazine - September 1973|
Photo: Bob Gruen
|The Alice Cooper Group at the height of their fame|
And he probably doesn't hand out copies of Pamela Des Barres' racy epic I'm with the Band (in which he garners a reference) as housewarming gifts.
Apparently, it's easy for Neal to separate selling upscale homes from being a rock star. So far, only one client has discovered what lurks beneath his daytime business-like surface.
"She had known me for about nine months and had told a friend of hers, 'If you ever think about moving to the country, this guy helped me out a lot.' She gave him the name of the company I work for and said, 'Ask for Neal Smith.' This guy said, 'The drummer from Alice Cooper? Hair to his waist and CRAZY!?' It was like finding out your friend is Jack the Ripper!"
|Neal Smith - real estate agent!|
"It was one incident," Neal assures us. "And it got blown out of proportion. If Dennis had gotten into that car, he would've flipped out just as much."
But Neal does agree that a little nastiness never hurt anyone's career. So, when we suggest that Deadringer could open for Alice on his upcoming tour, Neal chuckles and emphasizes, "He can open for us."