SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
In the early '70s on the Sunset Strip, the Rainbow Bar and Grill was the place to go for drinking, dancing and raising hell.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY GENERATION")
THE WHO: (Singing) People try to put us down. Talking 'bout my generation.
SIMON: Upstairs, above the dance floor, a kind of exclusive social club took form. Guys like Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees and Keith Moon of The Who, they were called the Hollywood Vampires and, according to Alice Cooper, another founding member, there was only one way into the club - out-drink all the other members. A few years ago, Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp decided they should pay tribute to the club's musical heritage and form a new Hollywood Vampires. So now Cooper and Depp, along with Joe Perry of Aerosmith, are playing some shows. They've just released an album. Alice Cooper joins us now from Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being with us.
ALICE COOPER: Thank you, thank you. I'm feeling very good for a vampire.
SIMON: You sound great for a vampire. And Johnny Depp will be joining us in a few minutes.
COOPER: Yeah, Johnny's great, yeah.
SIMON: Let me begin with this. So what's the big deal about a bunch of rock stars getting together and drinking maybe too much?
COOPER: So everybody was at the top of their game at that point in the early '70s. And we all drank anyways, right? It just seemed that we always ended up at the Rainbow, to the point where they finally just said, why don't you guys go up into this loft where we'll kind of protect people from coming around and, you know, sitting on the tables. And we thought that was a great idea. So every single night, there seemed to be the same seven or eight guys - Harry Nilsson, myself, Mickey Dolenz, Bernie Taupin, Keith Moon when he was in town. It was actually sort of a social club - drinking club - for rock stars that drank - seriously drank. And we were indestructible at that age.
SIMON: Well, you thought you were indestructible.
COOPER: Well, yeah, that's the thing. Now, already, two of the guys that were honorary Vampires - Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix - had already died at 27. And they were certainly archangels in our group. But, you know, it was at that time when you really did feel totally indestructible. You were out on tour, 75 cities in 80 days, and then making records on top of it. And they started calling us the Hollywood Vampires 'cause anybody only saw us at night.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE DOORS SONG, "BREAK ON THROUGH")
SIMON: Was Jim Morrison an easy friend to have?
COOPER: I liked him a lot as a person. He was this very poetic character, and death was always on his mind. And it showed up in his songs. I mean, almost every song he wrote had something to do about dying. You know, he was an American treasure that went way too soon.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAK ON THROUGH")
THE DOORS: (Singing) Break on through to the other side. Break on through to the other side. Break on through, oh yeah.
SIMON: Can you tell us what you would like Johnny Depp and maybe some of the younger members of the new Hollywood Vampires to know, if they take one thing out of this experience?
COOPER: Well, for one thing, Johnny's already got it. Johnny's already seen how alcohol and drugs can get in the way of a career. And you have to remember one thing. Johnny was a guitar player and a rock-and-roller way before he was an actor. When he came to Los Angeles, he came with his band.
SIMON: I'm told Johnny Depp might be on his way.
COOPER: Yeah, I think he's on his way. Nice talking to you.
SIMON: Well, you - we want you to stay around.
COOPER: Oh, you want me to stay? Oh, OK, sure.
SIMON: Yeah, if that's possible, please.
COOPER: Sure. Mr. D.
JOHNNY DEPP: Mr. D, Mr. Cooper.
SIMON: Hi there, how are you?
DEPP: How do I look?
COOPER: You look great.
SIMON: You look great. I can tell by the sound.
DEPP: You look fantastic, sir.
SIMON: Thank you. Johnny Depp, how do you get into the Hollywood Vampires story?
DEPP: You know, Alice and I, we'd met before, and he was telling stories about all the - those days, you know, which were fascinating. We started talking about maybe writing some songs together, and we started doing that. And then one thing led to another and it became this Vampire project.
SIMON: Yeah, can I ask you guys about the new song?
COOPER: Yeah, yeah.
SIMON: This is a clip everyone's going to ask about, and that's "Dead Drunk Friends."
(SOUNDBITE OF HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES SONG, "DEAD DRUNK FRIENDS")
COOPER: I kind of pictured it this way. We're in the Rainbow at about 5 in the morning when there's nobody there. And there's really - the only people there are the ghosts. It's a toast to them. And it ended up being a drunk pirate drinking song. But it's got a certain melancholy about it that really sums up the album, I think.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEAD DRUNK FRIENDS")
HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES: (Singing) I came here to get wasted but it just ain't the same.
DEPP: Alice said we need something that sounds - musically sounds - unsteady, a little drunk or whatever and then having been familiar with drunk once or twice...
DEPP: ...Myself, that lick, you know (imitating guitar), it just came to me. So I presented it to Alice and...
COOPER: It had a drunk swagger to it.
COOPER: You know.
DEPP: Alice just went - it felt like he wrote the lyrics in about a minute (laughter).
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEAD DRUNK FRIENDS")
HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES: (Singing) We drink and we fightt and we puke and we puke, and then we die. My dead drunk friends.
SIMON: I wonder, Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp, if you - for example, this song, "Dead Drunk Friends." I wonder if it - if what it means to you is slightly different given the fact that, you know, you were there in the original, Alice Cooper. Johnny Depp, you're coming into the new group. For one of you, it's life. For the other of you, it's history.
COOPER: Yeah, and at the same time, you know, Johnny's got this rock 'n' roll old soul to him. So he might as well have been there.
DEPP: Oh, that's very kind.
SIMON: So, Johnny Depp, you feel like you were there?
DEPP: I think one of the things is Alice, probably on some level, recognized that good old self-destructive streak that does happen in some people's lives. So though I wasn't there with Alice and the Vampires, I had my own version, I suppose, a little later.
SIMON: Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp, they're two members of the - can I call you the new Hollywood Vampires?
COOPER: Sure, yeah.
SIMON: And their album's out now. Gentlemen, thanks so much for joining us. We're very grateful.
COOPER: Well, thank you for keeping us from rehearsal, because...
DEPP: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MANIC DEPRESSION")
JIMI HENDRIX: (Singing) Manic depression is searching my soul. I know what I want, but I just don't know how to go about getting it.
SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.