Although Black Sabbath was probably my overall favorite band growing up, Alice Cooper was my first true rock god hero. So when news hit that we were confirmed to open up for Alice on his “comeback” tour in fall of ’86, I freaked. This was top-of-Mount-Everest, life-destiny-type shit, and I would be going full circle in a big way.
At the beginning of Chapter Six: The VVI Circus Hits America, I talk extensively about the “unique, but complex, hierarchy of power within the VVI organization,” in a section I call All the King’s Men: Understanding the VVI Power Matrix. From there, I discuss how my first drum/cymbal endorsement was negotiated over a phone conference by Dana Strum who, unbeknownst to me, used a British accent and a different name as he pretended to be a member of our management team! (Don’t ask me why…)
Let’s pick things up from a section in Chapter Six that truly encapsulates the times:
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Cranking Up the Hype Machine
By now, the record had been out for a couple months and was slowly climbing up the charts. The “Boyz” video was enjoying modest, but steady, rotation on MTV, and there was a solid, ever-escalating buzz about the band on the street and in the world of rock media. KNAC, the local Los Angeles metal station, was playing the shit out of the record. In fact, they had some kind of top ten most requested tunes show, and we soon found that “Twisted,” one of the heavier tracks on the record, was either near or at the top of the list each evening, right alongside Metallica and Megadeth. I made it a point to try and listen in every night. Exciting stuff back then.
Of course, the VVI hype machine was fully in gear by this point. I remember that a promotional tagline started popping up everywhere about how our record was “the fastest-selling debut album in the history of Chrysalis Records.” Not exactly sure how they arrived at that metric, but it sure sounded good on paper.
Another idea that sounded good on paper was this notion that VVI would have the world’s first all-female road crew. It seems like Vinnie and Dana were doing an interview somewhere, perhaps at KNAC, and jokingly made this suggestion. When the interviewer pressed them—like, “Really? An all-female road crew?”—it was game fucking on. They ran with it like it was a real thing and talked about where and how girls could apply for the job on this upcoming tour. And, naturally, a bunch actually did.
A couple weeks later, we even had a large group of applicants show up at Baby-O Studios for an “interview,” so we could make this huge PR moment out of it. There were photos galore and interviews with the prospective new crew members—all of them encouraged to dress up for a night on the Strip as opposed to a day schlepping gear. Genius PR move? Perhaps. But I just remember thinking that day, These girls all think this is real. And Strum, ever the ringleader, was speaking intelligently and professionally with them, in methodical detail, about gear logistics and tour scheduling. He did everything but hand out W-2 forms. It was fucking nuts.
But the craziest part is this: I don’t recall any discussion about this all-female road crew thing being some sort of publicity stunt. We just proceeded with things as if it was really going down. In fact, for a minute there, I thought that maybe it was for real.
Eventually, though, after we got our little fifteen-minute media buzz out of it—and yes, it was covered in a lot of places—the whole thing just sort of rode off into the LA sunset, without any further explanation. This was the VVI way.
With the Alice Cooper tour set to kick off in a couple weeks, VVI jumped into rehearsals at SIR, the very place where I had originally auditioned. One of my finest “Christmas morning” memories from this initial rehearsal period was the day that mammoth Sonor Phonic Plus drum kit showed up in all of those boxes. Good Lord, what an event that was. You have to realize, Sonor drums were recognized as the Rolls-Royce of the drum world back then, with their unparalleled craftsmanship and war-tank hardware. There was nothing like these things. The drums were thick and heavy, with nine-ply beechwood shells and this lush, glossy-black grand piano finish. The cymbal and tom stands were these massive, steel architectural masterpieces unto themselves. And, of course, the price tag for a set like this would’ve been way, way out of range for my broke ass so… thank God for endorsements!
My “first love”
The Sabian offices were just over the hill in the San Fernando Valley, so me and my tech at the time, Chris LaMarca, took a ride over, connected with Pat Rogers, the West Coast artist relations guy, and selected a full set of Sabian cymbals, complete with a gong. Fucking awesome! Sabian Cymbals was kind of the new kid on the block back then, as Zildjian and Paiste pretty much had a monopoly going on. So, while I had played a few here and there, I wasn’t intimately familiar with them. But I tested out a wide variety and selected a full set of the most explosive and epic-sounding cymbals I had ever heard—and never looked back. I’m still a proud Sabian endorser to this very day, all these years later.
Once we got all the gear together, it was time for the mighty VVI to start rehearsing. But this quickly proved to be yet another hurry-up-and-wait situation. I just remember there always being so much chaos, activity, and drama beating beneath the surface of the VVI machine. Always. As such, practice time featured Dana’s continual zigzagging between our rehearsal studio and the phone behind the counter at SIR. Simply put, this motherfucker was always on the phone.
Mark and I doing our best Dana Strum impersonation at rehearsal
And I know it wasn’t for nothing. Dana was constantly dealing with all manner of business: Talking to management, the label, the agent, the bus company, each of our individual endorsement companies, prospective road crew guys, and on and on it went. So we would play a song or two, then a call would come in for Strum and he would have to excuse himself. Thirty minutes later, he would reappear, we would play another song or two, then it was back to the phones.
Once Strum left the room, we knew it was going to be a hot minute, so Mark would usually jump out to the snack machine or the pay phone. That’s when Vinnie would turn to me and say those magic words: “Wanna play?”
And man, that was all I needed to hear. I would usually launch into some kind of up-tempo double-bass groove and we would fucking go off. He would crank his shit up, then his fingers would disappear into the fretboard as a continuous onslaught of notes exploded around the room like a busted fire hydrant. It was rad.
At rehearsal with the V-Man
In my mind, I always envisioned our “duets” as a sort of metal version of what jazz greats John Coltrane and drummer Elvin Jones used to do. Just freedom to burn, in these endless phrases of notes that adhered to no form, no structure, and no time frame. We would just fucking wail, although still careful to play off of one another. It was a blast, and despite the overall lack of actual band practice, I would sweat so much at these rehearsals, I usually went through a couple changes of clothes.
One thing I observed is that Vinnie’s style of play for our numerous solo jams was almost exclusively this blazing fast, mega-shred torrent of notes approach. It was impressive, fun to listen to, and exhilarating to jam along with… but also notably one-dimensional, given the depth of his talent. Remember, Vinnie Vincent could play anything: rock, blues, classical, jazz, Chet Atkins-style country, even funk. Hell, Vinnie could be so funky, Stevie Wonder would get a woody. In fact, I distinctly remember him just doodling around one time in the studio, doing some kind of double-handed muting thing (or something?) where his guitar sounded just like a clavinet (think Stevie’s “Superstition”). So I remember thinking that, perhaps, this was just how he was starting to hear things—as this sort of “continuous sonic landscape” vibe, where a fluid barrage of notes would endlessly bend and weave into infinity.
Turns out I might have been right, given how Vinnie’s approach to any and every solo opportunity would soon unfold on the road—much to the frustration of many. (But for the record, I never perceived Vinnie’s constant guitar pyrotechnics, live or in the studio, as some kind of insecurity thing—as has occasionally been suggested—where he felt he had to prove something by playing super fast all the time. I think it just became how the guy played.)
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, for all the different kinds of shit I could play, my drumming at these VV jam-alongs was a bit one-dimensional, as well. Which brings me to an important point: in this particular context, with this particular band, how much of his other dimensions were really relevant? We were about to step into an arena circuit, on the Alice Cooper tour, playing for a bunch of rivet-heads every night. Was this really the time for Chet Atkins and Stevie Wonder riffs? In other words, just because the V-Man could play anything, didn’t mean he should play anything.
Still, Vinnie’s choice to take the fast road to shredsville with every solo opportunity—with the band or in an open solo situation—would be a source of contention in the months ahead. And it wouldn’t be until the All Systems Go album and tour that, in my opinion, he would find more of his sweet spot with the use of a bit more space, and his dabbling with other styles.
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The sad lack of actual band practice became VVI rehearsal culture. And a week or two later, as the gear was finally loaded into the truck and we all piled into our tour bus out there on Santa Monica Boulevard before driving that bitch all the way to our first gig in Lansing, Michigan, something incredible occurred to me: we had never managed to make it through the entire thirty-five to forty-minute set, start to finish, without stopping—not once! We even dropped into an empty Royal Oak theater near Detroit the night before the tour opening to set up all of our gear and take a dry run through the show. And still we weren’t able to make it all the way through the set without having to stop for some reason or another. Unbelievable.
Original ad from the “The Nightmare Returns” tour
Showtime on the Alice Cooper Tour
Our first two shows on Alice’s The Nightmare Returns tour were a bit on the loose side, which was to be expected. But shows three and four had to be spot-on bangin’. We would be playing in Alice’s hometown, on October 30 and 31, at the infamous Joe Louis Arena. Yes, Halloween. In Detroit. With Alice! This was epic shit I will never forget. And it was especially kismet for me, given the fact that at twelve years old, on Halloween night, I took off my shirt, put on a black wig and face makeup, draped a six-foot rubber snake around my neck, then paraded around my neighborhood as Alice Cooper. That’s for real.
On the night of the show, as we were making that long walk down the chilly concrete corridor from the dressing room to the stage, the vibe in the arena was overwhelmingly electric. You could feel it—something wild, violent, and supernaturally thick in the air. And I remember actually being concerned for how Alice’s hardcore tribe of 20,000 hellraisers was going to take all of the pretty-boy shit we were about to hit the stage with: our dual pyramid walls of pink amps and cabinets; Vinnie’s pink guitar and girly accessories; and all of our sparkly glam clothing, drag queen makeup, and Aqua-Netted manes of hair. God help us.
But as we arrived at our holding place a few feet from the stage stairs and the house lights went out—boom!—the place erupted, and I could feel my pulse pounding out of my neck. And in the frozen moment or two that we had to take it all in before heading up the stairs to do our set, I distinctly remember a single image flashing through my mind: me, thirteen years prior, studying those rad photos on Alice’s Killer album, knowing on an absolute bone-marrow level that I was somehow destined to be a part of this madness called hard rock. Knowing it. And now, as we followed the glow of the flashlight beam up the stairs toward that massive, steel-framed stage, I would savor the stinging elation of the “impossible dream” actualized… if only for a moment.
Now it was time to deliver.
We walked onto that darkened stage and could hear the swell of yells and whistles ripple through the audience as they spotted our shadows getting into position. I took a seat behind my drums and surveyed the colossal, blue-black expanse of the venue, with pin-light specs of cigarette lighters, sprinkled about the floor and balconies, like stars. I drew in a final deep breath through my nose—filling my lungs with the classic arena stench of weed, stale beer, and hot dogs—and then, I four-counted Mr. Vincent into the opening guitar intro of “Boyz Are Gonna Rock,” which sliced through the air like a fighter jet engine. The stage exploded with light to an even more frantic eruption from the masses.
As I launched into my opening groove, I could feel the heat of those lights hit my skin, and I pounded my drums with violent intention: head banging on the downbeats, torso rocking back and forth, and arms in constant motion, like a boxer. I could feel my kick and snare locked in with Dana’s bass line, as Mark’s high-pitched wails cut into my eardrums from a stack of monitor cabinets that had more collective power than entire PA systems I used to play through. A quick glance of the first twenty rows revealed an almost choreographed assemblage of pumping fists and “devil horn” fingers, rising and falling in metronomic unison with the groove. All was well.
And the Boyz rocked it pretty good in Detroit.
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Pre-order madness for The Boy Is Gonna Rock continues until 5-15-18. We still have a bunch of killer bundles available and, as of today, there is still ONE of the infamous pink cymbals left (from the “Boyz Are Gonna Rock” video). Check it all out at: www.bobbyrockstore.com.