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‘70s all-star rockers Hollywood Vampires reconvene for charity

Alice Cooper is a ’70s survivor and original member of the all-star Vampires.
Alice Cooper is a ’70s survivor and original member of the all-star Vampires.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles music scene of the 1970s was often analogous to late 19th century London as characterized by Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

That duality was personified by the Hollywood Vampires, an ad hoc collective of some of the era’s biggest rock stars who hung out in Hollywood, usually into the wee hours. The group’s revolving door of sobriety-challenged participants included such luminaries as John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Keith Moon, Micky Dolenz, Elton John’s longtime lyricist, Bernie Taupin, and Alice Cooper.

Now the Vampires are back, celebrating a time and place that yielded scores of songs and albums that influenced generations but that also left a trail of much professional and personal destruction in its wake..

“In the ‘70s, it’s like you had to use drugs and alcohol to be in a band,” said Cooper, 67, a.k.a. Vincent Furnier, earlier this week in a West Hollywood rehearsal studio a few blocks from the Sunset Strip, where he and a new band of Hollywood Vampires were rehearsing for two shows this week.

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He was joined by one of his new bandmates, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. Both sat near a mixing console while taking a break from rehearsals to talk about the Vampires’ new album, the upcoming performances and the philanthropic purpose of the project.

Cooper and Perry are part of a new Vampires that lineup that includes Johnny Depp and former Guns N’ Roses members Matt Sorum and Duff McKagan, among others. The Vampires will play Thursday at the Roxy Theatre with the goal of raising funds for MusiCares, a Recording Academy program that provides assistance to musicians in need.

The shows come on the heels of a “Hollywood Vampires” album that features veterans Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Doors’ guitarist Robbie Krieger and AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, as well as a newer generation of artists such as Dave Grohl, Perry Farrell and Slash. They all cover new versions of classic-rock songs, including Lennon’s “Cold Turkey,” the Who’s “My Generation,” Harry Nilsson’s “One” and “Jump Into the Fire,” Hendrix’s “Manic Depression,” The Doors’ “Break On Through (To the Other Side),” T. Rex’s “Jeepster,” Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and Cooper’s own “School’s Out.”

Resurrecting the Hollywood Vampires might have been a nightmare on any number of fronts, but Cooper said that “it all worked so smoothly. You’d expect with a bunch of A-list egos, there’d be a lot of arguments, but I can’t think of one time when anybody said, ‘I think this is a bad idea’ or ‘That song is a mistake.’ Everybody just looked at the song list and said ‘Oh, I have to play on that one too.’”

“I’d have to say that one of the biggest moments for all of us was when Paul McCartney came in,” said Perry, 65, of the former Beatle’s duet with Cooper on “Come and Get It.” McCartney wrote the song for their Apple Records discovery, Badfinger, to use in the film “The Magic Christian,” which starred Peter Sellers and one Ringo Starr.

“Paul would turn to away to say something and everybody else would be like, ‘That’s Paul McCartney!’” Cooper added, silently mouthing the last three words. “Then he’d turn back around and we’d be all, ‘Yeah, we’re cool.’”

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Cooper is one of only three of the original Vampires who are still among us (the others, Taupin and Dolenz, do not appear in the new lineup). The era that spawned the original group was filled with such excess, it took its toll of many of the artists who were part of the L.A. music scene.

“Eventually you come to a crossroads where you realize, I can either die, or make 20 more albums,” Cooper said. “So for me, I decided, ‘The party’s over. Now let’s see what I can do.’”

While substance abuse remains an issue in music today, Cooper said attitudes have shifted over time.

“I tell young musicians now, ‘If you have a problem, you’re probably not going to get hired by any major band,’” he said.

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MusiCares Vice President Scott Goldman noted that Cooper was honored in 2008 by MusiCares’ MAP Fund for his work helping the organization raise funds for struggling musicians. “We are so deeply appreciative of all the people involved in the Hollywood Vampires project for choosing MusiCares as their beneficiary,” Goldman said.

Cooper’s longtime manager, Shep Gordon, said the decision to donate all proceeds to MusiCares eliminated most of the business entanglements that could have turned an all-star gathering like this into a contractual quagmire.

“Because all the money is going to charity, there were no managers, agents or lawyers arguing over money,” he said.

In other words, no industry vampires.

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randy.lewis@latimes.com

Follow @RandyLewis2 on Twitter; for more on Classic Rock, join us on Facebook.

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Hollywood Vampires

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Where: Roxy Theatre, 9009 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood

When: 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17

Cost: Sold out

Info: www.theroxy.com

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