Rock

Alice Cooper Manager Shep Gordon Gives Thumbs Up to HBO's 'Vinyl' & Its Depiction of the Rocker

Alice Cooper performs at John Varvatos Detroit Store Opening Party
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for John Varvatos

Alice Cooper performs at John Varvatos Detroit Store Opening Party hosted by Chrysler on April 16, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan.  

Gordon's Alive Enterprises even loaned the producers Cooper's guillotine for a scene on the show.

HBO's Vinyl, the new series helmed by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, has received mixed reviews from music execs for its depiction of the early '70s record business. Manager Shep Gordon, however, is a fan of the show and was pleased by its recent depiction Alice Cooper, his long-time client, in Episode 3 of the series. Gordon's Alive Enterprises even loaned the producers Cooper's guillotine for a scene on the show.

In the episode titled "Whispered Secrets," Cooper's character -- played by Dustin Ingram -- is courted by young American Century A&R weasel Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid), who tries to convince the frontman to leave the band that bears his name for a solo career. It's a scene that Gordon says never happened, although Cooper did eventually split from the band, following the success of the 1973 album Billion Dollar Babies.

Music Industry Vets Take Issue with How HBO's 'Vinyl' Depicts the Business

"If you got a million miles away to Mars, then it was accurate," Gordon quips. "But in that moment, it wasn't. I think the story has been told over and over again. It didn't come out of an A&R guy's thing. It really came out of each of the guys having the desire to do their own things." Coincidentally, Gordon adds, Cooper and original band members guitarist Michael Bruce and drummer Neal Smith are writing together in Phoenix this week.

While Vinyl didn't stick to the facts about Cooper's real-life story, Gordon acknowledges that it is based in some fact. "I saw A&R guys pitching lead singers every day of the week at the Roxy or the Whisky," he says. "As soon as a band got successful, these guys would come like locusts, telling everybody anything they wanted to hear, and I'm sure that's the stuff they were saying behind closed doors."

In the episode, Clark runs into Cooper in a recording studio. Cooper is there to lay down some vocals for a Todd Rundgren session. Clark was struggling in a session with England Dan and John Ford Coley, trying to get them to recut "Simone" for a soundtrack. In the hallway, Clark floats the idea of Cooper going solo and continues to push the concept in a few sequent meetings. Cooper, meanwhile, tests the young exec by encouraging him down a glass of whiskey a wild hotel party, having him entertain his pet reptile "Eva Marie Snake" on the golf course and finally, breaking to the band the news about the solo scheme, which Cooper has no intention of pursuing. Instead, he uses the A&R executive as a guinea pig to test out his new stage prop guillotine. 

Industry Vets on How HBO's 'Vinyl' Depicts the Business: 'The Characters Are Dead On'

"I personally like the show," Gordon says. "I know I've read a lot of stuff and there seems to be mixed feelings about it. I thought Alice's treatment was fine and I'm proud to be a part of it. I'm glad someone is telling that story. There are parts that might be over exaggerated, but it's a TV show." Cooper, for his part, thought the Ingram did a fine job playing his younger self.

The manager, who is the subject of Mike Myers' 2014 documentary Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, adds that he appreciates the fact that the show's producers came to him about using Cooper's likeness in the show's storyline, which also features a snippet of Cooper's "Unfinished Sweet" and a cover of his "I Love the Dead" performed by Andrew W.K. "They were very respectful to Alice," he says. "They called me up and told me they wanted to use him. They didn't allow me to change things [in the script], but they allowed me to put it in his voice, which I thought -- especially in the case of Alice who isn't someone who curses or talks negatively -- was very generous of them to do. Whereas, a lot of production companies you get that attitude, 'We can use their artistry. We're the important ones. They're just tools.'" 

It was through that cooperative spirit that Alive ended up loaning the producers Cooper's guillotine. "They mentioned, 'Is there any way to get the original guillotine?' And I said. 'We'd be happy to give you the original guillotine. Are you kidding me? You actually called us up to see if what Alice said was OK? We'll give you anything you need, whatever you want,' so we shipped them the guillotine. That doesn't happen very often in life. Hollywood is a community of lawnmowers and they're not replanting any lawns. They cut and run."

Gordon likes that Vinyl depicts how artists were often seen as commodities. "It was very rare to find someone on the business side who really dealt with an artist as an artist," he says. "That was one of my biggest challenges. He points to another storyline in which American Century senior A&R executive Julie Silver (Max Casella) pressures proto-punk band Nasty Bits, fronted by Jagger's son James, into covering the Kinks' "All Day and All of the Night" instead of focusing on their raw originals. "That's sort of what was going on," Gordon says. "You'd go into these meetings with these arrogant people who thought that marketing came before artistry. So for me, personally as a manager, it told a story that I can't really tell people -- of why bands needed strong managers, because if not, you fell victim to people who have never accomplished anything, but thought they knew everything.