School's Out - How Alice Cooper and His Cross-Country Teammates Made It Big

December 15, 2017 · CLASSMATES FUN

On March 14, 2011, two former high school cross-country teammates took the stage. The crowd cheered loudly as the familiar strains of their first big hit filled the Waldorf-Astoria.

The event: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. The song: “I’m Eighteen.”

How did they end up here? It’s an interesting story…

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The year was 1964, and Cortez High School (in Phoenix, Arizona) was abuzz with activity. The Lettermen’s Club was holding a talent show.

Dennis Dunaway and Vince Furnier, friends and cross-country teammates, had decided to put together a band for the event and were recruiting guys for their act. They got fellow teammate John Speer to join their cause and then looked outside the team for some musical talent (none of the boys could play a musical instrument).

Fortunately, John Tatum and Glen Buxton agreed to join the band. These guys actually knew something about music. Buxton, in fact, was already quite a good guitar player.

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The five boys – Furnier, Dunaway, Speer, Buxton, and Tatum – decided to call their musical act The Earwigs. Their set list? Parodies of Beatles songs. (One of the songs, to the tune of “Please Please me,” began “Last night I ran four laps for myyy coach.”)

The boys donned cheap Beatles wigs and sunglasses for the occasion. Most of them were only pretending to play instruments. The big performance – held in the school’s cafetorium – was well-received. The students were highly entertained, and the band ended up being the winning act of the talent show.

After experiencing the raw power of performing on stage, the guys were so inspired that they decided to make a go of it by forming a real band while still in high school.

They became the Spiders and started performing around Phoenix, using a giant spider web for their stage set. Furnier took up lead vocals, and the band drew inspiration from popular acts like the Yardbirds, The Who, and the Rolling Stones. A first single was released in 1965, and the following year – the year that Furnier graduated – a second single hit number one locally.

By 1967, Speer and Tatum had decided to leave the band. They were replaced by Neal Smith (on drums) and Michael Bruce (playing rhythm guitar). After one more name change and a move to Los Angeles, the group decided to call itself Alice Cooper.

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Between a fortuitous meeting with Frank Zappa (after their live performance cleared the room), an emphasis on unusual and often macabre showmanship, and strong songwriting, Alice Cooper soon shot to fame. After releasing a debut album (Pretties for You) in 1969 and a second the following year, the guys found themselves on top of the pop charts in 1971 with their first breakthrough hit: “I’m Eighteen.” This was followed by the hugely popular “School’s Out” in 1972 and “No More Mr. Nice Guy” in 1973.

The band stayed together for a couple more years but eventually decided to take a break. Furnier, who had changed his own name to Alice Cooper, went on as a successful solo artist. His debut album, Welcome To My Nightmare, was released in 1975. Over the decades, he carried on the band’s tradition of horror-based showmanship in his stage performances, which both delighted fans and shocked conservative critics.

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In December of 2010, it was announced that Cooper – now known as the Godfather of Shock Rock – and his former bandmates were to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Although they’d only performed together for a handful of years, their band had helped to shape both the look and sound of the heavy metal music genre.

Buxton, sadly, had passed away in 1997. But cross-country teammates Dunaway and Cooper were reunited, along with fellow band members Smith and Bruce.

And they rocked.