This feature appeared in Huffington Post in June 2015

"How can you kick the bucket if you're writing a book? Every time I'd read something about Alice Cooper, I'd complain aloud 'ah, that's not how it happened! And my kids had to put up with that for years, and years, and years. Finally they said to me 'Dad! Shut up and write a book!"

My hot-blooded Sicilian mother oft warned me that there were three sides to every story "his, hers, and the truth!" The same loving women who doted on her only son also made a habit of tearing Alice Cooper posters off my bedroom wall in the 1970s- thankfully she never discovered the panties that spilled out of my vinyl copy of School's Out (1972) back in the era when a certain band was re-imagining the art of album packaging. She also warned me that these degenerate creeps whom I worshiped and inspired me to join a band were actually Russian operatives on a mission to rot the minds of American teenagers. Nowadays my mom's behavior is commonly referred to as "menopause."

Behold the third side of the story of a bona-fide American rock 'n' roll legacy. Dennis Dunaway, bassist, songwriter, conceptualist for the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Alice Cooper band - that's right, Alice Cooper was a group before he, the former Vincent Furnier, emerged as a Hollywood Square, celebrity golfer, and singular show business entity - has composed the definitive and most truthful tome detailing the groundbreaking collective that also included Michael Bruce, the late Glen Buxton, and Neil Smith.

Aptly entitled Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group (Thomas Dunne Books - St. Martin's Press, 2015), and written in collaboration with veteran rock journalist Chris Hodenfield - Dennis vividly details in the first person how the Alice cooperative of five endearingly misfit pioneering adolescents put the Woodstock generation to rest; and the rest, as they say, is history. Kiss, Marilyn Manson, Guns 'n' Roses, arena rockers too numerous to mention, and even MTV took their cues - and then some - from the original Cooper clan.

Dunaway laughs as I bestow upon him the new title of "literary lion." He revels traveling in writers circles in New York City too. "I'm meeting all these famous authors...individuals who wrote books about such important historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln. I wrote about a band who threw a chicken at an audience!" I remind Mr. Dunaway that he too is an important part of history and that his new book documents the missing link between the transformations in American pop culture from the 1960s to the 1970s - an era that continues to resonate.

Among the unsung heroes afforded due recognition in Snakes! is his wife, Cindy Smith, sister of drummer Neal Smith. "Cindy created the look that set off the whole gam rock thing...other people got credit for it, and accept credit for it...and it's not that they weren't part of it...but Cindy was doing it way, way, before anyone else..." Dennis also speaks lovingly and reverentially of the band's dearly departed guitarist, Glen Buxton. A true rock 'n' roll outlaw with a razor sharp wit to which Dunaway often quotes, it was Buxton who created many of the group's signature riffs which every player who followed in his platform boot-steps is required to replicate, and air guitarists young, old, and middle-aged continue to mime.

Effectively re-writing the script to a vital period in rock 'n' roll history as demanded by the Dunaway brood actually commenced for Dennis during Easter of 1997 - the same number of years ago as the age of a rather distraught young adult who can't figure out if he's a boy or a man as per the libretto of the band's first hit. But first he had to overcome a life-threatening disease. "If I was going to write a book," Dennis recalls, "I had to survive the surgery. That sounds strange, but that's what drove me as well." Dunaway also had to conquer moods of bitterness borne by the age old injustices of the music business, and a feeling that the fans had forgotten him. Truth is, the hardcore fans always held Dennis and the original Alice Cooper band to close their hearts despite the fact that the Cooper brand continued without them.

"We were overshadowed by the monster we created," emphasizes Dennis. "There are a lot of newer Alice Cooper fans out there that don't even know that I or the band existed!" During our conversation I note that oft times in my career as a musician - my band-mates and I would refer to the sounds and mixes of the original Alice Cooper albums for our producers and engineers - all of whom nodded their heads with respect and approval. Even without the theatrics, the Alice Cooper band canon was Hall of Fame worthy.

My comment flatters Dennis, who is quick to point out that "we also upstaged ourselves as musicians with the visuals in the Alice Cooper band." Ditto the boa constrictor which infamously slithered around the body of Mr. Furnier during concert performances. "Journalists would write half an article about the boa and not even mention the great songs we wrote for the snake!"

That was then, this is now. Mr. Dunaway, author and bassist, currently plies his craft in a kick ass trio dubbed Blue Coupe - which is made up of former Blue Oyster Cult members Joe and Albert Bouchard. They record, tour the world, and to my ears, they put guitar slinging bands (more than) half their age to shame.

At the official release party held in the Rare Books section of The Strand in New York City - Dennis and Blue Coupe tear the house down much like his old band did when a certain type of music was indeed a threat to society. To thunderous applause from glam grannies, young rockers, and Strand employees spattered in black eye-shadow akin to Dennis' former singer, the bassist bellows "no more more book for your summer!"

Dennis and Blue Coupe ripped the joint with rousing renditions of "I'm Eighteen," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," Blue Oyster Cult's 1976 anthem "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," and close with "School's Out" -abetted by the backing vocals of New York City legends Tish & Snooky.

During the question and answer segment for attendees, co-author Chris Hodenfield speaks eloquently of his time touring with the band for his well-known Rolling Stone magazine feature in 1972. He quips "Dennis has an appallingly good memory....everyone in the band was a comedian who tried to outdo each other." Reminiscing how Groucho Marx and George Burns were Alice Cooper band fans, Dunaway praises his wife, the band's former managers, his beloved band-mates, the road and lighting crews from years past, and of course, his loyal fans. "Rock 'n' Roll," proclaims the author to me - "if it doesn't kill ya' it will keep you forever young!"

Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group by Dennis Dunaway and Chris Hodenfield is out now on Thomas Dunne Books - St. Martin's Press, 2015


Amanda Thorpe Cover 400x400  









This feature appeared in Huffington Post in January 2015.

"Yip wrote about universal human emotions and conditions, his lyrics have remained remarkably relevant. In every day and age we have had dreamers, lovers and soul searchers. But Yip was also a human rights activist and he viewed his songs as more than mere entertainment. Theodore Taylor - in a biography about composer Jule Styne - said Yip was often 'caught at the art of sneaking social messages into his lyrics.' Per Yip, 'I am a rebel by birth, I contest anything that is unjust, that causes suffering in humanity. My feelings about that are so strong; I don't think I could live with myself if I weren't honest."

Perhaps if Edgar Yipsel "Yip" Harburg had plugged in an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, we'd revere his canon as much as we do the works of Robert Allen Zimmerman. Nowadays the name of this iconic pop lyricist born Isidore Hochberg on New York's Lower East Side in the year 1896 is mostly known among nostalgia buffs and theater musos, but not the masses. Yet Mr. Harburg was a "Bob Dylan" of his era - assuming a fresh new identity and penning lyrics to such classics as "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?" all the songs in The Wizard of Oz including "Over The Rainbow," "Old Devil Moon," "April in Paris," and "It's Only a Paper Moon," among many others, which deftly merged romance, clever observations of the human and social condition, and politics into a timeless libretto. Somehow Yip has evaded the perpetual hosannas routinely afforded his contemporaries Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart, and Johnny Mercer.

Leave it to a British artist to once again to remind us Yanks of a neglected American musical treasure through an album before and after its time: Amanda Thorpe's Bewitching Me. Ms. Thorpe, born in Derby, England, and currently residing in Paris, forged an impressive career among New York City's indie pop royalty over the past two decades, releasing several collections under her own name, and as a member of the highly acclaimed Bedsit Poets with Edward Rogers and Mac Randall (who guests on one track), among other collaborations. As a recording artist, performer, and composer, Ms. Thorpe's artistry traverses folk, rock, jazz, cabaret, and every conceivable variation thereof.

Amanda's connection to the Harburg family essentially prompted the realization of Bewitching Me. "I had been working with Deena Rosenberg (Yip's daughter-in-law via her marriage to Ernie Harburg) for a couple of years on various musical theater and tutoring projects" she recalls. "We had a meeting at DeRoberti's old Italian bakery on 1st Avenue - which has since sadly closed after 100 years - for a holiday drink and to discuss future plans. As we supped on our favorite warm beverage and nibbled on select pastries, I suppose it was quite natural for Ernie, who is a champion of his father's work, to suggest my considering covering some of Yip's catalog…I laughed it off initially, I associated Yip with Broadway show tunes."

Intrigued by the challenge, Amanda forged ahead with the project. The Harburgs opened their vast Yip archives to Ms. Thorpe - providing numerous recordings and compositions grouped by eras and various categories: moon songs, love songs, troubled love songs, rainbow songs, social songs, and then some. "One of the most important things for me was not to record an album that sounded like me singing jazz standards. Yip seemed dedicated to the exploration and joy of language - he had countless notebooks in which he would capture all types of phrases or words, and he would often rework a concept or a lyric approach multiple times and in different songs. He sounded like a fascinating man and a force of nature, so passionate and full of life and ideas. I imagine he saw the world in 3D Technicolor even before the Wizard of Oz! He could dig so deep into emotions and sprinkle them so lightly into lyrical vignettes. His mastery of words is pretty intimidating…"

By way of its modern Americana veneer, Bewitching Me emerges as a cousin to the recent commercially popular and critically acclaimed Lost On The River (2014) collection: an extraordinary archival based endeavor produced by T Bone Burnett which set new music to a recently recovered cache of hand-written Bob Dylan lyrics circa 1966-67. Burnett amassed an all-star ensemble dubbed The New Basement Tapes which features Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddons (Carolina Chocolate Drops), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), and Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons), among others, to complete Dylan's mid-life musings with a contemporary resonance .

Ditto Ms. Thorpe, who enlisted her own local legend and long-time collaborator to helm Bewitching Me -producer, engineer, musician Don Piper whose list of indie credits on the New York City music scene is as exhaustive as it is impressive. "I do believe that a good song can be interpreted in many different was and still shine" emphasizes Piper. "The big goal was to remove as much of the 'jazz' out of it as possible. There are moments that are still 'jazzy' here and there but I think we made a well-rounded album that ventures into different landscapes in a natural way."

With Piper behind the console, Amanda's core band of drummer Robert DiPietro, bassist Rob Jost, and guitarist Tony Scherr afford Harburg / Thorpe's song-cycle a sense of warmth and immediacy not often evident in studio recordings." I wanted everything to be recorded as live as possible - for practical, and musical, reasons. Practically - we had 13 songs to record in a weekend. Musically- I’m a fan of spontaneous interactions of musicians! So the approach was 'three takes and move on.' Don set up drums, bass, and guitar in the same room, and me separately. He always manages to capture the intimacy of live recordings. There was no click and we recorded each song all the way through three times."

Amanda's organic rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" turns subtly anthemic upon the arrival of the chorus. "I Like the Likes of You" emerges as a pop confection worthy of Sonny & Cher lore. And Scherr's exquisite solo on "Adrift on a Star" deeply echoes Thorpe's seductive pathos. "Yip said, 'words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.' I do think these songs are great and have a magic to them. His work with Harold Arlen is particularly powerful, the melodies and words mesh perfectly. The fact that Yip can tackle such big issues with witticism, simplicity, and a unique lyric style make his work accessible to all.

Amanda’s Bedsit Poet partner Edward Rogers concurs- "a great song always helps, and with the right love and vision, the artist and the producer can create a wonderful interpretation that makes the listener believe the song was always meant to be heard that way."


By Tom Semioli Slim Chance Then 75

This feature appeared in Huffington Post UK in November 2014

"Me brother ain't dead....he's still alive. As long as these boys keep playin'... and these people keep singing his songs...he's 'ere with us!"

On a chilly November evening, a joyous Stan Lane - brother of the late, great Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame singer, songwriter, bassist, founding member and heart and soul of the Small Faces and The Faces - is holding court at the hallowed Half Moon in Putney. This cherished, intimate venue has served as one of England's most beloved, essential music pubs since the early 1960s, presenting such seminal artists as Roy Harper, John Martyn, John Mayall, Dr. Feelgood, Bert Jansch, Alexis Corner, The Yardbirds, Kate Bush, the Rolling Stones, The Who, and Elvis Costello, among scores of others, to the working class residents in the Southwest London borough of Wandsworth.

"These boys" which Stan raises his glass to repeatedly throughout the evening, are the surviving, still thriving, re-united members of Ronnie Lane's legendary "hobo-billy" ensemble Slim Chance. An organic, multifaceted collective that Lane assembled after he bravely departed the aforementioned super-group in 1973, which was then comprised of Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Ian McLagen, and Kenny Jones; Slim Chance afforded Lane the platform to pursue his diverse artistic and musical yearnings away from the spotlight. Young rockers are advised to seek out Ronnie's matchless canon and legacy: Small Faces, featuring Steve Marriott, continue to be a tremendous inspiration to rock artists on both sides of the pond almost 50 years after they hit their first note together. And swaggering, booze swilling musos given to velvet trousers, scarves, and tousled hair-dos all owe their careers and rehab memberships to the Faces with Woody and Rod the Mod.

Lane, who passed in 1997 after a long, heroic battle against multiple sclerosis, anchored both versions of the group with his melodic bass artistry, uncanny songwriting expertise, and unbridled spirit. The Ronnie Lane Appeal for ARMS (Action into Research Multiple Sclerosis) benefit concerts in the UK and USA in 1983 featured the stricken musician along with a who's who of rock royalty to raise funds and awareness. Though he suffered terribly from the disease for over 21 years, Lane somehow managed to make it to the stage until 1992.

Slim Chance never scaled the commercial heights of Ronnie's former bands - nor were they designed to. Their original records are long out of print - yet that sad fact does not render Slim Chance any less vital. Emphasizes bassist Steven Bingham, who joined Ronnie's initial Slim Chance line-up when the band-leader switched to rhythm guitar to facilitate his singing: "super stardom was not Ronnie's bag at all! He wanted to do his own thing, which was to continue writing and performing in his unique style."

Ronnie and Slim Chance's minstrel-like British folk inspired repertoire additionally incorporated American country, jazz, bluegrass, and rhythm and blues influences - long before modern day roots chart-toppers Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes, Laura Marling, The Decembertists, and Noah & The Whale, among others, were born. Slim Chance's legendary 1974 tour - a trek which included a traveling circus replete with jugglers, dancers, clowns, and animal acts - was beautifully documented in a must-see film entitled Passing Show: The Life and Music of Ronnie Lane (2006) by director Rupert Williams, who was also in attendance at the Half Moon to celebrate the return of Slim Chance.

"I'm so glad we got back together" says Bingham, who can hardly contain his enthusiasm during sound-check while his band-mates chide him as he is not often the subject of interviews. "There was something slightly un-finished about the first incarnation of Slim Chance. The Passing Show was an incredible adventure for him to undertake. It drained Ronnie financially and in other ways."

When his Slim Chance brethren Charlie Hart and Steve Simpson, noted individually for their work with such artists as Ian Dury, Eric Clapton, Frankie Miller, Eric Bibb, Roger Chapman, and Pete Brown, among others, approached Steve about resurrecting the band, the youthful bassist never hesitated. "I follow my instincts - I heard a million voices telling me to do this! I came home from our meeting late at night, woke up my wife and told her 'you won't believe this! I'm going to have another bash at Slim Chance!"

Previous to the modern day Slim Chance re-birth, among their most high profile appearances in recent times occurred at the Ronnie Lane Memorial Concert held on April 8, 2004. After years of haggling over issues best left to the explanation of music business attorneys, Ronnie's old friend and collaborator Pete Townshend intervened and now the masses can see and hear that historic event by way of the new Angel Air DVD: One for the Road: The Ronnie Lane Memorial Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Slim Chance's performances with Townshend, Chris Jagger, Sam Brown, ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, Mick Jones of The Clash, Paul Weller, and Ronnie Wood are transcendent.

In the summer 2011, Slim Chance alumni, including guitarist and long-time Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam collaborator Alun Davis, returned to the studio to update compositions from all phases of Ronnie Lane's brilliant career on a riveting collection aptly titled The Show Goes On: Songs of Ronnie Lane (Fishpool Records).

And the show goes on for Slim Chance as well. Bingham reports that an album of all new Slim Chance compositions will be ready by Spring 2015. "We don't want to be a tribute band...Ronnie wouldn't have that! Our new songs will pick up where Slim Chance left off. And that's what is great about this band - we're not massively well-known, but the fans love us and that's what keeps us going strong."

As expected, Slim Chance raised the roof at the sold-out Half Moon. Pensioners outfitted in dubious 1970s garb complimented by tartan accessories, including several grand-dads sporting skullets, boogied alongside the hipsters who made the pilgrimage to hear the real deal whilst these pub-rock masters still traverse this mortal coil. Everyone knew the songs, the riffs, and Ronnie's inflections. In addition to a few new numbers, Slim Chance's set-list included such Lane classics as "Debris," "You're So Rude," "How Come," "Anniversary," "Silly Little Man," and "Ooh La La" the latter of which was performed with the welcome addition of buxom can-can dancers and Stan Lane on vocals and tambourine.

After the gig, Mr. Stan Lane stood regally outside the Half Moon in the pouring rain, bidding fans farewell, chatting with young rockers about Ronnie, and posing for pictures.

"I'm glad you American lads are here tonight - this is real  English music, mate...real English rock 'n' roll..."

Slim Chance Now Large 75