Session File: Recording 'Welcome to My Nightmare' - Part I

Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare [released March 11, 1975] was probably one of the most fun albums I’ve ever done.
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Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare [released March 11, 1975] was probably one of the most fun albums I’ve ever done. Alice has a sharp, crazy wit, and there was much laughter and frivolity during these sessions. But when it came time to make the music, we were all focused to the max, and I think you can hear the intensity on the tracks.

Strangely, there is a different rhythm section on the record’s first song (“Welcome to My Nightmare”) and its last tune (“Escape”) than on the rest of the album. I’m not sure exactly why that was, but I think it worked really well for the concept of the album. (More on this next month.)

Those two songs had Johnny “Bee” Badanjek on drums and Tony Levin on bass. Johnny Bee was the original drummer with Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, and I had played with him in the band Detroit (which also featured Mitch Ryder). Johnny had this wonderful blend of rock and R&B drumming styles. I think the R&B influence came from his session work at Motown when the label was still in Detroit.

However, I had never heard of Tony Levin. Bob Ezrin—the album’s producer—told me he was a top session player in New York. When we ran down “Welcome” down for the first time, I was blown away by his playing. Tony has an incredible ability to make a bass part entirely his own—completely unique and powerful—and yet with a bit of a sense of humor. He and the Bee made a pocket big enough to fall into. All of this made playing with Tony a real joy.

In those days, we would literally learn the song “on the floor.” Bob or guitarist Dick Wagner—or sometimes both—would run the song down for us, and we would do charts and work out the song right then and there. It was an expensive way to develop song arrangements, but what it did do was add real tension and energy to each track, as everything was spontaneous and pure sounding. This is probably not done much these days, but I love recording that way. It keeps you on your toes, and I believe that, sometimes, you can lose the freshness of a track if you know it too well. I’m certain Bob picked the musicians he thought could be really productive and creative working in that “on the floor” environment.

Next month: Working with the core rhythm section for the Nightmare sessions.