The Mainstage in the Center for the Arts served as the backdrop Sept. 13 for a compelling glimpse into the friendship between UB alumnus Shep Gordon, ’68, and shock-rocker Alice Cooper. As Cooper’s talent manager and friend for the past 50 years, Gordon shared some of the pair’s memorable experiences with an audience of about 200. The two also talked about the roots of their friendship.
“There was never a moment that I mistrusted Shep, and there has never been a moment that he mistrusted me,” Cooper said. “I don’t think we ever had an argument. I’ve never asked him how much we make, and I still don’t know how much the band gets paid and I don’t care about that.
“I trust Shep knows what he’s doing,” he said. “We’re friends — even if we don’t talk to each other for four to five months; we just pick right back up.”
The friendship started when the charade ended. Gordon was posing as a talent agent to cover for some of his illicit dealings — “pharmaceutical sales,” as Gordon called it — and he was paying the band $20 a week to go along with the façade. But once the duo connected, they decided to give the partnership a legitimate effort and the two have been friends ever since.
“One of the strengths of our friendship and what makes it so unique is the mutual respect of the Alice Cooper character. Neither one of us comprised Alice Cooper as an entertainer. We live very different lives, but we have this unbelievable respect for the character we created. And we always deal with it honestly and openly. I can say anything I want about that character and neither of us takes anything personal,” Gordon said.
Cooper agreed, noting he enjoys playing the Alice Cooper character.
“I am not the character right now, but I will be tonight on stage (at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre). I cannot wait to play him; he’s a condescending villain and when we first started, it was like no one wanted to be the villain. There were all these rock heroes, all these Peter Pans and no Captain Hooks, and I said, ‘I’ll be a Captain Hook,’” Cooper recalled.
The two shared some of their adventures promoting Alice Cooper and trying to compete with other big name acts of the time.
“In those days, you could become a big name in the press, or on the radio. You had to pay to be on the radio, so we knew we had to create images and cause scenes that the media would notice,” Gordon said.
One of antics Gordon used was to utilize the power of negative press.
“We knew that if we could get parents to tell their kids that they absolutely cannot go to an Alice Cooper show, then we had them, we had those kids, and they were our audience, they were our demographic.”
“And it worked because parents hated us! I was Marilyn Manson times 10,” Cooper said. “They were burning my records on the 700 Club! People were trying to get us banned and we were so thankful — they had no idea how valuable that press was.”
But smoke and mirrors could only take the band so far. In the end, the talent had to be there, or the fans would disappear.
“We were up against all the great rock bands of our time — Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, The Beatles — so you had to be a great rock ‘n’ roll band in those days to make it,” Cooper said.
While the band focused on the music, Gordon continued to find innovative ways to promote it.
Gordon’s creativity has served him well throughout his career. In addition to Alice Cooper, Gordon managed big names like Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Luther Vandross and Teddy Pendergrass. He is credited with creating the “celebrity chef,” launching the careers of Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Roy Yamaguchi and others, and he was the focus of a 2013 film directed by “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Mike Myers. The documentary, “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” which features tributes by actors like Michael Douglas and famous chefs who share Gordon’s marketing antics and commitment to making others famous over the past five decades.
“I realized early on, here at Buffalo as a student, actually, that I could create history,” Gordon said. He then referred to a prank that he and some friends managed to pull off while at UB.
“I credit that event, that moment, as defining my entire career.”