The lair of the original “Hollywood Vampires” lay at the top of the stairs of the Sunset Strip’s venerable Rainbow Room, in a loft where a plaque is bolted to the wall identifying those legendary rock stars, many of whom are no longer with us, who made up the “Vampires”.
The “Vampires” of the mid 1970’s included Alice Cooper, Keith Moon of the Who, Bernie Taupin, Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, Harry Nillsson, Ringo Starr and John Lennon of this little band from Liverpool that called themselves “The Beatles”. They were not a collaboration of rock stars making music. They were a collaboration of drinkers who happened to be rock stars. They were living the Vampire life in Hollywood in the golden age of rock music in Los Angeles and the Rainbow Room was their chamber.
I had always wondered why no one had ever done a documentary of that time and place. The stories must have been those of legend. The time of the “Vampires” was roughly 1973 to 1978 by my rough calculations. In 1973 John Lennon had been forced out of his marriage to Yoko Ono for an 18 month period where he spent a considerable amount of time living in Los Angeles, mostly drunk, carrying on his legendary lost weekend with May Pang; a close friend of Yoko Ono.
At various times Lennon, Starr, Nillsson, Moon and May Pang were living in a beach house in Santa Monica on Palisades Beach Road once owned by actor Peter Lawford which is still there on Pacific Coast Highway. This was the same home in which Lawford, according to legend, allowed JFK to use for his liaisons with Marilyn Monroe. To be a fly on those walls…. The last photograph ever taken of John Lennon and Paul McCartney was taken at the Beach House in Santa Monica.
Los Angeles is a place, having grown up ten minutes south of the Strip, that does very little to preserve its history. Mostly we tend to simply tear our history down. The time of the “Vampires” and those legendary musicians was a story that needed to be told and now, thanks to the current collaboration, originally envisioned by actor and once aspiring rock star; Johnny Depp, along with Alice Cooper and Aerosmith guitar god Joe Perry, is being told and recorded in the form of a new collaborative album and a handful of live shows; two of which went off this week next door to the Rainbow Room at the equally venerable Roxy Theatre.
The “Vampires” album was released on September 11th and contains cover songs from the Doors, Small Faces, The Who, John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, Harry Nilsson, Jimi Hendrix along with songs by Cooper as well as a handful of original songs with an astonishing roll call of monster rock stars contributing to the project.
Surviving Beatle Paul McCartney sat in and contributed his solo hit “Come and Get It.” Joe Walsh, Slash, Dave Grohl, Perry Farrell, Robbie Krieger and drummer Zak Starkey also contributed to the record. The concept of the album was to cover songs by mostly departed rock stars, some of which left us due to the ravages of substance abuse.
We were there for the first night of the Vampires gigs and this was one for the ages. The “live” Vampires band was Johnny Depp playing a smooth rhythm guitar, Alice Cooper on vocals, with former Guns and Roses mates Duff McCagan on bass with Matt Sorum on drums.
The room was packed to the core by 9 pm with many “A” list rock stars spotted hanging in the VIP section. We saw Paul Stanley of Kiss, Vince Neil of Motley Crue, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Little Steven of the E Street Band roaming around pre-show.
The most unexpected cameo of the night came when the band brought out pop star Kesha; or is it Ke$ha? Either way, her. I admit I was lost on this one and had to ask to the younger guys next to me who the heck that was. I had no idea she had legitimate pipes or any kind of rock and roll pedigree and was floored by her brilliant vocal on Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” which had the entire room buzzing.
Jumping in on the drum kit for the Who’s “I’m a Boy” was Zak Starkey. I always knew Zak, despite the fact that he is Ringo’s son, idolized Keith Moon and was largely inspired by him, but I never realized just how much he truly morphed into Keith not just in style but also in expression and manner.
Keith played the drums from the back but always leaned into the kit and hammed it up not letting you forget he was back there at any time. While no one will ever be Keith you could feel his presence in Zak who later jumped off the kit and filled in on backing vocals for the duration of the gig.
The set closed with an all hands Alice Cooper set with everyone jumping in and joining on Cooper’s infamous “School’s Out” transitioning into Pink Floyd’s” Brick in the Wall” with Cooper on lead vocal and the entire venue on backing vocals. The main set ended after just an hour before a brief interlude.
The crowd gave the band it’s best Wednesday night low energy ovation before the ensemble came out again for a 4 song finale which included the album’s original song “My Dead Drunk Friends” in which Cooper toasted the crowd with a prop beer in his hand closing to the Stone’s “Brown Sugar” after only an hour and fifteen; a painfully short set.
This group of mostly sober “Hollywood Vampires” sent us all home by 10:30; kind considering this was a work night, yet cruel in that you never wanted this night to end. Cooper is now planning and researching a documentary of the “Vampires” of the 70s and an important piece of Los Angeles music history is now being preserved for the ages at long last.