SickthingsUK: Musicians - Michael Bruce

  • Name: Michael Owen Bruce
  • Instruments: Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals.
  • Born: March 16th 1948
  • Joined: Summer 1966
  • Left: Michael never left the band, but their Last full tour was in 1974.
  • Alice Cooper Tours: Every show until 1974.
  • Alice Cooper Albums: 'Pretties For You' - 'Muscle Of Love', 'Welcome 2 My Nightmare', 'Paranormal'
  • Links:

Background


Michael Bruce, 1974.

Michael Owen Bruce was born on March 16th, 1948 in Arizona to Alvin and Ruth Bruce. His middle name, Owen, is also his mothers maiden name. His father was in the military during the 1940s and later worked for the Coca-Cola Company. His mother played piano for radio and performed at many U.S.O. functions. Michael has two brothers, David and Paul, and all three attended North High School in Phoenix Arizona where young Michael began playing in local bands.

His first band of note was called 'The Trolls' before he joined 'The Wildflowers' and met guitarist Mick Mashbir, another local musician, who went to Camelback High School (where Neal Smith also went). Mashbir would be called on in 1973 to perform with Alice Cooper on the 1973 tours. Along with Bruce and Mashbir the band was filled out by Mike Miller on drums, Gary Dockery on bass and Gary Gilbert on keyboards. With 'The Wildflowers' Michael recorded a handful of songs in 1965 and two singles were released on the Aster label. The first featured 'A Man Like Myself' and 'On A Day Like Today' in 1966, and a second in 1967 featured 'More Than Me' and 'Moving Along With The Sun'. These songs still occasionally turn up on small label 60s compilations as they received some local success when they were released.

Playing around the Phoenix area inevitably brought Bruce into contact with 'The Spiders', featuring his later band mates Vince Furnier, Dennis Dunaway, and Glen Buxton, and 'The Laser Beats' with Neal Smith, so the young musicians were aware of each other fairly early on. After 'The Wildflowers' Michael was also briefly part of a band called 'Our Gang' with Bill Spooner, later a member of The Tubes.
In fact it's interesting to note that the two most theatrical bands of the 70s, 'Alice Cooper' and 'The Tubes', both had their roots in the 60s Phoenix club scene, and went to the same high schools. 'The Tubes' came out of a merger between local Phoenix bands 'The Beans' (with Bill Spooner, Rick Anderson and Vince Welnick) and 'The Red, White and Blues' (with Roger Steen, Prairie Prince and David Killingsworth). Both 'The Spiders' and 'The Beans' had also been experimenting with stage props and costumes while still playing the Phoenix clubs.

John Tatum announced he was leaving 'The Spiders' during the summer of 1966. Michael joined after replying to an advert the band had placed looking for a replacement. He was an easy choice for the band. Firstly they already knew him, and secondly he had a van they could use to transport equipment. It didn't hurt his chances that he was also the only person to reply to their advertisement! In a strange quirk of fate after Michael was invited to join 'The Spiders' to replace Tatum, Tatum join Bill Spooner in 'Our Gang', so in effect the two groups simply swopped guitarists.

As the band evolved from the strange garage psychedelia of 'Pretties For You' to the breakthrough album 'Love It To Death' Michael's song writing skills made a huge leap forward. Never the most technical of guitarists he had an uncanny ability to write great melodies and song structures, and many of the bands famous songs were presented to them in a completed form, before they pulled them apart and put their own Cooperesque twist on them. Over the years Michael would become slightly annoyed that every great pop song he would bring to the band would be twisted and turned into something else. The end results were inarguably better, but it was likely a major reason he wanted time off to record his own solo album in 1974, wanting to present his songs as he envisioned them, untouched by the band and Bob Ezrin. That solo album became 'In My Own Way' and was released in 1975 with little success, despite a guest spot by Alice on 'Rock Rolls On'.

After in became apparent Alice wasn't returning to the group in 1976 Michael, Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway regrouped with 'Billion Dollar Babies' touring keyboardist Bob Dolan and guitarist Mike Marconi to form the 'Billion Dollar Babies' band who release their only album 'Battle Axe' on which Michael took on the lead vocals. The album received a few decent reviews but it wasn't Alice Cooper and it quickly sank without trace. A tour supporting the release also ended after just four shows as the huge stage show the band had put together, a futuristic boxing ring in which Bruce and Mashbir would stage a gladiatorial fight, was simply too big and expensive to transport considering they were in essence a new band. The show was too big to be used by a support act, and the audience simply wasn't there yet for them to headline venues big enough to fit it all in. The band fizzled within the year.

In 1978 Michael released a new mini-album entitled 'Rock Rolls On', which featured tracks from his first album and a handful of new songs. It received very little attention and Michael effectively disappeared from the music scene for best part of 20 years.

Latter Years

The advent of the internet and online forums such as the original Sickthings email list created communities of like minded fans who could share their experiences and love of their favourite artists. It made it far easier for fans to communicate information and ask questions, and one frequently asked question was "what happened to the original Alice Cooper band musicians?" Before this few fans had any idea what they had been up, but now the musicians themselves could stand up and say "hello! I'm still here!" It turned out that Michael was down in Texas and with the help of a friend, Jeff Jatras, and former Ace Frehley guitarist Richie Scarlet, was trying to throw of the cobwebs and get back in the game.

On Christmas Eve 1994 at the Mason Jar Lounge, Phoenix, AZ Michael appeared in 'A Tribute To Alice Cooper'. The set list was 'Under My Wheels', 'Be My Lover', 'I'm Eighteen', 'Billion Dollar Babies', 'Is It My Body', 'No More Mr. Nice Guy', 'Muscle Of Love' and 'School's Out'. At the show he mentioned that he was going on tour with a couple of guys in March/April to promote a 4-CD boxed set (which could have been 'The Life And Crimes of Alice Cooper'). When asked if Alice was going to be there he replied "Alice is selling Laserdisc Players".


'No More Mr Nice Guy' by Michael Bruce.

On October 1st 1996 he had published his autobiography 'No More Mr Nice Guy: The Inside Story of the Alice Cooper Group' co-written with American experimental musician Billy James A.K.A. Ant-bee. The book was controversial. When it was released Alice commented to 'Allstar Online': "I think it's a wonderful piece of fiction. Some of the memories about who wrote what songs are a little out of whack -- like 90%. I had a friend of mine read me excerpts from the book and he'd got through about half of it and I'd go, 'What? Are you out of your mind?' I just laughed about it.". Of course Alice's own autobiography 'Me, Alice' hadn't exactly been accurate a lot of the time!

The book is relatively short and was published by a small independent company in the UK. While it certainly contains many inaccuracies it was the first book about the band since 'Me, Alice' and featured Michael's versions of many of the well known stories and tall tales, as well as new anecdotes. However several members of the band weren't very impressed, and it took awhile for relationships to be restored.
The book received a second printing, in a new blue cover, in 2000 with a few updates, and again in 2018.

Around March 1997, Michael signed new management contracts with Jeff Jatras of Torn Ticket Productions and relocated to Houston, Texas. He was in Axis records studio from March 9th and March 13th, recording with multi-instrumentalist Richie Scarlet who had played with Ace Frehley of Kiss for eight years. Video footage from the sessions was later released by Jatras as 'The Redhouse Tapes' but has long been unavailable.

Michael returned to the stage with an acoustic show opening for Al Stewart at Rockefellers in Houston, TX on August 28th 1997, followed by weekly appearances at Cardi's night club, often accompanied by local musician John Glenn playing a "cocktail kit" drum set. Sometimes he played two sets in a night. A few other low key acoustic shows in Texas followed, including one show opening for his old friend Rick Derringer.

His acoustic shows could include 'That's What Can Happen When You Eat Sleep Drink The Blues', 'Rock My World', 'I'm Eighteen', 'Caught In A Dream', 'I Believe In Love', 'Second Coming', 'Desperado', 'Be My Lover', 'No More Mister Nice Guy', 'Hard Hearted Alice' and rather surprisingly 'Halo Of Flies'.

"Mike plays as a duo (and sometimes solo) because I want him to be able to rely on nothing and nobody (even me) and still be able to perform. I believed, and I think it is accurate, that by creating the acoustic arrangements of songs he has created, both within and out of Alice Cooper, then he can perform his material to the delight of audiences that come to see him. I want Michael to be self-sufficient, bottom line.
I knew John Glenn, the drummer, from high school. The last time I saw John before 1997 was in 1975. As I was leaving his house (his room I mean, he was 16) in 1975, he was playing 'Halo of Flies'. So, when I decided to dig up a drummer who would be interested in complementing Mike's solo set, I thought of John, and it clicked like I thought it would. Now, Mike and John are good friends here, both professionally and personally."
(Jeff Jatras, September 1997)


Michael And Alice on stage in Atlantic City 1999

Once that was done the plan was hatched to reunite Michael with his old band mates for a special show on October 10th 1997at the Area 51 club in Houston. Unfortunately Dennis Dunaway was to unwell at the time to travel, but Neal Smith and Glen Buxton both answered the call and they rehearsed briefly with Richie Scarlet before appearing on a local radio show and playing an hour long set at the club. While Neal's playing was as solid as ever Scarlet, an excellent multi-instumentalist and songwriter in his own right, was shocked at how far both Bruce and Buxton playing had fallen from the professional standard he was used to. On the night the simple fact the three ex-Coopers were on stage together gave the show a charged atmosphere and everyone concerned was glad they did it. Sadly it would be the last show Glen Buxton would ever play, as shortly after returning home he passed away.

In late October 1997 Michael answered some questions submitted to the original Sick Things mailing list:

Do you desire to work again with Alice?

Michael: Absofuckinlutely.

Is there anything in your book which you feel has been taken out of context, you've changed your mind on, or simply came out all wrong?

Michael: Boy, there's a leading question. Uhhmmm, uuhhhh, uhhhh, I gotta re-read the book. I don't remember what's all in there. I tried to do my best to keep it factual and to the best of my memory, but nobodies perfect, are they?

From what I understand when the band parted everybody had a project they were going to do and everybody was ok with that and nobody felt that they were being dumped, was this your perspective at the time?

Michael: Yes.

Do you have anything but the kindest regard for the Alice camp?

Michael: Do I have anything but the kindest regard for the Alice camp? What's the Alice Camp and where do I sign up?

During this time Michael also made brief guest appearances on his book co-writer Antbee's 'Lunar Musik' album in 1997 (also feat. Dennis Dunaway, Glen Buxton, and Neal Smith), and then in 1999 he turned up on Bruce Cameron's 'Midnight Daydream', and, through his friendship with Richie Scarlet, sang some backing vocals on ex-Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach's 'Bring 'Em Bach Alive' with whom Scarlet had been playing. An amateur two-camera video of the Area 51 show was released by Torn Ticket Productions but is also long gone now. The video is good to see, for it's historical value, but the sound isn`t great and Glen is very low in the mix.

Alice attended a fund raising dinner last night (2nd may 1998). An Alice tribute band was performing. I wasn't there but, long story short, Michael Bruce was there to do a couple of songs with the band. He and Alice spoke. Reportedly, apologies were made, reminiscing occurred, jokes were made, Glen was discussed. A nice time was had by all. Everything was cool. Dontcha love happy endings?!
(Brian Nelson, 3rd May 1998)

In 1999 Michael performed at a gig for Ann Rice, the author of 'Interview With A Vampire', and photos were published on her official website. Trivial connection: Alice supposedly once owned the film rights to 'Interview With A Vampire'.

On October 3rd 1999 in Atlantic City, NJ Michael Bruce joined Alice Cooper on-stage for 'Under My Wheels'. The first time a member of the original band had appeared on stage with Alice at a proper scale show since 1974.

As the 2000s Michael acrimoniously parted ways with with Torn Ticket Productions. His supposedly "official" website became vicious attack on his character which hung around for years and Michael generally removed himself from the internet. Despite that Michael became more active then he had been since the original band. In August 2001 he appeared at the third Glen Buxton Memorial Weekend and he toured the UK twice (backed by 'Sadness Kills The Superman') in 2001 and 2002 playing a handful of small clubs, including an appearance at the 'Sickcon1' UK Alice Cooper convention co-organised by this site in November 2002.

The shows varied in quality. The backing band were incredibly good and well rehearsed but Michael's playing was more hit and miss. For example the 2001 Edinburgh show was pretty bad. It was poorly attended, the band way too loud, and Michael's playing was all over the place. However a couple of nights later in Newcastle he played extremely well with 'My Stars' especially being outstanding, the keyboard parts having been transposed to guitar.


2002 UK Tour Flyer.

Generally the setlist evolved around these songs (this is from the Newcastle Trillians show):

  1. Hello Hooray
  2. Under My Wheels
  3. Is It My Body
  4. Second Coming
  5. Ballad of Dwight Fry
  6. Desperado
  7. Hard Hearted Alice
  8. Billion Dollar Babies
  9. Be My Lover
  10. As Rock Rolls On
  11. My Stars
  12. Left For Dead Meat (New song - never released)
  13. No More Mr Nice Guy
  14. Muscle Of Love
  15. I'm Eighteen
  16. School`s Out
  17. Halo of Flies
  18. Caught In A Dream

While in Europe Michael also took a short trip to Iceland for a couple of show with the musicians who would later become 'DIMMA' including Gaukurinn in Reykjavik where the show was recorded and parts were later released as 'Halo Of Ice' and 'The Second Coming Of Michael Bruce'. The latter was a limited edition of just 200 copies and featured alternative recordings of from the same show as 'Halo Of Ice' plus new studio versions of 'Muscle Of Love' and 'I'm Eighteen'. Of the two releases 'Second Coming' if by far the better and feature liner notes by Dennis Dunaway on a nice digipak cover.


Michael Bruce and Ryan Roxie, Edinburgh 2002.

The first 2002 UK show in Edinburgh coincided with Alice playing the Edinburgh Playhouse just down the road, with Michael's performance timed to start after Alice's show had finished. Michael was meant to join Alice on stage at the big show but while he was backstage crossed wires meant he never actually made it to the stage. However after Alice's show ended fans headed around the corner to see Michael joined on stage by Ryan Roxie, Eric Dover and Greg Smith of Alice's band, with Calico Cooper in the audience. A hoped for appearance by Alice himself didn't happened, but in all honestly the club was tiny and packed out so, it would have probably been dangerous for him to have appeared. It was amusing to see the big Cooper bands tour bus parked up outside this tiny little club. Whether Alice was still on it or not we'll never know. After each show Michael stayed around chatting and signing anything that he was offered.

He finally appeared on stage with Alice at the Wembley Arena show on Nov 16th and hung out with fans after the show. he spoke about his forthcoming album of new material, tentatively titled 'Dark Side Of Love'. One track, 'Hellhole Number Nine' became 'When Hell Come Home' on Alice's 'Welcome 2 My Nightmare".

As of April 2003, Michael was still working on material for 'The Dark Side Of Love' which was set to include two reworked classics, 'Muscle of Love' and 'Forever Eighteen'. Unfortunately it has yet to be released.

May 1st 2004 sees Michael debut a new Michael Bruce Group in Tucson, AZ. The line up was Bob Russell on guitar, Jeff Harris on sax, piano and vocals, Thomas Dominick on organ and keyboards, Mondo Thomas on bass, Robin Horn on Drums, and of course Michael on guitars, keyboards and lead vocals. They played shows occasionally around the Phoenix area mainly for fun. It was suggested Michael had basically retired from music but he still surfaced occasionally for the odd guest appearance play with his 'Michael Bruce Group'.

On December 15th 2010 it was announced the original Alice Cooper band would finally be inducted into the 'Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame' at a ceremony in New York on March 14th 2011. The band performed together at the induction, and also played a short set at the Revolver Awards the same month. While various combinations of the original band members had played together with Alice at small functions over the preceding decade this was really the first time since 1974 they had performed together as 'Alice Cooper' since 1974.

In 2011 Michael, Neal and Dennis all performed on Alice's 'Welcome 2 My Nightmare' album which included Michael's 'When Hell Comes Home', a sing that began life as 'Hellhole Number Nine'. The new version was very close to his original but with new lyrics by Alice.

There was controversy in 2014 when the Alice Cooper documentary 'Super Duper Alice Cooper' didn't mention Michael by name even once when retelling the story of Alice Cooper, a ludicrous omission. In interviews the producers claimed that 'they couldn't find Michael' which just added to the controversy as Michael was by then on facebook and numerous people, including Dennis Dunaway, could reach him with a simple phone call. In the end the decision to exclude Michael was called a 'production decision' to concentrate on the central relationship between Alice and Dennis, but to not mention his name once is still unfathomable.

In 2017 Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith and Michael Bruce performed on Alice's 'Parnormal' album and played short "mini-sets" during the 2017 'Paranormal' Alice Cooper tour of the UK. The band original band, along with Ryan Roxie standing in for Glen Buxton, played 'I'm Eighteen', 'Billion Dollar Babies', 'No More Mr Nice Guy', and 'Muscle Of Love' before both current and original bands joined together for 'School's Out'.