Chuck Garric and Nita Strauss from The Alice Cooper Band at Psycho Fest!
At the year’s edition of Psycho Fest in Las Vegas, the legendary Alice Cooper would be headlining the final day, arriving at the midnight hour to captivate the attendees with a stunning collection of hard rocking classics. Featured within the ranks of The Alice Cooper Band are two extraordinary musicians who make the music come alive in a vast and epic way.
Chuck Garric is the longtime bass player for Alice Cooper, joining the band in 2002. In addition to The Alice Cooper Band, Garric has worked with the legendary Ronnie James Dio. Chuck also fronts has his own project – the mighty Beasto Blanco which features Alice Cooper’s daughter Calico on co-lead vocals.
Nita Strauss joined up with Alice Cooper in 2014, lending her own brand of fierce axework to the proceedings. Prior to her tenure with Alice Cooper, Nita was best known for her work with The Iron Maidens and Femme Fatale.
We caught up with Chuck Garric and Nita Strauss a few hours before their show with Alice Cooper at Psycho Fest to discuss working with the iconic performer, as well as other highlights from both their brilliant careers. Read on…
How did you both end up in the Alice Cooper band and describe your very first show with Alice and how it went.
Chuck Garric: It’s sort of a community. Rock and roll is a very small community. It’s Mayberry. It’s word of mouth. I was on tour with Ronnie James Dio as his bass player and came across meeting Eric Singer and Ryan Roxie and Alice and those guys. So when the opportunity came up for a bass player, they put my name in the hat. So I auditioned. The funny thing about my first audition with Alice is, I didn’t get the audition but a few months later I got a call and they’re like, you know what, we want you as the bass player. So my first live show with Alice and the whole band was no rehearsals, just show up for a FOX TV show and we’re gonna do a few tunes. That was my first time ever really meeting Coop, was him walking on stage and jamming with the guys. Afterwards it was like, hey it’s your gig if you want it. So here I am, what, 13 years later?
Nita Strauss: Really it’s the same thing, it’s all about word of mouth. It’s about showing up, being prepared. It’s not just being in the right place at the right time, it’s being prepared when it’s the right time. In my case, I was playing with the band Femme Fatale. We were on the Monsters of Rock Cruise and Kip Winger was there and saw us play. He said, what are you doing? Are you just doing this? I said, meh, I’m hungry. I’m looking for a gig if you hear of anything, I’d love it if you keep me in mind. Less than two weeks later or a month later, I got the call asking if I was available over the summer and said man I got some gigs, but what’s up? He said, it’s Alice Cooper and I said yes, I’m available. 100%. My calendar is wide open. I asked, is it the Motley Crue tour? He said yes. Alice Cooper and Motley Crue final tour, I said yes. I’m 100,000% percent available. So Kip put in a good word for me and I ended up coming down and auditioning and it was a great experience. We did three little warm up shows before kicking off the Motley Crue tour. It was little casinos and stuff in Michigan. It was great to get your feet wet and do that before jumping into the big arena tour with Motley Crue. The problem, a little behind the scenes information, when we do our headlining show it’s 100 minutes. When we do a show with Motley Crue it’s 50 minutes. So I had to jump in and learn double the amount of music for these first three little shows and then for the next year and a half or so, we played less than an hour.
Chuck, what was it like playing for Dio and what’s your favorite Dio memory?
Chuck: Oh man. So many. It was just a real incredible experience. It’s one of those things, again, Nita just mentioned earlier just being prepared. My first experience from Ronnie was I got a call from Wendy saying hey we’re auditioning bass players. So she sent me a few songs, but I was such a huge Dio / Rainbow / Sabbath fan that I had a lot of that stuff – that ammo just in me. So I was ready for that audition. I went in and the funny thing is, I had never really toured outside of the states so I didn’t even have a passport before that audition. So after the audition, Ronnie goes, hey you got a passport? I guess that was the issue they had with one of their other bass players. I go, yeah! He goes cool, you got the gig. We’re gonna go tour with Motorhead over in Europe. I’m like, killer! I walk out of the room and go right to the area to get your passport and I’ll never forget. I got a call the day I got it in the mail. I remember it was Sep 12th and Wendy goes, hey I need all of your passport information. I go OK as I’m opening the envelope, she goes what’s the issue date? I go Sep 12th. [laughs] She laughed.
I’ve never been with an artist who knew everybody’s parts as well as Ronnie did. During rehearsals I remember there was a conversation about a certain bass line or guitar part. Ronnie was the type of guy that would just sing you the part. He would sing you your line and go, oh it is a half step. He had that ear and he had that passion for what his music was about and Ronnie and I got along so well. I worked my ass off for that guy because there was so much respect for him as a person and him as an artist. Him and I got along really, really well. My best memory is pretty much all of them. Being on stage and being able to play some of those older Sabbath and Rainbow songs was just phenomenal to me.
My greatest Dio memory is being in the studio with him on the last recorded Dio record. At the time we didn’t know that by Master of the Moon. I brought in a few songs and Death By Love is one of them that made it on to the record, it was a great experience to watch this song of mine come to life and have Ronnie’s lyrics and vocals behind it. He really taught me a lot about how to really perform live and be professional and be solid every night. I credit Ronnie for a lot of where my career is going and has been to this day. He really, really taught me a lot. Him and Wendy both.
Nita. I saw this on Wikipedia, what was the experience like playing with Jermaine Jackson and how did that come about?
Nita: I was about to say, you can’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia. That one actually is true. It was great, playing with any of the Jacksons is an amazing experience and playing with Jermaine is no different. We were in rehearsals and Tito and Randy were there, it was really a great education playing a style of music that is so far out of my wheelhouse. So it was really cool, man. The best way I can describe it, is it was a great education.
You played in Africa with Jermaine Jackson? What was that like?
Nita: I can tell you exactly what I saw in Africa, I saw the airport. I saw our tour bus, I saw our hotel and I saw the venue. The reason for that is, we weren’t in South Africa. We weren’t in the most modernized places. We were in Senegal, Gambia. It wasn’t westernized at all. I was the only girl on the tour besides the backup dancer, I was the only white person in the band and I was younger than everybody by a good bit. They basically said you’re not going anywhere. [laughs] We weren’t over there for long, either so they said, I got to go to the beach which was at the hotel which was a Sheraton Hotel so it’s fine. But really, I did get to see a good bit of the poverty and the conditions from the window of the tour bus, which I know is such a shallow thing to say. I didn’t really get to experience as much as I would have liked, but it was interesting looking out the window of the tour bus and seeing the women carrying their groceries on their heads. It’s stuff you don’t think about, this was in 2010, you don’t think about that happening now. This was six years ago. You think of that as this primitive thing, it was actually these barefoot women carrying their groceries home from the store on the top of their dome. It was a real interesting experience and it made me feel very fortunate to have had it and very passionate music fans there too.
How did you become involved with Beasto Blanco and how do you manage being in two full time bands at once?
Chuck: That came about as my way of expressing myself musically. We’re out here and we’ve all had the amazing opportunity to play with some of the best in the music industry and I love that. I’m so blessed to have what I consider some of the two legends on my resume in rock and roll and have had the opportunity to play with others. When you’re an artist you end up tapping into things that you’re really passionate about and one of them is songwriting for me. I had found that I had this barrel full of songs that some worked for Alice and some didn’t. Some would work for some other artists. Some were just or me. So I started Beasto Blanco as sort of my, inner beast, who I am, my inner personality. It was pretty scary for me as stepping out as a lead singer, a front man if you will. That’s why I developed the name Beasto Blanco because it was sort of my way of summoning the courage to get out there and I wanted to give that courage a name. Give that fear that we all have at times to sort of overcome it. That was my idea behind it, I just had a lot of songs. My guitar player Chris is an amazing guitar player, and him and I are a great team. So I thought, why not? Let’s give it a go and see what happens and it’s been phenomenal, it’s been a great, great experience for me. Another learning experience that I thought, ah yeah I’ve pretty much seen it all, but I hadn’t until I stepped up to be sort of the main attraction, the front man. It puts a total different pressure on you and a different conditioning that you have to be ready for on tour.
At the NAMM show, how interesting was it to have both father and daughter on stage? (Editor’s Note: Alice Cooper jumped onstage with Beasto Blanco and sang Feed My Frankenstein with the band)
Chuck: That worked out really well. It was great.
Nita: You tour together all the time, right?
Chuck: Yeah. Exactly. It worked out well, but when I started with Alice Cooper, Calico was the nurse and the ballerina and played a big part of the show. Having them together on stage was something I was very used to and very comfortable with. The NAMM Show, just happened to work out perfectly that Coop was in town and we asked him, hey you want to get up and do a song with us? He was down, he loves Beasto Blanco. He supports it, he thinks it’s a real unique and interesting band and loves the fact that his daughter is in it. And having them both on stage and – the weirdest thing about it was that I was playing guitar instead of bass. So that was sort of something different for me. But it was great, that NAMM show was sort of one of those things that put us on the map a little bit, opening the eyes of some people that didn’t quite know what it was.
Nita, how did you become involved with The Iron Maidens and did anybody in Iron Maiden ever comment about you and the band?
Nita: Oh yeah, we’re pals with them now. It’s funny, I ran into Nicko (McBrain – drummer of Iron Maiden) one of our first times playing in Florida with Alice, and Nicko walks around the corner of the dressing room and as I walk around the corner he goes, hey! There’s my Iron Maiden, what are you doing here? [laughs] I was like, I work here now!
The Iron Maidens, again, is such a great experience. I always encourage young musicians to get out there and just gig, just play as much as you can. That’s always my best advice to young musicians. Just get out there and play. Maybe it’s not your dream band. You might not be playing your own music, maybe you’re just going to coffee shops and playing covers. But really get out there and hone your skills in front of people. That’s really how The Iron Maidens started out as, for me, and it grew into not only a great band but a great friendship. The Iron Maidens, their tenth anniversary show was one of my first shows. They’ve been around forever. When I was a young guitar player, I’d go to shows and see these flyers with these five hot chicks playing Iron Maiden songs and thought, that’s cool! Never in a million years did I think ten years later I’d be playing in this band. I ended up playing Dave in The Iron Maidens for about three years, just a great education. Learning the classic Iron Maiden stuff and it really makes you a better player for sure.
Do you keep in touch with Linda (McDonald, founder of The Iron Maidens) or any of the other members of the band?
Nita: Yeah, just got a text from Courtney (Cox – shredder for The Iron Maidens) on the way up here. It was a picture of her and Nuno Bettencourt singing together. [laughs] Literally on the the way here. So yeah, we’re all very close. I talk to them pretty frequently, as frequently as you do with friends at home. We’ve been on tour so much the last two years. I’ve been in this band almost two and a half years now, it’s hard to keep in touch with anybody at home much less previous band members and stuff. The Iron Maidens are a great family and I definitely feel close with them.
What’s up next for you guys after this tour is over?
Nita: I’ve been working on writing my own material. As Chuck said, you have songs in you that you want to get out. You have stuff that you want to express. It’d be nice to have a little bit of time to give that the attention that it needs. I’ve been writing on the road, but you can only do so much from hotel room to hotel room. Setting stuff up, tearing it down, setting it up the next day in a different room and tearing it down. It’ll be nice to be home and focus on that a little bit. Maybe kiss my dogs, kiss my boyfriend, do some laundry finally. [laughs]
What’s up for you, Chuck?
Chuck: First, I’m real excited to hear what Nita comes up with. I think she’s just been a great addition to the Alice band. Although there is different music tastes, she’s introduced me to some music out there that I definitely wouldn’t have heard if it wasn’t for her, just to hone in and see exactly where she’s coming from. It’ll be real cool to hear. I’m excited for her. For me, I think obviously Beasto Blanco – we have tour dates in November. We got the release of our second record coming out in October. We got three solid videos in support of it. Just an overall great record, I’m so proud of it. I just can’t wait for people to hear it. Really excited for the release of that. January, February we’ve got the Monsters Of Rock Cruise…
Nita: So much fun. I went 2-3 times on that cruise and I say veteran because you do feel like you’re coming back from a war. You guys are gonna kill it on that cruise.
Chuck: We were at the pool yesterday (here at the Hard Rock Casino), Calico and I were sitting at the pool hanging out. All these bearded dudes were there, and I looked at her and said, this pool really is nirvana. Look at these guys, these bearded dudes and these tattooed girls. It’s like a big family of just rock and roll, my type of music. I’m loving everything that’s in this casino right now. I’ve been seeing bands all day, I’m looking forward to seeing even more today. I just feel like I’m in heaven. Calico goes, do you think the cruise will be like this? I’m like, probably a lot of 80’s bands, so times this by about one hundred, man. There are some people seriously throwing down.
Nita: Seriously thrown down the drain, get your liver ready for that…
(Interview by Ken Morton – Photos by Jack Lue)
Check out the Alice Cooper photo gallery by Jack Lue from Psycho Fest here!