When Anne Murray Met the Hollywood Vampires
Growing up in Canada, you may associate Anne Murray with your grandmother’s scuffed up record collection—y’know, somewhere amongst her Nana Mouskouri and Tony Bennett records—or perhaps from the tape deck in your Mom’s car. But one cultural memory you likely don’t associate with the Nova Scotian pop country powerhouse is Alice Cooper’s infamous LA drinking club, The Hollywood Vampires.
Despite what you may think of Anne Murray’s music, her achievements cannot be understated. In a career that spanned four decades, Murray’s blend of pop country, folk and “adult contemporary” sold over 55 million copies and achieved accolades including four Grammys, 24 Junos, three American Music Awards, and three Country Music Association Awards, just to name a few. Murray was the first Canadian female singer to hit number one on American charts, and also the first to earn a Gold record for her song “Snowbird”.
With Anne Murray’s wholesome, squeaky clean Canadian image, how did an infamous photo of the Springhill singer posing in the celebrity dinge of the Troubadour in West Hollywood with the unlikely company of Alice Cooper, John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, and Micky Dolenz come to change her career?
Well, the answer is Alice Cooper’s opportunistic and business savvy manager Shep Gordon.
“She has one of the purest voices that God ever put on this planet, and she was as far from Alice that I could possibly get” Shep Gordon explained in the film. “She’s so middle America, she’s past middle America: she’s Canadian!”
Considering Shep Gordon initially broke into the music business in the 1960s as Jimi Hendrix pot dealer, you can’t help but wonder what kind of lifestyle clash may have occurred between Shep and Anne.
“When I was in LA recording I stayed at Shep’s House” Anne Murray recalled in the doc. “Not only was the refrigerator full with all the booze you could drink, there was this note from somebody on the counter that said there’s a ‘surprise for you in the drawer’, and I looked in the drawer and here was this large vile of white powder.”
Did Shep think there may have been a Black Sabbath-esque hidden meaning to Murray’s breakout hit, “Snowbird”?
“I had no idea it was there, I never knew until I read her book” Shep Gordon claimed. “I’m amazed she knew what it was, somebody must have told her.”
While Murray wasn’t exactly looking for a “large vile of white powder” from her relationship with Shep, she was definitely seeking a different kind of “buzz”.
“What I was looking for from Shep was to create a buzz in the business, and everybody who was anybody came on The Midnight Special” recalled Murray.
“It was at a time when hip meant everything, and the last thing Midnight Special wanted was a straight laced singer from Canada” said Gordon. “So I booked her at the Troubador, and this is all cool but nobody’s gonna give a shit.”
Desparate to find some “cool” to rub off on Murray, Shep dove into his bag of publicity tricks, the same bag that helped get Alice Cooper’s mug in the papers in the few years prior. Though shocking in some sense, this trick didn’t quite delve into such jarring territory as Cooper’s shock rock repertoire.
“One of the techniques that I’ve always used is ‘guilt by association’, which is if you take somebody really famous and put them next to somebody else, that other person melts off the fame.” Gordon explained.
Enter the Hollywood Vampires: Alice Cooper and his rock n’ roll swashbuckling drinking club that prominently featured John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Micky Dolenz and other high profile stars in Cooper’s band of bleary men.
“It was (John Lennon’s) dark era, and he was rarely photographed,” Gordon recalled of his strategy. “So if people could get their hands on John Lennon, it’s going to be very big.”
“The whole purpose of that entire night was to get a picture of Anne Murray standing next to all these icons who were the coolest people in the world.”
But getting these drunken rock n’ roll curmudgeons down to an Anne Murray gig wouldn’t be the easiest of gigs. As Alice Cooper himself recalls, most members of the group “were pretty cynical.”
“I went to the Rainbow Room that night and I literally got down on my hands and knees, I said “Guys, you gotta help me. I’m representing this girl Anne Murray, I booked her at the Troubadour and if I could get you guys up there for a picture with her, I’ll do anything for you.”
“That picture has had more mileage than any other picture that I have ever had taken of me in my career. Rolling Stone wanted to interview me, and I was the “it girl” for just a few weeks.”
“I got her on Midnight Special and it really helped break her” Gordon concluded. “To her credit, Annie always stayed Anne Murray, she didn’t go on Midnight Special and wear bangles: she was Anne Murray.”
So why did Shep Gordon fight so hard for a left field act like Anne Murray? It’s quite simple, according to legendary record producer Bob Ezrin.
“People thought taking on Anne Murray was folly on Shep’s part, but the reality is he hated the Alice Cooper stuff” said Ezrin in the documentary. “The music that he liked was Anne Murray style folk and The Spinners.”