Shep Gordon has a lot of stories, more than enough to write a book, which he’s already done, and is interesting enough to have an award-winning documentary based on himself and directed by Mike Myers.
Known as instrumental to the careers of artists including Alice Cooper and Teddy Pendergrass, Gordon also was more than enough to keep the Production Live! crowd roaring and rapt at attention in a discussion led by David Fishof, COO of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy Camp.
During the Production Live! Keynote Q&A: The Camp Counselor & The Supermensch, Gordon regaled a packed Beverly Hills ballroom with stories and wisdom dating back to rock and roll’s wildest heydays. Gordon’s penchant for coming up with wacky schemes had a perfect test subject in his longest and perhaps best known-client, Alice Cooper, whose whole brand in the ‘70s was to scare parents and play into teenage rebellion.
“Winning for us was getting banned somewhere,” Gordon said. “If we got banned, we knew that the parents would tell the kids how horrible Alice was, which would make the kids want to go see Alice.”
This led to zany – and often nude – schemes, to varying degrees of success. One triumph was in 1972, a day before Alice’s Wembley Pool gig, where Gordon came up with the idea to drive a semi-tractor through London’s West End carrying a billboard of a nude Alice Cooper, covered only by boa constrictor. The plan was to get on the morning TV talk shows, which always show traffic reports. “We broke the truck down three times and backed up traffic on Piccadilly Circus for 40 miles. We caught the greatest break when we woke up in the morning. The headline was ‘Ban Alice from UK.’ We sold out that night.”
Not every idea was so successful, however, such as the idea to shoot Alice out of a cannon at Three Rivers Stadium in an effort to make a splash for his first stadium shows.
With an elaborate plan to shoot a dummy out of a cannon and transport Alice via golf cart to the other side, a slight problem happened during rehearsal gigs: The dummy only flew a few feet out of the cannon.
“In a horrible mistake of advertising, it said he was getting shot out of a cannon so we were locked into this,” said Gordon. From there, the plan morphed into an idea to turn the cannon into a penis that would erupt with fire extinguishers foam. After that plan fizzled out, Gordon concocted one final plan — faking a cannonball accident leaving Alice burned and the show in jeopardy.
“We hold the press conference around the corner of the hospital two hours later with our roadies dressed as doctors and send video back to the news stations in Pittsburgh saying that Alice had gotten burned and he wants to come do the show and we don’t know what’s going to happen. He did the show in a wheelchair. The headlines were – ‘This is the greatest artist, he got blown up last night and is still performing.’
“And he still talks to me!” Gordon said, laughing.