The press cried “fowl” when an innocent chicken was ravaged by a Canadian festival audience driven into a frenzy by beer, drugs and this relatively unknown rock band in 1969
Alice Cooper (Alice Cooper-vocals, Glen Buxton-lead guitar, Michael Bruce- guitar and keyboards, Dennis Dunway-bass and Neal Smith-drums) having recently changed their name from the Nazz (they were originally the Spiders), moved to L.A. and were signed by Frank Zappa’s Straight label. They were two years away from their breakthrough hit “I’m Eighteen,” and had just released their debut LP— Pretties For You, a psychedelic hodgepodge that showed a band still struggling musically to find their style and sound, and had yet to really learn to write a song.
But their highly theatrical stage act and dazzling looked (influenced by friends and label mates The GTO’s, who taught them quite a bit about make-up and thrift shop vintage clothing) was gaining them a lot of attention.
They were booked at the bottom of the bill at the Toronto Rock’n’Roll Revival, a stadium festival that was headlined by John Lennon and Yoko Ono (and the Plastic Ono Band, with a barely functional strung-out Eric Clapton on guitar), the Doors, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Screaming Lord Sutch, Jr Walker and the All Stars, Howlin’ Wolf, Tony Joe White, Jerry Lee Lewis, Doug Kershaw, Cat Mother, and Kim Fowley as the MC.
The festival was filmed by D.A. Pennebaker, who had come to prominence in the documentary world with the Dylan tour de force Don’t Look Back (he also filmed Dylan’s Eat The Document for ABC TV, which rejected it). Highlights from the festival would eventually be edited into a film called Sweet Toronto.
The Alice Cooper (who do not appear in Sweet Toronto) as seen on the rather dodgy print below, stole the show, and entered rock’n’roll folklore when someone threw a chicken onstage (already covered in feathers from the pillow fight during the freak out jam that followed the set opener “Don’t Blow Your Mind,” a tune leftover from their Spiders days).
Singer Alice Cooper (nee’ Vincent Furnier), from the suburbs of Phoenix, knew little about fowl and assumed when he picked up the bird and hefted it at the crowd it would fly away. Of course, if you didn’t know, chickens don’t fly, and the crowd of Canadian lumpen hippie acid heads, worked into a frenzy by the end of Cooper’s set, tore the poor critter to pieces, hurling chicken parts back at the stage. In pre-Internet days, the word of mouth and descriptions in the rock press contributed greatly to building the controversy and legend growing around Alice Cooper.*
Three years later, they would be the heroes of the lude-head generation and platinum-selling stars, with their all-time summer classic School’s Out topping the charts.
Rock’n’roll was a lot more fun back then.
*Manager Shep “Super Mensch” Gordon learned a good lesson in controversy and the press from this incident and later put it to good use. The School’s Out LP was packaged with a pair of disposable paper panties covering the record. Gordon ordered the panties from Canada then alerted customs authorities that a shipment of panties violating the importation of flammable goods laws was about to arrive at the US border. When the panties were seized at customs he sent out a press release that made every wire service in the world, headlined— “First Federal Panty Raid”. It helped propel School’s Out to the top of the charts.
Here’s D. A. Pennebaker’s Sweet Toronto, sans Alice Cooper: