When I first saw this picture of Colonel Sanders and Alice Cooper, earlier this year, I wondered what reason these two men might have to spend time together. While it may be a stretch, I imagine their meeting had something to do with the “Chicken Incident” of 1969.
After an unrehearsed stage routine involving Cooper and a live chicken garnered attention from the press, the band decided to capitalize on tabloid sensationalism, creating in the process a new subgenre, shock rock. Cooper claims that the infamous ‘Chicken Incident’, which took place at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert in September 1969, was in fact an accident. A chicken somehow made its way on stage during Alice Cooper’s performance; not having any experience around farm animals, Cooper presumed that, since the chicken had wings, it would be able to fly. He picked it up and threw it out over the crowd, expecting it to fly away; the bird instead plummeted into the first few rows of the crowd occupied by disabled people in wheelchairs, who reportedly proceeded to tear the animal to pieces.
The next day, the incident made the front page of many national newspapers, and Zappa phoned him to ask if the story, which reported that Cooper had bit the head off the chicken and drunk its blood on stage, was true. Cooper denied the rumor, whereupon Zappa told him, “Well, whatever you do, don’t tell anyone you didn’t do it”, obviously recognising that such kind of publicity would be priceless for the band.
Despite the publicity the band received from the Chicken Incident, their stronger second album, Easy Action, released in 1970, met with the same fate as its predecessor. Music label Warner Bros. Records then purchased Straight Records from Frank Zappa, and the Alice Cooper group was set to receive a higher level of promotion from the more major label. It was around this time that the band, fed up with Californians’ indifference to their act, relocated to Cooper’s birthplace, Detroit, where their bizarre stage act was much better received. Detroit would remain their steady home base until 1972. “LA just didn’t get it. They were all on the wrong drug for us. They were on acid and we were basically drinking beer. We fit much more in Detroit than we did anywhere else…”