Texas A&M Graduate Helped Good Records Become Alice Cooper’s Capital of the World

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DALLAS — One of the most unlikely and unique nights in recent Dallas music history, and particularly in the life of Good Records co-owner Chris Penn, didn’t exactly start with all the engines working. In fact, it was an engine that failed 24 hours ago that nearly ruined the night Penn had dreamed of.

After months of planning, hoping and waiting, Penn had helped bring together the first Alice Cooper Group, his favorite band, and on top of that, the band would perform their first concert together in decades on the small stage. inside Good Records on Lower Greenville Avenue on October 6, 2015.

But to play a concert, the band must go to the concert.

The day before the show, which would feature a surprise appearance by the band’s legendary lead singer, Alice Cooper himself, Penn drove his wife’s minivan to the band’s hotel in Dallas to pick them up and take them to the store so that the musicians can check. . A few blocks from the Hope Street store, however, the gas warning light that had illuminated the van’s dashboard earlier had fulfilled its promise as the van came to an abrupt stop. Penn was embarrassed, but Dennis Dunaway, the band’s bassist, along with his wife, Cindy, and guitarist Michael Bruce and his wife, Lynn, were all very amused.

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“We were all laughing,” Dunaway says on the phone, laughing. “But Chris (Penn) was freaking out. He thought he blew it in front of his heroes because we all had to get out and push the van to the store. It was a humbling experience, but it was also hilarious.

This amusing and potentially dangerous experience is relived in colorful and animated detail in “Live From the Astroturf, Alice Cooper”, a documentary recently released on DVD and Blu-Ray. This documentary screened at the Queen Theater in downtown Bryan in 2019.

Penn, 48, earned a marketing degree from Texas A&M in 1994. He was knee-deep in the music scene in the 90s, running the Marooned record store in Northgate and helping book shows at the Stafford Opera House in downtown Bryan. He moved to Dallas in 1997.

Chances are more than a few people, if they had been in Penn’s shoes, would have just wanted to cut their losses and call it all off. But not Penn. As a teenager, he had painted his face white with black streaks around his eyes, just as Cooper had done for so many years.

He knew fans of the band, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, came from all over the country for the event, which was billed as a book signing and Q&A only. for Dunaway’s 2015 memoir “Snakes! Guillotine! Electric Chairs!: My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group”, in which Bruce and Neal Smith would also appear. Penn knew those in attendance were super Cooper fans, just like him, and he had a responsibility to make that happen.

After all, Penn had literally walked through a wall to make this surprise reunion a reality. Without the building owner’s consent, Penn drilled a huge hole in the wall at the back of the stage so that Cooper could easily slip onto the stage for the grandest of surprising entrances.

And indeed, all of Penn’s extensive and DIY renovations have paid off when it comes to showtime. With fans filling the aisles of the store’s main ground floor and upstairs loft, the instantly recognizable rock icon walked through the entrance to the newly created stage with a smile as the band kicked off their hit from 1971’s “Be My Lover”.

“The expression on the faces of the people in the audience when Alice came out,” Dunaway says, “was like the way the audience was watching in ‘The Producers’ when ‘Springtime for Hitler’ started. Everyone was under the shock, mouth wide open and I even saw two grown men crying.

Penn made it possible by pushing vans and knocking down walls is no surprise. He has been a fixture on the Dallas music scene for many years, not only as co-owner of Good Records, along with Polyphonic Spree lead singer Tim DeLaughter and Julie Doyle, but also as DJ CeePee. Long before that, Penn honed his skills as a talent scout during his college years, arranging gigs for notable bands including Dinosaur Jr. and Fugazi while attending Texas A&M.

Creativity and problem solving are part of his daily life. But sometimes, Penn understood, achieving a dream starts with something too simple.

“I just emailed him,” Penn said on the phone while phoning a Good Records client one recent afternoon. “We’ve done a lot of signings over the years that didn’t involve in-store performance with the likes of Johnny Rotten from PiL and the Sex Pistols, and John Densmore from The Doors. I’m a huge Alice Cooper Group fan, and I had read that Dennis (Dunaway) had a book coming out, so I contacted him before it came out, and we stayed in touch. After a few months, he told me to pick a date for that we can get there.

As discussions about the in-store event continued, plans grew more ambitious. Bruce and Smith have agreed to join the party. Naturally, this development prompted Penn to dream more. How often does someone organize a reunion of the living members of their favorite band, after all? (Glen Buxton, founding guitarist of Alice Cooper Group, died in 1997).

Penn didn’t just throw a dart at a calendar to pick a night for the book signing. He says that “being semi-intelligent, I decided to watch Alice Cooper’s tour schedule”. What he found was an upcoming day off between gigs in Hidalgo and Dallas on Oct. 7, 2015. Penn hoped Cooper, a golf fanatic, would host the many great local courses above those near the border Texas-Mexico, and would also be ready to find his old friends for a few songs.

Penn “planted seeds,” he says, emailing Cooper’s manager and even going to a Cooper concert in San Antonio to meet the manager face-to-face. Dunaway also vouched for Penn and his record store to his former high school friend Cooper. Unlike many famous bands that break up, Cooper, Dunaway, Smith and Bruce have remained friends since the band broke up in 1975. The seed planting worked, and Cooper agreed to play his part.

In 2019, the hour-long documentary made its way to film festivals in the US and UK, winning numerous awards. Over the past several years, Penn has also overseen the release of the show’s audio in various vinyl LP formats. That there was officially recorded evidence of the historic reunion ever happening almost didn’t happen.

“I planned out what I wanted the show to look like,” Penn says. “I ordered a pink carpet and white microphones for the stage, and I had electric chairs made, and we had a backdrop made, but maybe a few days before the show I realized that I hadn’t thought of recording anything at all. I had my buddy David Wilson running the sound, and he said he could handle recording the audio, and then I spoke up to Patrick Cone and Steven Gaddis to cobble together a film crew to see what was going on. At first I just wanted to document the show for myself, because I knew I would be busy running around, making sure no one did shoplifting and stuff like that.

Penn also streamed the proceedings online via Periscope, the now discontinued live streaming app. Quite quickly, news outlets from as far away as England and Japan, as well as American outlets including Rolling Stone, reported on the first real reunion of living members of the Alice Cooper band in over 40 years.

“My daughter texted me that night,” Dunaway says. “She said, ‘Dad, I don’t know what you’re doing, but the internet is buzzing about you guys.'”

The band, which featured Cooper’s touring guitarist Ryan Roxie, cut eight tracks, including classic rock hits “Under My Wheels” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” The Penn fan was also impressed with what happened on his little stage.

“The guys played so well together,” he said. “Alice really sang the songs, and the band really stepped up.”

Aside from his elaborate in-store gig, Penn is perhaps more excited about the aftermath of that night. At the American Airlines Center the night after the Good Records show, Dunaway, Smith and Bruce joined Cooper to perform “School’s Out”. Over the next few months more performances with Alice Cooper’s original band would take place, including a short UK tour which Penn managed to see in person.

Penn and Dunaway stayed in touch and became friends. Dunaway told Penn that the reunion was a catalyst for her old band of buddies to work together again. For a music fan like Penn, it’s the stuff of teenage daydreams come to life.

“It’s all been mind-blowing,” he says. “I did all of this just to do it; I hadn’t planned everything, but it worked. »

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