Alice Cooper's Snake-Charming & More Rock Exploits Captured by Local Photographer

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman offers his insights, opinions and observations about the local scene. This week: A new book shares photos of an earlier era. 

There's nothing like old photos to rekindle dormant memories, and for those familiar with South Florida's vibrant concert scene back in the '70s and early '80s, there's a new book that will likely evoke a strong whiff of nostalgia.

Complied by veteran photographer Larry Singer, Backstage: All Access gathers dozens of archival photos taken in the all-but-forgotten haunts of now-defunct venues like the Hollywood Sportatorium, Pirates World and the Jai-Alai Fronton. While the book itself contains only minimal text, the images themselves are consistently striking, capturing artists like the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, the Who, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, Bob Seger and several dozen others both in candid backstage snapshots as well as the peak of performance.

Singer, who still resides in Oakland Park, was granted complete backstage access at the time, thanks to his newspaper credentials and an ongoing freelance association with Circus magazine, once one of the rock world's most influential fanzines. Consequently, the first images in the book reproduce Singer's photo of a very hung-over looking Gregg Allman and the picture as it appeared when it later graced Circus' cover. 

"I began shooting rock stars while attending what was then Broward Community College," Singer explains. "While taking journalism classes, I got a part-time job as photographer for a weekly newspaper in Davie. The editor asked me to write a weekly column called 'Insight Rock,' which focused on rock stars that would be playing at Pirate's World in Dania, and to take the photos that would accompany the column." 

Singer worked out an arrrangement with the concert promoter that would allow him backstage access in exchange for sharing copies of his photos. Over the next decade or so, Singer photographed dozens of artists and even came to know a couple of them individually. Surprisingly, Alice Cooper became one of those with whom he established an instant rapport. Little surprise then that a photo of Alice in full ghoulish makeup adorns the cover of his book.

"The first time I met Alice, the band had only one hit, 'I'm 18'," Singer recalls. "I had no idea who or what Alice was, or even what he looked like. The night of the concert, I tried to find the band so that I could do an interview. When I poked my head into the group's dressing room, I caught my first glimpse of Alice in full costume and makeup, and I decided I really didn't want to talk to this guy. So I walked away. But before I could take more than a few steps, I heard Alice yell, 'Hey, come back. I want to talk to you.' I later found out that Alice had once taken pictures for his high school newspaper, and seeing the three cameras around my neck, he wasn't about to let a perfectly good a picture opportunity go to waste. When Alice asked me what kind of photography I did, I just happened to have pictures with me of the Who that I had shot a month earlier. Alice then had the rest of band gather around and check out my work. 

"That night, Alice and I began a professional relationship that lasted for years. He was a soft-spoken, brilliant showman who knew the value of happy press photographers." 

Singer's relationship with Alice blossomed and the two actually became quite friendly. "My writing partner and I took Alice to Broward Community College for an unusual slide show," Singer says. "Alice had just performed in Miami the previous night, and I had shot his show on slide film. Having no other place to show Alice what I had done, we took him, his manager and two or three band members to the planetarium at BCC to show them my slides. I had cleared this with the astronomy professor, who, during his class, told his students there would be a short break for some music and rock photography. Alice and his entourage then entered the room, walked down to the front row, and for the next 20 minutes watched themselves as they floated through the heavens as if in performance." 

Singer says that spending time with Cooper and his clan occasionally found him caught up in the singer's offbeat antics. He recalls visiting Alice in his hotel suite while the singer's pet boa constrictor Chiquita was attempting a quick getaway down the toilet. He and Alice both grabbed the snake's tail and managed to lure it back into its cage. "Alice told me that when he first used the snake in his act, she was a little nervous, but still very well behaved," Singer smiles. "However during a show one night, while Alice was singing, Chiquita coiled herself around his neck and body and, as she stared into his eyes, gave him a very scary hard squeeze. 'She was just telling me what she could do to me if I ever pissed her off,' Alice said. 'And I try really hard not to piss her off.'" 

Singer also became friendly with the band Deep Purple after their bassist Roger Glover noticed him with his cameras standing backstage. "Following their performance, he asked me if I would like to interview the band. Because he had been obscured from my view during most of the concert, I didn't recognize him, which forced me to ask him, 'Which band?' "That was the start of my relationship with them. But even after I traveled with the group while doing a story for Zoo World, a Fort Lauderdale-based rock paper, it took two years before Ritchie Blackmore decided he'd speak to me. He always stayed in his own dressing room and didn't mix with the band before shows." 

Naturally, Deep Purple is prominently featured in Singer's book. "Two of my favorite Deep Purple pictures are of Jon Lord standing behind his organ in a dressing room, and Ritchie Blackmore effortlessly holding two very large cups of soda in one hand. Deep Purple had achieved superstar status, and the expression on Lord's face -- with food on one side of him and a urinal on the other -- speaks volumes." 

Out of curiosity, we asked Singer who were his favorite subjects. "Roger Glover, David Clayton Thomas of Blood, Sweat and Tears, Ted Nugent and all the musicians associated with Nazareth and Alice Cooper." He replied. "I partied with all of them and it was obvious everyone always had a great time."

Pick up Singer's book at

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Lee Zimmerman