Chris Penn’s love for Alice Cooper began in his childhood. His family had a room dedicated to music with all the ’70s trappings: wood paneling on the walls, shag carpet and a stereo system.
“Instead of watching TV on Friday or Saturday nights, as a family we’d listen to music,” he says.
That would include Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits — an album that includes School’s Out, No More Mr. Nice Guy and I’m Eighteen — which led Penn to seek out more music in the early ’80s. He would become a lifelong fan of the rock group with a flair for onstage theatrics.
That superfan status will be on full display today at the Queen Theatre in Downtown Bryan. Penn will present two screenings of Live from the Astroturf, Alice Cooper, a concert movie and documentary he produced about reuniting the original Alice Cooper band. (Alice Cooper was the name of the band, then singer Vincent Furnier adopted it as his own, eventually becoming a solo act after the band broke up around 1975.)
Penn, 48, graduated with a marketing degree from Texas A&M in 1994. He was knee-deep in the music scene in the ’90s, managing the Marooned record store in Northgate and helping to book shows at Stafford Opera House in Downtown Bryan. He moved to Dallas in 1997, and is co-owner of Good Records and co-manager of longtime Dallas bands The Polyphonic Spree and Tripping Daisy.
The documentary began with a 2015 autobiography by Dennis Dunaway, Alice Cooper’s original bass player. Penn reached out to Dunaway to do a book signing at Good Records. Dunaway agreed, and Penn was able to get guitarist Michael Bruce and drummer Neal Smith on board as well for a signing and performance.
Penn says, “It’s in my nature to kind of dream,” and a reunion concept took shape. The surviving original band members had not performed together since they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Guitarist Glen Buxton died in 1997.
The key to Penn’s plan was Dunaway letting him pick the date for the event. Penn’s strategy was to examine when Cooper, who keeps an active touring schedule and is also an avid golfer, would be performing in Texas. He scheduled the signing on Oct. 6, 2015, a day off between Cooper’s shows in Hidalgo and Dallas.
“He’s not gonna stay in Hidalgo,” Penn recalls thinking. “There are tons of golf courses in Dallas. It’s a bigger city. They’re going to go ahead and come to the next city and spend their day off in Dallas. I didn’t know that for sure. That was just a hunch, and me knowing about how bands tour.”
Penn mentioned it to Cooper’s management, as did Dunaway, who also informed the singer. “We planted a seed,” Penn says. “It just permeated. The idea just grew.”
A week before the event, Cooper’s participation was looking good but was not a sure thing, Penn says. When Oct. 6 arrived, Cooper came through. About 250 fans attended the signing and performance, and Penn went to great lengths to keep Cooper’s appearance a surprise. As the signing continued, the singer waited for about 45 minutes in an abandoned warehouse that was right behind the store. Penn says he cut a hole in a wall in his office, so Cooper could enter the building without anyone seeing him. The office was right by the stage. The first glimpse fans had of Cooper was the moment he took the stage.
“You can hear an audible volume raise in the crowd, like a gasp, when he walks out,” Penn says.
The Good Records crew streamed the performance via Periscope. Penn arranged for the show to be preserved by multitrack recording it, and having several friends film it. The goal was to have it for posterity, so Penn “could watch it as an aging old man at home,” he says.
But the performance was so strong, he says, that two songs were selected for a Record Store Day single release in 2016, and then the entire audio was released in 2018. Both sold out. The next step was a film, and Penn enlisted director Steven Gaddis to cut a movie out of the footage.
The result is Live from the Astroturf, which details the event and the performance. The Cooper camp liked it so much, Penn says, that it let him show it around the film festival circuit. It premiered in Phoenix — the birthplace of the group — with the band members in tow in April. The film won best documentary short film, and has earned several awards at other festivals.
The Good Records reunion was the band’s longest set since it broke up, Penn says, and the band has since reunited several times. The event’s impact didn’t fully hit Penn until a few days after the concert, he says, when various websites started reporting on it.
The experience was a “pinch yourself” moment, he says. And he notes that people don’t need to be Alice Cooper fans to enjoy the film, which he calls a “love letter” to the group.
“It’s just a genuine thing,” he says. “It’s about a fan giving back to his favorite band, and then getting something out of it, too. It’s kind of like a Rocky meets Rudy in rock ‘n’ roll.”