It's a bit of a joke to try to take Alice Cooper out of his comfort zone. These days the 61-year-old might be a good Christian, coming up 26 years sober, and a top celebrity golfer, but this is also the guy who has been executed thousands of times on stage, be it hung in the gallows or beheaded by a guillotine. And early in Cooper's career he supposedly drank the blood of a chicken on stage - an incident he says was grossly exaggerated.

Cooper, who's on the phone from Oslo where he is on tour, reckons he simply threw the chook out into the audience and the fans tore it apart. Although you have to wonder what the chicken was doing there in the first place.

Also, not many people can count the Doors' Jim Morrison and guitar great Jimi Hendrix among their drinking buddies. In a career spanning more than 40 years Cooper has been around.

But when it came time to create his new show, Alice Cooper's Theatre of Death, which comes to Auckland's Aotea Centre on September 4, the pioneer of shock rock had one condition: "Take me out of my comfort zone."

It turns out, the solution was simple. Cooper dies three, maybe four times during the show instead of once.

"I don't want to give away any secrets, but I kinda turn into Jason where you just can't kill me," he cackles.

Musically, there are around 15 songs Cooper says he has to play to keep the audience happy - with early song I'm Eighteen, 1972's anthemic signature tune School's Out, and late 80s hit single Poison, among the most popular - which is why he only plays one or two songs from his 25th and current album, Along Came A Spider.

And he insists on playing them exactly the way they are on record. "Because when I go and see bands and, you know, like I go and see the Stones, and they say, 'We're gonna do a reggae version of Brown Sugar', I'm like, 'No, come on'."

Cooper last played in New Zealand during Easter 2008 for Wellington's two-day heavy rock extravaganza Rock2Wgtn, but he's looking forward to playing the more intimate surrounds of Auckland's Aotea Centre in September.

"That to me is where a show like this should be seen, but of course we play every venue you can imagine, from 100,000 people outdoors to 3000 seaters, and to me when you take a theatrical Alice Cooper show and put it into a theatre it's just a lot more intense."

Alice Cooper (the band) formed in 1968 out of pyschedelic 60s group the Spiders, a Yardbirds-influenced quintet Cooper fronted when he was known under his real name, Vincent Furnier.

It wasn't until 1975, when Cooper went solo, that he would take the band's name as his own.

It was Cooper who realised that showmanship, stage craft and shock tactics were almost as important as having great songs in the late 60s.

Although, he's adamant that if you don't have great songs then you're nothing.

"We always had that desire to not fit in. But how do you not fit in and still sell records? I wanted to be in competition with Led Zeppelin, and the Kinks, so in other words you can't do theatrics without the songs. You have to stand up to any band you're playing with, if not be better, and then you can start putting the icing on the cake."

Or the dead body in the coffin, as the case may be.

Under Cooper's direction and influence Alice Cooper went about crafting a theatrical, violent and blood-thirsty brand of heavy music with the prime intention to shock.

And shock it did.

"I was the biggest Beatles, Rolling Stones and Who fan around, and I thought Pete Townshend doing the windmill, smashing his amps up, and Jimi Hendrix doing his thing, was really great, but they were all guitar heroes. I thought, 'Where are the villains?'

"You can't have a good play, movie or anything without a hero and a villain. So I said, 'Why wouldn't Alice be Captain Hook to their Peter Pan?' So I invented the original Dracula for rock'n'roll, and this is a character that no matter how many villains come along they are never going to be as effective as this one. So I did create Alice to be the ultimate rock villain and after 40 years I think I still am," he says, sounding chuffed.

"I remind Marilyn Manson all the time that I am still the oldest vampire."

The four classic Alice Cooper albums came out in succession from 1971's Love It to Death, which featured I'm Eighteen; then Killer during the same year with the trippy-King Crimson style rock of Halo of Flies and the raunchier Desperado; 1972's School's Out; and finally 1973's Billion Dollar Babies with the hit No More Mr Nice Guy.

He agrees that Killer is the classic Cooper record, which is why the band still play more than half the songs off the album during the live show. Desperado is a cracker and in contrast there's the long, psychedelic trip of Halo of Flies, which at the time was a reaction by the band to being pigeonholed for writing three-minute hard rock singles.

"I said why don't we do a song like a King Crimson song and show off the band a little bit. We got in the Frank Zappa mode and went 'let's do a song that makes people go ... woah'. Back then you had to prove yourself in a lot of ways."

Cooper went solo in 1975 and due to a lack of hit songs and albums, and his alcohol addiction, his profile waned until 1988 single Poison marked a return to form and popularity.

"It's the greatest stripper song ever," proclaims Cooper proudly.

You may have noticed how he sometimes refers to himself in the third person. When asked about this, he says it's about the difference between being sober and being an alcoholic.

"When I used to drink I figured I had to be Alice all the time. But when I got sober I realised there's me and then there's Alice who was this guy on stage that was an overbearing arrogant villain. He didn't want to play golf, watch TV, or be married. He only lived for the audience, two hours a night.

"To me that's a great way to live with Alice, and I talk about him in the third person because I'm not him. I play him."

Rest assured, in September, Alice will show up for a couple of hours for the concert and the rest of the time he will be on the golf course.

You see, Kiwi golfer Michael Campbell, who Cooper played with in a charity tournament in June, has recommended some local courses he should play and Cooper intends on checking a few of them out.

LOWDOWN
Who: Alice Cooper

What: Original shock rockers Theatre of Death Tour

Where & when: Aotea Centre, Auckland, September 4

Latest album: Along Came A Spider, out now

Classic albums: Love It To Death (1971); Killer (1971); School's Out (1972); and Billion Dollar Babies (1973)