Detroit-born vocalist Vincent Furnier co-formed the Earwigs in the mid-1960s in Phoenix, Arizona. The band released a few singles and went through a few name changes before settling on a lineup with guitarist Glen Buxton, guitarist and keyboardist Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway, and drummer Neal Smith. In 1968 the band adopted the name Alice Cooper—a name Furnier later adopted as his own—and presented a story that it came from a 17th-century witch whose name they learned from a session with a ouija board.
At some point Buxton painted circles under his eyes with cigarette ashes, and soon the rest followed with ghoulish black makeup and outlandish clothes. The band moved to Los Angeles and became known for its provocative, theatrical shock rock stage show. In an incident during a performance at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival in 1969, Cooper threw a live chicken into the audience, who tore it to shreds.
The group's first two albums, Pretties for You (1969) and Easy Action (1970), appeared on Frank Zappa's Straight Records label, and failed to find an audience. The band relocated to Detroit and found itself in the midst of a music scene populated with the hard-driving rock of the MC5, the stage-diving Iggy Pop with the Stooges, and the theatricality of George Clinton's Parliament and Funkadelic. The Alice Cooper band incorporated these influences into a tight hard-rock sound coupled with an outrageous live show.
While at the Strawberry Fields Festival in Canada in April 1970, band manager Shep Gordon contacted producer Jack Richardson, who had produced hit singles for the Guess Who. Richardson was uninterested in producing the Alice Cooper band himself, and sent the young Bob Ezrin in his place. Cooper recalled the junior producer as "a nineteen-year-old Jewish hippie" who reacted to meeting the outlandish band "as if he had just opened a surprise package and found a box full of maggots".
Ezrin initially turned down working with the band, but changed his mind when he saw them perform at Max's Kansas City in New York City the following October. Ezrin was impressed with the band's audience-participation rock-theater performance and the cult-like devotion of the band's fans, who dressed up and knew the lyrics and actions to the music, which Ezrin compared to the later cult following of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Ezrin returned to Toronto to convince Richardson to take on the band; Richardson did not want to work directly with such a group but agreed on condition that Ezrin took the lead.