Guitar Star Nita Strauss Introduces Her Dogs & Talks Idols With K9 Magazine
Nita Strauss is an American guitarist currently touring with legendary rock star Alice Cooper. Ranked no 1 in Guitar World's '10 Female Guitar Players You Should Know', Nita has spent the last two years touring the globe wowing audiences.
Before joining Alice Cooper's band in 2014, Nita was known for her work with the Iron Maiden tribute band, 'The Iron Maidens', and before that was part of Jermaine Jackson's band for his 2010 tour.
Kim O'Meara caught up with the SoCal blonde beauty in some downtime off stage to hear all about her two beloved dogs, Motley and Bentley.
Hi Nita! Thanks so much for speaking with us, I know you're currently getting ready to head off on tour again so I appreciate you making the time. Tell us a little about your two dogs, Motley and Bentley.
Hi! Thank you, we're excited too.
I'll start with Bentley because she has seniority. She's a Pomeranian Chihuahua mix and she's such a cool dog. She turned 6 years old in July and originally came to me from a friend whose dog had puppies and she wasn't able to keep them so they were about to go to a shelter. As I'm sure you know shelters in Los Angeles are extremely overcrowded and because of that, there's not a very high survival rate so I was able to bring her into the family.
She's travelled all around with me so has a puppy passport. She's actually been to the UK and France with me, she's a really good traveller. At the time I knew I was going to be in Europe for some time and I don't like to be with her for too long.
(Laughs) The puppy passport isn't actually as cute as it sounds with all of the paperwork involved but when they told me she needed one to travel I got all excited but yeah, then came the paperwork.
She must be a very relaxed character to travel from California to Europe. It's a pretty long flight, isn't it.
She is, she just settles down like the princess she is.
With two dogs it's much harder to travel with them so they stay at home when I'm on the road, but it's hard being away from them.
You met Motley on the road, didn't you?
I did. I was on the road with Alice Cooper and we were touring with Mötley Crüe.
At one of the shows, someone came into the dressing room and told us that there were puppies outside and I was like 'puppies!' (laughs) so I ran out and there was an organisation there in the parking lot called Motley Zoo.
I thought it was the cutest name and they're a really cool organisation. What they do is they go different concerts and events and they bring different puppies or kittens they have who looking for new homes to meet the band and they'll take photos with them to share on social media. It's a different way to raise awareness and get publicity for their pets looking for new homes [read more about Motley Zoo's work here].
That's a brilliant idea.
It is, isn't it.
So when they came to one of our shows, I was able to meet the people involved in the rescue and as I was playing with the puppies, as you do, I fell in love with this dog. She was only a few weeks old and a tiny little thing. Her mother had been found on the side of the street completely, you know, abandoned in the road and near death.
They brought her to a shelter but it was a high-risk kill shelter. A pregnant dog in a high kill shelter is, sadly, doomed but Motley Zoo found out about her and they stepped in, took her from the shelter and nursed her back to health. She had four puppies and they named them Vince, Tommy, Nikki and Mick after the four members of Mötley Crüe.
It was so cute because there was a blonde one, a spotted one, a brown one and a black one and I just absolutely fell in love with this tiny black puppy.
I mean, we were in the middle of a tour and I was living on a tour bus with 10 other people but I felt such a connection so I said 'how can I adopt this dog?'.
She was still very young and nursing so the rescue weren't crazy about such a tiny puppy being on a tour bus with a bunch of sweaty guys so I had to wait until she was old enough, but I paid for all of her food and medical bills, like vaccinations and to have her spayed, and then when she was old enough I got off tour and she came down to LA so I could adopt her.
So now she's a little California dog.
What a great story. Did the girls get on well from the start?
Oh yeah, they get along great. I wanted Bentley to have a friend for a while.
I'm really active with rescue organisations in LA and I'd taken her to meet a few dogs but she turned her nose up at all of them, but she loves Motley.
So it was meant to be. I saw on Instagram that you've been involved in rescuing animals in need with Wings Of Rescue who fly across the country saving dogs and cats from shelters who are at risk of being put to sleep.
That's right, yeah.
How does it work?
Basically, in certain parts of California shelters are so overcrowded, it's just so sad. The average life of a dog in a shelter is one-two days, they don't last long at all. It's so tragic because there are so many shelters in the US and Canada who have room and more prospective owners wanting to adopt than they have dogs available in the shelter.
And then you look at us here in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas and we have too many dogs. Sometimes there is two or three dogs to a kennel and so many dogs being put to sleep, it's such a senseless tragedy when there is room for them in other places.
So what Wings Of Rescue does is works with volunteers, mostly retired pilots and their planes, and what they'll do is load up a plane with these dogs and cats from very high-risk shelters and they'll fly them to another state where there's plenty of room, funding, food and space and that way they can have a chance at life while they wait for a forever home to come along.
It doesn't have to be an 'ok if you don't go in the next 12 hours...' type situation, you know, it's just such a senseless thing so it's really a beautiful idea that Wings Of Rescue have come up to that with the hearts and generosity of the volunteers that work with them to fly the planes and help the animals during transport, it's just absolutely amazing to see.
I've been a part of a few journeys with them and to see these animals who had no chance going to beautiful big hills in Montana or Idaho, it's really one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.
It's an amazing initiative doing something different to save lives.
It really is and the guys who do it are so selfless but they're not very well known. I've donated proceeds from a limited edition t-shirt range once too, but I really wanted people to read more about them through it so anytime I can mention them to encourage people to donate or learn more about them, I do.
I actually found out about them through Lorraine Lewis. I was playing in a band called 'Femme Fatale' and she got me involved. She's got all rescue dogs herself and the amazing thing she does is she rescues senior dogs.
You know a lot of people go and they'll think 'I'm going to adopt a dog, I want a purebred Yorkie puppy' and people don't think about the senior dogs, you know, maybe their owners have passed on and they don't have the easiest time of it, so it's a beautiful thing adopting an older dog.
Are there specific types of dog in rescue, aside from their age in LA? I know black dog syndrome is something which some rescues say affect the rehoming of black coated dogs and cats.
I haven't seen that personally, I mean, I own two black dogs so I'm a fan of black dogs myself (laughs) but I know when I've posted photos of my dogs on social media someone thanked me for adopting a black dog after I'd just adopted Bentley.
I think the dog's breed is more of a factor. We have a lot of Pit Bulls here of all ages, especially in California, and they have a bad reputation because there are a lot of underground dog fighting rings and things like that, so the breed gets a bad reputation but it's not the dog, it's the owner.
You know the biggest dog can be the biggest sweetheart if it's trained properly and loved at home.
I can tell you're a true animal lover. Did you grow up around dogs?
I did, yeah. I grew up with a big golden Labrador named River. I don't know why he was named River, now I'm an adult it seems an unusual name for a dog (laughs).
When I first moved out on my own, my first big dog was a German Australian Shepherd mix and she was a rescue who I got when I was 18. She was the runt of her litter and they had to get her out of where she was because the mother kept trying to sit on her and smother her.
I think the mother's instinct was kicking in, like this little puppy wasn't going to make it, and so the drummer of the band I was in at the time called me and she was like 'hey, can you just watch this dog for a couple of days and just foster her until we find a place for her' and I had no place for her but she told me the story so I said 'yes, bring her over'.
As she was bringing her over I was thinking about how I was 18, I was barely feeding myself so how would I feed a big dog also. Just then, my drummer walked around the corner and the dog saw me and broke free of the leash and literally ran and jumped into my arms. I spun her around and said 'Harley', which is what I ended up naming her.
I named her on that very first instinct. From the second I met her, she was my dog and I knew I'd never ever let her go.
It's funny how these things happen sometimes and the dog finds you.
Wow, that's a beautiful story.
Based on all of your experiences seeing the resilience of dogs and thinking of your day job, would you agree that dogs are the most rock n roll of all animals?
Oh, absolutely. Have you ever seen a dog listen to music? It's amazing. Anyone who doesn't think that dogs can't rock just needs to watch a dog listening to music.
Now that we've got that cleared up...you have been part of a three-strong guitar set up in the Alice Cooper band for the last two years. What's your favourite song from Alice's back catalogue to play?
Well, I'm inspired by Steve Vai and there's a song in the Alice Cooper catalogue, which not a lot of people know, but Steve Vai plays one of the guitar solos on it and the song is called 'Feed My Frankenstein'. Every time we play that song on stage I get to play Steve Vai's solo and it's a little bit of a moment for me to pay tribute to my hero.
I learnt the solo note for note how he recorded it and so each time I play it I get to think about how he inspired me so much while playing his notes.
You must feel lucky then that 'Feed My Frankenstein' is such a staple in the set list.
Oh yeah, that song's not going anywhere (laughs).
Aside from Steve Vai, I know you were heavily influenced by Jason Becker. Do you think you take anything different from them as idols from when you were first learning guitar to where you are today?
Oh yeah, definitely. Great question by the way, and something I've never been asked before.
You know, it's interesting that as you learn guitar you start to think that all of these things that seemed insurmountable as a young guitar player, but with practice, you realise how they're done and you have a whole new appreciation for that person who inspired you in the first place.
As a young guitar player, I would listen to Jason Becker and go 'how's he doing that?' because what he was playing sounded amazing. Now I can actually play one of Jason's pieces but have a whole new appreciation for how technical and difficult it is.
Jason (who has ALS) has overcome such amazing adversity in his life. He retains such an incredible passion for music, I think that's what most inspires me now about someone like him is that he has such commitment to what he does and to music.
Actually, when I went to Jason's house the very first introduction was to his dog. You know, they opened the door and his dog, Star, was the first one to greet me and I was like 'who's this' and Jason's very first words to me were 'This is Star.'
I guess it sounds obvious to say given how many dog owners there are around the world, but it's funny sometimes how many dog owners there are that you know you'll have an instant point of conversation or connection with.
Oh definitely. You wouldn't just stop and speak to anyone on the street, but you would stop and speak to someone with a dog.
We have a park near us which we take the girls to and they can meet and hang out with other dogs. It's interesting because you meet people you wouldn't otherwise just go up and start a conversation with. Dogs definitely bring people together.
Where do you think life would have led you if you hadn't become a musician?
You know, I honestly couldn't tell you. Music is all I know. I think once you're called to something, kind of like when you find the right pet, you've found your calling.
As a musician, your instrument is how you communicate.
With that in mind, what advice would you give to aspiring guitarists?
I think the most important thing for any guitar player or musician, in general, is just to be true to who you are. Be who you are as a musician. Be who you are as an artist because there are going to be a lot of people in the industry trying to tell you who you are, so you have to have a firm handle on who you are, who you want to be and how you want to get there before you let somebody else decide for you.
Nobody else can do it for you. You have to be strong in your convictions and be who you are.
Bringing it back to dogs, where is the most dog friendly place you've visited whether on tour or just for fun?
Well, I will tell you that Bentley loves any beach. I haven't taken Motley to the beach yet but Bentley spent a lot of time at the beach in the South of France. I'd love to take the girls there when I have a little bit of free time.
Europe is pretty dog friendly, but I found France in particular to be really dog friendly.
I think the girls will really enjoy it there.
You'll have to share their adventures with us letting us know what Motley makes of the beach.
(Laughs) Oh, I definitely will, I'll send you a report from the road.
We have a few thought fun but provoking questions here if you're ready, Nita...
Do you have a motto that you live your life by? What would you say Bentley and Motley's mottos might be?
Huh, great question by the way.
I put a saying on my website and t-shirts which is 'Life fast, play faster' so I guess that would be my words to live by.
I think the girls would probably be 'Nap fast, eat faster' (laughs). They like to eat and they like to nap.
If you were to swap roles with Bentley or Motley for a day, firstly who would you choose to swap with and how do you think they'd cope being you and what would you most love about being them?
Well, firstly I think I would pick Bentley to swap with because Motley's a puppy and she's got a lot of energy. I think I would go back to my own life if I swapped with her and she'd have messed everything up whereas Bentley's a grown up. She's more chilled out and I think I'd just enjoy snacking and napping all day. Whenever I'm home off tour I'm normally only here for short periods so have a lot to get done in a short space of time, if I swapped with her she could just go through my never ending to-do list and I could just eat and nap.
Whenever I'm home off tour I'm normally only here for short periods so have a lot to get done in a short space of time, if I swapped with her she could just go through my never ending to-do list and I could just eat and nap.
I know we've asked some questions today that you've never been asked before and I don't think this will be any exception. If the following guitarists were breeds of dogs, based on their personalities alone, what breed of dog do you think they'd be and why...
Steve Vai – Oh wow, this is a good question. Maybe he'd be a Cane Corso. Something sleek, cool and imposing because he has this presence about him.
Tommy Henriksen (one of Nita's fellow guitarist in the Alice Cooper band) – (Laughs) Tommy would be a little ragamuffin mutt running around New York causing trouble, for sure. He'd be like the dog from 'Lady and the Tramp' running around.
Ryan Roxie (the second of Nita's fellow guitarists in the Alice Cooper band) – Ryan would be a Pomeranian. He's got his accessories and very stylish, he's very put together and I think Pomeranians are the most put together of all breeds.
Nancy Wilson (from Heart) – She's very outgoing and full of life, I'd say maybe a Beagle. She's so cool and was such an innovator in the world of female guitar playing.
Jason Becker – Jason is so full of love and joy, he's just so full of life. I think he'd have to be a Golden Retriever.
In your opinion, what is the best dog related song - 'Hound Dog' (Elvis), 'I wanna be your dog' (Iggy Pop), 'Black Dog' (Led Zep), 'Peace Dog' (The Cult), 'Dog Eat Dog' AC/DC or another song altogether?
You know, 'I wanna be your dog' has been one that Ryan has been bugging us for a long time to play. Anytime we decided to jam or anything like that Ryan always wants to play it.
So for my own safety's sake when I go back on the road, I'm going to say that one. If I didn't, I don't think I would be forgiven.
Now, onto our quick fire questions...
Which do you prefer and why?
Big dogs or little dogs – Big dogs, although I have two little dogs.
Pedigree dogs or cross-breed – All my dogs actually have been cross-breeds, I don't know if I would have a preference but my dogs have all been cross-breeds and all amazing.
Days off or days at work – What's a day off?
Playing outdoor festivals or indoor venues – I love outdoor festivals and the party vibe. It might sound a little better indoors, but for me personally I love playing outdoor festivals.
What is your current favourite…?
TV show – I've been watching a show called 'Shark Tank' which I believe you guys have in the UK as 'Dragons' Den'. I was in the UK a few weeks ago talking about 'Shark Tank' and everyone was completely baffled and then someone said 'is she talking about Dragons' Den?' so now I've been watching the UK show since I've seen all of the US ones and now I'm totally into 'Dragons' Den'.
There's a Canadian version as well, right?
Yes, and also Australian and German. Although I don't think I'm going to have much luck watching that one (laughs).
Book – I read a lot on tour. I just finished reading a book called 'The Obstacle is the Way' by Ryan Halliday and I would highly recommend it. I found it very inspiring.
Film – My current favourite new movie would have to be the new Star Wars film, 'The Force Awakens'. I've been a big Star Wars fan for a long time.
What are Bentley and Motley's current favourite...?
Toy – You know what's so funny, they have every single Star Wars plush toy that I have ever found. Bentley also has a Yoda Halloween costume and Motley has the Princess Leia ears.
Game – Well, Motley's really small and my boyfriend and I will go to the park near our house and throw a football to each other. It's a full sized ball and she will just run after it, I mean the ball is bigger than her, and she'll just run after it as if she's going to bring it back to us. It's hilarious to see.
Describe the last time you laughed out loud because of something you saw Bentley, Motley or another dog do.
Oh, every single day they'll make us laugh. Bentley will sometimes just throw herself on the bed with her tummy ready to be rubbed.
Actually, the funniest thing Princess Bentley does is if you take away your hand she'll actually grab your hand with both paws and pull your hand back into her because she's not done. It's the funniest thing I've ever seen, I don't know where she picked it up from.
(Laughs) It's probably from me when I'm messing around. It's the cutest thing, though.
If Motley and Bentley were rock stars, who do you think they would be?
You know, Bentley's a lot like Alice. She laid back, likes her routine and she likes to nap (laughs). And Motley, well, I think she's a lot like Andrew W.K. because she just likes to party.
If you could form an all-star band choosing members from any era, alongside yourself, who would you choose?
You know what, I love the band I'm in. I really do. It sounds like a cheesy thing to say but playing in the Alice Cooper band really is a dream come true and the guys are all great.
I mean I'm starting my own project with my boyfriend. He's a super talented drummer and probably my favourite drummer to play with, but as far as putting a whole line up together I love the band I'm in.
What three items do you never leave home without?
A guitar, probably a backup guitar and a toothbrush.
If you could sum it up, what do you think is the best thing about being a dog owner?
I think it's an amazing thing to have that unconditional love from an animal family member. I don't think of my dogs as pets, they're part of the family.
They're never angry with me for being gone and always happy to see me, you know, they'll never think 'oh she's on tour all the time', they're just happy to see me and that's an amazing thing, especially when you're gone as much as I am.
When I get back I have responsibilities, a boyfriend to spend time with and family to see, a to-do list to get through and it's nice that they're just happy to see me and to have them around me. They're just like 'cool, you're back!'.
Finish the following sentence, my dogs are...amazing.
And finally, this is always a tough question and often requires a fair degree of thinking time but….if Bentley and Motley had the ability to speak and answer one question and one question only, what would you ask them and what do you think that they would say?
I guess I'd want them to know that when I go away I miss them because I know they don't understand the difference when I head out of the door between me going away for two months or just for 20 minutes to the grocery store, so I'd want to ask them if they know I'm thinking about them when I'm gone and I'd hope the answer would be yes.
Many thanks, Nita!