Interview and overview by Eric Sandberg
Yes, Blue Öyster Cult are still a band. They've recently had a spate of new releases, including live albums, reissues of out of print post-heyday studio albums and a promised album of all new material in the pipeline.
Lead guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser and nominal lead singer/Master of Ceremonies Eric Bloom remain as founding, and arguably the two most recognizeable, members of Blue Öyster Cult. Roeser wrote and sang the band's two biggest hits "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" and "Burnin' For You" [lyrics for the latter were penned by frequent collaborator, Richard Meltzer] while Bloom's swagger and vocal power dominated the arenas the band frequently sold out during the 70s and 80s.
Current marketing blurbs refer to the pair as "the band's core duo," and as glad as I am that they are still at it, I do take exception to this. If ever a rock band was the sum of its five equal parts, that band was Blue Öyster Cult. Saturday Night Live fans who show up to BÖC gigs at county fairs, with their cowbells and drumsticks may not know the difference, but fans who cut their teeth on Tyranny and Mutation, Secret Treaties and On Your Feet Or On Your Knees, remember the breadth of talent that permeated the original lineup.
Blue Öyster Cult Clockwise from top left: Joe Bouchard, Albert Bouchard, Allen Lanier, Buck Dharma, Eric Bloom,
First among equals was the band's rhythm section of Joe Bouchard and his brother Albert who, utilizing lyrics written themselves or provided by a host of writers like Sandy Pearlman, John Shirley, Dave Roter, Punk Goddesses Helen Wheels and Patti Smith [Yes, that Patti Smith] and the aforementioned Richard Meltzer, composed great swaths of the music that appeared on the records.
Together or separately Albert and Joe are responsible for classics like "Hot Rails To Hell," "The Red and the Black," "Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll," "Career of Evil," "Astronomy," "Dominance and Submission," "7 Screaming Dizbusters," "Wings Wetted Down," "The Revenge of Vera Gemini," "Joan Crawford Has Risen From the Grave," "Fallen Angel" and many, many more.
When the latter day BÖC performed the platinum album Agents of Fortune for a TV broadcast a few years ago they invited Albert and Joe back to participate because they were responsible for so much of what was on the album. Joe, who wrote and sang "Morning Final" for Agents, demurred, though Albert came along and sang three songs including the album's closer "Debbie Denise." As Joe explains:
"I did not want to just sing my song and not play on any other songs in the set. I told them Richie Castellano could sing "Morning Final" and he sang it well. Had I known they were also going to take the Agents of Fortune show to LA, London or Ireland, I would have said 'Sure, I'll sing one song."
The enigmatic LP jacket for Blue Öyster Cult's platinum selling Agents of Fortune
Though Eric Bloom was the band's most accomplished singer, the members of BÖC often sang their own songs on the albums while their live sets tilted in favor of titles that featured Bloom's prodigious pipes and natural charisma. But thanks to the extensive songwriting talent within the band, along with the community lyrics folder, BÖC albums were deep affairs that commanded repeated full listens of both sides of the platter. Subsequent efforts by Roeser and Bloom are solid but lack the depth and mystique of the earlier albums.
Now for the good news — Joe and Albert Bouchard have signed a new management deal with Deko Entertainment for a potential host of new releases starting off with Joe's new solo album Strange Legends, to be followed in the Fall by Albert's new reimagining of the BÖC album Imaginos.
"It all started when I got an email from out of the blue from a guy out in California [Jeff Keller, Deko Entertainment] who is a big BÖC fan and he says 'I want to manage you and I want to manage your brother. I looked him up and found out he manages the Appice Brothers. Now, Carmine and Vinnie, they don't just do the Appice Brothers, they each have many projects of their own. Albert and I have a similar situation where we have the Bouchard Brothers, but we also have other bands and solo projects we're always working on.
He pitched us the idea of starting our own label. I thought, 'we're in the middle of a pandemic, we're [the country] in a terrible financial situation — what is this guy thinking? How is this going to happen?" Then he goes out and finds us a deal! Unbelievable! Deko has a relationship with A.D.A. which is part of Warner Brothers so our distribution is going to be part of the Warner Brothers machine worldwide."
Albert and Joe Bouchard
The debut release of the Bouchard's new imprint Rockheart Records will be a new studio album by Joe, Strange Legends. The album, like much of the previous releases from Joe and Albert, has that unmistakable air of Cult-ness about it.
Track one "The African Queen" immediately transports you back to BÖC's black and white period and keeps you there with tracks like "Forget About Love," "She's A Legend," "Hit and Run," "Once Upon A Time At the Border" and "Bottom For the Bottomless" which even sports a tasty Buck Dharma style guitar solo.
"With every solo album I put out, people say 'boy, that sounds a lot like Blue Oyster Cult!' I say, I didn't consciously try to sound that way, It's just what I do!
Following Strange Legends on Rockheart Records this fall will be Albert Bouchard's new approach to the loosely linked series of Sandy Pearlman lyrics, the "random access myth" collectively known as the Imaginos Legend. Albert originally began this project as a solo album after leaving Blue Öyster Cult only to volunteer the nearly completed album to his former band to meet the band's contract obligations with Columbia Records.
"It's a little bit of a different take on it this time" Joe explains. "Albert started it as an acoustic project but he's been building it up. He's dug up some additional lyrical material from Sandy Pearlman. His inspiration for the vibe he wants for it is Love's Forever Changes. I actually have played a couple of trumpet solos on it — I've been very into brass lately. Albert is actually envisioning a trilogy of albums for the Imaginos saga so this album coming up will be volume one.
Albert's also still got the early mixes of the original Imaginos album when it was still his solo project...I can't give away too much. I've probably given away too much already!"
There is a general feeling among fans of Blue Öyster Cult that having a big hit altered the band's musical trajectory. While it is a given that having a hit will result in pressure from the record label to have another hit, anyone who listened to both sides of Agents of Fortune had already noticed a significant shift in their sound and approach to songwriting.
"Because we had the live album out the previous year, it gave us more time to work on the material for Agents of Fortune. By this time we all had our own home studios for creating demos. We did a lot of preparation and we all came to the studio with finished songs. It worked out. It's a solid album with a lot of variety. We never really wanted to just stick with one thing, like AC-DC. That's what makes Blue Oyster the Cult."
Agents of Fortune also contained the first two writing contributions from keyboardist/guitarist Allen Lanier in "True Confessions" and "Tenderloin."
"Allen Lanier's songs were very strong. We didn't play them live because he wasn't a very powerful singer but, after he passed away, we played a reunion show — the whole first set was Alan's songs and the people loved it. It blew me away how well Alan's songs worked live when they were properly rehearsed. There's much we owe Allen. He was a big part of the personality of the band. I miss him a lot."
Blue Öyster Cult performing their legendary, showstopping 5 Guitars routine
I asked Bouchard how five talented songwriters were able to come to such a successful consensus about what songs to put on the albums, how they should be arranged and what songs to play live.
"I felt like I was the peacemaker. They probably don't think so, but I was usually the guy that came up with the compromise solution. When one guy had a hard opinion and another guy had the opposite opinion, I'd say 'Hey, wait a minute. There's a third way to think about this. It worked for a long time, I think. We came up with some good records that are still talked about and admired."
As for the live sets, they tended to favor heavy songs with imagery touching on biker gangs, air war and science fiction.
"Those kind of themes are strong when you want to play hard rock in big arenas."
Finally, I asked Joe Bouchard what else we can expect to see from Rockheart records in the coming years.
"We've got some great live material from our Bouchard Brothers Songs and Stories shows so we're looking at getting that out along with some new studio material." The Bouchard Brothers is just me, Albert and my partner Joan [Levy Hepburn] on the guitar. Albert and I concentrate on what we do best, which is the rhythm section and Joan provides the leads. We have a lot of fun with it. And do Albert and I have stories!" Sometimes Albert tells stories I haven't even heard yet."
The Bouchard Brothers featuring Joan Levy Hepburn
As for the possibility of reissuing some of the harder to find items from Joe and Albert's respective catalogs...
"That was discussed when we did our deal. Albert and I own it all so, when the timing is right, there will probably be a compilation of material from our respective catalogs."
Strange Legends is due to be released July 31 and is available at the links below.
Joe Bouchard on Spotify
Sunshine Walkers: The Best of Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry
Interview and overview by Eric Sandberg
Kimberley Rew is not a well known commodity in this vast world of ours. He's even less well known than...say...Robyn Hitchcock, who is also not particularly famous either...in the great scheme of things.
But, if I were to hum 'Doot-doot-doot da doot-doot da dotta-dotta, doot-doot-doot da doot-doot da dotta dotta...' to anyone, from my niece to my great aunt, they will all say "I know that song!"
Rew not only played guitar on that song, he wrote it, along with "Going Down To Liverpool," a hit for The Bangles and "Love Shine a Light," which was the last song to claim the Eurovision prize for England in 1997. Rew penned Celine Dion's hit song "That's Just the Woman In Me" along with a score of other lesser known rock and pop gems that are no less delightful.
Before any of that happened, Kimberley Rew was very well known to me and a few of my friends as the angular and frenetic lead guitarist for The Soft Boys, an out of time, neo-psychedelic Cambridge, UK collective led by the aforementioned Robyn Hitchcock in the late 70s.
Rew's guitar pyrotechnics are best showcased on the Soft Boys' debut LP A Can of Bees. His playing was reined in just a bit for the somewhat 'poppier' songs Hitchcock penned for their seminal follow up/swan song Underwater Moonlight, a discipline that would serve him well when he formed Katrina and the Waves and set out to conquer pop music.
The Soft Boys L to R: Kimberley Rew, Robyn Hitchcock (obviously), Matthew Seligman, Morris Windsor
Lee Cave-Berry is a figure lurking behind and astride the scenes during this entire period.
"We met, actually, ages and ages ago in 1977. The band my boyfriend and I were in had supported The Waves and we supported The Soft Boys on their first gig after Kimberley joined. It's, by the way, the only gig I've ever played where I was spat at," Cave-Berry tells me on the phone from their lock down sanctuary in Cambridge.
Rew adds, "The Waves were an early version of Katrina and the Waves, before I joined The Soft Boys." Tracks by the pre-Katrina Waves, along with a couple of early Rew penned songs recorded by The Soft Boys can be found on The Bible of Bop compilation. The previously unreleased, Rew composed song "Stomping All Over the World" [Included on Sunshine Walkers] is so catchy it deserves to be in its own sandwich commercial.
"Kimberley and I knew each other for a long time, but we were both going out with other people and were both concentrating on our own bands. We were in the friend box for along time, but then some things happened that took us out of the friend box about twenty years after we first met."
Lee Cave-Berry's contributions on Kimberley's early solo albums were modest at first — some backing vocals here and a bass part there — but things eventually developed into a full-fledged musical partnership sharing the billing on subsequent gigs and album releases.
This is all culminating in a new chapter for the pair as they have signed a deal with Ball In The Jack Records and are kicking things off with a summing up of the story so far. Sunshine Walkers: The Best of Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry is packed with twentyone tracks culled from Rew solo albums, Kim & Lee full collaborations and a couple of tracks from Lee Cave-Berry's outstanding solo album Spring Forward.
"We've never done any kind of promotion for any of our records really," says Cave-Berry. "We decided to do some promotion for our next record and the team at Ball In The Jack said we should put together this compilation first. We got suggestions from friends on what to include and chose others ourselves. We had a lot of fun doing it."
The album is a delight. Pure bop for wow people. It's full of rock, pop and a healthy dose of English whimsy as heard and seen in the video below for "Bloody Old England" which features a series of drawings by Rew who, by the way, also has a degree in Archeology from Cambridge University [bloody polymath!]. It is a welcome boon to fans that may have been asleep for the past two decades and missed the original albums which are becoming hard to find collector's items these days.
"The Dog Song" pokes some healthy fun at religion, while the bouncy, child friendly, ear worms "The End of the Rainbow" and "Purple Pajamas" will have you humming all day. There are some beautiful love ballads like "Happy Anniversary" and, especially, "The Safest Place," a song that will doubtless be used for a poignant scene in a movie one day. The lengthy set is punctuated with driving rockers like [literally] "English Road," "My Baby Does Her Hairdo Long," the whimsical "Backing Singer Blues" and a funky, wah-wah inflected Curtis Mayfield tribute "Flower Super Power," which includes a guitar solo that sends a wink Robin Trower's way.
If I have managed to make you at all curious about Kim & Lee's music, Sunshine Walkers is the perfect place to start your education.
Of course, I couldn't let Kimberley go without grilling him a little bit about The Soft Boys, particularly their surprising reunion in 2002, which included a new studio album, an EP and a lengthy world tour. I was curious whether he was all in or took some cajoling to participate.
"I was very OK with it. This was twenty years after the original split of The Soft Boys and I'm very glad I had all those experiences in those twenty years. It gave me some perspective, as they say in Spinal Tap. The timing was actually quite fortunate as Katrina and the Waves had just split up. Robyn, his [then] wife Michele, Lee, Alex [Cooper, Katrina and the Waves drummer] and his wife and I were all at the Three Kings in Clerkenwell in 1999 and Robyn sort of implied that perhaps it was time for a reunion.
Alex and I had just put a song up for the Eurovision song contest. The news came through that our song had been knocked out of competition, which was kind of a relief, actually. It meant that I wouldn't have entered into a reunion with divided loyalties as it were."
Lee Cave-Berry recalls, "I remember that tour fondly. I saw a lot of that tour. I remember Kimberley saying 'I can't believe I've found a girl that actually enjoys sound checks'!"
Kimberley Rew, if he had not found his voice as a remarkable and prolific songwriter, would doubtless have become a top flight session guitarist. Rew's rhythm chops are unrivaled. He keeps time like an organic steam hammer. He hits the strings harder than anybody I've ever heard play but is always in complete command. I asked him how he developed his aggressively competent style.
"I'm not a confident person — I'm not outgoing. I'm not a bandleader or a front man or a lead singer type. I guess that all gets transferred to the guitar. That's kind of my strong suit. There is a certain amount of will power I use to keep the song moving forward."
Since this lock down began, Kim and I have been performing live on Facebook Wednesday nights. We're able to play together because we live together, just guitar and bass. In our earlier Wednesday internet sessions the sound of my hand hitting the strings was the loudest thing in the room. It was drowning out the amplification and louder than our vocals. We had to get microphones."
The Soft Boys "Insanely Jealous" is a great example of the 6-string mischief of Kimberley Rew
Throughout our interview it is apparent how much in love the pair are, even after months spent together cooped up in their house to avoid contracting the Covid-19 virus which sadly took the life of Rew's former Soft Boys band mate Matthew Seligman at far too young an age.
Kimberley Rew is very humble about his abilities and his accomplishments and Lee Cave-Berry, no slouch herself in the talent department, is his biggest cheerleader. When Rew tells me "I don't improvise very much..." Cave-Berry immediately chimes in "He can improvise, he just chooses not to very often!" When I compliment Cave-Berry on the remarkable breadth of songs on her solo album she coyly states that she isn't currently writing much new material for a follow up because "It's a bit difficult when you have a songwriting icon the house. Everything ends up chucked in the bin!" Rew sheepishly interjects "Steady on, old girl!"
Rew and his former band Katrina and the Waves were recently honored by Eurovision when the global pandemic forced cancellation of the 2020 contest in its normal format. A replacement television show was devised and renamed Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light, and featured all of this year's contestants performing Rew's prize winning song "Love Shine a Light."
Rew and Cave-Berry, despite the current state of the world, seem energized and ready to carry on. They have three more videos ready for release to help promote Sunshine Walkers and "Our bid for world domination, will continue with a couple more albums of new material, Rew says"
Sunshine Walkers: The Best of Kimberley Rew and Lee Cave-Berry is released worldwide on July 17, 2020 and will be available as a download and a CD. See links below.
01 The Dog Song
02 It Makes Me Happy
03 Bloody Old England
04 Backing Singer Blues
05 The End Of Our Rainbow
06 English Road
07 The Safest Place
08 All I Want Is You For Christmas
09 Yours Truly
10 Hey War Pig
11 Some Days You Eat The Bear
12 Purple Pyjamas
13 Stomping All Over The World
14 Happy Anniversary
15 Flat Cat
16 My Baby Does Her Hairdo Long
17 Flower Superpower
18 I Want You
19 Restless Ocean
20 She’s Still Got It
21 Simple Pleasures
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.