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
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.