Gary James' Interview With Albert Bouchard Of
Blue Oyster Cult
Albert Bouchard, along with his brother Joe Bouchard, is one of the original founding members of Blue Oyster Cult. Blue Oyster Cult, or BOC for short, is best known for songs like "(Dont Fear) The Reaper", "Godzilla" and "Burnin' For You". The group has sold over twenty million records world-wide. Albert was the drummer in BOC. Along the way he's worked with The Mamas And Papas, Herman's Hermits With Peter Noone, The Spencer Davis Group and these days Blue Coupe. Blue Coupe's new CD is out and called "Million Miles More". Albert Bouchard's new CD is out and called "Metaphysical Incantation". Albert Bouchard talked with us about Blue Oyster Cult.
Q - Al, Watertown, New York. No wonder you got into music.
A - (laughs)
Q - What was there to do in Watertown? Or for that matter, Clayton, New York, where you grew up.
A - Well, we grew up on a farm and my take on it as a kid; I always felt deprived because we didn't have all the stuff that everybody else had. I guess I'm giving my age up a little bit, but I was born the year TV was invented. So, we didn't have a TV for a long time and we didn't have the toys that all the other kids had. My neighbors had a go-kart. So, we took an old frame of one of those swinging love seats kind of 'cause it had broken, so we took the frame and one of our friends was a welder and we took an old lawn mower that was broken but the engine still worked and we made our own go-kart. (laughs) So we would make our own toys. We made everything ourselves. I think there's something about living in the North Country. We have an expression. John Cooke, my friend on Wellsley Island, and that's the North Country Cob Job. In other words, you cobble together everything you can to do what you have to do. I think that's how we lived. It fostered a creativity. I have my day job as a music teacher in a public high school in Manhattan. So, I see a lot of these kinds in the city, and they're bright kids and normal kids, but they don't have quite the thought that they can make something. They're consumers. They're not producers, people up North really, by neccessity, have learned to make do and make things work for themselves, re-purposing things, re-cycling and all this other stuff that the rest of the world is catching up to, but we did that.
Q - Society wants you to be consumers. They don't want you to be creative.
A - Yeah, I know.
Q - That's probably the reason why we don't see the great groups that we saw forty years ago.
A - Myself, being in the business and also working with young people all the time, I see a lot of talented people coming out, but it's ironic because when you had record companies that were telling you what to buy, it was actually a little easier, once you caught these guys' attention, to get attention for yourself, to get known in the public. Now it's like there's so many different artists that yes, you can do it all yourself, but who has the time to go on Facebook and Twitter and all this other stuff and promote their music if all you want to do is just play? So, I think there are a lot of talented people out there, but they're not neccesarily getting much attention or the kind of attention they need to take their music to another level.
Q - That's why there are people out there who specialize in Social Media and getting the word out about bands.
A - Yeah, well it's a good trick. It's as mysterious as it ever was, if not more.
Q - Do you remember this place in Watertown, New York called The Golden Lion?
A - Oh, yeah. I saw Ronnie Dio there. He was playing bass. The first time I saw Ronnie Dio, he was playing at the Watertown Armory. I don't know if you remember that. It was like in the square. What the heck is there? Some kind of strip mall or something.
Q - What year was that? When he was with Ronnie Dio And The Prophets?
A - Ronnie Dio And The Prophets, yeah. I was about 15 at the time. Then later, when I was in my 20s, I saw him at The Golden Lion. I think that was with Elf, Electric Elves, something like that. That was later when we were in the Soft White Underbelly and trying to make it. It was probably 1970 or something like that.
Q - I only ask because I have two brothers who are musicians and they played The Golden Lion. In fact, one of my brothers, Steve Steele, went on to play bass for Alice Cooper.
A - Oh, wow!
Q - I know you have worked with Alice Cooper's original bass player, Dennis Dunaway.
A - Yes, and still continue to do so. He's an amazing musician and an extremely creative soul. For me, that's the mind-boggler. He's a great bass player, but he also comes up with ideas that I would not think of. I'm like, "Oh, that's cool." You see where they got to where they did as a group. I think Alice is a great singer and he has cool ideas, but without his group he would have never gotten as far as he did.
Q - Because in the begining it was known as The Alice Cooper Group.
A - Group, yes.
Q - Now it's just Alice Cooper. The music on those early albums, you talk about creative, it was that and more!
A - Yeah. Extremely so.
Q - I don't know what he's doing now. He's releasing music on record labels I've never heard of.
A - For me, what he's doing now; the problem he's making is he's trying to be Heavy Metal. Really the charm of The Alice Cooper Group was that lightness that would contrast with the heavy moment.
Q - Was Clayton, New York the first place Blue Oyster Cult performed?
A - No. Our first gig as Blue Oyster Cult was in Youngstown, Ohio. We had a gig at a club called The Attic and we had just finished doing the lead guitar part on "Cities On Flame". It took a long time and we ended up sitting in the car after the session and driving to Ohio all night to go to the gig. We got to the gig and the marquee on The Attic, it might have been called The Bedroom, the marquee at one time said Tonight: Blue Oyster Cult. But some vandal had gotten up there and changed the letters to, Tonight: Blue Oyster Cunt. (laughs)
Q - Maybe somebody didn't like your group.
A - I think they were just making a joke. So that was our first gig as Blue Oyster Cult.
Q - How was Blue Oyster Cult "discovered", for lack of a better word? Who saw you and said, "Let's sign these guys?" Was it Sandy Pearlman?
A - Yeah, he "discovered"? Don Roeser, known professionally as Buck Dharma, but he saw Don jamming with some guys from Stonybrook College at like an off campus place. There were a bunch of musicians there. They would jam and Sandy happened to see him jamming with these other guys and said, "Wow! You're really great, man. We should work together. I think I could get you some recognition. I know a lot of people." Donald was like, "Who are you? How do you know them?" He's like, "I wrote for this magazine called Crawdaddy, so I got to meet a lot of people." Now the funny thing is, Don wrote to me. I was in Chicago at that time. He said, "You remember that horrible magazine called Crawdaddy? (laughs) I met one of the writers and he says he's going to make me a star." (laughs) I wrote back, "Yeah, right. You wanna hang out?" So, we hung out a little bit and I met Sandy. I thought he was a pretty smart guy. Actually I came back to New York City with Don not really thinking I was going to be in this band. I just had to get out of Chicago. I went around to Sam Ash. Sam Ash was a chain of stores. There was one in Hempstead. They were all over the New York area. I went around to them trying to get a job as salesman in the store and it didn't work out. So, I ended up playing in the band and meeting Sandy. That was really how it started. It wasn't really a matter of discovering because Sandy hadn't really done anything other than write some articles in a magazine. But we did work together and we built this thing together. I would have to say it was more like building the band and building the brand. That's how it worked.
Q - I actually interviewed the founder of Crawdaddy, Paul Williams.
A - I worked for him for awhile. Sandy got me a job writing for Crawdaddy, which delighted my mother because she always wanted to be a writer. Of course I knew nothing about writing. I was just like not very good. I knew a lot about music, but they let me write. I wrote for like three issues back in 1967. I liked hanging out at the office with all the other writers, Richard Meltzer. The photographer was this girl, Linda Eastman, who ended up marrying Paul McCartney.
Q - She started out at Crawdaddy then?
A - Yeah, she did.
Q - She knew everybody.
A - Yeah. She was nice. She was a little full of herself. When I met her she said, "See these pictures? I took them." And it was Jimmy Page. I said, "That's cool. Very nice." Before I ever wrote for them, they had me selling Crawdaddy magazine in the lobby of The Fillmore East. It was supposed to be The Yardbirds, but at the last minute they changed the name of this new group called Led Zepelin. But Jimmy Page was on the cover of the magazine. So, I remember he walked in (to the office) and I said, "Mr. Page, you're on the cover of this magazine." And he said, "How cool. Can I have one?" I said, "Sure." So, I gave it to him. After that, Linda Eastman came in. She said, "I took that picture." I said, "Oh, very cool." But I would see her and all the others at the office of Crawdaddy, which was right above The Lyric Theatre on 6th Avenue in Manhattan, which is still there.
Q - Being in the lobby, did you have an opportunity to catch any of Led Zeppelin's concert that night?
A - Oh, yeah. Yeah. I thought they were terrible! Especially the singer! He was like all out of tune and whining. Don't forget, I had just played a gig with Muddy Waters a few weeks before at Cafe A Go Go. And I was living in Chicago for four months before that. I was really into Paul Butterfield and that kind of stuff. I thought Led Zeppelin was just watered down White boys trying to be soulful. (laughs)
Q - When you say you played a gig with Muddy Waters, you mean you opened for Muddy Waters, right? You weren't in his band, were you?
A - No. This was probably one of the first gigs that Soft White Underbelly played. This was in '67, back in the Fall of '67. I think it was the first gig we ever played.
Q - I guess it's fair to say that Led Zeppelin got their act together soon after you saw them.
A - Oh, yeah. They put out their second record and it was, "Hey! This is pretty different."
Q - When I think of Blue Oyster Cult, I think of a group that had an aura of mystery about them. I told this to
Joe (Bouchard) as well. People have heard of the group, but they didn't necessarily know the names of the guys in the group. Was that intentional?
A - Yeah. So much of Pop music is built upon the personalities of the people in the band that it wears off quickly, usually, unless they're super talented like a Justin Timberlake, and you act and do all this other stuff. But most of the time it wears off. We thought we'd like to be more like a Pink Floyd type of group, where you just didn't know that much about the people, the individuals. It was more the band's sound, or even Alice Cooper. Same kind of thing, although they were much more personalities as far as being promoted. We didn't have any pictures on the records until, let's see, "Agents Of Fortune". Well no, we were on "Secret Treaties". That's right. We were on that one. But it was a drawing of us like in costumes to look like some mysterious thing.
Q - You left Blue Oyster Cult in 1981. Why?
A - Things were not working out. We had some personal differences. That was the big reason why. I didn't understand why they were giving me such a hard time about my life choices. There might have been some substance abuse involved, but you read stories from Areosmith and we were nothing like that. We were really very tame in terms of what we indulged in, but there was an issue. I was getting divorced at the time. They were not sympathetic to my situation. So, all the wives were looked down on me and were criticizing my conduct. So there was all this weird situation. I got into a verbal altercation with one of the wives. i guess I shouldn't have done that. I lost my temper. I yelled at her and that was that. They kicked me out, or asked me to leave. As time went on, I got involved in doing my own record and my own thing. I really felt the last record I did at that point, which was "Fire Of Unknown Origin". I really worked hard to try and make everybody else's stuff sound great, to the point of living in the studio. Of course, I was getting a divorce, so I was in no rush to go home, but I just stayed in the studio for three months while we made that record and worked with Martin Birtch. It was a beneficial thing for me too because I learned a lot about how to mix things and get good sounds and how to engineer music to make it sound good and how to optimize things and how dogged you have to be to actually mix something. So, that was great, but then to be treated badly, I just felt I'll go and do my own thing. A lot of it was feeling betrayed by Joe. He didn't have my back. He was with the others. But then it came out in some other places, in interviews, that they felt that I was dominating the group, which was something I didn't ever consider because I felt like I had a very positive work ethic as far as when we would practice or work up new material. I really felt, to say negative things, to be negative, really doesn't lead you anywhere. So, I would always hold my criticism of anybody else's stuff. I would go home and get all agitated about it. I would figure out something else that would improve it, okay? So I would always be coming up with positive suggestions, try and keep it all positive. Well, because I did that, a lot of times they would utilize my ideas and I guess they wanted to be able to flounder a little bit more before I came up with my ideas so they could have their ideas because in a funny way I was quelling their artistic ideas because I was coming up with stuff really quickly, like the next day. Before any time would pass, I would have another idea.
Q - Would Sandy Pearlman ever offer up any musical ideas or was it strictly the management of the group on his part?
A - No. He had a lot of musical ideas, but as time went on he kind of phased out. By that time he was not involved musically in what was happening. I felt if we want to have a "hit" record, if we want to be successful, we've got to keep it up, keep that same level of commitment to the music. I felt like I was just going full steam with ideas. It was not, "I'm not gonna listen if you're not doing my song." It was none of that. If they didn't like it, they'd come up with something else. So it came out that they didn't like that.
Q - You were talking about substance abuse earlier. I always question when groups talk about drug taking. It seems like they're trying to appear "cool" to their audience. I would think there's a lot of exaggeration going on.
A - Yeah, yeah. I used to play high. I hate it now. I absolutely hate it. I hate the feeling. I don't ever have anything before a show.
Q - So, you're still playing then?
A - Oh, yeah. I have a band with my brother Joe and Dennis Dunaway called Blue Coupe. And we just did a record last year where we had Jack Douglas, who did all those great Aerosmith records. He also mixed arguably but certainly within the members of the group, the five of us original guys, we think "On Your Feet Or On Your Knees" was our best sounding record, the 'live' record. He also mixed "Muscle Of Love" for Alice Cooper. He's very good and a good friend and we've known him for years. He got Warren Huart, producer of The Fray, to mix the record for us. We had Alice Cooper singing on the record. We have Buck Dharma from Blue Oyster Cult playing guitar. It's a combination of Blue Oyster Cult and Alice Cooper on this record and we kind of just went with that. It's part of our concept with it, to have something that if you could imagine Blue Oyster Cult and Alice Cooper being in one group, this is what it would be. So, I've been doing that. I have a lot of things I'm doing lately. I have a solo record that's about to come out, my first real solo record.
Q - How may gigs a year would you say you do?
A - Oh, not that many. Last year I think I played about thirty-five or forty maybe at the most. We go long stretches where we don't play. February of 2013 we played twelve shows in fourteen days. When we do go out, we tend to binge. (laughs) We'll do a proper tour and play a whole bunch of gigs in a row and then we'll be dormant. Dennis is working on his autobiography. He's got a publisher. He's trying to finish that up. Joe is doing another instruction book for Alfred (Publishing). So, both of them are busy with their books. We haven't been playing. We played one gig so far since New Year's this year (2014). It's been a long stretch of not doing any gigs, but this Summer he have about sixteen shows booked and we'll probably add another ten to that.
Q - Do people ever recognize your name and say, "Weren't you in that group, Blue Oyster Cult?"
A - Yeah, it happens. It happens now and then. When I go into the music store, everybody knows me. Musicians know. A lot of musicians know, especially older musicians.
Q - They probably say, "Can you introduce me to somebody? Can you produce me?"
A - (laughs) Yeah. I get that too.
Official Websites: www.BlueCoupeBand.com
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Photo from Gary James' Press Kit Collection