Gary James' Interview With Joe Bouchard Of
Blue Oyster Cult
Blue Oyster Cult, or BOC for short, is best known for songs like "(Don't Fear) The Reaper", "Godzilla" and "Burnin' For You". They have sold over 20 million records worldwide. Joe Bouchard played bass for the group and spoke with us about his time in Blue Oyster Cult.
Q - You work with Dennis Dunaway, who was the former bass player for Alice Cooper.
A - Yes.
Q - In this group called Blue Coupe.
A - Yes.
Q - My brother, Steve Steele, played bass for Alice Cooper on his 1987 to 1988 North American and European tour.
A - Wow!
Q - And, we are a couple of upstate New York guys with an Alice Cooper connection on top of it! How rare is that?
A - Blue Oyster Cult goes way back with Alice Cooper because we were their opening act in 1972. So, I've known Dennis forever now, Neal (Smith - Alice Cooper drummer) too.
Q - Were you close with Alice as well?
A - Yeah. Alice is always friendly when I see him. Last year (2012) we got to open a couple of Alice Cooper shows in Pennsylvania. It was a lot of fun. It's great to see Alice, you know. I am very happy that they got inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. They had been looking forward to that for a while. So, finally it happened. It was good for them.
Q - It's good that Kiss got inducted as well, don't you think?
A - I've never been a big Kiss fan. They are friends of mine. Played all kinds of shows together. Yeah. I guess when I think about it, I'm glad that they finally got some recognition. But there are other people that I think are still really worthy. More of my type of thing like Deep Purple.
Q - Is Blue Oyster Cult a member of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?
A - No, we are not. I don't know when it's going to happen. (Laughs) I don't think about it too much.
Q - If you are as successful as Alice Cooper or Kiss or Blue Oyster Cult, does it matter if you are in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?
A - Well, I don't know. It seems like in the early days it was pretty obvious that the people that got inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame deserved it. They were the originators. And now, there's just a lot of controversy every year about should Madonna get in? What about Patti Smith? The Ramones? Of course The Ramones. You know, it's kind of personal taste.
Q - But, does it give you any personal satisfaction, is I guess what I'm asking.
A - I don't know. I'm sure I'll be just like all the others who say, "Oh, I didn't think this would be a big deal getting into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame," but then when it happens, they are completely bowled over. I'm really kind of nonchalant about it. But, I'm happy that Blue Oyster Cult has had unbelievable success and everybody says, "Well, it's because you are talented." But, I'll tell you, there's a lot of luck that goes along with it. Darn lucky. I was born in Watertown, New York. Grew up on a farm in Clayton, New York. We played barn dances as kids and the next thing you know we've got a wall full of Gold and Platinum albums. How does that happen?
Q - We're going to talk about it.
A - Okay. (laughs)
Q - When I think of Blue Oyster Cult, there's always some kind of mystery surrounding you guys. There really wasn't much press about the band. Did you give interviews? Were you avoiding the press? There just seemed to be a lot of mystery surrounding the band. Who is Blue Oyster Cult?
A - Well, I think it was by design. Our management wanted to create this mystique about the band. So, the first album did not have a picture of the band. The second album had a picture of the band, but it was inside. The third album we had a picture of the band, but it was an illustration. The fourth album, which was our 'live' album, we had this crazy stage and we were like these miniature guys in front of this endless wall of Marshall amplifiers. So definitely there's a lot of building up of the mystery of the band. Who were these guys? We were kind of into that too on a musical level because we were taking on some science fiction themes, maybe aliens from outer space, the typical post-psychedelic Beatles style. We admired Pink Floyd and King Crimson and noticed there's colors in their name. You had pink and you had crimson and there was purple, Deep Purple, and there had to be a Blue Oyster Cult. And Black Sabbath of course.
Q - And so those other band names heavily influenced your decision to call the group Blue Oyster Cult?
A - Well, that was a poem written by our manager. We were in the process of signing with Columbia Records. We got signed by Clive Davis. They had had a name before that called White Underbelly and they were signed to Elektra for 2 1/2 years but nothing ever came out. So, when I joined the band after I graduated from Ithaca College, we decided we would change the name and start fresh with a new approach and be less psychedelic '60s and more of the Metal '70s, or Hard Rock '70s. I think it worked out pretty good. Our manager, Sandy Pearlman, who also wrote a lot of lyrics for us, a very brilliant guy, he was a real visionary about what was going to happen with music in the future. In fact now, he's a professor at McGill University. He left managing bands back in the '90s I guess. And now he's a professor who teaches classes in music technology and futurism.
Q - When you say professor, does he have a PhD?
A - I don't know if he has a PhD, but he definitely has more life experience than anyone would expect. He's a National Merit Scholar. He's one of these brainy guys. Actually, he's got his Masters from Brown University. When he was going to graduate school, he wrote a lot of the lyrics that ended up on Blue Oyster Cult albums.
Q - So, in 1980, or maybe 1981, when Rolling Stone magazine referred to
Styx, and Journey as "faceless groups", they didn't include Blue Oyster Cult in the mix. But there was no standout member in Blue Oyster Cult. It was a group effort then.
A - Yeah. You could say that. We had a lead singer, Eric (Bloom), but most of the hit songs were sung by our guitar player, Buck Dharma. He wrote "Don't Fear The Reaper", which was a Top 20 hit and he also wrote "Burnin' For You". It was a little schizophrenic. What was the image you would pick up about Blue Oyster Cult? Well, they were a band and they had some strange songs and they had a really good stage show that played to packed houses all over the world. I don't know how we were left out in that category.
Q - I think you should be happy about that.
A - Yeah. I think so. Our manager was very good at creating this thing. To turn us into an even more well-known group, you would have had to explore the personalities of the band in more depth in the media. We just didn't do that. Also, we were kind of ignored by; I mean we had one video that was popular on MTV which was "Burnin' For You". In the early days, they played it a lot, but we never did a video for "(Don't Fear) The Reaper". The video world of MTV pretty much ignored Blue Oyster Cult most of the time, so it was just a thing where we were not a video band.
Q - MTV debuted in August, 1982 and you guys were around a few years before that.
A - Yeah. All through the '70s.
Q - In the '70s, music videos were just not being made. Then in the '80s some bands got on board with it and some like BOC did not.
A - Yeah, somewhat. But we did about five videos for MTV and only one of 'em ever caught on, so...
Q - Did they put Blue Oyster Cult on "Headbanger's Ball".
A - I don't remember. (Laughs). I don't think we were ever on the "Headbanger's Ball". But, you never know. We were lucky that the '70s were extremely good to us. We had great tours, but the '80s was a little bit weird for the band. I don't know what we would have done differently. There was like Disco music and even The Rolling Stones did a Disco song. You would not find any Disco in Blue Oyster Cult's catalog.
Q - Did you know that when Dick Clark was asked what his favorite type of music was, he replied "Disco"?
A - Yeah, well, whatever was the popular music at the time.
Q - He didn't say it at the time Disco was out, he said it many years later.
A - I got to admire Dick Clark because he said the most revolutionary Rock song of all time was "The Twist". I kind of agree. It was a hit twice. It really changed people's thinking about popular music a lot. It's just weird that he would pick that song out as the most revolutionary song of popular music.
Q - But again, Dick Clark made that remark about Disco many years after the '70s.
A - Bandstand was a dance show he was into the dance kind of thing, which is cool.
Q - Since you were in Watertown, Syracuse was the big city.
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - Before getting your record deal, did you play any clubs in Syracuse?
A - We played a lot in Rochester. We played a lot in Buffalo, Albany, but not so much in Syracuse. By the time we got to Syracuse, it was the mid-70s and we would play shows at the War Memorial. They were great because all our friends would come, all the people we went to high school with would be there at our shows. Great shows there.
Q - I take it you were playing clubs in the cities you mentioned. Do you remember the names of the clubs?
A - Yeah. We played The Fun House in Rochester. We played The Inferno in Buffalo. There was some club in Albany he we played a lot. Basically when I joined the band, they had just lost their contract with Elektra. So, I said, "Well, let's just go out on tour and we'll develop our new music playing in a string of clubs." We did Scranton, Pennsylvania, Wilkes Barra, Pennsylvania, that area. Out to Youngstown. All through New England. It was a good time and eventually we hooked up with a producer who had a studio in New York and he said, "Why don't you come in on the weekends and we'll do some demos." This guy, David Lucas, had a jingle studio in New York and we did two sets of demos at his studio and that's what got us our contract at Columbia.
Q - How did that result in Blue Oyster Cult getting a record deal with Columbia? Did you or someone take the demos to Columbia?
A - Our manager, Sandy, was one of the founders of Crawdaddy magazine. I think I saw an interview with
Paul Williams on Classicbands.com. He just passed away about a year ago. Sandy was one of his partners and so Sandy had a lot of connections to Atlantic Records, Elektra of course, because they did a lot of writing on The Doors. Crawdaddy was the first sort of serious Rock magazine before Rolling Stone or anything like that. So, Sandy took our demos around. Most people turned us down. Finally, Columbia said, "Bring the band in." We did an audition right in the conference room at Columbia Records. We had all our equipment at one end of the room and at the other end of the room was Clive Davis and a couple of other artists. Harry Nilsson was there and a couple of producers. We played five songs and the next thing he said was, "Yeah, let's sign 'em."
Q - Five original songs?
A - We did four original songs and one cover.
Q - What cover did you do?
A - We did a cover of The Beatles' "Bad Boy".
Q - Great choice!
A - Yeah.
Q - What original songs did you perform?
A - You know, I can't remember. "Stairway To The Stars" was one. Another song which eventually became "The Red And The Black". We played really fast and frantic music. I said they are never going to like this, but they signed us, so you never know. You never know what's going to happen. I think there was sort of a thing going on because Columbia had just lost out on signing Led Zeppelin maybe about a year or two before that. So, they were looking for somebody to sort of fill that Hard Rock area and Blue Oyster Cult is what they picked I guess. They had pretty good success with some of their Folk artists, but they wanted to get into more Rock music. We certainly dove into the Hard Rock world pretty firmly, leaving behind our Psychedelic past and doing more Hard Rock.
Q - Did you like Clive Davis?
A - He was a good record man. He's got a great reputation, but after about a year or two he was fired from his job. There was that big controversy about Clive using company funds for personal use, so he was fired. Then there was the whole series of other executives that came into the job. They were good supporters of us. Walker Yetnikoff, Bruce Lundvall. But mostly we didn't have too much contact the people in the company. We were put on the road and we would do these long tours, opening for all kinds of group like Bob Seger, Savoy Brown Blues band,
Uriah Heap. As soon as we got off tour, we would go into the studio and record another record. So, we did that for about four or five years in a row and finally came up with a hit record. (" Don't Fear) The Reaper".
Q - Did you open for Kiss at some New Year's Eve gig or did they open for you?
A - They were our opening act for a whole Summer. We were doing pretty well. They were the opening act for Nazareth. We had
Nazareth and Kiss and Blue Oyster Cult. We did like all Summer with them. Then they put out their 'live' record, "Kiss Alive", and started taking off. Then we opened shows for Kiss. Not my favorite shows, but it was great because in the '70s there was no Internet. People wanted to see a show, they had to go out and pay money and buy a ticket. Probably cost about four dollars to see a show.
Q - With three bands!
A - Three bands. It was great entertainment. My life for a decade and a half was being the event. No matter where we went, we were the biggest event in town. It was a great run.
Q - What was harder, Kiss opening for Blue Oyster Cult or Blue Oyster Cult opening for Kiss?
A - Oh, opening for Kiss. If you are opening the show, there's all kinds of restrictions on what you can do in the production of your show. We had a laser show that we used. We pretty much played the songs and that was it. But we did okay on the Kiss shows. It was a good bill.
Q - You joined Blue Oyster Cult in what year?
A - 1970. December 1970.
Q - Then you left in 1986.
A - Yes.
Q - Why?
A - I just decided I'd been in there long enough. I think I was kind of burnt out from being on the road so much. I had a young family at the time, two daughters and just decided I wanted to take my life in a different direction. I didn't know what I was going to do actually. (Laughs). It was like one of those things. What am I going to do? Eventually, I took a couple of months off from doing anything. Then I said I still want to be in music, so I started playing with other musicians and I produced a couple of bands fairly unsuccessfully. Before I was in Blue Oyster Cult, I got a degree in Music Education, so I've had a good career for the last couple of decades doing some teaching. I teach in some private schools in Connecticut and it's been good to me. I took 3 1/2 years out of teaching and worked in a publishing company and I wrote some books for Alfred Publishing and I learned how books were put together. In fact, I'm writing a book right now.
Q - Your autobiography?
A - No. (Laughs). It's actually another educational book, Teach Yourself To Play Rock Keyboards. It's a famous title in the book publishing world, you know, Teach Yourself To Play Ukulele or Teach Yourself To Play Piano or Teach Yourself To Play Guitar. It's a famous title. It's part of a long line of books. So, it will be for the beginner who really wants to play in a Rock band. Since I play keyboards too and I've written a couple of other beginning keyboard books, this is a perfect fit. So, I'm working on a book and I play a lot of gigs. I'm playing with my brother Albert, who is a founder of Blue Oyster Cult and Dennis Dunaway in a band called Blue Coupe. We've got two studio albums we've released and they are doing great. We got Jack Douglas from Aerosmith to produce this album. It's nice to go back with Jack 'cause he did the 'live' Blue Oyster Cult album in 1975. He was the engineer. So he helped us get this album out called "Many Miles More". I have another band called The X Brothers. We don't play a lot of gigs, but we get to do the Lynyrd Skynyrd cruise. I've got two solo albums that I've produced myself. I'm getting better as a producer since I only have to deal with myself as an artist and I'm still writing a lot of songs too.
Q - When you'd go out on these long tours in the '70s, did you ever destroy hotel rooms?
A - (laughs). No. Not really.
Q - We never heard about it.
A - There was a time on the Kiss, Nazareth, Blue Oyster Cult tour, it was the end of the tour and I think it was
Ace Frehley's room that got completely destroyed. (Laughs) in Tampa, Florida. I just sat by the window and watched all the stuff go out to the pool. The TVs go into the pool. But we were pretty conservative guys when we were on the road. Not the crazy rock 'n roll lifestyle.
Q - When you were teaching, did any of your students put two and two together and figure out who you were?
A - Well, maybe in the late '80s, early '90s, Blue Oyster Cult was under the radar for most high school kids. But in 2000, Saturday Night Live did a skit called More Cowbell.
Q - I remember that.
A - A whole generation that had never heard of Blue Oyster Cult all know who Blue Oyster Cult is. Occasionally you run across somebody who's only known N'Sync and The Backstreet Boys. Anybody who's into Classic Rock definitely knows all about Blue Oyster Cult. It's kind of fun. I can show them how to play the songs exactly like the record. (Laughs). It's definitely a much more famous thing. Also, in 1997 I got a song that was covered by Metallica. Here I am in my publishing job and I hear on the Internet, when the Internet was still fairly young, that Metallica is going to cover a Blue Oyster Cult song. I said, "That's great! It'll probably be one of the famous songs." They decided to cover a song I wrote called "Astronomy" and that changed my life. First thing I did was quit my day job. (Laughs) I said to myself, to have this kind of success, that honor of being covered by a famous band, really meant that I should write more songs. So, I left my day job and started playing more with Neal and Dennis. We recorded a couple of albums. I said this is pretty lucky. The Metallica record ended up selling about 5 million copies. So, that's pretty cool.
Q - Royalties must've been pretty good.
A - Well, they kept me going while I was thinking what I should be doing. In fact, I just heard a Jazz cover of the song "Astronomy" done by a drummer from England. It's this great sort of Jazz version of one of my songs. I was just completely blown away. I'm really honored when somebody does that. Your songs can have a whole other life in another style of music. A Jazz version of "Astronomy" with this mid-Eastern guitar player. It was awesome. I do a lot of work with YouTube. I do a lot of videos for YouTube. I do a lot of self-promotion as far as getting the word out on Facebook. It's just a great time to be creative.
Q - Are there Blue Oyster Cult tribute bands?
A - I don't know a tribute band per se. Occasionally bands do sets of Blue Oyster Cult, but I don't know of an outright tribute band because we were so quirky anyway. But, you never can tell.