Blue Oyster Cult: “The world’s biggest underground band” (in 1982)

By Steve Newton

One of the first interviews I ever did with a rock band I was totally nuts about happened way back in August of 1982. The mighty Blue Öyster Cult was playing Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum–with Aldo Nova opening up!–and the weekly paper I was still new at, the Georgia Straight, wanted me to get the scoop.

This was just a year after the hard-rockers from Long Island had released the Fire of Unknown Origin album, which boasted the hit “Burnin’ For You”–which in turn boasted the wildest guitar wipeout ever heard on commercial radio. (It was also a year before the band would record one of its weaker albums, The Revölution by Night, with Vancouver’s Bruce Fairbairn, but enough about that.)

Blue Öyster Cult had been among my top five fave bands of the ’70s; I’d been a devoted Cult worshipper ever since I brought home 1973’s Tyranny and Mutation and almost got scared by the heaviness of its opening track, “The Red and the Black”. So when I got the chance to interview a member of the band–as I have several times since–it was a high point in my life. I thought I’d share the crusty old conversation with anyone else who ever carved the band’s hooked-cross logo into a high-school desk.

Founding lead-vocalist and “stun guitar” specialist Eric Bloom called me from New York City while the band was touring behind its double album, Extraterrestrial Live:

How would you describe the music of Blue Oyster Cult? Is it hard rock, heavy metal, or something else?

Probably something else…but you won’t get a label out of me. It’s really hard because we do so many different kinds of songs. For instance, the Rolling Stone magazine puts out a book called The Book of Rock Lists and under the heavy metal category of all time we are number one. I just tend to disagree.

Tyranny and Mutation–wouldn’t it be safe to call that a heavy metal album?

Probably. Yeah I’d say Tyranny is one of the quintessential heavy metal records of all time.

How has the Cult changed or developed musically over the years they’ve been together?

I don’t know how to answer that question. BOC is not like Steely Dan where two guys do everything. BOC is the kind of group where five guys do everything. It’s all very democratic, and everybody has a lot of input both in arranging and writing and lyric content, plus we have seven or eight different friends and associates we all write with who are not in the band.

Up until 1981 the Cult had remained intact with its five original members. Why the replacement of Albert Bouchard with new drummer Rick Downey?

Basically, there’d been a certain amount of dissention about Albert’s lifestyle. The other members of the group did not desire to be exposed to all of Albert’s problems. He let all his problems overflow into his professional life. He missed a couple of shows, and Rick Downey, who was on our crew, sat in. When it happened three times in three days, we decided that was it.

Blue Oyster Cult’s been around now for about ten years, but it seems to me that a lot of people still only know the band for its hits “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” and the more recent “Burnin’ For You”. Could it be that Blue Oyster Cult–for all its talent and dedication–is destined to remain somewhat of a “cult” band?

It’s okay with us. As far as we’re concerned, there’s nothing wrong with being the world’s biggest underground band.

The last time I saw BOC was around ’76 when Bob Seger opened for you in the Vancouver Gardens, just around the time of his Night Moves album.

As a matter of fact I remember–Bob’s a good friend of mine–I remember Night Moves hadn’t quite taken off yet, and we were sitting around in a hotel room late at night, and he was saying “Boy, if this one doesn’t go, I don’t know what I’m gonna do about it.” He was telling me “Oh, I guess I’ll just go in and write another record.” And then all of a sudden Night Moves happened.

When that happens, when bands that you headlined above get these platinum selling albums, do you guys sort of wonder, “Hey, why aren’t we reaping the huge rewards that they’re getting?”

Well, we just don’t write songs like that. And if we happen to have a hit, then more power to us. But we never have been known for hits. Basically what we have is real diehard fans that come to the gigs no matter what we sell. We’re one of the top ten touring groups in the world as far as attendance goes.

Is it difficult or unnerving playing with an act like Aldo Nova that relies on formula and mass appeal?

Hey I don’t mind. Playing with Aldo is a lot of fun because he draws all the girls.

How do you see the current state of heavy rock in the U.S. as opposed to that in Britain?

Quite different. First of all, it’s a whole sociological difference. In England, especially, heavy rock–AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, etc.–has a 99% male audience. But in the U.S. acts like that draw a much greater percentage of females. In England, girls might go to see David Essex. Girls go to rock shows here just to go out–they just don’t do that in Britain. It has a lot to do with lyric content, believe it or not. If you have a couple of hits that allude to relationships, that is something that can be identified with.

A lot of Blue Oyster Cult tunes have sinister overtones, like “Nosferatu” from Spectres or “Morning Final” from Agents of Fortune. Is the group obsessed at all with the darker, evil side of man?

Our basic interests in that kind of thing come from literature. It’s just something that we’ve always been into, coming from our art or sci-fi and fantasy interests. Extraterrestrial life and life after death also interest us.

How did former Doors guitarist Robbie Kreiger come to play on the new album’s version of “Roadhouse Blues”?

Robbie’s a friend of mine, and he came to a gig a few years ago and we asked him if he’d like to jam with us, so he came onstage a couple of times. And also Ray Manzarek, the Doors’ keyboard player, used to jam with us.

Were the Doors one of Blue Oyster Cult’s influences in the earlier years?

I wouldn’t say they were an influence, just a group we all liked.

Who were the influences?

Personally, as a vocalist, the first group I was in did nothing but rhythm and blues. We did stuff by James Brown and Percy Sledge. Then Eric Burdon and the British Invasion started happening. Don Roeser, our lead guitarist, started out with surf music. He started out covering the Ventures, stuff like that.

On the back cover of Tyranny and Mutation it says that you play “stun guitar”. What’s that?

Oh that’s an old joke, taken from Star Trek, you know, “set your phasers on stun”. Basically I had a gold-top Les Paul guitar, and it has a short circuit in it. What happened was Donald and I rubbed our guitar necks together, and because of the short in the Les Paul it caused a kind of electric arc across the guitar. Strings would pop and melt off the neck–incredible pyrotechnics. And I burned myself more than once doing it. That was the original “stun guitar”.

Does the band still rub the guitars together in concert?

Oh yeah, sure. That’s something that’s de rigueur.

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