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 Öyster 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 Öyster 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 Öyster 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 Öyster 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 Öyster 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.
To hear the full audio of my 1997 interview with Blue Öyster Cult guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can also eavesdrop on my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:
Dave Martone, 2020
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Joss Stone, 2012
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Colin James, 1995
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Tom Cochrane of Red Rider, 1983
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Taj Mahal, 2001
Tom Wilson of Junkhouse, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
David Lindley, 2002
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
John Hiatt, 2010
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Jeff Golub, 1989
Moe Berg of the Pursuit of Happiness, 1990
Todd Rundgren, 2006
Chad Kroeger of Nickelback, 2001
Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
…with hundreds more to come