Blue Oyster Cult’s Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser on the origins of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JAN. 23, 1997

By Steve Newton

It’s hard for me to pick one all-time favourite rock band or rock album, but when it comes to my all-time fave song, that’s easy: Blue Öyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”.

I suppose it helps that, when that propulsive ode to the afterlife was released back in ’76, I was such a keen Cult follower that I’d doodle the band’s hooked-cross logo on my first-year college notebooks. I remember how, the first few times I heard that song, I felt a momentary twinge of pleasure emanating from the back of my skull. Maybe it was the runoff from a shiver racing up my spine, but whenever I heard guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser’s opening riff to that song, I perked up like Pavlov’s pups at chow time.

With BOC heading our way for shows at Studebaker’s on Wednesday and Friday (January 29 and 31), I track Roeser down at his home in New Jersey—he lives on the same street as Springsteen!—and ask him about the origins of that fab five-minute opus.

“A lotta times when I’m playing guitar I’ll let a tape recorder run or something,” he says, “but I didn’t in that case, actually. I worked out that cyclical riff and was playing it for a coupla weeks, on and off, just before the germ of the tune came.”

“Reaper” became Blue Öyster Cult’s first Top 40 hit. Stephen King quoted its lyrics in his masterwork The Stand, and it was eventually used in the effective opening-credit sequence of the TV miniseries based on that book. Its death-defying lyrics weren’t of the innocuous, “Jive Talkin’ ” ilk common on the airwaves at the time.

“Basically, I was thinking of my own mortality,” says Roeser of the tune’s inspiration. “It’s basically a love story that transcends the death of one of the partners. And it’s really not about suicide, although I think the line about Romeo and Juliet makes everybody think that.”

“Don’t Fear the Reaper” is not the only BOC tune that has left an indelible impression on listeners over the years. Mike Watt’s former band, fIREHOSE, paid tribute to the pioneering heavy-metal group six years ago with a cover of “The Red and the Black”, one of the raunchier numbers from the landmark Tyranny and Mutation album of ’73. And Watt still plays the tune at his solo gigs.

“I was flattered that they did it,” says Roeser of the cover. “I didn’t think they beat the original, but those guys have always been real generous with their praise of us, and I appreciate that.”

Blue Öyster Cult hasn’t released a studio album since 1988’s Imaginos, but the group is currently recording one for a projected summer release. The working title is Ezekiel’s Wheel. “It’s very rewarding to be back in the studio,” says Roeser, “and it’s been so long that it seems like a new project in a lotta ways. It’s obviously us, but it doesn’t sound like us in those days.”

Roeser is joined in the band’s current lineup by original lead vocalist Eric Bloom and original keyboardist-guitarist Allen Lanier. The quintet is rounded out by Long Island bassist Danny Miranda and drummer John Miceli, fresh off the Meat Loaf tour.

“We’re not as famous as some of the other older bands,” admits Roeser, “but our contribution to the lexicon of rock music is acknowledged, and people are curious to come out and see what we’re like. And, unlike so many bands of our era which are just going through the motions, they’re also real surprised that we’re actually still good.”

 

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