Blue Öyster Cult’s Buck Dharma likes making people strain to hear



By Steve Newton

As a metal-crazed teen in the ’70s, I was obsessed with Long Island hard-rockers Blue Öyster Cult. I used to blow all my lawn-mowing money on their albums and play them at ear-busting volume for hours on end, even though I had trouble making out the lyrics. Then one day I saw a little blurb inside the Tyranny and Mutation LP that said you could send away to CBS in New York for the words.

A few weeks later my parents’ mailbox was stuffed with subversive verses from tunes like “Career of Evil”, “O.D.’d on Life Itself”, and “I’m on the Lamb but I Ain’t No Sheep”. The lyrics were crammed together on green-and-white-striped computer printouts, which I proudly pasted to the corresponding LP sleeves and pored over. Nowadays, my mention of those pages brings a chuckle from BOC guitarist-vocalist Buck Dharma. “It was funny,” he recalls from his home in New Jersey. “We availed ourselves of Columbia’s data-processing machines to do that.”

Not all ’70s rock acts had lyrics worth buying stamps for, of course, but “the Cult” was different—they sang of World War II bombing raids (“ME262”), double-crossing desert drug dealers (“Then Came the Last Days of May”), and the promise of the afterlife (“[Don’t Fear] The Reaper”). But unless you sent away for those lyric sheets—or were really adept at deciphering the band’s cryptic pronouncements—you had to just guess at what they were singing about.

As if to make up for that, the band’s first four albums were reissued last year in remastered form, with bonus tracks, and the words were included for the first time. “We never did that originally,” notes Dharma, “and in general, I kind of like not having the lyrics on the records. I like to make people strain to hear. And even if they can’t get the right lyrics, sometimes what they think it is is better than what it actually is.”

As well as the remasters, 2001 saw the release of BOC’s latest CD, Curse of the Hidden Mirror, on CMC International Records, home to many of today’s ’70s-rock survivors. While not as impressive overall as the band’s previous disc, Heaven Forbid, the new one features some cool tunes, including the vibrant, Dharma-penned single “Pocket”, and “Stone of Love”, which he wrote with early BOC collaborator Richard Meltzer back in the early ’80s.

It was during that period that the group recorded The Revolution by Night with Bruce Fairbairn, the local producer (Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Kiss) who died in his sleep in May of ’99. Although Revolution wasn’t a big commercial success, Dharma enjoyed making it. “I miss Bruce,” he relates, “and I would rank him very highly [as a producer]. That wasn’t the band’s unanimous opinion, but he and I got along famously.”

Dharma—whose band plays the Dakota Creek Roadhouse (formerly 2 Louies Ballroom) across the border in Blaine next Thursday (January 31)—produced the latest Blue Öyster Cult album himself. He also helmed his own four-CD Buck Dharma Archive package, which features home tapings, rarities, and early jams. It’s available on his Web site (, but at US$149, it doesn’t come cheap.

Mind you, it includes a T-shirt, an autographed 8-by-10, a souvenir laminate, and a guitar pick.

The limited-edition Archive set—as well as the reissue of BOC’s breakthrough 1976 disc, Agents of Fortune—includes Dharma’s four-track home demo (sans cowbell) of his best-known tune, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”. That riff-rock classic is so popular that it was even featured in a Saturday Night Live skit—with perennial weirdo Christopher Walken calling for “more cowbell”.

It makes you wonder how many times, since ’76, the band has played a show without calling on “The Reaper”. “Uhhh, geez—there’s probably been just a coupla times we haven’t played it,” says Dharma with a chuckle, “usually because it rains on us or something, and we don’t have enough time to play it!”

3 thoughts on “Blue Öyster Cult’s Buck Dharma likes making people strain to hear

  1. Blue Oyster Cult is one of the all time under rated bands out there. Buck is one of the greats and glad to see he wasn’t overlooked on this list. Should have been top 20’s.

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