Thursday, January 12, 2017

Interview: -- Joe Bouchard (Blue Oyster Cult)

in the night... 
sirens delight."
~ Blue Oyster Cult ~

Like all great bands and big bad wolves, Blue Oyster Cult will come and blow your house right the fawck down.  They can thunder your windows.  Speedmetal your doors.  But just as likely, they will have already slithered inside.  Slipped through the cracks in the wall.  Lying in wait.  Waiting.  Inside your dark closet.  Behind your bathroom curtain.  Underneath your safe cozy bed.  And it's there where Blue Oyster Cult will bleed you.  They didn't sing so much about the pompatus of love.  Or heaven and hell.  But about reapers and vampires.  Monsters, abductors and screamers. That was their job.

Sure, the Boys in the BOC...Joe Bouchard, Eric Bloom, Albert Bouchard, Buck Dharma, Allen Lanier...could always get right smack in your face.  But they also enjoyed the subtle play and plunder before the confrontation.  They had your head-rockin' long before you realised you were partyin' to a "come-as-you-are" suicide party invitation.  Or jammin' down to a serial killer's proud collection of eyes.  Blue Oyster Cult will always be the Stephen King of heavy metal rock-n-roll.  Now dim the lights, put the record on and see if you can float.

Joe Bouchard (bass, vocals)

Casey Chambers:  My favorite Blue Oyster Cult song, and I have a bunch of favorites from your discog, is "Nosferatu" from the "Spectres" album (1977) and it's one you composed.   It has such a haunting and ominous sound that gets me every time. And yet it's beautiful.

Joe Bouchard:  Yes, definitely.  One of my most popular songs.

Casey Chambers:  How did that song come together for you?

Joe Bouchard:  It came together pretty fast actually.  I had a studio in my garage with this old white grand piano.  And it was pretty much one of those things where I just sat down and improvised.  The reason the song happened at all was because we were supposed to do a tour of Canada and it got cancelled.  So when I came home for a couple of extra days, I got this lyric from my collaborator, Helen Wheels.  She wrote the lyrics and it's pretty much just like she gave it to me.  I wrote the music and it worked out really good. It's definitely a fan favorite.  I still play it.  I don't play it a lot, but I have played it several times in the last few years.

"Nosferatu" -- Blue Oyster Cult /"Spectres" (1977)

Casey Chambers:  It's fantastic.  And it seems fitting that Blue Oyster Cult would open and close the "Spectres" album with an homage to iconic horror films.

Joe Bouchard:  Yes.  It just happened that way.  I don't know who did the sequencing.  It was usually my brother (Albert Bouchard) and the producers.  The other guys might have had some influence.  Of course, you can't go wrong when you start the album with..."Godzilla."  That was a big one for us.  I just played it last weekend with my brother and my nephews up in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  And yeah, I love playing "Godzilla."  It was written by our guitarist Buck Dharma.  Also known as Donald Roeser.  I just heard the demo for that song recently and what we recorded on that album was a lot like his demo.  So he's really responsible for the writing of that song and he did a great job with it.

Casey Chambers:  Oh, yeah. "Godzilla" hits you right in the mouth.  "Nosferatu"...on the other hand, does the haunting slow creep from behind.  Had you occasion to see the movie before sitting down at the piano?

Joe Bouchard:  Ya know, I can't remember watching it then, but I definitely saw the old Dracula movies.  I had seen some of the iconic scenes from "Nosferatu"...but I had never watched the film all the way through until just this last Halloween.  I did this crazy dance mix of "Nosferatu"...and while making the video for Youtube, I did finally watch the whole movie.  I know it sounds blasphemous, (laughs) but I enjoy doing remixes.  I've been doing remixes of songs that I wrote for Blue Oyster Cult.  I finally got around to remixing "Fallen Angel"...which was a single for us in the '80s in England and it was a lot of fun.

Casey Chambers:  Who were some of your influences?  Was the bass your first instrument?

Joe Bouchard:  Well, ya know, before I was a bass player, I was a guitar player.  And I was influenced by all the guitarists from the British Invasion.  Of course, Paul McCartney was a big influence.  He always had the right bass line for the songs. But I think probably my biggest influence as the one bass player I sort of imitate the most was Roger Glover from Deep Purple.

He had a similar way of supporting the band.  And also he uses a pick and uses a fairly aggressive sound.  And that's what I did.  I didn't really think about it consciously at the time.  But now, looking back in retrospect, definitely Roger Glover from Deep Purple was a big influence for me.

Casey Chambers:  Did your paths ever cross?

Joe Bouchard:  Oh yeah!  I saw him in the studio several times.  He's a really, really nice guy.  We actually played on a few of the classic Deep Purple shows back in the '70s.  We did a stadium in Florida.  A few other shows.  They were always a great band to see.  How they worked the audience.  I mean we're talking about the Ritchie Blackmore era.

I actually went to Ritchie Blackmore's house once.  He was living on Long Island.  Now when we were on tour he was...well...notoriously difficult on tour.  I don't know if you've heard the stories...but when we went to his house, he was the nicest guy.  He had a little pub built into his living room and he was very sweet and cordial.   So I think he's one of those guys that has a bit of Jekyll and Hyde.  Anyway, it was interesting.  Martin Birch, who produced a lot of the classic Deep Purple records...was also producing us.  He produced "Burnin' For You" and my song, "Fallen Angel."  We were recording out on Long Island near Ritchie's house, so, yeah it was fun rubbing shoulders with rock stars.

We didn't get to see that many because we were always working.  And once you're on tour, it's sort of a different atmosphere.  And you don't wanna get in anybody's space. We had a few close friends in other bands.  Like Foghat. Phil Lynott. Thin Lizzy and a few others. Lemmy was a good friend of ours. Black Sabbath.  But, most of the bands...we were pretty separate when we were on tour.

Casey Chambers:  Lynott, Lemmy, and Bouchard.  Brother bassists-in-arms.

Joe Bouchard:  Yeah.  Phil even let me use his bass.

Casey Chambers:  How'd that happen?

"Godzilla" -- Blue Oyster Cult / "Spectres" (1977)

Joe Bouchard:  Our equipment didn't show up for a gig.  It was a big show in New York City.  Down at the...I think it was the Palladium.  Our equipment didn't make it and Thin Lizzy was our opening act.  We said, 'Hey, would it be okay if we used your gear?'  And they said, 'Oh sure!  Use whatever you want.'

Casey Chambers:  The instruments are back in town!

Joe Bouchard:  If you see pictures of me with a Fender Bass that has a sort of mirror pickguard...well, that's actually Phil Lynott's bass.   They had some great equipment.  Your basic Marshall amps and Fender guitars. Stuff like that. And we never sounded better! (laughs)  We sounded great on Thin Lizzy's equipment.  It was all good.  We've played a cover of "Jailbreak."  We were definitely good friends of theirs.  But like I said, not that many from that era.

Casey Chambers:  When did you first hear the seed of what would become the song..."(Don't Fear) The Reaper?"  When did you get to put your bass on it?

Joe Bouchard:  I first heard it...and this is another song that was written by our guitarist Buck 1975 when we were developing songs on what was to become our "Agents Of Fortune" album.

Normally, we would be rushed into recording, touring and then going back into the studio to rush out an album...and then going right back out on tour again.  But we had put out a live album in 1975 called, "On Your Feet Or On Your Knees," so that gave us a few extra months to develop some songs.   We would have meetings and play our cassette tapes and say, 'which ones should we work on?'

Buck Dharma brought in the demo for "(Don't Fear) The Reaper."  It!  This is gonna be a hit.  And it was really hard to find a hit for a band like Blue Oyster Cult.  We were definitely different from the regular pop music that was on the radio at the time.  But once we heard "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," I was completely convinced it was gonna be a hit.

We went on a tour of Europe for about six weeks and we played this cassette demo for people from the record company.  And the reaction was the same.  They loved it.  They loved it!  When we came back to New York after the tour, we went into the studio and the rest is history.  I think we did about eight takes.  And the eighth take or maybe it was the seventh take...that was the one.  That's the one that gets played on the radio all the time to this day.

"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" -- Blue Oyster Cult / "Agents Of Fortune" (1976)  

Casey Chambers:  That's good stuff!  What about that creepy middle break?  The mid-section.  Was that there from the very beginning?

Joe Bouchard:  Pretty much.  Very close.  I changed the bass a little bit in that part of the song.

Casey Chambers:  I remember hearing the album track for the first time after listening to the radio play the single edit so often...and my jaw dropped. It was so badass.

Joe Bouchard:  The magic is...after you put this strange part of the song in the middle, you come back to what you heard in the first two verses...and it just becomes...magical.  It gives me chills.  Even now.  I play it a lot as a soloist.  With other bands.  It's like one of those songs that if I go to a gig and I don't play that song, there's gonna be a lot of disappointed people.

Even though I don't play in Blue Oyster Cult, like I used to, it is still one of those signature songs that you cannot get away from.  We were very, very lucky in that respect.  Some bands have hits that are so bad...and they have to play them all the time.  Not so for "...The Reaper."  "...The Reaper" is just in a category by itself.

Casey Chambers:  Absolutely.  It still sounds fresh and I hear it on the radio all the time.

Joe Bouchard:  Yeah. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  What was it like for you guys watching that song take off?

Joe Bouchard:  Well, we were touring at the time.  And the places we played would be, maybe, about half full.  But as soon as "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" took off, it was sellouts night after night.  It was like...Holy Mackerel!  Something happened.  We had bigger tours.  For about six years, we were on top of the business.  It was a tremendous feeling.  I think we put the album out in the spring but wasn't until October that it really took off.  We could see it night after night.  There would be full houses.  We started drawing more females.  Before that, it was just guys in leather jackets and jeans.  "...Reaper" just appealed to everybody.  And the whole complexion of the tours changed after that.  It was really good.

Casey Chambers:  There's a buried treasure, as Tom Petty would say, on side two of "Agents..." that you wrote called "Morning Final."

Joe Bouchard:
 Yes.  Well, I was actually staying in the city at Patti Smith's apartment with Allen Lanier, our keyboard player. They were living together at the time.  We were just sort of crashing at different places.  And there was this murder that happened in the subway.  And the subway stop was like, maybe, 100 feet from the door where I was staying.  So that was the idea.  I read about it in the newspaper.  And I said, 'oh I got to write a song about this.'

"Morning Final" --  Blue Oyster Cult / "Agents of Fortune" (1976)

I never thought it would end up on an album, but you never know.  It did really well.  The guy who plays with Blue Oyster Cult...Richie Castellano...sings the song when they do it live and he does a great job.  They all do an amazing job of playing that song.  But yeah, that's kind of the story.  It happened in the subway.  It was really close to where I was living and it kinda freaked me out.

Casey Chambers:  Blood on the tracks and Patti and Lanier in the kitchen.  Scary stuff! (laughs)

Joe Bouchard:  Yeah. (laughs)  But ya know, that was kinda what Blue Oyster Cult wrote about.  Science-fiction and bizarre mysteries.  Stuff that wasn't your typical love song type of thing.  Although "...Reaper" managed to slip in not only science-fiction and horror but a love song at the same time, ya know?  That's part of the magic.

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, and that was part of what made the band stand out.  That ominous edginess.  And "Agents Of Fortune" was my entry point into your discography.  So, it's a special one...and absolutely a terrific one.  But not necessarily your best one.  I'd argue that the band hit a high bar, both before and after that album.  In fact, starting with BOC's debut in '72, you guys had an incredibly long streak of killer albums.

Joe Bouchard:  Yeah.  Yeah.  I agree.  It was really strong on all levels.

Casey Chambers:  Let me switch gears.  I picked up your CD..."Jukebox In My Head" I'd never seen before and it's just killer.  I was crankin' the song... "Travelin' Freak Show" all week.  Hope to find it on vinyl.

Joe Bouchard:  Oh yeah, yeah.  That's on my first solo album.  It came out in 2009.  The drummer from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Michael Cartellone, plays the great drum part on that.  That was a lot of fun.

"Travelin' Freak Show" -- Joe Bouchard / "Jukebox In My Head" (2009)

I wrote that song because I heard Alice Cooper on the radio talking about these wild leather boys that became Alice Cooper.  And I was thinking...yeah, a travelin' freak show.   That's what it was like for Alice Cooper back in the day.  So that was the inspiration for that one.  And, of course, I was part of a touring band myself for 16 years, so I know what a travelin' freak show is like. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  I bet!  That song begs to be cranked to 11.

Joe Bouchard:  Yeah, there's a lot of good tracks on that album.  It's also available on vinyl.  You probably have the first version, but I do have a version now with extended mixes.

Casey Chambers:  Do you ever play that song in your set?

Joe Bouchard:  Ya know, I've never played that one live, but I really should.  One of the problems have to tune the guitar to a drop C sharp.  It's like a really low tuning on the guitar.  And with so many songs to do, I just don't have an extra guitar to tune to a low C Sharp.  But I should give it a try.  I will.  I'll say, 'Casey told me to do it.' (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Great, I'll own it! (laughs)  And you released another album just this past year.

Joe Bouchard:  Yes. I actually have four solo albums now.  The latest is called, "The Power Of Music" (2016) and it's receiving great reviews.  One of the songs getting a lot of attention is "Walk With The Devil."  It's a sorta rewrite of the old story of the bluesman going down to the crossroads and making a deal with the devil.  So I kind of made it a bit more contemporary and put more modern electric guitar figures in the lyrics.

"Walk With The Devil" -- Joe Bouchard / The Power Of Music" (2016)

Jimi Hendrix is mentioned in that song as well as Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck...and the idea of how the electric guitar developed.  And the guitar solos in the song get more and more frantic as it goes on.  It was a lot of fun to put together.
And there are other songs from that record that are really interesting, as well.  My friend John Cook has written quite a few songs for me and my other band Blue Coupe...and he wrote "Photographic Evidence" which is a really good one.

My two other albums are "Tales From The Island" (2012) and "New Solid Black" (2014) and they're both a lot of fun.   I love doing solo albums because I get to make all the decisions. (laughs)  I love working in a band too, but there's something about doing an album on your own.  I record them myself.  I produce them myself.  I'm the artist, but I have to be two people.  And I'll think, 'Well, what would Martin Birch do?  What would Sandy Pearlman say?  Would he tell me to go out and sing it again?'  I conjure up all the people I've worked with when I'm working on my albums.  I really love doing them.

Casey Chambers:  You mentioned your other band Blue Coupe.  That's Dennis Dunaway, Albert Bouchard, and yourself. What have you guys been up to?

Joe Bouchard:  Oh, Blue Coupe, yes.  Well, last year Dennis put out his autobiography.  We're talking about Dennis Dunaway.  Founder of Alice Cooper.  It did really well, so we did a lot of shows to promote his book.

We did the Strand Bookstore.  It's a famous bookstore in New York City.  We actually played a bunch of acoustic shows.  We played the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  We had a big reception there.

"You (Like Vampires)" --  Blue Coupe / "Tornado on the Tracks" (2013)

Plans are definitely on the table for a new Blue Coupe album. We're starting to book shows for later this year.  We are going down to Florida to do a thing.  We've got a couple of benefits up here in New England.  And it's fun playing with Dennis and my brother Albert.

Casey Chambers:  I'm a big fan of Xmas albums. I can't seem to stop picking them up.  And I heard you were going to be doing a song or two.

Joe Bouchard:  I just did a Christmas album with my brother. All original new songs.  It's called "Manic Panic Christmas." (Albert & the Sleigh Riders)  Albert has been working on this for three years.  He wrote some Christmas songs and was....'well what are we gonna do with them?'

He got some other artists in New York.  He got Joey Ramone's brother, Mickey Leigh to do one of the vocals.  And he sounds just like his brother.  It's awesome.  And Christine Ohlman, who was a singer in the Saturday Night Live Band does an amazing vocal.  Joe Hurley does another song that's really cool.  So it was a lot of our friends from the New York area doing this holiday album.  I sing two songs on it and they're really good.  But it came out late, so you'll hear more of it next Christmas.  We're going to reissue it next year with some remixes and we'll get it out around November.

Casey Chambers:  Joy to the world, yo. (laughs)

Joe Bouchard:  Oh yeah. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  I'd like to find out what you've been spinning.  Is there an album or two that's been stroking your ears that you would recommend?

Joe Bouchard:  That's a good question.  I like that new Rolling Stones album..."Blue & Lonesome."  I was listening to The Suicide Squad album.  That's a really cool album.  Kings Of Leon.  I like the one they just put out..."Walls."  But mostly, I listen to older stuff.

When I'm writing, I don't want to listen to too much new stuff because I want to see if I can figure out my own thing.  So, I don't listen as much for pleasure as I'd like to.  I think my favorite new album really is The Stones.  It's just a good listening album.  It's simple.  Real bluesy.  Not a lot of bells and whistles, just good basic rock music.

Casey Chambers:  Well, I want to thank you very much for allowing me to cherry-pick a few things.  I could spend all day discussing your music and how much I've enjoyed it.  You've been more than generous with your time.

Joe Bouchard:  Oh, no problem.  It was great.  It was fun talking to you. Thanks so much.

Joe Bouchard Official Website
Blue Coupe Official Website
Blue Oyster Cult

I'll leave everyone with Joe Bouchard's..."Screams"...from Blue Oyster Cult's self-titled debut.  Enjoy!

"Screams" --  Blue Oyster Cult / Blue Oyster Cult (1972) 

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers
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Ralph said...

I enjoyed reading that - thanks...

Joe's put out some great solo albums, but for me, his "Tales from the Island" is absolutely wonderful - check this out:

And if you like that, then your next stop is here:

Casey said...

Good stuff!

Unknown said...

Always enjoy a B.O.C interview. Good read. Rock on.

Casey said...

Right back-atcha!

Ed said...

Great stuff, enjoyed the interview! Joe is the man!

Casey said...

No doubt! And thanks!

Anonymous said...

Nice work, Casey! Enjoyed the whole piece!

Wings Wetted Down said...

Joe and Blue Coupe rock!!! Great interview!!!

Casey said...

Thanks! Seeing your post made me throw on "WWD" this morning. Lost Gem. Thanks again!