Joe Bouchard Part One - Blue Coupe
Flying under the radar is nothing new for the criminally under-rated Joe Bouchard. Lead singer Eric Bloom and guitarist Buck Dharma get most of the attention from his old band Blue Oyster Cult. His solo record Jukebox in My Head suffered the usual commercial fate of an indie release as has his band's record. That, of course, would be Blue Coupe's excellent debut disc Tornado on the Tracks with brother Albert (also former BOC) and original Alice Cooper bassist Dennis Dunaway. If you haven't heard it yet and are a fan of either BOC or Cooper, then run DON"T walk and pick it up.
Yet ask any die-hard BOC fan about their favorite tracks and (besides "Don't Fear the Reaper" an undeniable classic) one of the first ones is "Astronomy", written by Joe. Also sprouting from his fertile mind were (some of these were co-written) fan favorites "Morning Final", "Hot Rails to Hell", "Celestial the Queen", "Nosferatu", "Wings Wetted Down" and many more.
Jukebox in My Head was originally released in 2009 and served to show Joe as more than just the bass player from BOC. A very experienced guitarist, his abilities are evident as are his considerable songwriting skills. Jukebox in My Head is one of my favorite records of recent memory, showcasing a wide range of styles. Joe the musician is matched by Joe the producer who adroitly tackles all the little touches putting a glimmer on a record that is simply beyond terrific. The disc has been picked up by a record company and will be given a proper re-release this coming September. Look for it and buy it or you will miss out on a real gem. You have been warned.
As a long-time BOC fan, it was a real thrill and pleasure to speak with Joe recently to cover a number of topics. He was so generous with his time (hey, I had a lot of questions, alright?) that we've decided to break the conversation into three parts. Today we present our talk about Blue Coupe starting from how they got together, how their first record Tornado on the Tracks came about and all about their Grammy nomination.
Next week we'll talk about his solo record and later reminisce a bit about the good 'ol Cult days. Joe's an interesting guy and has a lot of cool stories so enjoy this three-part series.
antiMusic: Congratulations on Tornado on the Tracks. It's an excellent piece of work. I guess to start with: You've got a solo project, among all your other commitments. Dennis is part of a few bands and Albert has been playing with The Brain Surgeons among other bands. How did Blue Coupe find time to come together?
Joe: Yeah it's been a lot of fun. We don't expect to go platinum or anything BUT we've got better over the years, I think, and the record was pretty easy to put together. There were no real big snags and we were able to work quite fast. I don't recall exactly how long it took….a couple of months. But it was a good process. And I know Dennis has been involved in some projects and they go on for years and years and this one, he was amazed how quickly we worked. But Albert and I always did work pretty quick you know? So that's how it worked out. We got lucky and I had a few demos that they liked and they had some demos and we were able to make them fit within the concept of the album.
antiMusic: Was it really just for fun in the beginning, you know, just playing your hits or did you have a bit of a clue that new recordings were part of the plan?
Joe: Originally we were just playing cover tunes from our previous bands. We didn't really have a plan. We always had material but it was just a matter of finding the best material for the situation. And Albert is a very unique drummer. And Dennis is, of course, an incredible bass player. So you put those two together and for me, it really gave the tracks a lot of personality. And it's easy enough to make note-perfect albums these days but it's not so easy to get personality into the tracks and those guys are just bursting out with that stuff. So it worked out really well.
antiMusic: Tell us about working with Albert again after all these years.
Joe: Hmmm. Albert and I go back about a half a century. (laughs) We started off up there in the 1000 Islands (note: along the Canadian border) playing in an old barn. So we both developed as musicians together and when I first got into Blue Oyster Cult, I instinctively knew what they needed. But that being said, being back with Albert, it went pretty quick. We did all the basic tracks in two days. And then it's a couple of months for overdubs and another month for mixing and that was about it.
antiMusic: What were some of the tracks from the record that first came together as a band?
Joe: Well, it all came together at once, because we didn't really have a rehearsal. We don't even like to say the R word. (laughs) It's kind of like a funny thing we have --- no rehearsals. We do do soundchecks but I would say we did have one day of rehearsal for this album and that was because we were supposed to record in the studio but the engineer got pulled away on a personal matter. And we had the studio booked but no engineer so we used the first day to run over our arrangements and make some plans. And when the engineer came back the next day, we were ready to go. It worked out pretty smooth. I think there were two tracks that we didn't use but that's usually the case when you're doing an album. You do a few extra tracks and they may show up on another record or they may be modified and used somewhere else too.
antiMusic: Let's talk about a couple of your songs; "Angel's Well" is my favorite song on the record as well as one of your best vocals. How did this collaboration with Jim Carroll come together?
Joe: Well, I believe it was 1978, he gave me a lyric…I think it was backstage at a show. And he gave me a couple of others too. There was another angels one and a couple of other things. And I was ready to write the music for "Angels Well" but I didn't have anything in mind. Then Allen Lanier said to me, "You can't do that song because Jim is doing his own album now." And he was. He was doing the first Jim Carroll album Catholic Boy. So I just put the lyric in my box and eventually the box ended up in my attic. And I didn't think about it for 30 years. So then I was working on some new demos and somehow the box got from my attic to my studio…I don't remember how…and it sat in the middle of my studio for a couple of months. So I dug into the box one day and I found some Helen Wheels stuff that I think is really great. You're going to hear that on the next album.
But the Jim Carroll thing, I was thinking, "I think I get a real feel for this right away." And you go on that feel. So in one day, I wrote the music and did the demo and it came out pretty much how you hear it, the way Blue Coupe plays it. So it was pretty much just a one day thing but it was just a stroke of luck that I happened to find that old lyric. I went through the Internet and looked up all of Jim's material of everything he had recorded and couldn't find it. And then after we recorded it, I got a hold of the people that run the late Jim Carroll's website and handle his estate. I told them about the song and how he gave me this lyric and the one person who runs the website had never seen it before. And she knew everything about Jim Carroll. So this is like something that had just jumped out of nowhere. So that was really cool. And they were really nice about it. They were really happy that we had put that out and that there's another Jim Carroll piece out there.
antiMusic: How does it feel to know that you have one of his final pieces of work…well not in chronological order but last published?
Joe: Yeah, it was probably one of his early poems but I think he was thinking, "Yeah, I want to write a Blue Oyster Cult type of thing." And maybe he was a little embarrassed and was thinking, "Well, it's really BOC and not me", you know? And he just filed it away. But I love you like that tune. I'm quite happy with it. It was just fun to do.
So then we sent it off to Robby Krieger, And Robby liked it right away. And he sent us back maybe 3 or 4 guitar parts. This was all done by mail. H e would put it on his laptop and play some guitar…different sounds. He played some slide and some jazzy stuff. And what we ended up was an edit of some of his slide stuff and the jazzy stuff. And I think it really came out great.
antiMusic: He had guested on a couple of Blue Oyster Cult songs in the past. How did he originally come into your circle of friends and end up doing some guitar on "Angel's Well" and "Man Up"?
Joe: Well, he goes way back and we met him through Danny Sugarman who helped put out the Doors book No One Here Gets Out Alive. Danny we knew from when we toured in LA. And he suggested to Robby, cuz Robby wasn't doing much at the time, that he come and sit in with Blue Oyster Cult. We used to practice "Roadhouse Blues" in our soundchecks. And we were playing the Whiskey or some club and he came down and I was going "Holy Mackerel. Robby Krieger is playing with us. I can't believe this." And he is such a sweet, kind guy. He just showed up with his guitar and one pedal. No roadies. He just plugged into whatever we had and he just wailed. It's Robby, you know?
So after that, Albert got a hold of him and he played on what was to become the Imaginos album. So Albert got to know him pretty well at that time. Then we were actually touring around Canada a couple of summers ago. And we were thinking, we've got this Blue Coupe thing but to really be able to do a larger tour we would need some good guests who have a track record. We were thinking about everybody ….as wild as it gets…you know, Ted Nugent maybe. (laughs) But then it came down to Robby Krieger. We're thinking, OK what is Robby doing? And I had seen him play with 21st Century Doors. I loved that show, with the singer from The Cult. And he's a pretty friendly guy. He'll answer your phone calls. So Albert called him up and said "You wanna do some gigs?" And he said, "I'm busy with this Doors thing." And then he has his jazz thing that he does. But he said, "well, I can't commit to doing any shows with you guys but if you do some recording, maybe I can help you out with that."
And that was the thing that really tipped us that way. We were thinking, "Hey, we really have to do a recording. Robby Krieger said he'll play on it." (laughs) It's funny how these things work. So it was even more funny when he really liked what we were producing, "Angel's Well" specifically. And then when he sent back four or five different leads for it, that definitely got us excited about getting the record out and making sure it would be the best it would be. We STILL want to play some shows with him so there's no way of knowing when and if it would happen but we're hopeful. But he is a very busy guy and I'm sure he gets offers like this pretty often and he has to pick and choose.
antiMusic: You've said that the songs "You (Like Vampires)" and "Dark Boat" from your solo record were written by John Elwood Cook a neighbor of your childhood home on the banks of the St. Lawrence. How and when did you first hear these songs and when did you decide to adopt them as your own?
Joe: Well John I grew up with. He was a neighbor from the 1000 Islands and he was like a folk singer kind of. And he's a very good artist. He does paintings and collages. He traded in antique guitars and knows all about rare acoustic guitars. He was teaching art and retired about 10 years ago and so he's been sitting on the porch for 10 years writing songs…watching that beautiful Canadian sunset. And getting inspired. And of course "Dark Boat" is inspired from the St. Lawrence River.
"You (Like Vampires)" is more of a relationship song than about vampires but he is a wealth of great ideas for songs. There will be a lot more…let me tell you. I was just with him last week and we worked on seven new songs.
antiMusic: Tell us about the video for "You (Like Vampires)". Who came up with the concept and how much fun did you have shooting it?
Joe: Oh, it was great fun. It was a 12 hour shoot. Those things usually take about 12 hours. And my nephew, Albert's son Ace Bouchard, directed the video. He just graduated from college with a degree in film so I think "You (Like Vampires)" is part of his senior project. He got a lot of his friends from college and they're all young, excited, videographers and photographers and they did a GREAT job. Every setup was great. I mean, it's slow work for the performer because you end up sitting around a lot while they set up for the shot. But all the shots were really done professionally. We just shot another video for Dennis' song 'Waiting For My Ship" and Ace directed it again and we filmed in the 1000 Islands. So we would be waiting for our ship in the 1000 Islands (laughs). It was wild. (laughs) It's the follow-up to "You (Like Vampires)". We had vampires in the studio last time. Now we're going to have studios on the beach (laughs). Well, not vampires…..but I can't get give away the gory details. But it's a lot of fun and it will be another really good quality video that we are all excited about.
antiMusic: I know BOC toured with the Byrds early on in your career, so you have a bit of a history with them. Where did the idea to cover "Dolphin's Smile" come from, which came out really well by the way?
Joe: We did a photo-session with my brother's friend who is an oceanographer / photographer and he is working on a documentary about dolphins. So as part of a trade for a photo session., we decided to do a cover of "Dolphin's Smile" and then he could use it in his dolphin documentary and also we just loved the song. We were BIG into The Byrds in the old days. So I thought it really came out well. It was one of those things where you go, "you know, it might be OK". No, it came out GREAT. With all the harmonies and the lush sounds….but it's different than the Byrds too. It's a more solid track. I sent it to Chris Hillman who plays in a band with my friend Jon Jorgenson who I went with to Iraq last year. And Jon is a Nashville guitarist who played with Elton John and in the Hellecasters. He's one of the best guitarists in the world…by far! Anyway he plays in the Desert Rose Band with Chris Hillman. So I sent it to Chris and he loved it. There's nothing like covering a song from one of your idols and then you find out he's heard it and likes it. I think the only other thing he said was, "It might need a little cowbell". (laughs)
antiMusic: (laughs) "Tornado Warning" is a great heavy song. It sounds like it might have come out of a jam session. How did that one come together?
Joe: That one started out as one of Albert's demos and we didn't really have a great set of lyrics so between Albert and Dennis, they re-wrote the lyrics probably about four or five times before we settled on "Tornado Warning." It was one of those things where we cut Albert's track without a vocal and we all said well these lyrics have to be better. And then Dennis wrote some lyrics about a rock & roll girl…kind of related to Suzi Quatro which I thought it would be great to do a song about Suzi Quatro. But then I took his lyric and I fashioned a sort of screaming rock vocal on it. And then we had a new melody for the top of it and then we've had incredible tornadoes all across the country and I think the time we were recording that, there was a tornado warning in New York City. And so we were watching the weather. And so "Tornado Warning" just kind of fell into place. Albert and Dennis fixed the lyrics and it came out great. But it is like a jam too because it was not a fully formed song before it was recorded. It was developed along the way.
antiMusic: Congratulations on the Grammy nomination. How did you hear about it?
Joe: It was a complete surprise. Albert used to submit a lot of his songs from the Brain Surgeons when he had that band. He did a metal album with Ross the Boss and they did get a nomination in the metal category so he knew the process. So he sent "Vampires (You Like)" in just under the wire. It has to be submitted at a certain time and be up on iTunes on a certain day. And they sent us back a letter saying it would be considered for Best Rock Song. Of course, we didn't make it to the Top 5. I'm sure a lot of people didn't vote for us because they just didn't know who we were. You know the people that got nominated were like Muse and Neil Young who was the winner. Mumford and Sons got nominated and the Kings of Leon. But with a Grammy nomination, you're not just looking for a good song. You want a great song. And then because of when we submitted it, we can submit it again next year. So we've got one more shot at it. And the winner was Neil Young and he's a lot older than we are so there's still a chance. (laughs)
This wraps up the Blue Coupe portion of Joe's interview. Stay tuned for a lot more coming from Joe about his excellent solo record and his days with Blue Oyster Cult.
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