One of the most interesting bands in the history of rock, has always been Blue Oyster Cult. Not quite metal. Not quite standard hard rock. Didn't offer the usual drink, chicks and party topics for their songs. Five guys, all who wrote and sang. Despite their shadowy persona, they managed to score two mega-successful singles. "Burning For You" was a chart-topping success and the magnificent "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" is one of those songs that you will still hear on most rock stations, classic or not. Their records were excellent but live, the band rose to another level, as one can hear on their many live records.
Albert Bouchard was the drummer, vocalist and one of the principal songwriters for the band's glory years. Since leaving the band in 1981, Albert spent many years teaching music while maintaining his drummer's stool in the group Brain Surgeons, which also featured Ross the Boss, from The Dictators. Along with brother Joe (also a former BOC member) and ex-Alice Cooper bassist Dennis Dunaway, Albert put together another band called Blue Coupe that has put out three records with another coming soon. Along the way he also released several solo albums, Incantation and Surrealist.
After leaving BOC, he started his intended first solo record, Imaginos, which was a concept album based on a sci-fi story by BOC's producer/writer Sandy Pearlman. However, the record company pressured Albert to make it a BOC release so he briefly re-joined the band and it became a group effort.
Never quite happy with the way the record came out, Albert re-recorded it last year, giving it a complete face-lift and calling it Re:Imaginos. Towards the end of last year, he followed it up with a sequel, Imaginos: Bombs Over Germany. I recently had the chance to connect with Albert to talk about the new record. Here's what he had to say:
antiMusic: First of all, congratulations on the Imaginos series. It's a great and fascinating project. We've heard previously that you got the got the idea for Imaginos from Sandy Pearlman. Did he present it to you to make music from the story or was it just a story he was relating to you for entertainment?
Albert: I would say that it started like that...just as entertainment. It was within a couple of weeks of meeting him. He had already figured this whole thing out. At least he had the character. He didn't have all the little stories that he came up with over time. But he had this character and it almost like, I don't know, sort of like the Odyssey kind of a guy that goes and does all these adventures and ends up altering the course of human history...in Sandy's imagination, that is. (laughs) Or in the alternate Imaginos universe or dimension. (laughs)
antiMusic: So when you originally started to make the Imaginos record with BOC, was it ever in your mind that you might continue this further down the line since it's a sprawling story?
Albert: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, not from the very beginning. In the beginning, Sandy would write these songs and it would seem that he would make them right on the spot. For instance, "The Red and the Black" which is on the Imaginos 2 record, that was a song that I originally wrote the lyrics to and it was about trying to get out of the draft. And going to Canada to avoid the draft and not go to Viet Nam.
But once we started talking about doing a follow-up to the original Imaginos, the one we started in 1982, he said, "Well, the next one is going to be called Bombs Over Germany and it will be about the wars. So all of a sudden, these songs like "Cities on Flame...." or "The Red and the Black", these songs started to make sense in terms of the Imaginos concept. So that's where it started turning from random songs into a whole meta-verse, if you will. (laughs) The word of the moment....the meta-verse. (laughs)
antiMusic: For Bombs Over Germany, how difficult was it adapting old BOC songs and how they fit into the script, particularly something like "When the War Comes" which was originally on a record you weren't part of?
Albert: Right. Right. That's true. Well, Sandy had said that the mirror is part of what created WWI but we didn't have any WWI songs. So this was Joe and I trying to brainstorm how to do this. Because Joe did write that song and I said, "Is it OK if we change it around a bit?" He said he would be delighted if I did that because he didn't like the Club Ninja version. I don't blame him. It's a good song but I don't know exactly what the problem was or just maybe that they tried to make it into something else but we tried to make it into a song that could be sung by Rudy Vallee or Enrico Caruso or somebody like that.
And I gave it that marching beat because a lot of songs from around that time were basically marches. The marching bands were really the only things that could make an impression....cuz they would cut direct-to-disc so they needed some noise to go into those big megaphones (laughs). Joe said do whatever you want so I created that whole arrangement so then I was like "Well, maybe that could be like an overture for the whole thing." Because it was going to end with "Half Life Time" and it's sort of similar to "Half Life Time."
As a matter of fact, the original lyrics were exactly the same which kind of bothered me a little bit cuz I was like, "Sandy, you took the song that I wrote and you wrote a new song with the same lyrics. You can't do that." He said, "Why not?" (laughs)
antiMusic: Well Joe's trumpet really shines on this one and it sounds sort of like a Tom Waits song.
Albert: Yeah, I was very happy about the way that it came out. It's one of my favorites on the new record and it starts off with that. So you know from the start that this is not a pop record (laughs). You won't be asking, "Where is the single?" after that. (laughs)
antiMusic: "7 Screaming Diz-busters" takes on a whole new veneer with this more acoustic look. How did you go about pulling this together?
Albert: Well, I really like the BOC version, especially the one from On Your Feet or On Your Knees, the live version. So originally, I just took that track and put it on my computer and I started re-creating all the parts on acoustic guitar and acoustic instruments. It was coming along pretty well and then David Hirschberg and myself were recording that song...I had him put down a bass part and I suddenly remembered, "Wait Richie Castellano has his live stream on Today. I have to watch it." He does this Band Geek thing every Sunday. And strangely enough, he does "7 Screaming Diz-Busters" and he absolutely kills it. It's just like "Woah!!!"
I just said, "OK, maybe we need to think of something else now." So we were wondering what the heck we could do with this. I said, "Hey man, I'm really hungry. I'm going to make some Beyond Burgers, do you want one?" And he says "Sure." So we're sitting there eating and having a glass of wine and my youngest son, Ace, who has been living with me for the past year now, gets on the keyboard and he starts making this beat. I have a Behringer which is a clone of the Mini-moog and he was using that. And David and I are looking at each other and go, "Wait a minute. That almost sounds like he's making his own version of this song."
So I said, "You know, if you just change this a little bit, it almost sounds like what we were just doing...only different. Can we use it?" And he says sure. So that whole arrangement came up courtesy of my son and that became the basis of the whole song. And Richie ended up playing guitar on it, too, which was really great.
antiMusic: OK, I gotta ask. I've never seen this answered --- what the heck is a diz-buster?
Albert: (laughs) OK, well the diz-buster is a real sadistic...pervert, I guess you would say. Because the diz is what Sandy and Richard Meltzer used to describe the cleft of the penis. So yeah, this is a bad guy (laughs).
antiMusic: Probably the most obvious difference of material on the record is "OD'd on Life Itself", my favorite on the record. The original had an almost boogie feel. This is a brilliant interpretation of a song. Did you automatically feel the new arrangement on this song or did it go through a few permutations before coming to this one?
Albert: Oh, it went through a lot of permutations, yes! Originally, before it became a boogie thing, I was working with Eric getting the song together. It was basically Eric driving it and he had the boogie thing. I said "Well, it can't just have a boogie." So I was using the guitar and harmonica riffs from Paul Butterfield's "Mary, Mary" which was a Monkees song that he bluesed-up and made it into this great thing.
So I used that riff. At first, I said I was going to take out the boogie but I'm going to keep the Butterfield riff. But it was vexing me. I listened to it and thought it just sounded dull. And I had David Hirschberger come and play bass on it and we kind of got it to something. Then I left it alone for a little while.
I was working on "Shadow of California" and I came up with this similar riff to the original song on The Revolution By Night. It's my favorite song on there, I think. I was trying to find another way to play that riff that was something more like I would do and a little less like what Joe could do. I tend to use a lot of syncopation in my playing and Joe likes things straight. That's the difference in our writing styles. Joe likes right on the beat, very lined up perfectly. And I like off the beat. I guess it's a drummer thing (laughs).
Anyway, I came up with that riff and said, "Wait! What if I came up with something like that for "OD'd". I put down a track using that guitar style which is basically a syncopated riff but all the notes are ringing together. I was like, "Woah, I really like this!" And David came over and said, "OK, let me re-do the bass part. I never liked that bass part anyway."
We actually re-did the whole thing and a day later, Greg Holl came over and I wanted him to play violin on "When War Comes". So he did that and then said, "Is there anything else you want me to do?" And I remembered when he came over for the last record and he put the violin on "Siege and Investiture..." like a tango. You know, like the original tangos, acoustic guitar and violin. Classic tango with some Latin percussion.
And after he did that, I said, "Oh can you do something on the song, "Black Telescope". And so he just riffed. He didn't even listen to it. He just played through it one time and said, "OK, I have to go to my next session" and he just split. And I ended up really liking what he did on it. So when he asked about doing something else this time, I said "Yeah!" and I ended up having him play on like four other songs and the only song I had planned on him doing was "When War Comes". But everything was great. When he went to do something on "OD.'d..." I just said, "Keep it sparse....and spooky." And he did just that and his part is absolutely great. One take.
antiMusic: After hearing "Il Duce" which was written by David Roter, I recalled reading that you are currently working with Robert Gordon and I could hear you fitting into that almost rockabilly style. Why did you include this song?
Albert: David Roter came up with it while I was working on Imaginos and he said "Maybe this could go on your record." And I said, "Well, maybe. I don't know if Sandy would go for that." Although Sandy loved the song. And then I started thinking, then maybe if this like Hamilton, "Il Duce" would be King George, the comic relief thing.
antiMusic: You're presenting the Imaginos story live in a few weeks. How are you breaking it down - just the first record or bits of both?
Albert: What we're going to do is have a little introduction and then a couple of songs from Imaginos 2. I want to get all the mistakes out right away (laughs). So I can just play after that. (laughs) Maybe we'll do "Cities..." or "OD.'d..." or something like that. Then we'll play the Re:Imaginos album start to finish with very little talking in the middle.
And then we'll play some more songs from Imaginos 2 and then maybe some songs from Agents and maybe "Career of Evil". We'll do a few more BOC songs and who knows, we may even do "Reaper..." with my brother, because Joe is in the band and playing keyboards and trumpet. So he says, "Yes. I get to be a sideman. This will be an easy gig. I don't have to remember any words." (laughs)
antiMusic: It seems that all of the original BOC were of the same mindset, in that you didn't opt for the usual "baby, baby" kind of lyrics. In fact, the band was labelled as the thinking man's metal band. It felt like you guys were all great readers and in tune with the thought that a great lyric was as important as a great melody. Was this one of the unifying elements that brought these five guys together?
Albert: Well, I never thought about it like that but yeah! We were all good readers, yeah. I mean Eric and I, especially liked sci-fi and horror. And Joe and Allen, they read poetry and were more into existentialist things. Joe, especially, was into magical realism and Don read everything. He liked the horror genre also, Stephen King and Anne Rice. We all loved Anne Rice actually.
Also, Sandy Pearlman was very instrumental in getting us to write the "other" kind of lyrics. Because when I was in high school, I wrote songs all the time. I was writing since I was 13 years old. My first song was "Modern Biology" and it was all about....you know...girls. (laughs) We had a song that all of our friends demanded we play and it was a song that Joe and I wrote together, called "She Turns Me On". (laughs) Very original title. (laughs)
antiMusic: What was unique about BOC was that everybody wrote and everybody sang. I mean The Beatles did that a bit and KISS also did that but with those groups, it was mostly two guys that did the heavy lifting. With BOC, it was pretty spread out. Was that decided on from the get-go?
Albert: Well, we were all big fans of this group, The Blues Project with Al Kooper and Danny Kalb, who were the heavy lifters in the group. But everyone...the bass player Andy Kulberg had a flute solo and they all sang. And Steve Katz had a solo. They started out with a lead singer and by the time I saw them, the singer had quit to have a solo career, which we saw how that worked out (laughs) and they were all sharing the vocals. So we thought that if they could do it, we could do it.
antiMusic: Considering that everyone had a pretty strong writing style, I imagine that all of you came to the group with mostly finished songs. How much tinkering by the other members went on with the songs and are there examples of songs that changed greatly from when you first brought them in?
Albert: Well, I would say in the beginning, there was a lot of tinkering because we had a record deal and then we lost it. So were playing the clubs and trying to figure out how to make our songs sound like one of the bands we were covering. We would play these songs and say, "Here's a Byrds song" and play "Last Days of May". (laughs) So there was tinkering then. A lot of tinkering.
I would come in with sort-of finished songs back in the early days. I had a little tape recorder and I remember playing "Stairway to the Stars" fairly completely for the guys. But usually there was a lot of tinkering. I started writing in journals right at the very beginning about how the songs came together. Then after Tyranny and Mutation, somehow I lost my journal. So I started another one for Secret Treaties and that one detailed all the changes that ran through the song as we were working them up. It was fascinating.
I had planned at one point to write it all out and then post it somewhere and Allen Lanier said, "I don't want you to do that because it's too personal." So I didn't out of respect for him. I started it and Eric said, "Allen doesn't want you to do it." I said "OK. Are you alright with it?" He said, "I don't care. But I know it bothers Allen." But I can't find the book. I've moved around a lot and I just can't lay my hands on it.
antiMusic: Your laser show was quite revolutionary at the time. How did they come to be part of your live presentation and how long was it before they became problematic?
Albert: Well, they were always problematic. They were always breaking down We would be running 200 foot hoses from the bathrooms in the venues to the stage just to keep the things cool....keep them from exploding. (laughs) And they were always breaking down. We had spare parts, I mean actually duplicates of everything.
The straw that broke the camel's back was when the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) said we had to throttle down the power. There was too much power. There was too much danger of somebody really getting burned. When we complied with their guidelines, it didn't even look like a flashlight on the stage. Super lame. So we said, "Well I guess we just won't do this anymore." It was about a year that we ran them.
antiMusic: Like a lot of people, my exposure to your music was through "Reaper". I was always fascinated by the cover of On Your Free or On Your Knees. That picture is really powerful. So I knew who you were but had not heard anything up to that point. So when Agents of Fortune came out and "Reaper" hit the radio I had to have that record. I absolutely loved that song but I was knocked on my ass when I dropped the needle on "This Ain't the Summer of Love" and all the songs that came after. What do you remember about writing that one and about putting that record together in general?
Albert: Well that record was very different from all the other records because that's when it started where people brought in songs and they were already fully formed. There were arrangements. There were drum beats. Everything that the songwriter wanted on them. So there was a lot less tinkering.
There was more tinkering in terms of sound but the parts were pretty much all pre-ordained and everyone did their own thing, I'd say. We all had multi-track tape recorders then so you could bounce tracks and put whole choruses and you'd have all your guitar parts and bass and drums, harmonies and whatever, all there.
But for "...Summer of Love", Murray Krugman had the idea. He had a demo that was sent to him at Columbia Records for Blue Oyster Cult to do by this guy Don Waller who had a band out in California. He had written this song called, "This Ain't the Summer of Love". Murray Krugman heard it and said, "I don't like the music. I don't like where the lyrics are going but I like the title. Let's use the title and re-write the lyrics. I have this other band that has this riff and maybe we can use it for that."
The band was called Third World War. I can't remember the title of the song but I remember some of the lyrics. One of the lines was, "You pull your grenade pin and I'll be pulling mine." (laughs) So we took their riff and put it with Don Wallers title and then Murray wrote all of the lyrics. He came over to my apartment and said, "I pretty much have this song done but I need somebody to help make a demo so I can show the other guys."
So we made the demo and I think he played guitar and I played guitar. I sang the lead vocal and he sang the harmony. I actually have that demo. It's hysterical. (laughs) I mean, Murray singing super high. (laughs) I think I wrote the middle section. He had the verses and some of the chorus.
antiMusic: To me, one of the standouts on the record is "The Revenge of Vera Gemini". Tell us about how that song came together.
Albert: That was a revenge song written by Patti Smith. She gave it to me on my birthday which is May 24th. I said, "Oh, you wrote it for me?" She said, "No. I wrote it for Bob Dylan. I was at a party and he was there and I tried to go up and talk to him but he was being a real a**hole. So I wrote this revenge song about him. But he has the same birthday as you. I think you can make a good song out of this."
I loved the lyric and I thought I'd make it like "...A Rolling Stone" or "Positively 4th St"...like a Bob Dylan revenge song. So I played it for the guys and Buck Dharma said to me, (sings in a Bob Dylan voice) "You've got a lot of nerve stealing that Dylan song." (laughs) I said, "I guess I have to keep working on it cuz...yeah!" (laughs)
But I had the song for two or three years before I figured out a riff that didn't sound anything like Dylan and fit the song perfectly. And actually, that riff...we were playing in Jacksonville at the Coliseum there and anyone who ever went there would know what I'm talking about but the echo in that room was like ten seconds. You'd go "Hi!" and it would be just this long (makes whoosh noise).
So I wanted a riff that was so sparse that you could play it and it would work in that room. If the song was too fast or had too many chords or something, it would blend together and just make a mess. So I was trying to think, "What would work in this big space?" And I came up with that riff. And it fit that song perfectly.
antiMusic: As much as I love Agents of Fortune, I think, although they're very close, that I might like Spectres more.... You've personally written so many great songs but I think my favorite is "Death Valley Nights". And I also love the version that you had on your Incantation record and also the one that you and Joe did a couple of years ago. Tell us what you remember about writing this one.
Albert: OK, well the way that I saw it was that it was kind of a true story. Richard Meltzer had this girlfriend, Ronnie and Richard was somebody that Sandy went to school with. Sandy actually hooked up Ronnie with Richard. They became an item. They actually lived with us in the band house. Then they had an apartment in the far West Village, right next to Richie Haven's place.
Then for some reason, Richard decided that he hated New York and had to get out so he moved to California. And right away Ronnie broke up with him. My impression of the song was he was on the way to California. He's leaving Las Vegas heading to Death Valley for LA and just feeling crappy, you know, like "What the hell?" So that's how I pictured it. By then I had been to Death Valley so I kind of had an idea of how it would be there. Really hot...and slow! (laughs) Just this kind of angst-filled place.
And I remember Murray Krugman coaching me, saying "You've got to think of something terrible. Somebody has just died. Your parents just died." I said, "Well, I don't know if I would be so upset." (laughs) At that point. So he said, "Well, your best friend has died. Or your wife just ran off with some other guy." I said, "Oh, well that's happened. OK, I get it now." (laughs) So I got in the state. There was definitely some method acting there courtesy of Murray Krugman(laughs).
antiMusic: Did you write that on piano?
Albert: No, I wrote it on guitar. A 12-string guitar I had.
antiMusic: Really? Cuz the first part sounds like it would have come from a piano.
Albert: Yeah, yeah. Well, Allen did play some great piano on that. He was a feel guy, man. He wouldn't necessarily play the chord that you were playing but whatever it was, it was cool.
antiMusic: I've read that for a few years, one of your most regular tour partners was KISS. Was the story of their roadies locking your tour manager in an equipment case actually true? I asked Joe a few years ago but he didn't remember hearing that. What memories do you have of playing with those guys?
Albert: Nah. That's not true. I mean, there was a situation where this guy, Ron...he wasn't really our equipment manager, he was more like a gofer. He was also managing Helen Wheels. But he just wanted to hang out with us so we said, OK you can get us coffee and we need somebody to help carry something, you can help us. And he said sure.
So he was in the studio with us when we were making Spectres. And KISS was in the same studio, The Record Plant, in NYC. One day Gene Simmons was coming into the studio and there was a group of KISS fans out there. I wasn't there so I don't know exactly what happened but Gene and Ron got into this altercation. I think the thing that pissed Gene off was that Ron said in front of all the people, "Why don't you tell them what your real name is, Chaim!" And he's saying to the people, "His real name is Chaim Klein and he's Jewish."
And for some reason that got Gene mad and he started chasing Ron, threatening him, "I'm going to beat you up" kind of thing. And Ron is shorter than me, like about five feet tall and Gene, of course, is this huge guy. Big gawky guy." So Gene starts chasing him and Ron jumps into the elevator and presses the button and is thinking, "OK, he can't get in." The door closes and he comes upstairs and runs into the studio yelling, "You've got to hide me. Gene Simmons is going to come and beat me up."
And we're just going, "Oh come on. That's just ridiculous. You're just exaggerating." And all of a sudden, the elevator door opens and Gene rushes out and yells "Where is he? I'm going to beat the sh*t out of this kid." So we had to say, "C'mon Gene. Calm down. Just go back downstairs where you belong." (laughs) And that's a true story.
antiMusic: One thing I find fascinating about bands touring in the early '70s, particularly in New York, was the crazy lineups they used to have. I've read that bands like BOC might find themselves on a bill with Richie Havens and Earth Wind & Fire or something like that. What do you remember about any interesting bills you might have been on?
Albert: I believe that was started by Bill Graham. He did it out on the West Coast but especially when he opened the Fillmore East, there were all these crazy bills. Miles Davis and Blue Cheer (laughs) All these crazy bills with acts that you wouldn't think would go together. So yeah, some of the stranger bills were BOC and Ike & Tina Turner. BOC and Stevie Wonder.
Well, actually on our first tour, BOC, The Byrds and Mahavishnu Orchestra and that was weird. (laughs) Well, really if you look at it from our perspective, it was perfect because we were kind of jazzers and we also loved The Byrds and the pop thing, so we fit right in the middle. But it was kind of disheartening to hear Mahavishnu and hear what virtuosos they were. I mean, they were pretty impressive.
antiMusic: Well, I've read that you have all the songs done for the third installment of Imaginos. Can you foresee getting it out this year?
Albert: I don't think I'm going to get to it this year cuz I've got a whole bunch of things on the go. I even have a bunch of live dates lined up now cuz I'm also playing with the Dictators. We've got a bunch of dates and also a record from the new Dictators so that is a priority.
And Blue Coupe is having a new record as well. We've got a record company that wants to put out a collection of all the songs that didn't make the record, for one reason or another.
For instance, we did a fantastic version of "Mothra" but we didn't want to pay the rights to the film company to use it. This company said, "Don't worry about it. We'll take care of that." I remember there was another one that I didn't like Joe's vocal on it and he was like, "I like it. The vocal is fine." But we put it aside. And later he said, "OK, I'm going to re-do the vocal." And he did a great job. Stuff like that.
So it wasn't that they weren't good enough. It was just that we were trying to get something out and we didn't have the time to spend on them. So we've gone back and kind of redone these songs. I think there's going to be 10 songs with a package of all the Blue Coupe videos that have been done, plus three more that nobody's seen.
There's going to be an extended version of "You (Like Vampires)" because it was originally about five and a half minutes long. And we cut it down to three and a half because we thought this was the most commercial thing and we wanted to have something that sounds like a single.
I'm also working with Robert Gordon on his new record. So I've got lots on the go and it's going to be a really busy year.
Morley and antiMusic thank Albert for taking the time to do this interview.
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