Blue Öyster Cult
Blue Öyster Cult
Blue Öyster Cult is sometimes referred to as the first heavy metal band; the group is even credited by some with coining the term “heavy metal” (note the early use of the unpronounced umlaut in a band’s name). The New York-based ensemble formed in the late 1960s, originally as an alternative to the slick corporate rock of the era. After releasing several acclaimed albums during the 1970s, Blue Öyster Cult’s popularity began to wane, their music seemingly eclipsed by younger, more bombastic heavy metal acts.
Beginning in the 1980s, a series of personnel changes and contractual difficulties conspired to keep Blue Öyster Cult from releasing new material, but a boost from novelist Stephen King in the the early 1990s helped put the band back in the public eye. King wanted to use Blue Öyster Cult’s biggest hit, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” on the soundtrack for a television version of one his books. The band’s label, however, refused to comply with King’s request. So a deal was struck with another label to re-record the Cult’s biggest hits. The result was the 1994 release Cult Classic, which contained the
Original members include Eric Bloom (born December 1, 1944), guitar, vocals; Albert Bouchard (born May 24, 1947; attended Clarkson College of Technology; left group, 1981; temporarily rejoined group, c. 1985; married Deborah Frost, a music journalist), drums, vocals; Joe Bouchard (born November 9, 1948; left band, 1986), bass, vocals; Allen Lanier (born June 25, 1946; left group, 1985; rejoined group, 1986), keyboards, guitar; and Donald Roeser (born November 12, 1947; attended Clarkson College of Technology), guitar.
Later members included Rick Downey (joined group, 1981; left group, 1985), drums; Jimmy Wilcox (joined group, 1985), drums; Tommy Zvoncheck (joined group, 1985), keyboards; Jon Rogers (joined group, 1986), bass; Ron Riddle (joined group, 1987; left group, 1991), drums; Chuck Burgi (joined group, 1991), drums.
Group formed on Long Island, NY, 1969, as Soft White Underbelly; performed at Fillmore East, New York City, with Jethro Tull and Jeff Beck; changed name to Oaxaca, then Stalk-Forrest Group; recorded album for Elektra Records (never released); changed name to Blue Öyster Cult; signed with Columbia Records, 1971, and released self-titled debut, 1972; subject, with Black Sabbath, of concert film Black and Blue, 1981.
original, analog-recorded songs remastered with digital technology. Reviewing the compilation for Rolling Stone, Matt Diehl noted, “At their best, BOC create distinctive hard rock that betrays a bitter core, couching perverse, apocalyptic lyrics in deceptively catchy compositions.”
Blue Öyster Cult’s origins stretch back to late-1960s Long Island, New York. Two of the members, drummer Albert Bouchard and guitarist Donald Roeser, were students at Clarkson College of Technology. They became members of a cover band called The Disciples. Bouchard also began playing in an act called The Lost and Found, where he met future Blue Öyster Cult vocalist Eric Bloom. The Disciples changed their name to The Travesty, and Bouchard and Roeser tried unsuccessfully to relocate the band to New York City.
Bouchard then headed to Chicago, where he met poet, performance artist, and future punk singer Patti Smith. Meanwhile, Roeser became friends with Sandy Pearl-man, then a writer for the influential rock magazine Crawdaddy. Roeser also befriended Richard Melt-zer. When Bouchard returned from Chicago he formed Soft White Underbelly. Pearlman and Meltzer served as a management/production team and wrote songs for the band, which had also thought of calling itself “Cow.”
Soft White Underbelly played numerous gigs around Long Island, recruiting Allen Lanier on keyboards, Eric Bloom on vocals, and finally, Bouchard’s younger brother Joe on bass. Eventually they won an opening slot at New York’s Fillmore East on a bill with Jethro Tull and Jeff Beck. Unfortunately, their performance was disastrous. A name change seemed to be in order. They first rechristened themselves Oaxaca, then the Stalk-Forrest Group. As the latter they recorded an album for Elektra Records that was never released. Signing with Columbia Records in late 1971 proved more fruitful; their debut release, Blue Öyster Cult, appeared in January of 1972. Their ultimate moniker was based on a recipe for Blue Point oysters, discovered by Pearlman.
Many of the songs on Blue Öyster Cult were written by the bandmembers along with Pearlman and Meltzer. Pearlman also served as co-producer with Murray Krug-man. This key behind-the-scenes lineup would remain intact for most of the decade. Early in their career, Blue Öyster Cult had adopted the band’s trademark imagery—the symbol for Kronos, or Saturn, in white on a field of black. Such mythological-based iconography would be copied by legions of both big-league and backwater heavy metal acts for years to come. Also during these initial years, Blue Öyster Cult were frequently billed as a support act for Alice Cooper, an early-1970s “metal” act famous for incorporating blood, gore, and live snakes into his theatrical stage show.
Between tours, Blue Öyster Cult recorded a number of albums for Columbia, including Tyranny and Mutation and Secret Treaties. A live record, On Your Feet or On Your Knees, was released in February of 1975, but it was not until the band’s fourth studio effort that Blue Öyster Cult achieved their breakthrough success. That record, 1976’s Agents of Fortune, contained the seemingly sinister, slightly hypnotic hit “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” The song was interpreted by some as containing a pro-suicide message. Nonetheless, by the fall of 1976 the album had sold over a million copies; it would remain on the charts for 35 weeks. Patti Smith, by then the girlfriend of keyboardist Allen Lanier, sang on one of the cuts she and Lanier co-wrote, “The Revenge of Vera Gemini.”
Blue Öyster Cult followed the success of Agents of Fortune with Spectres, released in late 1977. A song written by Roeser, “Godzilla,” became that disc’s biggest hit. During their tours in support of these albums, the band introduced a mind-bending laser light show, one of the first outlandish spectacles of the rock concert experience. Rumors began circulating that fans were going blind as a result of the near-half-a-million-dollar technology. The displays were viewed as satanic by conservatives, and due to the controversy some arenas would not allow the laser equipment to be installed. The band eventually capitulated to the naysayers and abandoned the light shows.
Spectres was followed by another live recording, 1978’s Some Enchanted Evening. Blue Öyster Cult then headed to California to record another studio effort. Mirrors, released in June of 1979, was the first work not produced by Pearlman and Krugman. The band played with Black Sabbath for a series of dates promoted as the “Black and Blue” tour, and a concert film of the same name appeared in 1981. “Bumin’ for You,”a Top 40 hit, was the standout single from 1981’s Fire of an Unknown Origin.
From there things seemed to go downhill for the band. Drummer Albert Bouchard was a no-show for a tour date in England; he was replaced by a roadie named Rick Downey. Most of the gigs recorded for yet another live album, 1982’s Extraterrestrial Live, featured Downey’s contributions, as did The Revolution by Night, released in October of 1983. Downey left the band in 1985; more personnel changes followed. Both Joe Bouchard and Lanier had left the group by the time Club Ninja was issued in 1986.
Imaginos, released in 1988, would be Blue Öyster Cult’s last studio album; it was a record plagued by upheaval. A “concept” work exploring the idea that occult forces had caused World War I, Imaginos would ultimately be viewed by many fans as a solo project by Albert Bouchard. Bouchard had briefly rejoined the group around 1985 (as did Lanier permanently the following year). But theoriginal drummer again severed his relationship with his former bandmates and longtime producer/manager Pearlman over Imaginos. The record had started out in the early 1980s as a group project. Nonetheless, Bouchard ended up contributing most of the musical content and sang on all of the tracks, intending to release Imaginos as a solo album after leaving the group. But the label was dissatisfied with the outcome, and Pearlman managed to have the vocals redone by Bloom and Roeser. Bouchard eventually went on to form the avant-garde, New York City-based Brain Surgeons with his wife, rock journalist Deborah Frost.
Some saw a connection between Imaginos’s content and the writings of early-twentieth-century science fiction novelist H. P. Lovecraft—not surprisingly also one of horror writer Stephen King’s influences. When King attempted to win permission to use “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” on the soundtrack to his TV miniseries The Stand, a contractual dispute resulted in 1994’s Cult Classic, a remastering of Blue Öyster Cult’s biggest hits. In fact, changes in band personnel during the 1980s had been compounded by long-unresolved contractual problems with the band’s label.
By the mid-1990s Blue Öyster Cult—then a quintet featuring Bloom, Lanier, and Roeser—seemed to be content to tour occasionally for the benefit of die-hard enthusiasts. At one point the band even sold T-shirts that proclaimed “On Tour Forever.” But an active fan club and a wealth of information and discussion on on-line computer services kept the Blue Öyster Cult mythos alive and well—the latter a fittingly “plugged in” development that seemed to support rock critic Dave Marsh’s assessment of them in his book The Heart of Rock and Soul as “the world’s brainiest heavy metal band.”
On Columbia/CBS Records, except where noted
Blue Öyster Cult, 1972.
Tyranny and Mutation, 1973.
Secret Treaties, 1974.
On Your Feet or on Your Knees, 1975.
Agents of Fortune, 1976.
Some Enchanted Evening, 1978.
Cultosaurus Erectus, 1980.
Fire of Unknown Origin, 1981.
Extraterrestrial Live, 1982.
The Revolution by Night, 1983.
Club Ninja, 1986.
Career of Evil: The Metal Years (compilation), 1990.
On Flame with Rock and Roll (compilation), 1990.
Cult Classic (compilation), Herald Records, 1994.
Workshop of the Telescopes, Columbia/Legacy, 1995.
Marsh, Dave, The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, New American Library, 1989.
The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, edited by Donald Clarke, Viking, 1989.
The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, edited by Jon Pareles and Patricia Romanowski, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.
Rolling Stone, February 9, 1995.
BAM, December 15, 1995.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from the Blue Öyster Cult Frequently Asked Questions page on the Internet.
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