Classic Rock Corner

The World Is Still Their (Blue) Öyster

Still Burnin' For You: Eric Bloom, Richie Castellano, Jules Radino and Buck Dharma
Still Burnin' For You: Eric Bloom, Richie Castellano, Jules Radino and Buck Dharma Photo courtesy of Blue Oyster Cult
Though he was born to be wild, he — or she; theories abound — is still an unlikely protagonist for a rock and roll song. This now 63-year-old amphibious reptile stands around 300 feet tall and has breath you don’t want to be directed at you. But at least he (she?) keeps urban architects of the Far East both dismayed and continually employed.

Nonetheless, 1977’s “Godzilla” is one of the biggest hits for Blue Öyster Cult (don’t forget the umlaut) and a classic-rock warhorse and written by lead guitarist/singer Buck Dharma. But according to the group’s Eric Bloom, don’t think they're banking it for every airplay or multimedia usage of the tune.

“Buck wrote the song, but when he did, he wasn’t thinking about the movies or royalties or ownership. We just recorded it,” the lead singer/rhythm guitarist says. “Out of the blue jumps Toho Films, who own the rights [to Godzilla, and] says we can’t do that unless we paid them. So we had to give away a big chunk of the music publishing in perpetuity to the film company. We can’t even use a likeness of The Guy himself on T-shirt or record cover, or they will come after us.”

click to enlarge The classic lineup: (top row) Joe Bouchard, Albert Bouchard, Allen Lanier. (bottom) Eric Bloom, Buck Dharma. - CD COVER BY SONY/LEGACY
The classic lineup: (top row) Joe Bouchard, Albert Bouchard, Allen Lanier. (bottom) Eric Bloom, Buck Dharma.
CD cover by Sony/Legacy
“The Guy” (Or girl!) will undoubtedly make an appearance — at least in song — at BÖC's Houston show Saturday night, along with other big hits “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” and “Burnin’ For You,” and perhaps other tales of sci-fi and S&M like “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll,” “The Red and the Black,” “7 Screaming Diz-Busters,” “Veteran of the Psychic Wars,” “Flaming Telepath,” “Stairway to the Stars” and “Transmaniacon MC.”

The band’s story stretches back 50 years. After members began to coalesce in the late ’60s around the campus of Long Island’s Stony Brook University — playing in early groups with names like Soft White Underbelly and the Stalk-Forrest Group — Blue Öyster Cult began life in 1971.

The classic lineup of Bloom, Dharma, Allen Lanier (keyboards/guitar), Albert Bouchard (drums) and brother Joe Bouchard (bass) put out a string of records in the decade that became…well…cult favorites for their mixture of hard rock music and lyrics with otherworldly topics and subversive humor in discs like Secret Treaties, Agents of Fortune, Spectres, and Fire of Unknown Origin.

Take “Career of Evil,” written by Albert Bouchard and his then-girlfriend, singer-songwriter Patti Smith. Among the litany of crimes and socially unacceptable practices the devious narrator says he wants to perpetuate comes the immortal line “I want to do it to your daughter on a dirt road.” As Bloom mentions, with up to three generations of fans coming to current shows, sentiments like that can get a little sticky.

“Patti was going to do that song with us for our 40th anniversary show and we even rehearsed it – there’s footage on YouTube,” Bloom says. “But then she had a change of heart and said she didn’t want to sing it – because she had a daughter!”

In their ‘70s heyday, Blue Öyster Cult was also know for their pioneering the then cutting-edge laser shows during their concerts. The technology was so new at the time that for awhile the U.S. government sent representatives from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) on tour to check things out.

“That was during the Carter administration, and we were were these long-haired hippie [types] with lasers! So the government sent these scientists out tour with us with measuring equipment to be sure we weren’t blinding the youth of America,” Bloom laughs.

“And they ended up writing a 100-page report," he continues. "We had to have a licensed laserist on the tour. He eventually had to go to Washington [to testify], and they still found fault with what we were doing! We were the band that changed all the rules about using [lasers] during a show.”

The group still includes original members Bloom and Dharma, whose real name is Donald Roeser but was the only band member who decided to keep the more colorful moniker early manager Sandy Pearlman gave each member. Keyboardist/guitarist Richie Castellano and drummer Jules Radino round out the current lineup. For the current tour, Danny Miranda is handling bass duties while Kasim Sulton is on the road with Todd Rundgren.

The band’s last studio effort came out all the way back in 2001, but Bloom says the band is currently in negotiations with “several record companies” whose end result could be a new BÖC record for 2018. And the band will start writing and/or polishing new material that could end up in future shows.

Bloom is responsible for writing each gig’s set list, something he does about a half an hour before they hit the stage. And he tries to tailor each show to their audience. Headlining or theater shows that bring out more hardcore fans get a sprinkling of deeper cuts, while when they play festivals or serve as an opening act, the group stick to their most familiar material.

He says it’s sometimes a struggle to try to please everyone, something that seemingly most classic-rock era bands face. “I go to this pizza place, and the girl that runs it I’ve known for 40 years,” Bloom says. “And she says, ‘I went to see this band and they played new stuff. I don’t want to hear that!’ So you get it from both sides!’”

In bringing up the band’s exclusion from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – an institution seemingly biased against hard, heavy, and/or “meat and potatoes” rock (just ask Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad or Randy Bachman of the Guess Who/Bachman-Turner Overdrive) – Bloom says it’s not something that weighs heavily upon him.

“I really don’t think about that type of thing. I know that there are petitions out there from fans on Facebook,” he offers. “We are hopeful, but it’s nothing I lose sleep over.”

As for memories of Houston, Bloom says it’s “a great rock and roll town,” but the mention of the city brings him warm memories of one man in particular – a guy named Norman Hurt.

click to enlarge BOC today: Richie Castellano, Eric Bloom, Buck Dharma, Jules Radino, and Kasim Sulton - PHOTO COURTESY OF BLUE OYSTER CULT
BOC today: Richie Castellano, Eric Bloom, Buck Dharma, Jules Radino, and Kasim Sulton
Photo courtesy of Blue Oyster Cult
“He was this great old-timey radio promotion guy who worked for Columbia Records. And he would pick me up from the airport and take me around to all the radio stations for interviews when we had a new record out,” Bloom says. “He was just the greatest guy. He’d slap the DJs on the back and say, ‘Ya gotta play this record! It’s great!’”

Finally, it would be remiss of us not to mention that Blue Öyster Cult has always had one of the greatest introductions in the annals of live rock and roll, as an offstage announcer would exhort the audience – already in a fever pitch – to get “On your FEET or on your KNEES for BLUE ÖYSTER CULT!” The group even used this proclamation for the title of their 1975 live record.

Sadly, though, Bloom says they haven’t utilized that intro in years. “Nah, we don’t use it anymore,” he laughs. “It’s just some music and then we go right into the show!”

Blue Öyster Cult and special guests Mothership perform Saturday, July 29 at White Oak Music Hall, 2915 North Main. Doors open at 7 p.m.; tickets are $35 to $37.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero