HOLD your cowbell jokes, people.
There’s much more to Blue Öyster Cult in the new millennium than that (admittedly classic) SNL sketch. The American band, formed in 1967, has transcended their hit songs “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” “Burnin’ for You,” and “Godzilla” to become one of the most influential hard rock and heavy metal bands in history.
The group, which has sold over 24 million records worldwide, spearheaded the blend of psychedelic atmospheric elements and hard rock riffs that would become known as stoner metal alongside titans like Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer.
As “the thinking man’s heavy metal group,” the band’s songs were expansive, sci-fi-influenced storyscapes, and the group kept ties and collaborated with the likes of Patti Smith, Jim Carroll, Michael Moorcock, and Stephen King, whose book The Stand was influenced by BÖC’s biggest hit, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.”
Over the years, members have passed on while others have moved on, but the Cult is thriving. The current lineup features Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser on lead guitar and vocals, Eric Bloom on guitar and vocals, Danny Miranda on bass and backing vocals, Jules Radino on drums and percussion, and Richie Castellano on keyboard, guitar, and backing vocals.
We talked with Bloom, who’s been with the group since they were a jamming rock band known as Soft White Underbelly, about the signs of success, that unforgettable BÖC laser show, and sci-fi fandom.
Do you remember the first time you played with together?
I joined around April ’69 and the name change. We finally got a record deal with Clyde Davis at Columbia Records around 1971, and the first record came out in ’72, and that turned out to be the beginning of why we’re talking today. We were lucky to get the opening act for Alice Cooper, and that first record started breaking.
We had a band house, and it was sort of a hippie lifestyle kind of place, a residential house in a sort-of nice neighborhood. The real estate values went down real fast when the band moved in! The basement was insulated for sound with fiberglass insulation—it shortened our life expectancy 20 years, breathing that in! We rehearsed down there.
Allen [Lanier] had heard some tapes of me from my bar band days, and he told the other guys and gave me a chance. They asked me to take over vocal duties.
Was BÖC a new challenge for you, vocally?
I’d been in bar bands, so I never got to sing originals before that. It became a totally different thing for me to create melodies, to create from scratch instead of copying other people. That’s a whole other ball game.
And you were writing originals, too. I understand you’re a big sci-fi guy.
I sort of fit that mold...the whole aesthetic of BÖC, the science fiction, it was usually the kind of lyrical content they have. I’m pretty well-read in that genre.
The entire golden age of sci-fi, I’ve read all of that. I had a whole thread on Facebook recently discussing this, mostly because there’s a guy in our band, Richie, who’s 38. He’s all into Star Wars, and we were discussing Ready Player One, the new movie directed by Spielberg. He discovered the book and turned me onto the book, maybe a year ago. He enjoyed the book because it's about video gaming and cyberspace, and he's not very well-read as far as classic science fiction writers only because he's not old enough.
I said, “Have you read Stranger in a Strange Land? Have you read the Foundation series?” And the answer is no.
I read all those books along the way. I never went to sci-fi conventions or anything like that...those are things people do these days, those kind of cartoony sci-fi conventions...I’m not into cosplay.
And you got to write with one of your favorite authors, Michael Moorcock.
I wrote him a fanboy letter and he returned it! He said he was familiar with the band, and he’s written lyrics for Hawkwind.
He said, “I’m coming to New York, why don’t we have lunch?” This is all pre-Internet, this was letters.
We had lunch and hit it off, and he started sending me lyrics in the mail. He sent me lyrics to “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” and other songs I wrote with him were a part of the BÖC catalog. He’s a great guy. We actually performed a song at a sci-fi convention.
Blue Öyster Cult has been so tremendously influential. Were people initially receptive to something that sounded so different?
It’s more of an evolution, you know? We started off small, and there’s no overnight sensations in this business—maybe Justin Bieber or something like that. We opened for Alice Cooper in ’72, and the record eventually sold 300,000 copies. The next sold a little more, the third sold a little bit more. We were up-and-coming, up-and-coming, doing a little bit better every year. And in ’75, we did a double live record, and the next record had “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” on it, and here we are. It was an evolutionary thing. We had a good base, then we had a hit.
Did it feel like a hit before it took off?
Never having had a hit, you don’t know what that is. If you can write a hit, you don’t know what you can’t do. You could say it sounds like something that could be good, but you don’t know until you put it out there and cross your fingers.
Your live show was revolutionary. How did the Blue Öyster Cult concert experience develop?
We took a lot of the money from having a successful album and worked it into the show.
Sandy, who was our manager at the time, found this scientist who was doing a laser show in Manhattan and took us down there and said, “If you want, we can take some of this money for your success and take this stuff on the road, because the scientist said it will be difficult, but we can load this stuff into a truck and do the show.”
We found out later we were crazy. It wasn’t like lasers today, in a suitcase. This is stuff that was ten feet long, needed water cooling and waste water and EPA certification. It was insanely expensive!
There are rumors about a new Blue Öyster Cult album being recorded...
We’re going to get on that later this year. I think everybody’s got a little something going on...there’ll be time for individual stuff and time to get in a room and work on stuff together. We’re looking forward to some great Savannah cooking and everybody wants to hear those classic tunes.