HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: September 2016. We had the great honour to talk with a very talented musician: Joe Bouchard. He is best known as a founding member and bassist of Blue Oyster Cult. He stayed with the band for 16 years and wrote or co-wrote classic songs like “Astronomy”, “Hot Rails to Hell” and “Nosferatu”. In April he released his fourth solo album “The Power of Music”, which is his best work so far. In addition, he continues performing with Blue Coupe, a band he formed with Albert Bouchard (ex-BOC drummer) and Dennis Dunaway (Alice Cooper Band bassist). Read below the very interesting things he told us:
Are you satisfied with the feedback you got so far from fans and press for “The Power of Music” album?
Yeah. I think the reviews were very good. Of course, I would like to have more reviews, but I’m glad that people really loved that album, it got a great response and there are a lot of my best songs. I think some of the best songs that I have ever written are on that album. So, I’m happy with the response.
Why you decided to offer 3D glasses with the CD?
Well, the cover is 3D. My girlfriend was the artist who did the cover. She made this 3D photograph, so I said: “Well, I don’t know” but actually the response for the 3D glasses had been great. I like the idea that the guitar just jumps out at you on the cover. We will probably do more with 3D movies and 3D art in the future. She does a lot of painting and she is working on oil painting in 3D. She’s a very good artist.
Did you try to re-create the BOC feeling in your new album?
I didn’t think about that. A lot of the reviews said: “This is what Blue Oyster Cult should be”. I didn’t really think about that and I was just trying to do the best songs that I could and get close to my personality. I’m locked into the sound of the early Blue Oyster Cult. I was one fifth of the band for 16 years and it’s just naturally my style. I ‘m honoured that they think that it does sound a lot like Blue Oyster Cult, but I didn’t try to do that on purpose.
I really love “Dusty Old Piano”! What influenced you to write that song?
Oh “Dusty Old Piano”! I was in an old auditorium in the school where I was teaching. It was very dark and there was a dusty old piano in the corner. So, I started to play on this thing. I was just working part-time when I wrote this, but for a while I was a full time teacher in this school. Supposedly, the attic of this building was haunted with ghosts. So, I thought: “Wow, this is so cool!” and my hand started playing automatically on the piano. I was sitting down waiting for a student to come by and I thought: “Wow, that’s great!” and I made a recording of that on my phone and I had it for 4-5 years and I couldn’t come back to it because it sounded so haunted and ghostly. So, I had actually to go back and re-record the original piano. I used an old piano and I think it sounded really good and interesting. It’s a little sad compared with the other rockers on this album but it really grabs me because I think of all the people who used to hang around this old grand piano, which is dusty and slightly out of tune, and you can feel the generations of people who were standing around this piano and sang along at one time or another. So, that was the inspiration for “Dusty Old Piano”.
Will you tour for “The Power of Music” album?
I’m working on it. I would like to do a national tour or even an international tour. I have rehearsed the songs as a duo with just two guitars. I think to do a full tour and I need to have a real back-up band with keyboards, a drummer and a bass player. But I am working on it, yeah.
In June you played with Blue Oyster Cult at BB King’s in New York in an Allen Lanier (keyboards, guitar) tribute concert. How emotional was that night?
I think that was the best concert I played in years. It was very emotional. The first set was all songs written by Allen Lanier and some of them had never been played on stage. We were very really surprised how good that set was. It was amazing. I got to start out the show by playing piano on a song my brother wrote (ed: “Ravens”) and then we did another song called “Dance the Night Away” which was really great. That was a song that Allen wrote for Blue Oyster Cult but it was never recorded. It was a bonus track but we thought it fits really greatly and then we ended up with his signature song which is “In Thee”. The fans loved it. The place was completely sold-out. We couldn’t have a better time. Hopefully, there will be more shows in the future. I don’t play with Blue Oyster Cult on a regular base. Sometimes, in special events like this, it definitely works out well for fans and for everybody involved.
Did you feel a bit nervous when Blue Oyster Cult auditioned for Clive Davis, the boss of Columbia Records?
We go back many years. We played five songs in the conference room at Columbia Records. I didn’t think we went that well… and that started our career. It was pretty amazing. We all were very young and naïve, but luckily in 1976 we had a big hit with a song called “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and it still gets played all the time.
Were you surprised when you saw Harry Nilsson in the conference room in this audition?
Oh, you did a really deep research! Yes, I love Harry Nilsson! I used to hear his hit songs all the time on the radio. I was very surprised that he was there. There were about seven people there. He was very nice, very friendly and supposedly he told Clive Davis, who was the head of the company then: “Let’s sign ‘em ”. That certainly helped a lot.
How did you wrote “Hot Rails to Hell” (from BOC’s “Tyranny and Mutation” -1973)?
Ok. That was in 1972, maybe 1973. Our second album was released in February 1973, so maybe it was in 1972. It was written about an agent who used to book the Blue Oyster Cult. His name was Phil King and unfortunately he was murdered very suddenly. It was a situation where he was gambling and there was some kind of dispute over gambling debts. I was close with Phil King. He lived in the same house together. So, I said: “You know, I should write this song “Hot Rails to Hell””. I didn’t think about it, but it was one of those intense things that came out and it took maybe two hours to write the whole song. The title actually came from Sandy Pearlman (ed: Blue Oyster Cult producer, manager and lyricist) who said we should call it “Hot Rails to Hell” and he was very excited about that the first time he heard it. That stuck and it’s one of my signature songs and we played it in the reunion in June with the Blue Oyster Cult and it was really good. I had the other guitarist, Richie Castellano, doing the first verse and all the fans thought: “Oh no, he’s not gonna sing it” and then I came out and sang the second verse. That was really fun. Yeah, that’s a song that was written about a friend of ours who tragically passed away. He was a kind of dedicated character, definitely not only as a friend, but he was crazy enough to get us booked in a lot of clubs. We liked the guy, we liked the character.
What’s the story behind the making of “Astronomy”, which you co-wrote with your brother, Albert (drums) and Sandy Pearlman.
I had the lyrics that I got from Sandy, who was always looking for new songs. Sandy would have a pile of lyrics sitting on a piano where we rehearsed and hung around at the time. So, I picked up this one from the pile of papers, I looked at it for maybe a few days and then I changed some of the lines like “Clock strikes twelve”. That was the second line. I thought “Clock strikes twelve” should be the first line of the song and I did little changes like that. Not very much. We were rehearsing in our house and then I went for a walk on the beach and I was thinking about the song “Astronomy”. I walked for 15-20 minutes and came back to the house and I said: “I’ve got it” and I had the melody in my head and then I think we recorded it on a tape. I just played it to the guys and my brother, Albert said: “Wow, that’s pretty good! Let me see what I can do with that”. He came in the next day with the whole arrangement, all the connecting riffs and we started practicing who has to sing it. So, I sang it, then Eric (ed: Bloom –vocals, guitars) sang it and then Albert sang it. Then, Sandy, our manager said: “I think Albert should sing this”. Albert was really good at singing that one. Then, I came to record the track and then after I went home, the next day, Eric sang it. I think Eric was great, better than Albert. Who knows? We all get to sing it now. It’s a classic. I sing it in my acoustic shows and Albert sings it. It’s one of the most popular songs that we ever did. It was recorded by Metallica.
Do you like the Metallica cover to “Astronomy”?
I love it. I love it. When it came out, I got the cassette in the mail. That was back in 1998 and I was riding around in my car, I put it on and I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to jump up and down. I was driving the car and I wanted to jump up and down! I couldn’t believe it, it was great! So anyway, I finally got home and I listened to it in my home stereo. I could hear Lars’ drum kicking in and I liked James Hetfield’s vocals. He tried to imitate Eric Bloom but he did a great job on that one. That was interesting and we were very lucky.
Sandy Pearlman passed away on 26 July. How important was his role in the band?
His role was really important. He really invented the idea of the concept. I think about him a lot. If we hadn’t met Sandy, we might have ended up being some kind of pop/soul band or something. But he kept us doing a heavy stuff and as a producer he really pushed Donald “Buck Dharma” (ed: Roeser) to be a better guitar player. He always said to him: “That wasn’t good enough. You better do a new take that will be better” and Donald did. This exact assessment shows the longevity of the music and he was an important figure in my life for 16 years.
It’s been 40 years since the release of “Agents of Fortune”. Are you proud of this album?
Oh, yeah! I love the album. It’s one of the best sounding albums that we did. Yeah, I love that album. What I love about it, it’s so New York City. “This Ain’t the Summer of Love”, “Morning Final” with the subway and Allen Lanier’s influence on his songs. It just seems so New York. In 1976, the world was into all this California music. I think that’s one of the things about “Agents of Fortune” is that is so real New York. I mean, Fleetwood Mac, it’s one of the biggest bands and even though they started in England, they were the biggest band in the world in 1976 and certainly had a California sound. We were just the opposite of that. It did us well.
What memories do you have of the legendary “Black & Blue” tour with Black Sabbath in 1980?
Oh well, it was the biggest tour of the year. I don’t know how many people we had. It was one the biggest tours. It was bigger than the Rolling Stones. It was really great. Big crowds every night, fireworks… I thought we played very well and one of the things was that our spirits were good. We definitely did better than Black Sabbath, although they were very good. We wanted to blow them off stage every night if we could and I think we definitely had that in our minds and it shows our spirit.
Why the DVD from this tour has not been released?
That’s because I believe Tony Iommi don’t want it to be released. Maybe he was a little not happy with the look of the bands. I don’t know. Maybe someday he will change his mind. I ‘ve been told that it’s definitely a personal thing. Maybe it will come out after they retire, which will be soon.
Was it a difficult decision to leave Blue Oyster Cult in 1986?
No, not for me. I had been in the band for 16 years, I had a young family at the time and I was pretty burned out from touring. I felt like it wasn’t making any headway, it wasn’t getting better artistically and I thought that I might do something different. I didn’t know what I was gonna do. I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t have a business plan or anything like: “What am I gonna do next?” So, I think it was good. There were some rough times after that. They wanted me to come back but I said “No”. Looking back over the last 30 years, I think I have made the right choice. I ‘ve done a lot of amazing projects that I wouldn’t have done all those years before. I got to go and play in Iraq in 2010 for the soldiers. I’ve done four solo albums -and I’m working on another solo album- and two albums with Blue Coupe. That is Dennis Dunaway and my brother and we are gonna do another album. Alice Cooper sang one of the songs that I wrote in the last Blue Coupe album and I’m very happy about that.
So, I love the idea of being able to play a show and have my own setlist. I’m pretty much excited when I play on stage and I think it’s getting better all the time. I’m very happy with this situation. I would love to do more Blue Oyster Cult guest appearances but I think they are very happy with Kasim Sulton (ed: Utopia –bass). I think they did a brilliant choice with that. He has a great career with a lot of different bands and that adds a lot. But if they call, maybe I’ll do a guest spot. They will do 14 shows and because I have only one song, I thought about it and I said that there is a lot of work for one song. So, I suggested Richie Castellano to sing it and everybody agreed with it. I like the fact that other people like to sing my songs. The other people rejuvenate them. A long time he was singing “Hot Rails to Hell” and he’s a great singer. That’s a real honour to have a great singer to sing your song.
Are you frustrated that Blue Oyster Cult are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Patti Smith is in.
No, no. I love the people of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I played there four times. They treated us like royals. We did a grand tour of the museum. I got to see James Brown’s cape. He had an act that he fell down on his knees and his assistant would come over and put a cape on him and he pulled it off on stage and it was a great theatre. It was amazing! Once he pulled the cape off, he grabbed the microphone and sang like “Wow”! So, we got to see his cape.
Was it an interesting experience to play “Roadhouse Blues” with Robby Krieger of The Doors?
Of course, I love Robby. We played three or four times. We played in a club in California and we had common friends. He said that he wanted to play with us and he came and brought his guitar. I thought he would bring a lot of equipment and he just brought a guitar and one Ibanez Tube Screamer pedal. When he came to the place where I was, somebody said: “Look this! It is Robby Krieger’s!” I said: “Wow! This is so… old!” (laughs) He came a couple of times and we finally recorded it for an album. He came and played “Roadhouse Blues” for the album. Since then, he was a special guest on the first Blue Coupe album. He played on a song of mine called “Angel’s Well” and I am proud that he did it. He’s a very nice guy. I hope that I will play again with him.
Blue Oyster Cult in their early days toured with The Byrds and then with Alice Cooper. What was the difference between those two tours?
It was like night and day. When we played with The Byrds, nobody wanted to hear us. It was an older audience and then they were not very successful. Then, we were asked to open shows for Alice Cooper and when we first got on stage from the first note the place went crazy like “Wow”! That changed our whole career. That was great and I’m amazed now that I’m still playing with Dennis (ed: Dunaway- original Alice Cooper Band bassist) 40-some years later. He is one of my longest, longest friends. He is a personal, great friend. Now, he is promoting a book and I am gonna play with him this weekend (ed: 17-18 September) and also the weekend after. It really changed us. It showed us that you have to have a really good show, we had a really great time and you have not to be afraid to be different. Alice was very generous with us. We mostly toured in the spring of 1972 with Alice Cooper and the response was great and then we developed optimism on stage, we were thinking on a very positive way and that happened because of Alice.
On 6 June 1976 Blue Oyster Cult played on Bill Graham’s Day on the Green with Jeff Beck, Mahogany Rush and Sammy Hagar. Do you remember that concert?
Vaguely, yes. I loved doing those Day on the Green shows, they were always the best. I can’t remember that concert (laughs), but I remember it was a great experience. We did it about the time we got in the stadium crowds. We did hundreds and hundreds of miles and we were very good on stage. When the sound kicked in, the crowd went crazy. It was one the greatest experiences in my life. I’m not sure that Sammy Hagar was the headliner (ed: J. Geils Band were the headliners), he wasn’t that popular then. But he was popular in San Francisco Bay Area.
What are the latest news from Blue Coupe?
We are getting ready to start a new album. The thing that holding us up, is that Dennis Dunaway said that they were planning a reunion of all the surviving members of the Alice Cooper original band except of Glen Buxton (ed: guitar, died in 1997) and recording a new album. The schedule has changed a couple of times. Dennis told me last night that they will release the reunion show they did in a bookstore in Dallas, Texas. Dennis also told me that whenever he is free, we will do the album.
Do you believe that popular music which was written in ‘60s and ‘70s is much better than today’s music?
Yes. It’s a different world now. Maybe, if I were 12 years old I would say: “I don’t like that old music” but today’s popular music is so derivative. I don’t feel there is so much originality. On all the social media -a have a Spotify account- it’s hard to find a new good song to listen to it every month, whereas in the old classics, there is a lot of incredible stuff. I agree that today’s music is not as good as it used to be. In the past, listeners took chances with people who were more artistic and less concerned about marketing, and gave some more radical artists a chance that they might have never given.
Do you want to add something?
Yes, I want to add that I used to live in Greece. When I was 4 years old, I lived in Thessaloniki. My father worked for the American government, he was a member of Voice of America, a radio station. In 1952, we flew to Athens and stayed in Athens for a while. And then we went to Thessaloniki, they called it “Salonica” at that day. Ever since, I have a warm feeling for the people of Greece. I love the fact that we have so many Blue Oyster Cult fans in Greece. I would love to go there again. I would love to play there. For me, playing there would be the first time, but Blue Oyster Cult have played many times. Or I may just come for a vacation some day. It’s a beautiful country. There are a lot of ruins. When I was 4 years old, I went to all the ruins and I saw all the statues. It was a wonderful time. I was only there for about 6 months in 1952.
A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Joe Bouchard for his time.
Joe Bouchard Official website: www.joebouchard.com