The band that became Blue Oyster Cult was organized in 1967 at Stony Brook College on Long Island by students and later rock critics, Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer. Calling themselves White Underbelly, the band consisted of Andy Winters on bass, Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser on guitar, Albert Bouchard on drums and John Wiesenthal, who was quickly replaced by Allen Lanier on keyboards. Finding that none of them had a strong enough voice to front the band, they brought in Les Bronstein to handle the lead vocals. After establishing themselves as a fan favorite in the New York area, the quintet signed to Elektra Records and recorded an album's worth of material, but when Bronstein decided to leave the band, the project was shelved.
One of the band's roadies, Eric Bloom was enlisted as the new lead singer and on the strength of their strong local following, the band appeared as an opening act for Jethro Tull and Jeff Beck at the famed Fillmore East in New York City. Unfortunately, their performance was disastrous and the bad review that followed prompted Pearlman to change the group's name to Oaxaca and later The Stalk-Forrest Group. Securing another chance with Elektra, a second set of tapes was recorded, but the record company did not have enough faith in the music to press an entire album. They did produce 300 promotional copies of a 45 called "What Is Quicksand?" b/w "Arthur Comics", after which the band was dropped.
At this point, another name change was in order and the band tried out several, including The Santos Sisters. The story goes that the band's manager, Sandy Pearlman, got the idea for Blue Oyster Cult while reading a recipe for Blue Point oysters. The band's noirish imagery was symbolized by their logo, the ancient symbol of Cronos, the Titan god who swallowed his son, the Grim Reaper.
In late 1971, they signed with Columbia records, by which time bassist Andy Winters had been replaced by Albert Bouchard's brother Joe. Their debut album, "Blue Oyster Cult" was released in January 1972, with a black and white cover designed by artist Bill Gawlik. The LP included "Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll", "Stairway to the Stars" and "Then Came the Last Days of May". The album achieved moderate sales and band toured as an opening act for the Byrds, Alice Cooper and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Material for their 1973 album "Tyranny and Mutation" was written during those dreary, bus riding tours and showed a great improvement of the band's musicianship and songwriting in respect to their previous effort. The set contained "The Red and The Black, (about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), "Hot Rails To Hell" and "Baby Ice Dog", the first of the band's many collaborations with Patti Smith.
April, 1974 brought a third album, "Secret Treaties", which not only received favorable reviews by Rock critics, it also helped develop a devoted fan following. So much so, that Blue Oyster Cult could now headline their own shows. The finely paced, powerhouse LP contained a second collaboration with Patti Smith called "Career of Evil", as well as lyrically bleak tunes like "Dominance and Submission" and "ME 262". Also included was the epic "Astronomy", still a fan favorite years later.
Blue Oyster Cult was rapidly becoming one of America's hottest bands and in 1975, their first 'live' album, "On Your Feet Or On Your Knees" went gold. Their first taste of mainstream Top 40 success came the following year with a single pulled from the album "Agents Of Fortune" called "(Don't Fear) The Reaper", which reached #12 on the Billboard Pop chart. The LP contained other strong material like "(This Ain't) The Summer of Love", "E.T.I. (Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence)" and "The Revenge of Vera Gemini" and became their first Gold and later Platinum album. The band was also an outstanding live act and was one of the first to feature a laser light show.
Their 1977 album, "Spectres" included the FM radio hit "Godzilla", about the famed Japanese movie monster. However, without an AM follow-up hit, sales were not as strong as those for the previous album, but still achieved Gold status. In September 1978 came a second live album, "Some Enchanted Evening", which eventually would become BOC's second million-seller. It was followed by the studio album "Mirrors" in 1979. For this project, Tom Werman took over as producer from Sandy Pearlman, who had moved on to manage Black Sabbath. Sales of the resulting album were disappointing. A year later, Blue Oyster Cult released their ninth album, "Cultosaurus Erectus", which was turned out by Black Sabbath producer Martin Birch. This time the results were more positive, with sales in the UK pushing the LP to #14. Reaction in the US however was not as strong, despite a co-headlining tour with Black Sabbath in support of the album, calling it the "Black and Blue Tour."
The band's second and final US Top 40 hit came in the Fall of 1981 when a single called "Burnin' for You", taken from the LP "Fire of Unknown Origin", reached #40. Buck Dharma had intended to use the song on his debut solo album, but was convinced to include it as a Blue Oyster Cult track instead. The album went platinum and contained other fan favorites such as "Joan Crawford" (inspired by the book and film Mommie Dearest) and "Veteran of the Psychic Wars". While on tour in support of the LP, drummer Albert Bouchard had a falling out with the other band members for being a no-show for a date in England. He was replaced by Rick Downey, the band's former tour manager and lighting designer. Tracks recorded on the road were released as an album called "Extraterrestrial Live", on which Downey provided the beat.
Bruce Fairburn produced the band's next studio offering, a 1983 release called "The RevOlution by Night". Its highest-charting single was "Shooting Shark", co-written by Patti Smith, which reached #83 on the US charts. "Shooting Shark" also featured Randy Jackson of Earth Wind And Fire and later American Idol fame. After "RevOlution", Rick Downey left the band and Albert Bouchard was re-hired for a tour of California in February 1985, jokingly called the "Albert Returns" Tour. Unfortunately, the group never intended his return as permanent and Bouchard was let go after the tour. Allen Lanier also left the band shortly thereafter, leaving the band without a keyboardist.
Drummer Jimmy Wilcox and keyboardist Tommy Zvoncheck were brought in to record the "Club Ninja" album, which was poorly received, with only "Dancing In The Ruins", one of several songs on the record written entirely by outside songwriters, enjoying minimal success on radio and MTV. The highlight of the album was "Perfect Water" written by Dharma and Jim Carroll, author of The Basketball Diaries.
After the band completed a tour of Germany, bassist Joe Bouchard left, leaving only two original members, Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma. Critics started calling the band "Two Oyster Cult". Jon Rogers was hired to play bass and this version of the band finished out their 1986 commitments. After the tour wound up, the band took a break from recording and touring.
When Blue Oyster Cult received an offer to tour in Greece in the early summer of 1987, the band sprang back into action. The new line-up contained founding members Eric Bloom, Buck Dharma and Allen Lanier, with Jon Rogers returning on bass and Ron Riddle replacing Jimmy Wilcox on drums. By July, 1988 they were back in the studio recording what would be their final album on Columbia, "Imaginos", with former drummer Albert Bouchard back in the fold. Relations between Bouchard and the rest of the band were still rocky however and the recording sessions were plagued by upheaval. Bouchard, who had contributed most of the original material and sang on every track, intended on using the tapes for a solo album. Nearing completion, he again angrily quit the band and Bloom and Dharma ended up over-dubbed his vocals to finish the project. The album did not sell well, despite a positive review in Rolling Stone magazine and though Blue Oyster Cult did tour to promote "Imaginos", promotion by the label was virtually non-existent. When Columbia Records was purchased by Sony Music, Blue Oyster Cult were dropped from the label. Bouchard eventually went on to form the avant-garde, New York City-based Brain Surgeons with his wife, Rock journalist Deborah Frost.
In 1994, BOC released "Cult Classic", an album of re-recorded favorites, in connection with the use of their music in the TV miniseries of horror novelist Stephen King's The Stand. As the band continued to tour, constant lineup changes ensued and in 1995, they were the subject of a two-disc DC compilation called "Workshop of the Telescopes". By the late '90s, they had signed with the CMC label, resulting in their first album of all-new studio material in ten years, 1998's "Heaven Forbid". The group's music reached a whole new generation of hard rock fans when Metallica covered their tune "Astronomy" for their best-selling "Garage Inc".
By now, remakes, repackages and live albums outpaced any new material, but Blue Oyster Cult returned to the studio to record "Curse of the Hidden Mirror", lead by Eric Bloom, Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser and Allen Lanier. Straddling a fine line between hard rock and full-on heavy meta, the CD featured the radio-friendly "Here Comes That Feeling".
The band has spent recent years touring without releasing an album, though they did contribute two new songs to the Bad Channels movie soundtrack, issued in 1992. Ron Riddle left the band in 1991 and was replaced on the road by a series of drummers including Chuck Burgi, John Miceli, John O'Reilly, Bobby Rondinelli and Jules Radino. Bassist John Rogers left in 1995, and was replaced by Danny Miranda. Miranda left in 2004 to join Queen and Paul Rodgers. Richie Castellano replaced him. Allen Lanier retired from live performances in 2007, after not appearing with the band since late 2006. He has not been replaced. Castellano has switched to rhythm guitar and keyboards and the band has employed three "guest bassists" on a rotating basis: Danny Miranda, Jon Rogers and Rudy Sarzo as they continued to tour in 2008.
In the final analysis, Blue Oyster Cult is remembered for bridging Hard Rock with the macabre, forging out a remarkable four-decade career. Today, their music continues to be played on radio stations as well as in movies, television shows and commercials and sporting events.
For more, be sure to read Gary James' interviews with Joe Bouchard and Albert Bouchard of Blue Oyster Cult.