The Eric Bloom (Blue Öyster Cult) Interview
By Shawn Perry
When talk of rock and who's still around laying it down works its way into a conversation, the topic of Blue Öyster Cult will inevitably come up. Why, you may ask. Consider the following: BÖC, despite an absence from the current hit parade, is still beating down the path, playing upwards of 100 shows in the US and abroad every year. Since the turn of the new millennium, interest in the group has surged on a variety of fronts. In 2000, BÖC was parodied on Saturday Night Live in a skit in which Will Ferrell plays fictional cowbell player Gene Frenkle and Christopher Walken portrays producer Bruce Dickinson overseeing the 1976 studio recording of “(Don't Fear) The Reaper.” Despite its distortion of the facts, the sketch has gone on to become one of the most memorable and popular bits in SNL's storied history. Just Google "more cowbell" and you'll see what I mean.
More recently, Sony has been releasing expanded reissues of several classic BÖC albums, the latest being 1977’s Spectres and 1978’s Some Enchanted Evening. As two of the band's best-selling albums, Sony has filled these babies up with plenty of bonus tracks and in, the case of Some Enchanted Evening, a concert DVD. As with many projects of this magnitude, key players were invited to oversee the results. For BÖC, that meant founding and present members Buck Dharma, Allen Lanier, and the singer in the dark glasses, Eric Bloom.
When I was granted the opportunity to speak with Bloom about the reissues, as well as his career in general, I immediately flashed back to the mid 70s. These were the days when I started going to lots of concerts, some of which featured BÖC at the infamous Long Beach Arena. I mentioned this to Bloom, and he recalled these particular performances with a genuine fondness, stating that they were the first shows the band had ever headlined. The tone was set for a generally warm and organic exchange. At times, both Bloom and I would veer off course, exploring other facets of his experiences. But somehow, we managed to get back on track, with everything floating to the top in perfect unison. I came away with a better understanding and newfound respect for Bloom and the band he's sang and played guitar with for 35 years: the one and only Blue Öyster Cult.
Let’s talk about the Spectres and Some Enchanted Evening reissues. How involved were you with these releases?
In a medium kind of way. They intended to do it because they had done it before in past years. They discovered the original reel-to-reel two-inch tapes which they had in storage. I’d like to go to that place someday, it’s probably pretty amazing.
You mean the storage facility?
Yeah, Stone Mountain. It’s an archival cavern somewhere where they have temperature-controlled vintage tapes for everybody on CBS, from BÖC to Johnny Mathis, pre-Clive Davis, way the hell back. Those tapes corrode, so they had to find a good place for them. On the tech side of it, they have to maintain those two-inch tape machines, also probably quarter-inch, half-inch, and one-inch machines too because what’s the use of archiving the tapes if you can’t play them on anything. They have to keep these old analog tape machines in primo condition, so that must be a lot of fun. I think two-inch tape machines are still in use when people want that warm, analog sound. But most people these days are using digital.
I know these titles were on CD before, but you’re saying they went to Stone Mountain and retrieved the original masters for the new reissues?
Yeah, Bruce Dickinson does a fabulous job — the same Bruce Dickinson from the Saturday Night Live skit.
But he didn’t actually produce those, did he?
No, that was one of the things wrong with the skit. Saturday Night Live had a copy of a greatest hits CD, and it said Bruce Dickinson produced it, but he didn’t produce “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” He was probably in high school then. They got the name wrong, and they got a couple of band member names and faces wrong too. But it was still pretty funny.
Like the fact that you played the cowbell on “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”?
Yeah, in the skit they called him Gene Frenkle. The funny thing is that he was sort of made up to look like me with the beard and curly hair — I don’t think my stomach ever stuck out that much (laughs) — but it was a hoot.
That bit must have been pretty good for business.
The feedback was great. We played the Canyon Club (in Agoura Hills, California) last year, and I called a friend of mine who is very connected in show business. I asked him if he could reach Will Ferrell, find out if he’s in L.A., and see if he would like to come down and play cowbell. He said that was a great idea. He calls me back a half-hour later and said he was about 100 miles outside the immediate area, making a movie. We wanted to send him a limo, but it didn’t happen. That would have been fun.
Getting back to the reissues, what happened after they dug out the tapes?
They had to put them on these vintage playback machines and listen to everything, track by track. That’s some chore. Maybe there are two songs per reel, so they had to go back and listen to all the multitracks and see what’s there. I’m really glad they found those never-heard-before tracks, and the quickie take of “Be My Baby,” which, to me, is the most fun thing on there.
Is it true you redid some of the vocals and lead guitar parts on the Spectres bonus tracks?
“Dial M For Murder” and “Please Hold” have the original vocals, but Buck did a new vocal on “Night Flyer” because there was no vocal on it. When these songs go by the wayside as you’re recording, it becomes obvious which songs are going to make it and which ones are not. So we drop all work on those and not waste our time. There might not be any background harmonies, lead guitar, or vocals when we stop working on songs. We put down bass and drums, and maybe a couple of guitar parts.
The only thing we might keep is the bass and drums, and then layer everything up later. The last things to go on a record would be lead guitar and lead vocal. So these songs were dropped before that actually happened. I did not re-sing anything, and I know Allen didn’t re-sing anything.
Both of these reissues include two big hits “Godzilla” and “R.U. Ready To Rock,” two numbers dramatically different from what you were doing in the early days. Was there a conscientious effort on the group’s part to venture into a more mainstream direction after the success of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper?”
We had a little pressure to follow up. We’d never had a hit before, so it was all new to us. Agents Of Fortune was our fourth studio album, and never having a hit before and flushed with success, we changed our live show. That’s when we got the laser thing going, which is on the live DVD on Some Enchanted Evening. But, yeah, we were certainly trying to have more hits.
How did you end up co-writing “Goin Through The Motions” with Ian Hunter?
Ian and I used to play together. He came over my house one day and we wrote that one in my little four-track studio.
Did you intend to record it with Blue Öyster Cult?
It wasn’t intended for anything. I had some music and an idea for a lyric, and we just bashed it around. Over many years in the 70s, I used to go to his house or vice versa, and we’d try to fix stuff up. I actually sang on one his records, and we co-wrote a couple of things over the years. Him and I and Mick Ronson sat around and wrote some stuff.
On the heels of Spectres, you released Some Enchanted Evening, a live album coming three years after your first live album, On Your Feet Or On Your Knees. Why did you release another live album so soon?
We were on tour so much, and getting new songs written lickity split was not happening. As an interim stop, we did this record and I give kudos to Sandy Pearlman (legendary BÖC manager and producer) for saying this is the right thing to do because Some Enchanted Evening is Blue Öyster Cult’s best-selling record.
In my review of Some Enchanted Evening, I remark that part of the problem with single live LPs is that they are liable to skip over certain concert staples, offering only glimpses of what in a reality is a more diverse presentation. Yet, with the additional seven tracks, fans get a clearer picture of what BÖC was like in concert.
Maybe there was some pressure not to put out a double record, I really don’t know. Obviously, the tracks were there ‘cause here they are. I suppose they could have been added for a double vinyl record.
Whose idea was it to employ lasers in your show?
To make a long story short, we had the bucks in the bank from Agents. Pearlman said he'd found this guy who had this outrageous laser show. He charged admission and you'd go into his loft and watch him do laser light and different things that nobody is doing. I had seen lasers in a rock show twice. I saw Wings — which was about the best laser show I ever saw — and I saw Led Zeppelin and they had a pencil light go over Jimmy Page’s head during the guitar lead. It was still very cool and no one had ever done it before, so this was the real beginning. When I saw what this guy did, I said, “Wow.” Pearlman said, “Well, it’s going to be expensive. Do you really wanna do it?” And I said, “Absolutely.” So we jumped on it. It was good and bad on some levels. It got us some notoriety and made our show quite outrageous. On the other hand, the expense was crushing. After a year and a half or so, we stopped doing it.
Weren’t you involved in some hearings with OSHA in Washington D.C. regarding the safety of lasers?
That was our lasersist. OSHA sent a representative to several shows for several weeks, measuring the light during sound check, making reports. At the end of our tour, our lasersist went to Washington to meet with a panel and was presented with reports on why we couldn’t use the lasers any more. So that was another reason to get rid of it. It was dangerous. There are apocryphal stories out there. Someone said to me, “I heard you got sued for blinding some guy.” But that never happened.
In my opinion, the real gem of the reissued Some Enchanting Evening is the live DVD. How did that come together?
It’s one show from Capitol Center, near Washington D.C. we headlined there several times. I’m guessing, but I think it’s the feed from the JumboTron in the arena. It looks like someone bounced that feed back to a Sony U-matic tape at the time, which was state-of the-art back in those days.
That cartridge was found somewhere and it had the live show on it. It sounds like a board balance to me, in other words, what ever our soundman was feeding to the PA went directly to the tape. There are no nuances, there’s no mixing, there’s no editing. It’s that night shown on the screen. That’s why when you hear the audience applauding, it’s very dim. There were probably no mics in the audience at all. It’s a sold-out, 18,000 seat show, but it’s hard to hear the audience. It’s still good. It represents a certain era in our career.
Is there other BÖC footage from those days that you plan to release on DVD?
I think the Live 1976 show (also from the Capitol Center) is out, but it’s not so good. We did a live show for MTV in the early 80s. It’s us and Foghat in Miami, at the Hollywood Sportatorium. I know that was broadcast and it’s around somewhere. But the earliest days, I don’t think there’s much documented footage.
Can we expect expanded reissues of Mirrors, Cultosaurus Erectus, and Fire Of Unknown Origin in the near future?
It’s certainly possible, a year or two from now.
I was astounded to read that you started out as the band’s sound man.
That’s another one of those apocryphal stories. Go to wikipedia, that’s about the closest to the truth (laughs).
How about your version?
I went to Hobart College in upstate New York. At the same time, Albert (Bouchard, original BÖC drummer) and Donald (aka Buck Dharma) were at the Clarkson University. We didn’t know each other, but they’re both in upstate New York. Allen was going to the University of North Carolina. We were all sort of contemporaries. I’m the oldest by a couple of years.
I graduated from college in ’67. At around the same time, a guy I went to school with — this is all coincidence — got into Soft White Underbelly with Albert, Donald, and Allen. I stayed up there to keep my college band going, and this other guy moved to Long Island to be part of what was Soft White Underbelly, and they got a record deal with Elektra. I moved back to New York in the fall of ’68 to become a booking agent with Premier Talent, which was the premier booking agent at the time, after William Morris (editor’s note: now they’re one and the same). I didn’t think I’d ever be in a band again, having been in several during my school days. The tour I was supposed become a trainee on fell through, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll were the opening act. There was visa trouble and my trainee job collapsed.
I had moved back to New York City to go to work and the job fell through, so I had to scramble. I took a job at a music store. It was the time of the draft also — it was a bizarre time in American history. The punch line of the story is Buck, before he was called Buck, and I think Allen and some others walked in the music store I was working in and saw a picture of my college bar band. As a lark, I put an 8x10 of my band on the wall, next to the Who and the Rolling Stones. The bass player in those days was Andrew Winters. He was replaced by Joe Bouchard later. Anyway, Andrew noticed the picture and said, “I know that band. Our lead singer went to school with their lead singer.” We started talking. It was around Thanksgiving Day ’68.
Then I got a call from the guy I went to school with — he was the lead singer in Soft White Underbelly. He said, “We’re playing the Electric Circus and the PA isn’t very good. Can you bring your PA down?” So, I had a van and a PA and did sound for them. We proceeded to get very sixtyish in a smoke-filled way. I met Pearlman for the first time. I met Richard Meltzer for the first time. Helen Robbins was Albert’s girlfriend, she became Helen Wheels later. We all just had a great time together. Pearlman asked me on the spot: “Would you like to work for the band? They have a record deal. You have a van, you have a PA. They need somebody.” At the time, I was living a t a relative’s house, and I said, “Sure.” I moved into the band house on Christmas Day ’68 and by April of ’69 I was the lead vocalist. They had a falling out with their singer and Allen had heard some tapes of my previous bands and told the other guys they should give me a shot.
And you picked up the guitar then?
I had never played guitar much before. I could play a couple of chords. It hasn’t changed much. I know four chords instead of three.
Is that what you call stun guitar?
That was a Star Trek reference. You gotta remember who we are, man (laughs).
And now you have your own line of guitars? Can you tell me a little about that.
Yeah, Eric Bloom Guitars at ericbloomguitars.com. Each guitar represents a BÖC song. They play beautifully and look amazing. The first series sold out, and now I’m making more. They take about three months each. The hook is if someone reaches me through my web site and understands what it costs, then they give me a deposit. I bring the guitar to a BÖC show near where they live. I give the person backstage passes and tickets to the show and I play the guitar on the song depicted in the artwork. They can take pictures of me playing it. Then backstage, I’ll deliver the guitar to them and sign it taking pictures of me and them holding the guitar, whatever they want. You can play it or display it. It’s kind of hobby for me.
You mentioned Sandy Pearlman, who obviously had a major stake in the band’s origins. How would you describe the band’s relationship with him?
Sandy created the band. There would not have been any BÖC without Sandy Pearlman. He saw Donald and a few others jamming one night. I think he was out of graduate school already. He was a very bright guy with a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. He was the editor of Crawdaddy! at the time, one of the first rock and roll magazines. Him and Jon Landau (now Bruce Springsteen’s manager). They published and co-edited this magazine. They latched onto Cream and Hendrix and the Doors when it was all underground.
He (Pearlman) saw Buck jamming with some people, and thought he was great, and said he had an idea for band called Soft White Underbelly. The band was sort of a collective for a while, people in and out. There was a sax player that came and went, it kept changing and changing until ’71 or so when the bass player changed from Andrew to Joe Bouchard. He was the last guy to come in and that became BÖC.
Sandy put it all together. He was the mentor and the guiding force. His good friend from college was Richard Meltzer who wrote the lyrics for “Burning For You.” And Sandy wrote lyrics for “E.T.I.” and many other songs. All the Imagino songs. He certainly had a big part to play in the early history.
Are you still in touch with him?
I haven’t talked to him in a little while. I talked to him last year, briefly. I understand he’s teaching at McGill University in Montreal.
How about the Bouchard brothers? Are you still in touch with them?
I've seen them in the last year.
Is there any chance of bringing them in for an original lineup reunion?
Only if someone gave us a very good reason. And I don’t know what that would be.
How about Patti Smith?
Patti was Allen’s girlfriend. Before she was Allen’s girlfriend, we’d go see her, before she had a band. She was doing poetry readings. She was going out with Sam Shepard (playwright and actor) before she met Allen. When we met her, there was a New York underground scene going on. No one had a record deal. Patti was trying to get a deal and we were trying to get a deal. We just got a deal first, that’s all. It was inevitable that Patti was on her way. I used to go see her play with just Lenny Kaye on guitar. It was great, in a little bar.
As I'm sure you know, she just got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What about BÖC? Do you have any feelings about being inducted?
If they want to induct us let them feel free.
You wouldn’t mind?
I’ll show up. Obviously, they’re 10 years late but there’s nothing we can do about that.
Let’s fast-forward to the more recent. The Curse Of The Hidden Mirror, the last studio BÖC album, was a strong comeback. Any plans for another one?
We currently don’t have a label, so that might hold us back a bit. You never can tell, we may get a deal. Or maybe we’ll make one of our own and make it a download only. We don’t know. There’s talk about it, but we have a lot of touring.
You guys have declared that you’re “on tour forever.” When you’re out there, do you still get the same buzz you did back in the 70s?
It’s not the same as when I was 25. Things change. Do we have fun at a show? Sure. It depends on the crowd, if they’re there to see us or not. We might play a casino or a state fair or a Blue Öyster Cult show in a theater — they all different kinds of gigs. We like to play; that’s what we live to do. The only downside to the touring is all the travel. It’s kind of hectic. Post 9-11, traveling around is not the easiest thing in the world.
What about touring Europe and Asia?
We were there in 06 for a 14-day tour. We did a festival in Spain, a festival in London, and then a whole tour around the whole UK.
You mentioned how things have changed since the 70s. With that in mind, could a group like BÖC make it in a world dominated by American Idols?
I think anything is possible. Of course, American Idol stands on its own. It’s so unique. About the only rock that’s come out of that show is Chris Daughtry. Everything else is really pop. I’m a big fan of that show. Not so much the individuals, but the phenomenon of how it changes these people’s lives. It’s really fascinating, and no one really talks about it.
Can you imagine a place where just the stars are crossed just right that you make it through all the processes. Obviously there are singers that are great that no one sees or hears. Ten-thousand people show up for these auditions. When you get down to the people who go to Hollywood, there’s gotta be a lot of good people who they just pass on because they don’t think they're good for television. I’m not a huge fan of country music, but Carrie Underwood is genuine and pretty damn good. And Kelly Clarkson is the best singer that’s ever been on that show. A lot of good has come out of it.
Do you follow any new and upcoming artists?
I’m not on the cutting edge of what’s new and interesting, but I like Disturbed. I saw them on VH1. They’re like a melodic Metallica. I like a lot of old-school stuff. I like Metallica and Slayer. I like fusion, which isn’t very popular. I went to see Al DiMeola play last year. He’s an old friend of mine. He’s probably my favorite guitar player in the world.
I saw him with John McLaughlin. It was pretty intense.
We did our first tour with McLaughlin and Mahavishnu Orchestra and the Byrds. We were the middle act, Mahavishnu opened, and we got crushed (laughs). We weren’t really that good. We were just getting our feet wet, going out on a big stage. But we reformed and got a chance to go on tour with Alice Cooper when our first album came out. And that started our climb.