By Jeb Wright
Considering that Blue Öyster Cult has often been dubbed the thinking man’s heavy metal group, it is amusing that one of the things for which the band is best known is not exactly in keeping with that tone.
The band’s unexpected moment in the spotlight came during a “Saturday Night Live” sketch featuring Will Ferrell as Gene Frenkle, an overzealous cowbell player, and Christopher Walken as “The” Bruce Dickinson, the producer overseeing the recording of “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” who, at one point in the sketch declared, “I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.”
Goldmine checked in with Blue Öyster Cult’s vocalist (and one-time road manager) Eric Bloom to get the scoop on BÖC from A to Z.
GM: When people say “Blue Öyster Cult: On the Road Forever,” is that the truth?
Eric Bloom: As long as people want us to play, we will go.
GM: On your Facebook page, you have been taking some pictures of some cool items. There was a cool handbill.
EB: It was the Stalk-Forrest Group. I have a storage closet with all kinds of junk in it and I found that. I am thinking that I am going to be selling some of my old guitars within the next year. I might be moving and I have so much stuff that I won’t have anywhere to put it.
GM: Your fans will love hearing that. But I think they will be excited about the handbill, too.
EB: A lot of that stuff is not of much value, expect for the BÖC connection. The guitars, however, really do have some value. I have eight or nine that I would like to sell, all of which have been played in the band, at some time or another. Some are better than others and some were hardly used. Some I got as endorsements and only played them once or twice in the band. I have all kinds of gear that I don’t know where to put it. Some of it has not even been turned on in years. I am not selling all of my guitars; I won’t sell my original SG, which I haven’t played in 15 or 20 years. That guitar is the one in the famous cross guitar picture where Lanier is wearing a derby and we are holding our guitars in the air.
GM: How many guitars do you have?
EB: I have 15, which is not a lot. They are all mine, I’m not a collector of other people’s stuff; I just have my own stuff. I don’t have 57 Les Pauls or things like that. I just have stuff that I stopped using and that I put in the case and put it in my basement.
GM: Are there other things that you have that are not guitars?
EB: I have the whip that I mention on the “On Your Feet or On Your Knees” album. I say, “Thank you for this whip,” on the album. Somebody offered me $300 for the whip, but what am I going to do? Am I just going to take the money, go out to dinner a couple of times and then I don’t have it anymore? What good is that? I’d rather have it.
GM: When I was a kid I bought “Agents of Fortune.” I remember really being taken by the interior of the album, where you guys are gambling. There is a roulette wheel on the table and a bunch of chips with the BÖC cross on them. I wonder where those chips are now?
EB: I think everybody grabbed handfuls of them, but I don’t know if anybody kept them. If one of the guys ended up putting them in a drawer, then maybe they are still there.
GM: BÖC fans tend to be very loyal, and some are very into buying BÖC memorabilia.
EB: I have an example of that. Someone on our crew saw on eBay that someone was selling the Soft White Underbelly stenciled acoustic 260-amp head. He asked me if it was, indeed, mine. I told him that I thought it was, because who would go through all of the trouble if it was not. It did not work, and the guy wanted $599 for it. There were no bids, by the way. It got on my board, on ericbloom.net, and it was verified by certain parties, like the guy who made the stencil, and it was it.
What is interesting is that the amp head was bought at Sam Ash in Hempstead, and I was the salesmen for these amps to Soft White Underbelly in the fall of 1968. It passed hands,who knows how many times. The guy who was selling it said he had to remove paint off the top and remove two or three stencils on top. He kept cleaning it and cleaning it until he got to the Soft White Underbelly stencil. You tell me what that’s worth … an amp that doesn’t work that was an original Soft White Underbelly amp. I have no idea what that is worth. Somebody on my board said they would buy it but not for $599. Do I want it? No, I don’t know what I would possibly do with it.
GM: That fact that you sold it to them, I think, makes it more valuable.
EB: I was the salesman who sold it to them. They walked into buy amps and we struck up a conversation. Eventually, when I was in the band, we used those amps. It ended up that those types of amps were not very good for guitar; they were good for keyboards. Eventually, we got rid of it. The fact that I sold it to them and then later joined the band is kind of bizarre, but it is part of our history.
GM: While I don’t collect BÖC stuff per se, I would go to a BÖC museum in a heartbeat.
EB: There is a homemade BÖC museum that Bolle Gregmar has. He lives in California, and he has acquired a lot of stuff from the band over the years.
GM: BÖC had cool lyrics, cool music and awesome artwork, from album covers to the promotional posters.
EB: On the album covers, sometimes our management took charge, and sometimes we took charge. In the early days, we didn’t have a lot of input because we were on the road so much. We used to do 300 gigs a year the first three or four years. The only time we were home at that time was to rehearse and make a new album and then we would go back out again.
GM: It is amazing you guys didn’t kill each other.
EB: Especially in the days when we had no money and we had to room with each other.
GM: Did your manager, in the beginning, Sandy Pearlman, come up with the logo, the Cross of Cronos?
EB: No, that was Bill Gawlik, who did the first two album covers. Nobody can find him, by the way. There are a few guys from that era that were associated with us, in one way or another, and we don’t know what happened to them. We really do wonder where Bill Gawlik is.
GM: What was your reaction to the cross? BÖC was branding the band, and that was way ahead of your time.
EB: We did a few things that were unique back in those days. We had the logo and the umlauts. We cared about our image and artwork. A lot of bands ended up copying what we did because it was so good. I think it is part of our heritage.
GM: You mentioned that you may sell some guitars. I wonder if there is anything else that you have that you would never part with.
EB: I have a ’55 Chevy that I have always said that I want to be buried in. There are things I would never sell. I don’t think I would ever sell my Gold and Platinum records. That is something that I would like to hand down.
Today, on the news, I heard that Don Larsen is selling his jersey from the only perfect game ever pitched in the World Series from 1956. He wants to send his grandchildren to college. So, you can never say never, as I am sure he never wanted to sell that. You can go into pawn shops and see Super Bowl rings in there.
GM: What is the most outstanding memory you have of coming up through the ranks?
EB: The most outstanding memory I have of the early BÖC days is the audition we did with Clive Davis. If he liked us, then we were going to get signed. If he didn’t like us, then the band was going to break up. When Sandy walked back in the room and said, “He likes you. He’s going to sign you,” that was the big highlight for me.
GM: You had hit records, a huge fan base and were famous. Yet, you never became the stereotypical rock star. Why not? What kept your feet on the ground?
EB: I just have so many other interests. I have friends that I know that wear stage clothes during the day when they are going to buy a magazine or something. That was just never me. I preferred to keep under the radar. I was a rabid music fan who got the “I’ve got to play in a band” fever from The Beatles. When I finally, quote, unquote, succeeded, I saw no reason to gloat. It is like when you finally are able to get a fancy car, because you can finally afford it; then you get paranoid about it getting scratched. You don’t want to park it next to anybody. It drives you more crazy having it than never having it. I just never really bit on all of that. To this day, I still live in a regular neighborhood, and everybody knows who I am, but nobody bothers me. I just saw no reason to have a house with 12 bedrooms. I am not going to cast aspersions at sports heroes, because I’m a huge sports fan, but I see these guys that make millions and millions of dollars playing sports and they buy these mansions with 25 bedrooms, and I wonder what the hell they are doing with all of them. I never could understand all of that. It is the MC Hammer Syndrome.
GM: Even though you are not a music memorabilia collector, do you understand their mindset?
EB: It is not just rock and roll; its everything. I know a very wealthy guy and he buys, at a very big expense, jerseys worn by hockey players. He has a large storage facility that is only for the sports memorabilia that he buys. Jay Leno collects cars. He has his own garage and his own mechanic, just because he is a car nut. He is also a very unassuming man who will schmooze with anybody who is a fellow car nut.
GM: Would cars be your thing if you did collect?
EB: If I had a bottomless checkbook?
EB: If I were as rich as Jay Leno, I would own a lot more cars than I own now. I would like to have a few of my old cars back. Some of them were not even that special, but I would still love to have them back. I’m sure everyone has things they feel that way about.
GM: Is Blue Öyster Cult still making new music?
EB: We’re always writing and doing new stuff. We’re always sniffing around looking for a new opportunity for a label to put it out. I will tell you that is my most asked question. You can never tell, but anything is possible. Our management is always looking for an opportunity.
GM: Would you consider releasing new music online, just for the BÖC fanatics to either download a song for free or for a buck on iTunes?
EB: We’re open to that, and, as a matter of fact, Buck and I have been discussing that sort of thing.
GM: Are the songs that you have written that are not released ready to go if the phone call came?
EB: We would not be ready the next day but we’d be ready in a couple of months.
GM: Other than “Club Ninja,” which still has a few good songs on it, every Blue Öyster Cult album, from the debut to “Curse of The Hidden Mirror,” is a full album with great songs. There is very, very little filler in your catalog.
EB: I would agree with that. I actually got an irate Facebook message where this guy called me all kinds of names; he must have been drunk. He called me an idiot for playing a Gibson SG. I sent him back a message and I said, “What is this about?” He replies, “It’s all about the music, dude.” He had to be sh*tfaced.
GM: Are you still into online gaming?
EB: I am a big video gamer. I currently have a very, very, powerful notebook. I have a good desktop, too, but I use my laptop a lot. I have been a gamer my whole life. I write for gaming magazines on the side a little bit.
GM: I know you have character names, but have you ever told anyone who you are?
EB: After I get comfortable with someone, then I might let them know. The other day someone posted something about ‘more cowbell.’
GM: Did you know that “Saturday Night Live” was going to do that skit beforehand?
EB: Did you know that skit was named as one of the Top 10 of all SNL skits of all time? VH1 did a list of Top SNL skits, and I think it was No. 5. To answer your question, no one in the band knew that was going to happen. I saw it when it happened because I happened to be home.
GM: You were sitting in your living room and watching TV and you saw it happen? Did you start busting out laughing?
EB: No, I didn’t start laughing because I was so shocked. You don’t see things that often on BÖC on real television. Will Ferrell, who, I guess, was supposed to be me, wrote that piece, by the way. Right after it was over, I was on the phone telling people.
GM: Christopher Walken was awesome in that.
EB: There was an anecdote recently where he was in China making a movie or something and somebody came over to him and said, “More cowbell!” I have seen Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell on late-night TV talk shows, and when they walk out, they play “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”
GM: Did that skit give you guys a shot in the arm?
EB: I don’t know if it gave us an actual shot in the arm, but all publicity is good publicity. It certainly didn’t hurt. Speaking of “More Cowbell,” a lady I know who is in the PR business called me the other day. She was doing promotion for Kobayashi, the hot dog champion. She told me they were going to film him in super slow-motion while downing a hot dog. She told me that she would like me to come in and be involved in it and play the cowbell. Another woman came in that was on ABC doing a cooking show and she was going to be preparing something with a blender, and she has me playing the cowbell.
I got to hang out with Kobayashi. He is totally ripped. I watched him eat a hot dog with a bun in 6 seconds; he doesn’t chew it. He has got a method where it just goes down. I asked him about the aftermath. They told me he does nothing but to let it be natural.
GM: What do you say in Japanese during that section of “Godzilla”?
EB: The translation is, “Attention. Attention. Godzilla is entering the Ginza area. Evacuate immediately. Evacuate immediately.”