By Jeb Wright
Joe Bouchard snuck into Blue Oyster Cult after hanging out with his brother in the band Soft White Underbelly, the precursor to BOC. Together, the Bouchard Brothers -Joe on bass and Albert on drums- provided a solid rhythm section for the rest of the boys in the band to create upon. And create they did…
Blue Oyster Cult were all about Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser’s guitars, Eric Bloom’s laser ring and Alan Lanier’s… well, Alan was the quiet one, but he was still important! Joe lasted almost two decades with the boys, but eventually had enough and went his own way. He has hardly rode off into the sunset, however, as he continues to teach, write, record, compose and perform music.
While he was famous as BOC’s bassist, guitar is his instrument of choice. He has released his third solo album titled New Solid Black. You can order the bonus edition, and Joe will autograph it before he puts the disc in the mailbox… and Joe is the one who will put it in the mail to you… how cool is that?
In the interview that follows, Classic Rock Revisited sat down with Mr. Bouchard to learn how the new CD came to be and discuss the two bonus tracks he included that harkens back to glory days of Blue Oyster Cult. We also talk about the band he has with his brother Albert and Dennis Dunaway (founding member of the Alice Cooper Group and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer) cleverly called Blue Coupe, and CRR finds out what we can expect from these classic rockers in 2015.
Be sure to check out Joe’s website at http://www.joebouchard.com/ and order his new album and, while you are there, go ahead and get all the others as well. If you’re a fan of BOC and have some holes in your collection, then shame on you for not having this music already!
Jeb: I like just about everything you do, but this time out, I have to say you’ve made my favorite Joe Bouchard solo album to date.
Joe: I am happy you gave it such a good review on your website. This is kind of an experiment, as I put the album out in April, but it only had six tracks on it. I have talked to a lot of producers and they tell me that I should put out EPs. I have never done that and I think it’s kind of crazy, but I know a lot of young bands are doing it. It felt incomplete to me, you know. I hesitated and thought, “What should I do with this?” I let it simmer for a while as I had just released it digitally, which is something that is new to me.
You know who buys music just digitally? Well, not my fans. They don’t even want to know about that. They want to hold it in their hands and they want to smell it. It has got to be a physical thing. They don’t care about MP3s and stuff like that. There is something to be said for being able to hold it in your hands, as it makes it more tangible, and I think that makes it a better thing.
I figured I should put a couple of bonus tracks on there, so I put the two that I have that are on there, and that made it a total of 8 tracks and that made it feel more complete. I think a shorter album is easier to deal with if you’re doing it all yourself. When we do Blue Coupe albums, there are three very opinionated people involved. It makes it a very slow process and everyone gets their say. When I make it by myself, it is different.
Jeb: You stay very busy.
Joe: I just co-wrote a song with Albert and Andy Shernoff of the Dictators. It came out really great and it is an interesting track. We don’t know when it will come out, but it was fun. I am working on things for other bands. I get requests from other bands that say, “Can you put a guitar on this” or “can you put a mandolin on that.” I just moved to a new studio and I have been a little traumatized by that. I had been in my old studio for 25 years. Now I am more settled in and am really liking it, and it is a very inspiring place to be. Everything is good.
Jeb: The common fan may think since you’ve been out of BOC for nearly thirty years you are not doing anything musically, but I know you are very busy with a handful of projects.
Joe: It is great that I can spread things around and do a band project and then do a solo project. It all balances out very well. Dennis [Dunaway] has his autobiography coming out in 2015 and we are going to do a tour that will coincide with his book tour. He will do his lecture and then we will play a gig. It will be a very good situation. We need to get out to Kansas to see you sometime. We were close this last summer, but we just couldn’t make the money work. We are very much a do-it-yourself band, so we have to do what makes sense.
Jeb: I think you enjoy being a band member more than being a solo artist. Do you have to work yourself into ‘solo mode’?
Joe: Yeah, definitely, but I like the solo projects because I can work fast and I can make all the decisions very fast. When I do solo stuff the trouble is I will do something and since I am the only one involved I will do something and not remember what I did. I will hear a guitar part and I will think, “Wow, that’s really great. I wonder who did that and then I go, ‘oh it was me.’” I get so involved in it and things happen and it is really spontaneous. It is really fun.
I can’t believe this is already my third solo album. The response is so great that I want to do another one. That said, I am a band guy. I like playing shows with bands and everyone kicking on all 12 cylinders and making it work that way. Either is good for me.
Jeb: Are the songs all new compositions?
Joe: They are all pretty new, but I did have “Love Takes Heart.” I kept working that because I knew it had a lot of potential, but it didn’t seem right to me. I decided to remix it and then it showed me there was a lot of great stuff there.
When you’re producing, you just have to let go. Self-producing is like that. I kick myself because I worry that I am not tough enough on myself. I think, “If Jack Douglas was here he would be telling me to get out there and really make it happen.” You have this dialogue going on inside of you. You don’t want to overcook the stew, but you have to reach out and find that performance to make it really happen. It is a balancing act.
I have some more songs with John Cook on here and he is always writing new songs. He must have 300 songs. He’s been doing it over twenty years and he is much too shy to put out his own stuff. Well, he has started putting stuff on YouTube which is a big leap forward for him. He is now promoting his own stuff. He is a guy I have known all of my life. He was my next door neighbor in the Thousand Islands. He is a guitar guy, and he’s really into vintage guitar. We will sit down on a hot summer night and he will sit across from me at the kitchen table and start playing and I get all fired up. I will use the salt shakers as shakers on his track while he’s playing a song. It gives me the emotional key to get into the song. He is amazing person to work with.
Jeb: “Forget about Love” does not sound like a sitting on the front porch strumming a guitar song.
Joe: The first time I heard that I knew I had to record it. Once I heard the harmonies and how the chorus kicked in then I knew I had to do this song. That was the first song I did on the solo album.
Jeb: Obviously back when you were in Blue Oyster Cult you would get a huge response. Now you have work hard to get people to hear your music.
Joe: You have to be a self-promoter and you have to be the businessman. You have to make sure the mastering is done right and you have to make sure you go to the mailbox every day to send out Eps. It’s great and I really like it.
I was a little nervous about it at first, but it’s really not so bad. You count your views to see how many people are checking you out. I check out my analytics and you can see who is listening to you in Russia. We never had anything like that back in the day. We never knew what people were doing until we went to a show and there would be twenty thousand people there. We must have been doing something right! That was like fantasy land. Who knew what that was all about?
Jeb: Some of your peers do not want to make new music because not as many people hear it. You’re still an artist. You’re going to create.
Joe: I am extremely grateful that the fans are still as rabid as they were. They are connected on the Internet and that is a big incentive. You can watch and see how it goes and you can see the comments. Once in a while I get a comment from somebody that is not favorable and that is fine as it is their opinion. I will tell you that ninety eight percent of them are positive. I get to still get out and play and do shows with Blue Coupe and once in a while we will get a live on-the-air interview with a radio station. I still love it all.
Jeb: The song “Memorial Day” does not fit the Joe “I used to be in Blue Oyster Cult” Bouchard style.
Joe: That is one that John Cook played for me, no, I heard it on YouTube first. He came over to the house and I said, “Play that for me and I want to see what I can do with it.” That song has a glowing emotion and it is the true story of his Uncle who went off to war. He could have stayed home as he had already flown 25 missions, but he wanted to do one more. He went back and that was it; he never came back home.
This is an older song that he has had for several decades. I told him that the world has to hear this. I put it out a month before Memorial Day and it kind of pushed the entire project along. The thing is that Memorial Day is not going away; it is coming back next year. We had several veterans groups that really got behind that song. It has great numbers on YouTube, but it is kind of seasonal. I love that song.
Jeb: Tell me about the song the Dave wrote.
Joe: Dave’s song was tough because his original version is a cappella. There is a funny story on how he wrote that song. He and Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen got drunk one night and they wrote that song, but they are not sure which of them wrote it. Dave said, “I’m taking it.” Dave used to say, “If you want to write a good song just get drunk with Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.”
I use this thing called Garage Band on my phone. I was messing with that song and I put some strings behind it and it started sounding good. It’s a tough song to sing. It is really different for me. I am an old folkie at heart. My girlfriend was one of Dave’s students. She took lessons from him for two decades, right up until he died. She would drive him to gigs and she knows all of that finger style stuff on the guitar.
I have been a Dave Van Ronk fan for years. They made a movie about his life. I have that side of me that is pre-Blue Oyster Cult where I used to do folk concerts; this was before I was in college. Then, Sandy Pearlman said, “Hey, you’ve got to make it Metal.”
Jeb: Tell me about the song “Roller Girl.” That is one of yours.
Joe: That is one where I went back and thought, “Who came up with that? Was it me? It must have been because there was nobody else here.” I recorded it. I don’t know… I was thinking maybe I would not write lyrics for it. I wondered what Jeff Beck would do with that? There is no way I can play like Jeff Beck, but there is a little “Freeway Jam” in that song. I wish Jeff Beck could have come over and played on it but I am sure he was off on tour somewhere. So, if I have to emulate someone, I guess I will emulate Jeff Beck, as he’s not a bad one to pick to imitate.
It didn’t really come out like that at all. It was one of those things. I put a little organ on it and it became this song. I don’t recall the details of how it all came together but it all did come together. I don’t have a lot more stuff like that. I have been going through my archives, which is huge. I have tapes upon tapes that I need to catalog. I am hoping to get to that over the next year, as it is time to do that. There may be a gem in there that I don’t even remember writing.
Jeb: I am happy with the two bonus tracks you added which you wrote with Helen Wheels. She is not nearly as well-known as she should be.
Joe: Helen was my brother’s first girlfriend back in 1963, or something like that. It was way back. She was a great lyricist and a great person to collaborate with. Helen was part of the family back then. She would come up to our house in the Thousand Islands with Albert and they were two little hippies.
Jeb: “Light Years of Love” was on a Blue Oyster Cult album.
Joe: It was on The Revölution by Night. That album was a little uneven; it was the last track. I played half of the guitar solo and Donald [Roeser] played the other half of the guitar solo. The key was really high. I was looking to do something that was kind of like “Fallen Angel.”
I wasn’t as good of an arranger as I am now. The bonus track version of that song only took me a day and a half and it was done. It may not be the most polished thing that I’ve ever done, but the singing feels natural to me. The producer in me says, “You can do better! Do it again!” No, I don’t want to overcook it. Everyone makes perfect records these days because computers allow you to do that. You have to ask how much of the rough edge do you want to leave on it.
Jeb: Why put that one on this album?
Joe: I didn’t know what I wanted to do with bonus tracks. Albert put out a solo album and he did a couple of bonus tracks that were covers of Blue Oyster Cult and I didn’t want to do that at first. Albert did a good job with that, so I started to look for other things I could use to make it a full album. One of the tracks was on YouTube.
Somebody found the song that I called “O Jim.” It was actually called “Gun.” It was never recorded and it was dropped from the album. Martin Birch tried to record it but it never made it to the album. The song was in limbo so I started working on that song. While I was working on that I put on The Revölution by Night and I was listening to that and I heard “Light Years of Love.” I thought, “Hmm, that’s a good one.” It was frustrating because it was not my favorite track, as it ended up on the end of the album. I actually had an acoustic demo of the song from probably ten years ago that I had thrown together. I may have posted it somewhere. I started putting the pieces together from the original version to the acoustic version that I did ten years ago and came up with the version I have on this album.
Jeb: That track came out damn good.
Joe: That track did come out good. I used two programs together to get that spacey beginning. I had to import two different programs to make that work. It came out good.
Jeb: What does the title mean?
Joe: I used to teach video and that was in the classroom I was in. I was sitting in the classroom and the new teacher for the next class wrote on the board “start with a new solid black.” What that is in video editing is where you put a solid black down and you put your editing on the solid black. It was very random as I didn’t know what to call the album and that just popped in there.
Jeb: This comes across as a recording that you would want to listen to all together, song after song.
Joe: I may have to do a vinyl version of this. I did vinyl in 2009 of another album and I think I jumped the gun on it. It has really started to take off now. I think the physical thing of sitting around with the cover and looking at it and listening to it and sharing it with others is really something people want. I thought of doing a sampler of all my solo albums and putting that out.
Vinyl is a commitment. You have to go get it and you have to make sure you don’t scratch the record. I remember in my youth going, “Oh man, somebody just scratched my record. I have to go buy another one!” If you went and bought another record because someone scratched it then you really loved that record! That was a commitment. You might try to put a penny on the stylus so it doesn’t jump around on there but if that didn’t work you’d have to buy a new one. The kids today don’t know about this stuff.
Jeb: You worked with many great producers with Blue Oyster Cult with Sandy and Murray Krugman and others…
Joe: Sandy and Murray were more conceptual. David Lucas was more practical. Tom Werman and Martin Birch were amazing and were totally different that the other guys. I learned from all of them. I actually went and took some engineering lessons. After I left Blue Oyster Cult I took a class on engineering to learn some tricks and that helped.
Martin Birch was a guy who went for a lot of spontaneity, where Tom Werman wanted to do records that were well calculated. If a great accident happened in the studio with Martin then you knew it would stay in. They had different ways of doing it.
I am obsessed with something now… you can go on YouTube and you can find songs with just parts of the song. You can find like Fleetwood Mac with just the bass and stuff like that. When you hear a song all together you are not sure how they did it. The big one for me was when they put out a box set of all of the sounds for Pet Sounds. They had all of the vocals and all of the other stuff.
VH1 has Classic Albums and I love watching how the albums are made. I am obsessed with that show. If it is on, then I am watching it. I want to know how Jimmy Page got the echo on his guitar. I want to know how fat the kick drum is on Mick Fleetwood’s drum. I am a geeky guy, I can’t deny it. I like the tiny little details. I love that part of the recording process.
I wasn’t into it back in the day. I did my parts and I got out of there. Donald was the guy that was there for most of the recording. He would do lots of guitar parts over and over. I probably should have paid a little more attention to that. I knew the appeal of the group was Buck Dharma’s amazing guitar. We had some good vocals and we could do some harmonies. Alan [Lanier] would squeeze his personality in there, but the main thrust was to get that Buck Dharma guitar in everybody’s ears.
Jeb: Your brother and you came up with one classic BOC song with “Astronomy.”
Joe: We did. It is a classic and it just doesn’t go away. I just posted a new version of it on YouTube and it is doing great numbers. It is live from Paris. It really came out great. Some guy from France made a video and it really came out nice.
How did that song happen? I will tell you. I went for a walk on the beach. It was a simple as that. We were rehearsing in this little house on the beach on the North Shore of Long Island. Sandy had given me the lyrics and I had been pushing some things around, like I moved the third line which was “When the clock strikes twelve.” I was like, “No, that should be the first line.”
I had to work all of that stuff out and I went for a walk on the beach, and when I came back from my walk I had the song. I quickly played it for the guys and the next day Albert said, “We are going to do this on the arrangement for it.”
There was not a lot of thought to it. It just happened. I am very, very happy that song has had such longevity. Albert came up with that classic riff. He is a great arranger. He plays guitar. You should check out his new solo album. It is his first solo album. Here he is, sixty seven years old, and he puts out his first solo album. There are only drums on three songs. I didn’t play on it, but he sent me like thirty demos and I told him the ones I liked. It came out great.
Jeb: You have deep influences. Did you feel confined to just being a bass player in Blue Oyster Cult?
Joe: No, I liked it. My degree is in classical piano. I was exposed to a lot of stuff early on, but I knew those guys from when I was just graduating from high school. Albert was working with Donald and they were doing Soft White Underbelly and I followed that really closely the whole time. If anything, I found my spot. Soft White Underbelly never really broke through. When I came in I thought that if I played my cards right, it could break through. I am not saying I was the reason for it, but I think the chemistry just gave us a chance. I was surprised.
Soft White Underbelly had a great writing team. We had Sandy and Richard Meltzer and Albert and Donald, and Alan was writing a lot back in those days. They had a great team and I was able to jump in. Helen was there and David Roter was there. It just happened that several times they would need something else. Like on the second album they needed a song and I came up with “Hot Rails to Hell.” “Astronomy” was spontaneous. “Morning Final” just came out. After that they needed two more songs to finish the two songs with Helen, “Celestial the Queen” and “Nosferatu.” It was pretty good. I am not the kind of guy that has to be the focal point of the group.
Jeb: Did the writer arrange the song, or was it a team effort in Blue Oyster Cult?
Joe: It was a team effort. The writer usually sang the song that they brought to the table. It was a team effort. I didn’t usually collaborate with Donald because he would come in with fully formed songs. There was no need to say, “You need to change that” as the songs were done. The “Don’t Fear the Reaper” demo just blew us away. That raised the bar considerably. It was a blessing and a curse! At that point we wanted to make different kinds of albums and follow up on that kind of success. I am very content with my little corner of the band.
Jeb: I like some of the changes. People say bad stuff about Spectres, but I love every song on that album. That is so solid.
Joe: That is probably my favorite overall album that we did. “I Love the Night” is on that album. I may have to do “Celestial the Queen” again sometime. I can do this in my home studio. It is a great time to do your own projects as there is no excuse. All you need is time, which is flying away. If I get a good idea, I can put it down.
I am doing a lecture at MIT for engineering students called Colors, Chords and Creativity. I am not sure what we are going to do. My girlfriend is a color expert and a painter. I am going to be discussing the science of color and how the creative process works. I will be discussing in length how a song like “Light Years of Love” was created.
Jeb: You enjoy working with younger people.
Joe: I do a lot of teaching. I do a lot of private teaching. I have some great students. I love passing on the skills that I’ve learned to another generation. That is part of my thing now as I get into my near retirement. I will never retire.
Jeb: Last one: Will Blue Coupe have another album soon?
Joe: Dennis is finishing off the last bits of his book. I am going to his house tonight and we are going to discuss what we want to do. We want to make sure we get some great gigs. We will hopefully be coming out to Kansas to see you! We made it to Chicago this year. We played a great gig there and we played for two hours. Hopefully we will be hitting all the highways and byways. We will probably go to Europe.
As far as new music, that will come… but it is still to come. We are all working on ideas and demos. We haven’t had any meetings. I want to get together and start rehearsing the show. I think we did everything we needed to do on last year’s tour, so if we are going to do more we have to figure out where we go from here.
I want to tell you that your website looks great, and I don’t get there as much as I should… but I will try harder. We are promoting it as we have got a great response on the review you wrote.
Jeb: Thanks Joe, but you earned it. You did well with this one. It has been staying in my car’s CD player for several weeks!
Joe: I tested the CD mixes in my car, so if you’re listening to it over and over in your car, then it’s working!