By Jeb Wright
Joe Bouchard is most famous for being in a band with his brother Albert. The band they were in sold a few records. You may have heard of them… they are collectively called Blue Oyster Cult.
The Brothers Bouchard bounced out of BOC in the 1980s and since have played with various bands and written and released solo albums. They are both music teachers as well.
The best band they have been a part of since BOC is called Blue Coupe with Hall of Famer and Alice Cooper Band founding member Dennis Dunaway. The two albums they released are solid, and while this interview deals with Joe’s latest solo effort, I have every reason to hope for a third album by Blue Coupe.
Joe’s new album is titled The Power of Music. It is a mix of rock-styled tunes that lean to his bluesy rock roots, as well as his days as a member of Blue Oyster Cult.
In the interview that follows, we discuss The Power of Music as well as the 40th anniversary of the BOC classic Agents of Fortune. Joe opens up about why he left the band and what his touring plans are for this summer.
Jeb: Before we get talking about the solo album I have to ask if there is going to be more Blue Coupe, the band with your brother and Dennis Dunaway.
Joe: It is only a matter of time. Albert [Bouchard] has another album almost done. He has about 25 songs.
Jeb: I think the Bouchard Brothers are writing more now than ever before.
Joe: It is a good time to put songs out. Our hardcore fans love it.
Jeb: The Power of Music is a great album. The 3-D cover is awesome.
Joe: Wait, I have to get my 3D glasses on. There, now we can talk.
My girlfriend is an artist. For the last few months she’s been doing studies in oil painting in 3D. She spent a couple of months researching everything there is to know on 3D. We did a series of photos for the album and we were not too excited about it. She said we should try to do a 3D cover. It was quite a process. I had to stand really still while she took the photos. She really worked it out. It looks good as 3D, but I said it had to look good normally. I think we pulled it off.
Jeb: That inside photo is so cool with the black and white on the guitar.
Joe: I’ve been on a guitar quest lately. I’ve been into guitars, and it has become my habit. I have developed quite a guitar habit. That is a cool shot.
You can buy these custom pick guards from this place in Canada. They will do anything. I thought that looked kind of like the cover to Tyranny and Mutation. That is a pawn shop guitar that I picked up. I put several hundred dollars of customizing into that one. It is a great hobby to have. Not only can you work on the guitar and get that satisfaction, you can play them, and that makes them even more fun.
Jeb: Seven of these songs are sole compositions. Are they new?
Joe: They are all new. A few of the ideas I may have had for five, or six years, or even longer, but there was nothing substantial about it. I had three weeks off in August and I’ve never had three weeks off in my life. After the first week I decided to do an album. I came up with the track “Walk with the Devil First” and once I had that I knew I had to do an entire album.
Jeb: “Walk with the Devil” has that classic BOC sound to me.
Joe: It has the arpeggios and the heavy riff… it is a real epic. Back in the good old days a song like “Nosferatu” is probably the most epic song I wrote. This is a nod to that. I wanted to make it kind of long and a little progressive. As I got into it, then it seemed to all fall into place. It goes off on some tangents. I love that.
Jeb: You don’t chase the Blue Oyster Cult sound, but sometimes you can’t help it.
Joe: You can’t help it sometimes. I like minor chords and we used to do a lot of minor chords back in the day. That one was really like I got into this trance while I was writing the song. One riff just followed the other. I had to really polish the lyrics in the end. Musically, it all came together.
Usually you try to write a song that is three or four minutes and this one was seven and a half minutes long and it felt good. There is no fat on this one. I knew I had to start the album off with “Walk with the Devil.”
Jeb: “Photographic Evidence” was written by your friend John Elwood Cook. Tell me about that one, as it is amazing…
Joe: I think it was last summer and I was sitting on his porch and he played that for me. The version he played for me reminded me of middle period Rolling Stones like Let It Bleed or Sticky Fingers. I wanted to make it a little moodier. I slowed down the tempo quite a bit from John’s original. It all fell together really easily. There was no stress there.
Jeb: Was this one of those easy albums to make?
Joe: I think so. It was easy. Thinks are going well in my personal life and I’m not doing too much other stuff with the cover band gigs that I was doing. I decided to take the time to really polish it and make a great album. I hope it turns out. I didn’t lean on too many covers as I wanted to keep covers down to a minimum.
Jeb: There is only one, “Career of Evil.” You were inspired to do that because of the J.K. Rowling book under her male persona Robert Galbraith.
Joe: Definitely. I think I had this arrangement in my head going back to 1974 when we did the original one. There were some quirky things in the original arrangement that Albert did. It had a lot of things that I liked about it. I made it more rhythmic and I lowered the key to darken it up. The fans will love the original, but this gives them an alternate version of the song.
Jeb: Who wrote the lyrics? They are awesome.
Joe: That is a Patti Smith lyric. I remember when Albert got that lyric and it sat around the house while we were living in Long Island for quite a while.
He stole the riff from a song we wrote in a band that we were in back in high school. It was our very first song. It became the riff to “Career of Evil.” I am talking the chromatic descending line. I like the way that was done originally. I also really like my current version of it.
Jeb: How did you find out J.K. Rowling was doing the book?
Joe: I talked to Steve Schenck the manager of BOC. He said they had this thing coming up. He said that Career of Evil was going to be the next book by her. I thought it was cool and then she sent me an autographed copy of the book. Everybody in the band got one personally autographed.
I opened the book and every chapter in the book is a Blue Oyster Cult song. Eric Bloom is mentioned several times in the book. It is going to be an HBO movie. I am hoping, knock on wood, that she will use the original Blue Oyster Cult songs. It is the movie business so anything can happen. She likes to do things right and HBO has been doing a lot of projects and they don’t scrimp on the budget. She can do whatever she wants.
Jeb: She has to be a fan because she picks out some album tracks.
Joe: Sometimes you hear someone will cover something by Blue Oyster Cult and you figure it is going to be the same old same old. But no, she got right into the details. Even some of the newer stuff from the last two albums, new material, is quoted in the book. It is across the board. She was very nice to put it all together like that… you can’t ask for more.
The video has taken off on YouTube. The demographics are that a lot of young girls in Germany are watching the video. It has always been tough to have a female graphic for anything Blue Oyster Cult. It has always been eighty percent male. With “Career of Evil” we are getting forty percent female.
Jeb: We used to say, “What do you call a woman at a Blue Oyster Cult or Rush Concert?” Someone’s girlfriend.
Joe: [laughter] Yeah. They never went there on their own. They went with a boyfriend.
Jeb: Another new one that is so cool on The Power of Music is “Dusty Old Piano.”
Joe: That is one of those songs that just popped out of nowhere. I was in a building that I used to teach in that is in this old private school. The story was that this building was haunted. I was waiting for a student to show up one night and there was this old dusty piano and I sat down at it and this riff came out. I thought that maybe the ghosts in the hall may have made my fingers move like that.
I decided to put a whole story together. There used to be a train set upstairs in this old building. Late at night you would be in this old building at night and you could hear someone playing with that train set.
Jeb: No way!
Joe: I swear! I spent many, many nights in that old building doing a lot of work late at night and it was scary. I am not saying I believe in ghosts, but if ever there was a song that was motivated by a strange other-world then it was that one.
I think this is something I started with a few years ago when I did this song called “Haunted Dance Floor.” I would think about all of the people who were dancing in this old ballroom. With this one, I was thinking about all of the people that were standing around the piano and the piano player would play and people would sing around the piano. It was a lot of fun to put that one together.
I did a live piano on that when I recorded it. I used another piano, as I couldn’t get the original one. I think it is the strongest song that I’ve ever written. I don’t know if the public will feel that way.
I get a lot of interaction from social media. One of the things they do is find these old songs of mine and say, “That was great.” I think, “Well, that is not really so great, but if they want to think that then that’s okay. If they like that then I really think they will like this as I think it is much better.”
Jeb: Talk about “The Wolfman.” That is a fun song.
Joe: I wanted to do something that had a good instrumental bed and the vocal would be about fifties science fiction. I started with the idea when I was on the Lynyrd Skynyrd cruise about four years ago. It was Halloween and there were a lot of musicians on the boat and they were all playing blues stuff. It morphed into “Is He the Wolfman?”
Jeb: That’s a bad ass song.
Joe: To me, it has an Alfred Hitchcock ‘what’s going on here?’ type of thing. I’m glad you like it.
Jeb: Talk about “Touring Age.”
Joe: I was working with a student who is really talented. He was writing piano pieces. He’d come in and every two weeks he’d have a new piece. About that time I was thinking that I should write a piece for piano. I was trying to do a song that I could keep two chords going for ten minutes and still be interesting. I asked myself how I could do that. You play these little intellectual games in your head.
That one I have had for about three or four years. I tightened it up and added some guitar, but it started as a thing where I wanted to figure out how I could make that interesting for ten minutes. This version I cut down to seven and a half minutes. I like it and I’m glad you like it.
Jeb: “36 Strings” is a cool one that sounds unlike the rest of the album.
Joe: It started out as a slower song. I picked up the tempo. That is a reflection of optimism in my life. I am very lucky in my life. I like the idea of being influenced by all of the guitars that I have around me. There are actually more than 36 strings on that song but 36 seemed to be the right number to sing about. There are maybe up to 50 or 60 string parts on that song. I didn’t want to get too technical. 36 seemed poetic.
Jeb: Will you be able to play these songs live?
Joe: Yes, I am doing these songs acoustic. I haven’t done them all, but I’ve done a lot of them. “Photographic Evidence” is great acoustic. “Walk like the Devil” I am blown away because it sounds great. I am using a 12-string guitar on it. I am blown away. I did “Power of Love” acoustic and it worked.
My first show will be in New Haven in June and I am doing the Up Close Tour. It is my music up close. We are going to get out and play this. I have not had time to do this before.
When we do a Blue Coupe show we have Alice Cooper songs which we have to play, and we have Blue Oyster Cult songs we have to play. We also have two albums worth of material and we want to play as much of that as we can.
I am getting out this summer to do some solo acoustic shows with these songs. They work great in that style. “Career of Evil” is great acoustic. I kind of ska it up and I reggae it. I think how would this reggae guy do “Career of Evil”? “I’m making a career of evil, maaaan.”
Jeb: I am a big Blue Coupe fan. Did you and Dennis do a song on HBO for the show Vinyl?
Joe: We played the track “I Love the Dead.” I got a call from the producer and he asked if we wanted to work on the soundtrack for an HBO show. I asked what he wanted and he said it was an Alice Cooper song. It was a shoe-in.
I got Albert and I got Dennis and it was the best session. I think we had one rehearsal then we went in on a Sunday and we worked all Sunday afternoon in Electric Lady Studio in New York City. That is the best studio in New York. You feel the Jimi Hendrix vibe there. It is amazing. It is the biggest studio that I’ve ever been in in New York. The equipment was perfect and everything went well. Andrew W.K. sang the lead. He’s a great singer. I am very happy with the track. I channeled Michael Bruce and Glen Buxton. If I can do that then I am very happy.
Jeb: It is the 40th anniversary of the classic Blue Oyster Cult album Agents of Fortune.
Joe: That is a great album. It is fabulous. Blue Oyster Cult just had an event in New York City and they are doing it tomorrow in Los Angeles and they are playing the entire album, front to back. They asked me to participate but I decided not to for various reasons. It just didn’t feel right to me.
Albert is playing with them. He is singing with them. I was very happy with the show they did in New York City at BB Kings. I saw it on YouTube.
Albert really was very happy. He gets to sing three songs. He sang great and knocked it out of the park and it was a good thing for him to do. I am glad I sat this one out. I wouldn’t be opposed to sit in with them another time, but this one just didn’t feel right to me for various reasons. I am glad they are doing other things than the standard set that they’ve done for years.
Jeb: BOC has fifty deep cuts the hardcore fans would love to hear. For this special show they get to hear a bunch of great ones like “Sinful Love” and “Tattoo Vampire.”
Joe: There is a lot of depth there. A whole generation knows the cowbell. I think with Career of Evil coming out on HBO and this stuff they are doing… they are showing there is a demand for the deep cuts.
Jeb: “Reaper” and “ETI” are the only radio tracks on Agents. There are a lot of songs that need to be heard.
Joe: I think they are going to take it to a few more cities. I hope so.
Jeb: Was this the first album in which the band stretched their wings away from Sandy Pearlman a little bit?
Joe: A little bit… the main thing about that album was that we did it differently. We would usually go into the studio and we would have three or four months to write and record an album.
We had put out a live album called On Your Feet or on Your Knees which gave us more breathing time to write some better songs. We all got personal tape recorders and worked in the basement burning the midnight oil and that is what we came up with. It was the right album at the right time for us. It was our first Platinum album. We thank the fans very much for that one.
Jeb: Where does that rank in the catalog for you?
Joe: I think that is number two. My favorite album is the first one with “Cities on Flame” on it. I suggested about ten years ago when there was talk about us getting together for a reunion type of thing. I suggested that we play Spectres live all the way through. Albert said, “You’re out of your mind. They are never going to do that.”
Here they are seven years later and they are doing Agents from top to bottom. Who knows what’s next? They could do Fire of Unknown Origin. That has spectacular songs all the way through. There are a lot of songs that have not been heard live.
Jeb: Agents of Fortune has “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” on it. Did you know that was going to be a huge hit or were you shocked?
Joe: I knew from the get-go that was going to be a smash.
Jeb: Do you remember the first time you heard it?
Joe: Donald had a cassette that he made in his basement. It sounded pretty much like the finished song.
We were on tour in Europe and we would play it for some of the people at our record label. We would have a little party after the gig and we would be at the hotel and we played the demos of what was going to be Agents of Fortune. Every time we got to “Reaper” the reaction was over the top. I was convinced. I told our accountant, “Well, we’re going to have a hit. This is it. Bet the horses on this one.”
It is a miracle that it came out when it did for us. It is hard to sell a band like Blue Oyster Cult to Top 40 radio. Donald put the key in the lock and opened the door.
Jeb: I love the entire song, but the instrumental part that is kind of orchestrated is amazing.
Joe: That is crazy. The record label said, “No, we’ve got to cut that out and make a three-minute version.’ They did just that. Nobody played it. They all wanted to hear the full version and that is the one that you hear to this day.
Jeb: That is typical of a record company wanting a three minute song.
Joe: Right. There was no stopping that song when it got going.
Jeb: “ETI” is a great song.
Joe: That is a great riff. Donald came up with a fantastic guitar part and it sounds good. I always enjoyed that song. Great song.
Jeb: “Sinful Love” is a great tune.
Joe: Yeah, that’s a great one. I really like “This Ain’t the Summer of Love.” I listen to the beginning of that song and it brings back great memories. It is hard and aggressive and it is a great way to kick off an album.
Jeb: Patti Smith was on that album.
Joe: “Revenge of Vera Gemini.” When we had the reunion show in 2012 she was going to do “Career of Evil” and she rehearsed it. Then the hurricane hit New York City and we had to reschedule. She had to go to Germany so she could not do it.
I don’t know… but I think she might be with Blue Oyster Cult on April 17th when they do the album in Los Angeles. I’m just guessing… Maybe she will be there and do a little “Revenge of Vera Gemini.” Who knows? They never tell me anything.
Jeb: You don’t seem bitter over not being in Blue Oyster Cult.
Joe: Things are going amazing right now, for a lot of reasons. Let me tell you this story… my friend Andy was in London talking to Bill Wyman at this big Stones thing. He was complaining that the Stones said he could play but that they will only let him play on two songs. I was like, “Holy crap, this is kind of like my situation.” They want me but they don’t want me.
When I left Blue Oyster Cult I felt like I was being picked on and that I wasn’t appreciated. That was thirty years ago. In the last ten, fifteen or twenty years these books have all come out about these other bands. George Harrison was not happy and he was picked on. You can go from band to band and see this from every guy who left a band for whatever reason. You have artistic people with ego and some of the more mild mannered people can get pushed around. Ringo wasn’t happy and he quit the Beatles… for a weekend.
People say, “How can you leave the band and not be a rock star?” I just felt it was time for a change, to put it simply. It made me feel better over the years to learn that I am not the only one. This goes with every band one way or another. When you sign up for a band and there is one guy who is the head guru and the creative guy, then you know your job is to always be supportive. With Blue Oyster Cult there were a lot of creative guys. I was still supportive but sometimes things just don’t fall your way.
Jeb: You did pretty well. You lasted a while.
Joe: Sixteen years was enough.
Jeb: By the time you left the wave had crested…
Joe: Yeah. I know. Eric called me up and wanted me to come back. He was worried that he was going to end up like John Kay with Steppenwolf. I wasn’t going out as BOC. The legacy of the band is intact. You’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do.
Jeb: Buck was famous for his songs and his guitar... but it was a band.
Joe: It was a songwriters’ collective. There were a lot of creative ideas in that band.
Jeb: Looking back, when I was 12 and in catholic school, I remember the priests and nuns saying we needed to stay away from that Blue Oyster Cult. Do you ever laugh at that?
Joe: All the time. In fact, if the nuns that taught me knew where I ended up as a teacher, they’d be shocked! Like I said, everything is going great. I am glad you like the new solo album. It is doing fabulous. The reviews are coming in and they are great. I appreciate your review. I need a couple of bad reviews so I can fit my hat on my head.
Jeb: Do you still have any Blue Oyster Cult poker chips like the ones on the inside cover of Agents of Fortune?
Joe: I have a few poker chips in my collection. There is a lot of nostalgia there. I have some artifacts and they mean a lot.
Jeb: What is the best Blue Oyster Cult memorabilia you have in your collection?
Joe: I have that bass that was on “Godzilla.” That is a pretty cool one. When I left the band I didn’t have much stuff.
I am collecting singles right now. There are a lot of singles that I didn’t even know about. I never knew “Vengeance the Pact” was the B-Side for “Burning for You” in different countries. I’ve been collecting singles just to collect them. It is all new to me. There was a lot going on with the record companies that we didn’t know about. I don’t have anything that is really fantastic. All of my leather clothes were thrown out and stuff like that.
Jeb: Keep making music Joe as I want to hear it and so do many others.
Joe: You will be hearing more. I have a lot of ideas. I have a lot that I want to do and this is a great time to do it.
Jeb: I want another Blue Coupe.
Joe: We will be doing some Blue Coupe shows. Dennis is writing songs with Alice for the next Cooper solo album. He is writing with Alice and that has slowed down our summer, but it’s okay.
I have a lot to do and so does Albert. We will get back in a room and more stuff will happen.