Founding Blue Oyster Cult member Joe Bouchard has a brand new solo album out. Playin Time is Joe’s fifth album, and his best since his debut in 2009. Check out the album, and order it at his website > http://www.joeboouchard.com
In this interview Joe talks about Playin Time, as well as updates on his shows with brother Albert , and their band Blue Coupe!
Playin History comes just over a year after The Power of Music. How do you manage to get so much quality rock recorded and put out over the last 10 years, and still maintain a number of live performances?
Lots of strong coffee…we brew the high test all day. Actually I retired from my private teaching business in May 2016. I was teaching about 4 days a week. It was an easy job, no classrooms, just private guitar lessons mainly. I wasn’t getting any younger so when I retired from my “part time job”, it opened up lots of time for songwriting and recording. I felt good about what I was creating and the proof is in the album. My songwriting skills have sharpened over the years. I’m much more critical with my songs than I used to be.
That being said, I didn’t record too many extra songs. There are some good riffs, and jamming tracks, but they fell by the wayside pretty quick, and the songs I chose for Playin’ History are the most consistent, creative and balanced recordings I’ve ever done.
Oh yeah, I know…”You’re just saying that…just look at those early Blue Öyster Cult songs you wrote!” To be honest from my perspective most of those songs were lucky accidents. I think the only song I thought was really well crafted from the early days was Light Years of Love. That song is way less popular than Astronomy, Hot Rails and Morning Final and maybe one or two more. You never know what the public will latch onto.
The last album dealt with ‘music’ subjects in lyrics and titles. Was this one geared towards ‘history’ subjects? and would you say they’re sorta ‘loose’ concept albums or themed albums?
Very loose concepts certainly. I really start out just trying to write one good song. Walk with the Devil was the first song I wrote for Power of Music. Once I got that first good song, the others just followed after it.
With Playin’ History, Renaissance Man set the pace for the songs to follow. Almost all of the music was written in 2016 and early 2017. One track called Now What is This came from a rough demo from the late 80s that I wrote on synthesizers. Everything else is relatively brand new.
Renaissance Man is a great opener, and a tribute to Sandy Pearlman? Can you elaborate on how this one came about and how much of an impact Sandy made on you and your writing, playing, career ?
Yeah, Renaissance is a classic. Sandy was a brilliant genius who invented the concept of Blue Öyster Cult, gave us our name, convinced this wide range of fairly intelligent personalities that we needed to go in that direction, that is hard rock and proto-metal. As a manager he kept us moving forward when we could have easily slipped of the rails on the way to our heights of popularity. If he had a flaw it seemed he lacked the drive to keep us on top when we got there. But overall if it weren’t for Sandy Blue Öyster Cult would never have existed.
Sandy came up with the lyrics to Astronomy, my most popular song, and gave me the title for Hot Rails to Hell. He was a pretty smart fellow. He stopped managing the band after I left in 1986 and worked as a college professor in Montreal. He passed away from a brain aneurism at the age of 72.
In reference to other tracks you wrote, how much are based on your own experiences and places you’ve been?
All of it comes from personal experiences is some respect. Some more than others.
Tracks that stand out for me include – Night Owl Nocturne, Diamonds in Blue, and Now What Is This – can you give me some insight in to those.
Night Owl is really personal. I am an insomniac and I do most of my writing and recording in the late night hours. I live out in the woods of Connecticut and the neighbors are not anywhere close. The only company I have in the warm spring evenings are owls in the woods. They would hoot and do their owl things while I was working on this song.
Diamonds in Blue came from an idea about space travel. I love studying what NASA, telescopes and other space exploration things are doing. I got an email from a connection in NYC that a movie company needed a song about asteroids. I had two days to put it together from scratch. It’s just three simple chords but I love the feeling I get from it.
Now What is This is about Bob Dylan and specifically the tour that Patti Smith was the opening act for him. I think it was back in the 80s. They would do a duet every night and the crowd would go nuts, get hysterical really…it’s about that style of hero worship.
Who are the 52 Agents of Fortune?
The 52 Agents of Fortune are simply a deck of playing cards. One of our producers Murray Krugman played poker and he referred to a deck of cards as the “52 agents of fortune”. We were finishing the 5th Blue Öyster Cult album for Columbia and we didn’t have a name. I wanted something with a really positive vibe to it so I suggested we name the album Agents of Fortune. It worked out tremendously well and became our biggest seller.
There was a group called The Title Trackers from about 3-4 years ago that posted “made-up” songs around the theme of lost “title tracks”. Checking into the Morrison Hotel was one of their songs. It was pretty funny but somewhat silly.
I took that idea and said 52 Agents of Fortune could be one of those lost title tracks. My song is really nothing like those undernourished attempts at parody. This song is the story of my “incredible luck” with my music career. The Hammond organ intro could be Deep Purple or Vanilla Fudge. It works for my story and was real fun to record.
You have 2 John Elwood Cook songs on this album. The Written History Of Misery is classic . Can you tell me a bit about how this evolved from the song John gave you and the production it became on the final album?
John writes in a Johnny Cash style. But often that’s not where I’m going with my recordings. I love his songs tremendously. Bad Decisions started as a demo in a like a slow Zeppelin-like blues. It was pretty bad, but I still loved the song. When I decided to speed up the song, add some funky blues guitar, add an eerie background vocal part, the song started to really work for me. The crowning touch was when I added a Banjolin, a hybrid mandolin with a banjo head. It was lying around the house for decades and needed new strings. It’s over 100 years old and was played in some old time dixieland band. Once I restrung it, it sounded amazing. I added it through the whole song and I love the way it came out.
The Written History of Misery is a classic as you say. It was written as a companion to one of John Cook’s artworks. John likes to think about what life was like years ago, and expound on those quirky personalities. His artwork has quotes from somebody’s tombstone and other artifacts. It’s a strange piece and a strange song for sure. Musically it just needed a good riff. I got a new Fender Esquire reproduction that sounds amazing. I wrote the riff for the song on that new guitar. But the song is all John and I’m glad you like it.
You play everything on this album!? Does that kinda speed up the process and make things easier or would you ever like adding in some guest players?
I like playing all the parts and I can work fairly fast and get the exact results I need. But I miss the give and take with other musicians. I wanted to hire musicians for this project but many were on tour and not available during my time frame. Maybe on my next solo album I’ll get a real band together and see what happens. I worry about losing my control of the production. Doing all myself keeps things tight and I can’t blame anybody but myself if it doesn’t work.
You’ve been out doing song & story shows with Albert[!?] How many of these have you done and may there be a recording from these shows or a collaboration album in the future?
Yes, Albert and I do a show called Bouchard Bros: Songs & Stories. It’s great! We have video projections for all the songs and it is fun to do deep tracks from Blue Öyster Cult and our solo albums. We play acoustic versions of the songs in really nice theaters and the response is amazing.
Whats the status of Blue Coupe? Any plans for a new album or bigger tour [up this way]?
Blue Coupe is doing well, but Dennis has commitments to Alice this fall. He’s in the UK with Alice right now. Whether he plays with Alice in 2018 remains to be seen. We plan to record a new studio album as soon as he’s free. Dennis is part of Albert’s Christmas album that he produced last year. There will be an expanded version of the album this holiday that features various musicians and friends.
There’s plenty of great live stuff on youtube, particularly of Blue Coupe — Wonder if we could ever see a live album from the band!?
A live album would be nice but it is hard since it is expensive and there’s so much available online for free. The next thing we do will be a new studio album. The song Fireball that Dennis wrote for Alice Cooper’s latest album is doing great and I hope that Blue Coupe will add that song to their set.
What else do you have on the go? Are you playing tracks from Playin History live?
We play Bad Decisions with Albert and it’s great. I played Renaissance Man, Diamonds in Blue, 52 Agents of Fortune and Mountain House at open mics. I will probably play more of those songs. It depends on the demand. The album is just getting out to the fans. Many people have expressed interest in the songs. It’s hard to fit them into a set list since I have to play so many from the Blue Öyster Cult catalog.
Might you consider doing a full band tour [or shows] that mainly focus on this album and some of your previous solo material?
I’d love to have a band like Brian Wilson. He has nine musicians on stage that play exact recreations of all his famous songs. It’s stunning and I’ve seen him over 15 times. Maybe someday it will happen.
KJJ, Nov 2017