In David Fricke’s exhaustive liner notes for Metallica’s Garage Inc. album, Jason Newsted is quoted as saying he saw Blue Öyster Cult live so often when he was a teen because they toured more than any other band. It’s a statement backed up by more than mere speculation.
“We’ve done somewhere between four and five thousand shows,” estimates frontman and founding member Eric Bloom down the phone from his home in Florida. “There’s a website that tries to track every show. It’s called Hot Rails to Hull. It’s a British fan site and there’s contributions from many of our ex-crew members and different stories and anecdotes and a list of shows. And it’s open to fans. For example, if you have an old ticket in a drawer, and it’s not listed, they’d be ecstatic to hear about it.”
That site, hotrails.co.uk, is a fastidious attempt to list every BOC performance since 1967 – when they were still known as Soft White Underbelly – with breathtaking detail, including dates, venues, band line-ups, set lists and other acts on the bill. It would be difficult to find a more comprehensive resource on any band. If that weren’t enough, it is now the new home of John Swartz’ incredible BOC FAQ, an archival document from the early days of the Internet that would take up more than 100 pages if it were in book form. One thing that won’t be found there, if one had the time to take the days or possibly weeks to go over the whole site, is much mention of Australia, because Blue Öyster Cult has never visited here. This month, however, Bloom and founding guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser plus drummer Jules Radino, bass player Kasim Sulton and Richie Castellano on guitars and keys will be on Australian soil for the first time, thanks to Dig it Up!, the Hoodoo Gurus’ Invitational tour.
“We got a very good offer to come there last year and we passed,” Bloom admits. “This year we got another offer, and we said let’s take it. So here we come.”
Blue Öyster Cult has been a major influence on the Australian punk and indie music scene. The title of Radio Birdman’s Radios Appear album is a lyric from BOC’s song “Dominance and Submission”, Ray Ahn from the Hard Ons has their distinctive cross-and-claw logo tattooed on his flesh and garage bands throughout the 80s would sprinkle their sets with the band’s songs. Yet most people who know their music at all would be most familiar with their monster 1976 hit “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” that has been covered by everyone from LA Guns and H.I.M to Heaven 17, featured in everything from Halloween to The Simpsons and been the subject of a Saturday Night Live skit. Eric Bloom has probably seen and heard them all.
“I’ve seen so many different ones,” he answers when asked if he has a favourite. “I saw one with a marching band that was quite interesting. It’s on the Internet. It’s like a university marching band playing it in the bleachers at a football game.”
The now-68 year old musician joined what was then called Soft White Underbelly as tour manager in 1968; before long he was the vocalist and “stun guitar” player, his love of science fiction informing a wealth of their catalogue while his onstage costume of black leathers and mirrored sunglasses further fuelled the band’s mystique. As a New York native, his early musical endeavours saw him cross paths with Ronnie James Dio, who would become an influence and a friend. Bloom describes him as being “a well-known upstate New York personality” at the time.
“He was a professional and I was in a college band,” he says, warmly. I guess we were around the same age. I saw him play in almost every permutation of every band he was ever in from Ronnie Dio and the Prophets to the Electric Elves, to Elf, to Rainbow. With a lot of the same personnel all the way along. And then once Rainbow came along, some of those original people went away. But I saw him playing living rooms at fraternity parties in 1965, 66, 67. He was the bass player, by the way.”
The two toured together when BOC and Black Sabbath shared management in the early 80s, and a few years later Bloom and Buck Dharma took part in Dio’s famed famine relief project Hear N’ Aid. Bloom sang the opening two lines of the second chorus of “Stars” and Dharma played the last 12 bars of the song’s epic guitar solo. Twenty-one years later, one of the friends Bloom made that day would be invited to tour with Blue Öyster Cult.
“It was mostly LA bands,” he recalls of the Hear N’ Aid sessions. “I heard about it and I called my manager and said, ‘Call Ronnie and see if he wants us to come out’. He said ‘Sure’, so we volunteered to go and it was a very interesting couple of days. And I made a very good friend out of that. First of all Eddie Ojeda from Twisted Sister is a very old friend of mine. They opened for us quite a bit and Eddie and I used to hang, and when we got to Hear N’ Aid he introduced me to Rudy Sarzo. Rudy is Cuban and Eddie is Hispanic also, and I speak Spanish. Rudy was surprised that I spoke any Spanish so we hit it off and for the last five years, he was our bass player for three of them. When it came time to look for a bass player, he was Ronnie’s bass player and Ronnie got sick and couldn’t tour, so I rang him and asked him. He couldn’t work with Ronnie so he joined us. It’s interesting that a lot of these connections go through Ronnie Dio.”
Like all who knew him, Eric Bloom seems to have nothing but praise and deep respect for the man.
“Ronnie was great, and you know something? He sang great at the beginning and he sang great at the end. Plus he was a good guy, talented and he just got along with everybody. Everybody respected Ronnie, because he was such a great singer. He was a charismatic guy.”
Dio, of course, came to Australia several times during his life, but Bloom has never been even as a casual visitor.
“I wish we had more time to do something not musical related and see the country a bit,” he says. “I’m probably gonna have to come back on my own and do that.”
It’s unlikely that will happen soon, however. When he isn’t working, he prefers to travel as infrequently as possible.
“You gotta understand my lifestyle. We travel so much that the last thing you want to do is travel some more when I get off. I’m a bit of a homebody. The last thing I wanna see is another airport.”
Instead, he fills his time with the kind of non-musical pursuits that one could probably expect from a lifelong science fiction enthusiast and one who has colloborated on songs with people like Michael Moorcock, Eric van Lustbader and John Shirley. He played World of Warcraft for several years, but he’s now “done with it” and he’s eagerly awaiting the release of Elder Scrolls Online.
“I’m a big gaming junkie and a car nut and I have plenty of outside interests to occupy my time with,” he says. “I’m going to Jackson’s Car Auctions next weekend and I’m also a voter on the MMO Hall of Fame website, which is massive multi-player online games. I’m a bit of a nerd.”
Blue Öyster Cult play the Dig it Up! Invitational:
18/4: Dig it Up! Festival, Tivoli Theatre, Brisbane QLD
21/4: Dig it Up! Festival, Enmore Theatre, Sydney NSW
25/4: Dig it Up! Festival, Melbourne VIC
They are also playing these shows:
19/4: Twin Towns, Tweed Heads, NSW (+ Hoodoo Gurus)
20/4: HiFi Bar, Sydney NSW
24/4: Prince Ballroom, Melbourne VIC