The following chat took place in the restaurant of the Drury Lane Hotel in Covent Garden on the afternoon before Blue Öyster Cult's second Hammersmith Odeon show on 4th May 1978.
I had walked in with Sounds and Record Mirror people and I think Joe thought I was with a big music paper as opposed to the small circulation fanzine I was then involved with. If that's what he thought, I wasn't about to disabuse him. Anyway, I was granted 10 minutes whilst Joe tucked into his salad, so I made the most of it.
Here's the result...
Q: First of all, when did you actually join the band?
JB: I joined the Cult in 1970.
Q: That was after Winters had quit?
JB: Yeah, Andy was too tall for the group, and he used to stand in front of the drums too and that was Albert's second reason for getting me in the group.
Q: So it was really a nepotism thing?
JB: No, it didn't really work out, personality-wise; He's a really nice guy, but when you are in it for the long run you gotta keep it as smooth as you can, y'know, or the situation won't work out.
Q: Albert was already an established member when you joined, right?
JB: Yeah, he'd joined two and a half years previously.
Q: Where was that - Stony Brook?
JB: Yeah, he and the guitar player, Donald, were engineering students at Clarkson College, and they both flunked out, and Albert went to Chicago and Donald went to New York; things just didn't go right for Albert in Chicago so he come up to New York to join Donald.
Q: What type of music was it then?
JB: It was somewhat ... not like the heavy metal, more like the Stalk Forrest Group; the Grateful Dead were a strong influence.
Q: But what about you guys being a New York band?
JB: Well, it's kinda strange, but they were kinda into the psychedelic revolution, y'know, and they played opening for the S.F. groups a lot, y'know, the Dead, Jefferson Airline, Country Joe, Quicksilver Messenger Service.
Q: Where were you at this time?
JB: Well, I was a student at Ithica College studying piano, working on my degree, and I just played in a lot of different groups. I played in soul bands and smooth bands and 'get together' rock bands, garage bands, y'know, just anything I could do at the time.
Q: What started you on bass? Was it Albert?
JB: Well, no, it's actually when I was a junior at my third year in college and I saw a band that I liked, and I said the only way I'm gonna get in it is to play the bass, and I ended up talking the bassist into leaving the band, and then I got him to talk the leader of the band into letting me join - it was kind like a smooth jazz band with two female singers and we had great fun - but that's when I started playing bass - then I went and worked as a musical director in a theatre for a while, and the end of the Summer, Albert gave me a call in the middle of the night and said come to New York, make ya a star - an overnight sensation - so here we are, eight years later [grins]. But it has come true, y'know miracles do happen.
Q: Was it you playing on the bootleg?
JB: Yeah, that was one of the first shows we played, and it was very successful for us, and it was broadcast live over the radio, and I specially remember the Buck's Boogie on that cos like it had been a slow set up to that point, and once we'd played Buck's Boogie the place just went bananas and another thing was that it was mixed live for the radio and it wasn't post-mixed and the tapes from the radio show were what we used - the guy who was mixing it did a real good job.
Q: Would you ever consider doing "Workshop of the Telescopes" again?
JB: Well, I always enjoyed doing it, but Eric complains about the lyrics, he has to sing those lyrics; I dunno, it's just so much past history, it's one of those Sandy Pearlman songs. Just before the BOC got started, he wrote lot of songs, dealing with his home - he was going to graduate school at Browne University, and he used to drive a lot from Long Island to Rhode Island, y'know, and I think those songs are based on his experiences on the beach there and growing up. Y'see Sandy doesn't feel that he has to retain a normal vocabulary, and it's that way if you ever talk to him - he will come out with some good ones; he feels that words are to serve him and to hell with everyone else.
Q: The bootleg was named after a famous "one" of his, "A Fantasy Distillation of Reality"...
JB: Is that the .. uh, oh yeah. Well, we have another one - Albert has this concept album.
Q: "Fire of Unknown Origin"?
JB: No, this is the Imaginos, it's very complicated and would need lot of painstaking work which we don't have the time to do right now, but I do see it as future prospect, y'know. It's very historicalised, a lot of myths in it, a lot like "Astronomy"; Desdanova's a character y'know and he brings up all these historical battles to substantiate his theories...
Q: Are you personally into that stuff?
JB: ... No.. I don't read much - no, I went to the Blake exhibition today. I like Blake, he really blows me away, he's a great artist, but I'm not really.. now Eric over there [motions to the next table where Eric and Allen are being interviewed] must carry 15-20 Sci-Fi books with him at all times, but Sandy especially is into lot of mythology books - he did philosophy in college and was top of his class. So what do you do if you're a philosophy major? You become a rock'n'roll' manager!!
Q: Why has he had a lesser say in the band recently?
JB: Well, mainly because he's been so busy managing us, and he hasn't had time to write, and we all enjoy writing our own lyrics too. In fact, we were working on a new Sandy one for the live LP, but unfortunately we all decided against it, it was a matter of "it'd be better in the studio". It's a lot like Astronomy - he was very sick once and he had this vision of the world dying and everything, & it's all wrapped up in this song, plus we got the Imaginos thing to do - probably not right away, because we have solo projects on file.
Q: Solo projects?
JB: Possibly. Donald's been talking about it.
Q: Just a couple of you, or all five, like a Kiss type thing?
JB: No, well maybe - I've been debating doing an album with Albert, just the two of us, like a brotherly type album, that way we could do some material that normally wouldn't have to fit in the mould of the Cult, and we could still do Cult stuff. When you've been writing for so long and working together like this, I think it's good to have a break and that's what we're thinking about - we're gonna take about six months off the road, work on the new album and consider our solo projects at the same time.
Q: Cos that's one of the band's trademarks, innit, "on tour forever"...
JB: It has been. I've been in the band 8 years and we've toured 7 out of the 8.
Q: Why have you only been to the UK once before?
JB: Well, it's so expensive, y'know, the initial outlay, even now though we sell out every show, we still lose money.
Q: The use of lasers and stuff can often be seen as a cop out, I mean like with Kiss it could be said that it's the light show and the effects first, and the music last, but with the Cult, it's always the music first.
JB: Well, that's the thing, people always ask us do you think the lights are gonna take over the music - I think not with us, cos we've been around so long and developed our songs.
Q: Don't you think there's a "Close Encounters" influence on your light show?
JB: No so much that, more "Star Wars" - the rays and the blowing up things.
Q: Is that Star Wars music you open with?
JB: No, I don't know what that is, Wagner or what. For a while it was "Victory at sea". I think it sets the mood pretty good.
Q: Has a conscious effort been made to shake off the band's heavy metal biker reputation?
JB: You mean like "Agents"? Well by the time we got to doing Agents, we had more control in the product and a bigger budget. "Secret Treaties" was, I always felt, pretty much a Sandy Pearlman concept LP.
Q: So like Treaties was Pearlman dominated, and Agents was BOC trying to dominate themselves?
JB: Yeah, we did Agents shortly after the 1st European tour, and I think we all had a good feeling, a very together feeling.
Q: I know Reaper had been done a year before.
JB: Yeah, well when we were in Europe, we had Donald's demo which was pretty much the way it came out & we listened to it a lot so we certainly know what we wanted to do with the song when we got it in the studio, y'know.
Q: Why isn't the new live album a double?
JB: We feel it's a tighter package as a single album, there's a lot of songs we do much better now than we did them in the studio, like we do Astronomy much better now.
Q: Why "Kick out the jams" - are you guys MC5 fans?
JB: Oh yeah that was the first real HM influence on the band, they played New York and blew everybody away and this was back when the hottest thing was the Grateful Dead y'know, the MC5 were like so odd, and also at the same time, the Stalk Forrest Group and the Soft White Underbelly were on Elektra and the MC5 were also on Elektra, so we had access to all their records free, and then finally we were trying to think up new live things for this live record.
Q: Are you putting the Animals song on?
JB: I dunno, we don't have the right recording of it yet.
Q: I thought Newcastle the other night was pretty faultless - I've heard a tape of it, too...
JB: [Laughs] Ah well, the thing is to get the version and the recording truck in there at the same time. I've heard some cassettes that could go out on record.
Q: Me too, only the other night I heard a brilliant old one with you guys doing "Soul Kitchen".
JB: Yeah, well we tried a lot of Doors songs, "Break on thru", boy what a song. We did that but the problem is a kinda personal thing and that's to follow the Morrison image, y'know anyway, this new LP oughta be hot.
Q: When's it due out?
JB: Probably August 1st.
Q: Thank God! You guys normally take years between records.
JB: Yeah, it's kinda new for us to put out 2 LPs so close together but then again people like Kiss put one out every week - I know they sound like it, not that we wanna do anything like that, we always take great pains with out LPs, but there was just some live stuff that deserved to be heard; plus "On your feet" doesn't represent us as we would wish to be represented.
Q: Will it be a more 'melodic' LP?
JB: Oh, it'll be a hard album. There's only one ballad on it really.
Q: How would you class Astronomy then?
JB: Oh, that's the ballad. [God, if that's the ballad, fuck off John Denver! Ed]
Q: It sure hots up towards the end...
JB: Oh yeah, it gets hot there, we don't mess around...