By Jeb Wright
Blue Coupe is a super group that consists of Blue Oyster Cult brothers Joe and Albert Bouchard and Alice Cooper Group Hall of Fame member Dennis Dunaway. The trio is doing everything in their power to keep real rock and roll alive and well including releasing their second album Million Miles More.
Classic Rock Revisited caught up with Blue Coupe guitarist Joe Bouchard to talk about all things Coope as well as his former band, Blue Oyster Cult’s reunion gig that occurred in their home state of New York.
Sadly, shortly after this interview was conducted Blue Oyster Cult member Allen Lanier passed away.
Jeb: It is hard to believe that so much time has passed. It has to be very gratifying that people want to keep on hearing your music, both past and present.
Joe: It is unbelievable. We see so many people at our gigs that are just so happy to see us, as they never thought they would see us again. And here we are! We are rocking out and we are playing a two hour set. It is fantastic.
Jeb: Before we talk about Blue Coupe, I have to ask about the original reunion gig of the original Blue Oyster Cult members that happened last year.
Joe: I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was on a cruise on the original date for the concert; I was on a cruise with Lynyrd Skynyrd.
I heard about the gig, and it would have been nice to do if I had not signed the contract to play on that cruise. We were on the way to the Bahamas and this hurricane starts. The captain of the ship turned the ship around and we went to Mexico and everyone had a great time.
Meanwhile, New York City is getting flooded and the BOC date was cancelled. People were stuck in hotels and they couldn’t come back to the make-up date, which was a week later. As soon as I got back I got a call from their manager and he asked me to come down and play a few songs. I went down and the show was sold out with about two thousand people there. There were a lot of hardcore fans. It was great to see all of the guys in the band, Allen [Lanier] included.
The only thing I didn’t like was that I only got to play four songs; it was a two hour show. I like to play. I was added to the show at the last minute because of the hurricane; I was fine with it.
Once the original guys started playing, it was the old Blue Oyster Cult. There is nothing like the sound of the original band. I was on one side of the stage, and Allen Lanier was on the other side, just like we used to do for fifteen years. I started walking to the center of the stage and Allen started walking towards the center of the stage and we just looked at each other and we started laughing. I don’t know what it was, but we just were looking at each other and laughing.
It was just such a great experience and it was very emotional for the fans. People in the front row were crying. They never thought they would ever get to see us again. It was a one-time event for the 40th anniversary, but who knows? Maybe we will start working on the 50th.
Jeb: And your Blue Oyster Cult band-mate Buck Dharma played a solo on “Hellfire Hurry” on the new Blue Coupe album Million Miles More.
Joe: Albert called Buck up around the time of the reunion and asked him if he would do that, and he said he would. He offered to play some guitar on it and we sent him the track, and he recorded his part in his home studio and it came out really good. When I sent it to California to be mixed and I heard it, I was very happy, as it came out great.
Jeb: I heard that song and I said to my wife, “That sounds like Buck Dharma” before I even knew it was Buck.
Joe: There is no doubt about it; it sounds like Blue Oyster Cult. I played the piano part on that, and some of the fans say I kind of sound like Allen on it. Allen would do that kind of honky-tonk piano. Maybe we can get Allen to play on the next Blue Coupe album.
Jeb: He has just disappeared.
Joe: Oh, he’s retired. When I got to the reunion gig, they said, “Allen is not here. He had to go to the doctor.” I was freaking-out, because I was so looking forward to it. About thirty minutes before the show he shows up and he’s fine! His health hasn’t been great.
There is just something about when a band gets together and that old adrenaline kicks in. It was great to see Allen and to play with Allen, as I never thought I would play with him again.
Jeb: Getting back to Blue Coupe…
Joe: I have to mention that on “Hellfire Hurry,” Dennis sent me the lyrics and I pretty much had the song wrapped up in one day. We didn’t change that one too much. We worked on the arrangement in rehearsal, but Buck gave us a great solo, too.
Jeb: You had many versions of each song.
Joe: We just kept working on them. If something is not working then you fix it. If you think that you have the version of the song right and you want to be sure, then do a few more versions. If you go back to the first version, then that makes you feel confident that you made the right choice.
Jeb: Dennis told me that you and Albert sent him a song a day.
Joe: We try to keep that pace going.
Jeb: How are you so proficient at this stage of your career?
Joe: I have no idea. It is a total mystery. I love doing this. I love performing, I love writing and I love recording. I think I love it more than I ever have. I do a lot of recording at home, and it is very comfortable to me. In the past I loved it, but I really didn’t know what I was doing and I was floundering. Over the years, I have learned what I am doing.
Jeb: So you feel more comfortable as a craftsman at this age.
Joe: Oh, absolutely. When I went to graduate school and got my graduate degree in music, I was doing classical music. It really freed me up to experiment with different sound, and to take different approaches that I would never have taken if I had just stayed as just a songwriter. This was back in 1996. I decided to go back to school to see what would happen.
I had terrible grades in college, but now I got straight A’s in college…I think I figured it out. After graduation I got hooked-up with Ian Hunter, and that was a good education in songwriting. I had done all of this small ensemble and orchestra stuff in school and then I co-wrote with Ian with ‘Bouchard, Dunaway & Smith’. It was a very nice follow-up to what I had been studying, as he is really a creative guy.
Jeb: Ian Hunter is amazing. His solo career and Mott are amazing. He co-wrote a song with Blue Oyster Cult.
Joe: “Going Through the Motions” was on Spectres. We’ve been friends a long time. It was great to work with him. He had rehearsals every Monday, and I would ride in the car with him for 45 minutes as we rode together, and we got into some really great discussions on the way to rehearsals.
Jeb: Every person that reads this knows you as the bass player for Blue Oyster Cult, but in Blue Coupe you are the guitar player.
Joe: I was a guitar player all through high school and college. Blue Oyster Cult needed a bass player and I said, “I’ll do it.” We had jammed together. I thought I would last in Blue Oyster Cult for maybe a year, and it lasted 16 years.
Albert called me up in the middle of the night and he said, “We need a bass player right away. We’re going on tour with Led Zeppelin.” This would have been back in 1970. I raced to Long Island, where they were based out of, and I got there and I said, “Ok, I’m ready to go on tour.” They looked at me and said, “Oh, the tour is not happening.”
We stuck it out for about a year, and then we auditioned for Columbia Records, and Clive Davis liked us and signed us. It was a slow progression to the international stardom that we ended up getting. We ended up getting many Gold and Platinum records.
Jeb: When you joined, was it Blue Oyster Cult or do you go clear back to Soft White Underbelly?
Joe: When I joined they had just changed the name. We didn’t have the name Blue Oyster Cult until 1971, but in 1970 we had a transition name from Soft White Underbelly to the Stalk Forrest Group. I was officially a member of Stalk Forrest.
I had played with Soft White Underbelly when I was in college. I would take my college breaks and go to Long Island and spend a week playing with the hippie band [laughter]. We were the scourge of the neighborhood.
Jeb: The ‘band house’ in Long Island!
Joe: They had this house…it was a beautiful Tudor in the middle of this great section of Long Island. A lot of wealthy people lived there, and we somehow were able to rent this house right in the middle of it all. Man, did they hate us…
Jeb: Blue Oyster Cult got their big break opening for Alice Cooper. Before that, however, BOC opened for The Byrds.
Joe: We played with the Byrds… we did a tour of New England and Upstate New York, and it was a disaster. They just didn’t want to hear our music. Our album wasn’t even out yet, so nobody knew us. We were pretty awkward.
We took some time off after the tour and we knew we had to get better. We went and saw this band called Alice Cooper--I saw them at the Academy of Music in New York City. It was a two o’clock in the morning show. There were four acts on the bill…Dr. John and some others. Alice Cooper, as a band, was great. We knew we wanted to get as organized and tight as that band.
We took a couple of months to get better, and during our rehearsals our manager Sandy Pearlman said that he got us an opening spot on the Alice Cooper tour. We were thrilled. The first gig was in Worchester, Massachusetts. We opened for Alice and it was a total turn-around from the Byrds, as they just loved us.
We toured all over the country and it was a lot of fun. That is when I first met Dennis.
Jeb: Do you remember any good stories from him?
Joe: I didn’t have a long conversation with Dennis on tour. I was in the studio, and I was taking a train back to Connecticut. He was coming back from the theater with his wife Cindy and we saw each other on the train and we talked.
I gave him my number and told him to give me a call, but I didn’t think he ever would call me because he was a big rock star. About two days later he shows up in my driveway with his cousin. We ended up going to Neal Smith’s house and we had a great jam session.
Jeb: I am a huge fan of Bouchard, Dunaway & Smith.
Joe: We would get together and jam a lot when I was in Blue Oyster Cult. Dennis and Neal and I would jam a set of Yardbirds songs at Neal’s house. I would literally get off tour and be coming home and then, twenty minutes later, I would be jamming at Neal’s house.
I can’t remember when we got serious about it. I think Neal and Dennis had another band, The Flying Tigers. I helped them with some of their demo recordings. A lot of time went by before we got our thing together. I was long out of Blue Oyster Cult when we started getting together and playing and getting serious. We, then, brought Ian Hunter into it and it got more serious.
Jeb: The first Bouchard, Dunaway & Smith is as good as the new Blue Coupe album Million Miles More.
Joe: Thank you. I think I’ve gotten better at recording and at singing since then, but there are a lot of great songs on that album.
Jeb: On the new album, Million Miles More, I am surprised, with all the great guests that are on that album, that Ian was not among them.
Joe: Ian has been doing his own thing, so we don’t see him as much as we used to. I would love to do something with him. He played on Dennis’ solo album. It is probably just a matter of time.
Jeb: Buck and Cooper are on there, which are obvious. Goldy McJohn is not obvious. Ross the Boss is only obvious to the hardcore fans that know about his past with Albert.
Joe: Ross the Boss is a special player. I’ve worked with Ross before in the studio and he really is a great studio player. Goldy played with us in a club in New York and it was fabulous. It was great to have Goldy play some organ on that track.
Jeb: The same organ player as “Born to Be Wild.” It doesn’t get any better than that.
Joe: You’ve got it…exactly.
Jeb: You and Albert are brothers…rock brothers are famous for in-band fighting. You never hear about the Bouchard Brothers having huge fights.
Joe: Oh we have…we’ve had some knock-down-drag-outs. We have disagreed over the years. For a long time we didn’t play together. Albert had a band called The Brain Surgeons, but he and his wife got divorced and that was the end of The Brain Surgeons.
Jeb: You have played enough without Albert in bands, that you must really notice how well you play together as brothers.
Joe: There is always a vocal blend when you come from the same mother. When you share the same genetics, you share a vocal blend that you can’t get with anyone else. I know how Albert plays backwards and forwards, and he is the same way. It makes it very easy for us to complement each other. It is like falling off a log playing with Albert, it so easy.
Jeb: Is it easier now that you both have lives outside of the band?
Joe: We have different perspectives, and I think that is why our album came out as well as it did.
The guests all fit well. Sometimes when you have a bunch of guests on an album it doesn’t sound like the band anymore. We still sound like Blue Coupe on the album. Everything is gelling very well.
Jeb: I like the first album, Blood on the Tracks, but I am more excited about Million Miles More. Does that make sense?
Joe: It does make sense. We actually rehearsed for this one! We just kind of threw the first one together…it still ended up with a lot of magic on it. We put a little more effort in this one.
Jeb: When Dennis wrote “More Cowbell,” were you and Albert reluctant that the song might be too cheesy a topic?
Joe: Maybe I had a feeling like that, but once I started playing the song in front of people…we played it in France where people didn’t even know about the cowbell thing. Wherever we played it, the song sparked up the crowd and it is a great song. The riff is great and the lyric is great and, I mean, I don’t know…Eric and Donald probably wouldn’t like to play it, but we do. And we have a great time playing it.
Jeb: I have known Dennis, Albert and you for a long time. You three are both intelligent and creative. What are the dynamics that come from that mix of three strong personalities?
Joe: We have really strong arguments [laughter]. They usually get settled out. I used to be the argument settler in Blue Oyster Cult. Someone would have a hard opinion about one thing and the other person would have another hard opinion. I would say, “There’s probably a third way to do it.” That is what happened, and that is how we ended up getting those songs on a lot of those records. If both ideas are not working, then find a third idea…it’s pretty simple.
Jeb: Does that same energy end up pushing you all to make it great?
Joe: Yeah, it does. If an idea isn’t working then we would go in with the power tools and make it work. “Hallow’s Grave” was that way. There was a whole jazz thing in that song at one point. Finally, I think everything just fell into one arrangement. There are actually two time signatures in the song, which is rare to have in a rock band, but we made it work, and it came out really good.
Jeb: Who is the one in the band that says, “THIS SONG IS DONE.”
Joe: We kind of all agree that is it. It helps to have Jack Douglas on this album say that.
Jeb: Jack worked with BOC and Alice.
Joe: Jack mixed the album that a lot of fans think is the best sounding Blue Oyster Cult album, On Your Feet or On Your Knees. I was listening to that not long ago, and he really did a great job with what he had. It was pretty raw, what he had. He did that at the Record Plant. I didn’t really spend a lot of time with him during that time, but he made a great album for Blue Oyster Cult.
He did Alice Cooper’s Muscle of Love too, which sounded great. He engineered School’s Out. He has a great track record, and we were thrilled he came on-board. He sent us a short email that said, “I can make it happen.”
Jeb: When you have someone like Jack Douglas, are you like kids looking for approval from a parent when you turn in a song?
Joe: Yeah…there were a lot of emails back and forth. It would be a lot more fun if we could have been in the same room, but we were in different locations and we communicated by email.
Jeb: ‘Live’, you’re playing almost the entire new album in your set. That’s nuts!
Joe: You are right…we are nuts! We started playing the songs and they fit right in with the classics like “Godzilla” and “School’s Out.” Blue Oyster Cult would have never played an entire new album on tour. I just say, since we have a hot album, then we are going to play it.
Jeb: You are getting more tour dates now. Are you doing all of the business end of the band?
Joe: We’ve got some offers from others, but nothing is solid yet. We are just doing it all on our own right now, and it is going just fine. We are doing a lot of dates, and the plan is to keep playing live.
Jeb: Did you come back to this after you got your Masters degree because you missed the live thrill of being in a rock band?
Joe: I didn’t miss the grind of the tour. I missed the music. I love the level where we are. I can make up our set list every night, and Dennis and Albert make suggestions, but we can change it up. People are coming to hear Blue Coupe, and they want to hear the new stuff, so that is great.
Jeb: BOC and Alice Cooper were so huge that there was no hanging out with the fans, but you get to meet the fans now.
Joe: It is great. We do a Meet & Greet after every show and it is great talking to the fans. They are so appreciative with the effort we give live, and they love the albums we put out. It is all good.
Jeb: You have a career outside of Blue Coupe, too. What is new with Joe Bouchard?
Joe: I am writing a book called Teach Yourself to Play Rock Keyboards. All you guys out there that dabble with the piano out there…this is the book for you. I will teach you everything you need to know in order to play keyboards in a rock band.
Jeb: So the bass player from Blue Oyster Cult, who plays guitar in Blue Coupe, is writing a book about playing keyboards?
Joe: [much laughter] Exactly! I have done a few other educational books over the years. I was very happy to write this book. I love the title. I played a lot of keyboards in the studio over the years, and I really love it.
Jeb: Is there another solo Joe Bouchard album on the way?
Joe: Probably…probably…yes, it will happen. I don’t know what it will be like, but I’ve got some ideas.
Jeb: Dennis wrote an autobiography…will you ever do one?
Joe: I don’t know. I never really have thought about doing that but, who knows? I might. Dennis has been working on his for a long time, and it is done. I am looking forward to reading Dennis’ book.
Jeb: Last one: If you were to add a Blue Oyster Cult or Alice Cooper ‘deep cut’ to the Blue Coupe set, one that you’ve never played in Blue Coupe, what would it be?
Joe: I love “Halo of Flies.” We just have not had time to rehearse it. The set list is so packed, that it would be hard to find a spot to fit it in. I would say that, one day, it will show up in a set.
Albert and I do a cool version of “Joan Crawford” that is just piano and voice. I had to bring a piano on tour to play Dennis’ song this tour, so I decided to do that song on piano. The last tour I brought a piano out and I played the Alice Cooper song “Desperado.” It was a lot of fun. I am always looking for something like that.
Jeb: I want “Career of Evil.”
Joe: I’ve done it with Albert’s band, the Brain Surgeons, but I haven’t done it since. Maybe one day…that is a good one.
The views of the comments below are not necessarily those of Classic Rock Revisited