Albert Bouchard, founding member of Blue Öyster Cult, also member of Blue Coup and Brain Surgeons among others, solo artist, school professor, drummer, guitarist, singer… a special personality with whom we had the chance to talk about one of the greatest mysteries in rock, the album “Imaginos”, Albert’s first solo album, which was released by Blue Öyster Cult in 1988, seven years after he left the band. Now, 22 years later he releases his own version with a totally different arrangement than his ex-and, as well as the demo he recorded himself. Indulge yourselves in his narration, the magic, the occult and fantasy, some concepts that were always affiliated with Blue Öyster Cult, for which Albert always plaid a big part… the story starts in Greece and we are talking about the reasons that led him to release “Re-Imaginos”, the arrangement, his reaction when he first listened to “Imaginos” and many more, which you can watch in the video below and read in the text. Interview: Yiannis Dolas
Rockpages.gr: What do you remember from living in Greece?
Albert Bouchard: When I was 5 years old I lived in Greece for a year. My dad worked for something called Voice of America. It was basically a propaganda thing that broadcasted jazz and American comedy and stuff into Russia to show the Russians how great the people in the United States had it. We lived in Athens for a week or so, or maybe two weeks and that was the first time I was ever in a tall building and we had a balcony and I could go out and look over the street. And it was of course the big first big city I’d ever been, well other than Boston. And then we drove a long way it seemed to a place that they called Salonica. Well, we lived there for a year, you know, and it was quite an experience. I remember we drove to Turkey one day… We just hopped in the car went to Turkey and then drove back for dinner.
My parents told me that I spoke Greek. I don’t remember that, but when I got back the only one word that I could remember was “gala” (=milk in Greek), but it was an important word. But, I had all these Greek friends, you know, the kids in the neighborhood. I had a birthday there and I got all these toys and I started giving them away to my Greek friends, because they didn’t have any toys, and of course my parents were furious. Like “you don’t know the value of things”. I said “yes, I do. It makes my friends happy. So that’s valuable to me too you know, not just having it”. I’d played with them for a while and, after a couple weeks, you know, I didn’t mind giving them way.
I have a deep affection for Greece really, not just because I lived there, but because you know we owe so many things to the ancient Greeks. Somebody asked me if I could have dinner with anybody, who that would be, and I said “Christ” and then I said “no, you know what? I think I’d rather have dinner with Pythagoras”. That would be amazing, but it had to be vegetarian because he was a vegetarian. And no beans!
Rockpages.gr: Why did you decide to release “Re-Imaginos” now;
Albert Bouchard: There were several factors. One of the big ones was that I would be getting emails from fans saying “I heard your demos, and you know, they’re really great”, “when are you going to actually release it?” “Can you talk to the record company are release it as an official release?” Because, it’s really those demos that were just rough mixes of the album. I had them on cassettes and they were very crude and basic.
Four years ago, when they put out the 40th anniversary box set, I asked the manager if he could ask the record company to remix my version of the album. I got this reply from the record company that the record was the worst selling Blue Öyster Cult record of all time! Worse than “Club Ninja”, worse than the first Blue Öyster Cult record… So, they didn’t see any point in doing that. What I didn’t know was that they actually didn’t even have the tapes to do it. So it was actually impossible. Sandy Pearlman had taken all the tapes.
Last year in September, you know I do a radio show once a month on my son’s internet radio station, it’s wfku.org, and so we started doing a live broadcast and instead of playing records, I was playing live myself and with my bass player David Hirschberg. Whenever we played an “Imaginos” song people would go crazy, because these songs were not ever played live, except one song “I Am The One You Wanted Me Of”, that I’ve seen that played live, back when they did the Greek tour.
I decided that we should learn all the “Imaginos” songs. And so and by that time it was more than just me and David Hirschberg, so I started making demos for the band and I put them up on Dropbox that they could download them and put them on their phone or whatever and listen to them and practice.
Around the middle of February we said “let’s I said let’s record these let’s go into a studio and record them”. Then we’ll put out our own “Imaginos” record. Of course, I didn’t think that it was going to be completed anytime soon, because I have another group with my brother, called Blue Coup, and we were going to go on tour in Europe in May, so I thought well we’ll work on this “Imaginos” stuff until then.
By the end of February the tour was cancelled and I couldn’t even have my band come to the house because of the quarantine. So, I just started recording all the songs myself. I replaced the demo drums with my own drums and I played rhythm guitars and I got all the songs together to some degree. When they started opening up again I had the bass player, David Hirschberg, come over and he played bass and sang background vocals on all the songs. Before the quarantine, Mookie Thomas had played keyboards on one song and sang background vocals on four songs. Then it was a matter of sending off the basic tracks to people to add their parts.
So, I had my brother Joe playing trumpet on a couple of songs, I have a Southern rock fiddle player playing violin on a couple of songs, I have R.J. Ronquillo, who is a sensational internet guitar star. He played lead electric league guitar on four songs, I played electric lead on four songs, Ross The Boss from The Dictators played electric lead on one song, Jack Rigg who was on the original “Imaginos” album played lead on one song and a fan of mine, who who had been talking to me about recording a version of “The Girl That Loved Made Blind” played guitar on one song and my son, Ace, plays keyboards on three songs and I play the keyboards on the rest.
Rockpages.gr: How come the arrangement is so different than Blue Öyster Cult’s version, as well as you demos?
Albert Bouchard: The new arrangement that I have of it, is exactly how Sandy wanted to be originally. He told me how he wanted the intro to go, you know with the hand claps and the harmonies and all of that. That’s how he wanted it to be.You want to know why i’m doing this? Because I want to pay a tribute to the genius of Sandy Perlman. I mean he really was a genius and if you listen to this (Ed “Re-Imaginos”) especially the way that I lay it out, it’s how he wanted it to be… Like a nursery rhyme, or a fairy tale, or some sort of campfire song you know… That’s how it was introduced to me: as a story. Before there was any lyrics. A story you tell sitting around a bunch of candles, a bunch of stoned hippies you know… I heard the story in 1967, but he didn’t have lyrics, so they would come out bit by bit, you know. I think the last song he gave me was “Les Invisibles”. But, it was all supposed to be part of this thing. Even something like “Workshop of the telescopes|, or “Od’d On life” they all have elements of “Imaginos”.
Rockpages.gr: Are you also planning to release the complete trilogy of “Imaginos”?
Albert Bouchard: Yes! When I was doing it and people were saying “are you gonna do the trilogy?”, I was like “well I don’t know, we’ll see… We’ll see if people respond to this, if it’s worthwhile. Because it’s going to cost money to do all this and doing what I’m doing right now, the publicity, is also costing me money. But, you know, I’m happy to do it. It’s the first opportunity I’ ve had to do this kind of thing since i’ ve been in Blue Öyster Cult, which is over 30 years ago, so I plan to have everybody (Ed, all the members of Blue Öyster Cult), all of them, you know… Look at it this way: I played on their record, I didn’t ask for any money, I didn’t even ask for credit, you know, but I think that they owe me this time! They actually owe me!
The next volume will have my own versions, or versions of Blue Öyster Cult, but new versions of songs that were already recorded. So, I could make the whole second volume just with stuff that’s already been recorded, but I also have three songs that Sandy had written for that that I will also record.
Rockpages.gr: How did you feel when Blue Öyster Cult played in Greece for the first time?
Albert Bouchard: Back when they did the Greek tour, in 1988 (Ed, actually it was 1987), that was a heartbreaker for me. Because, “Imaginos” had just come out as a Blue Öyster Cult record, so I called them up and said “listen, I need to know what flight we’re going to be taking, because I have to expedite my passport. I’m not ready, you know my passport is expired”. So, they said: “oh you’re not going, didn’t you know? you’re not going, we got another drummer!” I’m like “what? But, you just put out my record”. They said, “well, you’re welcome [laughing]. We did you a favor, you know, you’re not doing us a favor. Sandy talked us into it” and I said “well, you don’t know the chords, you don’t know the songs, I can teach them to you, but they’re like “nah… nah we’re just gonna do this tour. It’s already not selling very well”, so that was the sad fact of that issue.
And that’s one of the reasons why I was upset with them doing it, because I was under the impression that I was going to be back in the band. At least to promote the record. Even though they overdubbed their voices on the record I was still singing some of the songs…
Rockpages.gr: How did you feel the first time ever you listened to “Imaginos”?
Albert Bouchard: I’ve got to be honest… I cried! I was so disappointed… I was disappointed with everything about it. First of all, when we started, Sandy and I were going to be co-producers. And now he’s demoted me to associate producer. What the hell is that? We both had the same amount of skin in the game, as we say here. He worked hard, I worked hard. It seemed like it should be an equal partnership, but he somehow decided that he had to save the record by convincing Blue Öyster Cult to do it. So, the deal has changed.
I was mad at Sandy, I hated how they credited and made it seem like the original band didn’t do that much, that it was all Blue Öyster Cult … I asked Donald, I said “did you play any guitar on this at all?” – besides “Gill Blanco County” that they left off- he does play lead guitar on and Gill Blanco County” on my version. He said “yeah I played on every song and they didn’t use any of it”. He was mad. But, there were plenty of really good guitar players already, they had Marc Biedermann, Robbie Krieger, Aldo Nova, Joe Satriani, Phil Grandy, probably you’ve never heard of him but he was a local New York hot shot. So, there was plenty of guitar. They really didn’t need anymore you know, it was already a wall of sound by the time they got it.
Rockpages.gr: What did you think of the new album, “The Symbol Remains”?
Albert Bouchard: I love it… I mean I can’t say I love every song, but there is four or five just really strong songs that are better than anything they’ve done since I’ve been in the band. I was actually listening to “Fire Of Unknown Origin” this morning. I have a radio show tonight that I’m doing but I’m not going to play live I’m just going to spin records and basically what I want to do is compare and contrast their new album with some of their old records. When I heard “Florida Man” I thought “oh that sounds like “Harvest Moon”. It’s the same melody… [he sings both songs]
Rockpages.gr: Why would you say Blue Öyster Cult didn’t achieve bigger commercial success than they had?
Albert Bouchard: The recorded output did diminish a bit you after I wasn’t there. I was the guy who was obsessed about these songs. That’s one of the reasons why my name is on so many of them, because people would write something and there would be a problem and I would fix it. I would always fix it. Sometimes, it was just a matter of changing somebody’s part, or changing something that I was doing but a lot of times the music needed to be rewritten in a different way to make it actually work better. They didn’t really have anybody who was doing that. When they got Rick Downey, he was a fine drummer, but he didn’t know anything about making records or writing songs, so it was a deficit for them. Maybe, if we hadn’t gone our separate ways with as much acrimony as it was, they might have asked me to help them, which I would have gladly done. But, they wanted to see how they could do without me… I think they saw.
But, now they have Richie Castellano, who’s just like me. He is a guy that never stops. When there’s a problem he fixes it. So, they’ve got their new Albert Bouchard and his name is Richie Castellano and he’ll be around a lot longer than I will probably.
Rockpages.gr: What do you remember from writing “Astronomy” with your brother, Joe?
Albert Bouchard: Sandy wrote the lyrics in ’72, in the very early days. Nobody had an idea. We had so many other songs in the fire to work on, so we it kind of sat there for a while. Then we had a band house in Eaton’s Neck and you know Joe was walking on the beach and he got this idea for the opening melody you know “the clock’s strikes 12”… you know “it’s never said at all” [singing the song] and he played it for the band and of course Sandy was a little upset, because Joe had left off half the lyrics. There’s a lot of words in that song! So, Joe had just taken the part that resonated with him and he left out the rest of the stuff.
Then, a year goes by and I’m a house that Eric Bloom had rented and it was becoming the band house. It was where we would practice in the basement and I had split up with my wife and didn’t have a place to stay, so Eric said “listen I got this house. You can stay in the band room”. So, I was in the band room, Eric was off with his date, the person that would become his wife, anyway he was off with her and I was all by myself in the house. He was not coming back that night. So, I started going out with this girl from Chicago and I was thinking about her and I started fooling around on the piano and I played this little… [sings the melody of “Astronomy”] and I’m like “whoa, that sounded like her. I wonder if this would work in Joe’s song” And I sang it and then I got to that other part between the second and the third verse and I start playing that riff and I’m like “oh this is good” and then I tried to take these changes that I put in here, which went boom boom [singing]. At the time I thought it was brilliant, but you know it’s pretty ordinary now, because everybody is using those changes, so then I took the other words that he hadn’t used and I wrote the middle section. You know… “four doors at the four wins bar” which everybody gets that wrong!
I don’t want to go into it but you know Eric’s saying it wrong on the original recording and of course Sandy was like “no you got to sing “four doors at the four wins bar”, so Eric started singing like that live. But, uh it was “four wins…” on the original recording and when Metallica recorded it James sings “four wins” instead of “four doors”. When I did my version and Joe heard it he’s like “you know you’re singing the wrong lyrics”. “No I’m singing the right lyrics that’s what Sandy wanted”, I said.