Every Halloween season, the most played song on classic rock radio is "(Don’t Fear) The Reaper" by Blue Öyster Cult. But this October, the Long Island band has something new to offer with "The Symbol Remains," the group’s first studio album in 19 years after securing a new recording contract with Frontiers Music SRL.
"We’re not dead yet! We are very much in the running," says vocalist-guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser. "There was a bit of getting the cobwebs off, but we were all very motivated to deliver a product that could stand-up to our legacy material."
The band, whose roots lie in Thomaston, Eatons Neck and Dix Hills, returned home on Long Island to spend an August day at Long Beach High School to shoot four music videos to help promote the new album.
"Apparently they were having a hard time getting some studio space in Manhattan because of the pandemic," says Eric Krywe, the school's technology education teacher. "I thought it was an interesting opportunity to show what our studio is capable of."
The band’s manager Steve Schenck, who lives in Lido Beach, reached out to Long Beach High School to request permission to use its state-of-the-art TV production studio. After the Long Beach Unified School District’s Board of Education held a special emergency meeting during the summer, BOC got the green light.
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"We had each band member individually run their segment in front of the green screen," Krywe says. "When you chroma key [electronically remove] that green background out, they are floating. Then you can superimpose them into a digital background with stock footage. It creates this brand new virtual world."
Videos were shot for new tracks "That Was Me," "Box in My Head," "The Alchemist" and "Tainted Blood."
"The days of spending a million dollars on a video are gone," says vocalist-guitarist Eric Bloom, who still lives in Nassau County. "The people from the high school were very helpful and gracious to let us use the facility. It worked out very well for us."
However, they made sure to take proper COVID safety measures throughout the Aug. 25 shoot that lasted from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
"The band would wait outside in the hallway or in the post-production lab. We were always socially distanced 6 feet apart," says Krywe. "Everyone wore masks while in the studio. The only time they had them off was when they were jamming in front of the green screen. We were all very cognizant of doing this safely."
GIVE THESE STUDENTS EXTRA CREDIT
Two Long Beach High School students assisted Krywe throughout the process. "They worked on the same level as professionals," says Krywe. "You wouldn’t notice the difference."
Charles Mandell, 19, of Long Beach, who graduated in 2019, came back to his alma mater to lend a hand with the recording deck as well as switching out the solid-state drive (SSD) cards when they got filled up.
"Our goal was to make sure each take went as smooth as possible," says Mandell, who is studying entertainment technology at New York City College of Technology. "It was pretty cool getting to hear the music before it was released."
Current junior Elliot, 16, of Lido Beach was in charge of handling the teleprompter as the band lip-synced during the video shoot.
"It was very hectic but we had a schedule and we had to stick to it," says Elliot. "Getting everything done in the time frame was the challenge."
PARTNERS IN ROCK
The chemistry between original members Roeser and Bloom, who are the leaders and frontmen of the band, is the engine that makes BOC run.
"We are like pilots of a 747. At this point, we know what we are doing," says Roeser, 72. "Every personality issue has been worked through and we are very comfortable with each other."
Bloom, 75, agrees, "Everything is pretty cool between us. Buck has his areas of expertise and I have mine. We are very mindful of each other’s strengths and weaknesses."
Although the band has one gig booked just before New Year's Eve at the Soaring Eagle Casino in Mount. Pleasant, Michigan, a full-scale tour to support the new album won’t be happening until 2021 due to the pandemic.
"Everyone in the entertainment business is just waiting for this mess to go away," says Bloom. "We had a full schedule for 2020. As the dates got canceled, most were moved into 2021 when we will be doing some touring with Deep Purple."
HALL OF FAME WAITING GAME
Unlike Deep Purple, Blue Öyster Cult has not yet received a nod from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame despite the band being eligible for more than 20 years.
"Some fans have started petitions but there’s a handful of bands in our genre that I don’t think the people in Cleveland want to let in," says Bloom. "I don’t know where they get their aesthetic from."
Roeser adds, "It would be nice if it happened, but I’m not holding my breath."
One of the most famous "Saturday Night Live” sketches, “More Cowbell,” put Blue Öyster Cult back in the spotlight 20 years ago.
Will Ferrell starred as a gleeful over exuberant cowbell player as BOC records its most famous song, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” in the mid-'70s. While the band performs take after take, the record producer, played by guest host Christopher Walken, repeatedly demands to hear “more cowbell” causing Ferrell to go completely over the top banging on his cowbell excessively.
“I thought it was hilarious,” says vocalist-guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser. “We are huge Christopher Walken fans and he just killed that skit. I was just glad that it was funny and it still is.”
Vocalist-guitarist Eric Bloom, who saw it live when it aired, got quite a laugh from the parody.
“I think the best thing about the sketch is the ad-libs, which there are plenty,” says Bloom. “What makes it so funny is all the other actors cracking up. Jimmy Fallon is dying in the background. Plus, Will Ferrell’s shirt that’s too small for him makes the sketch. It’s definitely a classic.”
In fact, the band leaned into the request on the new album by bringing back original drummer Albert Bouchard to play cowbell on the new single “That Was Me.”
“We approached Albert and he was glad to do it,” says Roeser. “The big criteria for making this record was to make sure we had enough cowbell. We did not w ant to hear that we needed more cowbell so we put it right up front!”