What started on Long Island more than 50 years ago and is still going strong? If you answered Dan’s Papers, you’d be correct. If you answered Blue Öyster Cult, you’d also be correct. And you’re reading it right here in Dan’s Papers: Blue Öyster Cult is coming back to Long Island to play at Suffolk Theater in Riverhead on March 2 at 8 p.m. Get ready for a night of heavy, heady hard rock, featuring great BÖC hits.
How Long Island is BÖC? When singer and guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser first started the band in 1967, they lived in a band house near Stony Brook University. They were calling themselves Soft White Underbelly in those early years. By the time singer and guitarist Eric Bloom joined Soft White Underbelly, in April 1969, they were located in the Great Neck area, using another rental house as a band space. “I was the tenant in the house, and we used the basement for rehearsing,” says Bloom. “We weren’t too popular with the neighbors.”
The Stony Brook University connection extended through the band’s early years. “Our manager Sandy Pearlman was also student body president at the University,” says Bloom. Pearlman, along with Richard Meltzer, another Stony Brook undergraduate, contributed poetry and lyrical ideas for use in the band’s songs. Meltzer went on to become a noted rock music writer. “They were very literate, and we were lucky to have portfolios of their lyrics to use,” says Bloom. In fact, the name Blue Öyster Cult, which the band adopted before their major label debut in 1972, was derived from a poem by Pearlman.
But before the major label debut came several years of hardscrabble work for the band, playing nightclubs in the city and in the Nassau County area. “We played any place we could,” recalls Bloom. “If a club only had room for three people on stage (the band had five members), we’d take it anyway. Sometimes we’d get offers to play Friday and Saturday, and after the show on Friday night the club owner would tell us not to come back for the next night.” The band soldiered on, touring relentlessly and building a following for their heavy but somehow quirky music.
Eventually, the band won over Clive Davis at Columbia Records and proceeded to release a string of bestselling records. ’70s and ’80s BÖC shows featured elaborate stage props and some of rock music’s first uses of lasers in performance.
Still, for all of the literate poetic background of their lyricists and all of the stagecraft that came to define the band, Bloom says that it’s really three songs, written entirely by Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser, that account for Blue Öyster Cult’s continued success. “Ultimately, it’s ‘Godzilla,’ ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’ and ‘Burnin’ for You’ that put us on the map. That’s what most people really want to hear.”
Most people, but not everybody. Bloom laughs as he notes that about 10 years ago, BÖC was contracted to play a private concert for a group of hardcore fans of their music. “They didn’t want to hear the hits,” says Bloom. “They wanted the deep tracks.” It was actually in the contract that the band would NOT play ‘Godzilla,’ ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’ or ‘Burnin’ for You!’
Bloom says the audience at Suffolk Theater will get a mix of BÖC’s hits along with some deeper cuts. “We always write a set list for a particular audience,” he says. “We’re able to whip out some arcane stuff if it’s called for.” The band’s home crowd wouldn’t want it any other way.
Blue Öyster Cult plays Suffolk Theater March 2 at 8 p.m. 118 East Main Street, Riverhead. 631-727-4343, suffolktheater.com