Blue Oyster Cult 2024

Interview – Buck Dharma of Blue Öyster Cult

Blue Oyster Cult live

Founded over fifty years ago, there are few Rock-n-Roll bands quite as versatile as Blue Öyster Cult. Out of Long Island, New York, Blue Öyster Cult have successfully merged stylistic approaches into their own brand of Rock that is sometimes heavy, other times mystical, but always compelling. Doing so over the course of fourteen studio albums, to date, the band has sold over 25 million records worldwide, consistently toured, and yet still manage to entice new audiences. 

Famously recognized for mega hits such as 1976’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and 1981’s “Burnin’ for You,” in 2024 Blue Öyster Cult return with an interesting new release called Ghost Stories. A grouping of older rarities never officially released, but now cleaned up with modern technologies, it offers you these lost gems all in one place. A very interesting collection to check out, following the release of Ghost Stories, Blue Öyster Cult’s Buck Dharma sat down to chat about the history of the band, the key to their longevity, plans for the future, and more.   

Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in music for many years. In fact, the history of Blue Öyster Cult dates back almost six decades at this point. Leaving a mark on Rock-n-Roll, before we dive deeper into the discussion, how would you describe the really incredible journey of yourself and the band?

Buck Dharma – It’s been remarkably unconscious on my part. My whole life has been seeing doors open and stepping through them. That is rather than having a grand plan. I didn’t think that the band would have the longevity that it’s had, that we would have a popular live career for as long as we did, and sustain the endurance of it all. It’s been a rather pleasant surprise. I think that is how I would describe it.

Cryptic Rock – No one can ever predict what is going to happen when you start a band. The longevity of Blue Öyster Cult is amazing. However, it is the influence that band has had on Heavy Metal which is extraordinary. You can see that, especially during the ‘80s era, that Blue Öyster Cult was influential. How do you feel about the fact that the band has influenced many Heavy Metal acts?

Buck Dharma – I always thought of ourselves as not particularly Heavy Metal. To the degree that we influence others, I think it’s great. Especially when we were younger, we had tons of energy in terms of how Heavy Metal would sound. But I think the definition of Heavy Metal rapidly went in a direction that really had very little to do with BÖC at that point.

BÖC is very eclectic, very spread out in terms of genre and style, and we always have been. Although we were never a Pop band. So, I guess you could call us Heavy Metal.

Blue Oyster Cult 1972
Blue Oyster Cult – Blue Oyster Cult / Columbia (1972)
Blue Oyster Cult - Secret Treaties
Blue Oyster Cult – Secret Treaties / Columbia (1974)

Cryptic Rock – The band certainly has always had a very eclectic sound. A lot of the lyrical content is very thoughtful, as was some early Heavy Metal, as opposed to Pop. As you said, Blue Öyster Cult were never a pop band.

Buck Dharma – No, no. About the fifth year into our career, I think there was some pressure to sell more records. However, insofar as we made it on charts and had hit records, we were never particularly successful at doing it on demand, or as good at it like some Pop acts are.

Cryptic Rock – Yes. It is also about your artistic integrity, right? You want to do what you wanted to do and not just follow what a record label was telling you to do.

Buck Dharma – Yeah. Well, to be fair to Columbia and Sony Records, they didn’t really twist our arm to do much of anything. They really let us do what we wanted to do.

Cryptic Rock – That is good and it is nice to have that artistic freedom. The band did build success through into the ’70s, but then you took a break for a while. Since returning many years ago, you have consistently toured and released music. What do you attribute that longevity to?

Buck Dharma – I personally really enjoy singing and playing. And if I don’t do it for a period of time, I really want to get out and do it again. And I think probably most artists, as they get older, feel similarly… if they can still do it.  That’s the way I feel – as long as I can play and sing, I will continue to do it.

In most artists’ situations, there’s a period where their initial youth appeal is gone, and you settle into middle age and beyond. So, the way you relate to your audience, it becomes the descendants of your audience. With current young people, fortunately with the internet, now anybody can hear anybody’s music from any period of time, easily. I think that’s a great thing. It really gives some perspective to young listeners. They can just audit music from every decade since recorded music started.

Cryptic Rock – Right. Also, it can open up younger fans to older music. You have the chance to do research and discover something you may not know otherwise.

Buck Dharma – Yeah. I don’t think they’re making any more of Classic Rock, but maybe they are. It surprises me how popular bands of my era remain to this day.

Cryptic Rock – That is a very accurate assessment. This is why bands from your era are still connecting with younger audiences… because they like the sound of it. Modern music in many ways has become very robotic. It is not to say all modern artists are like this, but there is an undeniable human emotion in classic Rock-n-Roll. People gravitate toward this.

Buck Dharma – I think the style and the idiom of modern music is rather mechanical. I also think that it’s too in tune. In the day, guitars weren’t precisely tuned. There’s so many of today’s electronic instruments where it’s called equal temperament. The tuning is just ironed out; like all the synths and the virtual instruments now are in the same tuning. It’s a little boring.

Personally, my ear likes just a little rub of something that’s slightly out of tune… a vocal that’s not auto-tuned precisely or a guitar as well. Guitars are unique in that fashion, you still tune a guitar with a tuning machine, and sometimes it’s right on, but sometimes the intonation on the neck isn’t perfect. My ear actually likes those little anomalies.

Cryptic Rock – Most certainly. You are someone who has been behind the production of Blue Öyster Cult through the years as well, so what about the importance of dynamics? Dynamics is extremely vital in music. It seems to be a lost art. In truth, many modern recordings sound like they were mastered at the same level. So much so, it almost hurts your ears in many ways.

Buck Dharma – I would agree. Everything is very loud now. When things are very loud, they’re kind of opaque. There’s no real depth to it. I think we’re stuck at a certain loudness; you can’t really be too soft and be commercially successful. I like to hear maybe 10, 12 dB difference between the loudest sound and the softest sound on a record.

Cryptic Rock – That makes sense. It has been four years since Blue Öyster Cult put out an album of brand new studio called The Symbol Remains. Released in 2020, looking back at that, what was it like putting that album together?

Buck Dharma – Well, it was actually 20 years between new recorded music from Blue Oyster Cult. We were quite content to just tour, because we wanted to tour to make money. The band that we have now – with Richie Castellano and Danny Miranda and Jules Rodino – is so good that we just thought it was a shame not to have them record an album of new Blue Öyster Cult Material. Just for posterity for no other reason, and we did it. Of course, we set a high bar for ourselves; because we knew anything we did would be compared to the legacy stuff. We were very keen on doing a good job, and I think we pulled it off.

Blue Oyster Cult - Spectres
Blue Oyster Cult – Spectres / Columbia (1977) 
Blue Oyster Cult - Agents of Fortune
Blue Oyster Cult – Agents of Fortune / Columbia (1981)

Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. It is a very energized album. Fast forward to 2024, you are back with a new release called Ghost Stories. This is older material that was put aside for many years. A really cool collection that inspired you to put it together and release it now?  So what inspired you to put this collection together?

Buck Dharma – Part of it was the Frontiers wanting a new record to come out. Part of it was knowing these recordings existed. They had been available to super fans; who would scour the internet for this stuff. It was a chance to sort of burnish pre-production recordings with the original band members, and also with Drummer Rick Downey, that have been commercially unreleased for almost 40 years now. When we agreed to do it and put it out on Frontiers, the task was just to polish it up and get it ready to go out. We didn’t want to just put it out as a rarities record.

Cryptic Rock – Right, It sounds very good. It does not sound just like a raw rarities record; it sounds like a full complete record. It has a lot of interesting dips and dives in it. For example you close it out with a really interesting cover of The Beatles “If I Fell.”

Buck Dharma – Well, that’s sort of the odd track on the record since it was only about 10 years old. And it was recorded when Kasim Sulton was in the band. You can hear his voice on it pretty clearly. That came from a DirecTV show we did on the 40th anniversary of Agents of Fortune (1976). That would have been you know last almost 10 years ago.

Cryptic Rock – Making it overall a really fun listen. Perhaps the most intriguing part is hearing about how it was all put together. Here is an instance where new technologies are used in a way to remix something in a way you never thought possible.  

Buck Dharma – Yep. The tools are great. Similarly, when we did The Symbol Remains, it was during the COVID lockdown. Fortunately, we’d recorded the tracks together in a studio, but the whole overdub and mixing was done remotely during the COVID year. If it wasn’t for Zoom, we couldn’t have done that. If it wasn’t for the AI music tools now that they have for basically getting into and deconstructing stereo mixes… a lot of what we did on Ghost Stories couldn’t have been done.

Cryptic Rock – Yes, these are instances where technology is used well, and it could be for something exciting. They did a similar thing with The Beatles: Get Back that was released in 2021.

Buck Dharma –Yeah. I think Peter Jackson had better tools than we did, but certainly it’s the same principle. (Laughs)

Cryptic Rock – Yes. These are positive things to associate with some technologies. They do it with film, too. Some older films in 4K restorations are really quite lovely.  

Buck Dharma – Yeah. I just read something the other day about some purists who are griping that they’d like to see the warts, the dirt in the film and the scratches. But I could see how people would expect some clarity, and be surprised to see it when they get it.

Cryptic Rock – That is a good argument, but you know to counter that argument, sometimes these 4K restorations still have the grit and dirt in them. Additionally, it is fascinating what a 4K restoration can bring back elements of a film which were thought to be lost forever and integrate them into the original cut.

Buck Dharma – Yep. I agree. It’s a great time to be alive. What could I say?

Cryptic Rock – In some aspects, it is, right? Not everything is all doom and gloom as it would seem.

Buck Dharma – Yeah. Well, you know doom and gloom sells in terms of keeping the clicks coming.

Blue Oyster Cult - Fire of Unknown Origin
Blue Oyster Cult – Fire of Unknown Origin / Columbia (1981) 
Blue Oyster Cult - Heaven Forbid
Blue Oyster Cult – Heaven Forbid / CMC (1998)

Cryptic Rock – Well, that’s very true. What’s the saying… If it bleeds, it leads. Isn’t that what they say in the media?

Buck Dharma – That’s what I said back in the day, you know and it’s still true today.

Cryptic Rock – Yes. Ghost Stories is out now and you have some shows lined up throughout 2024. Will there be more shows announced?

Buck – We’re accepting offers through 2024. We haven’t committed to 2025 yet. We’ll see what happens.

Cryptic Rock – In the meantime, you have a substantial number of shows lined up this year. It is highly recommended to check out Blue Öyster Cult live, it is always a great concert experience.

Buck Dharma – Bands that have been together as long as us, they’ll do a farewell tour, they’ll go away, and then maybe they’ll come back in a couple of years. I always kind of laugh when somebody says they’re doing a farewell tour, but take them at their word. We’ll see how it goes; Eric and I are getting old. Like I said, as long as we can do it, we will probably still do it.

Cryptic Rock – Excellent. Just recently, KISS wrapped up what felt like a 30-year farewell tour.

Buck Dharma – Right. (Laughs) KISS is leading the way in this area.

Cryptic Rock – Indeed. (Laughs). Yourself and Eric Bloom have really been the leading force of Blue Öyster Cult for a long time now. What has it been like working with Eric as long as you have?

Buck Dharma – Our working relationship is comfortable. We get along professionally to the degree that it’s functional. That’s really what you want; to have an easy, cordial, functional relationship. That’s what we do.

Blue Oyster Cult - The Symbol Remains
Blue Oyster Cult – The Symbol Remains / Frontiers (2020)
Blue Oyster Cult - Ghost Stories
Blue Oyster Cult – Ghost Stories / Frontiers (2024)

Cryptic Rock – That is good to see. You mentioned that this current lineup of Blue Öyster Cult was so good it would be a shame not to put out new material. Seeing you did put out The Symbol Remains, would it be possible to see a new Blue Öyster Cult emerge in the future?  

Buck Dharma – I would say never say never, but there are no plans at the moment to do more recording. It could happen though… you never know. Like I said, it’s so hard to predict. Maybe an amazing song would come along and we’d just all be compelled to go back, track it, and put it out.

Cryptic Rock – It is great that the door is still open. You mentioned how it’s great how young people get to listen to different music from different decades because of the internet. Do you find a lot of young fans coming out to Blue Öyster Cult shows at this point?

Buck Dharma – Oh, yeah. They are often the most enthusiastic. That is great, because I just remember when I was young, and discovered someone that really spoke to me musically. I remember that you just get really excited about it. They are also the most active on social media, and even in-person. They’re the ones that’ll just fight their way to the front and want to talk to you after the show, etc.

Cryptic Rock – That is inspiring. Like stated, it is not all doom and gloom. It gives you hope for the future that younger people can dig into something like Blue Öyster Cult.

Buck Dharma – Yeah. If you could stimulate anybody to just get excited about things, that is great. In a good way though – not in a way that gets you angry or depressed.

Cryptic Rock – Exactly! With all the music Blue Öyster Cult has released through the decades, 14 studio albums to this point, are you often fascinated to see which songs resonate the most in popular culture? For example, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” is an iconic Rock-n-Roll song.

Buck Dharma – Yeah. I mean, “The Reaper” has been a surprise and a phenomenon. I always thought that it was going to have some success, but the endurance of it is sort of delightful and surprising to me. Couldn’t have predicted it!

Blue Öyster Cult 2024 Tour Dates:
June 26, 2024 Lynn, MA Lynn Auditorium Buy Tickets
Jul. 5, 2024 Reno, NV J Resort’s Glow Plaza 
Jul. 6, 2024 Mission Viejo, CA Lake Mission Viejo Concert Series 
Jul. 12, 2024 Lincoln, RI Bally’s Twin River Lincoln Casino Resort Event Center 
Jul. 13, 2024 Atlantic City, NJ Golden Nugget Atlantic City 
July 19, 2024 Walker, MN Moondance Jam with Kansas 
Aug. 3, 2024 Manistee, MI Little River Casino Resort 
Aug. 27, 2024 Syracuse, NY New York State Fair 
Aug. 31, 2024 Baraboo, WI Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells 
Oct. 4, 2024 St. Charles, MO Family Arena 
Oct. 25, 2024 Wabash, IN Honeywell Arts & Entertainment
Oct. 26, 2024 Lima, OH Veterans Memorial Civic & Convention Center 
Nov. 2, 2024 Des Plaines, IL Des Plaines Theatre
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