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Although they've become one of the most popular and durable hard rock bands around, in their early days, most people didn't give Blue Oyster Cult much of a chance. “We were struggling for a long time," says guitarist and lead vocalist Eric Bloom. "We lived in a band house out in Great Neck, Long Island, and when I say 'lived,' it was more like 'just barely.' Nobody knew where we were going or we could afford to eat. Club dates sort of kept us alive.”
The five-piece band (then comprised of guitarist and singer Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, guitarist-keyboardist Allen Lanier, bassist Joe Bouchard and brother Albert Bouchard on drums, along with Bloom) were first known on the Long Island circuit as Soft White Underbelly. For a brief time, they went by the name Stalk-Forrest Group (given to them by manager and producer Sandy Pearlman) before ultimately deciding on the Blue Oyster Cult moniker.
Pearlman (who would later go on to work with The Clash) envisioned Blue Oyster Cult as being America's answer to Black Sabbath. Bloom says the group had no problems being pitched in this manner. "We were cool with it," he says. "As for myself, I was cool with anything that got me employed. I came from a bar band background, so the idea of being in a real group on a real record label that had a chance of making a living was amazing to me."
After a couple of false starts with both Elektra and Columbia Records, Blue Oyster Cult were back to scrounging up gigs wherever they could. Through a friend, they were booked to play at Camp Swan Lake in Bethel, New York ("in this giant plastic bubble"), where David Lucas, a successful jingle writer and producer, caught their set. Impressed, he offered to record the band at his Warehouse Recording Studio. On the strength of the demo, Pearlman nailed BOC an audition for Clive Davis, again at Columbia.
"Harry Nilsson was there," recalls Bloom. "The audition wasn't at a club, it was in a conference room at Columbia, which I thought was strange. In this row of chairs sat Clive Davis, a couple of A&R guys, Patti Smith [the singer was then dating band member Lanier] and Harry Nilsson. We had to play five feet in front of them."
Bloom, a huge fan of Nilsson's, was thrilled to be in the presence of the legendary singer-songwriter, but his heart sunk when Harry up and walked out in the middle of one of the band's songs. "I couldn't believe it," says Bloom. "Harry Nilsson walked out on our audition. I thought, That's it. We're through."
Nilsson soon returned and sat back down, but in Bloom's mind, the damage was done. After the group finished their set, Bloom approached Nilsson and asked him why he split. "He just looked at me like it was no big deal and said, 'I had to go have a cigarette.'" says Bloom. And as it turned out, Clive Davis liked the band and signed them.
Forty years after the release of their eponymous debut album comes Blue Oyster Cult –The Columbia Albums Collection, a career-spanning set comprised of 17 discs that includes the band's studio albums for the label, rarities, along with the highly collectible Some OTHER Enchanted Evening, a DVD of the band performing live in 1978.
In the following interview, Eric Bloom reflects on Blue Oyster Cult's Columbia studio albums. "It's pretty interesting to listen to a lot of this material," he says. "There's certain aspects of production that jump out at your, chords that started in one song and wound up in another, four years later. Everything is evolution... unless you're a creationist."