Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult on 50 years, evolution - and cowbell

A sit-down interview before Thursday’s Bangor show
Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 6:06 PM EST
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Thursday is a big night at the Cross Insurance Center.

Rock icons Blue Oyster Cult are taking their 50th anniversary tour to Bangor.

Tom Krosnowski sat down with founding guitarist and vocalist Donald Roeser - known on-stage as “Buck Dharma” - to talk about keeping things fresh after half a century - and the true story behind one famous cowbell.

(Tom Krosnowski:) “Joining us here on TV-5, a very special guest for tonight’s Blue Oyster Cult show here at the Cross Insurance Center. This is the man himself behind Blue Oyster Cult, one of the men behind it, Mr. Buck Dharma. Buck, thank you so much for taking the time to join us.”

(Buck Dharma, Guitarist/Vocalist, Blue Oyster Cult:) “Hello Tom, hello Bangor.”

(TK:) “So, when did you come into Maine and where were you last?”

(BD:) “Just got here came on an airplane from New York, and previous to that, Washington DC.”

(TK:)“I have to ask you, probably the typical question for Maine - have you had any lobster yet?”

(BD:) “This trip? No.”

(TK:) “This trip, I take it you’ve enjoyed your time in Maine in the past with the lobster?”

(BD:) “Yes, I’ve had Maine lobster before, I like it.”

(TK:) “This is the 50th anniversary tour here for Blue Oyster Cult. So, what does 50 years mean to you?”

(BD:) “It’s five decades, it’s a long time. I never thought that my life would go like this, but it has, and it’s been a great ride. And here we are, at the Cross Center tonight.”

(TK:) “When people hear Blue Oyster Cult, everybody knows the big hits. When we’re talking about, let’s say, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” when you’re writing a song like that and you guys are in-studio - do you know this is going to be a super-hit or is it kind of, you wing it? What’s that feeling like when you’re actually in there and working on it?”

(BD:) “When I wrote the song I was thinking about what was then FM airplay. Pop music was AM in that day, and FM was was album rock, so I thought it was gonna be pretty strong album rock. I didn’t anticipate that it would cross over into pop the way it did.”

(TK:) “And, the way you guys have followed it up since then with so many other hits - “Godzilla” and “Take Me Away” and so many other hits everybody knows and loves - What’s the balance like for you guys when it comes to planning out a set when you have to balance many different eras?”

(BD:) “We’ve got a very deep catalogue. So, of course, we play the songs that the fans expect us to play, but then we we go into the depth of the catalogue and pull out stuff that that we rotate. We like to entertain ourselves, too. A lot of bands play the same show every night. We don’t, we mix it up.”

(TK:) “I’m sure that that helps keep you guys fresh. How has your playing evolved over the years and how do you keep it fresh?”

(BD:) “Well, it’s funny, we just did three nights at Sony Hall in Manhattan, where we played the first three LPs in their entirety, and we hadn’t really done that. There were songs on there that we hadn’t done in decades. So, in preparing for that show, I realized that the skill set for playing what I did as a 25-year-old required some some real burnishment on my part. At the moment, I’m very, very sharp.”

(TK:) “I have to imagine it’s probably, almost like learning over again for the first time again, when you’re trying to dig out songs like that.”

(BD:) “Well, your style evolves over the years. I think I’ve gotten a little more melodic, a little little less hectic a little less crazy, which was sort of the way it was out of the box. But, revisiting those early records has really been a great experience for me.”

(TK:) “What was it, you think, about those early records that just helped them stand the test of time and, revisiting them now, that really stands out to you?”

(BD:) “We’re lucky in the sense that our recordings have held up in terms of never sounding really dated or sounding like part of an era. We’ve always sort of gone our own way style-wise.”

(TK:) “In terms of the show tonight, any surprises or hints as to what people can expect?”

(BD:) “Well, they’re gonna hear the hits, and then they will get a good assortment of the range of our entire catalogue over 50 years. I’ll say this is probably the last time that we’ll be through Bangor because I think going forward after 50 years, we’re going to just concentrate on large festivals, and maybe a residency, or something like that. I don’t know if maybe we’ll be back, never say never, you don’t know.”

(TK:) “If that’s the case, then you’re going to want to come out and enjoy tonight! And then, before I let you go, I have to ask you, when it comes to recording of “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” was it anything like the famous sketch on Saturday Night Live? Was it anything like that?”

(BD:) “The cowbell was added at the end of the recording basically. And it was the idea of one of the co-producers, David Lucas, he just thought it’d be nice to just tie everything together with that subtle four-on-the-floor. It’s not very loud on the recording.”

(TK:) “It’s not! It gets made out to be this (big thing), it’s funny, and I’ve read interviews with you guys, you’ve kind of accepted it, you’ve taken it really well.”

(BD:) “I would love to know what Will Ferrell was thinking to come up with that idea for the sketch. I’ve never met him but if I do, that’s the first thing I’m going to ask.”

(TK:) “Maybe we can make that happen! Will Ferrell - watch out, we’re going to come your way. But it’s so great to be able to sit and talk with you here, Buck.”

(BD:) “Thank you, Tom.”