Blue Öyster Cult: Archival Intelligence (part 1)

Blue Öyster Cult’s classic lineup spotlighted on Ghost Stories, a new AI-meets-archives set

Masters of what used to be called metal (known these days as melodic hard rock), Long Island’s Blue Öyster Cult has been making records and touring since the late 1960s. BÖC has a well-earned reputation for crafting intelligent, witty lyrics, wedding those to hard-as-nails yet catchy melodies. The group scored its first major commercial break with a live document, 1975’s On Your Feet or on Your Knees. The next year, the band broke through in a big way with the mega-hit album Agents of Fortune, propelled by its single, the now-classic “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Many more live and studio albums followed.

The group enjoyed a sustained creative peak in the late ‘70s and early 1980s. And it was during that period that BÖC let tape roll during various rehearsal sessions. But with no plans to release the songs they had laid down, those tapes were all but forgotten. Yet recently, BÖC rescued that unheard material from obscurity, and through the wonders of artificial intelligence technology, they sought to bring the audio up to releasable standards. Though the resulting tracks feature some 21st century tweaks, the songs on Ghost Stories likely represent the final set of previously-unheard material from Blue Öyster Cult’s original lineup. I spoke with guitarist Buck Dharma and lead singer Eric Bloom about the new record.

Bill Kopp: When I interviewed both of you in 2020 around the time of the release of The Symbol Remains, you made the point the that in general, making albums isn’t really financially rewarding for Blue Öyster Cult. With that in mind, what led to the release of Ghost Stories?

Buck Dharma: The label was clamoring for something new, and we obliged them by coming up with Ghost Stories. And it was a big surprise that Ghost Stories sounds like a lost BÖC record from the day. The songs that are on it didn’t make the source records of the time [Mirrors, Cultösaurus Erectus, Fire of Unknown Origin and The Revölution by Night], but that was mainly because you could only fit four or five songs on a vinyl side. If [those albums] had been [originally issued on] CD, they would have been on those records at that time.

Eric Bloom: We wanted to give them something that was worthwhile, without beating our brains out writing a whole new record. Our front-of-house sound man George Geranios is retired, and he’s been sitting on some of this stuff. He talked to our manager and said, “This is the best way to get some of it out in a professional way.” So Richie Castellano gave it the professional polishing it needed.

Since so much time has passed, when these tapes were brought back to you, did you even remember these songs?

Eric Bloom: I did remember the songs after listening, but a lot of what I did forget was: “Who wrote this?” I did remember, of course, that “Cherry” was a Buck song. But when you’re sitting in a room and writing a song – or somebody brings in a song and you add something to it – the credits change. So we did have to put our heads together by telephone, email or whatever, and we had to go over this: “Who added the bridge to this? What are the writing credits on the song?” The songs weren’t copyrighted back then because they weren’t used for anything. To use the vernacular, these were outtakes.

Did any of those songs get as far as being worked on in the studio during that era?

Buck Dharma: Not in the 24 track studios, no. They’re all pre-production recordings by our sound engineer. Some of them were two track, and some of them were eight track, half inch. Where the multitrack tapes existed, we used the multitracks, and where they didn’t, we used the stereo mixdowns, and then deconstructed those with the AI technology of today.

Eric Bloom: Most of these songs were worked up in that time [‘79-’83]. They didn’t quite make it, or we couldn’t decide how they should be used, so they sort of fell by the wayside. We were rehearsing at George Geranios’ loft, and luckily he ran tape.

These analog tapes were 40 years old. Did they physically require restoring?

Buck Dharma: Yes. George baked the tapes when he transferred them. Some were damaged because they weren’t adequately stored over the years. The tape formulations of the ‘80s were not as durable as some of the older tape formulations. A lot of our masters were done on Ampex 456, which turned out not to be a durable medium. The binders of the magnetic material tend to gum up with time. They attracted moisture; it’s notoriously problematic.

Why was the decision made to demix, remix and overdub these tracks?

Buck Dharma: In some cases, it was to restore deteriorated tape recordings, and in other cases, just to enhance them. The 2024 mix of the record gave Richie Castellano the ability to improve the sonics, the ambiance and the effects of today.

Eric Bloom: Richie, our very bright young man in our band, got the software that has AI built into it. That allows us to take stereo tracks and separate bass from drums. As Richie explains it, we got the dime store version of the AI software; we got better [instrument] isolation, and it allowed us to overdub digitally. For instance, “So Supernatural” has present-day Joe Bouchard on it. The vocal from back then had deteriorated too far, so Joe came in a couple of months ago and came in and re-sang. None of my vocals are new.

Click here to continue