Blue Oyster Cult returns to Tahoe
Critics call a lot of bands icons, but in the case of Blue Oyster Cult, it’s literal.
Long after the Stalk-Forest Group morphed into Soft White Underbelly, around the time manager Sandy Pearlman renamed the band Blue Oyster Cult, artist Bill Gawlick came up with a design for the cover of the debut album: the astronomical symbol for Saturn (according to the band). The cross-and-hook is also an alchemic symbol for lead, hence heavy metal and Blue Oyster Cult’s sound.
Nearly four decades later, a band as iconic as its symbol returns to Tahoe. Blue Oyster Cult plays Saturday, Nov. 8, at Harrah’s South Shore Room..
The band still plays more than 100 shows a year and, at last report, was in the studio working on a new album. Singer-songwriter Eric Bloom and guitarist Buck Dharma (a nickname from the Stalk-Forrest days, which stuck) have never left the band, and Blue Oyster Cult is back up to three original members with the return of multi-instrumentalist Allen Lanier, whom the band refers to as its own mysterious “Cigarette Smoking Man.”
“I’m not sure how the band has stayed together all these years; I guess you could call it fate,” Bloom told Lake Tahoe Action last year. “I always thought that Buck and I were somehow star linked. He did go solo for a time, but he came back into the fold. We’re a group that always got along and had a great time with music. The only drawback has been the commute.”
Two newcomers round out the lineup: drummer Jules Radino and Richie Castellano, who has a master’s degree in music, joined in 2004 when Bloom called him up and invited him.
The “More Cowbell” skit an episode of “Saturday Night Live” eight years ago boosted Blue Oyster Cult’s popularity after the band spent the late ’80s and early ’90s shifting lineups and playing smaller venues. The group also released “Heaven Forbid,” the first new album in 10 years, in 1998.
During the preceding decades, however, Blue Oyster Cult had more than an underground following, with its breakthrough 1976 single, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” now a staple on movie, television and even video game soundtracks. Almost as ubiquitous are “Burnin’ for You” and “Godzilla.”
In addition to the singles, the band also was a live favorite during the 1970s, with four live albums from that decade and another, “A Long Day’s Night,” in 2002.
“A DJ in Long Beach saw the show and told us he really liked our sound,” Bloom said of a 1974 concert with Alice Cooper. “He gave our record a lot of play, and organized a headlining gig at the Long Beach Arena. So we drive down there, and when we arrive there’s all these people everywhere wearing homemade Blue Oyster Cult jackets, and holding signs and banners. We were shocked, saying, like, ‘How cool is this?’
Blue Oyster Cult also gave Columbia Records its U.S. counterweight to Black Sabbath with records that emphasized the heavier, more ominous qualities of its sound. The two bands even faced off on film in “Black and Blue,” in 1982 (2002 DVD), and Sabbath producer Martin Birch worked on two albums with the U.S. band, “Cultösaurus Erectus” and “Fire of Unknown Origin.”
The band traces its roots to Stony Brook, N.Y., on Long Island. Bloom sold the band its public address system from the store where he worked part time and served as sound man before Soft White Underbelly’s lead singer quit.
“Then one day the guys who would be Blue Oyster Cult walked in,” he told Action. “They had just signed a new contract. Before I knew it I was a part of the band. I think it was Christmas Day, 1968. I was 24 years old, and my life was about to really change.”
So was the name: In a poem he wrote in the 1960s, Pearlman provided another piece of the myth, naming the band after a collection of aliens who secretly guide Earth’s history. Lanier added the last piece of the mythology later ” the umlaut over the “O.”
If you go
What: Blue Oyster Cult
Where: Harrah’s South Shore Room
When: Saturday, April 19
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