Joe Bouchard

By: Lori Smerilson Carson

Making his worldwide mark in the music industry with his bass and vocals as a member of rock band Blue Öyster Cult when he joined in 1970, Joe Bouchard has become a rock and roll icon. The band sold millions of records across the globe and in the U.S. in part to Bouchard’s songs like “Hot Rails to Hell” and “Astronomy”. His latest album American Rocker (released on June 3rd) basically sums Bouchard up and captures this extraordinarily talented musician’s abilities with fun, amazing rock tunes.

Catching up with Bouchard while still promoting this seventh solo LP and just prior to some shows, he revealed some details about the album, how this multi-instrumentalist (including guitar and keyboards) came to be where he is today, and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: How did the new album American Rocker come about?
Joe Bouchard: Well, it was this thing called the pandemic (he laughed). I think you might have heard of it.

SFL Music: I think I have.
Bouchard: And did you find that you had more time than you’ve ever had in your life?

SFL Music: Yes.
Bouchard: And the problem was, what are you going to do with all that time, you know? So, I found a solution and that was to write from scratch a whole new album and the time being what it was, it was a time for reflection as good songwriters would do. I didn’t really have a theme because you know, it was just write as many good songs as you possibly can and it just sort of fell into this theme of my life. Especially in the seventies when I was just starting out you know, touring with Blue Öyster Cult, and it took five years to have a hit record, but those first couple of years, we were working all the time, but it didn’t seem like work. It was just fun. Every day was fun. So, I wanted to get that feeling into the album and I hope it came out. So, far I’m getting a great response.

SFL Music: I was just listening to “My Way Is the Highway”. I love it! It’s very catchy and it’s great. I like the video. What inspired that song?
Bouchard: Well, you know, I’m a fan of the old television series route 66. That’s way before your time. You’re much too young for that, but it was a T.V. show back in like ’63, ’64 somewhere around there. 1963 and ’64 and it was two guys that would head out in a corvette, this corvette convertible, and they would go on all these adventures. It was all on location. Some of the shows had a music theme. They would be gettin’ the old band back together and stuff like that, but they would take jobs like on fishing boats and stuff like that, and actually I did try to write songs based around that theme. I had a guitar riff that I called “fifty-nine corvette”. You just put any name on something. So, the riff, the sort of rhythm riff for that song I had and I started playing along with it, and then the next thing you know, I add another section and then it hits the chorus and the first thing that came to my mind was “My Way Is the Highway” and I said, nah. That’s too obvious, and I did a search. You know, you do a search when you got something that’s like, oh there must be a thousand songs like this and there is (he laughed). Actually, there is only, mostly the country songs and I didn’t really like them, so I said it was fair game. You know how titles are fair game? So, it fell together, and there’s the second verse. I did a lot of re-writing second verses on this album. Sometimes you get to the second verse and it’s not as exciting as the first verse, but I got to the second verse and I was thinking about driving down the coast of California and there’s all these little towns where the surfers live, and I was thinking about you know, they come from broken homes and stuff like that. So, that was kind of like drove me on to get to that, and just put it together with a fun music track.

SFL Music: This was all recorded on your Rockheart Records, right?
Bouchard: Yeah.

SFL Music: So that’s still going strong. I remember you talked about it with the last album (Strange Legends).
Bouchard: My brother, he puts out his albums on this label too and he’s working on this third double album. He just turned seventy-five years old and he’s working on this third double album (he laughed). He’s quite crazy! That’s crazy! No, but I sent him a vocal on a track that he wanted me to work on. I sent it to him last night and he’s getting ready. It won’t be out until 2023, but it’s gonna be a good one. It’s gonna be interesting and it ties up the other two albums. They’re all tied together under this theme called Imaginos that started in the earliest days. It started back in the ‘60’s actually and he’s finally you know, figures it’s time to get it done now. So, I’m glad to help him out on that. Yeah, it’s working out good.

SFL Music: He was on your song “My Way Is the Highway” also, correct?
Bouchard: Yeah. I sent him the track after I recorded the drums with Mickey Curry (Bryan Adams, Alice Cooper, Hall & Oates). I sent him the track and he said, “You know, I think it could use some percussion.” So, the next thing you know, he’s playing the cowbell on it (he laughed)! Whoa is this full circle or what? And it’s a really great part. He actually added percussion and sound effects on several tracks. Even added a guitar part. It really added a lot of life to the tracks. You know, it’s nice that we can just do these things. I mean, we’ve been doing this all our lives. I started playing with Albert when I was ten years old and we had a great band in Junior High School and High School, and then I ended up in Blue Öyster Cult with him. So, we’ve been doing this stuff for so long, it’s like second nature. He can just send me something and I’ll instinctively know what I have to do for his album and I think it’s the same for him. When I send him a track, he just knows instinctively what I would want on it. Yeah, it’s all good.

SFL Music: A lot of those early influences are in the songs “In the Golden Age” and “Rocket to Fame”?
Bouchard: Yes. A lot of influences from the seventies on those two tracks. I mean, we used to go out on these tours and this line of “In the Golden Age” is like what we used to say back in the seventies, oh, you’re going out on tour. How long is it? And you’d say, oh it’s just for the duration (he laughed). They wouldn’t give us a specific you know, like oh you’re out for three weeks. No, you’re just out for the duration. Then another line I got from a title of a Blue Öyster Cult song called “Stairway to the Stars” which I always thought it was kind of like when I joined the band, we decided that we were gonna try to do things, wanted to do everything that had a positive spin to it. Even though a lot of the music was very dark and weird, weird darkness, but there always tried to have a positive spin and I always thought there was a positive spin to “Stairway to the Stars” and that becomes a line in the song. Then “the laser shows and fireworks”, that’s another line. So, all of that, I didn’t really have to do a lot of stretching to figure out what to do about a song like “In the Golden Age”. Then the other one “Rocket to Fame”, I was thinking I wanted to write a song about guitar heroes. I mean, there’s not many guitar heroes these days. It’s not like it used to be, so I got connected with a agent in England and he was doing a charity record with all these other, mostly British, but he asked me to play some bass and some guitar parts on a song. So, I sent him off the song. It was a song like you know, I’m just a rock and roll guy or something like that. One of those, and then after I sent it out, I said, you know, maybe I should just write something new for this project and that’s how “Rocket to Fame” came about with a strong guitar riff and then sort of telling the story of being lucky and having a hit record and you’re on the roller coaster and you’re headed up to the first big turn on the roller coaster and then the song gets played all over and you’re playing stadiums. Then the next thing you know, baamm. You’re headed down the other side of the roller coaster. So anyway, I hope that connects with people.

SFL Music: It’s kind of life, right?
Bouchard: Yeah. The roller coaster of life. Yeah.

SFL Music: What inspired “The Devil’s in the Details”?
Bouchard: Now, I didn’t write the lyrics for that. That was a song that the lyrics were sent to me by John Shirley who’s a science fiction writer. He’s written well, I don’t know about how many books. Probably about twenty books, even more than that, and he just put out a book of poetry and “Devil’s in the Details” is one of the poems in that book. I really like that one because it’s really well structured. It’s kind of like you know; you’ve got three characters and they’re all like kind of mysterious. There’s the blonde at the counter which would be like the diner. The waitress in the diner, and then the cop that’s stops the car for speeding and you don’t know where that’s gonna run, and then the last one was the lady who goes to church and she only goes there because she has a boyfriend (he laughed). I’m going like, ok. Then of course, it’s all tied together with “The Devil’s in the Details”. That was a lot of fun.

SFL Music: He was on your last album too, right?
Bouchard: Yeah, yeah. Actually, I did several John Shirley things. He’s done a lot of lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult. He’s done most of the lyrics on their last three albums. Very creative guy. He sent me the lyrics for a different song probably about two years ago and it just didn’t fit. Sometimes a lyric is really good, but it’s just the wrong music for that situation. So, as I was you know, in the middle of the pandemic and putting my thinking cap on, I took a look at those lyrics one more time. I said, it needs to tell a story, but it has to have that sort of delicate approach rather than a sort of hard rock approach. I think that’s what I was trying to do in the earlier version of that one, but that came out really good.

SFL Music: What is “Katherine” about?
Bouchard: Oh, “Katherine” is another lyric. It’s about an exotic dancer from the seventies and my collaborator on that one is Helen Wheels. Helen unfortunately passed away about twenty years ago, but she was my collaborator in the seventies and we wrote several really epic songs for Blue Öyster Cult “Nosferatu” and “Celestial the Queen” and “Fallen Angel” and another one called “Light Years of Love” which all were great, and what I really like about Helen’s lyrics is they have a musicality about them. You don’t have to sort of you know, try to make ‘em fit. The music just rolls off the lyric. So, that one really came together fast. Her lyric was an old typed out sheet that was a JPEG in a file and I can’t remember how it got into my work file, but I opened it up one day and I said, yeah! This has got to be done and then you know, because it came together so fast, I think well, I don’t know maybe, maybe it’s not the strongest song, but I get so many fans that just love that song. So, you never can tell what’s gonna connect, and that one has been doing really well. It’s a true story. She had a friend that was a dancer and had issues, but I can see when I’m writing the music and I’m working on the arrangement, I’m thinking you know, how the vocals are supposed to sound. I’m picturing in my mind the kind of clubs that this dancer would be in and, oh yeah, we had a bunch of interesting people back in the day. That was one of them, and I miss Helen a lot. She wrote a lot of great stuff for us.

SFL Music: It’s nice you’re keeping her memory alive.
Bouchard: Yeah.

SFL Music: As far as touring?
Bouchard: I’m playing with my brother in a band called The Bouchard Brothers. I’m doing a lot of stuff. I have a band with Dennis Dunaway from Alice Cooper. We call ourselves BLUE COUPE. We’re going to upstate New York for a festival in July and then from there we go to Canada, Ontario and Quebec for another week. Then my brother and I and my partner Joan are going to Scotland, England and France in August. I’m really looking forward to that. We haven’t played in a while. We played one show in 2021 and it was fabulous. I made some videos of that show.

SFL Music: Are you touring North America?
Bouchard: Yeah. Well, we’re testing the waters with this European tour and if everything goes well, we will definitely be here on tour.

SFL Music: The last time we spoke you said you missed everyone singing along with the songs.
Bouchard: Yeah.

SFL Music: Is there anything in particular that fans can look forward to with this show with Albert and Joan (Levy Hepburn)?
Bouchard: Yeah, It’s a great show. It’s a songs and stories show because it’s mostly acoustic. So, we really get to talk to the fans about how the songs were made and it’s great because Albert has so many great stories that you know, you would think that I’ve heard them all, but we do one of these shows and he starts talking about something. I was like, what? I never heard that story before. So, I learn something new with every show that we do. Yeah, it’s gonna be fantastic. Playing some nice shows. We’re playing in London, playing Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh. Some beautiful places to play. So, yeah, we’re excited about it.

SFL Music: Are there any more videos to go along with the new album?
Bouchard: The last album I did a video for every song on the album and they really did come out good, but I’m a little behind. I have a director who’s gonna come up here in a few weeks and I made a couple videos with him. So, I want somebody else to do the hard work (he laughed) rather than directing myself. I love doing it, but it’s pretty time consuming, so I’m looking forward to hooking up with this very good director. A tremendous camera man too. So, you’ve got to have all the things. Yeah, I’ll be doing more videos.

SFL Music: Have you written any new music books? I don’t know when you’d have the time.
Bouchard: No, not yet. I’ve been thinking about writing a book, but I still have yet to figure out the proper way to go about it. I certainly have a lot of memorabilia here. I could do a picture book with all my memorabilia, but you know, you want to weave a good story, and so I’m thinking about that. I kind of miss because I’ve been doing all this promo for the album, I kind of miss just having the luxury of just saying well, what am I gonna to do today? Then start working on another piece of music. So, I hope to start writing another album, and my brother and I, we’re gonna do an actual Bouchard brothers’ album which I think is gonna be great. On the schedule for next year. Just getting back to playing out. This summer is gonna be exciting and I’ll be writing new stuff. It’s all good.

SFL Music: Lots for fans to look forward to. With all the success that Blue Öyster Cult had and you’ve had, in reference to what you’d recommend to an up-and-coming musician, last interview you said, “you don’t choose music, music will choose you if you’re lucky” which I thought was an awesome quote. Anything you want to add to that?
Bouchard: No, I think it still stands pretty good. I just feel so lucky to be able to do my dreams and still got a lot of mountains to climb yet.

SFL Music: What else can fans look forward to?
Bouchard: Well, like I said, I’m probably gonna put out some vinyl with this album, but that probably won’t happen ‘til the fall, and then my brother’s double album will be out in the spring of ’23. Some more shows and yeah, having a good time.

SFL Music: Was there anything else you want to add?
Bouchard: I just want to thank everybody for checking out, I mean, it’s so easy to check out an album these days. Go to Spotify or iTunes and if you want a signed personal copy, I can take care of that too.

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