By David Iozzia
Joe Bouchard is a musician best known as the bass guitarist for Blue Oyster Cult from 1970 through 1986. After jamming with the band for years, Joe switched from guitar to bass guitar and joined his brother, drummer Al Bouchard, in the rhythm section in one of America's foremost heavy metal bands. Still active today, Blue Oyster Cult had Top 40 singles with "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" and "Burnin' For You." All five members from the band's definitive lineup contributed to the songwriting and lead vocals, and Joe Bouchard's signature song was "Hot Rails To Hell."
In 1986, he departed Blue Oyster Cult and worked on various musical projects including a band called Bouchard, Dunaway, and Smith (BDS), which featured Joe switching back to lead guitar. Playing alongside Joe was the rhythm section from the original Alice Cooper Group, bass guitarist Dennis Dunaway and drummer Neal Smith.
Joe Bouchard's latest musical endeavor is a band called The X Brothers, and their current record is called "Beyond the Valley of the X."
Dave: Hello Joe. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to do this interview for my website. All's well down in New Jersey. How's it up by you in Connecticut?
JOE: It's all good. I'm just hanging out here in the studio, trying to get some stuff done.
Dave: First off, introduce your bandmates in The X Brothers and tell me how the band got started.
JOE: I've been playing with the two guys in The X Brother for over 18 years. We started out as a four-piece band called The Cult Brothers back in 1988. Andy Hilfiger was on bass, Billy Hilfiger was on guitar, and Jim Cacala was on drums. Unfortunately, Billy died from a brain tumor in 2001. We took some time off but decided to go on and play as a three-piece band. It was a slow comeback. We changed the name to The X Brothers because the Cult Brothers name was a little bit too much like Blue Oyster Cult although that's a hard thing for me to get away from. It's so encompassing; it's everything I've done even though I've been away from Blue Oyster Cult for 21 years, since 1986. I started making some live tapes of the three-piece X Brothers and they sounded so good. It was a band that needed to be recorded. We started in the Winter of 2006, we worked on it through the Spring, and we released it in July. We did everything ourselves; the software that you use to record is much better these days. It was probably the easiest reciord I've ever done and it was a lot of fun.
Dave: The band's latest release, from summer 2006, is a record called "Beyond the Valley of the X" on AHE Records. Since you produced it, you can't blame anybody else or pass the buck on this question. Was there enough cowbell?
JOE: Yeah, there's a little bit of cowbell on the record. Maybe there should be more cowbell!
Dave: All kidding aside, I just grabbed my copy from CDBaby.com and I'm really digging it. It's a real fun record, straight ahead rock n' roll and in my favorite band format: the three-piece power trio.
JOE: Andy's a great bass player and he's played with a lot of people over the years. Andy's brother is the clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger. Even though he does a lot of the promotions for the company, he's very dedicated to music. Jimmy is a great drummer and a tremendous personality. Part of the idea in doing the record was to capture Jimmy's spirit on the drums. He's a wonderful guy to do a show with; he is the show.
Dave: I was a fan of Blue Oyster Cult from day one, and it's cool to hear your new takes on two of my favorite B.O.C. songs, "Hot Rails To Hell" and "Last Days of May." Did you catch any flack for covering too much Blue Oyster Cult material?
JOE: I wanted to do "Hot Rails" because I love how Jimmy drums on it. I think he does it the best out of all the drummers that have played that song. It's hard to argue that with all of the old fans because they love the original version or the "On Your Feet or On Your Knees" version. There's something I love about the way Jimmy puts 200 percent energy into his playing when we do that song. I got more criticism for doing "Last Days of May" because that was one of Buck Dharma's signature songs. Since Billy Hilfiger did such a great job singing that song in the early days of The X Brothers, the song was more a tribute to Billy and that's why it's on the album. It's shocking when my vocals come in because it's not Buck. But there's a moment in the guitar solo where Jimmy hits a drum roll and I'm hitting some high notes that was magical. It was all done live in the studio during the last half-hour of a recording session. We gave it a shot to see what would happen, and I think it came out fabulous. I wanted to do another version of "Doctor Music" because the mix from the "Mirrors" day didn't do the song justice. It wasn't heavy enough.
Dave: You switched from bass guitar, which you played those songs on a couple thousand times, to lead guitar on The X Brothers record. Was it a radical change?
JOE: Not really, because we played those songs in 1988 and 1989 in the early days of The X Brothers. Those songs were some of the staples of our live set.
Dave: I'm going to add links to your CDBaby page, the X Brothers MySpace page, your MySpace page, and your personal website, where music fans can hear song samples from The X Brothers. Describe some of the other material.
JOE: I hope music fans listening to this record enjoy it and see the fun in it that we had putting it together. "Money Machine" is a song that goes back to 1977. Blue Oyster Cult was rehearsing the "Spectres" album. That song was worked on but the lyrics were never finished. I always liked the song and the riff. I wanted to finish it for this record and I think it came out great. I go on research trips to casinos, only in the interest of science, so I study people in the casinos. That helped me finish that song.
"Bar Room Blues" was another unfinished song from the Blue Oyster Cult days. The people at Columbia Records thought the demo sounded a little too much country for Blue Oyster Cult. My brother Al Bouchard's band, The Brain Surgeons, did a version of this song they called "Pissing Away The Summer." Blue Oyster Cult was pretty competitive with the songs. Buck Dharma always had the strongest demos of all of us. Everybody had their pet songs. I was pretty prolific but a lot of my songs didn't make the grade so I'm reaching back into that right now.
"Do It All For You" is a recent collaboration with my lyricist Patty G. It's a love song that probably got started with a bottle of vodka. It was one of those nights during a writing session that we luckily had the tape rolling. Jimmy goes crazy and does his Keith Moon drumming on that one.
"Psycho" is a cover from a little-known Seattle band from the 60's called The Sonics. They were a great garage band.
The song "Beyond the Valley of the X," which is also the record's title, came about when I decided the record needed an instrumental. I was producing the record, and I was getting tired of hearing my voice.
"Downtown" is an Andy Hilfiger song that he wrote back in the days of The Cult Brothers, and he does a great job on the vocals.
We also added a few other covers like "(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman" by The Kinks. I always wanted to cover one of their songs and everybody else covers "You Really Got Me."
The final track, "2000 Light Years from Home," is a Rolling Stones cover. That song hasn't been covered that much and that's what I was looking for. It was a lot of fun. We didn't want to sample the Rolling Stones; that would be sacriligious. For the sound effects, I did an Internet search and found astronomy websites that had sounds from outer space. I sampled those and mixed them up with some other sound effects to come up with the "space sounds" on that song.
Dave: I've told the fans where they can listen to your record. Is CD Baby.com the only place to purchase "Beyond the Valley of the X"?
JOE: At the moment, that's the only spot that has it.
Dave: I think music fans will hear a variety of music styles like the psychodelic "Is This For Real?" and the instrumental title track. Was your intent with "Beyond the Valley of the X" to "salt and pepper" a record that had a little something for everybody or did it just evolve that way?
JOE: It kind of evolved that way. When I'm doing a record I like to think of it as all new, but with this band I was thinking half and half. Half new and half covers would certainly work in the context of this band.
Dave: How does this record differ from the debut record "Solid Citizens"?
JOE: "Solid Citizens" was our first attempt at putting together an independent record. It was kind of patched together. I like the record but the follow-up is more consistent sound-wise and track-wise, and I've become a better producer.
Dave: Will the band be touring regionally in the northeastern United States this summer or is a bigger tour schedule being planned?
JOE: We're still working on setting up some live shows to support the record. The X Brothers will definitely be around in the Northeast during the Summer of 2007.
Dave: What's the latest status on "Hot Time In Hell," the upcoming live X Brothers CD?
JOE: We want to get that out soon and we'll probably re-issue "Solid Citizens," but we're still pushing the current record.
Dave: The music industry of the 21st century is much different than the one you cut your musical teeth with. B.O.C. was signed to a major record label, which had its own set of pros and cons. What's the biggest advantage to a band like The X Brothers when trying to record and release a new album in today's music marketplace?
JOE: There are so many advantages starting with recording technology. The tools a band has using the Internet is such an asset, we had nothing like that back then. I do the MySpace thing and that connects us to so many people. The harder you work it the better off it is for your band. The time I spend self-marketing is not a negative, it's a lot of fun.
Dave: Was it difficult for Joe Bouchard to evolve as a musician to keep up with the drastic changes in today's music industry?
JOE: Not really. The first thing I did when I left Blue Oyster Cult was I got a Macintosh computer. I've been working on a computer for almost 20 years. It gets better and better every time. I have better gear in my home studio than we had access to in any of the studios we recorded in during the 70's. Everything is there at your fingertips these days if you know how to run the system. I love that I can do a track, attach it to an e-mail, and get immediate feedback.
Dave: What else are you working on musically?
JOE: I'm working on a more solo project, and I'm working on some acoustic-style material. I'm actually trying to learn how to play finger-style. I've played a lot of guitar and a lot of bass over the years, but finger-style is a new thing for me.
Dave: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally inducted Black Sabbath in 2006. Generally speaking though, I think they've ignored heavy metal music while falling in love with and inducting countless punk rock bands. Blue Oyster Cult, with gold and platinum albums, hit singles like "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" and "Burning For You," and 30-year track record touring the world, continues to be overlooked in my opinion. Are you satisfied with the recognition the band has received?
JOE: No. As far as the Hall of Fame goes, Patti Smith, who is a big friend of the band, finally got in. It's probably moving a little more in our direction because of people like Patti. Blue Oyster Cult was always a liitle on the outside. We were never considered for a Grammy award. It's hard to say and it won't probably happen in my lifetime. There's a long line of worthy people waiting for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and we're at the back of the line. I don't obsess about it, and it doesn't bother me. Every year since the first wave of inductions there's been controversy. The first choices were the easy and obvious choices. It's political and we'll see what happens. More importantly is that the fans still think of us highly. That blows me away.
Dave: Don't you also have a series of instructional books and DVDs available at your website?
JOE: When I left Blue Oyster Cult in 1986 I wanted to do some different things. I tried my hand in producing bands but that didn't work out very well. I started a teaching career because that was what I studied in college. I got burned out teaching, and I took a job at the National Guitar Workshop's publishing company. It was really fascinating because I learned all about the instructional book business. Through that connection I wrote four books: a guitar book, two piano books, and one on bass guitar. They're still selling very well; you get better royalties off books than you do off records. I've also done some videos on bass guitar which we just put on DVD. Fans can link to another website through a link at my website, and they're available at Sam Ash and a couple other big music stores. I was getting burned out on publishing and when I found out that Metallica was covering a Blue Oyster Cult song I quit my day job. What a thrill that was when they covered "Astronomy" on their "Garage Inc." record. Metallica did a great job with it and it was a real honor. That prompted me to get back into songwriting, and I try to write a new song every day.
Dave: Are you still teaching music in Connecticut?
JOE: Yes, I have a private business. It's nice because it's independent. I sub-contract myself to a couple of private schools in Connecticut.
Dave: Will your other band with the original Alice Cooper rhythm section, Bouchard, Dunaway, and Smith ever perform or record together again?
JOE: Oh yeah. It's a matter of timing and we're busy promoting our separate projects now. Neal is a very creative guy and we'll get it together someday to play again.
Dave: Thanks again for the interview Joe, I'm really honored. Are there any aspects of "Beyond The Valley of The X" that I've overlooked?
JOE: No Dave, I think you've covered everything. After visiting your website, I was amazed that you've collected drumsticks from every Blue Oyster Cult drummer.
Dave: Every one except the new guy Jules Radino. I'm working on that.
JOE: I did notice something that was missing; your daughter doesn't have a Joe Bouchard guitar pick in her collection.
Dave: Thanks again for the interview Joe, As a lifelong fan of Blue Oyster Cult it was a pleasure to interview you.
JOE: Thanks Dave, it was a pleasure speaking with you.