SUE’S SUNDAY SOJOURN: Each week Sue will showcase a particular artist or band during her entire two hour set. Each week, prior to the set, there will be a blog post where she will write about her memories, favorite stories or share other interesting tidbits about the artist. The idea here is not to tell the story of the band or play two hours of their greatest hits. The idea behind Sue’s Sunday Sojourn will be to spend time with Sue, down in her music vault. As she puts together the set, she will reminisce and share special memories. “I remember when this came out,” or, “I recall hearing this for the first time and I thought…” She might share little known facts, favorite memories, fun stories or maybe even some personal experiences.
The sets will have plenty of the big hits but be ready for a few obscure tunes that may be her personal favorites. She will probably include a few rarities or possibly unreleased material, along with other assorted curios. So join her every Sunday night from 7-9 PM SLT as she lets you into her world.
Soft White Underbelly (Blue Öyster Cult)
|1968 poster from New York City advertising Soft White Underbelly playing with the MC5 and David Peel|
It was the middle 80’s and I was living in Illinois and earning my degree. I was out one day with a friend, Stacy, and we saw a flyer posted for a band by the name of “Soft White Underbelly,” and tickets were to go on sale the following day. The band was going to play at a local bar, O’Leary’s, in nearby Peoria. This bar was known for often having local talent and up and coming bands.
“Stacy, Eric is off work tomorrow morning, right?”
“He has to be down at the ticket office when they open. He HAS to get tickets for us to go see Soft White Underbelly.”
“Please, just trust me on this.”
I wanted to save the surprise as long as I could so I didn’t let on who it really was we were going to see. Reluctantly, mostly due to my emphatic begging, she got Eric to stand in line and get tickets. By lunchtime I heard on our local rock station, WWCT 106 FM,
“I guess it is not really a secret anymore. Soft White Underbelly is really Blue Öyster Cult. Tickets sold out in less than an hour this morning for their appearance at O’Leary’s”
I saw Eric and Stacy that evening and they handed me my two tickets for SWU. I felt like Charlie from Willy Wonka with his golden ticket. We were going to see Blue Öyster Cult and in a venue where we were guaranteed to be up close.
The band had its beginning on Long Island, New York, in 1967 as Soft White Underbelly. The name was taken from a quote by Winston Churchill during the Second World War in which he referred to Italy as the “soft underbelly of the Axis [Powers].” (Note that Churchill never used the word “white.”) In 1968, after landing a recording contract with Elecktra Records, they recorded an album’s worth of material but none of it ever saw the light of day.
The band received a bad review after a horrible show and this led them to change their name to “Oaxaca.” It was almost immediately changed again, this time to the “Stalk-Forrest Group,” and they re-recorded their unreleased album with a new singer in 1969. Only one single from this first album was ever released by Elektra, “What Is Quicksand,” and it was only released as a 300 copy promotional pressing. You will hear this gem on Sunday night.
|The only single ever released by the Stalk-Forest Group.|
Elektra Records cut them loose and they changed their name a couple of more times, finally ending up with “Blue Öyster Cult.” They landed a contract with Columbia Records and began recording, releasing their debut, self-titled album in 1972. Though received positively by critics, they would not achieve a gold record until 1974 with Secret Treaties. Their next album, On Your Feet or on Your Knees (1975), a live album, would be their most successful to date, reaching number 22 on the Billboard charts. They were now selling out arenas. BÖC had hit it big!
Believe it or not, at this point, I was unaware of them. It wasn’t until the following year that I was listening to the radio and I heard a song that was just magic. Back then, before the internet, you had to listen for the DJ to speak again and hope they would recap what they just played. (They didn’t always.) He came on and the song I had fallen in love with was (Don’t Fear) The Reaper by Blue Öyster Cult. What an interesting name for a band! Like you have heard me describe before, I made a pilgrimage to the record store to buy this album. When I did, I learned that they had many other albums to their credit for sale and I had to read to be sure I got the one I wanted. As I fell further in love with them, I’d return and eventually purchase all of their previous releases.
This album, Agents of Fortune (1976), was a big commercial success for them and (Don’t Fear) The Reaper would peak at number 12 on the charts. They were selling out arenas now and before I graduated High School, I’d start seeing Blue Öyster Cult tee shirts. They would ride this high through 1981 and their Fire of Unknown Origin album, which charted at number 24. They would continue to play to sellout crowds through the rest of the 80’s but none of their later albums would chart better than number 93.
They had achieved success, fame and money but something was missing from where they stood. They missed their old life. They loved playing bars and small venues. They missed being up close and personal with the fans. To recapture that, they’d sometimes say, “Screw it!” and tour as “Soft White Underbelly,” playing small bars and clubs across the nation. This was basically an unknown fact except among diehard fans and industry insiders. I guess my short 2-3 year career in radio must have qualified me as an industry insider because I knew exactly what I was looking at that fateful day in Illinois.
|The Second Chance in Peoria. This Building used to be O'Leary's in the 80's|
We showed up at O’Leary’s and were seated up in the balcony at a table next to the rail and maybe 25 feet (less than 10 meters) from the band. (See below.) A waitress brought us food and drinks all night long and the concert was amazing. Their most recent album was Extraterrestrial Live and it was basically the concert to support the Fire of Unknown Origin album mentioned above. I had been listening to it quite often and I noticed that their concert at O’Leary’s was basically the same show. Obviously the special effects, light show, etc. was not there and the band wore simple jeans and tee shirts. I will play a block of songs from that live album on Sunday that best show what the O’Leary’s show was like.
The Blue Öyster Cult Name and Mythos
BÖC’s manager, Sandy Pearlman, was something of a poet and much of his work had been used as lyrics for many a BÖC tune. In his work, he created a world in which the Blue Oyster Cult was a secret group of extraterrestrial aliens that had come to Earth to secretly guide the fate of mankind. “Extraterrestrials” is a recurrent theme through much of BÖC’s music like E.T.I. (Extraterrestrial Intelligence) off of Agents of Fortune (1976). We finally get to see the aliens in question on the cover of Fire of Unknown Origin (above) though it is not clear that they are aliens until we see the cover of Extraterrestrial Live (below) where we see them actually emerging from their ship.
On their second album, Tyranny and Mutation (1973), is the only time the band’s name ever appeared as “The BLUE ÖYSTER CVLT,” complete with the old Roman use of the “V” instead of “U.” (See the picture of this cover at the bottom of the page.) It was always shown without the direct article, Blue Öyster Cult.”
The origin of the umlat (two dots) over the “O” is disputed, but BÖC seems to be the first to do it, setting a trend for future Heavy Metal bands. The marks are used over vowels, mostly in German, and are merely decorative when used in the names of rock bands, giving them either a foreign or Gothic appearance. Spinal Tap would make fun of this trend by putting the umlat over the “N,” a consonant.
The hook-and-cross logo, shown above, has appeared on every BÖC album since the first. It is the sign of Kronos in Greek mythology, who was the father of Zeus. In alchemy, it is the symbol for lead, shown below. This also links it with the astronomical symbol for Saturn. Sandy Pearlman thought that the alchemical symbol for lead was in many ways perfect since lead is a heavy metal and the term seemed to apply to BÖC’s music. The other metaphysical connections added to the mystique.
Besides being the source of the BÖC mythos, Sandy Pearlman gave each band member a stage name during the Soft White Underbelly years. These names like Andy Panda, Jesse Python and Prince Omega were supposed to add to their mystique. After they began recording seriously as Blue Öyster Cult, they all dropped those names except for Buck Dharma, who kept his and still uses it to this day. His real name is “Donald Roeser” and Buck’s Boogie is his signature piece. You’ll hear it on Sunday.
DJ Sue’s Vault…
Above is my copy of Spectres from 1977. It was the album right after Agents of Fortune which was the one I ran out and got in 1976.
(Don’t Fear) the Reaper remains a magic song for me. I feel myself privileged to have seen them do it live in concert. That night at O’Leary’s remains one of the best concert experiences of my life. They basically did the concert on what was their most recent album at the time, Extraterrestrial Live, that night. I had been playing that album a lot and the shows were close, basically the same.
|Tyranny and Mutation (1973), their second album|