It's not surprising that Eric Bloom has to pull himself away from online role-playing games to talk a little rock and roll.
Despite the slightly sinister persona he has conveyed fronting Blue Oyster Cult in his shades and leathers for the past 30-plus years, Bloom is a stone-cold science fiction fan who spends hours taking on challengers in games like World of Warcraft.
"There is a lot of free time, which at my age ain't a bad thing," he said of his role in BOC, which plays about 80 shows a year, including a gig with Foghat and Survivor at the Lucas County Fair tomorrow.
At 60, Bloom would seem like an unlikely candidate for gaming, and he admits it's a "time zombie," but it fits in naturally with his work with the band.
Blue Oyster Cult is one of the great underrated metal groups, thanks to its macabre subject matter that features all manner of vampires, psychic warriors, and, of course, Godzilla. No other band could turn child abusing actress Joan Crawford into a monster - on the aptly titled "Joan Crawford" from "Fire of Unknown Origin" - or regularly write songs with sci-fi heavyweights like John Shirley and Michael Moorcock.
Along with lead guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, Bloom has always combined metal aggression and boogie band chops with a literate sensibility.
"We read books," Bloom said from his Long Island, N.Y. home. "Buck is more into the horror genre than I am and I'm a huge sci-fan, always have been. I mean, I read the Tolkien books 40 years ago and was thrilled those movies were as good as they were when they finally got around to making them. I was drawing rockets and ray guns on comic books when I was a kid."
The band started in the early '70s, releasing a series of albums that made them essentially the American version of Black Sabbath. Its first releases defined a style of metal that featured truly bizarre, obtuse lyrics and songs like "7 Screaming Diz-Busters," "She's As Beautiful as a Foot," and "Transmaniacon MC."
Hitting its stride in the mid-70s, BOC, with its original lineup of Bloom, Roeser, Allan Lanier and brothers Albert and Joe Bouchard, scored a timeless radio hit with "Don't Fear the Reaper" from "Agents of Fortune." The song is a rich, layered tale of death that features Beach Boys-like harmonies and an intense guitar break that never ages.
Of course, all anyone remembers from "Reaper" is the cowbell.
Immortalized in a classic Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Will Ferrell as Gene Frenkle, a cowbell-playing session ace brought into the studio by producer Christopher Walken, the song received pop-culture cachet thanks to the skit's catch line "more cowbell."
It's hard to listen to "Reaper" after seeing the sketch and not hear the percussion instrument front and center, but Bloom said he has no problems with the skit.
"I played the cowbell on the original and now it's played off stage by a crew member," he said. "We get a lot of cowbells at shows. And we get a lot of people with 'more cowbells' shirts on at shows, too."
The '80s were rough on BOC, with Albert Bouchard booted from the band and Joe Bouchard quitting. At the same time it was going through regular lineup changes, hair metal hit the charts, making it rough for a dark New York band with a penchant for complex sci-fi-oriented tunes.
The band had a hit with "Burnin' For You" from "Fire of Unknown Origin" in 1981 before a fallow period that featured lots of touring. Instead of playing stadiums with a smoke-spewing, laser-eyed Godzilla rising from behind the drums, the band was rocking a loyal, but small fan base at clubs and fairs.
A pair of critically acclaimed releases over the past six years - "Heaven Forbid" and "Curse of the Hidden Mirror" - notwithstanding, the band hasn't had much luck with record companies. Bloom said he and Roeser still write songs, but along with the sole original member Lanier, drummer Jewels Radino, and bass player Richie Castellano, the band's focus now is on touring.
The issue revolves around ensuring that whatever they record contains the band's trademark penchant for detailed, intelligent, thinking-man's metal, which takes time to produce.
"I don't want to sound crass, but there's got to be a certain amount of bucks in it for us to give up six months of our lives to start recording," Bloom said. "We're not just going to go in the studio and record live. We have a work ethic where we're not going to put out something fast and crappy."
Blue Oyster Cult, Foghat and Survivor are performing at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Lucas County Fair. Tickets, $25 and $18, may be purchased at the fair.
Contact Rod Lockwood at email@example.com or 419-724-6085