ALBERT BOUCHARD “The Re-Imagineer” 

By Dr. Abner Mality

Sometimes it takes decades for an artist’s true vision to appear. Just ask Albert Bouchard. The fomer drummer of BLUE OYSTER CULT and current member of BLUE COUPE knows the value of patience. 

Albert and long-time CULT mentor and producer Sandy Pearlman long ago conceived of a vast musical storyline involving magic, aliens, World War 1, pirates, cowboys and altered history that centered around a strange character called Imaginos. Bits and pieces of the story would surface in the CULT’s music over the decades. Finally, long after Albert had left the band, BOC released the “Imaginos” album, which was the subject of much debate and speculation, as well as some antipathy. The BOC version was not the idea that Albert had originally envisioned.

That imbalance has now been corrected with the release of “Re-Imaginos”, a solo Bouchard project that posits a much different, although still familiar, version of the story. This offered the perfect opportunity for me to speak to the man himself about the saga of Imaginos, as well as diving deep into the career of an amazing and singular artist. This was a most enjoyable chat, which I now present to you forthwith…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

ALBERT BOUCHARD: No problem! I have to say, I like the name “Wormwood Chronicles” that you’re using, it’s got a great ring.

WC: Well, it was something that came to me out of the blue one day and it fit. I’ve been doing it for about 21 years or so now…

AB: Oh my! What exactly is it? A podcast?

WC: No, it’s now pretty much a webzine. When I started it, it was a paper magazine. But it’s been on the web for many years now and we’ve got about 5000 music reviews.

AB: Wow! I’m just looking it up and it’s very cool.

WC: This interview is great for me, because I’ve seen BLUE OYSTER CULT more than any other band, dating back to 1979. That was at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin.

AB: Yes, remember that place well.

WC: Now the story of how your new album “Re-Imaginos” came to be is almost as convoluted as the story itself. Does the Imaginos concept predate the existence of BLUE OYSTER CULT as a band?

AB: Yes. I believe that Sandy Pearlman started this idea when he was a graduate student at Stony Brook University in New York. He became fascinated with H.P. Lovecraft and he borrowed heavily from Lovecraft but he then took it to another level. I’m sure parts of it could have been things that Lovecraft had written, but he was influenced by a lot of other things as well. He was a voracious reader. He was always reading and then he’d look up and say “Do it again. A little faster this time.” (chuckles)

WC: It’s certainly a very literary story. Now you had a lot of input on the story as well. Was Sandy the main idea-maker or was it pretty much 50/50 with you and him?

AB: He wrote almost all the lyrics. I wrote almost all the music. We worked together on a bunch of the songs so there might be a lyric or two that was mine and there might be a melody or two that was his. Some times he’d suggest a certain rhythm. Yeah, it was a great collaboration. He did write some of  the songs with other people in the band. He wanted BLUE OYSTER CULT to do the whole “Imaginos” album, at least the first volume. But they didn’t want to do it, they didn’t want to do a whole album of Sandy’s lyrics. Everybody in the band was a writer and they wanted to get their stuff in. They thought THE WHO did “Tommy” and you can’t really top that. I was not able to talk them into it and Sandy was not able to talk them into it. Even though Eric Bloom wrote one of the songs and Allen Lanier wrote one of the songs and my brother Joe wrote a song. The only one who didn’t write a song was, wait, I think the idea of “Imaginos” being a 3 volume set didn’t come about until I got my solo record deal. It was in the contract that it would be a 3 volume set. The first one was going to be called “Imaginos”, the next one would be “Bombs Over Germany” and we would take “ME 262” and maybe “Quick Lime Girl” and some other, earlier songs and put them in that record.

WC: I didn’t know the concept was that ambitious. I’m familiar enough with the lyrics to notice certain characters that kept popping up in them like “Desdinova”. That was a name that showed up throughout the years.

AB: Right. Sandy did cross-reference his songs all the time. Desdinova would definitely keep showing up. In the song “Imaginos”, he finally explained that ALL of these characters were Imaginos, that Imaginos was a shape-shifter and he could be a bird, a fish, could be a space alien or anything. Most likely he was a space alien.

WC: There’s a song that appears on both “Imaginos” and “Re-Imaginos” called “Blue Oyster Cult”. That song later became “The Subhuman” on “Career of Evil”. The band took it’s name from the song, right?

AB: That’s exactly, right. Yes. It was written before we were BLUE OYSTER CULT, probably back in the days when we were SOFT WHITE UNDERBELLY. Sandy was writing a lot back then and he saw the band as an outlet for his creativity. He took advantage of that, to all of our benefit, really.

WC:  Your music on “Re-Imaginos” has a very stripped down and spare sound to it, whereas the BOC version was this immense wall of sound. Did you always hear the music in your head the same way it appeared on “Re-Imaginos”?

AB: I have to say no. Sandy kept saying that it’s too much, I could hear this just with an acoustic guitar. I need to clear this subject up. The BLUE OYSTER CULT version is basically my rough tracks that I did with my band...I had 7 guys in the band, two guitars, two keyboard, bass, drums and myself...and the musical director was Tommy Morangelo, who also sang background and played guitar on it, some of which remains on the BOC version. I know that Donald told me he played guitar on every song and they wound up not using any of his guitar tracks. He was upset about that...”I worked hard on it!” But his voice is all over it, he did some brilliant vocals on it. Originally, I was very happy that they were doing this. That’s what we wanted in the first place, for this to be a BLUE OYSTER CULT record. The record company started messing around and doing things, like saying they wouldn’t pay for a double record. You’ve got to take a couple of songs off. Sandy was loath to do that. He took 2 of the shortest songs off so the record was 48 minutes long and when it came out there were no CDs. Or CDs were just getting their start. It came out as a vinyl record and when I heard it, I was shocked. We worked so hard to make it sound amazing and then the vinyl was just all distorted. Ugh! 

WC: This clears up a lot of things I had heard rumors about. Actually, when I bought “Imaginos”, it was one of the very first CD’s I ever got. I was a very strict vinyl guy but I was finally forced to convert. It was one of my first CDs.

AB: The CD was much better than the vinyl. You would have been wasting your money if you bought the vinyl record. It sounds awful.

WC: I’m glad to hear that. The fact that none of the lead guitar is Donald’s, I find that astounding.

AB: Well, he actually did play on the original “Imaginos” record but it was one of the songs that got taken off, “Gil Blanco County”, which was a SOFT WHITE UNDERBELLY song. I felt that, in terms of the story, it helped explain certain things which are otherwise unexplainable. That’s one of the big reasons why I wanted to do “Re-Imaginos” and redo this thing. As I was redoing it, I was thinking about all the things that Sandy and Tommy Morangelo told me. It should be more stripped down. You should be able to walk into a club and just play all the songs on your acoustic guitar. That’s one of the things I really wanted to do. I wanted to strip it down, I don’t want to do the wall of sound. Originally I kind of wanted that wall of sound, because everybody loves Phil Spector. Well, not so much anymore. (laughs).

WC: In more ways than one!

AB: “Gil Blanco” wasn’t originally going to be in there but I felt that when you hear the song “Blue Oyster Cult” and the lyrics are “Becalmed in Virtue/Lost in a bay of dreams” and then he goes “Left to die by 2 good friends...” Now what kind of friend would leave you to die? But if you were on a ship and you were sick, you had a virus, they might put you ashore. So the rest of the crew wouldn’t get sick. They probably figured, well, he’s gonna die anyway, we’ll just let him die on land. That’s what I think it’s about, that’s how it works out. On “Gil Blanco County”, there’s a line “bad oats in town”. Word has gotten out. The “bad oats” are not really oats, it’s about a virus that comes and attacks people. And that makes it even more relevant when you think about what’s going on now.

So that was the song that was going to be before “Blue Oyster Cult”. So our main character started out on the sea with Del Rio and he had to get to the desert. He came through the Mississippi River to New Orleans because he was searching for gold or treasure of some kind. He eventually finds that treasure in Mexico, but that’s at the end of the album, at the end of this particular chapter. He finds the “hidden mirror”.

WC: Which winds up changing history…

AB: Yes, exactly! It changes history.

WC: The story reminds me of a lot of surrealist literature and some of the French poets like Baudelaire. Not everything is explicitly explained. And I have to say that to this day, there’s things I haven’t figured out in this story. 

AB: I think that was part of Sandy’s appeal. He had a very fanciful imagination, where he would create these ideas and clues and deliberately not connect them. I said, we’ve got to get a chronological order for these songs. He said, no, we don’t! It can be a “random access message”. This was right when computers were starting to become an issue so you had RAM...”random access memory”. Sandy said we were creating a “random access myth”...RAM! (laughs) I was like, I’m OK with that, but for me, I like to set a set a scene. I like to suggest a certain scene and have the scenes flow into each other and are not totally jarring.

WC: Part of what makes it strange is the jumbled order of it. You don’t know for sure what point in history the song is taking place. I notice the song order on “Re-Imaginos” is also different. “Les Invisbles” is now the last song on your album.

AB: Yes! I fooled around with that one in almost every spot. There are some songs that just have to go together. “Siege and Investiture...” and “Girl That Love Made Blind” were originally one lyric. “Girl That Love Made Blind” was originally in the middle of the song “Siege and Investiture...”. Then it went back to the front. So Sandy and I decided to split it up but they still needed to be next to each other. The “World Without End”, the “Eternal Life”, she’s in the mirror gaze, she’s caught there forever. “Girl That Love Made Blind” was more romantic originally, but “Siege...” was always about the Frankenstein aspect and the “World Without End” aspect. So my new version is trying to be more romantic, seductive and yet still kind of violent. Just like a tango. (laughs)

WC: That gets to something else I was going to ask about and that’s the songs on “Re-Imaginos” that didn’t appear on the “Imaginos” album. Now you can hear familiar turns of phrase or snippets, but the songs “Gil Blanco County”, “Girl That Love Made Blind” and “Black Telescopes” were the new ones, the new parts of the story that are now rescued from obscurity after all these years.

AB: Yeah. The other thing I wanted to mention is that on the package...I don’t know if you got the package or they just sent you a download link...but on the package, I wanted to give credit to the original band that recorded BLUE OYSTER CULT’s “Imaginos”, because those are the guys you are actually listening to. Even though some of them were on the record...for instance, Tommy Mandel was the organ/synthesizer guy...he never got credit at all. I was like, that’s just wrong. You can clearly hear him play electric piano on “Astronomy”. When you hear the lyric “Jump out at you from their hiding place” and then there’s this big BOONNNG!, that’s Tommy Mandel. He played with BRYAN ADAMS for many years. I met him when he was in the HUNTER/RONSON band with Ian Hunter. I met him and Tommy Morangelo at the same time and we would used to jam in the dressing room after a show. Oh my God, Mick Ronson, he was such a fun guy! He would hang out for hours after the show.

WC: I do know when the CULT released their version of “Imaginos”, there was a lot of mystery and bitterness surrounding it.

AB: Yeaaaah, I agreed to let those guys put their name on it because Columbia wasn’t going to release it unless I did that. Sandy talked Columbia into it and when he told me about it, I said I was OK with it but I have to be back in the band to promote it. If they don’t want me to be permanently back in the band, that’s OK, but I want to take this out on the road. I already knew that Columbia wasn’t going to lift a finger to promote this thing, they fought me on it. What happened was, the people who had originally signed me, they had moved on, they weren’t with Columbia anymore. There was a whole new group and all they were were basically accountants and business people and all they cared about was the bottom line. You needed a hit record. They didn’t care about the story or the creativity, they didn’t even know about that. They weren’t Clive Davis (former head of Columbia—Dr. M). Clive Davis didn’t care about hit records. He just wanted great music. He built that company up to what it was. I still think that they are still riding his coattails, to be honest.  

I have to take a little detour for a second. I went back to school and got my college degree after the disappointment that was “Imaginos”. I became a teacher in New York City public schools and I had many talented students. I had one student that played George Washington in “Hamilton” on Broadway, another student got signed to Interscope Records but that was with the help of another student of mine, whose name was Rahim Myers. Now he actually goes by the name of ASAP ROCKY…

WC: Now I’ve heard of him.

AB: Yeah, he’s the guy that Trump got out of jail in Japan, I think. No, it wasn’t that. He got him out of some place…

WC: Might have been Korea or Vietnam...some place that was pretty tight. (Not that tight...found out it was actually Sweden.--Blushing Mality)

AB: Yes, and it was very odd, because he was such a nice kid. The teachers loved him, he was so respectful and never got in fights at all. I don’t know what happened...sometimes you get famous and you get in that bubble, you know. I mean, I behaved badly on occasion back when I was in the band. One time I got kicked out of the band after I went crazy one night after a show.

WC: That’s rock and roll.

AB: I didn’t beat anybody up. I destroyed a couple of things and they were like, we’ve had it with your behavior.

WC: Let me ask you this about the “Imaginos” story. Have you ever considered maybe turning it into a book or maybe a graphic novel?

AB: OK, I have seen two books that were inspired by it. Nothing has actually been published, people have just sent me things. This is fairly recent, since 2016. The first thing that happened, somebody wrote to me in was right after I got back from Sandy Pearlman’s memorial in San Francisco. They wrote to me and said I’ve created a graphic novel about “Imaginos” and I’d like to send it to you. If you think there’s anything wrong or have any suggestions, just let me know. He sent it to me and said, hey this is pretty good. I wrote down some notes about a couple of things that were wrong and made some suggestions. I was like, can I make a copy and he came back, NO. You’ve got to give it back to me. I don’t have that one anymore. Somebody else sent me some sketches from a graphic novel they were making that  was inspired by “Imaginos” and had some “Imaginos” characters in there. I also don’t have a copy of that. I guess I could look it up. Last year, a guy had written a 300 page book that was inspired by “Imaginos”.

WC: I would have been surprised is somebody hadn’t have gotten some inspiration from it. What you’re describing sounds like “fan fiction”.

AB: Yes, yes. The guy with the book was asking me if I knew any publishers. No, that’s not my bag. He also asked me if I might write an autobiography. Well, maybe. I’m in a band with Dennis Dunaway and it took him 10 years to write his. It was like writing “Imaginos” all over again. (Laughs) Having to redo and redo and redo. If you put pictures in there, you gotta get permission. Oy! Copyright issues for lyrics.

WC: The nuts and bolts of putting it together is very daunting.

AB: Yeah. I said to myself, if this record “Re-Imaginos” does well, if it does better than the BLUE OYSTER CULT version, then I am definitely going to do the other two volumes, “Bombs Over Germany” and the final one, which is the “Mutant Reformation”.  Most of the songs are written.

WC: I’d be most curious to see that. As far as publishers for the graphic novel, there’s a whole world of underground comics producers out there. I know quite a bit about the comics world, I used to have a sizable collection.

AB: I see your Wormwood Chronicles has quite a bit of graphic art on it.

WC: I was lucky enough to work with people that could do it. I couldn’t draw a stick man, myself. Just like musically, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. I make up for it by writing it. Are you involved in any other projects than the “Re-Imaginos” album?

AB: Oh yeah, there are two other things that are coming out. On the 27th of October, I will be playing on the new and reformed DICTATORS record. We’re putting out a single on the 27th. It’s called “God Damn New York”. (laughs)

WC: I’ve talked to Ross the Boss and he did say he was going to have something new from THE DICTATORS out. He’s a super busy guy but the virus has killed the live music business this year.

AB: He was living on the road, basically. It’s hard to get a hold of him to do anything. That’s why when I started the “Re-Imaginos” thing, I got a couple of guitar players. I’m a great rhythm player, but not really that great on leads. I can improvise, but I cannot shred. There’s certain things I’ve tried to do and I just can’t do it. I think I’d rather practice just getting that rhythm part down. If I’m the singer, that’s fine. I hired R. J. Ronquillo to play a bunch of leads and I got another guy Vaughn Burton to play on it. Then I started working on the DICTATORS thing and Ross asked, hey, how come you didn’t ask me to play on it? Well, usually, you’re too busy. No, no, man, send me a track! So he plays lead on “I Am The One You Warned Me Of”. That’s Ross the Boss. They actually talked about me playing with THE DICTATORS before they did their first record. They wanted me to be the drummer but Sandy said, no, he’s too busy!

WC: I had no idea of your connection with Ross. Funny how things work out.

AB: As a matter of fact, when we were touring with BLACK SABBATH, the opening act was SHAKIN’ STREET, which Ross also played in with Fabienne Shine. Joey from MANOWAR, he was Tony Iommi’s roadie! That’s how Ross and Joey met and got on the road to MANOWAR, it was through BLUE OYSTER CULT.

WC: I remember very vividly the “Black and Blue” show that was played at Rockford Speedway. To this day, it was the strangest, most unusual show I ever saw. SHAKIN’ STREET wound up not playing that day. Years later, I talked to Ronnie Dio about the show. He disappeared in the middle of BLACK SABBATH’s set for 20 minutes and Iommi had to improvise a solo for that length of time. Half the crowd disappeared during that time. I asked Dio, what happened there? He said, I believe we were in our more indulgent phase during that time. (laughs). That was a gig where BOC legitimately blew BLACK SABBATH off the stage. The whole field where everybody parked was a mud pit because it rained hard the night before. To this day, I don’t know how I was able to get out of there without being stuck. I had great memories of that show. Right now, it doesn’t seem like I’m ever gonna see a band again.

AB: I know. One thing that we can say is that we will probably never have a second wave. The first one has never gone away! (laughs)

WC:  Somewhere down the road, they’ll come up with something for it. But I just don’t know how many people are going to be able to withstand the financial hardship. Right now they’re putting restrictions back on in my state. Clubs and restaurants are going to get crushed the second time around.

AB: I understand why you could have a concert if everyone was masked and things were like 50% capacity or so. That’s what Fauci is saying….a mask is better than a shot
WC: You’d think the mask was lined with spikes and weighed 500 pounds, the way some people react to them.

AB: I know! People are so resistant to the mask. I don’t get it. I don’t mind it that much. It is a pain in the ass, to be honest, but it’s better than getting sick and it’s way better than being stuck inside your house for two months, which is what I had to do in the beginning.

WC: The first month of the lockdown was really spooky here. But human beings being what they are, they are not going to do it this way for very long unless there’s real threat of death, like a bubonic plague.

AB: Well, I think there already is a threat of death. It’s a bizarre disease that they really don’t understand even’s still an ongoing thing. The Pandemic of 1918, which killed all of my great grandparents or at least the ones in this country, all at the same time. My grandmother and her husband, they couldn’t deal with it. They shipped my Dad off to his great grandfather’s house, who lived to be 96 years old and was a Civil War hero.

WC: I really hope when this thing is over, there’s a new explosion of creative arts and music. The truth is, even before the Pandemic, the musical situation was pretty dire. Lots of legendary venues have closed up in my neck of the woods.

AB: I was talking to Steve Shank, the manager of BLUE OYSTER CULT, about three weeks ago, right around the time we were doing the video for “Black Telescopes”. His prediction is that it will be small venues that will open first because they’re just not going to allow these huge concerts to take place. And that’s OK with me. Sometimes it’s great to look out at see 90,000 people, but it doesn’t really sound that good when you’re up on the stage. You can’t hear the audience, you can’t hear the other guys in the band. My favorites are playing small theaters with a little balcony. A 500 seater is my favorite.

WC: Like a House of Blues…

AB: Yeah, yeah. I played The Academy in Dublin and I’d say that was my favorite show that I’ve ever done. That was in 2016 with BLUE OYSTER CULT and the audience sang along with every song that we played. It was the first time BLUE OYSTER CULT had ever played Ireland. Me, of course, I’d been there before because my youngest song was getting close to college age and I was get my Irish citizenship, which I’m entitled to because my grandparents were from Cork. Basically he could go to school over there for free because of that.

WC: In America that’s unthinkable but that’s a whole other subject to get into…

AB: (laughs) Yeah, I know, it makes sense but we can’t do that here!

WC: Here’s an interesting question we always ask. If you could have dinner with any three people from history, who would they be?

AB: Number one would be Jimi Hendrix. I met him, I never really talked to him beyond saying hi. He actually came and saw me play a couple of times. Now who else from history? Maybe Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I would like to meet him. Who else? I dunno. Maybe Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, FDR and Jimi Hendrix! That would be quite a dinner.

WC: That always gets an interesting answer.

AB: You’ve heard so much about Jesus through the years, but what was he like? Really, what was he like? What three would you pick?

WC: I have actually thought about the answer to this. First choice would be the same as yours, Jimi Hendrix. Like Lemmy said, we will not see his like again. Secondly, I think I’d ask H.P. Lovecraft. And for the end, just to make it interesting, maybe Socrates.

AB: Oooh, now that would be interesting.  Socrates even predates Christ. Yes, those three would be interesting, even though Lovecraft was a pretty crusty guy and got worse towards the end.

WC: He could be unpleasant, but most people would be surprised to know that he was a lifelong Democrat. I heard that he actually mellowed out over the years. He was kind of racist and anti-immigrant, but in his last couple of years, he said I just never met those people, I never got to know them.

AB: If you can see how people act towards black people and you don’t acknowledge that as being bad, you have to say you’re a racist. For me, when I was 5, my best friend was black. And when he was 5, his best friend was black. Hard to understand how people can be that way, sometimes.

WC: What was the last release you got, just because you wanted to hear it?

AB: I got the last record from A TRIBE CALLED QUEST. One of the best hip hop groups, one of the best musical groups, period.