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Mix Live Blog: 50 Years Ago…

Blue Öyster Cult just marked its 50th anniversary. La Cerra, live sound engineer for three of the band's five decades, looks back.

blue oyster cult crew laminates
Just a few of live sound engineer Steve La Cerra’s laminates from the last 30 years with Blue Öyster Cult.

I feel like I might have witnessed a bit of rock music history when I mixed three shows for Blue Öyster Cult last week at Sony Hall in New York.

Hometown shows are always, um… interesting—i.e., people come out of the woodwork—but these in particular celebrated a special occasion: the band’s 50th Anniversary. Hard to believe, their first release came out in 1972, when the term “album” meant “vinyl record.”

Each of the three nights showcased an album in its entirety: the eponymous first album on the first night; Tyranny and Mutation (second release) on the second night; and their third LP, Secret Treaties, following on closing night. The band welcomed guest musicians including Albert Bouchard (the original drummer), Kasim Sulton and Andy Ascolese. The entire project was multi-tracked and shot in 4K on multiple cameras.

It was an epic undertaking, and I have renewed respect for the musicians. It’s true that most of the tracks from the first album are in regular rotation in our live shows, as are cuts from Tyranny and Mutation and Secret Treaties, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them perform “Cagey Cretins,” “Baby Ice Dog” or “Wings Wetted Down”—and I’ve seen a helluva lot of shows since I started working with the band back in 1993. These guys worked for months learning all this material, as well as some other really deep cuts, all while continuing to do regular tour dates.

“Peabody, set the Wayback Machine for 1972!” Richard Nixon was in the White House and visited China. The Vietnam War was dragging on. Gas fetched the princely sum of around 35 cents per gallon. HBO started airing as a pay TV service (so much for the promise of no commercials on pay TV).

An interesting music industry tidbit is that 1972 marked the first time that “phonorecords” were granted federal copyright protection. There was the Watergate Scandal, and George Carlin was arrested at Milwaukee Summerfest for actually saying those pesky “Seven Words.”

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I can’t imagine what touring must have been like back then, especially for a band trying to climb out of the trenches. I marvel at the thought of tour managers doing their gig without cell phones and laptops—though I do recall that BÖC TMs prior to myself spent an awful lot of time on payphones! I envision tour buses without heat trudging through Canada in the middle of January, or slithering through the desert in August without AC. Just as there were inevitably vehicles breaking down, there must have also been blazing loud stages with Marshall stacks and fire-breathing wedge monitors melting the faces off of unsuspecting performers.

No doubt, BÖC founding members Don “Buck Dharma” Roeser and Eric Bloom, who have consistently anchored the band throughout these five decades, have seen all that and more. They amuse the younger guys with tales of BeezleBus, or the pyro guy who was doing an on-camera interview and said, “it’s perfectly safe,” while a pyro charge unexpectedly combusted and burned his hand. Then there was the FBI agent who followed them around on tour for months, looking to bust the band for using a laser during the show. Yes, they were the first act to use a laser in a concert, and Bloom pioneered the idea of riding a Harley onto the stage.

But the thing that sticks with me most is that, with all that mileage under their belts, these guys still like each other and they like what they do. Together we grind—and believe me, we grind on planes, trains, automobiles and boats to do a gig. But when they’re up there, they rock like it’s 1972.