Frankly Speaking

How I Met Buck Dharma of Blue Öyster Cult

When I was a teenager I wanted to be a rock star. Every month, the magazines Creem and Circus came out and I devoured them, windows into that mythical rock and roll world I so much wanted to be a part of. In 1972 a review by Ed Ward in Creem raved about a new band called Blue Öyster Cult, and in particular, the talents of their lead guitarist, Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser. The review encouraged me to get the band’s eponymously titled debut album.

By the second song, “I’m on the Lamb but I Ain’t No Sheep,” I was completely stunned. Electrified. The songs sounded like nothing I’d heard before, rocking hard but…different, with mysterious musical twists and turns and impenetrable yet evocative lyrics about motorcycle gangs, Canadian Mounties, silverfish imperatrix, cities on flame – all set to the beat of roaring guitars and Buck Dharma’s astounding lead playing. He was rocking but wasn’t playing the usual weedly-weedly rock guitar clichés of the day – it was a far more inventive and virtuosic style. I was hooked.

Blue Oyster Cult, 1977. Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser is in white. Photo by Wikimedia Commons/Eric Meola, Columbia Records.

The article noted that the band members lived on Long Island. Hmmm. I took out the Suffolk County phone book and looked for their names; Eric Bloom, Allen Lanier, Albert Bouchard, Joe Bouchard…Donald Roeser. There was the listing. And a phone number! Could that be the Donald Roeser? Not a common name…maybe I could just call him up and find out!

But I didn’t have the nerve. I was a shy kid and thought, you didn’t just call Rock Stars up. So…I wrote him a letter, on that lined paper that school kids use. I told him how much I liked his playing and the band’s music. I didn’t even know if it was getting to the right person.

A few months later Blue Öyster Cult was playing at the Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park, July 16, 1973. A friend and I went. I was bouncing off the walls with anticipation. I would get to see my favorite band live! They were fantastic. They looked great, lead singer/guitarist/man of mystery Eric Bloom in black wearing shades, Buck in a white suit playing a matching white Gibson SG guitar, a huge Cult symbol logo in back of the drums, walls of Marshall amps. And Buck’s playing was even better than on record. Wow!

At the end of the show I noticed a line of people outside a trailer by the stage. We thought, that must be where the band is. Let’s stand in the line…maybe we’ll get lucky and meet them. I had no experience in this sort of thing.

My expectations started sinking – as people got to the trailer entrance, an intimidating security guy would bark, “who are you?,” look at a list and then either let them in or not. Some practically pleaded – and were told by the guy to get lost. Not good odds.

I finally got to the door. “Who are you?” Mustering up all the chutzpah an awkward kid could, I replied, “My name is Frank Doris. I sent Donald Roeser a letter and I want to see if he got it. He might be expecting me.” To my amazement the guy sized me up and said, “Hold on. Let me go check.”

A minute or so later he came back and said, “go ahead,” waving my friend and I back into the trailer.

Oh my G-d.

We walked in and standing right there was Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser, resplendent in the white suit with an attractive woman next to him.

Put this in perspective. What if one of you, at age 18, met Paul McCartney, or Miles Davis, or Jascha Heifetz, or whoever your personal idol is? That was what meeting Buck Dharma was like for me.

I was vibrating with excitement. Buck looked at me and said, “Hi! You’re Frank? Thanks for sending me that nice letter! This is my wife Sandy.”

He not only got the letter, he remembered who I was. Then Sandy also warmly welcomed me. Then the surroundings started to sink in. There was Joe Bouchard’s black, maple neck Precision Bass sitting on a stand. There were the other guitars. There were the stage outfits. There was the food and drink spread. There were the other band members! Beautiful women! Hangers on!

I was flipping out but Donald and Sandy immediately put me at ease. “Frank, Tim (my friend), let me introduce you. This is Eric, this is Joe, this is Allen, this is Albert…” We talked about their music, equipment, what it was like to play New York. We stayed for maybe 10 minutes – other people were waiting to get into the trailer. As I was about to leave, head spinning, Donald said, “We really appreciate you being fans of the band and coming to our show. Keep in touch.”

I had thought that Rock Stars would be arrogant, aloof, not wanting to even speak to mere mortals like myself, and here was my guitar hero going out of his way – to be a nice guy and thank me for coming!

Then Came the Last Days of May

We kept in touch. I would see the band whenever I could. Each time Donald and I got to know each other a little better. After high school I attended SUNY Albany and on May 24, 1975 BÖC played at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. A bunch of us drove up to the show with a Blue Öyster Cult flag that my friend Ed’s mother had made for us flying from the antenna of an immense Dodge Polara. On the drive, fellow BÖC fans honked and waved at the sight of the flag.

A number of my friends had never seen the band before. By the end of the first song, “Stairway to the Stars,” they were blown away. After the next few songs, we were putty. Then the band took a pause and Donald got up to the mic. “We’d like to say hello to a few of our friends…X, Y, Z, and…Frank Doris!” My friends went nuts, screaming.

After the show we all got invited backstage and I got to re-live that whoa, we’re hanging with rock stars feeling all over again, this time through my buddies’ eyes. I remember asking Donald what his favorite part of the United States was. The Southwest, he replied, because of the beauty and uniqueness of the terrain.

We were among the last to leave the venue.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, May 24, 1975.

Don’t Turn Your Back

We graduated college in 1977. Around that time a friend and I went to a BÖC show at the Academy of Music or whatever it was called. (We nicknamed it the Academy of Drugs for the amount of pharmaceutical mayhem that took place there.)

At the end of the show we were almost in tears. We felt like it was the end of an era, now that we were about to enter the “real world.” And bands didn’t last, so maybe this was the last BÖC show we were ever going to see.

We had forgotten the band’s motto – “On Tour Forever.”

In fact, I did “lose” the band, and my connection with Donald, for a while. I lost touch with a lot of people during the 1980s, not the best period in my life. However, during this time I had been reading a column that Donald was writing for Guitar Shop. I contacted editor Pete Prown to see if he could put me back in touch, which Pete did. I e-mailed Donald and his reply was, “Hey Frank, it’s been a zillion years. How are you?” In 1997 we saw each other again at Tommyknockers in Farmingdale, Long Island. This time the guy at the door was expecting me. It was wonderful to see my friend again. It was as if the lost years never took place; you know how that feeling goes.

Still Burnin’

Since then we’ve gotten to know each other to the point where we exchange holiday cards. (Sorry I didn’t send any last year; I was OBE.) Among the highlights:

I invited Donald and Eric Bloom to a New York Stereophile show about 10 or 15 years ago. Donald’s into high-end audio and Eric wanted to check out big-screen home theaters. Donald said he was going to go incognito – and then he showed up wearing a badge that read, “CEO – Blue Öyster Cult!” Still, most show-goers didn’t recognize Donald, the man who wrote “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” for crying out loud (we visited a bunch of rooms together) – but I wish I had a camera to get the double takes of those who did.

In July 2000 I had hernia surgery. A little thing like that wasn’t going to stop me from going to a BÖC show shortly after. By the end of the show (standing room only – what was I thinking) I was in a fair amount of pain. After the show Donald asked me if I was OK and offered to drive me home. I was touched. In fact, the guys in BÖC are generous with their fans, usually going out to meet them after the show.

My daughter grew up listening to music (no shocker there) and was a rock fan by the time she was a few years old. This isn’t an exaggeration. When she was five and found out I was going to see Blue Öyster Cult (at the IMAC Theater in Huntington, NY, May 4, 2002) she wanted to go. We got first-row tickets (and ear protection).

Since the first-row seats were just a few feet from the stage, the guys in the band saw her sitting there. During the last song of the set I held her up to get a better look – and the next thing we knew, she was up on the stage with Donald and the guys gathered around her, playing to her! The place went nuts. A once-in-a-lifetime moment.

In 2012 BÖC played at Mulcahy’s in Wantagh. By this point, going to a BÖC concert meant seeing a bunch of friends I’d become acquainted with after seeing so many shows (and seeing them is one of the most fun parts of going to a BÖC gig). A few weeks beforehand one my friend Alex had invited me to a birthday party for Donald she was throwing after the gig. She told me, “bring your guitar.”

Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale NY, August 2012. Photo by Tony DeStefano.

Does that mean what I think it means? Yes. I was going to get to play with Buck Dharma.

I practiced every day for three weeks.

I got to the party, acoustic guitar in hand. I’d be playing along with Donald and my friend Tony DeStefano, quite a player and singer. I was a little nervous but not a basket case. (Not to blow my own horn but I play on a professional level.) We played Beatles songs and other stuff. It sounded good! Really good. I had to pinch myself. We were actually doing this.

Donald hadn’t brought a guitar and someone handed him a Baby Taylor something like that. It wasn’t tuned to normal guitar pitch. “That’s OK; I’ll just play it.” And just took it and played it beautifully. I’d be stumbling in a situation like that. He was flying.

After the party Donald sent me an e-mail saying, “we sounded good. It was SMOOTH!”

OK, I’ve lived.

FD, Tony DeStefano and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser, August 2012. Photo by Alex Clark.

The last BÖC show I saw was at the Suffolk Theater in Riverhead on February 7, 2020. It was particularly outstanding, with the band blazing and pulling out a number of rarities (“Flaming Telepaths,” “In Thee,” “Workshop of the Telescopes”) for the hometown crowd. (The current lineup includes Bloom, Roeser, Richie Castellano on guitar/keyboards/vocals, Danny Miranda on bass/vocals and Jules Radino on drums.) After the gig the band and some friends went to  Jerry’s, a nearby karaoke bar/restaurant.

Blue Öyster Cult, Suffolk Theater, February 7, 2020. Danny Miranda, Eric Bloom, Richie Castellano and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser. Not pictured: Jules Radino.

Outside of the insiders, no one recognized Donald. “How does it feel to be ignored!” I joked to him. Shortly thereafter, the BÖC hit “Burning for You” came on the jukebox. The regular bar crowd still had no clue that the guy who did the song was right there. “That’s nothing,” Donald told me. “The last time we played here I went up and did karaoke to “Burning for You” and people still didn’t know it was me!”

As we were sitting at the table, we got a little philosophical, having known each other for so long. At one point Donald looked at me and said, “life is a journey.”

It sure is.

I’ll let him have the last word: “Getting older gives us both a different perspective on the whole journey. Life is good! It’s a great ride.”

Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser and FD, Jerry’s, February 7, 2020. Photo by Cheryl Peterson.