Brain Surgeons NYC Rock The Big Questions

A Canaveral-esque countdown kicks things off, ushering in a deafening roar of guitar, bass and drums, a sound that will remind you of the face-melting, ear-pummeling metal of your misspent youth. This is "Rocket Science," the first track off Brain Surgeons NYC's Denial of Death, and if it brings back memories of mid-1970s parking-lot gropes and tokes, there's a damned good reason. Drummer Albert Bouchard is the one who put the cowbell into Blue Öyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper," among other headbanger classics. Bouchard and his wife, Deborah Frost, ex-drummer for Flaming Youth and a well-known rock journalist, started Brain Surgeons in the early 1990s. Since then they have released seven albums on their own Cellsum record label. The latest, Denial of Death, is a heavy rock triumph, full of crushing riffs and spiraling solos. Yet beyond that, it's melodic, soul-searching and intelligent as it grapples with the big questions like death and the morality of war.

Denial of Death is the Brain Surgeons' first album since the death of their guitar player Billy Hilfiger in 2001. Hilfiger, the brother of designer Tommy Hilfiger, had played rhythm guitar for the band since its second album, Trepanation, in 1995; he was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1997. "Billy first got sick... right before we did our first West Coast tour, and his participation became more and more limited as his illness progressed," Frost said. "But as it became clear that he wasn't going to get better, it wasn't really helpful to tell him, 'You've got a brain tumor, you're out of the band.'"

Hilfiger's illness and eventual death, and the passing of long-time friend Helen Wheels, made the early 2000s a dark and difficult period for Brain Surgeons, but there was never any doubt about whether the band would continue. "There was a question of whether we would regroup as a different band or keep the same name," Bouchard said. "It's something we're still dealing with, hence the 'Brain Surgeons NYC' tag that we're using now. That way it's the same but different."

Moreover, continuing to play is one way of defying death. "But we don't need anyone who's literally on his deathbed in order to go out play every show like it might be our last," Frost said. "We made the album the same way. We don't want to leave anything in the locker room. That's the constant challenge."

The band toured as a trio to support the 1999 double CD Piece of Work, but recently added guitarist Ross "The Boss" Friedman" of the Dictators and Manowar to the lineup, a change that shaped Denial of Death in several key ways. For one thing, Friedman can shred with the best of them. His solos, majestically slow in "Tomb of the Unknown Monster," and Eddie Van Halen rapid in the break to "1864," give the band an extra dimension, a more credibly metallic sound. "We've done more metal songs in the past and they didn't come out as well," Bouchard said. "Ross helps us sell the metal aspects of our sound in a big way."

But, as the delicate, almost Spanish-sounding guitar work of "Strange Like Me" shows, he's versatile, too. "Ross started that when I brought out this nice little nylon-string guitar and suggested he try that for the lead instead of the electric he had been using. We knew after 10 seconds it was the right sound," Bouchard said. Frost added, "The song just cried out for it. It's very ‘Never on Sunday.' And we were really happy to finally get a chance to use that guitar, which is really great but was relegated to storage for decades. It didn't even merit a place under the bed! Now it's redeemed itself."

Friedman also transformed the songwriting process, making the Brain Surgeons' latest album their most diverse and collaborative ever. "He's really the first person who brings as much to the party as Albert or I do," Frost said. "He's just in an entirely different league in terms experience and a distinct voice. And he's helped elevate our game — and vice-versa." She added that past efforts to involve other band members in the songwriting process had fizzled. "It was like pulling teeth, except at the very end with Billy, when he was just grateful to participate in any way," she said. "Ross is the other extreme — he's the fountain of spurt. And every idea he gave us, we made a song out of."

Having three songwriters instead of two meant that there was more than enough material for Denial of Death, she explains. "For the first time ever, we wrote way too many songs or instead of having to include something we weren't totally 100% about, we had to leave some out. All of this material was really fresh — it wasn't stuff that either Albert or I had lying around in various states of undress forever. And for the first time, there were no what I would call specifically Albert songs or Deborah songs. We really worked together on everything, which hasn't always been the case, and then we worked together on the ideas Ross brought us."

Many of those ideas had to do with the war in Iraq, a conflict brought into Frost and Bouchard's home, literally, with the daily postal delivery. "It's very difficult for us, who grew up during Vietnam and have a son who just turned 17, and is getting mail daily from every branch of the military offering him some cheesy premium you get for opening a bank account — you know, just give us your name and potentially your arm, leg, or life and you can get these cheap sunglasses absolutely free — to look at the daily carnage and the heartbreak," Frost said, adding that concerns about the war informed songs like "Jimmy Boots Fetish," "Constantine's Sword" and "Change the World, Henry."

There's also a Civil war song on the album in "1864," with lyrics about a young soldier's watery escape from death rising above a frantic punk metal beat. "That's a true story about Albert's great-great grandfather, who won the Medal of Honor for his heroism in the Civil War," Frost said. "Albert mentioned it to a librarian type friend into Civil War research, who found several accounts. We took the song pretty directly from a newspaper article. [He was] interviewed near the end of his life — y'know, like when they'd trot the local hero out to shake hands with General Pershing on the 4th of July. A lot of it is verbatim."

"It presented a new kind of experience in terms of writing, which I really loved, and telling the story from a different character's perspective," Frost added. "Before I ever wrote anything else, I thought I was going to write plays, which is what I did when I was 15, 16 — and this might have been the first time I felt like I'd really let someone else talk in a song, and I was very proud of finally figuring out what to do with the chorus, 'cause it took a while."

Brain Surgeons NYC are playing a handful of shows in April and May, with stops in New Jersey, Brooklyn, Detroit, Canada and Philadelphia. For more complete dates and other information, check the Web site — Jennifer Kelly [Thursday, March 30, 2006

Classic Rock & Metal Hammer

Denial Of Death
Original Blue Öyster Cult drummer returns

Back with an updated name (the suffix of NYC was absent on their previous half-dozen albums), the Brain Surgeons fail to be derailed by the cerebral baggage that accompanies drummer Albert Bouchard’s involvement in the Blue Öyster Cult’s seminal early years. Joining Bouchard and rock critic-turned-vocalist/guitarist Deborah Frost is Ross The Boss, from Shakin’ Street, The Dictators and Manowar. Provocative and thoughtful without being stuffy, these songs belong in stadiums not libraries. Constantine’s Sword has a groove most bands would envy, its climax freeing Ross The Boss to blaze, Dark Secrets and 1864 highlighting the Surgeons’ diversity. But the piece de resistance is Tomb Of The Unknown Monster, a sci-fi epic worthy of the man that co-wrote BÖC’s Dominance And Submission.
Dave Ling

HairMetal Ireland

Recognise the name Albert Bouchard ... you should, former Blue Oyster Cult's drummer forms part of the solid rhythm section of this hard and heavy rock band Brain Surgeons!
But that's not the only ace that this band have, on vocals and guitar we have Deborah Frost, an ex rock critic with raw rasping vocals, lead guitarist is none other than ex-Manowar Ross 'The Boss' and last but not least is the man responsible for the completion of that previously mentioned rock solid rhythm section David Hirschberg on bass.
Now after reading that don't be thinking that you have an idea about what the Brain Surgeons sound like, nothing will have prepared you for the hard rock onslaught that this release will unleash on your ears.
Opening with the mighty 'Rocket Science' one thing that stands out is Deborah's husky Patti Smyth-esque vocals, if you have begun to think that female vocals in rock music can now only be soaring operatic sopranos, Deborah is here to prove you wrong.
'Dark secrets' is almost sinister in it's heaviness, Ross's guitar roaring over the top of the thudding drums and bass, the whispered backing vocals adding to the eerie quality that the song possesses. Great track, one of my favourite's on the CD.
The chorus to 'Constantine's Sword' is another stand out moment on the album for me.
There are not many drummers past or present that could hold a candle to Bouchard on 'Jimmy Boots Fetish' the intro is so good, that it almost distracts you from the rest of the band, however then Ross leaps in with a few screeching guitar riffs, just to reaffirm that he is in fact... boss.
These 4 musicians make up a great combination and seemed to be hell bent on creating music that's as heavy as hell and sure to leave those who thought they had any preconceived ideas about the Brain Surgeons sound standing with their mouths open.

Breakout Magazine (Germany)

Import-Tip des Monats
"Denial Of Death"
US-Import / Internet
Die Brain Surgeons sind eine sehr umtriebige Truppe, die in den letzten Jahren fleißig Platten veröffentlicht hat, aber leider bis dato durch schlechte bis überhaupt nicht vorhandene Promo in Europa nur einen Insider-Status besitzt. Da ist's klar, daß das Break Out an dieser Situation was ändern muß, zumal zur Besetzung zwei alte Bekannte gehören, nämlich der frühere Blue Öyster Cult-Drummer Albert Bouchard, der auch hier bei einigen Tracks logischerweise den Leadgesang beisteuert, und Klampfer Ross The Boss, uns allen als ehemaliges Mitglied von Manowar und den Dictators bekannt. Zusammen mit Frontfrau/Gitarristin Deborah Frost und Baßmann David Hirschberg hat der Vierer aus dem Big Apple jetzt den Zusatz NYC im Bandnamen, um ganz deutlich zu zeigen, wo musikalisch der Hammer hängt. "Denial Of Death" heißt ihr neuer Streich, ein äußerst vielseitiges Werk, das viele Ecken und Kanten besitzt. Bei den ersten Hördurchgängen klingt die Platte sicherlich extrem sperrig, aber mehr und mehr entfaltet sie einen Charme, weil sie das Beste aus der Rockszene des Big Apple kombiniert: Blue Öyster Cult, Dictators, Patti Smith, Ramones und etliches mehr. Zwölf Tracks lang bewegen sich die Brain Surgeons NYC dabei zwischen 70ies Hardrock, leicht punkigen Attacken, mit ab und an ein paar Psychedelic-Elementen und Parts, die an Motörhead, The Stooges oder Velvet Underground erinnern. Alles in allem eine heiße Mischung, die rauh und ungeschliffen rüberkommt und in gelungenem Songmaterial wie "1864", "Constantine's Sword", "Swansöng", "Tomb Of The Unknown Monster", "Verböten" oder "Dark Secrets" mündet. Erhältlich ist das Werk, wie auch andere gute Sachen aus New York, über
Texte: Marco Magin

Classic Rock Revisited

Brain Surgeons NYC – Denial of Death
Cellsum Records
Rating: A

Someone forgot to tell Albert Bouchard that he is not in Blue Oyster Cult anymore.

The new album, Denial of Death, released March 13th by the Brain Surgeons, is a return to excellence. This is the band’s first album to truly see the spirit of Bouchard’s classic BOC attack. As a mainstay in BOC’s songwriting process, Bouchard brought two things to the bands early sound: a unique vision to the overall song structure and the ability to co-create with other writers. After leaving Blue Oyster Cult, Albert formed Brain Surgeons with his wife Debra Frost. The couple has made several interesting and, one could say, strange collections of music but they never were able to reach the level of mastery that Albert accomplished with his former band – until now.

Enter Ross the Boss, former Dictators guitarist and lifelong Blue Oyster Cult fanatic. According to Debra, “The reality is that Albert and I were both totally inspired by Ross. He's the first person we've had who brings as much as we do to the party.” Albert agrees, “We really did work harder on the writing on this one, driven mostly by Ross who kept saying, ‘It's not ready.’ We got much more in each other's faces. There was less division of labor because we all worked on the lyrics and musicequally. We also spent more time trying different tempos and keys than ever before. Once we felt we had each song as good as it could be we went into the studio and did it all in a couple days -- then took almost a year to mix it!”

Albert does not back down from the Blue Oyster Cult comparisons that will come from this album, “I heard it from the other room a few days ago and thought, ‘Who's this band trying to sound like BOC?’ then realized it's me and that's okay, I guess. We really weren't trying to sound like them but it came out that way anyway, at least in terms of my part of the sound.” Debra sums up this writers feelings exactly when she admits, “It is the best thing we've ever done.”

There are no weak tracks, and in fact, most songs are totally kick-ass. From the opening countdown of “Rocket Science” to the closing number “Change the World Henry” this album is a molten metal masterpiece. The writing style could be called the missing link between Secret Treaties and Agents of Fortune but lest not be confused, this is a Brain Surgeons album. Ross the Boss seems to hold the key to get Bouchard and Frost to dig deeper and embrace the music they all hold inside. He also has been able to get Bouchard to micro-manage the songs and make each note count. Ross makes his guitar sing, Albert makes the background noise and Frost’s voice is partly Patty Smith and part Demon from the Depths of Hell, but it works – oh how it works!

The strongest songs are “Jimmy’s Boots Fetish,” “Plague of Lies,” “Verboten” and “Swan Song.” The best of the bunch is “Tomb of the Unknown Monster.” Rock fans need to support this band. Something is crawling out from the streets of New York City demanding satisfaction. You don’t need to be a Brain Surgeon to figure out how important this music is to the survival of real rock music.

Metal Warrants

Brain Surgeons NYC 'Denial of Death' (Cellsum Records) By Ed Cadaver
Maybe you've heard of 'em, maybe you haven't. Either way, I'm sure you have heard of Blue Oyster Cult; its founder and key songwriter Albert Bouchard, along with wife Deborah Frost (ex-rock critic) are the driving force behind the Brain Surgeons. Now if that's not memorable enough (a husband and wife actually fronting a band together!), wait until you hear their music. Especially since they recruited Ross the Boss (guitarist formerly of Manowar, Dictators) to their lineup. His huge riffs and eclectic guitar licks give Denial of Death a sound that stands on its own, apart from earlier Brain Surgeons albums. What they have now is a very solid quartet and they play a high grade of rock 'n' roll. This is not metal by any stretch, but purely rock with a classic feel to it and Brain Surgeons own memorable, unique style. Sometimes Bouchard does the vocals and sometimes Deborah Frost will, it just depends on which voice is most appropriate for the song and who can best convey it. Although Deborah's raspy voice won't win any vocal awards, its got a soothing quality, lots of character, and fits perfectly with the style. I need to see them live, this is a band that has an energy to it that you can just feed off of at a live show. They start on tour again on April 15th with a limited number of venues including dates in Chicago, Cleveland, Brooklyn, and Philidelphia. For more info on tour dates, or anything Brain Surgeons, check out their website.

Memphis Flyer
Or, the brains behind the Brain Surgeons.
By Andria Lisle
In these halcyon days of garage rock throwbacks and 1980s retreads, a bona fide hard-rock band seems like a real anomaly. Shaggy hair cuts and tight black Levis have given way to perfectly coiffed heads and matching suits, while epic sci-fi lyrics are passed over for forgettable ditties about love and boredom. Meanwhile, the music itself sounds choreographed and more than a little self-conscious - hardly the inspired mayhem of '70s rock songs like, say, Blue Oyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper."
Even the cowbell, once a staple of rock drummers everywhere, has been relegated to comedy status: Mention the instrument to most folks, and they'll bring up Will Ferrell's Saturday Night Live coup de grace, a parody of BOC's "Reaper" sessions on VH-1's Behind the Music. "More cowbell," Christopher Walken insists to Ferrell, who portrays the band's drummer, Albert Bouchard. "I gotta have more cowbell!"
Today, Bouchard laughs good-naturedly about the skit. "The amazing thing is that Will Ferrell could actually hear the cowbell, because it's mixed so low," he marvels. "On the song, the cowbell symbolized the ticking of the time machine. When I originally played it in the studio, I was like, Oh yeah, this track isn't so steady. Let's see if I can straighten it out a little bit. Its deeper meaning grew over time. Now it stands for mortality," he says.
"I've even been thinking about new cowbell designs. As a drummer, I've got an endorsement with Rhythm Tech, so I've put out a few feelers to see if they want to work with me on it," he says. Clearly, Bouchard isn't one to rest on his hard-rock laurels - and he refuses to let his career fizzle out as the butt of Ferrell's joke. Instead of retiring his drumsticks, he's packing up his kit and heading out on the road with his latest group, the Brain Surgeons, for a monthlong U.S. tour.
He started the band with his wife, renowned music critic Deborah Frost, in the early 1990s, after quitting BOC. While a pair of guitarists and a saxophonist came and went, the Brain Surgeons are currently a quartet, anchored by former Manowar/Dictators guitarist Ross "the Boss". "We decided to go out this summer and play our asses off," Bouchard says of the impending 21-city tour. "With Blue Oyster Cult, they do 70 dates a year, playing all the same songs. The Brain Surgeons do about 40 gigs a year, so it doesn't feel like [we're on] autopilot. We're doing between six and 10 new songs every show, plus material from all eight Brain Surgeons albums. We also do a few BOC songs, the ones you expect us to play, with one or two oddballs in there."
Admittedly, Bouchard's biggest adjustment comes from sharing the stage with his wife. "When I was in BOC, I always thought my problems could be solved if I could have her on the road with me," he says. "I saw Ozzy and Sharon [Osbourne] and thought, That's fucking brilliant. But the reality of it is hard. Sometimes we get on each other's case. I'll say, 'How could you forget that chord change? We've played it 1,000 times!' She'll reply, 'Well, how could you forget so-and-so's name?'" "She's great with names and numbers," he acknowledges, "but sometimes she spaces out on the guitar thing." "Albert can be a very demanding taskmaster," Frost divulges. "If I play a wrong note, he's merciless. And Ross is another unbelievable musician with very high standards. On our last European tour, I got sick, and it was all I could do to stand up, let alone play." Yet Frost - who drummed with New York's all-girl rock band Flaming Youth before embarking on her career as a journalist, logging hours of interview time with Motley Crue and Motorhead for magazines such as Creem, Spin, and Rolling Stone - manages to hold her own with the men.
"I kinda detoured into being a rock writer," she says. "I took so much abuse. There was such incredible sexism back then, and there was no such thing as politically incorrect. A lot of people would be particularly nasty. I'd sit in the Village Voice office and hear my editor slam the phone down on people." Frost toiled as a journalist for decades before going on an "endless sabbatical" in the mid-1990s. "I was burnt out, but the phone was ringing all the time, and it was so hard to say no to an exclusive story," she says, declaring that finally, "there just wasn't that much stuff that interested me enough to write about it." Now she channels her full-time energy into the Brain Surgeons. "I don't care where we're playing. I want to be perfect," she notes. "As a critic, I've seen people like Bruce Springsteen play to nobody. But those nights when it does click, I'm thinking, This is so much fun."
For a quick lesson in the zeitgeist's ability to latch on to a concept and then diffuse it through millions of people at any given time, let's examine the phenomenon of the cowbell.

Wildcard - The Brain Surgeons NYC
—Jason Shawhan

Springing from a richly syncopated rock classic (Don't Fear The Reaper), someone at Saturday Night Live decided to use the recording sessions for that song as a showcase for both Christopher Walken and Will Farrell. Now, the phrase "more cowbell" can be used in almost any situation, and much like the word "Smurf," can be used to mean just about anything.
It all springs from the steady hands of Albert Bouchard, the drummer for Blue Oyster Cult back in the day and currently the mastermind behind Brain Surgeons NYC, a rawk collective that combines Bouchard's mastery of rhythm with the monstrous guitar of Ross the Boss (from Manowar and The Dictators) and the vocals of critic-turned-chanteuse Deborah Frost. Currently touring in support of their recent Black Hearts of Soul compilation, Brain Surgeons NYC will unleash their precision assault on Springwater this week.

Lansing State Journal

From SNL to the Temple
Happen to be a "Saturday Night Live" fan? If so, chances are you've seen the perennial skit "Behind the Music: Blue Oyster Cult." In it, Christopher Walken acts as a studio producer during recordings for "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," fervidly leading percussionist Will Ferrell, "I gotta have more cowbell, baby!"
The side-splitting take on VH1's "Behind the Music" is etched in TV comedy's lexicon.
As far as the song goes, BOC fans likely remember that, yes, it did feature a cowbell.
But who was the true man behind the cowbell? BOC drummer Albert Bouchard.
Since 1994, Bouchard has fronted a band of his own: The Brain Surgeons. His wife, ex-Flaming Youth drummer Deborah Frost, sings and plays guitar in the group. The latest addition is lead guitarist "Ross the Boss," who joined the Surgeons just in time to record a new album of original material, yet untitled, currently in the mixing phase.
The New York City outfit, which plays Friday at The Temple Club, is musically daring. On the band's over half-dozen albums, it explores the gamut of styles, from old-school punk to heavy metal to layered acoustic folk-pop.
Bouchard's song-writing skills deserve credit. Songs co-written by him have been covered by The Minutemen ("The Red and the Black"), Metallica ("Astronomy"), and been appropriated by television shows. "That '70s Show" used "Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll" for an episode.
Live, the band is known to play some BOC tunes - minus the cowbell.

By Anne Erickson

Democrat and Chronicle

Shucking with the Brain Surgeons
Jeff SpevakBlue Oyster Cult was once a great band. Its 1974 magnum opus, Secret Treaties, is pure amphetamine freak occultism. And literate, as well. Patti Smith wrote some lyrics. Horror writer Stephen King and sci-fi author Michael Moorcock were early fans; King did a spoken-word intro to one song. The cyber-punk novelist John Shirley based his first novel on a Blue Oyster Cult biker rocker, "Transmaniacon MC.'
Blue Oyster Cult is still out there, if you're looking to book a band to rattle your company barbecue. "Two Oyster Cult' is how I've heard them referred to recently, just a couple of the original guys in Dockers — real magnum Opies — going through the motions. The band's been the subject of a frequently repeated Saturday Night Live skit, "Blue Oyster Cult on Behind the Music,' with Christopher Walken as a studio producer during the recording of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper,' urging on percussionist Will Ferrell. "I gotta have more cowbell, baby!'
The Brain Surgeons were playing a small club in Columbus, Ohio, a couple of years ago, when that skit appeared on the TV over the bar. "We were packing up our equipment,' recalls Albert Bouchard. "All of a sudden we heard this big "Whoo!' coming from bar, and someone says, 'Look, look, check this out!'"
If you remember that moody, psychedelic Blue Oyster Cult hit from 1976, you'll remember that there was, indeed, a cowbell in it. Bouchard, a drummer and one of the founding members of the band, put the cowbell there.And as one who would know, Bouchard concedes that the Saturday Night Live portrayal was pretty dead-on: "The guys,' he says, "were adequately dopey.'
A rock band on life support is a terrible thing to watch. It's best to pull the plug and, in Bouchard's case, call in the Brain Surgeons, who play Saturday at the Bug Jar.
"I took some time off from Blue Oyster Cult, because I wanted to do my own thing,' the 57-year-old Bouchard says. "It didn't work out, so I said, 'Hey, I want to be back in the band.' And they said, "No. You quit, you left us in the lurch. What's gonna keep it from happening again?'
"I didn't do anything for a while. I was writing songs, but I couldn't get anything out. It was like being constipated.' Finally, there was some movement. And the Brain Surgeons were born, in 1994. Bouchard's wife, Deborah Frost, is a guitarist and one of three lead singers. Her experience was as a punk drummer and, like a couple of the old Blue Oyster Cult guys, working in the rock-criticism arts as well.
Hmmmm …
Anyway, the Brain Surgeons rock but are unrestrained by labels. They can space rock, they can harmonize like a barbershop quartet. And they play a few Blue Oyster Cult songs. Best of all, Bouchard has a mask depicting a Tokyo-stomping lizard if the band decides to cover BOC's 1977 hit, "Godzilla."
Blue Oyster Cult hasn't completely drifted into the '70s cutout bin. Metallica included a version of "Astronomy,' one of many BOC songs written by Bouchard, on its 1998 collection of covers, Garage, Inc. It was a nice pick-me-up for Bouchard. "I was feeling like I was not connected to the current music scene,' he says. "I had students then who said, 'Well, I've never heard of Blue Oyster Cult. I'm into Metallica.' And the next thing you know, one of my songs is on their record.
"We had our weaknesses,' Bouchard says of BOC. "There wasn't really a strong lead singer.' Three of them shared vocals, including the band's former road manager.
Blue Oyster Cult also very nearly had a female lead singer.
"One of the guys met her at a poetry reading,' Bouchard recalls. "He said, 'Well, I've never heard her sing, but she's pretty cool.' She came over and I said, 'Wow, we gotta get this person in this band. She's awesome, with this great poetry.' The rest of the band was not as enthusiastic as I was. Certain people did not want to have a girl in the band at that time.' Ah, the road not taken. The cowbell not rung. How would you like to have been the guy who turned down Patti Smith for a job in your rock band?
Jeff Spevak is our staff music critic.


Sole Survivor

A Blue Oyster Cult vet keeps it alive

By Jim Knipfel

Not only is Blue Oyster Cult's Tyranny and Mutation one of the greatest metal albums ever recorded-it might also be considered the prototype for what, in later years, would come to be called speedmetal. That album's opener, "The Red and the Black," is a high-octane lightning bolt barrage of guitar and drums, all in honor of the Canadian Mounties.

On Beach Party- what I believe to be their 6th album- the Brain Surgeons do their own version of "The Red and the Black," slowing it down considerably and playing it this time on acoustic guitar and mandolin. The idea might sound like a travesty at first, but you figure since Albert Bouchard wrote the song, he can play it however he damn well pleases. I happen to like the new version a whole bunch.

Bouchard, there's little question, was pretty much single-handedly responsible for the brilliance of those first several Blue Oyster Cult albums. After he left the band, things took a serious, serious slide toward the banal and the merely awful.

In the mid-90s, long after leaving BOC, Bouchard and his wife (noted rock critic and former member of New York's Flaming Youth) teamed up to form their own band, the Brain Surgeons. Around the same time, they also formed their own indie label, Cellsum records.

Since then- just the past couple of years, actually- things have been kind of rough. Billy Hilfiger, the Brain Surgeons' guitarist, died of a brain tumor. Their longtime friend from the earliest BOC days (who also released albums through Cellsum), Helen Wheels, passed away. And then just this last February, another old BOC friend and Cellsum recording artist, David Roter, died after complications resulting from leukemia.

After all that, it's hard to imagine them releasing an album that's as much fun as Beach Party, but they did.

At heart, of course, it's a heavy metal album- but not metal as it's come to be known today- it's not the speedmetal that Tyranny foreshadowed. Jesus, no. Along with the classic, old-style metal riffs, you'll find a cappella numbers, surf guitar, funk, blues and basic garage rock as well (though mercifully little funk). The Surgeons are clearly having a hell of a good time doing what they're doing.

Still essentially a trio (with David Hirshberg replacing Hilfiger), Albert's brother- and former BOC alumnus Joe can also be heard playing on a number of tracks. In a way (the same way their previous albums have been), Beach Party is like an early BOC family reunion, with the Bouchard brothers and Frost, of course, but also with songs co-written by Helen Wheels and Richard Meltzer.

Frost sneers and growls through her tracks, her vocals resting somewhere between Helen Wheels and Grace Slick. It's a perfect fit for numbers like "Medusa" and "Niagara Falls." "Krakatoa," a Joe Bouchard/Meltzer number about, well, Krakatoa, sounds like a variation of "Godzilla" at first, and as goofy as any song about Krakatoa would be. Then it gets stuck in your head for a very long time. Sort of like "Godzilla."

The Brain Surgeons remain one of the precious few examples old-time rock and rollers who can do more than rest on their one hit, content to play the county fair circuit. They're out there elbow to elbow with the damn kids, playing the little clubs, writing new songs, experimenting like crazy and having a good time.

It could even be argued, I guess, that the Brain Surgeons represent what might've become of Blue Oyster Cult had Bouchard stayed aboard- and if they'd adopted a female vocalist. A little older, a little wiser, a little slower, sure, but the songwriting is still there, and its heart is no less wicked. Lord knows, it's a damn sight more interesting than that last Blue Oyster Cult album.


Chicago Tribune

Bouchard still lives

Ex-Blue Oyster Cult Drummer having fun

By Greg Kot

The Brain Surgeons, who headline Saturday at the Heartland Cafe, aren't nearly as well known as drummer Al Bouchard's former band, Blue Oyster Cult. But the music is in many ways just as adventurous.

Over a half-dozen albums, the Brain Surgeons explore everything from punk screeds to layered acoustic folk-pop, avant-garde percussion to heavy-metal head banging. On one recent release, the double-CD "Piece of Work," they do justice to everything from doo-wop to Lynyrd Skynyrd (a poignant cover of "Simple Man").

It makes sense, because Bouchard was one of Blue Oyster Cult's key songwriters, and great songs were what defined that band even more so than its mirrored shades and black-magic iconography. Tunes cowritten by Bouchard have been covered by everyone from the Minutemen ("The Red and the Black") to Metallica ("Astronomy"), and been appropriated by television shows ("That '70s Show" used "Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll"). The royalties have helped him maintain his do-it-yourself operation with the Brain Surgeons; the band runs its own label, Cellsum Records (, and books its own tours.

"If we had a strong offer from a major label, we'd totally sell out," Bouchard says with a laugh, in an interview from the band's office on the upper West Side of Manhattan. "But this way, having total control, we're having a lot more fun. I'm actually losing less money doing it this way, if you think about the time that it takes to get a major-label project up and running. I've produced enough bands over the years to know that a band signed to a major can work for years, and then not even have an album come out. This way, I always have something to build on. We are constantly writing songs, more than we can record, and we have a group of people that always comes to see us. It's like this little Brain Surgeons social circle."

In contrast, the other members of Blue Oyster Cult play more than 100 shows a year at much larger venues, even though they have not been nearly as prolific as Bouchard in writing new material.

In its original '70s incarnation, the Cult played as many as 300 shows a year, filling arenas around the world with a twisted brand of heavy metal, wrapped in S&M leather and irony.

"We were originally a pretty serious psychedelic blues band, but when we decided to go with the heavy metal thing, it was a hoot," Bouchard says. "Black Sabbath was our big influence, woo-hoo! We were all much more into the Ozzy [Osbourne] side of the band, rather than the Tommy [Iommi] self-serious side. Ozzy was the lovable drunk, a comical figure almost we never bought into that black magic stuff. When Columbia Records signed us, they already had a hard rock band in Aerosmith, and Clive Davis said the label wanted us to sound a little darker. So we listened to Black Sabbath, had a good laugh, and said, 'We'll do this!' Some people said Blue Oyster Cult isn't real heavy metal. No kidding! That was never the point."

Nonetheless, BOC's subversive impact on a generation of young listeners was immense, with concepts and lyrics cooked up by a brain trust of snide intellectuals, including producer Sandy Perlman, rock critic Richard Meltzer, Patti Smith and the band itself. "Mike Watt [of the Minutemen] says our music gets more popular anytime there is a Republican in office," Bouchard says. "We were anti-Establishment but not political. We had our own black humor, even though some of our fans missed it. It was sort of scary and depressing to see that. It was entertainment! People hear our stuff, they smile and sing along. It was meant to make life more tolerable."

But the band burned out from its excesses and, after Bouchard's departure in 1981, it was never quite the same. Bouchard blames himself for the break-up.

"It's a lot like 'Spinal Tap,' involving groupies and girlfriends, and me making a fool of myself in public," he says. "The solution was to remove myself from the band before I destroyed all their marriages. It was demolition derby. They made the right choice in dumping me. But time smoothes over everything. We laugh about it now."

Bouchard doesn't envision rejoining his old bandmates full-time, though he's working on a side project with Blue Oyster Cult guitarist Donald Roeser. Bouchard is married to Brain Surgeons guitarist Deborah Frost, a music critic who is his cowriter on many songs and the mother of his 13-year-old son.

"I wouldn't want to tour that extensively," he says. "In a couple of years, my teenage boy won't be able to stand the sight of me. But now we hang out all the time."

Though about half the Brain Surgeons' set is composed of Bouchard's Blue Oyster Cult material, the band's striking originals with Frost and Bouchard sharing vocals hold up against the drummer's formidable past.

"It would be nice to sell as many records as Blue Oyster Cult still does," Bouchard says. "But I want to be involved in music, and I also want to call the shots in how my music reaches the public. This allows me to do both.",1419,M-Metromix-Music-0!ArticleDetail-17652,00.html


the Village VOICE


by George Smith

I once saw an episode of The Outer Limits called "The Borderland," about this mad scientist who was opening a doorway to an alternate dimension through the clever use of electricity and oblique equations called "Hausdorf's Theorems. One experiment , naturally, went bad. When the amd scientist stuck his left hand through his electronic gateway into the alternate dimension, it came back as a second right hand!

The Brain Surgeons must have liked this episode too, because the cover of their Piece of Work two-CD set has a painting of someone with a second right hand! And you can't tell if the BS guy is laughing or screaming, which is pretty much how the Outer Limits scientist felt, because having a second right hand was scary but also quite handy,uh, handy-- whenever he needed funding for more experiments, all he needed to so was whip it out for the potential benefactor, removing all doubt that he was a bona fide mad scientist.

This is also pretty much the case with Piece of Work. Its idiosyncrasies leave no doubt the Brain Surgeons are bona fide mad scientists of hard rock. The first disc, Piece, holds most of the heavy stuff, with (rock critic) Deb Frost's and (ex-Blue Öyster Cult drummer) Al Bouchard's vocals whispering between cracks in guitar noise. Infrequently, a neo-BÖC riff crawls out of the fog and tugs menacingly at your trousers before slinking away. One number is an ode to a hot dog man, and if I were the hot dog man being summoned, judging by the Surgeons' sinister tone, I'd go home and hide under the bed until the coast was clear. The second disc, Work, has a version of Skynyrd's "Simple Man" that veers into the Oort cloud (that's om outer space), a drum solo, and tunes that would make good soundtrack choices for Kiss Me Deadly. The entire set is framed by the genuinely purty a cappella "Biloxi," apparently written by an old draft dodger. There's also a soul-horn revue number in there somewhere.

Piece of Work contains an attractive photo album, showing the Brain Surgeons to be normal-looking, happy people who enjoy participating in "live music parties" and fly fishing. This is to reassure the listener that the flipped-out sounding stuff inside is not an indication that they really are mad scientists with two right hands.


Columbus Wired

You Don't Have To Be A Brain Surgeon To Recognize A Good Story

By Steve Sirk
Cushion stuffing bulged out from slits in the chairs. Cigarette burns marred
the unwiped tabletops. The pool table was unscientifically leveled with what
appeared to be the beer-soaked remnants of an old phone book jammed under one
of the nicked-up table legs. A thatch of tangled wires hung from the ceiling,
making me thankful that more electricity wasn't being used to illuminate the
subterranean dive that is Bernie's Distillery. The place hardly looked sterile
enough to stage a cockfight, much less brain surgery. Nevertheless, the Brain
Surgeons set up shop on August 1st and prepared to rock Columbus on the final
weekend of the 2002 summer tour.
I'm willing to wager that the Brain Surgeons are unlike any other band that
has graced the Bernie's Distillery stage. The New York City trio features a
platinum-selling rocker in Blue Oyster Cult founder/drummer Albert Bouchard
(drums, mandolin, harmonica, vocals), who also happens to have a Masters degree in
English. The Brain Surgeons also contain a renowned rock critic in Bouchard's
wife, Deborah Frost (vocals, guitar, bass), whose words have graced the pages
of every major music magazine under the sun, be it Rolling Stone, Spin, the
Village Voice, Mojo or any of a dozen others. Rounding out the trio is David
Hirschberg (bass, guitar, vocals), who may very well be the first musician to
take the stage at Bernie's with an intimate knowledge of bassoons.
When a cruddy campus bar plays host to a cast of characters like these, you
just know there's a story. And it's not the sad one you'd expect.
In 1981, Albert Bouchard was living every rock musician's dream. As a
founding member of Blue Oyster Cult, a group that included, among others, his brother
Joe and his dear friend Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, Bouchard had sold
millions of records and toured the world. The band's latest hit, "Burnin' For
You", was burning up the American airwaves.
Being a wild and crazy rock star was the greatest show on earth…and then it
was over. In August of that year, after some in-fighting and group turmoil,
Bouchard and BOC parted ways. "It boiled down to a disagreement between Don
(Buck) and myself on how I was
conducting my personal life," said Bouchard. "He also felt this was
affecting my playing in the band." (The final straw was Bouchard's less-than-punctual
entrance at a pair of shows in England, where he arrived at each gig after
five or so songs had already been played.)
Suddenly adrift from the entity to which he had devoted his career's work,
Bouchard took a year to regroup. Then, in early 1983, he began working on what
was to be his masterpiece: Imaginos. The brainchild of Sandy Pearlman, BOC's
original manager and producer, the Imaginos story (subtitled "A Bedtime Story
For the Children of the Damned") was a parable of good vs. evil that is much to
complex to boil down into a mere sentence or two. (There's a reason Stephen
King's books are 275207502 pages long!) While a handful of songs from the
Imaginos saga had appeared on earlier BOC albums, the band never properly recorded
the entire concept album. Bringing the full story to life was now Bouchard's
For the next three years, Bouchard slaved over the Imaginos project- writing,
recording, and producing. "It was the most sustained effort for a body of
work I have done so far," he said.
And then…nothing. The record company, CBS, brought the project to a
screeching halt. Crushed, Bouchard then took gigs drumming as a backup musician and
taught private drum lessons at the Drummer Collective.
In 1988, it appeared as though Bouchard's big break had finally come. CBS was
going to release Imaginos after all. Not only that, but Eric Bloom and Buck
Dharma had recorded new vocal tracks over Bouchard's masters. Imaginos would be
released as a Blue Oyster Cult album, with all five original band members
being credited as contributors. 
The dream of BOC's ultimate masterpiece had become a reality.
The drummer's elation was short-lived however, when it became apparent that
CBS was just cashing in on the BOC name to resurrect a project that had been
left for dead. Bouchard was not invited to tour with the band. BOC felt they
were doing Bouchard a favor by at least getting his project out to the masses.
Bouchard felt his record had been hijacked. Either way you slice it, there was
no reunion.
"At first I though they made some kind of mistake and I could talk them into
changing their minds," Bouchard said. "I quickly realized that I was starting
to sound
like some kind of nut or desperate person at best."
Twice shunned by the band he founded and with his prized project pilfered,
Albert Bouchard's music career was at a crossroads. After doing some
soul-searching, he took a new course of action. He scouted and produced bands for smaller
labels like Roadrunner and Megaforce. He went back to college and got a BA in
Music and a Masters in English. And most importantly for this story, he also
started stockpiling songs he'd written with his wife.
I don't know if Deborah Frost was "born to be wild", but when you're born
in a theater during a production of Cyrano de Bergerac, you're definitely born
to be something. Fiercely independent and uncommonly intelligent, Frost taught
herself to read at the age of three and eventually skipped ahead not one, but
two grades. By the time she turned 16, Frost was working in the theater,
living on her own, and would have dropped out of school if it weren't for the fact
that by the time she was old enough to legally do it, she had all but
Growing up surrounded by the arts, Frost was always driven by her
creativity.  But the first inkling that rock music might be her future was when Frost
caught her first glimpse of the Beatles, who affected her differently than her
classmates. "When I saw the Beatles," she recalled, "I thought to myself
'That's what I want to do.' When the other girls would talk about which Beatle they
wanted to have as a boyfriend, I thought that was bizarre. I wanted to have a
band with other girls!"
Being as determined an individual as she is, it should come as no surprise
that Frost did form her own all-girl band, drumming for an outfit called Flaming
Youth. Despite being "too much, too soon", the band lived with poet Allen
Ginsberg and shared the stage with the likes of the New York Dolls and
pre-phenomenon KISS. (Not so coincidentally, the latter band recorded a song called "F
laming Youth" a few years later.)
In addition to loving rock and roll, Frost had always been a writer. She had
written a play at the tender age of 16 and had submitted it to legendary
Broadway producer/director Joseph Papp, who personally met with her to tell her she
was "the voice of her generation." (Although the play was never produced.)
The marriage of rock and writing would occur when an editor from Circus
magazine attended a Flaming Youth show and then went back to Ginsberg's place to hang
out with the band. After initially blowing off Frost's interest in writing
rock criticism, the editor called back the next day and offered Frost the
assignments that others didn't want.
"I loved music and I loved writing," she said. "Coming up, the rock scene
was all new. It was a different kind of writing and a personal kind of writing
that was important to me. I thought that Bob Christgau (rock critic / editor of
the Village Voice) was as important as Mick Jagger."
And thus began a prolific career in rock journalism that would take her to
the pinnacle of her profession. She crossed rock's gender barrier. She jetted
around the world. She got to hang out with Paul McCartney, one of the Fab Four
that inspired her musical ambitions in the first place.
But her career also left her unfulfilled. "I remember walking up to a
newsstand in New York City and thinking 'I bet there is not one writer who's in as
many different magazines on this newsstand as I am. But who gives a f---?
Bouchard and Frost met in 1984 through a common friend, punk rocker Helen
Wheels. Avid body builders, Frost and Wheels worked hard at sculpting their
bodies at the same New York gym. When Frost mentioned she was training for the New
York Marathon, Wheels said that her drummer was also an avid runner. Frost was
floored when she was told that the drummer in question was BOC's Albert
Bouchard. (The irony being that a decade earlier, Frost had declined the same
position in Wheels' band under the conceit that she was "nobody's back-up
Since Central Park is primarily inhabited by nocturnal musicians and other
"unemployed" fringe-dwellers during the day, it was only inevitable that Frost
and Bouchard began bumping into each other during training runs. Soon they
began running together, and developed a very strong friendship. Two years later,
they began to date. And two years after that, they were married.
They were partners not only in life and love, but also in songwriting.
Fueled by the disappointment of the Imaginos debacle, Bouchard was determined
to make music on his terms. "I turned my energy inward and started writing
more songs and learning more about the music I liked," he said.
Frost had excelled as a writer and even as a painter, but she wanted to make
music again. "I like to express myself in words, and even through art, but
they don't offer the same immediate gratification and satisfaction that music
And so it was only natural the Bouchard and Frost focused on making new
music. The initial concept, however, was not to form a new group. The idea was to
get a publishing contract writing songs for other artists. That idea hit a snag
when there seemed to be little market for off-kilter songs with strange
titles like "The Brain From Terra Incognita" and "(666) The Devil Got Your Mother."
"Nobody wanted to do our songs," laughed Bouchard. "They were too strange;
too dark. They weren't pop."
"We couldn't do that Bryan Adams thing," chuckled Frost.
"Bryan Adams is the best at that," said Bouchard. "To make some sappy thing
with the same three chords and make it cool, I don't know how he does it.
He's the best at churning out those terrible songs that you have to love."
"He's so sincere, but I couldn't do that without cracking up," Frost
continued. "'Your eyes are blue / My love is true'…I just couldn't do it. I have
to say something weird."
The couple had plenty of weird things to say, and friends and colleagues were
impressed by what they heard. At their urging, Bouchard and Frost formed
their own independent label (the cleverly named Cellsum Records) and recorded an
album. The Brain Surgeons' debut, Eponymous, was released in 1994.
"It was an experiment to see if we could do it and make any money and to see
we could get some attention in the press," said Bouchard. "It was really
just a small sample of the songs we'd made demos of. I also had a desire to make
it different
from the work that I done in the past."
The album certainly wasn't "BOC Lite." Eponymous was unlike anything in
Bouchard's musical past. The album hyperspaced between jangly pop, straight ahead
rock, crunching metal, and quirky, funky horn-tinged numbers that almost defy
description. Oh, and there was an a cappella version of "Love Potion #9"
thrown in for good measure.
The original experiment called for The Brain Surgeons to be strictly a studio
entity, but all of that changed when fans started clamoring for live
performances. Also, the album was picked up for distribution by Ripe 'N' Ready
Records- a deal that was contingent on the Brain Surgeons playing some live dates in
support of the record.
This, of course, required a band.
David Hirschberg was raised in a musical family in New York City. As a child,
he attended The School of Musical Education on 94th Street, where they
unsuccessfully tried to teach him to play piano. ("I was too stupid for piano," he
claims.) Instead, Hirschberg picked up the clarinet and excelled at it. The
School of Musical Education prided itself on grooming musicians for serious
music careers in symphony orchestras, a future that did not interest Hirschberg in
the least, so he left.
In middle school, Hirschberg then learned to play the tenor saxophone, but
gave it up when he couldn't afford one of his own. In high school, the naturally
gifted Hirschberg learned to play the bassoon for the school orchestra. But
then he gave that up too because the instrument was too expensive. ($1500 back
in the 1970s!) Hirschberg then "borrowed" his sister's guitar and taught
himself how to play folk tunes and finger-picking blues numbers.
Upon receiving an alto saxophone as a birthday gift from his sister, possibly
in an attempt to get her guitar back, Hirschberg became a dedicated sax man.
It was his sax playing that introduced him to Bouchard who, oddly enough,
started dabbling in the sax himself. The pair ended up playing sax in a local
oldies band, doing James Brown tunes and the like.
When Bouchard told Hirschberg he was recording an album, the latter wanted to
be involved in any way imaginable. "When Albert starting making Eponymous,"
Hirschberg recalled, "I remember saying to him, 'I don't care if it's a fart
noise, but I want to make some kind of sound on your album.' Albert came up
with some sax parts, so whatever sax is on that album is him & me."
Hirschberg was one of the musicians that Bouchard contacted when it came time
to assemble a touring version of the Brain Surgeons. Rather than the sax,
Bouchard asked Hirschberg to play bass, an instrument about which the sax man had
only a fleeting knowledge.
"Al came to me and asked how I felt about playing bass," Hirschberg said. "I
said I didn't play bass and told him to get somebody real. Then eight days
before the very first gig, he said, 'David, I asked you before, and now I'm
telling you: I need you to play bass. We have ten songs and you have eight days
to learn them. We need you.'"
And so Hirschberg quickly taught himself the songs and successfully performed
them onstage. "We did the first show and I didn't pee myself," chuckled
Hirschberg. "That was that. I was now a bass player. I went out and bought my own
A pair of guitar slingers rounded out the Brain Surgeons. Albert had
discovered a young player named Peter Bohovesky while producing records and deemed him
to be a suitable fit. And the Helen Wheels connection paid off handsomely
again, as Bouchard was able to recruit former Helen Wheels Band guitarist Billy
Hilfiger (yes, Tommy's brother) to join the Brain Surgeons as well. Hilfiger
had also played with Bouchard's brother Joe in a band called The X-Brothers.
As a quintet, the Brain Surgeons took to the studio and recorded a pair of
phenomenal albums. 1995's Trepanation and 1996's Box of Hammers saw the band
take on more of a traditional rock style, sans some of the over-exuberant
quirkiness that was both the strength and weakness of their debut effort. Despite a
more traditional style of rock, both Trepanation and Box of Hammers took
plenty of unexpected twists and turns to keep the recordings a comfortable distance
from the music-by-numbers category.
Malpractise, 1997s release, was an abrupt change of pace. The album was a
jarring hodge-podge of heavy cover tunes juxtaposed with acoustic numbers. Of
particular interest to BOC fans was the inclusion of an acoustic version of "The
Girl That Love Made Blind", an Imaginos tune that was left off of that album.
In late 1999, the Brain Surgeons released their most ambitious album to date,
the two-CD set Piece of Work. The band's enthusiasm for the release was
tempered by a sobering development. Hilfiger was diagnosed with brain cancer. His
participation in the Piece of Work sessions was haphazard as he underwent
treatment, and touring became a difficult proposition.
"It was hard," said Bouchard. "We didn't want to make him leave the band
just because he was sick, so we didn't want to get a replacement. That's why
Deborah started learning his parts so she could cover for him when he'd mess up or
if he couldn't make the gig. In 1999, we didn't play any shows because we
know what would happen with him."
Hilfiger made a few appearances with the band in 2000, the last one being in
April. He died on September 15th of that year at the age of 45.
"We had many dashed hopes for his recovery," said Bouchard. "By the time he
died, we were expecting it."
With Hilfiger's untimely demise, the devastated Surgeons opted not to replace
their departed friend. Instead, the band carried on as a trio. (Bohovesky had
unexpectedly quit the band, and music in general, earlier that year.) Frost
and Hirschberg both hunkered down on the guitar playing, and Frost learned the
bass as well. The two of them switch off and guitar and bass duties during
live shows.
Hirschberg summed it up thusly:
"We lost our two guitar guys, and they were great. But I think it's the best
thing that has happened to us in terms of our growth. We were waiting for
Billy to get better, but then it became apparent he wasn't going to be able to
play anymore. We were pretty much mourning that and then Pete decided that music
hadn't been very good to him and that he needed to fix Harley Davidson
motorcycles. Then all of a sudden, we hadn't played in a year. I remember saying
something to Albert that we need to think about getting someone, but in the
meantime we need to start playing or no one will want to play with us now. We
started playing and the trio thing just worked."
The trio took the stage at Bernie's at approximately 11:00pm.
The band kicked things off with "Name Your Monster" from their 1994 debut
Eponymous. The song proved to be a suitable opener as it gave each musician a
chance to announce his or her presence. Frost delivered snarling vocals and cut
loose on a guitar solo, Hirschberg took advantage of the room he was given and
got down on his bass, and Bouchard banged out some crowd-pleasing drum fills.
The opening number seamlessly segued into a rendition of Bouchard's BOC
staple "Cities on Flame With Rock & Roll." With Bouchard handling vocals, Frost
was free to concentrate on her guitar, matching the riffs of BOC's Buck Dharma
before eschewing Dharma's licks in favor of a pleasing soloing style of her
After mistakenly thanking the people of Cincinnati ("Hey! They both start
with C!"), Frost introduced "Lady of the Harbor" off of 1999's double-album
Piece of Work. "This is a song about the city I live in," she said. "We had some
problems there about a year ago. This song never made as much sense to me as
it did then."
And with that, Frost sang about the Statue of Liberty. "We're all pilgrims
in the desert / Crawling across burning sand / Waiting on delivery / From the
village of the damned / Where's the lady of the harbor / With her outstretched
hand? / Do you have a dream? / Do you have a dream that you're dreaming?"
Bouchard introduced the next song as "about a different kind of lady." The
band then launched into a rollicking version of "The Revenge of Vera Gemini"
off of Blue Oyster Cult's Agents of Fortune album. It was a bit of a surprise
that Frost chose not to replicate Patti Smith's backing vocals from the
original BOC album, but the song was surprisingly unaffected by the void.
The band then took a brief break to take a photo of the crowd, as is their
tradition. One of the more humorous events of the night came when Bouchard told
the audience to say cheese as he aimed his camera. When the camera flash did
not go off, a young woman in the crowd declared, and I'm quoting here, "it's
not cheesing!" This lead to an impromptu discussion between Frost and the
audience about the band's recent visit to the cheese-intensive state of Wisconsin.
When the band commenced playing again, it was Hirschberg's chance to take
center stage. He and Frost flip-flopped guitar and bass duties as the band
performed "Niagra Falls" off of 2001's To Helen With Love album, a tribute record
to the late Helen Wheels. Hirschberg then sang lead vocals on "Elle Sol",
another Wheels tune from the tribute. The jam in the middle of the latter song was
extended from its all-too-brief album version, giving Hirschberg a chance to
display some of his newfound guitar prowess.
Bouchard then took the limelight as the Brain Surgeons performed an amazing
version of the Blue Oyster Cult classic "Astronomy", a song that was recently
covered by Metallica on their Garage Inc album. It was a surreal sight as
Bouchard broke out a tiny electric mandolin. And sang lead vocals. And played
drums, working the bass drum and high-hat with his feet. To see a guy
simultaneously singing, playing a lead solo on a mandolin and drumming made me wish he had
a trombone too, so he would be the living embodiment of one of those
cartoonish one-man-bands.
In rapid-fire succession, the band then rattled off the Imaginos tune "The
Siege and Investiture of Baron von Frankentein's Castle at Weisseria", "Tattoo
Vampire" and then "Medusa", one of the finest songs in the Brain Surgeons'
catalog. The inside of Bouchard's bass drum was illuminated to reveal a Medusa
like caricature of Frost, with the likeness of Bouchard and Hirschberg being
among the snakes emanating from her head.
"Godzilla" nearly brought the house down. Frost invited some attractive
audience members to dance on stage, which turned out to be calculated, yet
eye-pleasing diversion. With slight of hand that would make Copperfield proud,
Bouchard suddenly appeared behind the drum kit wearing a big Godzilla head. The
crowd screamed in delight as the Lizard King crashed and clanged and bashed and
thudded his way through a show-stopping drum solo.
Seizing the momentum, the Surgeons ripped through a pair of old BOC songs,
"Dominance & Submission" and "The Red & The Black." The show finished on a
quiet note, as the band delivered a sloppy, giggly, a cappella rendition of "Love
Potion #9."
The Brain Surgeons delivered a terrific show and clearly enjoyed themselves
in the process. The show was a bit heavy on BOC material, but considering that
most of the BOC tunes were Bouchard-penned rarities that would be
indistinguishable to a casual audience, one can't accuse the Surgeons of cashing in on
their founder's past successes. The bottom line is that a good time was had by
all, on stage and off.
After the show, Bouchard took great delight in chatting with the fans. At one
point, he signed an entire stack of old BOC records, his mouth moving just as
fast, if not faster, than his Sharpie.
"I always like to hang out with the fans," said Bouchard. "One big
difference now (compared to BOC's heyday) is that nobody gets mad at me when I do it
because the other two are worse than I am!"
Sure enough, Frost quickly made friends with a 26-yeard-old music fan named
Kolene. The two talked for an hour about a wide spectrum of musical topics,
beer, and who knows what else.
"Hanging out with them and talking was really cool," said Kolene. "I liked
the fact that they didn't have that rock star attitude."
Kolene had never heard of the Brain Surgeons until happening upon the show
that night. The band's performance, and their friendliness, converted her into a
"The show was great," she said. "Deborah has amazing vocal range, and the m
ask that Albert Bouchard wore during Godzilla was great!  This was actually one
of the better shows that I have been to in this town. It was good to hear
good rock 'n roll music down there. They are true people, who are in the music
thing because they actually love music."
Yes, the Brain Surgeons love music. Driving around the country in a
jam-packed van, playing dive bar after dive bar is considered a chore by hungry young
bands that are fighting and clawing their way up the mountain of their dreams.
But when you've already been to the top, and you do it because you want to,
rather than have to, the music is all that matters. Creating it. Sharing it.
Connecting with it.
"I've had other bands, but it's with this band that it is finally coming
together," said Frost. "It's been almost 10 years as a live band and Albert and
I have been writing since the 1980s, but I think it's now finally starting to
come together as a live act and as a creative outlet. It's continually
evolving, and that's what it's all about."

Declarations of Independents

by Chris Morris

fLAG WAVING: If, like Declarations of Independents, your hunger for vintage Blue Öyster Cult hasn't been satiated by Columbia/Legacy's reissues of the New York band's first four albums or Rhino Handmade's release of its early recordings (as the Stalk-Forrest Group), you may want to check out Cellsum Records' just-released To Helen With Love!

The album is a tribute to Helen Wheels, BÖC's longtime costume designer and frequent lyricist, who died at 50 Jan. 17 following complications from back surgery. Helmed by the Brain Surgeons, ex-BÖC drummer Albert Bouchard and his wife, Deborah Frost, who run Cellsum, the collection features appearances by Scott Kempner, Andy Shernoff, Ross "the Boss" Funicello, Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators (who backed Wheels as a solo artist), singers Tish & Snooky, and other friends of the late artist.

The set is highlighted by three tracks in which Bouchard and his brother, ex-BÖC bassist Joe, back BÖC guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser. It's the first time the three have recorded together since 1981.

Wheels (born Helen Robbins) first met Al Bouchard as a teenage college student at a Ravi Shankar concert in Long Island, N.Y., in the late '60s. "A week later, we were playing a dance at one of the dorms, and she was there," Bouchard recalls. "She said she played and she wrote poetry."

Soon, she was making clothing for the band, then known as Soft White Underbelly. "We didn't have that leather look, we were a hippie band," Bouchard recalls. "We were like the East Coast Grateful Dead. She made stuff out of satin and velvet."

He adds, "She was writing stuff all the way back in the beginning of the Underbelly days." As neighbors in New York, they would collaborate on several tunes for BÖC; the group would record such numbers as "Sinful Love" and "Tattoo Vampire."

After Wheels' sudden death, Bouchard and Roeser met. Bouchard had already decided to cut a tribute album, and Roeser agreed to contribute. Though the Bouchards left BÖC on less-than-outstanding terms, their reunion with their great guitarist on the tracks "Hero," "Goodbye Joe," and "Elle Sol" was inspiring.

"It was just amazing," Bouchard says. "It really was fun. The night before the session, I couldn't sleep… When we started playing, the feeling was so terrific. It was like we never stopped playing together."

To Helen With Love! is being distributed by the Orchard and is also available through the label's Web site,



" Pounding riffs, delicate acoustic interludes and a bent satiric approach in the lyrics make Trepanation (Cellsum) by the Brain Surgeons a great listen. Rock critic Deborah Frost is convincing as a metallic diva. Cool covers (Ramblin' Rose) and a cool co-writer (Richard Meltzer) add up to a cool album."

--Charles M. Young


The Boston Phoenix

The Brain Surgeons




A critic-turned-chanteuse in the lofty tradition of former Blue Öyster Cult sideperson Patti Smith, whose vocal range hers eerily resembles, Deborah Frost and her BÖC-alumnus-drummer spouse Al Bouchard find eccentric humor, slimy grooves, and Reaper-unfearing melodiousness in jaded old BÖC and Hawkwind and Minutemen obscurities about New Year's Eve and syringes and petrodollars and the difficulty of writing songs on the road. Kinda reminds me of the time Metal Mike Saunders of the Angry Samoans called me right after seeing Val Kilmer in Oliver Stone's Doors movie: "I always knew those were great songs; they just needed somebody better than Jim Morrison to sing them!"


The Washington Post


"Piece of Work"


No one will ever accuse the Brain Surgeons of doling out sedatives. On their latest album, a double CD set, the band creates stimulating sounds even when the tempo is languid and guitars and drums are silenced in favor of a hip, a cappella arrangement of Jesse Winchester's "Biloxi."

Winchester's classic ballad opends the album, and while the vocal slant is hardly typical of the Surgeons' specialty, its surprising, doo-wop-ish flavor does suggest there's more interesting things to come. Then again, the band's unusual lineup almost guarantees that, what with drumme and Blue Oyster Cult found Al Bouchard anchoring the rhythm section, rock critic Deborah Frost handling many of the lead vocals nad Billy Hilfiger (yes, Tommy's brother) cranking out some of the impresseive lead guitar work.

Far from coming off as a novelty act, though, the Surgeons play (and mix) hard rock, southern soul and tuneful pop with plenty of assurance and affection. Bouchard and Frost, who are married, are responsible for most of the songwriting, contributing tracks as diverse as the horn-powered Memphis soul tune "Rain,Rain," the gritty metal anthem "Practice Makes Perfect," and the strutting funk instrumental "Prince Albert," and the shimmering acoustic ballad "Billy's Song."

The 22 tracks here could be pared down to a dozen and a half without losing anything significant. Few albums this long hold up so well-- this one does thanks primarily to the songwriting and the persuasive vocals."

---Mike Joyce


Nashville Scene

Led by ex-Blue Oyster Cult drummer and hard-rock-loving music scribe Deborah Frost, these New Yorkers have metal cred to burn. Yet like all good things, the witty and brainy Brain Surgeons aren't so easily pegged. The opening track from their new Piece of Work CD is an a cappella reworking of Jesse Winchester's "Biloxi" that suggests Anna McGarrigle backed by an amalgam of The Belmonts and The Mamas &The Papas.On "Rain, Rain," Frost pays homage to Ann Peebles by way of Tina Turner. Elsewhere, Skynyrd's "Simple Man" gets treated like the sensitive kid's anthem that it is, while "Practice Makes Perfect: proves worthy of pop-metal gods Kix. ---Bill Frikics-Warren


Rolling Stone



The Brain Surgeons

As the Brain Surgeons, ex-BÖC drummer Albert Bouchard and his wife, noted rock scribe Deborah Frost embrace digital recording, using a DAT machine to assemble their DIY debut Eponymous in their living room. While some of the album's songs were written with former BÖC collaborators Patti Smith and Richard Meltzer, Bouchard and Frost stake out their own musical turf, moving convincingly from the New Wave jangle of "Language of Love" to balls-out rockers like "Time Will Take Care of You." The Surgeons demonstrate their idiosyncrasy on odd cover choices. The weirdo surfabilly of the Del Lords' "I Play the Drums" showcases Bouchard's gruff rasp, and Frost pleasantly toys with sexual ambiguity when she sings, "I told her that I was a flop with chicks" on an appealing a cappella rendition of the Clovers' "Love Potion No.9." Eponymous' revelation turns out to be Frost's voice, a technically proficient yet passionately raw instrument . Moving from virtuoso Robert Plant shrieks to breathy Patti Smith-style confessionals, Frost refutes the old adage that disgruntled musicians hurl at rock critics: "Those who can't do, write."


Southeast Performer

by Julia Carlson


Rock'n'roll history was made when the Brain Surgeons played The Springwater in August. It's amazing that Albert Bouchard, drummer par excellence and main songwriter for Blue Öyster Cult, and now heading up the Brain Surgeons (with Deborah Frost, guitar and lead vocals; David Hirschberg, bass). would play a small venue here. But that's another story, and besides, everyone who is anyone knows The Springwater is Nashville's coolest joint.

The Brain Surgeons are touring in support of their new 2-CD album, Piece of Work (Cellsum Records). Fans came from out of state for the show. Super Buzz opened with a lively and hard-hitting set of acid rock. By 11PM, Kara Nicks, Springwater's booking manager, was dancing in the aisles and Cheetah Crome (Dead Boys) has stopped in to renew acquaintances with the Surgeons.

The Brain Surgeons took the stage shortly after and proceeded to demolish any thoughts that these guys were jaded rock dinosaurs on a reunion tour. They have great chops, lyrics, and play the hell out of their instruments. The crowd was in the palm of their hands in a New York nanosecond. Highlights: "Godzilla," complete with the full Godzilla headmask, strobe lights and smoke on The Springwater stage. With Bouchard's masterful drumming, mandolin and harp playing and Frost's take no prisoners vocals, the Brain Surgeons are rockers through and through.

They're also down to earth and graciously met and chatted with fans. Personally I was thrilled beyond reason to meet them.

The Nashville Fashion Police took note of Mr. Bouchard's gold sequin shirt and black leather pants. He's on the A-list. To be a rock star, you gotta dress like one! Enough of this grungy anti-fashion! Gimme some style with the substance! At the end of the show, the Surgeons told the audience (some of who joined them onstage) that this was the best show of their tour to date. Jerry, a truck driver and musician here in Nashville who stepped up to the drum set said, "It was the thrill of my life to play onstage with Albert Bouchard!"

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