NYC Rock The Big Questions
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.'"
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."
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
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
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
BRAIN SURGEONS NYC
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.
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
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
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
Import-Tip des Monats
BRAIN SURGEONS NYC
"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,
Texte: Marco Magin
Brain Surgeons NYC
– Denial of Death
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.
NYC 'Denial of Death' (Cellsum Records) By Ed
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.
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
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.
- The Brain Surgeons NYC
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
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.
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,
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
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
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
By Anne Erickson
Shucking with the Brain
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
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
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
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
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.
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
"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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
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 (cellsum.com), and books its own
"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."
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
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."
HARVESTER OF HANDS
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
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.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- "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 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- "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
- Seizing the momentum, the Surgeons
ripped through a pair of old BOC songs,
- "Dominance & Submission"
and "The Red & The Black." The show finished on
- 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
- 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
- "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
- 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
- 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
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."
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, cellsum.com.
" 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 Brain Surgeons
by CHUCK EDDY
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!"
"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."
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
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
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."
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.
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."
by Julia Carlson
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.
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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