Greg Prato of Songfacts spoke with Blue Öyster Cult singer-guitarist, Buck Dharma (real name: Donald Brian Roeser), about the band’s hit song, (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, excerpts from the chat appear, below.

Songfacts: What were your literary references on (Don’t Fear) The Reaper?

Buck Dharma: None specific. It was sort of inspired by a personal health scare – I thought I was going to maybe not live that long. I had been diagnosed with a heart condition, and your mind starts running away with you – especially when you’re young-ish. So, that’s why I wrote the story. It’s imagining you can survive death in terms of your spirit. Your spirit will prevail.

Songfacts: So, obviously you were able to keep the heart condition in check.

Dharma: Yeah. I’m in my 70s now, so I guess I survived that scare. [Laughs] We’re all going to die sometime, of course, but hopefully not tomorrow. 

Songfacts: What did you think of the SNL “More cowbell” skit?

Dharma: Hilarious. It’s really funny. The band had no idea it was coming, either. It was quite a surprise and phenomenal in its endurance and the way it’s worked its way into the culture. If the cowbell has been at all an annoyance for Blue Öyster Cult, it’s got to be 10 times worse for Christopher Walken…

Songfacts: Concerning the recording of that song, do you remember when the cowbell was added in?

Dharma: That was one of the last overdubs we did. It was really the idea of the co-producer, David Lucas, who was a very renowned New York City jingle guy that we met at a party. He helped us with three of our records. In fact, our first record [Blue Öyster Cult, 1972] was recorded at his studio [the Warehouse]. And it was his idea to play the cowbell.

It’s not actually very loud on the record – you tend to hear it louder on the radio with the radio compression. I’ve never met Will Ferrell, but if I did, I’d ask him where he got the notion to get that skit idea to begin with, because it’s really kind of outside.

Songfacts: What’s the most misinterpreted Blue Öyster Cult song?

Dharma: It could be (Don’t Fear) The Reaper. It’s not about suicide, although people kind of get that from the Romeo and Juliet reference. But BÖC’s lyrics have always been… not obtuse, but deep. They’re certainly open to interpretation, and everybody seems to have their own thoughts about what stuff means. We purposely let people do that – draw their own conclusions from the lyric. So, I don’t think anything is grossly misunderstood, no…

Songfacts: What’s the hidden gem in the BÖC catalog?

Dharma: Personally of my songs, I like Don’t Turn Your Back, which was written as a submission to the Heavy Metal movie. They wound up using Veteran Of The Psychic Wars, which is a great song, but we all wrote songs to submit to that soundtrack, and that’s the one that I wrote, and I really like that song. I don’t hear it too often, but when I hear it, I say, “Man, that’s a good song.” 

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