Niagara Gazette

August 4, 2013

Blue Oyster Cult, 38 Special back in town for big Artpark show

By Thom Jennings
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — This week Artpark’s Tuesday in the Park series continues with a double bill of bands that both headlined their own shows at the Tuesday series just two years ago, Blue Oyster Cult and 38 Special. Blue Oyster Cult first played Artpark in its inaugural season in 1974.

Blue Oyster Cult released their debut album in 1972 and quickly became a staple on the arena rock circuit in the 1970s due to a string of FM radio hits like “Godzilla,” and “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”

The band was designed as the American version of Black Sabbath and performed under a variety of names including Soft White Underbelly and Stalk-Forrest Group before settling on the name Blue Oyster Cult, which was taken from a poem penned by the band’s manager.

Last year Blue Oyster Cult released a 16-CD set of their entire catalogue. The band’s last album of original material was “Curse of the Hidden Mirror,” in 2001.

No discussion of Blue Oyster Cult would be complete without mentioning the famous Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken. The skit recreated a recording session where the Walken character coined the now famous phrase “I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!”

The current lineup features two original members, Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser and Eric Bloom. I’ve seen them twice in the last 15 years and both times they put on a great show. I will be praying that there isn’t somebody that brings a cowbell and plays it off time during “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”

38 Special formed in Jacksonville Florida in 1974. They get their name from a funny incident that occurred when a police officer came to their rehearsal space and warned the band that if they didn’t open the door he would use his “.38 Special.”

The band has a bunch of hits including “Hold on Loosely,” “Caught Up in You” and “Second Chance,” which was sung by current Grand Funk guitarist vocalist Max Carl during his short stint in the band.

This year, like 2011, two brothers will be associated with different headlining bands, co-founder Donnie Van Zant is a singer/guitarist for 38 Special and his younger brother Johnny Van Zant is the current lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Their older brother Ronnie, who died in a plane crash in 1977, was the original Lynyrd Skynyrd vocalist.

Due to some inner ear damage, Donnie, a fixture in 38 Special for years, will not be appearing at Artpark. Have no fear though, because their main vocalist, Don Barnes, is still with them and he recently said in an interview that in spite of Van Zant’s absence, they still sound as good as ever.

After the band’s 2011 show at Artpark, I had the pleasure of meeting Barnes. I had interviewed him for this newspaper and he asked me to meet him in person.

Honestly, Barnes is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. He is a great singer and has a solid stage presence, but backstage he was just really easy to carry on a pleasant conversation with. In case you wonder what we spent most our time talking about — it was music of course!