Brain Surgeons NYC
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The best kept secret in music

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"THE BRAIN SURGEONS"

100 Club, London
Playing mostly their own material—biker friendly, grease proof US rock’n’roll—the band rocked the place with a style and prowess that was breathtaking. Of these virtually unknown songs, the incandescent Dark Secrets was particularly spellbinding, featuring blazing guitar moments from the Bossman. But it was the climactic triplet of Öyster Cult classics that set the seal. Cities on Flame With Rock n’ Roll (which included a teasing snippet of Godzilla, plus a truly astonishing Bouchard flurry), Dominance & Submission and The Red and The Black were delivered with a combination of gusto, verve and accuracy that sent everyone merrily on their way, smiles set to full beam.
--Malcolm Dome - CLASSIC ROCK


"Bouchard still lives Ex-Blue Oyster Cult Drummer Having Fun"

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 co-written 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 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 band mates 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 co-writer 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 pu - Chicago Tribune


"Shucking with the Brain Surgeons"

Blue 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 …
Nah.
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 - Democrat and Chronicle


"Sole Survivor-A Blue Oyster Cult vet keeps it alive"

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 speed metal. 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 speed metal 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. --Jim Knipfel - NEW YORK PRESS


"HARVESTER OF HANDS"

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 mad 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.--George Smith - The Village VOICE


"Declarations of Independents"

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, cellsum.com.--Chris Morris - BILLBOARD


"A Cool Album"


" 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
- PLAYBOY


"The Brain Surgeons-Malpractise"

(Cellsum)
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!" --CHUCK EDDY - The Boston Phoenix


"BRAIN SURGEONS "Piece of Work""

Cellsum
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 opens 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 drummer and Blue Oyster Cult found Al Bouchard anchoring the rhythm section, rock critic Deborah Frost handling many of the lead vocals and Billy Hilfiger (yes, Tommy's brother) cranking out some of the impressive 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 - The Washington Post


"EPONYMOUS-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." --Matt Diehl - Rolling Stone


Discography

LP CDs: Eponymous, Trepanation, Box of Hammers, Malpractise, To Helen With Love (compilation), Piece of Work (2CD set), Beach Party, Black Hearts of Soul.
DVDs: Barndance, To Helen With Love:The Concert
Coming: Denial of Death

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

The Brain Surgeons are the brainstorm of ex-rock critic Deborah Frost and Albert Bouchard, founder of Blue Oyster Cult and contrary to the hilarious SNL skit, the musician who really put the cowbell in "Don't Fear the Reaper." Ross the Boss (Dictators) on lead.