Murray Krugman was one-half of a dynamic duo (with Sandy Pearlman) that helped shape the sound of the Seventies, twirling knobs for both Blue Öyster Cult and (PKM fave) the Dictators. Krugman, unlike Pearlman, stayed mostly in the background, giving few interviews and letting the music and band members speak for themselves. Anthony Petkovich, however, got him talking in this wide-ranging PKM interview.
Back in the Seventies, there seemed to be just as many well-respected rock producers as there were rock bands. Just a few such gifted in-studio musical sculptors/overseers/directors included George Martin… Jimmy Miller… Tony Visconti… Ken Scott…Al Kooper… Tom Dowd… Ted Templeman… Chris Thomas… Jack Douglas… Bill Ham… Gus Dudgeon… Roy Thomas Baker… Glyn Johns… Richard Perry… John Hammond… Todd Rundgren…
And the list goes on and on.
BUT… there wasn’t a surfeit of rock-production teams (or duos) back in the day. The production teams which, of course, immediately come to my mind are the Glimmer Twins—the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards—a triple-threat of composers/performers/producers; as were Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, those brilliant Swedes of ABBA.
AND… there was Krugman & Pearlman.
More specifically, Murray Krugman and Sandy Pearlman, the New York-based rock-production dynamic duo who delivered, arguably, the best albums from now-legendary NYC hard-rock-bordering-on-heavy-metal band Blue Öyster Cult, as well as that unique punk-mingling-with-rock outfit, the Dictators.
Indeed, during their salad days, from ’72 to ’78, the Krugman/Pearlman tag-team delivered seven classic BÖC albums—among them, fan-favorites Secret Treaties (1974), Agents of Fortune (1976), Spectres (1977), as well as classic tunes the likes of “Cities on Flame”, “Godzilla”, “I Love the Night” and, of course, “Don’t Fear the Reaper”; while the masterful Krugman/Pearlman partnership also released three superlative Dictators’ platters: Go Girl Crazy (1975), Manifest Destiny (1977), and Bloodbrothers (1978).
“Godzilla”, Blue Öyster Cult, from Spectres (1977):
During that same fertile musical period, Krugman, on his own, unleashed a potent Johnny Winter in-concert LP (1971’s Live Johnny Winter And); a Mahavishnu Orchestra live album (1973’s Between Nothingness & Eternity, the original line-up’s final record); while Murray was instrumental in coordinating the unique fusion of Fifties’ rockabilly legend Carl Perkins with then-contemporary rock artists NRBQ (resulting in 1970’s highly praised Boppin’ the Blues).
Eventually, with the Seventies drawing to a close, Krugman walked away from BÖC and the Dictators, as well as the grind of big-city recording, ultimately starting his own successful Vermont-based music company, Silverwolf, and later—paving the road for a younger generation—teaching music production at the University of New Haven.
Yet Krugman seems relatively overlooked in terms of his partnership with Pearlman. Unlike Pearlman (who was also Blue Öyster Cult’s mentor/manager/major lyricist), Murray never toured with the band, rarely took the spotlight, and did far fewer interviews. Consequently, as the decades have rock-and-rolled on, Krugman has, indeed, become somewhat bypassed in terms of his key, indispensable input pertaining to both Blue Öyster Cult and the Dictators’ respected vinyl output.
Curious to capture Murray’s story, I spoke on the phone with the Manhattan-born Krugman (pronounced “Kroog-man”) from his Vermont home just before Thanksgiving 2020; our discussion covering his fruitful, at times fractious, working relationship with Sandy Pearlman (who died in 2016), as well as (natch) BÖC & the Dictators, along with many other tasty surprises; Krugman frequently shedding light on a host of previously unanswered—at the very least blurred—aspects of the Krugman/Pearlman music magic.
PKM: So, Murray, tell us about your early years in Manhattan.
MURRAY KRUGMAN: Well, my parents had me take guitar lessons in eighth grade, and I started playing in bands almost immediately. Once I knew three chords, I was off and running. I wasn’t even thinking about college, much less a career. I was listening to music ‘round the clock, playing music, and it was the same way in college.
PKM: Where did you go to college?
KRUGMAN: Wesleyan [University] in [Middletown] Connecticut. I majored in English and sociology which, in retrospect, was perfect because studying the English language made all those juices flow, so that I’ll always be tremendously appreciative of lyrics. I’ve always sought to be as lyrical a producer as possible, where every move I made was simply in support of the lyric. And I studied sociology just to keep my eye on trends. I barely went to classes; instead, I was working all kinds of part-time jobs and putting every cent towards vinyl.
I also wrote a music column for the college newspaper, and was shocked when, three or four columns in, I find out that I can get free records and free tickets for the weekend to the Fillmore (East). I felt I’d died and gone to heaven. So I went to the Fillmore every weekend, seeing unimaginable, amazing music. Some of my favorite shows were: opening act, NRBQ; middle act, the original Joe Cocker and the Grease Band; and headliner, Jeff Beck—with Rod Stewart as lead singer and Ron Wood on bass.
PKM: So, did such talent inspire you to get into the music industry?
KRUGMAN: My father worked in advertising for Decca Records, and he made a book of my columns. “I’m going to duplicate a half a dozen of these,” he said, “so if you want to send them out for jobs, you can.” And I sent them to a couple of labels, with Columbia ultimately hiring me and making me a college rep during my last year at Wesleyan. I’d go into New York City once a week, shadow a marketing guy, and get back on the train with as many albums as I could carry. And within three or four months of graduation, Columbia found me a position as one of their marketing people.
What I found was that I was just a nut for preparation, presentation, and organization—and a lot of the people whom I was competing against weren’t. As an example, I’m in a Columbia drop-add meeting, where they signed a lot of acts and now have to go through the roster and drop a bunch of acts because they can’t afford to prioritize everybody. So they come to Carl Perkins—you know, “Blue Suede Shoes”—and NRBQ, and they ask, “What should we do with these two acts?”
So, I’m a 22-year-old kid scared to talk, but I do say, “I saw NRBQ open a show at the Fillmore, and they’re very eclectic, with a rockabilly component; and, as Carl Perkins is one of the fathers of rockabilly, why don’t we put them together for a record?” And Bruce Lundvall—the VP of marketing, who went on to become President of Columbia—goes, “Okay, fine. Next?” And I’m like, “That’s it? We’re just gonna do it?”
And when the record—Boppin’ the Blues—came out, I liked it. It’s kind of a writer’s record to me, which could’ve been a lot more commercial, but Columbia was happy because they felt they received some critical acclaim for it.
“Sorry Charlie”, Carl Perkins and NRBQ, from Boppin’ the Blues (1970):
Then I began product-managing Columbia’s big stuff: Mountain, Miles Davis, Ten Years After… and I just felt like, ‘I can write clever ads, can come up with hooks for marketing campaigns, but if the record’s not there, it’s just lipstick on a pig.’ And, as I wanted to be closer to the source, I made a trade.
There was a horn band called Dreams which Columbia was trying to make into the next Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago. It had all of the great New York session players in the horn section. And I made a deal where, I’d give Dreams a little extra (marketing) push in exchange for them letting me be a fly on the wall in the (recording) sessions for that album.
Clive Davis (then Columbia’s president) had brought up Steve Cropper from New York who’s one my heroes because, to me, Otis Redding is the greatest singer of all time, and Cropper was the band leader for Booker T. & the M.G.’s. He can do no wrong for me—except as a producer. Cropper does a terrible Poco record (From the Inside, 1971), a terrible Jeff Beck record (Jeff Beck Group, 1972), and now he’s producing Dreams, and I’m sitting there and the tracks are sounding… disorganized to me, like he’s not erasing junk as he goes along. And the record’s at $200,000 and doesn’t have any feel to it. That’s when a light went off in my head: ‘You know, I can fuck this up at least as well as this guy.’
KRUGMAN: So I announce to myself that I was now a record producer, which I didn’t know a thing about. I can plug in a lamp—and that’s about it. But I kept my eye out for my opportunity.
Now, one of the acts I was marketing at the time was Johnny Winter, whose act I’d followed closely, because his manager was very hands-on and wanted to make sure I was very involved. And Johnny was really poorly handled. There were few guitarists faster than him, and very few as electric on stage. But Columbia signs him, and he’s an indie, hardcore bluesman with a Chicago bass and drums as a three-piece on this super-white pop label. And that was just a square peg in a round hole. So the first record (1969’s Johnny Winter) stiffs; then Johnny makes a terrible mistake with the second one (1969’s Second Winter). He thinks he’s doing a really clever move by putting out a one-and-a-half record set, where one disc has nothing on the second side, which went over like a lead balloon. At the time, in the early Seventies, the market was extremely environmentally mindful, so to put out a one-and-a-half record set was a very bad look. So, Johnny’s virtually dead at that point.
Then the manager, out of desperation, talks Johnny into taking on this one-hit-wonder bubblegum band from the Midwest called the McCoys, who nobody realized were absolutely phenomenal players: Rick Derringer (guitar, vocals), Randy Jo Hobbs (bass, vocals) and Bobby Caldwell (drums). And suddenly it’s a great band.
That’s when a light went off in my head: ‘You know, I can fuck this up at least as well as this guy.’
Rick (Derringer) did a studio record with them (1970’s Johnny Winter And), but the material wasn’t very special to me. The record sold 100,000 pieces, which might be a big record now, but then it was considered a stiff. And nobody knew at the label, except for me, that the band was happening on the road, because they were incredible.
Now, when it came time for Johnny’s next record, which he wanted to do as a live LP, Columbia asked, “Who wants to produce the Johnny Winter live record?”—and nobody wanted to do it. So I said, “I wanna do it.” And Clive Davis was like, “Well, you know, you’re not a producer,” and I said, “Who sez?” And I ended up doing it, and Johnny went from selling 100,000 records to two million.
KRUGMAN: It was recorded at the Fillmore over the course of four shows. I’d never produced a moment of music before, and I’m sitting there with the Columbia engineer, and up walks Eddie Kramer—Mr. Led Zeppelin/Jimi Hendrix—who has a reputation of not being all that trustworthy; and Kramer goes, “Let me show you a few tricks, Murray.” And I heard a voice in my head going, ‘Stand up and your career is over.’ And I said, “That’s okay, Eddie. I think I’ve got this one,” and he walked off. But it is what it is. It was very successful and a great ticket.
“Rock and Roll Medley”, Live Johnny Winter And (recorded 1970, released 1971):
So, suddenly I get a much bigger turn at the plate. And I was looking for an act to sign, at which point Sandy (Pearlman) starts coming up to me at press parties and hyping his band (note: the future Blue Öyster Cult). “You’re hot, Murray,” he says. “You’ve got the Johnny Winter record—sign my band!” I’m like, “You’ve managed to get yet your band shelved twice at Elektra under two different names.” That’s an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records. Two different albums not put out? I’ve never heard of that. Incredible. “Besides,” I told him, “I’m not looking for the next Quicksilver Messenger Service. Warner’s has Deep Purple and Black Sabbath—that’s what I’m looking for.”
Up walks Eddie Kramer—Mr. Led Zeppelin/Jimi Hendrix—who has a reputation of not being all that trustworthy; and Kramer goes, “Let me show you a few tricks, Murray.” And I heard a voice in my head going, ‘Stand up and your career is over.’ And I said, “That’s okay, Eddie. I think I’ve got this one,” and he walked off.
And Sandy pushed and pushed and convinced me to listen to his band, which I did, and there was a cut—“Cities on Flame”—that I liked, although I ended up signing them for “Then Came the Last Days of May”, which I thought was an exquisite piece of music.
“Then Came the Last Days of May”, Blue Öyster Cult, from Blue Öyster Cult (1972):
So I made a deal with Sandy. “Look,” I said, “I’ll sign the band, but the only way I’m signing them is if I name the band, I market the band, I produce the band, and I choose the material.” And I insisted on there being an umlaut over the O in Oyster.
Anyhow, Blue Öyster Cult was the act that the Universe put in front of me, so I needed to make my move.
And I think Sandy’s a fantastic lyricist, but he wasn’t musical, and he had to be convinced that something was maximized. You know, there’s a reason why my name is first (in terms of production credits): The lead producer is arguably the one with the largest contribution, and I was the one in the trenches, while Sandy was more of an executive producer in terms of holding my feet to the fire and not letting me move on until he was really satisfied it was as good as it could possibly be. And I think that’s great.
And I insisted on there being an umlaut over the O in Oyster.
PKM: So, is the job of a record producer like that of a movie director?—where you pretty much oversee everything?
KRUGMAN: Yes, exactly. You’re responsible for the quality of the record, and that goes for sound, tuning, performance, orchestration, arrangements, structure, lyric, message, sequence, segue… every aspect. And like building a house, there are a million variables, a million choices in the making of a record.
Sandy and I worked by consensus, so nothing went to tape unless we both agreed. I saw the first record (1972’s Blue Öyster Cult) as more my record; the second record, Tyranny and Mutation (1973), which is heavier, was more Sandy’s record; and Secret Treaties (1974), in terms of production value, was the perfect blend of each of our aesthetics. On Your Feet Or On Your Knees (1975) is an okay live album to me. But I think the big record, Agents of Fortune (1976), had some great material on it because we were able to skip an album by virtue of On Your Feet Or On Your Knees (OYFOOYK), which helped create twice the material on Agents.
But there was also a kind of rift between Sandy and me, because I didn’t care about lasers, big lights and sound, and fancy stage clothes. I cared about great material. And the more Sandy was whoring (BÖC) out on the road, the worse the material was. We really strained to have enough good material to do a record. So when we were able to skip a record with OYFOOYK, the material became that much better for Agents.
PKM: Did “Don’t Fear the Reaper” present itself immediately as a hit?
KRUGMAN: “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, as a demo, seemed like the perfect piece of music. I felt my job as the producer was to stay out of its way and not let people screw it up.
PKM: David Lucas (who received a third-position production credit on Agents of Fortune and Spectres) insists that he played the cowbell on “Don’t Fear the Reaper”. But (BÖC bassist/vocalist) Joe Bouchard told me in an interview that (drummer/vocalist) Albert Bouchard played the cowbell. Who/what say you?
KRUGMAN: Well, I think they may both be right. I think it’s plausible that David came up with the idea and Albert played it.
PKM: From what I read about the recording of “True Confessions”, Allen Lanier (BÖC’s keyboardist/second-lead guitarist, who died in 2013) couldn’t sing—he’s admitted it—so his vocals had to be arduously constructed from bits and pieces of good takes.
KRUGMAN: What’s funny is, “True Confessions” is one of the best drum tracks Albert ever recorded. And I’m sitting there going, “Eric, go out and sing.” And Allen goes, “What are you talking about? It’s my song—I’m the singer.” I was shocked. I don’t think Eric Bloom (BÖC’s vocalist/rhythm guitarist) is a very good singer, but at least you can tell that he’s a singer. You can’t even tell that Allen’s a singer. It was dreadful to me.
PKM: Lanier sang “True Confessions” more like a Keith Richards’ tune.
KRUGMAN: I was going to say “Keith Richards”, but that’s not a good standard for me. (laughs)
“True Confessions”, Blue Öyster Cult, from Agents of Fortune (1976):
PKM: Speaking of Albert, he was an extremely prolific songwriter, wasn’t he?
KRUGMAN: It was an honor to work with Albert. He’s an incredible Hall of Fame arranger to me; and, conceptually, an amazing drummer. He always tried to make himself better, too. Albert felt that everybody knew it was make it or break it on Agents of Fortune, so he had David Lucas come in to literally dance in front of the drums, which I thought was preposterous. Looking back, it makes a lot of sense. And it did the job, because the first four tracks on Agents, no coincidence, were the four best drum tracks Albert ever recorded: “This Ain’t the Summer of Love”, “True Confessions”, “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, and “ETI”; they’re more rock steady, more hard-hitting. So Lucas’ dancing in front of the drums paid off in that respect.
But I felt Albert’s best arrangement work was on the earlier records. My favorite Albert move was on Secret Treaties, where the chorus of “Flaming Telepaths” is note-for-note the chorus of the Hollies’ “Bus Stop”. That’s just an incredible lift. Albert’s genius is that he’s like a computer for writing lifts like that. But later on, he was getting harder to deal with, which is why the other band members parted ways with him. But I think it may or may not have been connected to his unhappiness. Yet the Hollies were such a balls-out pop band that, for Albert to take a section of “Bus Stop” and create a then-metal song out of it, that’s just incredibly smart to me.
“Bus Stop” by The Hollies:
“Flaming Telepaths” Blue Öyster Cult, from Secret Treaties (1974):
PKM: Patti Smith was Allen Lanier’s then-girlfriend who wrote lyrics for BÖC on a fairly regular basis, and even sang on the Agents’ track “The Revenge of Vera Gemini”.
KRUGMAN: That’s a funny story. Sandy was in love with Patti. Literally. So that was unfolding. And, yes, she was Allen’s girlfriend. And Patti is willing to do a ghost vocal on “Vera Gemini”. Okay, great. But I wasn’t going to be a third skunk in the pissing contest. Sandy would say “This!” and Allen would say “No, this!”, then Sandy would say, “No, THIS!” So I finally said, “You two? You take responsibility for this going to tape. I’m going out into the lounge, lying down on the couch, and hopefully taking a nap. Wake me up when you either have it or give up.” And they eventually woke me. “We give up,” they said. “Patti said she’s willing to work with you for five minutes.” And I had to get that whole part down in five minutes: the preamble and the sections where Patti does a faint, ghost-like vocal track. And it came out good. It was just stressful, unnecessary, and unprofessional—not on Patti’s part. But I like that track. It had a nice feeling to it.
“The Revenge of Vera Gemini”, Blue Öyster Cult, from Agents of Fortune (1976):
PKM: Spectres (1977) had some fantastic songs. I mean, “Godzilla” alone is a terrific number.
KRUGMAN: My memory of “Godzilla” was that I wanted to do the bass and drums segment just as clichéd disco quarter-note bass-drum as possible. And (BÖC vocalist, lead guitarist) Donald (Roeser) is very into be-bop, and he wanted this kind of cute 3/2 bass-drum part. And I reached a point where I couldn’t make my case anymore. It was his song and it was gonna be his way. But for the next millennium, they played “Godzilla” every night live with the bass-drum as quarter notes. And it’s powerful. You can hear it on Some Enchanted Evening (1978).
I had to get that whole part down in five minutes: the preamble and the sections where Patti does a faint, ghost-like vocal track. And it came out good. It was just stressful, unnecessary, and unprofessional—not on Patti’s part. But I like that track. It had a nice feeling to it.
PKM: Was it your idea to insert Japanese words into “Godzilla”?
KRUGMAN: Well, when Eric said he knew some Japanese, I said, “Put it on.”
PKM: “Golden Age of Leather” is another great Spectres’ tune.
KRUGMAN: I love that song. My attitude was that, whatever the rest of the song was is fine, because it was an excuse to put the a cappella part on the record, which is amazing; and we just (did) a Queen-level vocal stacking.
PKM: And you ended the song with a boys’ choir.
KRUGMAN: Oh, the Newark Boys Chorus, yeah.
“The Golden Age of Leather” Blue Öyster Cult, from Spectres (1977):
PKM: Did Columbia ever micromanage you during those days?
KRUGMAN: No. If at your first couple of swings at the plate, you hit the ball, they said, “Just keep producing.”
PKM: When BÖC were on the road with manager Sandy Pearlman, were you back in the studio?
KRUGMAN: Yeah—working the label, working the agency, mixing radio tapes…
PKM: You didn’t do many interviews, though.
KRUGMAN: I tried not to, because it’s easy to steal their thunder, even though Blue Öyster Cult, like Grand Funk Railroad with (manager) Terry Knight, was regarded as somewhat of a media manipulation, which it was, but you still don’t want the group thinking that. Malcolm McLaren did the same thing with the Sex Pistols, but Sid Vicious was still the star. I was more careful than Sandy, who needed his name in print more than I did. But in fairness, Sandy was the Keith Reid (Procol Harum lyricist) or the Robert Hunter (Grateful Dead lyricist) of BÖC; therefore, in my opinion, he had a greater entitlement to that.
PKM: Do you have a favorite BÖC album?
KRUGMAN: Absolutely, the first album. To me, it starts and stops with the first. I mean… what’s that line from “I’m On the Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep”?… Frontenac Chateau, baby / I cross the frontier at ten / Got a whip in my hand / And a girl or a husky / At leather’s end…
PKM: Fantastic stuff. So why did you and BÖC part ways?
KRUGMAN: It was a slow process, and it was me walking away from Sandy as a production team. There were a few incidents. One was a) we were really up against it because we had a Blue Öyster Cult/Dictators tour, and we needed to finish the Dictators’ record (1977’s Manifest Destiny) in time or we’d blow the tour. So I talked (Sandy) into, “Let’s book two rooms instead of one” and that made Sandy nervous because he couldn’t approve my parts as we were doing them. And I said, “But you’ll approve my parts and I’ll approve yours at the end of the day.”
And then my dad died, and my wife and I flew to Jamaica for a week, and we came back and Sandy was pissed that I left. But it’s like (sarcastically), “Well, it’s only my father dying. Sorry.”
But I came back refreshed—and Sandy was burnt out. And the first day, I approved nine of his parts, and he approved 27 of mine in the same time period; so I’m starting to feel that my efficiency’s really being held back. And b) when we were doing Agents of Fortune, “E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)” was this incredible track that Donald wrote. And Joe came in with the lyrics for that song called “Punishment Park”—and nobody liked it. And then Donald came in with a lyric for the same song called “No Traffic Can Bore Me on My Way”—and nobody liked that.
But in fairness, Sandy was the Keith Reid (Procol Harum lyricist) or the Robert Hunter (Grateful Dead lyricist) of BÖC; therefore, in my opinion, he had a greater entitlement to that.
I was living with my wife on Long Island on the ocean in Quogue, and Sandy called: “Can I come over and you can help me put a lyric together? We gotta make this track happen.” So he came over, and he had all of these phrases, which I took and put in iambic pentameter, and they became the lyrics. “I hear the music / day-like disc”… “Three men in black said, ‘Don’t report this’”. The band bought it and recorded it. And when it came time for the credit and—you know, in retrospect, maybe I created a lose-lose situation for myself—Sandy handed the credits in, and the lyric for “ETI” was not listed as co-write (in other words, I wasn’t listed as a co-writer), I just couldn’t bring myself to tell him, “That’s bullshit.” Go to Nashville. Go to LA. That’s a co-write in anyone’s book.
“E.T.I. (Extra Terrestrial Intelligence)”, Blue Öyster Cult, from Agents of Fortune (1976):
And many years later, there was a TV show where BÖC played all of the songs on Agents of Fortune. (laughs) And I refused to give the show’s producer permission to do “This Ain’t the Summer of Love” (note: which Krugman co-wrote with Albert Bouchard and Don Waller). So, it had all of the songs from Agents—except “Summer”. And he said to me, “Well, we’re offering $500.” And I said, “This band probably owes me three-quarters of a million dollars in royalties”. “Well, we’ll go up to $750.” And I just said, “Are you listening to yourself?” (laughs)
PKM: How did you hook up with the Dictators?
KRUGMAN: Sandy found a band called Pentagram, and I flew down to Baltimore to see them. They were like a heavier Jethro Tull, but (vocalist Bobby Liebling) didn’t play flute. He just sang. Yet he had that Ian Anderson kind of star quality. So I brought them to New York and arranged for a demo and time in the studio.
I got the tracks and the vocals done, and when I recorded the background vocals on the first song, (Liebling) goes, “I’m not happy with the background vocals. Let’s do them all again.” And I’m like, “I’ve only got two more hours, and I’ve gotta mix three songs, so I don’t have time to do perfect background vocals. You’ve got to trust me at this point. I’m going to be able to get you a deal based upon my track record. I just need something. It’s like a business plan: I’ve got something that they can say they’re heard. But we’ve gotta move on.” And he’s like, “I’m not moving on.” Well, at least Blue Öyster Cult knew to let me do the first record my way. This guy doesn’t know to let me do the demo my way.
And I just stood up and walked out of the studio. And you can see the whole story on what I think is the most amazing rock documentary ever made: Last Days Here (2011).
Murray Krugman in Pentagram documentary Last Days Here (2011):
PKM: Was it easier to work with the Dictators than Blue Öyster Cult?
KRUGMAN: I’d done a bunch of BÖC records and really wanted to do something that wasn’t as emotionally exhausting—and where the act was less like poseurs. Blue Öyster Cult was hard to work with. First of all, Albert… you know, I can’t speak of him highly enough. I mean, he’s a genius to me. But he’s very hard on his people. He turns on you in a second. And I always felt that Allen was anti-Semitic.
But the Dictators were incredible fun. Handsome Dick and Andy (Shernoff) were like Abbott and Costello. Plus they were into wrestling, and I’ve always been into wrestling. We, in fact, preceded Cindy Lauper as far as tying pro-wrestling in with rock and roll, but she got all the credit for it. I had Captain Lou, as well as Handsome Jimmy and Luscious Johnny Valiant (aka, the Valiant Brothers), the tag-team champions at the time, do all of the radio ads for the Dictators. I mean, the Dictators had so much fun making those records.
“Weekend”, the Dictators, from Go Girl Crazy (1975):
When I walked out on Pentagram, we needed a new follow-up to Blue Öyster Cult, and even though I thought Pentagram would have totally succeeded, I was really upset with CBS because I wanted to be a staff producer at Columbia, because a lot of my heroes were up there: Teo Macero, John Hammond, and David Rubinson… and they couldn’t negotiate it to fruition. And I was just pissed.
The Dictators were incredible fun. Handsome Dick and Andy (Shernoff) were like Abbott and Costello. Plus they were into wrestling, and I’ve always been into wrestling.
So when I couldn’t figure out a group to (produce) and found the Dictators, I thought, ‘Wow! What a manifestation of my rage!’ And I didn’t even realize that was what the punk thing was about. And after the Dictators stiffed on their first three records, then they became a legendary punk group, where they were able to sell out 3,000 seats in a bunch of cities.
And Andy is a brilliant writer to me. She runs through the jungle on a panther’s back / Darker than a chocolate cake / She wants to be a singer in America / I told her I could give her a break. How brilliant is that?
So when I couldn’t figure out a group to (produce) and found the Dictators, I thought, ‘Wow! What a manifestation of my rage!’ And I didn’t even realize that was what the punk thing was about.
PKM: From “Back to Africa”.
KRUGMAN: Right. Andy was originally the front man, and they had this roadie, Richard Blum (aka, Handsome Dick Manitoba), who had Sandy, me, and all four band members always on the floor. He was the funniest person ever, yet he couldn’t sing a note—but we made him the front man.
And when it came time to do the first album, I realized, ‘I gotta get this guy’s essence on the record’, so I ran a wild two-track off the microphone where Richard was doing lead and background vocals and just saying hilarious things. Then I went through it all and took out the four or five funniest things, and that’s what’s spliced onto the record.
“Two Tub Man”, the Dictators, from Go Girl Crazy (1975):
But on the first record (1975’s Go Girl Crazy), we go to start Richard’s vocals—and he’s nowhere to be found. We look all over the building; finally, we find him passed-out-drunk in one of the bathrooms. So I get the four guys in there and go, “One of you on each arm, one of you on each leg. Turn him upside-down, flush the toilet,” because it’s gotta be grey not black water, because I’m not inhumane. And we put his head into the toilet and flushed it until he revived. And I feel I invented water-boarding at that point.
Andy was originally the front man, and they had this roadie, Richard Blum (aka, Handsome Dick Manitoba), who had Sandy, me, and all four band members always on the floor. He was the funniest person ever, yet he couldn’t sing a note—but we made him the front man.
KRUGMAN: And on the third record, Bloodbrothers (1978), I used Shelly Yakus, a very good American engineer. And he’s very intense. Every hour, for about five minutes, he would stand up and scream or rip up a newspaper or play a practical joke on somebody. So he stands up, Richard’s out at the vocal mike, Shelly grabs the fire extinguisher, goes out and douses Richard in foam. And I’m thinking, ‘Nothing good is coming of this.’ And, it’s like, you know that moment in romantic comedies where something bad’s gonna happen?… like in Meet the Fockers, where the ashes are coming off the fireplace and they go into slow motion? Well, I experienced slow motion, where my arms are raised and my voice is lowered as if through a ring modulator: (doing voice in slow motion) “Noooo, Richarrrrrrrrrd! Doooooon’t dooooooooo iiiiiiiiiit!…” And Richard grabs the fire extinguisher, chases Shelly back into the control room, and empties the fire extinguisher all over the most-sought-after, $2,000-a-day 24-track in New York. And that board was down for a month. They had to unscrew every fader and take a toothbrush and go over every square inch.
PKM: (laughs) Do you have a favorite Krugman/Pearlman-produced Dictators’ album?
KRUGMAN: I liked the Dictators a lot as people, and they were fun records to make, but it started and stopped for me with the first record. I was thrilled with Go Girl Crazy. I think it’s an amazing album. And when I heard it sold 2,000 copies on Epic initially, my response was, “I thought 50,000 was a stiff. This is the punkest thing I’ve ever heard of. Two thousand sold? This is setting new stiff records. What could be more punk than that?”
“Teengenerate”, the Dictators, from Go Girl Crazy (1975):
PKM: (laughs) The Dictators were a terrific band that should have been far more successful. Why do you think they didn’t become huge?
KRUGMAN: The Dictators were a punk band opening for hard-rock band (BÖC), and it didn’t work. It was before mosh pits. It wasn’t even ’77. It was before London Calling was happening. And Manifest Destiny to me was very unfortunate because a) I thought the first album was a one-and-done and b) the band made the mistake of saying, “Oh my God, we’re on Elektra/Asylum. We’ve gotta be Queen and the Eagles,” and they suddenly started putting harmonies on their records.
The Dictators were too punk for hard rock, and too hard rock for punk.
“Sleepin’ With the TV On”, the Dictators, from Manifest Destiny (1977):
They’re a wonderful band; much better playing live than Blue Öyster Cult. Ross (the Boss) is a great guitar player, although not as imaginative as Donald (Buck Dharma) Roeser, who’s very etheric as a player. Andy as a songwriter is incredible. And their rhythm sections were always better. The only thing I can come up with is that the Dictators were too punk for hard rock, and too hard rock for punk.
The Dictators were a punk band opening for hard-rock band (BÖC), and it didn’t work. It was before mosh pits. It wasn’t even ’77. It was before London Calling was happening.
PKM: Compared to Manifest Destiny, the production on Bloodbrothers is straightforward, without any frills. Was such simplicity done in response to punk?
KRUGMAN: It was done on purpose, but not as calculated as a punk thing. Rather, they felt they had gone so overboard trying to put the Eagles and Queen on top of punk (on Manifest Destiny), that they wanted the new record (Bloodbrothers) to sound like a rehearsal. And that really pissed Sandy off because he was very production-value oriented, as am I. But I figured, ‘This was their last shot.’ I didn’t think they were going to make it, and I just wanted to go out with them being happy with what they’d done.
“Baby, Let’s Twist”, the Dictators, from Bloodbrothers (1978):
PKM: Was Bloodbrothers the last album you produced with Pearlman?
KRUGMAN: I gave him co-credit, but he didn’t do a thing on Bloodbrothers, because I wanted to start working on my own, especially when I saw how productive I was on my own. And I love Sandy. I think he’s a lyrical genius, a booking genius—and miserly with credit.
PKM: Both of you also occasionally worked separately during the ‘70s.
KRUGMAN: Right. Sandy did a Clash album by himself; and I similarly did albums by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Eddie Schwartz—who wrote “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”—and Ruby Starr by myself. Sandy and I also did two records by Pavlov’s Dog together.
PKM: That’s right (note: 1975’s Pampered Menial and 1976’s At the Sound of the Bell). So, after the Dictators’ third album, you were, more or less, calling it a day.
KRUGMAN: I was calling it a day after their first record. And when it came time for the follow-up to Spectres, (BÖC) said “We gotta do another live record. We need the money,” and I’m like, “We always need the money. It seems like we’re the company that keeps the laser company alive.” So I walked. That’s why I thought Allen was fair in listing my name second in the production credits for Some Enchanted Evening, because I didn’t show up. The fact that they put me on at all was a miracle.
Anyway, after Bloodbrothers, my wife at the time and I went up to the country, and I detoxed for a year, because I had done 17 quarter-of-a-million-dollar records in a seven-year period and was feeling really burned out and wanting to do some different things with my life. I’m an arranger and a producer, whereas Sandy was more of a booker and promoter. So when Blue Öyster Cult became more about a lavish live show and less about material, it ceased to interest me. It’s a hard life and not a very spiritual one. So I went to law school, got my law degree, and eventually opened my own label, Silverwolf, in ’91, doing productions with artists like Michael Veitch, Caroline Aiken, Eric Taylor, and Josh White, Jr., who’s the son of the legendary blues artist Josh White. But the biggest one I did was with Odetta.
And in 2005, I wondered if there were any places where I could teach a music-industry program, and it turns out that the University of New Haven hired me, and I spent 14 years doing that. But I had to teach the final half of my last semester there on Zoom, and I really disliked it.
PKM: Were you teaching students how to become music producers?
KRUGMAN: Or managers, press agents, booking agents, publishers… My mantra was that I didn’t teach them to get the job on day one—I taught them to keep the job on day two.
PKM: We didn’t talk much about your work with the Mahavishnu Orchestra on the live Between Nothingness & Eternity.
KRUGMAN: That was a sad record for me. I go down to the CBS 30th Street studio to meet John McLaughlin, and I get there first, and I’m working on a bass-drum sound. I knew the group was breaking up around the record, which is already a disaster. So it’s like the Let It Be album. And I’m starting to mix the bass-drum, and John walks in and says, “What are you doing?” And jazz musicians are historically anti-production, usually doing no production at all. And I’m like, “I’m 12 hours away from taking the first cut because I don’t have sounds on anything.” “No,” he said, “that’s the way it sounds. Just go to tape.” And I realized that I was in deep trouble.
So I gave him a 50-dollar bill, came up with the furthest pizza place I could think of, and said, “The engineer’s starving now. Get a cab, go to this pizza place, and get me a pizza.” And I bought an extra 40 minutes and mixed the whole album in 40 minutes rather than what would typically take 36 hours. So it’s in no way up to my standards and, as such, sad.
PKM: Would you ever produce another Dictators’ albums?
KRUGMAN: I did a mediation for Andy and Richard about a year and a half ago, where Richard was using the Dictators’ name for his band and Andy had the trademark for it. Everyone failed to make a deal with them, but I managed to bring them together and work it out, but Richard kind of blew the deal. Andy’s had a successful career subsequently as a songwriter, and he’d never work with Richard again. It’s like a Pink Floyd thing.
PKM: Would you ever do another BÖC album?
KRUGMAN: You never say never, but I can’t imagine that happening. I left Columbia and spent a year or two working full time for Blue Öyster Cult, managing them as well as producing them. This was ’75, ’76. I walk away, and it’s neither here nor there that they’ve gone out of their way to Stalin-ize the historical record. The fact is, I find this band, market them, name them, do their seven most meaningful records, then walk away, and, other than three minutes of “Burnin’ for You”—and Martin Birch was a great producer; I love Deep Purple—it was a long, steadily descending curve, during which many of those later (BÖC) records were produced by Sandy.
But Blue Öyster Cult did have five amazing things going for it: Sandy’s lyrics; my production; Donald’s immense talent as a singer, songwriter and incredibly unique guitarist; Albert’s arranging abilities on tracks like “Astronomy”, “Flaming Telepaths”, “ME 260”, “Dominance and Submission”… incredible!; and Joe Bouchard bringing a steadiness to that band. I teach my students that many great bands have what I call “the glue”; whether it’s Timothy B. Schmit in the Eagles, Izzy Stradlin in Guns N’ Roses, Nikki Six in Mötley Crüe, Brian Jones in the Stones… And the glue doesn’t have to be linearly grounded, as Nikki Six and Brian Jones certainly weren’t—nor Izzy Stradlin. But the glue is the moral center of the band, and Joe was the glue of BÖC, and also the most underrated member of the band.
PKM: I read that you felt some BÖC members were underachievers in the studio.
KRUGMAN: Well, Allen saw himself as Keith Richards, and my attitude was, ‘In terms of drug consumption, maybe. But Keith Richards writes all the songs.’ And I don’t think Allen’s keyboard-playing is… You know, nobody’s gonna confuse him with Jon Lord or Rick Wakeman.
And Eric, while great on the stage… Donald’s not really a front man, and Eric became the voice of the band. But “Burnin’ for You”, “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, “Godzilla” “The Golden Age of Leather”—they’re all Donald’s vocals. Even “Cities on Flame” are Albert’s vocals. Donald was an incredible triple-threat talent: vocalist, guitarist, songwriter. But not a bandleader; not a front man; and, worst of all, not prolific. A great songwriter but not prolific. I mean, “Godzilla”, “Golden Age of Leather”, “Burnin’ for You”, “Last Days of May,” “Reaper”… that may be it. And it’s hard to have an act where the front man is not the singer. And you and I can live to be 300—I don’t have to have an opinion on Eric Bloom as a singer. Eric has not had a hit in 37 records, and I don’t know if he’s ever going to sing a hit.
Donald was an incredible triple-threat talent: vocalist, guitarist, songwriter. But not a bandleader; not a front man.
But, with Allen and Eric bringing as little to the group as they did, the band just couldn’t afford that. That’s why when I think, “What if Eric could sing a hit?” and “What if Alan were a better keyboard player?”… it’s really the butterfly effect. I mean, they may or may not have otherwise been Blue Öyster Cult.
But even before I originally signed BÖC, I took out a piece of paper and wrote down their pros and the cons. And it was clear to me that there were some incredible pros and some limitations where I thought if everybody worked hard and we had a bit of luck, we could go almost all the way, but not all the way, which is really why, right now, Kiss and Aerosmith still play big rooms, and Blue Öyster Cult can’t.
But, looking back, I’d do it again, because I think critically, at least for the period where I was working with Blue Öyster Cult, it was an amazing situation.
“Dominance and Submission”, Blue Öyster Cult, from Secret Treaties (1974):
Murray Krugman’s Silverwolf products are available thru www.mvdshop.com.
Special thanks: Barbara Vetter, Derek Johnston, and Martin Popoff.