Allen Lanier — a co-founding member of Blue Öyster Cult who also contributed to vital punk records by Patti Smith and the Clash — died on August 14th. Lanier, who was 67, succumbed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, generally the result of smoking. “It wasn’t a big surprise,” says BOC guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser of Lanier’s longtime smoking habit. “But it feels like the circle is broken.”
Along with Roeser, drummer Albert Bouchard, singer Les Braunstein and bassist Andrew Winters, Lanier, who played guitar and keyboards, started the group first called Soft White Underbelly in 1967. At the time, Lanier, who’d attended film school, was working at a film company. After Braunstein left, it was Lanier who suggested the lead-singer slot be filled by singer-guitarist Eric Bloom. After signing with Columbia Records, BOC gradually became a seminal band of the Seventies, and Lanier can be heard on BOC classics like “Cities on Flames with Rock and Roll,” “Career of Evil,” “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper,” and “Burnin’ for You.” He also wrote two songs, “Tenderloin” and “True Confessions,” on the band’s biggest album, 1976’s Agents of Fortune.
Although Roeser describes his late bandmate as “almost violently enthusiastic,” Lanier tended to be low-key, more a behind-the-scenes player than scene-stealer. “Sometimes his songs and lyrics were under-represented in the band, but he always had notebooks filed with stuff. I’d say, ‘Allen, we have to record some of this.’ I’ve never been to his apartment, put it that way.”
Beyond Blue Öyster Cult, Lanier made his presence known in Seventies rock & roll in other ways. After being introduced to Patti Smith by Cult manager Sandy Pearlman, he and Smith became musical collaborators and then lovers. Lanier co-wrote and played guitar on Smith’s “Elegie,” from Horses, and also contributed material and keyboard parts to Radio Ethiopia and Easter. The horse pin seen on Smith’s jacket on the cover of Horses was a gift from Lanier.
In her memoir Just Kids, Smith described Lanier as a “soft-spoken and encouraging” man whose constant touring with the Cult — with all its attendant temptations — eventually broke them up. As Smith wrote, “Ultimately it destroyed our relationship, but not the respect I had for him, nor the gratitude I felt for the good he had done.” Roeser agrees with Smith’s assessment of the roots of their breakup: “I think that’s true. He took it hard on a lot of levels, personally and with his pride.”
Whether it was a result of his relationship with Smith or not, Lanier became keenly interested in the burgeoning punk scene in New York at the time. When Pearlman produced the Clash’s second album, 1978’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope, Lanier played an uncredited piano part on “Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad.” Lanier also recorded with poet-singer Jim Carroll and Iggy Pop.
Lanier left Blue Öyster Cult in 1985, only to return two years later; he continued recording and touring with the band until 2006, when he retired. Last November, he rejoined his band mates (who have carried on the band without him) for a one-shot reunion show in New York. “Within 10 or 15 minutes of playing together at rehearsals, it clicked again,” says Roeser. “It was riding like a bicycle. We’ll miss him.”